Sunday, September 28, 2014

the adventure at home

I was getting ready to ask Char to print out my blog as a keepsake, but I realized I wanted to include pictures of the conclusion of the traveling adventure.  The adventure of HOME.  Home.  Yay!  There is still plenty of adventure to be had.

We now live at the top of Mount St. Utter.  (Like Mount St. Helen's.)  We figure if the driveway is steep enough to require a switchback, it's officially a mountain.

Our new home came with a dog.  Meet Max.  Confusingly, named the same as my nephew, but seeing as one is orange and furry and the other is not, we can generally tell them apart.  I never knew I wanted a dog.  I did, though.  The kids really did.

The house also came with tons of woods to explore, and the woods came with their own tour guide: Gray Kitty.  We live in the country now, and we love it!

Creating paths and hideouts through the woods is one of the boys' new favorite hobbies.

Grapevines are another favorite new hobby, for hiding and swinging.

Friends!  We're home, and we're loving being with friends.

The backyard adventure continues with a new slackline birthday present from Grandma and Poppy.

We've scootered around the country, but it's still a blast to scooter in the driveway.

The kids missed their bikes on our trip, and now we have some great hills for riding!

And some green space for soccer playing.

There's a backyard family of wild turkeys.  Did I mention that I love living in the country?

Y began his first day of public school.  Welcome to first grade!

The rest of the boys all went back to school, too.

Miss I began preschool.  I don't know how that's even possible.  Time flies.  (E just walked by, read this, and said, "Time does NOT fly at school."  They'd rather be homeschooled.  I, however, think there's life lessons to be learned in a variety of different places, and I think this is a good choice this year.)

And so, the Utter Adventure continues at home.  I love the adventure of this family, wherever we are.
It's a lesson learned from life on the road: I think we need more time as a family.  As a culture, and now that we're at home, we spend a lot of time taking each kid to a different age-appropriate and gender-appropriate soccer, or ballet, or basketball, or whatever.  I think we need more time as a family.  I'm working to remember that as our adventure continues and I organize our life at home.  More time as a family.  More time outside.  More time making memories.  Living differently, following God.

Happy fall to you and your family!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wrapping up the Road Trip

A lot has happened since I last wrote a blog.  We packed closets full of clothes into plastic garbage bags, as they squish well.  We threw out more "stuff."  How is it that in order to get down to less than 400 square feet, we had gotten rid of so much, only to acquire a ton of more "stuff" in the last 7.5 months?  We did a lot of packing, and finally, we got everything in our camper packed into our truck.

For a packing break, we ate at a restaurant that our neighbor campers recommended.  The Black Hills Burger and Bun Company was rated the best hamburger joint in the U.S.  We figured since we were traveling the U.S., we should have the U.S.'s best hamburger.  They were seriously good!

Another evening, we visited Custer State Park.  This was an interesting state park, and it had the Needles Highway.  This is a famous highway that is so mountainous and twisty that the speed limit is 5 MPH, and that's not because of undue caution.  The roads were really that crazy!  Parts of the Needles Highway were twisty roads that had been blasted into cliffs, with only inches of tunnel on each side of our super large truck.  I took no pictures, as I was too busy watching Char not accidentally run into the wall of the mountain.  He did great, though.  Custer State Park is really something to see.

While at Custer, one of our favorite things was watching the wild buffalo and the wild burros.  The burros came up to our car and rubbed their faces on the side view mirrors.  They were so pretty and fun to watch!

And then we were packed and ready to leave.


The man who was buying our camper showed up and hauled away our Sandpiper.  I had thought I'd be quite sentimental about this, but as I watched the fifth wheel being towed away, my main thought was, "I'm so glad WE don't have to try to get gas while pulling that thing anymore!"  This ended our 7.5 month campground experience.  It was amazing, and it will take quite awhile for my brain to process all I learned while traveling the U.S. with my family.  I'm so thankful we had this experience!!

On our way back to Ohio, we made our annual stop at "Lisa's Lake."  My sister-in-law's parents are fantastically awesome for always welcoming our family at their place on their lake in Indiana.  We had a great reunion with cousins, grandparents, and aunts and uncles.

Char continued to work from home as he has done for the last months, in the same room with a ton of people, wearing headphones to drown out the noise.

E and Miss I started out the week scared of a lot.  We got them on the jet ski, and by the end of the week, E was driving it, and Miss I was no longer screaming.  I think a theme of this trip, in general, has been to do things that make us afraid.  Life is a lot richer when you stop being afraid.

B perfected his knee-boarding skills.

Y learned how to paddle a kayak by himself.

The reunion with everyone was so fun!!  The matching cousins had a blast as usual, the kids got to get back to doing crafts with Grandma, and we all got to congratulate Aunt Cher, Uncle Gun and K on their upcoming twins.  Yay!  We also got to see my cousin, Rachel, and her new husband, Cord, who were home from Kuwait.  It was so great to catch up with her, and I can't believe I forgot to take pictures.  Insert a mental picture of them here!  After that, we had a reunion with more friends.  I have tons of pictures of the kids skiing, kneeboarding, kayaking, and swimming, but here's a picture of the three wild moms.  :)

Fun times!  And then we left Indiana.  As we passed the "Welcome to Ohio" sign, we couldn't help but think that the Utter traveling adventure had officially ended.  I'm so glad I have plenty more time with my family, and plenty of time with friends back in Ohio, and the adventure of life will continue wherever God leads.  I don't know the future, but because of this trip, I don't mind not knowing anymore.

There are lifestyle choices I want to remember from this trip.  One of my new traveling friends sent me a blog post from Ann Voskamp with a few quotes I just loved:
"Time can change a lot of things, but not the most important things."
"What if every comfort zone - is just a death trap?"
We need to do more than just exist, and that's what I want to remember as we begin to live life again in an ordinary environment.  Don't be afraid.  Live the way God leads.  Live.  Don't exist.  And living that way, the Utter Adventure will continue.

Many blessings to you, in the adventure of your life.  Thanks for reading our blog.  Love from the Utter family.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The beginning of the end of the adventure, in the Black Hills

Here's Mt. Rushmore!

We tried to arrange our kids in similar height order to the heads of the presidents, and told them to look serious, like the presidents.  This is what we got.  Apparently, they don't really know how to look serious.  :)

Mt. Rushmore was another place that I figured we absolutely needed to see, based on how famous it is. It's also the last famous place we're stopping on our adventure.  I'm getting pretty sentimental about that!

Mt. Rushmore was enjoyable.  It was neat to see pictures of what the cliff had looked like prior to the carving, to read about all the dynamite used to create it, and to see the picture of what the artist planned, vs. the way it turned out.  It was neat!

South Dakota has been surprising to us.  For no good reason, I'd pictured it as mainly desert, but the Black Hills are quite beautiful!  We're camping in Hill City, and the campground has a nice river for swimming.  Equally importantly to our family, the campground also has another full-time RVing family, and so we have new friends once again.  It's been great!!

In our last few days of this adventure, it's been good to think about relationships.  I've loved investing in my family, and I've loved that we've had time while on the road for other families, too.  I love having a free enough schedule to be able to make a spontaneous decision to sightsee and hang out with another family for a few days.  I love how there is a lack of separation between people full-time on the road, and that you can become quick friends with strangers in a way that doesn't happen at home.  Friendships within our own family, and friendships with other families have been just as wonderful on this trip as seeing the sights of the U.S.

After our new friends left, our family got to check off the last item I'd had on my wish list of traveling the country activities: experiencing mining.  I'd tried to have us visit a coal mine in West Virginia, but it was too cold.  I'd looked into mines in other places, but they were too expensive.  Here in the Black Hills of South Dakota, we found a little family-owned gold panning / mining operation.  It was so fun, and the members of the family gave us lessons on panning, stories of their family business, and helped us find gold.  All four kids successfully found gold and garnets, and they were so happy!

Learning to let the current in the river wash the dirt and stones from the rocks, garnets, and gold

B shows off his treasures

With our last activity checked off the mental list I'd had, the timing was perfect for what happened.  We'd wondered what we'd do with our fifth wheel when we return to Ohio.  Our new driveway is too steep and has a switchback, which would make it too hard to keep such a large fifth wheel there.  So, Char put our camper on craigslist while here in South Dakota, and a man from the area is buying it, at a price of almost what we paid for it!  We're now in the process of trying to get all of our belongings to fit into our truck, and how to make it back to Ohio with a few motel days.  It will be a clean break from this adventure, onto the next phase of life.  This, of course, makes me sentimental, but it will be exciting to see what happens in the next season of life, when the Utter adventure will continue, but be based in a traditional home.  We look forward to seeing many of you in August!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A gunfight and a rodeo

We left West Yellowstone, drove through the park, and arrived in Cody, Wyoming.  This was a fun stop!  We took a break from visiting any parks or anything scenic, but we had a great time experiencing cowboy and traditional western life.

First, we went to a gunfight show that is performed every evening in Cody.  It was fun.  Not the best acting ever, maybe, but the kids just enjoyed watching and hearing all the gun shots.

After this, continuing on our theme, we crossed the street and went to a free old gun museum.  The boys and Char enjoyed looking at guns, and we girls enjoyed playing with the museum's dog.

The next night was very fun.  Our main reason for stopping in Cody was to attend a good rodeo.  Cody's rodeo was so entertaining, and now Y is looking forward to becoming a cowboy when he grows up.  He was very impressed that there was a cowboy in the rodeo, as well as a cowboy in the gunfight that shared his first name.

The boys participated in the rodeo by running out to try to grab a flag off of a running calf's tail.  They loved that!

After exploring the town, we went to the area that had been the Japanese confinement camp in World War II.  The kids were completely unimpressed, but fortunately there were cute baby birds bouncing around the trail that they got to attempt to photograph.

the hospital at the confinement center.  the barracks are no longer there.
the baby bird is barely visible here, but the kids really wanted it in the blog

Char and I enjoyed seeing the confinement camp.  For some reason, I've really been enjoying seeing historical places and really understanding how they impacted people.  This place was rather depressing to think about having relocated all those people, but it was interesting to see.

With that, our time in Cody ended, as we travel quickly to get back across the U.S.  August is coming soon, and we will see you shortly!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

That's Weird!

Here's Old Faithful!

When Char and I were talking about doing this trip, I'd said that I'd like to see the country, and that I'd always wanted to see the places I'd never seen, like Old Faithful.  Old Faithful had been, for me, an imagined highlight of this trip before we'd gotten here, and I can say it did not disappoint!

We entered Yellowstone National Park, and it was amazing.  There are so many places that we've visited that are SO very beautiful!  At Yellowstone, instead of looking God's handiwork and saying, "Wow, that's so BEAUTIFUL!!" I looked around and said, "Wow, that's WEIRD!!"

There are so many places to explore and geologic features at each turn in the boardwalk.  It looks like another planet.  Add to the weirdness that some of the roads in Yellowstone are currently melting and bubbling because of all the heat and the thin crust of the earth.  Again, WEIRD!  And amazing!!

We also got to see a buffalo on the side of the road.  That was fun!  Outside of the park, a man had informed me, "I'm an old-time cowboy, and let me tell you, you stay away from those buffalo!  People think they're too big to do much, but those buffalo can run 30 MPH.  If they look you in the eyes, watch out!  And if his tail goes up, you're a goner!"  With this in mind, we watched the buffalo from inside the car, and didn't join the crowd of people that jumped out of their cars for close-up photography, without the use of a close-up lens.  It was still really cool to watch the buffalo.

And then there was Old Faithful.  Isn't it so impressive that this geyser erupts with such regularity that the rangers can post a sign about its next eruption time?  I think this was part of the excitement - waiting and watching for Old Faithful to erupt.  While waiting, the kids got hot in the sun and decide to do what the dogs in the row in front of them were doing.

Later in the week, we got to get together with my college friend, Sarah, and her four kids.  It was really fun for my kids, and I loved the chance to get to chat with Sarah about life, life lessons, and faith, in the last 17 years.

Sarah mentioned once that she had been looking forward to chatting and seeing if this trip was as perfect as it sounded on my blog.  That was weird to me, as I know our family, and thus this trip, is not perfect!  Parts of this trip ARE perfect.  God's parts.  The wonderful beaches, gorgeous mountains, weird Yellowstone area...  these things are perfect, no doubt!  Parts of this trip (our parts) are NOT perfect in any way, evidenced by publically-displayed glorious temper tantrums performed by one young Utter, moments of ungodly terror from me as Char drives the ridiculously large 5th wheel around switchbacks and cliffs, and fights between several young Utters over important issues like peanut butter thickness.  I thought of putting a picture of these events on this blog, to be sure no one ever again believes that we are perfect, but I remembered that parents should not embarrass their children online, so you'll just need to believe me.  :)

Well, thus ends this blog, as we're going back out to Yellowstone.  It's weird, and it's fantastic!  Hope your week is similar!  Love from the Utter family!