50 States Before Graduation, Parenting, Traveling the US

A Last Minute Escape to Kentucky

It happened – ‘Rona made us more than a little stir-crazy. 7 weeks into Michigan’s original lockdown, we wanted out. We needed adventure. With 3 kids schooling from home and the hubs and I working on laptops, we realized there was nothing holding us back from taking off in our camper. So take off is what we did! One loooooong look on the world wide web told us there were only a few states with campgrounds open. Kentucky was a draw since it’s only a few hours away and it was still south (also read: WARM). We made a reservation for Memorial Day weekend and decided to take it one day at a time from there… And here’s where the adventure led us:

First Stop: Louisville… and she did NOT disappoint! It was a perfect launching point. We loved the walk along the Ohio River (especially on the Indiana side at the Falls of the Ohio State Park). Downtown was simply gorgeous – even the trash receptacles were pretty! The historic buildings and cheeky marketing of local businesses lured us in and it was a blast to “own” the town since many businesses were closed and people were scarce. Since we’re weird about strange monuments, a photo with the world’s largest baseball bat was a must. Another fun highlight (that we REALLY wish was open!!) was Churchill Downs. It’s magnificent from the outside of course, but a tour of the inside would have been fun since we have more than one horse-lover in the family! Don’t worry, we watched Secretariat to get us in the spirit for Kentucky Horse Racing.

Next we headed east toward Lexington and on the way, swung by the birthplace and childhood homes of Abraham Lincoln. The springs were nice and cool and walking the two properties did not take long. Unfortunately the visitor centers were closed for us, but there were still Park Rangers walking about answering questions and offering bits of trivia, they were worth every minute of eves-dropping and question-asking…these rangers know their stuff!

Landing in Lexington for a few days, we decided on the [free] walking tour of Mary Todd Lincoln’s early life. It was much less walking than we expected (which was welcome in the extreme heat!) but included lots of great info on the diversity of Kentucky’s stance during the Civil War. Did you know two of Mary Todd Lincoln’s brothers fought for the confederacy!? We landed in the center of town by the water fountains where we had a snack in the shade at some lovely tables while watching the locals rush about. Side note for learning about Mary Todd Lincoln: this website offered quite a bit of interesting info for us to read as we walked. I think it helped keep the kiddos engaged since once again, businesses and “official” tours were closed due to the virus. We also walked around the Kentucky Horse Park (oh my beautiful) and wished desperately that the barns & museums were open… Next time!

If you’re considering your own trip, I have to add here that before you leave the Lexington area you’ve GOT to stop at Sun Valley Farms which was about 20 minutes southwest in Versailles. Anyone who’s been to Kentucky knows it’s all about the horses and Sun Valley is a family owned thoroughbred horse nursery. They gave a very hands on (yay for petting baby race horses!) tour of the foal barn (masks required) and educated us on the process of raising and auctioning thoroughbreds for racing. The tour also included a walk around their 300 year old property and home as well as some race horse & auction videos in the nice cool garage. Just a drive through their pastures was enough to set our hearts ablaze for horses. If nothing else, follow them on Facebook and Brett will let you in on evening grazes by the creek and walks through the pasture to get to know the horses!

Visit their website : Sun Valley Farms

We continued east to Daniel Boone National Park. The road trip views changed from green grassy pastures and black wooden fence-rows to ambling limestone mountains and endless creeks. Here we had unlimited options as all the state and national parks were open! Grey Arch Rock hike was a perfect 4 mile length for this family of 5 (plus dogs). The views at the arch were incredible and the creeks and waterfall along the way were great photo opportunities. Red River Gorge had lots of swimming and splashing opportunities. Carter’s Caves held seriously a LOT of caves in every single hike. We loved comparing the different openings and how the water continued to carve the rocks away. (We did not get to tour the caves, much to Carter’s disappointment, but they do offer lots of regular tours which are open now.) Lastly, the tunnel drive was truly serene. It was a nice break amidst all the hiking we did. It took about an hour, but there were many photo-worthy stopping points. (PSA: we would NOT have enjoyed this drive in the least with the camper hooked up!) Narrow and winding roads are not our favorite driving conditions and Kentucky offered plenty of it, haha! If you want a good story, ask Collin about his favorite Kentucky road driving experience.

So here’s your bonus: (you know I always share more than you bargained for!) We headed for Kentucky but ended up in West Virginia! Of course we didn’t plan on going further, but after a week, we weren’t ready to head home just yet. I’m sure you understand. So we went just a little further into Charleston, West Virginia! None of us have ever even driven through West Virginia before… but let me tell you, it’s a “wild and wonderful” surprise! The state slogan is more than accurate. We could easily have spent a whole week in this mountainous state full of battlefields and artisans of every kind. Charleston has a whole website with maps of sculptures and murals galore! And if you drive through the city to the river, we found a fun park called Sun Carriage Trail with a hidden waterfall and gloriously shady hike up the mountain to a scenic overlook and historic mansion.

Our last minute finding of things to do around Charleston included several civil war battlefields, a salt mine tour, and Capitol Market – an old train station turned farmer’s market which was FULL of glorious begonias and the beginnings of any summer garden you would wish to plant. Now we were ready to go home. And doesn’t it always feel good to be home again!?

Have you toured Kentucky? Did you focus on horse racing or history? Or both!? I’d love to hear if anyone else has ventured into West Virginia (perhaps the northeast side of the state?). There were so many fun things I found, we’re itching to get back!

50 States Before Graduation, Party for a Birthday!, Raising Warriors, Traveling the US

An Adventure to the Dakotas – Told in Photos! {Part Two}

Quick disclaimer: I just want ya’ll to know my heart here: I wanted to share this trip as inspiration and celebration. In NO WAY do I aim to brag or flaunt our ability to take this trip. I am beyond thankful for the time our family got to travel together and experience so much of our amazing country. I hope and pray that what you gather from this post is a sense of adventure and a desire to make memories with the people you love! That being said: Here is the second half of Makenna’s adventure!

Oooooh the Black Hills of South Dakota! They were SO serenely different from the landscape we just left in North Dakota. The pine trees and craggy rocks were so refreshing and we instantly wanted to get out to explore. It was a weighty decision to choose between Deadwood and Spearfish on our way south to Hill City SD, but time was of the essence so we couldn’t do both. The almost unanimous vote was Spearfish due to all the hiking possibilities and it was the perfect choice! We followed the most peaceful creek up into the mountains and fell upon the lovely Bridal Veil waterfall on our way. It was energizing to hike and run and climb mountains like wild goats and of course the grand finale of our chosen trail held another glorious waterfall!

Finally we arrived at Mount Rushmore and Makenna’s beloved Avenue of Flags. She was a happy girl! Flags of every US state were lining the walkway as we entered and the faces of four amazing presidents stood out in the background. We found our dear MI flag and read about several other states’ history and when they joined the US plus lots of bonus facts about each. The hike around the park was definitely worth it, there was information at every turn and different angles to view each president. The artist’s studio was a great source of hands on history and even had a live talk by the park ranger who was a wealth of knowledge and answered endless questions about all things geology, president and artist related. We absolutely came back at night to see the famed Illumination Ceremony (which was cool, but probably not as incredible as we were led to believe, haha) and enjoyed a second view of the mountain and flags (totally worth a second look!)

Day 2 in South Dakota: we drove to another beautiful mountainous hike which was much more strenuous than the first. I’ll suffice it to say that we felt pretty good about ourselves after getting back to the starting point and realizing there were warning labels posted at the trailhead and a hiker sign-in so the rangers knew who had entered the trail in case they didn’t return!

One other point of interest in Hill City was our campground. I know it’s just a place to sleep and by this point in the trip, we had seen a vast array of grass and cement to park a camper on, but this one was pretty incredible. We stayed at Crooked Creek Campground and the sounds of the babbling water were so invigorating and peaceful all at once! It just so happened that we got the primo spot by the bend in the river and this was our view:

We had another day of horseback riding for our 10 year old to top off the cake of our adventure! High Country Guest Ranch has endless horseback riding options, but we stuck with the trail ride through the Black Hills. And at this ranch, even the “littles” got to ride on real horses (with a guide holding the reigns)!

Eastward Ho! We finally headed back East toward home. Allllll the way across the state of South Dakota. The obvious best part was our southern detour off the main road to see the South Dakota Badlands – which are incredibly different from North Dakota’s Badlands! Both had the lovely striations and buttes that the badlands are known for, but the South Dakota Badlands lifted up from the prairies into wild peaks. The vibrancy of the sky and clouds made it all come to life as we drove through with our mouths gaping at all the beautiful differences. This park is a drive through- not a loop- so it hardly added any time to our trip, but it did not have the same hiking opportunities and there were no lovely creeks or rivers. The wildlife was so different as well – we loved the big horned sheep! Definitely glad we saw both badlands on the same trip.

A quick stop at the world-renowned Wall Drug where water is always free (an attraction during the great depression!) and coffee has been 5 cents since they opened in 1931. It was a fast and crazy mememto-shopping/donut-eating whirlwind and we made it back on the road.

Laura Ingalls Wilder has many wonderful & nostalgic stops across the mid-west. Again, for time restraints, we chose just one (as a launching point for future trips, I hope!) and we were not disappointed with our one stop. In DeSmet SD, the Ingalls Homestead has many original and recreated buildings including a school house, 2 sod houses, the church, multiple barns, Ma’s house, and actual covered wagons you can sleep in for a night! The workers amazed us with their knowledge of every book Laura ever wrote and told Laura’s stories as we made jump ropes, corn husk dolls, hay sticks and whirligigs. EVERYTHING was hands on and focused on educating kiddos about life in 1800’s Dakota Territory. There was so much to do and only 24 hours to do it in, but we SO enjoyed every minute on Laura’s beloved prairie – even in the rain 🙂 We reserved our spot early and spent the night hearing the peace and quiet and crickets while watching the sun go down over the prairie. **An unexpected bonus was exploring the gardens and sod houses before & after hours while there were no crowds!

I’ll admit that after this many days of travel and all the excitement we’ve experienced, our brains and our hearts were full! It was time to book it home and see our pups again, haha! We traveled quickly through Iowa with only a brief stop at Blue Bunny in Les Mars Iowa: the Ice Cream Capitol of the World – VERY high on the list of Makenna’s bday stops. Then we blew through Illinois and Indiana stopping only at state parks to sleep and finally reached our home sweet home.

Farewell to the West! May we meet again soon ❤❤❤

Now please, pretty please tell me how very inspired you are to travel and where you’re headed next summer! Tell me your fave vacation destination: past or future, near or far! I want to hear some more ideas for adventure and exploration!! ❤

50 States Before Graduation, Party for a Birthday!, Raising Warriors, Traveling the US

An Adventure to the Dakotas – Told in Photos! {Part One}

If you’ve been following along, you know that our Sweet Makenna got to plan her 10 year old adventure this year! She spent a minimum of 12 months planning and dreaming and reading Laura Ingalls Wilder to prepare and it was definitely a trip that celebrated the very core of who our girl is and who she is becoming!

So how do you share a two-week adventure of a lifetime in one post!? (OK, you don’t. I just started a part two!!!!) But honestly, I could easily write every day for two weeks about each place that we stopped and all that we did on our trip to the Dakotas but photos & highlights, I suppose, is the best way to start!

Makenna’s goals were simple: Avenue of Flags (aka: Mount Rushmore) and camping. Makenna was born on flag day and has owned that persona her whole life! Patriotism and red, white & blue flow through her veins. Also, Makenna loves her family something fierce and camping is how we do family time. So our extended family (all 13 of us!) loaded up/rented campers and we headed west.

Our first stop was at the Wisconsin Dells aka: Water Park Capitol of the World. We thoroughly enjoyed the scenic Upper Dells River Boat Tour which included a magical hike through Witches Gulch and endless glorious formations of sandstone and glacial carving. Then of course, on the actual day of Makenna’s “1-0” we went to America’s largest water park: Noah’s Ark. (It was totally worth all the hype and we had NO LINES since we were early in the season!)

Next we drove into Minnesota where we saw an extremely authentic replica of a sod house. It was incredibly hand’s on. The sod-house replica is a family run operation in the backyard of the creator’s farmhouse. The creator was a man who had a dream of recreating an authentic prairie and sod house with is wife and kids. He successfully did so, learned the hard way how to do it better, and made another even better sod house… then a barn, outhouse and trapper’s cabin all on the same authentically restored prairie. The kids loved signing the guest book alongside people from all over the world as well as the dress up costumes & variety of historic toys all ready to be played with and enjoyed.

Traveling North through Minnesota was uneventful except for the GIANT roadside art we always seem to find thanks to Roadtrippers “points of interest” map!

Two nights were spent in Minnesota’s lovely state parks – both of which had newly renovated bathrooms (yay!). Our favorite by far was Buffalo River State Park in the Northwest corner of MN. They had miles and miles and miles of trails through forests, prairies, and along the winding Buffalo River with lots of signs pointing out different historic spots, as well as plant and animal life to look for. Miss Makenna is a treasure hunter in any and every situation, so this fueled us onward and her love of seeking out beauty was so highlighted to my Momma heart ❤

Buffalo River State Park was also close to the N Dakota border where the National Buffalo Museum is. The Museum was super educational – telling the life of a buffalo and their significance in US history with beautiful exhibits and life-sized replicas – but it is also a whole western TOWN with stage coaches, the World’s Largest Buffalo statue, and tons of shops & historic buildings to visit. We could have spent a whole day if we’d only known!

Heading west into North Dakota felt freeing as the sky opened up to it’s glorious unending bright blue. I soaked up every minute of the drive with my eyes wide open and sippin’ on my Cuppa Joe – Aaaaaaah sweet bliss! The kids on the other hand enjoyed an audio book since the view “never changed” and there was “nothing to see…” Ridiculous Notions!

And then we saw it. The glorious Painted Canyon is like a southern gateway into Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It is so breathtaking, you almost have to stop to take it all in or die craning your neck and not watching the road. The ground just drops off into this spectacular view with striations of every color, the rise and fall of buttes and mesas with a sprinkling of grasses and scrub brush. (My photos simply do it no justice.)

On Day 4, we officially arrived at my new favorite place ever: Theodore Roosevelt National Park (the south unit). “Teddy’s Park” as we’ll call it is over 70,000 acres of preserved land. It is full of history and beauty and herds of every kind of prairie and western animal. We went from one jaw-dropping moment to another as we ran into animals so close we could touch them and then hiked trails that led to incredible vistas. My silly, crazy girl was stunned to silence when a herd of wild horses visited us over and over as we drove through the park- it felt like a little smile from God on our birthday girl. And the history buff in both of us was completely fulfilled by a visit to the Visitor Center where we learned a TON about ranching in the early days and Teddy Roosevelt himself! I have thousands of photos and just as many comments about our time in Teddy’s Park, but I promise you, if you visit, you will NOT be disappointed!

While in Medora N Dakota, we stayed at the Medora Campground which was clean as a whistle and had super cheap (& clean) laundry facilities (phew!) Here is our jaw-dropping view straight out the front door of our camper:

Just down the road from our campground, we visited Medora Stables where the Horses have FREE REIGN of acres and acres of Badlands to roam all night and miles of trails to ride all day. Makenna’s tender heart was so happy seeing how spoiled these horses were and the ranch hands even got to bring their dogs to work… which filled up the void in our lives without our own four-legged family members!

One more quirky Schuiteboer-style stop was a day trip down the Enchanted Highway. If you want to feel lost in the expanse of North Dakota countryside this is your journey! Some members of the family *might* have felt a little panicky at the aimless meandering through the countryside… The kids and I, however loved the adventure of not knowing what was ahead or how far the endless country road would take us! So the idea of the Enchanted Highway is that at various points along the road, a dozen or more giant roadside masterpieces are placed in fields and pastures with play structures & picnic shelters built right in for the family. I was in awe of the creativity and the stories behind each piece of art. They were inspired by a local man wanting to draw tourists to his home town and everyone in town chipped in to help. Now it’s a lovely jaunt into the town of Regent where there is an “Enchanted” Castle/Hotel & Tavern as the grand finale. The passion of all people involved was so fun to experience and the owner of the Castle was happy to give a full-on tour to our dragon-loving boy!

Our halfway point of the trip was a gloriously delicious and surprisingly exciting stop at The Mercantile in Crow Buttes, just over the border into South Dakota. It is a diner/convenience store/gas station on the side of the highway run by a husband and wife. Our fun for the day was the fact that our group of 13 and another camper-full from Medora stopped for lunch at the same time while one of the owners had run out for a gallon of milk to feed the kittens they found on the morning hay-delivery wagon. The sweet wife took down 25+ orders and went to work in the kitchen all by herself while we shopped and laughed and harassed the poor husband when he finally showed up with the milk. We laughed for the rest of the day over the things that spin our normal hum-drum lives into chaos- like surprise kittens in a hay wagon!

Well, this has to be the pause button for now, I have more incredible stops to share with you, but I’m sure you have a real life calling and so do I. To be continued, my friends! And for now, I’m praying you feel inspired to plan your own epic adventure. Let’s make a point to get out there and see our crazy planet. It’s full of beauty and inspiration. Which stop do you think you’ll add to your own bucket list??

50 States Before Graduation, Party for a Birthday!, Raising Warriors, Traveling the US

Double Digit Birthdays : Celebrating who our kids are and who they are becoming

This post contains affiliate links.

Have you read Bob Goff’s <a href="http://Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World""“>Love Does!? If not, BUY IT NOW! (Better yet, read it with a group and use the Study Guide  and read it to your kids with Love Does for Kids!) It’s an inspiring read. His whole book is truly easy to read, full of laughter and so thought-provoking. It caused me to re-look at my life and evaluate the intentionality of my actions. One big take-away that Collin and I implemented after reading Love Does was planning a 10 year old adventure for our kids.

Bob Goff’s version of the 10 year old adventure was a one-on-one trip with his kiddos when they turned 10. It was an opportunity to celebrate their childhood and encourage them to become more of who they were already. I just love that! First of all, I love to celebrate. (period.) Don’t get me started on birthdays… But to celebrate who my children are!? I can definitely do that! After reading Love Does, I wanted to celebrate each of my kids and the things that make them unique: where they’ve been and how they’ve gotten to where they are. I also wanted to help direct their future selves to become confident and brave and adventurous.

Now we’ve had the goal of visiting all 50 states with our kids since our very first kiddo was born. (To be overly honest, we decided to visit all the “boring states” first – the breadbasket- and found out that they are not nearly as lame as we thought!) And as our firstborn enters 7th grade this year, I can happily say we’ve visited 27 states- we’re over half way – woot woot! I say all of this to give you the understanding that Schuiteboers are always up for an adventure as well as the fact that I have ulterior motives to letting my kids plan a roadtrip, haha!

And soooooo: the Schuiteboer Family’s version of the 10 Year Old Adventure began!

Our first adventure was Carter’s and it was a perfect celebration of him. He’s a Pixar Cars kid all the way. This boy wore Lightning McQueen shoes until the tires fell off quite literally! (And then I taped them in his baby journal to remember forever because he just has my heart.) He lives and breathes speed and humor and friendships all at once. Naturally, his adventure took us down Route 66, he’s such a sweet old soul in a “Generation Z” body. This trip perfectly set the precedence to find quirky things that make us laugh and celebrate every stop of the journey. (You can also read that sentence as “This is the trip that made us fall in love with random roadside attractions! See exhibit A) It also taught us so much about celebrating the good ol’ American roadtrip! If you’re interested, I can post the trip itinerary sometime because it was EPIC!

{Exhibit A : The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, IL}

Now this year was Makenna’s turn. She turned 10 in June and the girl KNEW what she wanted. Our Makenna Mae is patriotism to the core. Her birthday happens to also be flag day and she has owned that fact since she learned of it – Red, White and Blue are her favorite colors, flag are her favorite decoration, and history is her favorite subject in school (thank you Mrs Janke!!). Makenna’s big trip destination was the little known “Avenue of Flags” located at a destination other people might actually aim for: Mount Rushmore. She wanted to walk that lane and admire, read about, and watch the flags of our 50 magnificent states fly.

So here’s how we do this thing: The 10 year old picks a destination meaningful to them, then I use the amazing Roadtrippers App to find the best route and/or points of interest along the way and the child chooses from that list the places they want to stop. This sort of defines the length of our trip and places we will stay. Mommas, you know some of their stops may need to be “adjusted” (for the love!) but the planning of the trip is all them and me. We do every bit of it together. I’ve loved the process of dreaming and researching with my kids. It has brought about so many fun conversations and we’ve learned a ton about our country along the way! (Some days I think planning may even be the best part, shhhh don’t tell!)

Man oh man, did Makenna plan an awesome trip. I have a photo itinerary I’ll post next, but if I could sit down with every single one of you and tell you the stories, I’d do my best to convince you to take this exact trip. It was full of breathtaking views and endless vistas. Honestly, once you get west of Chicago and into the open prairies of the breadbasket, a girl can BREATHE! I felt the same way as we headed into Texas on Route 66, aaaaahhhhhhh…

Laura Ingalls Homestead: Desmet, South Dakota

One thing I love most about our 10 year old adventures is when something is epic. A view that takes our breath away or the end of a crazy long but amazing day and we’re all sitting around the dinner table/campfire sighing with joy and exhaustion and someone looks at the 10-year-old to say “Good choice! I can’t believe you found that gem.” The pride on their face is priceless! The ownership they take in that success is a foundation stone for future leadership. This kid has led a group of family members (truly similar to a herd of cats!) and created joyful memories for everyone for years to come. Whoa.

I also love pouring into my kids throughout all of the decision making and planning. I see so much of their passion/interests come forth! Then with the execution of those plans, I see what an incredible adult they will become someday. Those little glimpses into the future give me direction as I pray over their future, too. We learn each others weaknesses and strengths, we learn how to work as a team, we have certainly experienced failure and setback and moved through it as a family. (Hello, car break-in in St Louis!) But where else can my kids learn these IMPERATIVE life skills in such a safe way? To me, this is invaluable! And all along the way, I can speak life into the heart of my family. The strengths I see, get called out; where there is weakness, we can all come together to declare the opposite and Collin & I can coach them in how to change. We pray over the trip together, make crazy family rules and plan special stops to honor each other or an upcoming holiday. And of course, the quantity of time away from “the daily grind” is also so healing and unifying.

You guys: TAKE A FAMILY VACATION! 10 year old or not, find a reason to celebrate and GO!

What milestones do you celebrate with your family? How do you make it big and wonderful? What memories do you want to make with your kiddos before they move out? What is it about each of your kiddos that you would like to celebrate? Maybe start with what you love most about them and find inspiration from there.