Halloween fun

Better late than never to show off our Halloween costumes this year. I can sometimes be a bit of a Halloween Scrooge (because of the work and sugar involved for one day), when I do get a chance to do something creative it increases my enjoyment ten-fold. 

Sarah asked to be an owl this year. After a quick look around I didn't find anything cute/cheap enough, so I decided to make it out of felt. I consulted Pinterest for a few ideas and then made up my own design. The great thing about felt—no hemming required. Quick and easy!

Eva wanted to be a princess for about the 20th year in a row, but only because she wanted to wear her high-heel dress-up shoes. In an effort to talk her into being something else I promised to buy her a pair of black heeled dress shoes. Not my favorite, but she's obsessed. That's all it took—true story. I made the ears and tail for her costume too. Easy peasy. 

So what about Abby? In the teenager way she donned an impromptu costume and took off to trick-or-treat with her friends. Thanks to my friend Scotti for nabbing this photo:

Revisiting Easters past

Since our thoughts are on them always these days, I felt prompted to revisit some of our fond Easter memories with the Buhler Family.  Please join us in continuing to pray for Hannah and her family, Madi, Ilona, Justin, and Tiffany.

Note: For those of you who have not heard this news from other sources, here is a brief account. On March 15, our niece Hannah was struck by a shuttle van on her way home from school. near where they live in the United Kingdom. She has sustained serious brain injuries and has since been under care at a London Hospital. While she has not yet gained full consciousness, we are encouraged by her increased responses and the network of prayers supporting her all over the world. May our prayers and support never cease as they are prepare for the long journey of healing ahead.  

Abby's art

Abby just brought home her artwork from her Metal Tech class this past term. I was pretty impressed.  If you don't get the Harry Potter references, well then, you must be a Muggle.

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Actually, she's not really as obsessed as she might appear. We've just been listening to them in the car together as a family, and it takes a long time to get through 7 books. We are on the last one! 

In the moment

I just had to share a clip from Eva's recent Junior Cheerleading performance. It made me chuckle. This is what you call "getting into the spirit!"  (Eva is on the far right. She gets a bit lost in the moment and forgets her routine, but her smiles are big!)

This was Eva's first year cheering and she absolutely loved the experience. She's not afraid of the stage! 

Design for Fort Benton Chamber of Commerce

Last summer I worked on a new identity for our Fort Benton Chamber of Commerce. What started as a new website design turned into a logo and new brochure design as well. It's always fun to work on a project you are personally connected to and passionate about! 

You can visit the website here.  Fort Benton has a lot to offer our visitors! As the first major trading post in Montana, our little town is chalk full of Native American and early white settler history. Not to mention, the mighty Missouri provides some of the best recreational opportunities around. I highly recommend a river float from Fort Benton down through the White Cliffs, covering virgin territory once traveled by Lewis and Clark. Enjoy a high-class dinner at the historic Grand Union hotel and join in on our Summer Celebration before you embark. 

A weekend in Boston

Following up on our trip to D.C. last September, we couldn't not take the opportunity to visit Boston while we were on the east coast. Neither of us had ever been, but the main motivation was to see my dearest friend Charlet and her family who had just moved there from Utah the previous winter. 

We hopped on a commuter flight Friday night after we were done with our D.C. duties, and Charlet and company were good enough to pick us up from the airport and act as our tour guides for the weekend. We stayed at their gorgeous home in the woods, and spent our time visiting Lexington/Concord and downtown Boston, including some good eats and a Duck Boat tour.  Short but ever so sweet.

Blog header design

I recently was given the opportunity to design a blog header for my friend Katie. She had the vision of a watercolor scene that represented landscape and landmarks of the northern Montana prairies where she lives. What a fun challenge!

Katie is a great writer, an accomplished runner, and a valuable farming advocate. It's worth your time to check out her wonderful blog!

Washington, D.C. trip

I know this post is really old news, but this was such an amazing opportunity for Tom and I that I had to take the time to record it here, even if just for our own sake. 

Last fall Tom and I took our final trip with the Farmers Union Young Ag Leadership Couples group. (That's a mouthful). For background information about our involvement in this group, revisit this post about our first trip, this post, and this post

Twice a year, Farmer's Union holds a Fly-in, which is an opportunity for all Farmer's Union states to send representation to D.C. to meet with Congressman and advocate (or lobby) for our positions regarding current Agricultural policies. As part of our Leadership training, we were invited to join the Montana contingency on this trip. 

Since neither of us had ever been to D.C., we couldn't miss the chance to do a bit of sight-seeing, so we flew in a day early. 

I decided to leave my big camera at home in favor of traveling light. My photo quality suffered but my back appreciated the sacrifice. 

Our first stop was the National Air & Space Museum. We also spent time in the Holocaust Museum (my favorite and the most impactful) and the American History Museum. You could spend days just touring the museums, of course.

We met up with some of our group and toured the mall. I like this photo of me with our friend Cassandra—here are two farm moms from Western Montana, playing tourists in D.C. Nothing remarkable about that. But we were looking forward to being inside those government buildings the next day, meeting face to face with the people who run our country. That is an opportunity not everyone gets to experience. 

North Dakota Farmer's Union actually owns two very popular restaurants in D.C. that serve farm to table food. We enjoyed eating at each of them (one of them twice) and they ARE all they are cracked up to be! So if you are ever in the area, be sure to try Farmers, Fishers & Bakers, and Founding Farmers. 

Tom and I noticed there were several Segway tour options in the area, and since we had done this once before in Salt Lake, we talked some of our group into going on a Segway Tour with us. Here we are suited up and a little nervous about navigating Segways through busy D.C. traffic. 

Once we got comfortable (it is very intuitive and fun), we all agreed this was the way to see a lot of sights in a short time. We each wore a headset so we could hear our tour guide, who was very funny and full of information.

Our group in front of the White House:

We saw many of the sights on the Mall and parked our Segways for a tour of the Vietnam and Lincoln Memorials.

When we stopped in front of the Capitol, our tour guide told us about the dome scaffolding. The restoration isn't scheduled to be complete until after the new president takes office in 2017, so they actually have a multi-million dollar contract in place to remove the scaffolding for the inauguration, and then put it back up to complete the renovation. Government waste at it's finest.

That night back in our hotel we were watching TV and caught a speech Trump was making to a group of college students. He happened to be mentioning this particular Capitol project. He said "If I were in charge of this project, I would just say 'work faster!' But since I'm not in charge, this is the first money I will save our country if you elect me President. We can have the Inauguration with the scaffolding in place!"  Ha ha. 

On a recommendation from our Segway tour guide, we capped off the tour with lunch at D.C.'s oldest restaurant, the Old Ebbit Grill.  The atmosphere and food was most excellent. I am getting hungry thinking about those crab cakes...

The next day we spent time at the National Farmer's Union offices visiting with staff and preparing our talking points for the visits with the Legislators. We were each assigned to a small group and assigned appointments to visit various congressmen/women. Some appointments were drop-offs only (we left information regarding our position on certain issues), some were meetings with secretaries or Ag Advisors, and others were with the Senators or Reps themselves. 

This is our group (minus one of the ladies who wasn't able to attend):

While most of our group attended a press briefing at the Dept of Ag the next morning, our Montana group was invited to a muffins and coffee social with our Montana delegation.

And here we are, hobnobbing with our Senators and Representative: Senator Steve Daines, Representative Ryan Zinke, and Senator John Tester. (Yes, there are only 3 of them. With just over a million in population, the 4th largest state in our union has only 1 Representative.) 

I should have prepared better for this event by eating breakfast before, but naturally I assumed that breakfast with our delegation meant we would be eating there. Moments before this photo was taken with Senator Daines (left), I was unsuccessfully juggling my coffee and muffin on a plate, and managed to drop my muffin on the floor right at the Senator's feet. Classy. Without missing a beat he bent down and picked up for me and set it aside. Yes.

After that, we joined the others at the USDA in time to catch lunch at their giant cafeteria. I should have a photo of this. If anyone can have an impressive cafeteria the USDA should, yes? I think I wandered around for about 25 minutes completely unable to make a decision about what to eat. I settled on the salad bar, which wasn't a sacrifice. 

In the afternoon we were invited to a Press Briefing at the White House, for which we had to submit our information for clearance several weeks in advance. We were told what time to show up at the gates to go through security, and we spent a warm afternoon standing in line outside the White House gates. The process was not without entertainment.

The security in Washington is eye-opening. They say it has ramped up considerably while Obama has been in office. We had seen a number of motorcades traveling through town already, usually including a police escort or two with sirens blaring. You always wonder who is riding by through the dark glass of the vehicles. This time we didn't wonder. It was obvious it was the president. As we walked toward the White House, we noticed there were suddenly police everywhere. Then as we approached a street corner there were police stopping traffic and yelling at any pedestrians who dared approach the curb. We found a safe place away from the street to stop and watch. After awhile, the President's motorcade drove by, heading toward the White House gates. The video below isn't the best view, but I think I counted at least 15 vehicles including multiple SUVs, an ambulance, police, etc. 

After that little event we needed to cross north of the White House to the gates where we were to check in. Normally you can cross just beyond the White House lawn, but security personnel kept pushing us north away from the area, so we had to take a long detour around as they were preparing for a helicopter to land. 

After some time we saw the helicopter take off again. We were told the President was leaving for a meeting across the river in Virginia. Whenever the President travels by helicopter, three helicopters take off at the same time and immediate scramble in the air so you don't know which one contains the president. 

When we were finally allowed in the gates we went through several stages of security. We were in fact not going into the actual White House—only the Eisenhower Office building next to it. Very few people are actually allowed in the White House anymore, as I understand it.  

This is the room where our briefing was held. Some of our group snuck a photo of themselves behind the official White House podium. I just remember sitting in very comfortable chairs and having a terrible time trying to stay awake while we listened for 2 hours to various members of President and First Lady's staff. 

That night we were treated to a nighttime tour of many of the monuments and war memorials. They were almost more impactful at night, especially the Korean War Memorial (the last photo).

Finally, our last two days of the actual Fly-in arrived, and we dressed in our business best and pounded the pavement between the Senate and Representative office buildings. 

This is me doing one of our drop-off visits. 

And this is the group of us that met with Senator Tester in his office. 

I really like each one of our Montana Delegates and found them all to be very personable. I was impressed that they each took the time to visit with us. They even took the time to discuss some very personal issues with some in our Montana group. Farmer's Union definitely played a roll in opening doors for us, and it was clear to me that the National Farmer's Union president, Roger Johnson, has a great rapport with those in power in Washington. They listen to what he has to say.

If you are interested at all in being involved with an organization where you can make an impact and have a voice in the politics affecting Agriculture and small family farms, Farmer's Union is the place to do it. Other organizations might be larger, but this one will give you the platform to have a direct voice. 

Farmer's Union chooses a new couple from Montana each year to participate in this Leadership program, so if you are a young (-ish) couple (or even a young single) in Agriculture and are interested in an amazing experience, I would invite you to let us know. Opportunities abound!

Fort Benton Cottage — Part 3

Continuing on with our tour through this cute little cottage, let's mosey through the rest of the house. (As a reminder, the listing is here. Part 1 and Part 2, in case you missed it.)  So as not to drag this reveal out any longer than necessary, this is going to be a long, photo heavy post. 

The kitchen

We probably spent less on this entire renovation than most people spend on the kitchen alone, so I am proud of what we were able to accomplish on our budget: new recessed lighting, a new window above the sink, all new cabinetry and hardware, countertops, sink, and faucet, durable luxury vinyl tile flooring, a new dishwasher and hood vent, a marble-topped rolling island, and a much improved layout. A new refrigerator would have been a nice addition also, but we did plan enough room for a full-sized fridge to be added. If I bought this house I would add a white subway tile backsplash and few well chosen accessories and this kitchen would be as cute as ever!

Instead of buying an expensive range hood vent, we used a traditional cabinet-mount version and asked the contractor to enclose the ducting with a custom wood box instead. I love how it turned out! And I love how the extra touch of wood ties in with the wood island and warms up the neutral space.

One of the best changes we made was to bring the laundry upstairs. Previously the hookups were in the deepest darkest corner of the basement.  I don't love laundry in the kitchen, but we were able to separate the laundry area with the partial wall (beyond the stove). Now the laundry feels like a separate area that is within easy access to the bedrooms, a huge benefit to the new home owners. 

The door shown below leads into one of the two upstairs bedrooms:

And this is another look into the laundry area (the washer and dryer hookups are to the right, out of sight in this photo. The location accommodates both side-by-side or stackable units.) Beyond the laundry area is the mudroom leading to the back door and stairs to the basement. 

The kitchen before:

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This was a hot mess of mis-matched cabinetry, wallpaper, and weird electrical fixtures. I do kind of like the wood cabinet unit, especially the upper glass doors. I might have been inclined to find a way to reuse it, but as you can see by the photos, none of the drawers closed properly. And the homeowners had already gutted this kitchen at the point I was brought into the project.

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Gutting the kitchen gave us the blank slate we needed to reconfigure the layout and update the electrical. 

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bedrooms and bath

The upstairs has two bedrooms with gorgeous original wood windows and natural light. We just had to gussy things up with updated flooring, paint, and lighting.  The ceiling in the Master bedroom featured a paneled design that we left alone. We added a smaller ceiling fixture to better fit the scale of the room (it matches the one in the living room. I'm all about continuity like that!) :)

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One simple thing we did that had a big impact was in the master closet. When it was added to the house, it was built out into the stairwell on the other side of the wall. You had to "shimmy" sideways around the big box just to descend the stairs. (Imagine doing that with a big laundry basket in hand!) You will see when I show you the stairway that this little slanted chunk we took out of the Master closet makes minimal difference here and much improved the basement access. We also widened the closet doors.

The Master before:

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You may wonder why we didn't refinish the hardwood floors in this room, and I will tell you. We definitely considered it. But widening closet and bathroom doors left gaps in the floor that would have needed repairing, and in the end the homeowner liked the coziness of carpet in the bedrooms anyway. The wood in the second bedroom was in worse shape and the wood floor guy advised us not to try to refinish them. 

The two bedrooms are joined by a Jack and Jill bath. The old doors into the bathroom were the funniest little elfish size. I loved the old doors in this house, but we found the closest match we could and replaced the bathroom doors with two new full-size doors.

Now check out this adorable bathroom! I don't have a true before photo, but believe me when I say this is a massive improvement. 

We cleaned up and reused the original tub, but everything else in this bathroom is new. I fought to do tile work in the bathroom and even though it costs a little more II think the money was well spent. 

Using a pedestal sink opens up the room, but it is also a risky decision when there is only one bathroom in the house. There was empty space behind the two bedroom doors, so we took the opportunity to add storage here instead, and a black granite countertop provides an extra area to primp. (We were in the process of installing the backsplash when this photo was taken so it isn't quite finished.)

The bathroom gutted during construction:

The second bedroom is as cute as ever with bead board paneling on the upper third. (These photos were not shot with a wide-angle lens, and as such they look smaller in these photos than they are in real life.)

mudroom and basement

The back mudroom is sunny and bright, so we simply cleaned it up by painting, adding hooks, and replacing the back door. 

This is the door to the backyard and the closest entrance to the garage.

Heading down the stairs to the basement, this is where you had to make yourself very skinny and descend the stairs sideways. (Too bad I don't have a before photo!)  The original construction work was very shoddy so our work in this area included lots of drywall repair, smoothing and leveling stairs, and of course, cleaning it all up with fresh coats of paint.

We couldn't spend a lot of money in the basement, but wanted to finish this portion of it to be clean and usable. There were two odd-sized door openings that would have required custom door solutions, so I turned to this tutorial to make screens that slide on metal piping. I think the result is fun and playful, though they will never be as solid as a real door. With an bigger budget we would have used actual smooth-sliding barn door hardware or framed in a real door. 

Now these two rooms are comfortable and usable as bedroom or office space.

The basement before:

The photo below shows one of the doorways now covered by one of the new screens. (It was formerly covered by a cracked vinyl accordion door. You can see the challenges here. The concrete was uneven and it would have taken quite a bit of work to even this out and frame it properly for a door.

The rest of this basement beyond this opening is fairly large and great for storage. The ceiling is shorter and the floor higher, so it isn't ideal for finished space. 

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And that's it!

I love to take an old house and make it new again, while preserving its best bits. This was a dream project and I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked on it. Now, someone please snatch this up and hire me to help you decorate! :)

Fort Benton Cottage — Part 2

Thanks for all your nice comments about this project yesterday! As a reminder, the listing is here, and I shared background and photos of the exterior in Part 1.

Today I'm going to show you the best part—the interior. I would have absolutely LOVED to have decorated and styled this house, but that was not in the budget, nor did it make sense for an owner who was planning to sell. So, you will have to use your imagination to see the potential in this empty house!

You walk into a light and bright space. (I decided to lead off with the pretty photos this time. The before photos are below.) The walls were all painted a uniform neutral color (Sherman Williams Agreeable Gray) and trim SW Pure White. The original floors were stripped and refinished to their natural color.

I just love the transom window in the living. The ceiling fixture was updated to a scale and period appropriate design. 

The fireplace and all its charm was left alone!

Sunlight streams in the windows so we capitalized on all the natural light by painting the bead board and trim a bright white. The original door was updated with a new lockset. 

Looking into the dining room, the ceiling fixtures was updated to a vintage fixture that features a milk glass top and metal shade. 

The original built-in was left in tact but we repaired and repainted everything to freshen it up. 

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One last view looking from the kitchen out to the dining room:

And here are the before photos. You can see how much darker everything feels! Also featured: oversized ceiling fans, wallpaper borders, and carpet adhesive.

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It isn't my intent to drag this out and leave you in suspense, but since it takes me time to put these posts together, and to avoid making these posts too large and hard to load, PART 3 will come to you tomorrow. 

Thanks for touring!

Fort Benton Cottage — Part 1

Last spring I was given the opportunity to work on a very fun project. Some friends of ours had purchased a darling little cottage in our home town in hopes of eventually retiring there and slowing renovating it. Unfortunately for them, circumstances changed and so did their plans. They no longer needed the house. Rather than re-list immediately and probably lose money on their investment, they decided to make some of the improvements they wanted to make anyway, in hopes of later reselling for a higher price. 

The market in Fort Benton has been in a bit of a slump this winter, so the house is still on the market and waiting patiently for the right match to snatch it up. It is a small house, but it is perfect for the cute retired couple, smart single, or small family looking for an updated home with character. The listing is here, in case you are interested! :)

Because the homeowners lived several states away, they hired a local contractor and then hired me to oversee the renovation and make all the design decisions. I must say they were the dream clients. The budget was small but I had complete freedom within those restraints. 

The exterior of the house was already cute. Its redeeming features included a front porch, rock chimney, solid metal roof (albeit in a distracting blue), original wood windows and clapboard siding, large front yard, and cheery landscaping. The property also included a very nice detached garage with an attached bonus space that could be finished as a guest space. Less appealing was the chipped paint on the concrete stairs and metal pipe railing and those odd porch roof posts that seemed to call too much attention to themselves.  

I wish my after photos stilled featured the pretty hollyhocks and foliage shown in the before photo, but it was late fall when these photos were taken, and the poor plants had been a bit trampled on by the house painters. :) Nevertheless, the changes are subtle but nice.

  • Simplified the post structure on the porch
  • Repainted the house to a slightly less pink color with crisp white trim
  • Removed the screen door so the wooden door could shine
  • Moved the house numbers off the door frame
  • Removed the ugly satellite dish!
  • Painted the flower boxes and front door in a dusky blue-green to tie in both the stone and the roof color. 
  • Added new iron railings and painted the cement steps
  • Added a new lockset on the front door and replaced the brass porch light with a black one to tie in with the other black accents.

When these photos were taken in late fall the leaves were falling obviously. But imagine it all styled up with flowers in the window boxes, plants growing in front, and a few comfy porch chairs!

Next post I will take you inside!

A new year

I'm not sure if anyone checks this space anymore after my unplanned hiatus, but if you are still here, thanks for sticking around! I have a lot of catchup posting to do, including a number of projects I've worked on for my design business, so I hope keep the posts rolling for awhile.

We kicked off 2016 with a fun-filled trip to California to see the Rose Bowl Parade, courtesy of Tom's parents. I thought I would ease into blogging again with a few highlights from our trip. 

After a stop in Bozeman for Christmas, we hit the road and spent our first couple of nights back in Utah, catching up with friends and hitting our favorite old spots. We rode the Front Runner train downtown for a day of shopping and a Jazz game.

How do you like our new Bobcat hats? We found them on clearance while shopping in Utah. Guess their aren't too many Cat fans down there! So we did them a favor and cleaned them out.

These girls have been to a number of Jazz games in their lifetime, but now they were old enough to really appreciate it! They had a great time!

Once we arrived in California we spent a day going to the Bowers Museum and Children's Museum. The girls had fun with the green screen:

We braved the cool temperatures and hit our favorite beach at sunset—Corona Del Mar.  

Next on the agenda was a very fun-filled day at Knott's Berry Farm, complete with Mrs. Knott's Chicken dinner and a few queesy stomach flips on my part. :)  Eva overcame her fears and was a kid-ride expert by the end of the day.

After all that fun we still had one major highlight left! On New Year's Day we bundled up in our warm gear and found our spot in the grandstands for the Rose Bowl Parade. We were glad we were prepared Montanans with hats and gloves because it was quite a chilly morning!

The array of marching bands and flower adorned floats did not disappoint. Claude and Cheri had the opportunity the next day to go see the floats up close, and if I ever have the opportunity to do this again I will make sure that is part of the agenda. The detail on these floats is nothing short of incredible. 

As a side note, we won't forget the appearance of sky writers that flew above us halfway through the parade. It was rather distracting to the point of annoyance, but I must say it was a pretty brilliant piece of marketing. 

In case you've never seen this before or missed the news coverage, it is done by a series of 5 planes that fly in formation and release gases to form letters in a dot pattern. They started out with "America is Great" and we all cheered. The guy behind us remarked "I bet this is Trump's doing". Sure enough, the next word was "Trump" and we all laughed. But then it continued to say "Trump is Disgusting" and followed with a number of phrases slamming Trump that I won't repeat. Definitely not Trump's doing! Someone found an effective way to get their message across, anyway.  Adding to that, the Rose Bowl Parade was followed by a large number of Bernie supporters in their own parade of support. Ah yes, it is indeed an election year. 

Sadly, we started off the next day for the long 2-day drive home. All good things come to an end. Thanks for the wonderful trip, Claude and Cheri!

Black Hills trip

We kicked off our summer with a fun trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota. The reason for our visit was another training session with our Farmer's Union Leadership Couples group. As with our Wisconsin trip last year, we were able to bring our families. We left a day early so we could spend some time sightseeing. Nanna and cousin Dawson met us in Rapid City and took us for a rainy but super fun day. First stop: the Journey Museum.

The Museum kept the kids entertained for the morning with the usual dinosaur paraphernalia. The Black Hills are a pretty interesting geological formation so we enjoyed learning about that also. I also enjoyed the exhibit about a 1972 flood when the dam broke on Lake Pactola, flooding campgrounds all the way down the mountain and Rapid City. It was a bit disconcerting knowing there were flood warnings out throughout the day for all the creeks in the Hills due to heavy rain.

We spent the afternoon with crocodiles and slithery snakes at Retile Gardens. It's a pretty fascinating place also, but a sheet of glass isn't near enough space between me and the most deadly snakes of the world. Ewww.

Since it was Eva's actual birthday, we picked up some cupcakes to celebrate, and then the kids settled in for an evening of movies with Nana. 

Tom and I took the opportunity to get away for date. We fired up Papa's '82 corvette and took it for a spin up to Deadwood, where we met with one of the couples in our Farmer's Union group for a tasty steak dinner. It was a perfect night and I only wish I had pulled out my camera to record it...

The next morning we joined our group in Custer State Park. 

After an afternoon of training, we were treated to a long jeep tour of the park.

I was a little disappointed to learn that some of the larger game we enjoy seeing at our Montana state parks are either missing our sparse in the Black Hills. We did see antelope, bluebirds, prairie dogs, deer, and buffalo. 

The buffalo are little smaller (and probably healthier) than our Yellowstone bison. I was interested to learn that they manage this heard much like a cattle heard, even vaccinating and selling off a number of them every year. In fact, most of the park where they roam is actually fenced in. State game reserves just have different management philosophies than our National Parks that try to let things exist naturally (if that is what you call it when we reintroduced wolfs back to the ecosystem...)

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our tour and the scenery was amazing. As the highlight of our trip, we ended up at a proper Chuck wagon Roast in the back woods. They gave everyone hats and bandanas for the occasion, and we all ate steaks and burgers to the crooning of old cowboy songs. Thank you, Farmer's Union, for the amazing night!

We finished off another day of training with enough time to enjoy another afternoon and evening of sightseeing, so we choose another route through the Hills to explore, and it did not disappoint. Another highlight of our trip: the Needles Highway.

Starting out on the windy drive, there were lots of beautiful vantage points of these cool rock formations. Looking at it from here, it doesn't look like a very good place to build a highway...

But we kept driving and winding and found ourselves among those rocks.

At the top we were treated to this narrow one-lane tunnel and the eye-of-the-needle rock.

Unfortunately Eva napped through this whole part of the trip. :(

Coming back down the other side we had to stop the car again when we passed the perfectly picturesque Lake Sylvan. There is a lodge and quaint cabins here, so we mentally added this to our future ideal vacation list. 

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Our mission for the evening was to end up at Mount Rushmore to check that stop off our list. But for a twist we decided to visit it at night. We met up with Tom's parents and nephew in nearby Keystone for dinner, and then they joined us at Mount Rushmore just in time to see the lighting ceremony. They show a film about the presidents honored and then they honor all the veterans present. It was a neat time to visit, if not the most ideal for photos. :)

We spent one more night in Custer State Park and headed out for the long drive home. But we look our sweet time driving even more roads through the hills, and met up with Tom's parents again at Johnson Siding for a nostalgic side trip visit to the home his Grandparent's had built and lived in. The house is vacant and for sale now. If we could spare three quarters of a million we would snatch it up for a vacation spot. It might have been a little uncomfortably close to the creek when it's overflowing it's banks... but wow—this spot really can't be beat for beauty under the shadow of those granite cliffs.

Goodbye, South Dakota, and thanks for the great memories!

dancers

I'm doing some more catching up here. I had to share some highlights and videos from the girl's dance recital at the end of the year! Eva did 2 dances and the other girls did 3 each. I was a busy mom getting them through their costume changes backstage, so pictures and videos are courtesy of Tom and my mom.

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A special thanks to Nanna for the flowers and for driving up to watch them!

Eva turns 5!

I truly cannot believe my baby is 5 years old today. 

I both love it and hate it. She is more and more independent which definitely makes life easier, but it also marks the passing of a big stage of our lives.

This one is full of personality, though she might not let you in on it right away. She has her Dad's sense of humor and her Mom's persnickety preferences. She has her biggest sister's kindness and her bigger sister's precociousness. And plenty of her own individuality. She definitely completes us. 

She asked for a rainbow party this year. (It's never a character with her. Instead it's a color or an idea, like "umbrellas" or "pink and purple".) Sarah made this banner for her, and dressed her in one of her old dance costumes. Sarah had fun playing the roll of party planner.

Eva graduated from Preschool this year. They had an adorable end-of-year program, as usual. In the photo below, Eva is on the far right, second from top. She clapped for herself after every song. :)

We are thankful for the excellent foundation her teacher, Mrs. Briese, gave her.

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Eva is all signed up to go to Kindergarten in the fall. Here is she dressed up for Kindergarten Roundup.

She even made the front page of the paper that week!

We love you forever, Eva! Happy 5th Birthday!

Track season

Our last month of school passed with a flurry of activity and now I have a lot of blogging to catch up on! 

Abby started track this year, and because it overlapped with basketball she only had a few meets. That was long enough for her to LOVE it, and she really had a successful short season.

Her events were 100 M and 200/300 M hurdles, 4 x 100 M Relay, 4 x 400 M Relay, and Long Jump, which she swapped for the 200 M dash when she realized it was a great event for her. 

After she fell in her first ever hurdles race on our cinder track and sported some pretty good road rash, I was a nervous wreck every time I watched her run hurdles. She has great form though and didn't have any more falls. 

A highlight for me at the District Track Meet was her 200 M second place finish right behind 8th grade powerhouse Leah.

The girls team finished 2nd in their district. (In Junior High they don't advance beyond District.) Abby placed in all of her events and was the 2nd highest point earner, as a sixth grader competing against 7th and 8th graders. She should have a good career ahead of her!

I had fun watching these boys also. They put in so much effort and finished strong in 3rd place.

Abby finished her season beating 2 school records—one in the 4 x 400 M relay and one in the 200 M hurdles. We are so proud of you, Abby!

weekend update

This weekend on the farm:

We finished our spring seeding. Now we just pray for rain!

Spring seeding wasn't entirely uneventful. If the seeder looks a little . . . wonky to you in this photo, that's because it had just broken an axle. It is a monster piece of equipment (this photo doesn't do it justice) and it is a little disconcerting to have just it just . . . break. It can be overwhelming sometimes to think about the size of things on the farm. Everyone has problems, but on the farm those problems can be VERY BIG problems. My parents spent a couple of days over Easter weekend running to Canada for the parts needed to fix the axle, and they were up and running again shortly after. Could have been worse.

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago while on a run on the bluffs overlooking Fort Benton. Things are greening up. I love spring!

In other news, basketball (of course).

Abby finished up her season with a 10-0 record. Sarah has one week left. Both girls played in a 3-on-3 tourney this weekend. Abby is an old pro but this was Sarah's first. 

I think the remarkable thing about the photo above is the dramatic difference in height between the two girls. (3 years age difference). Eva might be tall like her sister Abby!

This is Sarah's cute team. They finished strong in second place.

Abby's team took first place. The team they played in the Championship game were girls from their own Flight traveling team (right). They were all great sports and enjoyed playing each other. 

I turned another year older this weekend, too. Just one more reminder how fast time flies. I looked at old photos of the girls as babies. Wah! It just reminds me how important it is to record these moments because in a few short years we will be looking back on these busy days with faded memories and wistful nostalgia. 

baby McKenzie

When I launched my design business Joellyn Clark Designs, I included photography as part of my services, along with Interior Design and Graphic Design. I thought it was important to have a diverse skill set to get enough business in my small rural area, and so far I have kept busy with projects in all three areas. 

I have had a hard time having the courage to share my photo work here on the blog. You see, I have worked with some really really amazing photographers in my career as a designer, and I know how hard each of them have worked to refine their craft and how competitive and difficult a field it is to make a living. I know how expensive equipment can be and how much they have invested. I can't/won't even pretend to compete at their level, nor do I want to make as big as an investment into this area. I don't and probably won't ever have a studio. I prefer to shoot with natural light in natural settings. However, I kept getting requests to do photography, and I figured I might as well get paid for what I am doing. My design background is an asset and I do know I at least I have more skill than the average person with a digital camera. And so, I am going to make an effort to share some of my work here. 

And to those afore mentioned Photographers I know and love (you know you you are), I welcome your feedback and criticisms because I know how valuable it is to learn from others. Working alone can be difficult sometimes and I miss that element of support!

Without further ado, here is the beautiful baby McKenzie, born back in December. I could cuddle and smell her sweet baby smell all day long.