Today would have been my sister-in-law, Marlyce’s 61st birthday, but she will be forever 39. She died of cancer in 1989, and we all miss her very much. Marlyce was sweet and loving to everyone who knew her. Though she was developmentally disabled, she excelled in many things. She was an excellent cookie baker, and I can’t eat chocolate chip cookies to this day without thinking of her. When we used to come over to my in-laws house, she would say, “Caryn, I made chocolate chip cookies today.” She was thrilled when I smiled and told her I couldn’t wait to have some. She was a people pleaser.

Marlyce loved to knit and made many hats for family members, and others who were blessed enough to receive one. She loved doing things for people, in fact that was what she lived for. It was her strong suit. She was one of the most giving people I have ever known.

She loved being an aunt, and my girls as well as their cousins were treasures to her. She loved children, especially babies. Her nieces and nephews used to playfully tease her and most of the time she took it all in stride.

Her life ended way too soon, when cancer took her from us. I think of her often, because her sweet innocence was so endearing. She never judged people. She just let each person be who they were, and she loved them just the way they were. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all that way. Happy Birthday in Heaven Marlyce. I love you very much.

Our goal this year for miles on The Mickelson Trail will not materialize, due to the second hike up Harney Peak. That’s ok with me, because I would hate to have missed Harney Peak. We love it up there so much. We walked 5 miles one way/10 miles total on the Mickelson Trail today, so we will be 10 miles short of our goal. I still feel good about it, because of the added difficulty of Harney Peak. What the Mickelson Trail lacks in difficulty, we make up for in distance, so while the workout isn’t the same, we still get a workout.

Bob and I have hiked for a long time, and we have learned that sometimes hiking isn’t about socializing. We have a tendency to walk at times quietly, each in our own thought world. I find myself, especially in the Black Hills, thinking of my Dad. The Black Hills was a favorite spot of his, and his echo is everywhere here. I hear him in the breeze through the trees, the crackling of a campfire, the rushing of water over rocks in the river, the chirping of the birds, and because he wanted us to see the historic places and deep patriotism that are here, I am reminded of him in everything I do here. He would have loved the places we have seen on our hikes. You just can’t see them from the main roads.

The animals that we have come across are always a total surprise. From the deer on the trail to a fox running away. From a chipmunk looking for food to a woodchuck watching us curiously and .yet not really wanting to run away. He seemed almost as curious about us as we were about him…peeking at us from his hole and ducking ever so slightly if we moved too much, then coming back up

I am always amazed at how much I need the hikes in the Black Hills. It’s like I come alive again, like I can breathe again. I think the Black Hills are simply in my blood. I need a week of trekking through them to refresh my energy again. I look forward to my yearly trips here, and am always sad to see my time here end. Nevertheless, because of the Black Hills, I go home refreshed and feeling very much alive…and very thankful for my time there.

Yesterday’s bad weather gave way to a very nice morning, so Bob and I set out for Harney Peak again. We are either determined or crazy, and since we passed a guy who went up and down twice today, I don’t think I’m so crazy. Today’s hike would be different. Our hikes up Harney Peak now total 6.8, with yesterday’s disappointing short hike to 1/2 mile from the top when we had to go down because of weather.

The weather this morning was perfect for a hike. The temperature was not too hot and not too cool. We started out early to beat the heat that would surely come. We were on top by 10:45 am. Many times when we have gone to Harney Peak, it was cold and we ate our lunch and headed back down out of the cold wind. Once again, this time would be different. It was so nice on top that we decided to take some extra time to eat our lunch and enjoy nature.

We found a spot to eat our lunch, and cool off. After eating most of our lunch in the shade, we decided to finish up in a more sunny spot. The chipmunks on the peak have lived their lives around people, and they have very little fear of us. The seem to think that your lunch is meant to be shared with them. I suppose that is because so many people do share with them. If you try to share with them, however, don’t bother with the bread. These little guys are picky. They want the chips.

Bob had Fritos, and that is one of their favorites. As we sat there, one little guy decided that we had a lunch date, and he was going to get to those Fritos even if he had to climb over me to get them…well almost. He wasn’t quite that brave, but he did go around me to get to those chips. And after getting his reward a couple of times, we were pals. He got very brave, coming back for more and even eating his chip by my feet. He was so cute. And after a while, he even agreed to pose for a few pictures. I think he knew I was going to write about him and would need a photo for proof of our lunch date.

The morning started out sunny with only a chance of late afternoon thunderstorms. We headed out at about 9:00 am for a 2 hour hike up the mountain, an hour on top for lunch, and a 2 hour hike back down the mountain. That was the plan anyway, but as sometimes happens, things didn’t go according to plan.

We were about half way in when the clouds rolled in and the thunder began. It wasn’t the first time we had hiked in a little but of thunder, but it is in moments like those that you begin to look for possible areas of shelter as you hike along. Knowing what I do of the area, I know that many of the lightning strikes in the area hit on or very near the Harney Peak tower. Being about 1.9 miles from the top gives a little feeling of safety, but you still need to be on your toes. Since we could see areas of sunshine behind the clouds, we decided to press on and hoped the storm would pass uneventfully.

Of course, when we were thinking of uneventfully, we meant that the lightning would pass on. That did happen, but in it’s place came the rain, and soft hail. Since we were higher now, and after trying to wait it out for about 20 minutes during which we were pretty thoroughly soaked, we made the determination that it would most likely not blow over.

And so it was with sadness that we decided to turn back only 1/2 mile from our prize. This was to have been our 6th trip up Harney Peak, but instead it would be trip 5.8. As we head back down to a rock that would make a perfect shelter, the rain continues to pour down. We are still amazed at the people who we continue to pass heading up as we head down. Finally, we get to the rock shelter and finally we are able to dry out a little. We stayed there about another 20 minutes, then decided to head back to the car. We were cold and bummed.

Heading back we could see the clouds rolling in again, as people continued to head up the mountain. Then the thunder began to roll again, and we knew we had made the right decision. No sooner had we reached the car and started eating our lunch, than the rain poured down with a vengeance. Oh well, maybe we will try again tomorrow.

When you are out on the trail, in shorts, with no gun or mace, the thought of three dog running toward you barking is a little unsettling. I know what you are thinking. This is going to be an icky story with a bloody ending…right? Well, not today.

Most of the hikes Bob and I take are uneventful, and often even void of a lot of human contact, but sometimes things go a little differently. As we were hiking yesterday, we walked behind a bike rental shop that was located at the family’s home. Suddenly, as we neared the bicycle advertiser they had by their open gate, three dogs came running out toward us barking. As I said, that can be a little unsettling, but we soon discovered that these dogs were very friendly. So friendly, in fact, that they decided to walk along with us.

At first we said, “You guys better go home!!” But, when it became obvious that they were not leaving, we just hoped they knew their way home, and that the owner knew that we weren’t stealing them. It soon became very apparent that these dogs knew this trail very well, and that they spent a lot of time on the trail. They knew their way around. They stayed out of trouble. And most importantly, the knew proper trail etiquette, i.e. do your business off of the trail!!!

So, along we went, the 5 of us. The dogs would run down to the river to cool off, but not splash us when they came back…very unusual. If we stopped, they stopped. Where we went, they went. It was almost laughable. They seemed to have taken us on a their responsibility. They chased each other around and jumped over weeds. They seemed to want to entertain us with their antics. They were very funny dogs. They seemed to want to make sure that it was entertaining. And it was…we thoroughly enjoyed our first “guided tour” of The Mickelson Trail.

After going about half a mile or so with us, we came upon a bridge and the dogs just seemed to know that it was time to go home. Almost like they had been trained. It occurred to me that we should have pictures of our tour guides, and we almost got them all. One had decided to lead the way home. So his picture is a little dot at the very last point on the trail. And after their pictures, the other two followed suit.

The rest of our trip was without our tour guides, but with a smile. And after a beautiful hike, we got to see them again as we passed by their place on our way back. They came running out, barking, but this time if was to greet old friends, and after we petted them and talked to them for a minute, they went back to their yard, and we went on to finish our hike. What a joy those dogs were, and what good masters to have trained them so well.

Since 1995, Bob and I have been hiking in the Black Hills. Our first hike, was up Harney Peak, and while we were pretty unprepared for that hike, it whet our appetite for hiking, and we have been doing it ever since. It is challenging, but beautiful. And when we get to the top, and have lunch, it’s like eating at the top of the world. From the top you can see 5 states. Harney Peak is and probably always will be our favorite trail. We try to hike it every year.

One of our favorite easy trails is The Mickelson Trail, which runs from Edgemont to Deadwood and is 109 miles long. This trail is part of the rails to trails system. It is a great way to get off the main streets of the Black Hills and get the feel of being close to nature without going too far from civilization.

We have walked sections of the Mickelson Trail several times, but a couple of years age we decided to make it our goal to walk the trail in it’s entirety. When we are done, we will actually walk the entire trail twice, because we walk part way up and then back to our car. In 2009 we completed the Custer to Hill City section. That is 31.2 miles total, going up and back. Then add Harney Peak, and it gave us 37.2 total for that trip. In 2010, we walked the Hill City to Mystic section. That is 29.2 miles up and back. We also did a 4.5 (9 total) mile section south of Custer. With Harney Peak we did a total of 44.2 miles last year. This year we plan to walk the Mystic to Dumont section, which is 17.9 or 35.8 total and with Harney Peak a total of 41.8 miles. We usually spend 5 days hiking.

I know…a lot of you think we are crazy, and even our friends and family have told us that too. I don’t know, maybe we are, but we really got hooked and we totally love it. We are able to see things that most people will never see, because they are off the main roads. It is a very cool experience. Yes, we come away with sore muscles and tired feet sometimes, and sometimes it is really hot out there, but every ache, every pain, and even the heat is worth it. There is no other feeling quite like it. We will keep doing this as long as we can…and I’ve heard of hikers at Harney Peak in their 80’s, so we have lots of time left.

Today is our nations birthday. We are now 235 years old. Quite an accomplishment, but still young in the world’s view. There are many nations who are much older than the United States of America, but few that have done as much for the world and the nations in it. I am proud to be a citizen of this great nation. We are a nation who has fought for the rights of other countries around the world. We are a nation who doesn’t like to see innocent people being slaughtered at the hands of some crazed dictator or terrorist. We stand up for the rights of people around the world. That is something to be proud of.

Like most people my family will attend the fireworks displays to be held tonight, some of us in Casper, and some of us in Custer. I know that many people just think of the fireworks as a fun thing to do, but it is really a way to remember. The fireworks look similar to the rockets that were fired during the fighting in the Revolutionary War, when we were fighting for freedom from English rule. So inspiring was the bravery of our men who were willing to give their lives for our freedom, that the fighting moved Francis Scott Key to write the “Star-Spangled Banner” part of which goes like this, “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there” It is with that in mind that we should watch the fireworks displays tonight. Remembering what was at stake, and really still is every day. There are threats to our security, our stability, our peace of mind every day. We have to stand up for these things as much today as they did back then.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be happy. We should, because even though we are remembering a battle, we are celebrating the victory in that battle. We won!!! So this is a celebration!! But, it is also a reminder of a very important event in our nations history…the most important really…the day we became a nation…independent and free. So when you are out there tonight, watching the great fireworks displays, be sure to take just a moment to remember what they represent. A deadly fight for our freedom, and a country of people will to fight to keep our nation, the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Some people just seem…destined, maybe…to always be around little boys. It seems to start at a very young age too. My daughter Amy, was like that, as is her daughter, Shai. Both of them started babysitting little boys at an early age, and boys just seemed to be their destiny, so to speak. It’s not that they didn’t like little girls or babysit little girls, but it just so happened that it was mostly little boys. Like they attracted them or something.

Even as a little girl, Shai seemed to love to hold the little boys. And as she grew and began babysitting, it was the boys she understood best. She would play their games, and take their pictures. Her phone was filled with goofy pictures of Jenny and Steve’s boys, Xander, Zack, and Isaac. Of course, there are a lot of hugging pictures too, as the boys really love Shai a bunch. They can always be seen hanging around her…even if she isn’t babysitting. They are like her own boys, in a way…of course, not to replace their own great parents, but just a very special bond. And the bond Shai and Jenny share is very special too. Of course, Shai and Steve have a bond too…he picks on her, and she picks right back. I don’t think any of them would have it any other way.

And when Shai is babysitting, the boys know they can be themselves, because she is very understanding. She might even take a picture of them “being themselves” as you can see. I just hope the two of them don’t kill each other, because the babysitter seems preoccupied in picture taking. No…this is just an example of the boys hamming it up because Shai is taking pictures. They are about the goofiest little boys, and they love to ham it up for the camera. In reality, they loved doing just about anything Shai could think of, because she instinctively knew what fun stuff boys would like.

Of course, like any babysitting job there are the little boo boo’s and the real fights, but Shai and her boys just took it all in stride and got on with the important stuff…having fun. And they did. In fact, I can only think of one time Shai babysat them that wasn’t so much fun. She was babysitting during a Tornado Watch, and had to take the boys to the basement. While it was a scary situation, Shai handled it well, and even though the boys were scared, they did ok because Shai was there to talk them through it. It was almost as good as having their parents at home…almost, but not quite.

About 4 years ago, my nephew met the girl who would become his wife. Chelsea breezed into town, and stole his heart. It took about a minute. I don’t think Ryan could see straight for months. Love at first sight. A rare thing indeed, but it does happen, and it did happen with them.

Ryan was always somewhat shy, but Chelsea was able to bring him out of that shell. She completed him in a way that no one else could. They shared so many likes and dislikes, and both had a love for the outdoors. Chelsea would tell you that she is a girl who likes to do guy stuff and hang with the guys. And that’s ok too. It will serve to keep their marriage stronger if they like the same things. Going in the same direction is a good thing.

After a whirlwind courtship in which the two of them could hardly stand to be away from each other, they married in a beautiful ceremony in a chapel on Casper Mountain. It was a snowy day in April on the mountain, and that served to make the ceremony even more cozy in the warmth of the log cabin chapel. They were now complete…well almost.

One thing Chelsea had always wanted was children. She would say that she never really wanted to be anything else, but wife and mother…a good calling in my book. So, in due time, their little family would grow by one boy…Ethan. He was a wonderful little addition, and manages to keep us all in stitches with his funny little antics. And now, there will be another little addition…a girl, who is due in the Fall. With that, their family will be complete.

Chelsea is a girl of many talents. One of the talents that I find particularly fascinating is jewelry making. She recently started her own business making jewelry, and she is quite good, as you will see if you click this link. sophisticatejewelry While she is just starting out, I expect that her business will be a big success.

Today is Chelsea’s birthday, and I hope it is a lovely day. Happy birthday Chelsea!! Love you!!

Very early on, Elizabeth, Liz as we all call her, displayed a determination that not every child has. She had decided that she was going places, and she set out to go there. Liz studied hard and began weighing her options, deciding what she wanted to do with her life.

She set her sights on teaching English, but her counselor said that she would do better in Journalism, so she got a Journalism degree, but her heart was still in the classroom. So, she continued on another year to get her degree in education, and returned to Casper to begin her career. Her skills would land her the jobs of the school newspaper, the annual, and photographing most events. Her work was flawless.

Her students loved her, and quickly gave her the nickname Mast. The end of their high school days would not mean the end of their friendship with their beloved teacher. They invited her on trips to Vegas and Europe. They wanted to stay connected to the treasured teacher who had become not only an inspiration to them during their high school days, but a lifelong friend. How many of us can say that after high school, we wanted to stay friends with our teachers. Even the teachers we liked faded into the distance as we left the walls of high school behind, but not so with Liz…or Mast. I see the comments her past students make to her on Facebook, and hear the love in their voices when she runs into one of them in town. A student sees her and excitedly yells out, “Mast!!” Then the chatter begins. “Guess what I did!!” “You would be so proud of me…I did this.” “I’m going to this school.” And so on. I have to say that it makes me proud to be her aunt when these young adults, whose lives she has helped to shape, excitedly gather around the teacher whose class they loved, and tell her about their future plans. The want her to be a part of it. After all, she helped start it.

Of course, being a teacher isn’t all Liz is about. She is Aunt Liz to her sisters’ and brother’s children, and they love her dearly…no matter how old they get. They love being around her, as do her cousins, and her aunts, uncles, and grandmother…not to mention her mom and sisters and brother and their families. Liz is a fun person to be around. Not everyone has that ability. She is a very special part of this family.

And last, but certainly not least, is her ability to photograph the moments of life. She captures the essence of the moment better than so many people could ever do. Her pictures are stunning, funny, beautiful, exciting, sad, goofy, or shocked, depending on what is going on at that moment. She has documented some of the most important moments in the lives of family and friends, and given them the memories that they couldn’t have had any other way…because she does it with love. No matter who she is photographing, she thinks about what they will want to remember about the moment, and gives them just that.

There is so much more I could say about Liz, but anyone who knows her, already knows these things. She has made her mark on this place, and it will never be the same again, because she left each moment better than she found it. And because of who she is, she will keep doing that for the next students, and for the family too. I love you Liz, and I’m very proud of all you have accomplished!!

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