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!!

I became a mother for the first time on June 30, 1975, when my daughter Corrie was born. As the visitors began to come in, my husband’s grandmother said, “You had her on my birthday!” She was so excited. Corrie was her first great grandchild, and she had been a birthday present too. It was a very cool thing! Through the years, the two of them grew closer and closer. They shared a beautiful bond, and they totally loved it. Birthdays were celebrated together, and the bond between them was not just limited to that either. They loved the connection they had. Corrie was definitely Grandma’s Girl. When Grandma passed away in July of 1990, it was especially hard on Corrie. Almost like losing a twin. Even now, after almost 21 years have passed, it is still hard for Corrie at times, especially on their birthday. She would love to be able to spend just one more birthday with her grandma.

Life has gone on for Corrie, but managed to take a turn back in time to a degree, when she gave birth to her son, Christopher, on his great grandmother’s birthday (the daughter of the great grandmother whose birthday Corrie shares). Christopher was also the first great grandchild. It would serve to be another tie to her great grandmother, because she was able to continue a bit of a tradition, if you could call it that. Whatever it would be called, it is very unusual to say the least. The really sweet thing about it is that it continues to keep her great grandma on her mind, which I think she really likes. It makes Corrie feel closer to her.

Corrie has grown into a wonderful woman. She is very good at her job, and is very innovative. She works full time and runs a successful home based business. She possesses a wide range of abilities from bookkeeping to office management to web design to national virtual assistant work. And she does all this while remaining very active in her sons’ activities and her husband’s activities. Sometimes, I wonder how she manages all of it, but she has a knack as I said.

I am very proud of Corrie’s accomplishments, and very blessed to have her for a daughter. She is the kind of person you can count on to be there in times of need. We love you Corrie. Happy birthday!!

When Bob was a little boy, he, like many boys, was always hungry. Growing boys need their food, just to keep their energy levels up, you know. Bob was the first boy in the family, so I’m sure it was a bit of a culture shock when he started to eat. Girls just don’t eat the way boys do.

He must have really been a big topic of discussion in the family, because by the time I joined the family, they had some pretty good stories to tell about mealtimes. His grandma told me that she used to call him “hollow legs” because she just couldn’t figure out how he could put away so much food, so she figured he must have hollow legs to give him some extra room. And through the years of our marriage, I have come to think that she might be right. How could he eat so much and not blimp out. While he has begun to eat much less now, he used to be able to really put it away, and yet he stayed fit all his life. I suppose it is the male metabolism…that metabolism so many women have hated through the years.

Bob’s mother told me that she used to make these huge meals, and Bob would eat and eat. She couldn’t believe how much, and when he was finally full, he would push his chair away from the table and say, “That was good…so what’s for dinner.” I’m sure that the first time she heard that statement, she was in total shock and disbelief. How could he put away so much food? No wonder the grocery bill was so high.

Having had daughters…who ate like birds, I didn’t have to pay those high grocery bills that boys can cause, but my girls have 3 boys and 1 girls between them, and they know first hand what it is like to have a son say, “:That was good…so what’s for dinner.”

Lately I have been trying to get an idea of who my dad was when he was in the service…what he went through, what his thoughts might have been, what his life was like. My dad was a top turret gunner and flight engineer on a B-17 Bomber during World War II. He was stationed at Great Ashfield in Suffolk, England, which was located North West of Elmswell. Little is visible of the Army Air Base now, unless you know what to look for. The area has been converted to farmland, but subtle memories remain…a tribute to those brave men who fought and really, saved England from a hostile takeover by the Nazis. It was World War II, and the United States had come in to stand up for what is right…freedom.

My dad was just 17 when he joined the Army Air Force in 1942. He has always had a deep sense of duty, and standing up for what is right. He fought in the European Theatre, serving as the flight engineer and the top turret gunner on a B-17G Bomber. He participated in 35 bombing missions, was accredited with shooting down 4 German planes and provided air cover over the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. When the war was over, he was honorably discharged and he returned home with the Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air medal with 4 oak leaf clusters, one for each plane he shot down, and 2 gold stars signifying that he had taken part in two major aerial engagements.

That is a story I have heard many times now, but really it is just a summary of what went on. I have often wondered just what a flight engineer is, so I did some research on that position on a B-17G Bomber in World War II. What I found is this. The flight engineer knew the all equipment on the B-17 better than any other crew member, including the pilot, from the engines to the radio equipment to the armament to the engines to the electrical system and to anything else. He may have served as maintenance crew chiefs before moving to the position of a B-17 flight engineer. The flight engineer was also the top turret gunner.

It amazes me that my dad…who was never one to brag…would have such an intricate knowledge of such a magnificent plane as the B-17G…”The Flying Fortress”…but that is exactly what he did. He was the man they turned to if things went wrong…the one they depended on in a crisis to get them down safely, which he did beautifully on at least one occasion. I guess that is why me dad always seemed to know what to do t solve any problem we might have had in life. To him I’m sure they seemed very small by comparison.

Dad was a man of deep thoughts and few words. He considered well what he might say about a situation, before he gave an opinion. He was slow to anger, and always cool in a crisis. He was a problem solver, who always put his sense of duty before his own desires. He loved his family and his country, and would have died defending any of them, had that been required if him. He was a man to be proud of and the one I am proud to call Daddy. I miss him a lot, but I know I will see him again in Heaven. Today I say, “Thank you Dad, for all you did in your life to make life better for those who were around you, and loved you.”

As the Independence Day holiday approaches, so does my vacation. Every year over the 4th of July week, Bob and I head to the Black Hills for a few days of hiking, sight seeing, and relaxing. It is a time of rejuvenating for us, and I always look forward to it. We will probably hike around 45 miles over the 7 days we are there, weather permitting, and we will do some of the normal touristy things that everyone who goes there does, even though we have been there many times in the past. It is a place that we will always love to go.

There is a quiet peacefulness in the Black Hills that always renews my spirit. When you get out in nature, away from the crowds and noise, your mind can relax and regroup. The stresses of a busy life melt away, and I feel refreshed again, like I can go back and take on the world again. There is nothing like a few days hiking the trails in the Black Hills to do that for me, and the anticipation is building in me moment by moment. I think this might be a long week.

Many people go to the Black Hills every year, but few realize that there is a world there that is out of sight of the normal avenues of travel. Many people are rushing here and there trying to cram 14 days of sightseeing into 7 and hoping to take away memories that will last a lifetime, because many will never come back there again. I was that way too I suppose, until Bob and I discovered hiking, and got out into the real Black Hills. Now when we go over, it isn’t the touristy sites that appeal to me the most. It is the anticipation of what new sights we will see on the trail today. Like the part of the Mickelson Trail where there must have been thousands of butterflies. They were literally everywhere, and they seemed to have no fear of people. One little guy came around us and didn’t seem to want to leave. He would fly a little ways ahead of us and land, and as we came close, he would finally move a little more. At one point we got so close we might have been able to touch him…had we tried. He seemed to be begging us to take a picture of him, so I did, and then…satisfied, it seemed, he left.

When the week is over, we will return to our busy lives, a little sorry that our days of refreshing are over, but feeling very blessed to have been able to savour those sweet memories of a quiet time spent close to nature. It won’t be the last time we take in the elixer that is The Black Hills, but unfortunately, it will be probably another year before we get to go again, so I am thankful for the pictures, both on my computer and in my head, that will hold onto that sweetness until I am once again able to go again for a few days of refreshing in my Black Hills.

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