Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why Stay Home?

Todd is packing up to leave the country this week. And, it sounds as though his travel work schedule will be more regular again-- a week there, a week here. Great, just in time for school to start. I was getting all ready to pout about it, when I had an epiphany: Just because my husband is gone, why should I sit at home here at brood about it?

So, when he goes, I am packing up the kids and going, too.

I am planning to drop Benjamin and Madeline at Grandma and Grandpa's house for a couple days, and then head out on the road with Amanda and Elisabeth. Our girls' trip will take us to visit my friend Alicia and her daughter Annie in Madison, Wisconsin. Through a series of unfortunate events and missteps, we have been missing each other all summer... all year, really. So, this will be kind of a last hurrah for all of us-- before school starts NEXT WEEK.

Wish us bon voyage!

Totally Tubular Two-Year-Old

We took Madeline tubing behind the Jet Ski. There are no photos, because Todd was driving and I had to sit with her on the tube. It seemed ridiculous to have a two-year-old participating in water sports, but she begs and whines each time the older children put on their life jackets. So, this was our daredevil's turn.

I wish I had been able to record the experience, because it was pretty funny. When we first started to go, Maddy gripped the sides of the tube, got kind of a panicked look on her face and said, "Whoa!" I held her hand and said, "It's OK, Maddy, it's fun!" Then, she relaxed, smiled and said, "Oh, OK." And she threw her head back and laughed. That's one thing I've learned in motherhood: Sometimes, it's all in how you couch it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sick Summer?

Is it just me, or does it seem like there's been a lot of sickness this summer? I can't really complain... nothing's been serious here in Krinkeland... Still, at this moment, Elisabeth is getting treatment for a UTI and Amanda is on antibiotics for strep. I bought one of those mega-packs of Lysol antibacterial wipes at Costco today-- probably an exercise in futility.

Please, pray for those in extra need of care:
*Eddie, recovering from open-heart surgery and related complications
*Wade, as the chemo continues to work, while another spot is being watched
*Julie's dad, hospitalized with pneumonia
*Meghan Leni, born August 23, and still a bit jaundiced

Baby Meghan before

Baby Meghan after

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Humor Break

Benjamin really likes to tell jokes:

Overheard from a visiting seven-year-old: "I totally believe in fairies, but I do NOT believe in Alaska."

Amanda: "Grandma kind of took the 'healthy' out of the peas by putting bacon in them. But, I just picked out the pieces of bacon, and, luckily, they didn't even taste like peas!"

And, even plastic family members like to take jabs at Mommy:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What a Way to Start the Day

Are you looking for a fun way to start the day?

It begins with a gigantic crack of thunder followed by a swift hailstorm, at 4:56. As you squeeze shut your eyelids and tell yourself you must be dreaming, your spouse throws off the covers and says, "Get the kids-- let's get to the basement. Now!" Since your spouse never says, "Now!" you do it.

One child, in her still-asleep state, cowers against the wall side of the top bunk bed, screeching that she's too scared to move. You yank her by the ankle until you have hold of enough of her to throw her body over your shoulder. Thinking you do have the skills to become a firefighter, you tote her down two flights of stairs; she screams all the way down.

The other children find this early wake-up call very amusing. They huddle under blankets, watching the Angry Birds roll around the iPod screen. You position yourself to cover all of them, just in case The Big One hits. Your spouse is nowhere to be found, probably pacing around in a macho attempt to protect his castle.

Finally, he yells, "All clear! Come on up and go back to bed." You are surprised to find only 10 minutes have passed. You herd all the children back upstairs and into their bedrooms, where they each turn and follow you back out-- to go to the bathroom... to get a drink of water... to blow a nose... to claim, "I'm still afraid..." to demand, "DUICE!" You leave the two oldest giggling to each other, lock the youngest behind the baby gate, and surrender to the fact that the boy is going to be wandering around the property with his father, inspecting for damage.

Eventually they return, declaring there's a huge mess of branches and lake weeds and other assorted debris outside, but no real damage. Plus, they report, the one thing you were hoping would blow away in the storm-- because it's a real pain, a cramp in your style, and a great insurance claim-- is sitting right where you left it. However, the girls' clubhouse, which they spent the entire previous afternoon constructing out of cardboard and drop cloths, is a total loss.

The two menfolk plop back down in bed next to you, a mass of cold feet, snores and farts. As you lay in bed, asking, "Lord, what are you trying to tell us with all these storms?" the alarm goes off. I guess He was saying, GET UP.

Monday, August 22, 2011

All the Colors of the Rainbow

Some friends around the lake celebrated the beautiful summer day with a t-shirt tie-dyeing party. Especially since they have a non-crafty mom, it's just the kind of event my kids don't want to miss. (Actually, my kids never want to miss any event. They'd come and watch paint dry, if you invited them.)

The big kids helped the little kids... The pros demonstrated for the amateurs... Benjamin threw himself-- and his tongue-- into his work.

My fingers are blue, but, alas, anything for the art.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bag Lady Packin' Heat

We went to the grocery store, and Madeline insisted on bringing her purse. She is particularly attached to this green, vinyl diaper bag, which she regularly packs up and carries around with her. I really don't like it when kids bring things places, because, of course, it's just more stuff for me to track. But, in this case, I didn't mind, because I used the purse to manipulate Madeline: "If you sit in the cart like a good girl, you can have your purse. So, she did.

As we cruised around the store, Maddy would periodically unzip her purse and pull something out. First, it was a bathroom washcloth. Later, she dug out a toy cell phone. Next came a doll blanket. Then, Maddy fished around and came up with a fruit snacks wrapper and an empty Tic-Tac box. Bummer.

The washcloth was a bit odd, but, in general, I could see her line of thinking-- the same kind of crap I keep in my purse. Then, just as we were getting in the checkout line, Maddy unzipped her bag, reached in once more, came out with a pink, plastic pistol, and started waving it in the air and yelling. I swear, I don't know where that came from. Little pistol.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tantrum Twos

Madeline slept in till 8:15 or so. We've had a lazy summer, with late mornings most of the time. I'm not complaining... but I'm also not looking forward to getting everyone back on the school schedule, which, now that I think about it, I probably should start.

Anyway, that's not my point.

Maddy woke up around 8:15, but by 8:45, she had two full-blown tantrums-- one because I wouldn't let her play with the baby wipe I'd just used to clean her bottom; the other because she mistakenly thought I was taking her yogurt.

I don't really understand how the two-year-old brain works. I guess because I don't remember being two. We have had enough two-year-olds come through Krinkeland that I don't get too bent about the wild, erratic behavior. In fact, how could I not laugh at a tiny person, rolling around on the ground, screaming and spitting, over nothing?

However, Madeline is also my worst tantrum-thrower (besides Todd) and I certainly don't want to encourage her. At this stage and age, I tend to take one of two approaches: ignore or distract. Uh-oh, there goes Maddy again... I guess embarrassing her on the blog doesn't work, either.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Amanda: "You know, Mom, when I turn 10, I will be a pre-teen."
Mom: "Oh? What makes you say that?"
Amanda: "It's just true. Once you hit double-digits, that's pre-teen."
Mom: "Really? When I think of a pre-teen, I think of more like a 12-year-old."
Amanda: "Nope, it's 10."
Mom: "So, what does it mean to be a pre-teen, anyway?"
Amanda: "It means you start learning about all the things you're going to do when you're a teenager-- things you have to have more responsibility for."
Mom: "Such as...?"
Amanda: "Such as, riding your bike to a friend's house alone, babysitting your younger siblings, having a cell phone..."
Mom: "Oh, so when you're a pre-teen, you start learning about those things-- you don't actually do any of those things, you just learn about them?"
Amanda: "Yeah, I guess."
Mom: "Well, I'm a big fan of education... so I will always support you learning-- as long as you don't think you'll actually be old enough to have a cell phone or babysit at 10."
Amanda: "Oh."

Foiled again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You Should Read These

One of my most beloved friends sent me two books for my birthday, which fell just a day before we left on our vacation to the Black Hills. She is an avid reader and a former bookstore employee, so you can bet the pages she pushes are worth their weight in words. I took both the gift books with me on our road trip... With extra adults around to wrangle the children, I get a chance to catch up on my reading list.

These two did not disappoint.

First, I read John Elder Robison's memoir, "Look Me in the Eye"-- in just one day. It's the story of a boy, later a man, growing up with Asperger's syndrome in the decades before the diagnosis existed. The fact that Robison grew up at all is remarkable, considering the challenges that constantly came flying his way. But he isn't just "weird" and he doesn't just "get by." Robison explains "his world" in a way that lets us all in.

Asperger's and autism are at the forefront of many medical developmental discussions. So is this book. If you know anyone with an autism spectrum disorder-- and who doesn't?-- you will learn from this book. Understanding Robison's story means growing in enlightenment and compassion.

Enlightened, I dove into the other title, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot. Another non-fiction work, another heart-string tugger, but this tale begins and goes in a completely different directions. A lot of different directions, actually. This book is the story of the woman behind HeLa cells, human cancer cells cultured and divided billions of times over-- to the benefit and wonderment of science, to the detriment of this woman's family and her memory. Henrietta Lacks was a poor, black tobacco farmer whose cells—- taken without her knowledge in 1951—- became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more.

The author does a beautiful job of explaining complex medical scenarios to the unscientific mind (mine.) She also explores the challenges of poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, consequentialism, anger and grief. Those interested in science and medicine will love this book. Those interested in humanity will really like it, too.

Oh, sorry, my copies of these books are already out on loan.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Warning: High-Ventilation Post

If you are not interested in the rant of a tired, irritated mother and wife, read no further.


OK, OK, I am sure this item falls under the category of "What Did You Think Motherhood Would Be Like, Dummy?" I know my mother looked for-- and found-- my missing things all the time. But, seriously, some days I think I should be punching a time clock just to track how much time is spent (wasted) on my quest to assist with, "Mom, I can't find my (fill in the blank.)"

I mean, it's not as though I'm perfect-- I lose stuff all the time. The difference is, I never expect someone else to find my stuff for me. My kids' search efforts consist of: standing in the middle of a room, looking to the left, looking to the right, shrugging, and sitting down to watch television.

While heading up this evening's search party, I pointed out to my co-leader, "You know, when it comes to parenting and teaching by example, it does not help me at all that the person in this house who loses the most things... most often... and requires the most help to find them is YOU." Though totally true, my observation did not help the situation.

I do not expect this issue to go away on its own. I do not expect this issue to go away at all, ever-- unless the other five people who live in this house go away. Still, I will take any suggestions you have on how to make my children (and husband) more responsible and more self-sufficient. I can't seem to find a solution on my own.

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Little Giant

Benjamin is stomping around the house, holding his toy rifle from Deadwood, yelling, "Fe, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an english muffin!"

Thursday, August 11, 2011


This is the week of many medical updates. Actually, between Elisabeth's bladder and my wrist and Madeline's burn, this kind of feels like the Summer of Doctoring. But, when all is well, who can complain?

I took Benjamin to see an audiologist, after he totally tanked the hearing screening at his five-year well-child checkup. By tanked, I mean for all the time the nurse spent with him, putting those electronic probes in his ears and adjusting the levels, Ben heard a total of one beep. I have never really had any concerns about Ben's hearing (Ben's listening is a separate issue) but, as the pediatrician advised, I took him to the expert.

Proving once again that Mother Knows Best, Ben passed these more extensive tests with flying colors. When I asked the audiologist to explain the discrepancy-- which, it turns out, was just as I guessed-- she pointed to Benjamin's "interesting" anatomy. Since Ben's ears are lower-set on the sides of his head, traditional placement of the snug headphones presses against his ears and makes his ear canals collapse. As long as any future testers are aware of this and position the equipment differently, Benjamin should pick up on all the tones.

Elisabeth had her surgical follow-up with the urologist, along with a post-procedure ultrasound of her kidneys and bladder. There, too, the results could not have been better. Libby has no kidney damage and is enjoying less urgency and fewer accidents since receiving the Deflux and botox injections. She is now off all her medications, and the doctor is hopeful the effects will continue, possibly forever.

We went straight from Elisabeth's visit at the children's hospital to Madeline's follow-up at the Burn Center of another hospital. While I've had a ringside seat to her healing, changing the dressings a couple of times a day, I'm still uncertain and anxious about what the professionals will say. Today, we saw the head of the Burn Unit, a well-known physician who is not only an expert in burns, but also a plastic surgeon and a hand specialist.

He unwrapped Maddy's bandages and looked. That's it-- just looked. "She's doing beautifully," he said. "She's going to be just fine. No plastic surgery. No physical therapy. I expect her to be healed enough to be out of her bandages altogether by the weekend." I could have kissed him. I didn't, mostly because he didn't look like he would receive it well.

The healing truly is miraculous. Children are amazing creatures. Oh, and prayer works.

I Went to Sturgis in a Minivan

That is now on my short list of titles for my memoir... which I plan to start writing, just as soon as something really interesting happens to me in this life.

In the meantime, on the day we left the Black Hills region of South Dakota, I drove through the town of Sturgis, just a couple days before the opening ceremonies of the annual motorcycle rally. This site was at the top of Todd's sightseeing list. So, well, we saw it. A lot of motorcycles. A lot of leather, but, at the same time, a lot of flesh. A lot of tattoos. All the town's parking lots had "Bikes Only" signs posted at their entrances, so our trip to Sturgis was just a cruise through town. We came. We saw.

On the other side of Sturgis, the day pretty much faded into annoying nothingness. We basically drove across one flat state. The goal was to make it to Watertown to sleep for the night... but, between whining kids, leg cramps, and dwindling snack choices, it became apparent we would not make it that far.

We took a turn and stopped a little earlier, in the town of Aberdeen. There, I saw my first, and only, Target store of the week. (No, I didn't go in.) We stayed at a not-so-great hotel next door-- I can say it because I picked it-- but I think we were all just so happy to get out of the car.

The hotel had a little "water park," which was actually one water slide, a pool, and a cute little kiddy area. Todd and I thought the pool was a dirty, dangerous dump, but the kids loved it. There was no lifeguard on duty, so I stood at the edge of the pool and watched Madeline put her life in her hands every 10 seconds. Benjamin didn't stray too far from his baby sister, and the two older girls are very good swimmers, so I felt pretty on top of things.

Still, I needn't have worried. Amanda came to me and said, "You know, Mom, I noticed how dangerous that water slide is. Kids were going down backward, upside-down, one right after the other, and piling up at the bottom. I was afraid someone was going to drown. So, I decided to play 'lifeguard,' and I took my post at the top of the slide and watched each kid go down and made sure there was time in between for everyone to go down safely." I commended her for her diligence, and she broke into a grin. "No, Mom, here's where the story gets good: After I stood up there for quite a while, a little boy came up to me and said, 'Nice work. I'll take a shift now.'"

Kids-- don't you gotta love 'em?

The following day was just more driving, another late Subway lunch, tense discussions with the cell phone company over my lack of service, and a major vacuuming out of the cars once we returned home. The highlight of the final stretch: stopping in my grandmother's hometown of Waubay, South Dakota. Gua, this one's for you.

So ends my travel tale.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vacation Hazards

Needles... shootouts... What kind of vacation is this?! Today's excursions were filled with all the "danger" words, but they were actually good (and safe) fun.

The main destination for the day was Custer State Park. We were surrounded by beautiful scenery on our drive to and through the park area. I will say I was getting pretty darn sick of riding in the car.

The weather was gorgeous and the one thing we could have done better was to get out and roam around more. Lisa did that a little bit, after we got to the park and stopped for lunch. (I think she went on a walk just to get away from the rest of us... but, who could blame her?)

Due to the age range and varying physical conditions of our group, large-scale hiking was not on the agenda. Still, we did plenty of exploring in our own right. We took the Needles Highway, parking and getting out to check out a unique rock formation called the Needle's Eye. The experts say it is so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing and thawing.

Daddy, Aunt Lisa, Elisabeth and Amanda (with some prodding) took off on a rock-climbing adventure, while the rest of us poked around below. I accidentally set off the car alarm when I reached through the open window of our parked van to get my phone to take some pictures. Go figure. We talked with a lot of bikers. We talked with bikers everywhere.

As we were piling back into the car, there was some commotion just up the road, where the rocks made a kind of bridge/natural tunnel over the road. A guy had climbed out atop the rock tunnel and was yelling, "Honey! Honey! Take my picture!" People started asking me, "Are you his wife?" "No," I replied, "But I'll take his picture if he really wants someone to." So, I did.

Apart from the "needles," the other big attraction at Custer State Park is the wildlife, specifically a roaming herd of 1,300 buffalo. We asked a park worker, "Where are the buffalo today?" And he directed us. We traversed the rough terrain of a rocky trail-- really not a road-- until we came upon the herd. What a herd it was!

We watched from the roadside for a long time, even putting down our windows to hear their snorts and scuffles. When we thought we could marvel no more, we turned and went back the way we came. At the intersection with the main road, we hit a traffic jam. As we inched along, we discovered the problem: more buffalo! Huge buffalo! Right-up-on-the-side-of-the-road buffalo!

Grandpa had dubbed that one "Big Benjamin," so he was the guy to watch. Though we were given specific safety instructions about staying inside our closed vehicles, Elisabeth rolled her window down and all but invited the animals into the van for a snack. It was wild!

Storm clouds were rolling in, so we finally made our way out of the park. A short while later, as we entered the town of Custer, SD, our caravan got trapped by some flash flooding. The water roaring down the hillsides and drenching cars on the roads below was a different kind of a wild scene. Due to some careful, skillful driving by Grandma and Daddy, we escaped the worst of it... though the back end of our van stayed wet for days.

The kids thought they'd seen the extent of the day's excitement, but we adults knew we were headed to Deadwood for more heart-stopping action. We parked downtown and walked along the main street, where we stopped to take in the daily shootout reenactment. All I can say is, even blank gunfire is deafening. The three older kids loved every second of it. Benjamin is still discussing what was "real" and what was "fake." Madeline wasn't sure what to think... but she clutched her Honorary Sheriff's Deputy badge all the way back to the house.

Back in Lead, we decided to have a ceremonial birthday dinner (mine the week before, MIL's approaching at the end of the week) at the Roundhouse Restaurant. It was a super-cool-looking restored building, and the cuisine had been suggested to us by that cute tour guide from the mine. Well, we may just have over-extended ourselves this time... Kids who had been out sightseeing for the past 10 hours weren't really in the mindset to sit down for a nice dinner. The service was, well, bad, and the food was only so-so, but the atmosphere was beautiful and it was another fun experience for the memory book.

This night, as well as another, after the kids went to bed, some combination of adults returned to Deadwood for the gambling. The old downtown is made up primarily of mom-and-pop casinos-- kind of like a miniature Las Vegas, but all with a Wild West theme. I have a very low threshold for gambling. It's a lot of fun to play the penny slots, just a few lines at a time, to marvel over the themes and graphics of all the slot machines. But, after I've lost about $20, I'm done.

At one casino, I played for a while at a slot machine in the corner. When I was ready to cash out, I took my ticket to the cashier's window, to redeem my $4.67 "win." The cashier asked me for identification. As I fished out my driver's license, I asked her why she needed it. She said she had to verify my age before she could pay out. Astonished, I blurted out, "Well, just how old do you have to be to gamble in Deadwood?!" Yeah, she had egg on her face when she looked at my birth date. Also, I think she may need glasses.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Noses Ain't All They Mine

The day we stayed in Lead was quite possibly my favorite day of the trip. The goal of this day was to "mine gold" which topped the list of Amanda's "trip wishes." But it ended up being a really educational and fun outing.

We visited Homestake Gold Mine, one of the early enterprises of the 1876 Gold Rush; Homestake became one of the largest gold mines in the world, before shutting down at the beginning of this century. We took this guided tour, conducted by an incredibly young but incredibly knowledgeable student. On an hour-long trolley-bus ride around the mine grounds and the town of Lead, we got to see and appreciate just what-- and who-- makes a gold mine work.

Most amazing to us: When the company closed the mine at the end of 2001, it was turned over to the state of South Dakota for no charge with one stipulation: the land could never again be mined. That's how it became an educational site and tourist destination. However, it is estimated that only one-third of the gold was taken out of the land during the Homestake's 125 years in operation. So, there's still "gold in them thar hills!"

The underground mine itself is being turned into a research facility, for physicists to study subatomic particles. That's where she lost me. I was all about the mine mansion with the 24K gold toilet seat, but when this young, cute guide started talking "neutrinos," I was out.

Back at the visitors' center, Amanda-- and, naturally, the other children-- got a chance to pan for gold. The process was slow and tedious... I can't imagine how people dedicated their lives to it... but, I guess you would, if you were convinced you'd get rich. None of the kids seemed to get my joke when I asked whether they'd panned enough gold for me to get that special tooth.

Just down the road from Homestake mine, at the edge of Deadwood, we stumbled upon Elisabeth's personal utopia: Chubby Chipmunk Chocolates. Some days, it seems there aren't many things Libby likes in this world; however, there are two things she always loves: chocolate and chipmunks. It's a tiny little shop, in an old, stuff-cluttered building. Inside are two rooms-- one is full of chipmunks and chipmunk paraphernalia; the other holds a singular display cooler full of huge, exotic, decadent truffles.

Libby would call it "heaven on earth." We each chose a chocolate-- Grandpa's treat (he is Libby's cohort in chocolate consumption)-- Elisabeth had the darkest dark chocolate, as she is predisposed to do; Amanda got a banana cream pie truffle; Benjamin chose root beer float. We took them back to the cabin to save for our after-dinner treats, and enjoyed a quiet afternoon of long naps and lounging by the pool. Now, this is vacation.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Big Heads

Apart from the lack of air conditioning, really the only drawback to the cabin we rented was its distance from so many of the western South Dakota attractions. We traversed hilly terrain on windy roads to get to some of the big sights; we tried to lump together the stops to cut down on daily travel. This day, we just might have overdone it.

First stop, Mount Rushmore. Can't miss it, right? Well, Madeline nearly did. Due to an early wake-up, she was ready for a nap by the time the rest of us got in gear. She nodded off just before we arrived at the monument. I'm kind of nutty about kids and sleep, so I insisted the others leave her alone and I waited in the car, reading my book, while Maddy napped. I'm certain it was cooler in the parking garage, anyway. But it definitely was not quiet, what with the rumble of Harleys echoing off the concrete walls . (Did I mention this was the week before the Sturgis bike rally? You'll be reading more about that.)

So, we visited Mount Rushmore when I was a child of about Elisabeth's age. This is NOT the same place. The visitors' center, lookout area and surrounding grounds were extensive and beautiful. Many, many people flocked to the place, just as we did, but it did not feel crowded. Sleeping Beauty and I missed the guided tour, but Todd filled us in on all the interesting, useless facts. It's one of those things I'm really glad I got to show my kids.

After visiting Mount Rushmore, we moved on to two attractions the kids-- Amanda, especially-- had been eagerly anticipating: Bear Country and Reptile Gardens. Again, these are the same attractions your family likely visited a generation ago... I know mine did... but all different when I am now the parent experiencing them through my children. The animals were hot and amazing... the places were hot and stinky.

My favorite line of the day came from Benjamin at Reptile Gardens. We had just finished taking in the Snake Show and walked across the campus to a different arena in anticipation of the Alligator Show. We arrived a bit early, but the alligators and crocodiles were already there-- more than a dozen lounging around on a fenced in lawn. We sat quietly for a few minutes, as more people began to fill in the bleachers. Finally, Ben turned to me and asked, "Mom, is a guy going to come out and do this show, too, or are the alligators just going to put it on themselves?"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where the Heck Is That Wall Drug, Anyway?

The second leg of the Big Drive took us from our hotel in Mitchell, South Dakota to a mountain cabin (a house, really) in the small, mining town of Lead. Many miles stretched from here to there, and this day we really felt them all. We traversed I-90, marveling as the scenery began to change, pointing out every Wall Drug billboard, and giving thanks for air conditioning.

Just before entering the Badlands National Park, we made Todd's favorite stop of the trip, at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Even a smart nine-year-old and seven-year-old in 2011 have trouble grasping the concept of the Cold War. The rest of us read the signs, said "wow" and were ready to be on our way.

We only went about a half-mile before we stopped to take part in one of those time-honored Midwestern plains traditions: the feeding of the prairie dogs. It was about 100 degrees in the shade, by this time, and there was no shade in the prairie dog fields. Amanda and Madeline got up-close and personal with the field rodents, which I am sure cannot be a good thing. Elisabeth and Benjamin quickly lost their patience in the blistering sun and just ended up dumping their peanuts into the prairie dog holes.

Both these attractions warmed us up into full tourist mode as we entered the Badlands. What a sight! I don't know how many times we commented to one another, "Can you imagine living in pioneer times and just coming upon this place with your horse and wagon?" We very much enjoyed the drive, but, due to the extreme heat, we limited the sightseeing time beyond the A/C.

Beyond the Badlands sat the world-famous Wall Drug. We really needed some of that "Free Ice Water" by this time... and the kids were definitely due for more crappy souvenirs. We wandered and ate, and ate and wandered. Really, our group spent most of the time not "shopping" but instead looking at the bizarre displays and attractions that make Wall Drug such a unique place. Madeline was terrified by the robotic T-Rex. But all four children loved the "mining experience," which was $8 well spent.

We did get some of those eye-catching Wall Drug bumper stickers, so we could do our part with the free advertising. Grandpa and Benjamin took the application task very seriously, cleaning and drying the back bumper of Grandma's van, before carefully placing the Wall Drug sticker. I will be laughing every time I see it, for as many years as she owns that vehicle.

We continued on through Rapid City, Sturgis, Deadwood and finally arrived in Lead, where we'd rented a home in the mountains. It was beautiful and well appointed, with one exception: no air conditioning. The rental agent assured us air conditioning was never needed on Terry Peak, a cool, evergreen-covered hill where it has even been known to snow on the Fourth of July. Yeah, well, this week, it was HOT. But we cranked up the fans and we did survive. The neighborhood where we stayed also had a nice community center with an outdoor pool, so that helped.

Did I mention it was HOT?