After the hectic, tiring, and slightly stressful affair that was our road trip out west, upon reaching our destination we were able to enjoy a relaxing and joyful week with our Montana family. The kids were so excited to see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins! It was a fantastic reunion. Here are a few highlights from our trip based on the photos from my camera. Beware, there are many, many images to follow!
Paul's parents live in a beautiful home tucked away in the mountains outside of Helena. A few years ago, they added a large pond to their backyard complete with a dock, a boat, and a zip-line. The weather was absolutely beautiful and very, very warm most days we were in town so the kids spent a lot of time playing out by the water. Paul's sisters Amy and Ali often came to join us up at the house for these swimming sessions and brought all our little nieces and nephews along with them. Matthew was especially excited to be reunited with his cousins Benedict and Stevie - those boys are wild together but I loved seeing them interact!
The zip-line was lowered a bit during one afternoon in an attempt to get the children to actually consider taking a trip across the pond while holding on for dear life. Surprisingly, every single one of them gathered up enough courage to try! I was especially surprised to see Matthew volunteer to be the first victim. It had actually been Emma's idea to go on the zip-line at all. However, once the line was lowered enough for her to grab, Emma refused to give it a try: "No! I'm just a little girl!" We finally got her to go, but only after every single one of her cousins had a turn and her poor Aunt MaryRose agreed to catch her in the water. Such a whiner.
One of the highlights of the week was attending the Last Chance Stampede Fair with Grandpa and MaryRose. Complete with rides, animals, shopping, and food, we were fortunate to go at a time when the fair was not completely overrun with people!
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by a bunch of friendly horses. Nearby was a bucket full of treats that you were allowed to feed to the horses while you petted them. I gave the kids a lesson in how to properly feed a horse without having your fingers bit off. They were a bit squeamish about it, but had it handled pretty well by the end. I just love horses. Such beautiful creatures!
The kids loved petting all the horses and ponies at the entrance, but the animal that really captured their fancies was the Polish Chicken. Both kids for some reason thought that chicken was the cutest, funniest thing they had ever seen. They were thrilled to find one wandering around the little petting zoo set up. That was the most docile chicken I've ever encountered, he just melted into the crook of the arm of his holder and seemed to love being petted.
The little goats, on the other hand, were not quite so docile. Fairly aggressive, they would push and prod to investigate whether you had treats to offer them. If they found you were empty-handed, they would deem you uninteresting and move on to their next victim. Emma, of course, chose the lone pregnant goat to hug and that poor goat was a bit sensitive about her swollen midsection. After enduring a third squeeze from Emma, she got a bit upset and tried to bite her. And that was the end of the petting zoo.
Emma's favorite part of the whole fair was riding the Ferris Wheel with Grandpa. I was a little worried that she would make it all the way to the top of the wheel, realize just how high she was suspended in the air, and then panic. I was happy to be wrong - she enjoyed the entire ride although she did request to sit on the same side as Grandpa by the end of the ride. Matthew rode with MaryRose which forced me to take a ride up in the sky with that guy I married. Luckily, he's mighty cute.
|See Emma peeking over the side there? So cute!|
Then, MaryRose took the kids on a Tilt-a-Whirl. You won't catch me riding one of those things, but the kids were so happy. It was a hoot watching their laughing faces go spinning and whizzing past.
It was so hot at the fair that we ducked inside one of the buildings to get a reprieve from the sunlight and found that they were putting on a reptile show for the kids! The kids and I snagged pretty decent seats and enjoyed seeing all kinds of neat, slightly terrifying creatures. Matthew even got called up onstage at one point to hold the Red Box Turtle. He was thrilled! He was even more excited when, about 10 minutes later, I volunteered to hold the giant yellow python in front of everyone. Emma was a little disturbed and I could hear her little voice pleading with me to come back and sit down the entire time I was up front. I think she was afraid that the snake was going to eat me. She couldn't have been too scared because immediately after the show was over, she went right up to the front and petted that big yellow snake. Matthew refused to go anywhere near it so he hid in the back with Paul (who was also refusing to go anywhere near that snake) until Emma and I were finished.
We attempted to take a family photo with all the members present after dinner one evening. This proved to be extremely difficult with all the kids. The most uncooperative member of the group was definitely Emma. Out of the 20+ outtakes from this photo session, 90% of them were spoiled by Emma's antics, whether they be sticking a finger up her nose, squeezing the life out of Uncle Steven's cheeks, or kicking and punching the back of poor Uncle John Paul's head (what John Paul ever did to deserve such abuse, I will never know!) Here are my favorite outtakes - just look at Emma beating up on her poor uncle.
This photo was the best of the bunch - and Emma is still being a twerp.
And then when the time came to take a photo of all the grandkids together, Matthew sort of melted behind Lucy. It is nearly impossible to get an entire group of little kids to smile at the same time. And not just smile, but smile sweetly and naturally, not robotically. Most of the outtakes from the pictures of just the grandkids involved Emma digging for gold in her nasal passages.
A final picture depicting Grandma and Grandpa and their growing group of grandchildren. I think this turned out pretty cute!
The only casualty of the outing was Emma's bottom. The sun was scorching hot and Emma decided to go down the yellow plastic slide that had heated in the direct sunlight and burnt the back of her legs. However, she survived and later that same day Paul and I took the kids down to the Helena Walking Mall for a short jaunt and a bit of ice cream.
Matthew found this sign particularly amusing even though he had no idea what it said. He just knew it had something to do with dinosaurs and that was reason enough to snap a photo.
The dinosaur exhibits were extensive, informative, and fascinating! I learned quite a bit - for example, did you know that the characteristic horns on the skull of a Triceratops would change their orientation during maturation from adolescence to adulthood? The museum had an entire display of Triceratops skulls in different stages of development to demonstrate this trait. So interesting! Even Lucy just had to wiggle her way out of her stroller in order to get a closer look at some of the displays.
No trip to Montana would be complete without a bit of hiking. Paul and I snuck away for a morning hike one of the days. It was so incredibly hot, especially when carrying a sleeping, 30-pound baby on your back.
Of course Paul insisted that we take a couple goofy pictures once we had nearly reached the summit. Here he is making an epic final struggle towards the top...
...followed by a triumphant pose after conquering the climb!
There is no denying that this place is beautiful!
The kids loved their cousins! They looked forward to playing with them every single day. Of course there were differences in opinion, disputes over rules, fights over toys, but that's all to be expected. Bottom line is that the kids truly love one another. One of the most difficult parts of leaving was knowing that we were separating these kids once more.
One day, the kids and Paul spied a bunch of baby bass in the creek that runs along the side of the house. Steven and Paul decided to organize a fishing excursion to catch a bunch of the little fish and transfer them from the creek to the pond where they hopefully could enjoy more space and thus a happier existence. The kids were so very excited about this! They helped grab buckets, nets, and poles and made their way down to the creek to receive a lesson in fishing from Uncle Steven who caught the first couple rounds of fish. Then, he let each kid have a turn catching and reeling in a fish. They caught about 15 or so and then dumped them into the pond where they swam away happily. Like I said, Steven is really great with all the kids.
Well, except for Lucy the Grouch. Steven tried so hard to win Lucy over, but she did not change her demeanor towards him during the entire visit. If he came anywhere near her, she would clutch onto me and kick towards him as if to say: "Don't you dare think about picking me up!" She was certainly not very nice to him. Poor Steven. However, she really enjoyed both Aunt Ali and Uncle Jake. Paul thinks it's because she thought Jake's beard was a "kitty" and she is very into cats at the moment.
|Still no smile, but she is not begging to be taken away. This means, she likes him!|
Emma's favorite part Montana activity? Riding on the motorcycles with Grandpa. Grandpa dubbed Emma "Queen of the Motorcycle", a title that she continues to go by at home. Lucy even got the chance to take a couple spins around the property with Grandpa.
We enjoyed every minute we spent in Montana with our family and cannot wait to visit again. If you are ever trying to come up with a place to visit, consider making the trip out to visit the Rocky Mountain region. Beautiful sites, super nice people, and fun adventures await! I might be biased because that is where we both came from and where many of the people we love the most still reside, but all bias aside it is truly one of the best and most breathtaking areas of the country. I purchased a t-shirt during our visit that features a quote by John Steinbeck that perfectly sums up my feelings about Montana:
"I'm in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it."