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!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Story of a Stroller

Remember when you were expecting your first baby?  We had planned a weekend to visit Ohio.  As it was the only weekend we'd be in Ohio, I knew that there would be a surprise baby shower.  So, in advance of that weekend, we walked into Babies R Us, and they handed us a gun for shooting desired items.  Do you remember doing the same thing?

Remembering being handed a similar gun for shooting items when we were getting married, I thought of how we shot a lot of items just because it seemed socially appropriate to have them.  However, I've never used a butter dish.  Ever.  Even if it did match the rest of the dishes.

So, we were holding this item-shooting-gun at a baby store, wondering what exactly we'd need with an infant.  For anyone in this phase of life, I think the answer is, "not much!"  You need a carseat, diapers, some clothes, and depending on your baby, maybe a pacifier.

Of course, you need a stroller.  Ten years and four children later, we've used a lot of strollers over the years.  A stroller to hold the baby's carseat, a double stroller to hold baby #2's car seat and his older brother.  A sit-and-stand stroller to hold baby #3 and his two older brothers.  A jogging stroller.  A double jogging stroller.  And this stroller remains.  The umbrella stroller.

Here in Montana, my daughter and I took our last walk with the ten-year-old umbrella stroller.  Having seen many good days, it's falling apart.

The umbrella stroller got a lot of use in Nevada, as Miss I tried to give up naps and was cranky in the evenings.  We used it in Georgia and Florida before we realized that Miss I could scooter along with the rest of us, riding on Char's foot.  The stroller made many laps around our old development in Ohio, but also went for rides in our old developments in New York and northern Ohio.  It's visited lots of zoos and helped out on many paved hikes.

I've never been sentimental about giving up diapers, but I can be very sentimental about strollers.

This stroller may have been a bit frightened when it arrived at our current campground.  The stroller witnessed, as it rode into the park, a big circle of toothless men cleaning their guns and drinking beer.  The stroller continued on into the park and rode by a domestic dispute which needed to be corrected.  The stroller thought about staying at this campground for only one night.

The stroller's desires were vetoed, and we stayed here for a week.  It was a good week of breaking down the prejudices of the stroller's owners.  The woman and the cat in the campsite next to the stroller taught us a lot about gardening in pots and caring for tomatoes.  The people at the campground provided s'mores and sightseeing advice to all of the stroller's former occupants.  The stroller ended up finding them to be very interesting and sharing people.

no one minded our kids climbing absolutely anywhere to play with the park's bunnies

Although the stroller never did get out of the back of the truck, here's a few of the views the stroller saw from its confinement in the truck bed.  Views suggested by the people at the campground:

underneath a hidden waterfall
Little Bitterroot Lake

Of course, the stroller came to this location partially to see Glacier National Park.  The views here were incredible!

sundress and the snow!

Back at the campground, the stroller was able to see a moose, and watch its old occupants get ice cream and run through sprinklers.  The stroller sat empty at some monkey bars when Miss I hopped out to climb, and the stroller barely held her weight as she rode to go see a kitten.

The stroller may now be relegated to a trash can, but in its place are a bunch of memories of its four occupants, love, locations, and lessons learned.  Life moves on, marked for a moment by the story of a stroller.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


This last week has been beautiful.  I've been enjoying seeing my friends' pictures of 4th of July on Facebook, and isn't it so great?  I love the summer holiday.  The campground we were staying at - Priest Lake State Park in Idaho, had a lot of great reminders about our country, as well as fun activities, so we enjoyed spending the 4th there.  Here, our kids were participating in the 4th of July parade that went around the campground.

Later in the day, we participated in a sand castle competition at the state park.  After having seen a sand castle competition on the beach in Oregon, it was fun to try to build a sculpture of our own.  As you can see, Priest Lake is beautiful.  We loved it!

Giving us great memories of the ring of fire on Conesus Lake in New York, there were fireworks being set off all around Priest Lake.  This was a really fun way to spend our evening!  We've camped on the 4th before, but most campgrounds don't seem to allow fireworks.  This was a great park!  The activities director / camp host did such a great job, it's making us think about camp hosting next summer for a month.  We'll see!

We're no longer staying in one place for a week now that we need to travel back across the country, so we've moved on to Montana.  I was looking forward to this for awhile, because we got to see my cousin, Jocelyn, and her family.  The scenery in Montana is beautiful, but it's also just beautiful to be able to spend time with cousins.

Here's Jocelyn and Scott's cute cabin.  Their property is great, and we love log cabins.  This place is so wonderful.  Plus, what could be better than watching your nine kids have a blast together?

The big boys spent a good deal of time shooting BB guns.  They loved it.

We got to take a walk around Jocelyn's property.  So nice!  We also walked to the neighbors' house, and they let us hold a baby bunny, pet the baby goats, and learn all about chickens, should we want to raise them in Ohio.

After a nice picnic with the cousins, we all went out of MacGregor Lake.  At this lake, you put a piece of bacon on your fishing line, and the crawdads grab it.  Our kids loved fishing this way!

Here are the results.  The other result is that the song, "You get a line and I'll get a pole, we'll go fishin' in the crawdad hole…" is stuck in my head.  So fun!

Here, the kids show how big the crawdads were that they caught.  :)  It was a fantastic time with cousins.  As I watched all the kids play this last week, I was so thankful for these opportunities we're having.  We get to see the beautiful wonders God created, and we get to see cousins that are far away, but now the kids have a chance to know each other.  I couldn't be more thankful.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


(My apologies for a disjointed blog.  I started it and stopped it several times, so if it doesn't flow, that's why!)

We're in Washington state, and it's our last day on the west coast.  Tomorrow, we start the trek across the northern part of the U.S. so that we'll be back in time for next school year.  I can't believe how quickly time has flown, and am feeling very nostalgic to be beginning the trip back tomorrow.  I will miss this time on the road!  Sometimes I think I'm appreciating every moment that God has given me, and sometimes I want to cling to these happy seasons too much.

As I enjoyed Mt. Rainier National Park this weekend, it occurred to me that I'm clinging to the happy touring-the-west-coast season of life a bit too much.  I don't want to let this season go!  It's wonderful!

We went to Mt. Rainier National Park to do a little sightseeing and hiking.  Being the very tail end of June, we were handed the winter (!) hiking map and sent out on a recommended trail, which was buried in deep snow.

It was absolutely gorgeous!  (Simultaneously, it was too foggy to actually see what you picture seeing of Mount Rainier.  That day, we had to watch the movie in the visitor center to see the mountain the way you should see it.)  Having missed winter this year, our kids were thrilled to begin the snow hike.  As we started out, there were lots of people out playing in the snow and hiking a bit near the nature center.

The farther out we got, the fewer and fewer people we saw.  Eventually, whenever we sporadically saw other people, they were carrying huge hiking backpacks.  I figured they must be on the way back down from a serious hike up the mountain.  It didn't occur to me that we might have veered off our intended path and were now on a "strenuous" trail.  We kept hiking.

Not seeing the the glacier lookout that we'd intended to get to, plus having a lot of fog / rain rolling in with little visibility, I asked the two hikers heading back down where we were.  Apparently, we were almost to the overnight camping area.  (Tents.  In snow.  I guess that's why there were people with all that equipment.)  One of our children was wailing loudly because of being cold.  The interest in snow was wearing off.

We turned around.  It was still mainly just us on our hike.  After awhile, we saw another person hiking who said, "There's a bear up there!"  I tried to grab the kids and run the other way.  Two of our kids ran with Char to go see the bear.  One of our other children was so scared of a potential bear that he started singing at the top of his lungs.  "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly."  Apparently, he was inspired by the snow.  Either his noisy singing inspired the "bear" to run away, or the man's English was really poor, because as we continued sliding down the mountain back to the nature center, the only animal we saw looked like a really large groundhog.  No major incidents to report!

Arriving back at the nature center, I looked at the hiking map.  Yep, strenuous trail.  Recommended that you only set out if you have ice picks to dig yourself out in case of avalanche, matches in a waterproof bag, food, compass, tent in case you get stuck on the mountain overnight, etc.  Oops.

We continued on to the non-snowy areas of the park to see some waterfalls.

Back at our campsite, we have a fog-free, not-at-all dangerous view of Mt. Rainier, and we've spent the rest of our time here playing in a beautiful mountain lake.

This swimming area has logs instead of buoys, and Char and B enjoyed trying to balance on them

I never know what to expect from one week to the next, while on the road.  Some moments, like our "nice and easy hike at Mt. Rainier," are not at all what I anticipated.  Sometimes, I do think I know what's happening, like the fact that this adventure is wrapping up in the next six weeks.  I will miss it, but God gives gifts and opportunities for a season, it seems.  Nothing really lasts forever except for the eternity of heaven or hell.  This life is full of change, new seasons, and surprises, one after another.

Typically, I've hated change.  In my fear, I've thought that change is frightening, and could mean that you end up hanging out with a scary bear in an avalanche on a snowy mountain.  But this trip has had change every week, and the change can be a blessing.  You get to see this:

I have a lot to learn about trusting God, but change isn't necessarily bad.  Change is something God directs.  I think there's something I should learn here about gracefully letting go of one season, gracefully living life where I'm at - even if I don't understand its context, and gracefully picking up the next season when it happens.  Maybe appreciate the gifts of this season, but not hold them so tightly that I'm unwilling to change seasons.

That said, change is coming for the Utter family, so anyone want to buy a fifth wheel a month and a half from now??  God's created a world of wonder out here, and we've been so blessed to see it!...  for a season.