Tuesday, May 31, 2011

10 Fun FREE Things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota and GIVEAWAY

Have you ever visited a strange land, and not known the first thing about this said strange land? You just wanted to get the scoop from a local, like... where are the best mom and pop restaurants?... where are the amazing hiking trails that tourists don't know about?... what is a tourist trap, and what is a must-see?

Well, I am here to help answer all those questions for you, er... that is, if you happen to be planning a visit to the beautiful Rapid City, South Dakota. I will be doing a four post series on what's hot in Rapid City and surrounding areas. I've done a bit of research to put together a list for you; I even rallied my fellow SD facebook friends to help write this inclusive post on what there is to do in Rapid City. Why? Because Rapid City is my hometown, and I LOVE IT. Of course, what's awesome to me might not be so awesome to someone else, so these opinions are my own. If there is something you feel I may have missed, please leave it in the comments section for future readers who are planning their visit to the greatest place on Earth! (I'm sure there's someone out there who would dispute that statement, but I can't help it. I love my hometown)!

When I talk about Rapid City, I'll be referring to it as the Black Hills. It is the largest city (population: 70,000) in the gorgeous hills of South Dakota. Really, I should ask myself why I am compiling this list and sharing such a well-kept secret with all of you. Well the Black Hills are so amazing, they are a secret worth sharing. Of course, you do have to brave the cold if you live there during the winter....

Let's begin with my first list. 
10 Fun FREE Things to do in the Black Hills.
{Check back every Wednesday in June, I'll be posting:
More Things to do in the Black Hills,
Seasonal Things to do in the Black Hills,
Places to Eat in the Black Hills, and possibly more}

*Click on all the links to go directly to the websites where you'll find more info on hours, address, etc. Remember, all these things are free to do!

1. Storybook Island
I loved this place when I was a kid. It was almost as good as Disney World! Little kids will be entertained for hours. They've got a ton of story-book themed playground equipment, a petting zoo, a childrens theater, and a little train going through the park.
{I painted Mary Had A Little Lanb's house when I was in high school for a service project!}

2. Dinosaur Hill
For a really pretty view of the city, drive to the top of Skyline Drive and take some fun pictures with these cement dinos.

3. Art Alley
An amazing display of tagging, and a perfect photography location. I'm kind of obsessed. I took my little sister's prom pictures here.

4. Black Hills Gold Tour
One of the most characteristic things about the Black Hills is the gold. It is also one of South Dakota's biggest industries. You can see how it is made, what makes it special, and buy some jewelry. My wedding ring is Black Hills Gold. Love!
{not my ring}
5. Canyon Lake
I adore this place. It's a really fun walk, place to feed the ducks, has lots of pavilions for picnics, playgrounds, just relaxing and fun.
{engagement session I did with some friends}
6. Fish hatchery 
I took my daughters here once, and they had the best time! We called ahead and were given permission to feed the fish, buckets and buckets of fish food. We took a behind the scenes tour. It was really exciting for me and the kids!

7. Civic Center
I love checking out what's going on at the civic center. They've got anything from rodeos to craft shows, hockey games to dance recitals, concerts, broadway shows, etc. My husband and I saw Brian Reagan perform last winter.

8. Downtown
It is not huge, but Main Street and St. Joseph are so incredibly charming, with a lot of neat shops and great places to eat. Take the President's Walk, a tour featuring several of our nation's presidents in bronze statues.
{my sister's friend Kevin}

9. Ellsworth Air Force Base Air and Space Museum
Free. Interesting. Awesome.

10. Outdoors- hiking, camping, fishing, boating, climbing, caving, mountain biking, wakeboarding, hunting, skiing
(Um, sheesh, maybe I should do an entirely separate post just on the outdoors. I'll add that to my list. Until then, here's a few pictures of us having fun in the great wide open).

 (Sorry if this grosses you out! We process and eat all our meat if that makes you feel better!)

***There are obviously a lot of important things left out of this list (Mt. Rushmore!). This list is just about free things to do. Check out my other Black Hills vacation posts here below!

Other Related Posts:

Useful Websites:

One last thing...
Everyone Wins!
I hunted, for years, for a beautiful picture of a sunflower field. When I was driving across South Dakota one summer, I literally gasped when I saw this. I got out of my car and spent nearly half an hour taking pictures of this breathtaking sight.
I want all of you to have a copy of this picture if you like sunflowers!
All you need to do is:
1. Become a Follower of my blog
2. Leave a comment with your email address, or email me (familyeverafter at gmail dot com).
I will email the image to you!

Monday, May 30, 2011

A tribute to my father on Memorial Day!

Today in the United States is Memorial Day, the day we celebrate and honor those who have died serving our county, those who have served in the past, and those who currently serve. My heart is so full of gratitude and patriotism today, as it is every Memorial and Verteran's Day.

I grew up in the Army. To this day, the day my daddy came home from war was second best day of my whole life (next to my wedding). Pictured above is my dad and little sister, just minutes after reuniting with him after a 7 month deployment in Saudi Arabia during the Desert Storm Gulf War.  At the time, we (mom and 4 girls) were living in Ft. Hood, Texas, which was the biggest US Army post. The sense of patriotism in that community was so strong. I was only 8, but the feeling and memories will forever be ingrained in my soul.

The day he came home....
 we woke up at 4 am.
We cleaned and scrubbed the entire house.
My big sister and I had gotten really good at that.
We each had a special shirt that our mom had decorated with flags and yellow ribbons.
We got to skip school.
We couldn't even eat breakfast, we were too excited.
We drove down to the base, we parked our van on the side of the freeway.
There were miles and miles of families and friends.
We all sat on top of our cars and waited.
Finally, the buses started coming. 
Buses and buses of brave men and women.
We waved flags, we honked horns, we cried and cried.
They were home.
Our dad was safe.
Through the throngs of people, we finally found him.
We practically dropped all our belonging and just collapsed into each other.
It was the most beautiful day ever.
I will never, ever forget it. 
This is my daughter, wearing the shirt I wore that special day.

Growing up in the Army developed my character in so many ways. I learned so much- how to be tough, how to be brave, to be thankful, to lean on my family, that my Heavenly Father loves me and would protect my daddy. We moved a lot. We had to be independent, to learn how to make new friends, to put ourselves out there, to look out for one another. Family was always first. 

I don't know how I, or how my mom, could have survived those 7 months without a belief that our family would be together forever, even if something were to happen to our dad. It was a scary time. I still remember the nightmares I had of my daddy being shot at, bombs going off all around him. Him not coming home, and what that would be like. What would happen if he came home injured our without limbs? I worried about it all the time. I was scared sick at home without him. I was almost obsessive compulsive about making sure the doors and windows were locked every night, that all my sisters and mom were safe.

I will never forget my mother's faith, courage, and optimism. She was so strong. It was because of her attitude that we all got through it, and in the end were stronger people for it. I don't remember her crying, wishing life was different. She picked up all the pieces and trudged forward. She was asked to be the Relief Society president (the leader to all the women in our church) of two wards which had to be combined since most of the men had been deployed. That was a lot of women to look out for, all who had problems of their own and whose husbands were gone too. She spent so much time serving others, that she didn't have time to take pity on herself. We were so busy, that sometimes we didn't even realize our dad wasn't there. Of course we missed him, but I'll never forget this important lesson my mom taught us.... "No matter how far away he is, he is always with us. We will always have his influence, his love, and his spirit with us no matter what happens. We know what he would want us to do." 

It was about the same time that the movie "An American Tale" had come to theaters. My sister and I were in a performing singing and dancing troupe (see picture here), which really helped pass the time. We did shows all over Texas-- at Sea World, CTC, Fiddlers Green, and many exciting places. There was one show where they had to carry me off the stage crying. We were singing the lyrics, "Somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight. Someone's thinking of me, and loving me tonight.... And even though I know how very far apart we are. It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star. And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby. It helps to think we're sleeping underneath the same big sky."

My heart pounds every time I hear those words. Or the words to this song. I LOVE the feeling I get when I listen to it. So patriotic.

I even wrote a song for my dad. I got to sing it to him over the phone once. That was cool. (I'm glad the soldiers can email home these days).
"Daddy, come home.
Dad, you've got to understand. 
That you're my helping hand.
Daddy, I love you, I miss you so much.
Daddy, oh
Daddy, oh
I love you very dear. 
And even though you're not so near,
I can love you for
I know its so cheesy, but I was 8! :) Writing this song got me through one more of what seemed a million days to endure.
I still have all the letters he wrote to me. They are among my most prized possessions. 

A few years later, my dad was deployed to Somalia. The whole experience to live through, all over again. This time I was 11.  Again my mom was a hero. She took us on a cross country road trip, from Kentucky, where we were now living, to Texas, to Utah, to California and back. My mom and 5 girls. 
We had a port-a-potty in our van :)
It was hard all over again. I think even though he was in more danger this time, we were even stronger. I knew without a doubt that he would be sent home to us. He was. We've been so blessed.

Even though it was hard, and a huge sacrifice to have him gone, I am so proud of him. I supported him and still support our troops who are overseas. They fight for our freedom!

My dad is an ER doctor, and was in charge of a huge tent, which was the hospital, where he helped take care of all the wounded and killed soldiers. He didn't even carry a gun with him as he left overseas. He said the soldiers would protect him, and they did. My dad is special. He is an amazing person. He has so much character, he is so focused, so committed to doing good and helping others. I love him so much, and am honored to be his daughter.

Happy Memorial Day to all! Let freedom ring!

Easy kid coloring crafts for Memorial Day

This morning I taught my children the Pledge of Allegiance and we talked about what it means to live in a free country, and what the United States is. I told them about when I was little and my dad was a soldier who fought for our country in a war. (see tribute to my father here). My kids loved it. Here is what we created to celebrate our soldiers. It's nothin' fancy, but fits my motto, "cheap, quick, simple, and easy!" Today we honor those who protect us!

Linked to: The DIY Show-off, Skip to my Lou, CRAFT, Making the World Cuter, Tatertots and Jello , I Heart Naptime, Keepin it Simple

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

my bucket list

A few weeks ago as I was running my first half marathon, I constructed a little list in my mind of all the fun things I would love to try in my lifetime. There are so many things I want to do, I'm not sure if one lifetime is enough. I thrive on making detailed lists, so here is my silly little bucket list....

*update- I've accomplished some of these things! they have been crossed off! go me! hehe

1. learn how to play the mandolin
2. live in the country
3. and live near all of our family (can we have both?)
4. raise chickens in my backyard
5. start a family bluegrass band
6. grow a successful garden
7. cook with all natural cage free meat and drink organic milk
8. hike the appalachian trail with my hubby
9. rock climb behind mt rushmore (although i think its illegal)
10. attend the national CLOG workshop
11. visit Nashville
12. relearn French
13. go on a horseback riding adventure for a few days
14. learn how to wakeboard
15. learn how to invest in real estate
16. have a Paris Girls reunion, in Paris, with our husbands
17.host a hat party
18. be on time for church every Sunday for a whole year
19. meet Rachael Ray, and maybe eat lunch with her?
20. live off the grid
21. serve a mission for my church with my husband
22. never lose my wedding ring
23. understand politics as well as my husband
24. buy my hubby a new truck without telling him
25. go hunting
26. be able to sing like leann rimes (that's wishful thinking)
27. overcome my fear of snowboarding (i broke my back doing it)
28. get the birds and the bees talk overwith with our kids (i'm terrified)
29. learn how to play better golf
30. fulfill all my organization endeavors
31. do one random thing every day
32. do an act of service every day
33. pay it forward
34. pay it backward (ie- take our parents on a trip someday in appreciation of all the ways they've helped and supported us)
35. have a retreat someday with my 4 sisters
36. learn the rules to football once and for all
37. spend a few days in each state
38. revisit Hungary with my hubs
39. take him to a Chicago Cubs homegame
40. be better at styling my hair
41. have an amazing library like my mom's and read every book in it
42. spend a day in a hammock reading
43. learn how to use Photoshop CS 5 (still sitting on my shelf....)
44. build and design a home
45. figure out a scrapbook/archiving system for my family's thousands of pictures and saved art projects
46. actually organize all those pictures
47. take a photography workshop
48. attend a runway show with Tasha
49. burn all our family home videos to dvd and send copies to grandparents
50. watch all of my childhood home videos with my whole entire family and laugh until we cry
51. see "Wicked"
52. live to see a temple built in the Black Hills
53. own a hippie van
54. watch all the Star Wars movies in order
55. spend some time on a dude ranch
56. visit Nachotiches, Louisiana, where my husband's father grew up
57. learn to love crab and lobster
58. paint something really cool
59. have a family picture taken every year
60. learn how to build a fire from scratch
61. swim with dolphins
62. go to hawaii with my husband
63. bask in a field of sunflowers
64. memorize all my church's hymns
65. get a trampoline
66. read the entire bible
67. learn to speak Hungarian
68. get better at double-doubley's (clogging step)
69. get certified in CPR
70. beat my husband at chess
71. watch my husband behind the scenes at work
72. organize my basement
73. get better at color scheming
74. be forgiven for the heart i broke in college. i handled that situation horribly.
75. travel to Jerusalem, guided by my brother in law Levi
76. jump rope for exercise
77. be a better swimmer
78. build a huge lego house with my kids
79. be a good floral designer, and learn all the latin names for flowers
80. go a whole day without having to say "no" or "hang on" to my kids
81. have a huge haunted house on Halloween
82. grow my own cotton, spin my own thread and weave my own fabric (kidding!!)
83. but i would love to design my own fabric someday
84. take the kids to see Niagra Falls
85. pay off our student loans in record time
86. have a detailed food storage system
87. visit every small town in South Dakota with my husband
88. see George Strait in concert
89. teach my kids how to clog
90. have time to play tennis
91. cook a turkey
92. make a cool Christmas advent calendar for each of my kids
93. get certified to teach aerobics
94. tone my arms better
95. learn more about my ancestors
96. bike along the Lost Coast
97. never lose sight of my priorities
98. share my testimony in meaningful ways
99. raise our kids to be loving and kind
100. be with my family forever
101. write a love song for my husband
.....and counting
 (you'll see skydiving is not listed. i have absolutely no desire!)
And just for fun, here's a few of my favorite things already accomplished....

witness my daddy coming home from 2 wars (Desert Storm and Somalia)
play Clara in the Nutcracker Ballet (i was eleven)
perform in a singing and dancing group with my big sister
visit almost every state (still need to see alaska, washington, and alabama)
visit Prince Edward Island
work on my grandparent's blueberry farm in northern california
go to BYU
sew a quilt
marry the boy i had a crush on since i was 12
went to the senior prom with him
spend a semester in France
see the Eiffel Tower
eat escargot
attend a session at my church's general conference
work at a golf course mowing the rough and raking sandtraps
learn how to drive a stick shift
dance on the BYU Folk Dance team
visit Hungary 
teach middle school
become a mother
donate my hair
run a half marathon

backstage  at "Bach to Broadway" with my sister when we lived in Ft. Hood, TX. one of my favorite memories!

next time you're bored, think of a bucket list and write it down! 
(i'm currently making one with my kids for the summer). 
it is fun!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

my fairy blogmother.

You may have noticed a few changes to my blog design.
I tried to figure out how to do it myself.
It was taking me forever, so my fairly blogmother came to my rescue.
(It was a little birthday present). 
I told her my vision (header, background, buttons, etc).
Within minutes, my dreams were a reality.
She was awesome.
So easy and nice to work with.
I chose her based on her brilliant name, awesome prices, and  amazing graphics talent.
If you're looking for a blog re-design, you'll love her too.

Thank you fairy blogmother!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

sunshine on a stem.

Sunflowers tell such a lovely story. I love the way they stand so tall and confident. They obediently face the sun, looking to it in all directions. They are my favorite.
I took this picture in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota.

I am doing my first ever giveaway on this blog. 
And here's the great part...  
Everyone is a winner! 
If you want a copy of this picture, I will email the file to you. All you have to do is.... 

1. follow my blog (by clicking "follow" on the left).
 2. leave a comment with your email address, or if you'd rather, email me at {familyeverafter at gmail dot com}.

This giveaway ends June 10.
Stay tuned, I've got another picture of a huge field of sunflowers, which I'll be doing another giveaway for next week.

I entered this picture in the I Heart Faces photo challenge. Visit the site to see some more floral beauty. My daughters and I just spend the last 10 minutes choosing our favorite thumbnails to check out.

Monday, May 16, 2011

sights of st. george and southern utah.

We recently returned from a great trip to St. George, Utah, with my husband's family. Here's a few of my favorite pictures from the beautiful scenery and nature from Southern Utah, Zion Canyon, and St. George.