Sunday, July 31, 2011

Surprise Party

By Patsy

My husband and I have always had a secret passion for throwing fun birthday parties. Our goal is to make ‘em big and make ‘em cheap….um, I mean cost effective. From the first Scooby Doo party way back when my oldest son turned 5 and my husband hid in a bedroom closet in a homemade caveman suit until all the children solved the mystery and captured him. (Who knew 10 five year olds could inflict that much damage on a full grown man?) Through the In diana Jones party where everyone had to excavate the smoking and spewing volcano shaped cake in order to find the treasures (silver dollars) buried deep inside its bowels. And finally, on to our Star Wars adventure where the mission was to save R2D2 (the cake) from carbon freeze (the refrigerator) which culminated in a light saber duel with Darth Vader in which his hand was cut off. We’ve had a lot of fun coming up with these over the years, maybe even more fun than our kids.

However, since we are on the move and living in a RV this past year, we had had to cut back a bit on the elaborate parties for our boys. Lately, birthdays have been celebrated a bit more traditionally with a cake, presents and a loving family in Howard, our RV. The one thing that I have been able to continue has been making a fun cake for each of the boys. But, on this birthday…things weren’t going well at all.

Our son Tanner was turning 12 and I was busy working on his birthday cake. Unfortunately, the weather was making it a little more difficult than normal. The heat and the humidity were causing the cake to crumble more and more each time I added frosting. This wasn’t good since the cake was chocolate and the frosting was white. Not only were there large crumbs of chocolate cake sticking out of the frosting every few inches, but the entire cake was beginning to crack and the frosting was being sucked down into the center resembling a mud slide in the middle of a snowy avalanche. In short, it was ugly.

As I contemplated the mess in front of me and tried to staunch the flow of tears from my eyes, my husband suggested that we just run out to a bakery and pick up a ready-made cake for Tanner. I was heartbroken. Not only were we not going to give him a fun party, but now I couldn’t even made the poor guy a homemade cake. As the night wore on, I got more and more depressed. Finally, as I got ready for bed, an idea came to me. Why not cut the whole cake up into chunks, drizzle frosting over the chunks and then top it with more drizzles of chocolate sauce? It might not be a master piece, but at least it would be something that I made for my son with my own hands. Slightly consoled, I went to sleep wishing that Tanner’s birthday could somehow be a little more exciting for him. I needn’t have worried.

The campground we were staying in was having a Christmas in July party on the same day as Tanner’s birthday. We knew this, and we had planned on attending the pot luck dinner they were holding. What we didn’t know was that the dinner was the least of their plans. They had inflated a bounce house down by the pool area and were rounding kids up to go on a hayride. But this was to be no ordinary hayride. This time the riders on the wagon were to be armed and dangerous.

As we climbed aboard, we were each given a super soaker squirt gun and pointed in the direction of the massive barrel of water that was placed in the middle of the wagon for handy re-loading. My sons were thrilled, my husband was thrilled, and I was going to have to watch my back. Finally, as we all prepared for battle, the loud speakers attached to the wagon started to blare out the music for the Ride of the Valkyries and we began our journey through the campground. Riders were instructed to load their weapons and prepare to defend the wagon. Campers on the ground had already been given strategic vantage points throughout the camp where they could sneak out and pelt the riders with their own water guns, buckets of water and even hoses. It was every man for himself. By the time we were finished we had all screamed and laughed ourselves hoarse and there wasn’t one square inch of ”dry” to be found anywhere.

As we stepped down from the wagon and wandered over to the bounce house and pool, I peeked over at my son Tanner. He was wearing a wide, happy grin on his wet face. My heart sang! I was so afraid that he would be disappointed in his birthday. His cake wasn’t what I had wanted to make, but he thought it was so cool! His party wasn’t going to be anything more than the simple ones we could plan on the road, but he was having the time of his life. He was happy, but more than that. It occurred to me that out of our entire family, Tanner would have been the one to be happy with the simple birthday. He sees more love in a messed up cake than most people see in one that took hours of tedious preparation. This may have just been the campground’s idea of a Christmas in July celebration, but in Tanner’s eyes, this was a wonderful surprise party that he never expected.

Deep in my heart, I know that God set this whole thing up for Tanner. We weren’t even supposed to be in this particular campground on this day, but I think since He knew Tanner didn’t expect much, He wanted to give him a little extra surprise.

Alotta Brownies

We found a wonderful little jewel of a place in Fremont, Nebraska called Alotta Brownies. Of course you can get an incredible number of different flavors of brownies here! Our family opted to try several types including Snickers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and Rocky Road.

They were truly a piece of chocolate heaven and really should properly be eaten with an ice-cold glass of white milk, or in the least some coffee. The owner was there and talked to us and was very nice, giving us some ideas for places to visit in the Omaha area. Besides brownies they also sell cookies, muffins, cupcakes, bars and a bunch of other sweet delights! A totally scrumptious place. Definitely recommend visiting there if you are in the Omaha area.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Campground review -North Sioux City KOA

Our campground choices around Sioux City, Iowa were limited due to the terrible flooding they are having there. So we stayed at the North Sioux City KOA in South Dakota.

Nearby attractions - 7 - In Mitchell, an hour or so from Sioux Falls.

Staff - 8 - Staff was cordial. Helped us navigate around flooded areas.

Natural surroundings - 6 - Trees on sites, but close to I29.

Value - 6 - We paid $50 a night for for a pull-through gravel site with full hook-ups and cable using our KOA card.

Bathrooms - 9 - Clean, larger shower area, coded security.

Roominess - 9 - About as big as we have seen for an RV Park.

Facility fun - 8 - Swimming pool and playground. Other things to do like jumping pillow and bikes for extra cash.

Cleanliness - 8 - KOA clean.

Facility usefulness - 9 - Dump station, exchange library, laundromat, small camp store, free wifi.

Overall - 7 - Too expensive, but other than that....

Campground review - Sioux Falls Jellystone Park

We have stayed at Jellystone's in other places, but this is the first time we stayed at one during our big trip. We chose the Sioux Falls Jellystone because it was actually affordable!

Nearby attractions - 7 - In Sioux Falls.
Staff - 9 - Mostly younger staff members but everyone was super helpful.

Natural surroundings - 7 - Some trees, close to I90, but no serious traffic noise.

Value - 6 - We paid $46 a night for for a pull-through gravel site with full hook-ups cable included.

Bathrooms - 7 - Slightly above average.
Roominess - 7 - Not quite long enough for our car to be behind us. Picnic table at each site.

Facility fun - 10 - Swimming pool, jumping pillow, playgrounds and different activities including meeting Yogi, all for the cost of camping. For extra you can rent bikes or play mini-putt.

Cleanliness - 7 - Pool was sort of cloudy. Also for some reason we have had more trouble with obnoxious campers at Jellystones than any other parks. Not sure why, staff is nice, but there are always somebody we run into that is completely inconsiderate.

Facility usefulness - 8 - Dump station, laundromat, small camp store, free wifi.

Overall - 9 - Fun place, we have seen cleaner pools.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kevin Shutterbug at Jellystone

Our family recently stayed at the Jellystone Campground in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Kevin had a fun time asking us about our favorite things to do here. Thanks to One Way Street for making Kevin’s reports a reality.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Campground review - R & R Campground

After our foray of fun at the Corn Palace our family stopped for some much needed rest at R & R Campground in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Nearby attractions - 7 - In Mitchell, an hour or so from Sioux Falls.

Staff - 9 - Very helpful staff who found the right site for us close to pool, dog run and with satellite access. Answered our questions with friendly attitude.

Natural surroundings - 8 - Some shaded sites, but we could still get our satellite!

Value - 8 - We paid $17.00 a night for for a pull-through gravel site with full hook-ups using our Passport America membership.

Bathrooms - 7 - Smaller but clean. Two showers to share.

Roominess - 8 - Very good sized lots for an RV Park.

Facility fun - 8 - Swimming pool and playground.

Cleanliness - 9 - We were impressed by how clean this place was.

Facility usefulness - 9 - Dump station, exchange library, laundromat, small camp store, free wifi.

Overall - 9 - This is a great place for travelers along I90!

Corn Palace

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

50 McDonalds - South Dakota

We found a great little McDonalds in our 50 state quest in the town of Aberdeen, South Dakota! Not only was it clean, but the lady working the register was quite friendly and professional. Our family is the king family of special orders, and they got it all right the first time! Everything from the apples to the milks to the cheeseburger without meat and the Dr. Pepper without the ice.

There was also an older lady who came around an gave all the boys packages of McDonalds cookies! First time we ever saw that! Score on the free food.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fun at the Fjeldheim Farm

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Campground Review - Sunrise RV Park

We spent the hottest day of our summer at Sunrise RV Park in tiny Linton, North Dakota.

Nearby attractions - 5 - 30 minutes from Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge and 45 minutes from Bismarck.

Staff - 8 - Talked to owner and his wife. They were kind and helpful. We knocked on their house door at midnight when we thought the tornado alarm was sounding. It turned out to be the volunteer fire fighter call, but they were very nice.

Natural surroundings - 8 - Some shaded sites, which was a blessing in 100 degree heat plus humidity.

Value - 9 - We paid $7.50 a night for for a back-in site with full hook-ups using our Passport America membership.

Bathrooms - 0 - No bathrooms.

Roominess - 6 - Average sized.

Facility fun - 3 - Swimming pool and playgrounds next door. You have to pay to swim at the city pool. Nothing to do at campground.

Cleanliness - 7 - Nice and neat.

Facility usefulness - 3 - Dump station.

Overall - 6 - Cheap place to plug-in for the night.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

50 McDonalds - North Dakota

Our North Dakota McDonalds stop was for ice-cream and frozen lemonades at the Bismarck McDonalds. We all enjoyed the frozen and cool treats after a pretty hot day. Best part was Patsy and I ordered frozen strawberry lemonades and they gave us strawberry smoothies. After we pointed out their error they made us the frozen lemonades and let us keep the smoothies. Score! Turned out I liked the smoothie better anyway.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Campground review - Bismarck KOA

Oppressive heat and extreme humidity made a swimming pool a high priority for our choice in campgrounds, which is why we chose the Bismarck KOA this past weekend.

Nearby attractions - 7 - Several things to do in and around Bismarck, North Dakota.

Staff - 8 - Young college guy helped us on the phone and get checked in, he was very nice.

Natural surroundings - 8 - Some shaded sites, bushes in between sites.

Value - 5 - We paid $47 a night for for a pull through site with free wifi.

Bathrooms - 7 - Coded bathrooms were average in cleanliness and size.

Roominess - 7 - Good sized lots, normal for a KOA.

Facility fun - 9 - Swimming pool, basketball and tennis courts and two playgrounds.

Cleanliness - 8 - KOA clean.

Facility usefulness - 9 - Dump station, laundry, propane, small exchange library, camp store, free wifi.

Overall - 8 - Swimming pool was great!! Cooled us off quite a bit.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bismarck, North Dakota

We spent a couple of the hottest days we have experienced on our trip in Bismarck, North Dakota. Fortunately we stayed a campground with a pool! Still we wanted to find some fun and free things to do. Bismarck has had some terrible flooding from the Missouri River, so a couple of the activities were looking at were closed due to damage from the flood.

We lucked out with a cool little kids' science museum that was part of our membership plan. Gateway to Science is a neat little place and our boys love these hands-on science museum. We learned firsthand about magnetism, lights and mirrors, water pressure, air pressure, generating electricity, levers and fulcrums and so much more! We could not get the boys to leave, even with the promise of food!

As we were leaving Gateway to Science, Patsy said "You boys just had a month's worth of science lessons and you didn't even know it!" Getting a membership to these science museums has been a great idea as we have saved hundreds of dollars just on the few we have went too!

After the trip to the science museum we went to a local diner called Kroll's Diner. Patsy had been wanting to take the family to an old fashioned silver diner that were so big in the 1950s. Kroll's fit that bill, plus it had a German soup I was hoping to try - Knoephla Soup. It is a cream based soup with dough and potatoes and is basically yummy. Even though it was hot outside, it was cool in the diner and the soup went down just fine! We had a great time at Kroll's!

Campground review - Camp on the Heart

Our recent stay at Camp on the Heart in Dickinson, North Dakota was a bitter sweet stay. Most of the issue was rude neighbors, and you cant really blame that on the campground!

Nearby attractions - 6 - Less than an hour to Medora plus Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Staff - 8 - Met owner couple who were nice and helpful.

Natural surroundings - 7 - Some shaded sites, on the banks of a small river.

Value - 3 - We paid $50 a night for for a pull through site with cable.

Bathrooms - 7 - Coded bathrooms were average in cleanliness and size.

Roominess - 4 - Very crowded sites,

Facility fun - 8 - Above ground pool and playground.

Cleanliness - 7 - It was clean but did not blow us away.

Facility usefulness - 7 - Dump station, laundry, propane, small exchange library.

Overall - 5 - The cost and cramped quarters knocks this place down a few notches.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Enchanted Highway

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Campground review -Medora Campground

Our stay in Medora, North Dakota could have been a little better with a nicer RV Park. Still, Medora Campground is the best of the choices in Medora.

Nearby attractions - 8 - All the stuff in Medora plus Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Staff - 7 - Summer interns working here were decent.

Natural surroundings - 7 - Some shaded sites, on the banks of Little Scenic Missouri River

Value - 7 - We paid $30 a night for two nights for a pull through site.

Bathrooms - 5 - With the dirt roads and rain, the bathrooms were always muddy. The showers are separate showers. They were cleaner but suffocatingly hot during the day.

Roominess - 5 - Small sites and our site was very tight. Our front door opened on our neighbors sewer hose.

Facility fun - 6 - Large playground.

Cleanliness - 6 - The dirt roads and rain just made it seem dirty.

Facility usefulness - 7 - Dump station, laundry, small camp store.

Overall - 6 - Hard to feel great about a place where we were so tight and it was so muddy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We were pleasantly surprised by the rugged beauty of the badlands and grasslands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is a large but little-know national park in the western edge of North Dakota. It is so close to Interstate 94, I wonder how many people pass right by and never stop to appreciate this amazing park.

After picking up our junior ranger programs and getting our passport stamped, we headed on a drive through a loop that covers much of the south end of the park. First thing we spotted was a huge prairie dog town. There are several of these prairie dog towns through the park each with hundreds of critters scurrying about, foraging for food, and barking out warnings and friendly hellos to each other and passerbys.

We took a nice hike, getting plenty of mud all over our shoes from the rain the night before. After some lunch we returned to the park and completed the loop. On this drive we were not only treated to some amazing views, but also some close-up shots of a family of wild horses. We have seen groups of wild horses before, but not this close-up. Patsy is a consummate horse lover, so she was super excited to see the four adults and one foal and kept snapping shots.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a true national treasure. Be sure to stop in and see the amazing vistas if you find yourself in North Dakota.

Medora Musical

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