An Anniversary, Vacation, and Bristol

Bristol Motor Speedway

What does an anniversary, vacation, and Bristol have in common? They were all part of our adventure this past weekend.

Jonathan and I enjoy traveling to different NASCAR tracks to watch the car races. If possible, we like to see both the “B Squad” Xfinity race, and the “A Squad” Sprint Cup race. Knowing that is one of our hobbies, Jonathan’s sisters gave us tickets to Bristol Motor Speedway for his birthday this year. The tickets were purchased, hotel arrangements were made, and we were starting to anticipate the weekend way back in June!

The Night Races at Bristol also just happened to be on our anniversary weekend. Friday night’s race was awesome, with one of our favorite Xfinity drivers finishing second after being on the verge of going two laps down. On Saturday, we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary at the track. We had a great day, even though the race was delayed 5 hours before they rescheduled it for Sunday afternoon. We left the track around 1:30am, and arrived at our hotel close to 3:00am. After just a few hours of sleep, we were off to the races again. Pun intended!

Now, most people, when they plan a vacation, also plan a little down time to relax and recharge. Somehow, Jonathan and I keep forgetting to schedule that part in. The only real downtime we had was in the Durango, and at Anna and Doug’s place. Even then, we weren’t really sitting and relaxing. We did get some great visiting time in, and had fun seeing Anna’s very pregnant belly. We are really looking forward to the arrival of our first grandbaby!

The time passed quickly, however, and we were on a deadline. I needed to be at a meeting 30 minutes from home on Tuesday evening. It takes about 16 1/2 hours to drive home, and with the race taking place on Sunday, that didn’t leave us much time to visit. We had a late night and early morning, but we made it home in time for me to change clothes and head off to my meeting.

In six days we traveled close to 2800 miles, drove through 8 states, saw 2 NASCAR races, and met great people all over. We are exhausted, but very happy to have celebrated our anniversary with a vacation trip to Bristol.

Road Trip Through the Dakotas

This week, Jonathan and I had a little time to take a road trip through the Dakotas. Our daughter, Christina, is working at the Black Hills Playhouse again this summer, which is the main reason we took our mini vacation out that way.

Jonathan attended his uncle’s retirement farm auction on Tuesday morning while I finished washing clothes and packing. We left that evening, making a stop in Sioux Falls to see our daughter, Laura, and her boyfriend, Blake. Our goal was Wall, South Dakota, and we arrived there just before the office closed at 11 pm. Safe to say, we were the last ones to check in that night.

Custer State Park

Wednesday, we left early enough to make it to Custer, South Dakota before noon. Jonathan was selling some farm equipment on an online auction site, and he was fielding calls about the items throughout the morning, so he we elected to skip the Badlands Loop this time. We have been on the Loop two other times, and highly recommend it. By the time we arrived in Custer, all of his items had sold, so we stopped for lunch at Pizza Works (excellent pizza crust!), then went on the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. We saw a small herd of bison in the distance, as well as a few Pronghorns here and there.

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

Custer State Park Pronghorn

That evening, we were able to take Christina out for supper before we took in the musical “Pageant” at the Black Hills Playhouse. It was an awesome production! I laughed so hard that it hurt. If you are looking for something fun to do in the Black Hills, I highly recommend checking out the schedule of the Black Hills Playhouse.

Devil’s Tower

Thursday morning I had a video conference call (loved that the Holiday Inn Express in Custer had awesome wifi), so we didn’t get going on sight seeing until almost noon. Since this was our third Black Hills mini vacation, we wanted to do something different. We took a day road trip to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, which is an easy drive from Custer. Neither Jonathan nor I had been there before, and we were both amazed at the beauty of a huge rock…which is really something coming from farmers who pick rocks every year.

Devil's Tower, Wyoming

Jonathan and I walked the 1.3 mile paved trail that takes you all the way around the tower. We spotted some mountain climbers who were working their way to the top. They looked like tiny specks on the side of the tower. Jonathan was inspired to try a little climbing as well…

Jonathan climbing

…but decided this was high enough. Ha!

The day was perfect for a walk, and the trail was fairly easy, with just a few climbs that made us breath harder (remember, we are flatlanders from the prairies of Minnesota…what we think of as steep parts of the trail would be nothing to those who live in other parts of the US). Every angle of Devil’s Tower is a little different, making the hike around the whole thing totally worth it.

Devils Tower from the trail

Mount Rushmore

We made it back to Rapid City in time to grab a bite to eat for supper, then we went to Mount Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. Both Jonathan and I highly recommend it. Your parking pass is good until the end of the year, so you can visit the monument more than once on your trip. We have visited during the day the last two times we were out there, so this year, we only went for the evening.

Mount Rushmore at sunset

We arrived a little over an hour before the ceremony began since the seats have been known to fill up. As we waited, I took a few photos of the faces as the sun was setting. It always amazes me how you see different details on the faces at different times of the day. I’m not sure if Gutzon Borglum was brilliant, or lucky on that part.

As the ceremony begins, a Park Ranger comes on stage and tells the story of how they became passionate about the National Parks. They usually give a little background of the monument before starting a film that talks about the carving of the faces, and what each President represents. They do a decent job of talking about the hard issues of how Native Americans have been treated, and how Thomas Jefferson’s dream was that one day every person in America would be equal. It was a fitting message for today as well.

At the closing of the film, America the Beautiful is sung, and the monument is lit. It is very moving. Then, the audience is asked to stand, and we all recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Once again, I had troubles with that part, due to the emotions and tears that usually come listening to the crowd singing and reciting the Pledge as one. Following the Pledge, all active and retired service men and women are invited on stage for the Flag Ceremony. This year, there were around 70 individuals who went forward, including two elementary aged kids whose father is currently in Afghanistan. The crowd gave those kids a standing ovation. More tears. It is pretty cool how they give everyone the time to introduce themselves by name, rank, and branch of service.

Mount Rushmore Flag Ceremony

As soon as the ceremony was finished, we went back to Custer and spent a few hours hanging out with Christina and her friend. It was a long day, but a great day!

Friday morning we left Custer, and headed north. I was a bit surprised by how much the landscape changed from the moment we left the Black Hills National Forest, and again once we left Belle Fourche.

Western South Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt State Park

Thanks to some long road construction delays, it took a little longer to get to Medora, North Dakota than we anticipated, so we didn’t get to see any of the museums that had been recommended by friends. We stopped at the Painted Canyon overlook and rest stop to take some photos, which was the first taste of the Badlands of North Dakota.

Painted Canyon North Dakota

We were excited to see how the Badlands of North Dakota compared to the Badlands of South Dakota. There are some similarities, yet they are very different.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Badlands

The Badlands of South Dakota feels a little more rugged, and lives up the the lore of outlaws hiding in the craggy rock. The Badlands of North Dakota has a more gentle feel while still being impressive. I can totally see why Teddy Roosevelt settled in this area for awhile!

We were a little disappointed that we really didn’t see many bison in Custer State Park, so we were pretty excited when we rounded a corner and there was a nice sized herd of bison grazing in the sage on the side of the road. We looked at that herd for awhile, and took a few photos from the safety of the Durango, then wound our way through the animals to continue on our way. We rounded a corner, and there was another herd grazing along the road. We gently lowered our windows, took a few photos while breathing in the scent of sage, then worked our way back out of the park.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We stayed in Bismarck, North Dakota that night, and on Saturday, we were back in the farming frame of mind. We ended up stopping at three different John Deere dealerships looking at different tractors. We are pushing our current planting tractor to the max of its hydraulic pump with all of the Precision Plant equipment, so we are just looking at options, and hoping for the right tractor at the right time for the right price. Both Jonathan and I enjoy discussing agriculture topics when we travel, from equipment, to crops seen, to plans for the future. A road trip through the Dakotas and into Wyoming gave us a lot to talk about!

After traveling 1777 miles in just over 4 days, we are happy to be home! It was a pretty intense road trip, and we are thankful for good weather, friendly people, and safety on the road.

If you would like to check out other highlights from our trip, head on over to the Carolyn Cares Blog Facebook page where you can see some of the Instagram photos we shared.

Escape to Northern Minnesota

Jonathan and I found time to escape from the farm for 2 1/2 days this summer. This was the first summer vacation without any of our kids along, so it was pretty spontaneous. It had been awhile since we visited the North Shore and Duluth, Minnesota, so we decided that would be our destination.

Since the timing of our trip was totally weather dependent, we didn’t have advanced reservations anywhere, and ended up choosing a hotel in Two Harbors. We had been through this town on another trip up the North Shore, but hadn’t stayed there. We really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Two Harbors instead of the frenetic pace of the Duluth Harbor area.

We left home after 6:00 pm on Wednesday evening, and arrived at our hotel right around midnight. This is what happens when you need to complete a few things on the farm before you can head out the door. Thursday we went to my niece’s house in Duluth and took her out for lunch. She recommended the Duluth Grill so we tried it out. We weren’t disappointed…but if you go, go hungry!

After walking around the Leif Erickson rose garden, and wading in Lake Superior, we took Jenni back to her place so she could make it to work in time. Jonathan and I went back up to Two Harbors, and planned our next adventure. We decided on Gooseberry State Park. The parking and falls area was free…bonus! We walked first to the middle and lower falls, then headed up to the upper falls. We went in the evening, so the light was beautiful, and it wasn’t really crowded.

Upper Falls Gooseberry State Park

On our way back to the hotel that night, we decided to go down to the harbor in Two Harbors and see what was there. We noticed people walking down the break wall, so Jonathan encouraged me to do the same. The water was so calm and the temperatures were perfect. There were seagulls swimming near the break wall, even though people were walking close by. After taking this photo, we watched a ship depart Two Harbors, which was pretty cool.

Seagull in Lake Superior, Two Harbors

On Friday, we decided to do our sight-seeing in the morning before heading down to Duluth to see my sister and brother-in-law who had come to help my niece with a house project. We headed up the shore towards Split Rock Lighthouse. It had rained the during the night, and fog was rolling in off Lake Superior in places which made the views really cool. We pulled over to walk up a look-out along a trail, and marveled that this was just as much a part of the Minnesota landscape as the prairies are that we call home.

Looking North along Lake Superior

When we arrived at Split Rock, we paid the admittance fee, and decided to follow the guided tour before heading out on the self guided portion. We learned a lot of the background history, which helped the self guided portion make sense. This is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to take a few. Just to warn you…there are 171 steps down to the lake, which means you need to walk 171 steps back up again. It really wasn’t that bad, especially when there were places along the way where you could pause and take more photos.

Split Rock Lighthouse

Even though this was a mini-vacation, and we packed a lot of sight seeing into it, we came home feeling refreshed. It’s worth taking a couple of days to escape the crazy pace of farming to take a breather!

30 Things I Love: Peacefulness


Today’s post will be short on words…on purpose.

I love the peacefulness that follows a chaotic harvest. I love harvest time, but that first day when the corn dryers are shut off, the machinery is in the shed, and there is no need to rush is so peaceful.

During the rush of harvest, or of spring work, I often think back to some of our vacations. My favorite spots have a common theme…water. Whether it is the lake home we rent for family gatherings, or this scene in Oregon, there is something so calming about the sound of water lapping a shoreline, or moving over rocks. Thinking of those times brings memories of peace, contentedness, and joy even during those crazy days.

Where are your favorite peaceful experiences? Do you go on vacations to relax, or are you more of the work hard, play hard type?


Day 1: Pizza

Day 2: Shoes

Day 3: Shout Stain Remover

Day 4: The Ability to Vote

Day 5: My Heritage


Day 7: Black Velvet for Photography

Day 8: Strong Coffee and Strong Hairspray

Day 9: Peacefulness

Click here to go to Holly Spangler’s blog, and see the link for other 30 Day Challenge Bloggers

Wordless Wednesday – Thinking Warm Thoughts

Thank you, American Farm Bureau Federation, for holding your Annual Convention in warm places…and giving us an excuse to travel there!

CarolynCares Hawaii

30 Days of Thanksgiving – Day 23: Beaches

CarolynCares Beaches

Ahh. There is nothing quite like the serenity of sitting on a beach, toes dug into the warm sand, and waves lapping the shore. Even when waves are crazy, as they were when we were in Hawaii in 2012, the beach still holds some magic. Maybe it’s the rhythms of the waves, maybe it’s the smell of the salty air, or maybe it is as simple as just being on vacation.

I am not a swimmer. I have a fear of water that is over my head, and I get nervous in lakes and oceans. Yet, I love to fish, and I love sitting on the beach by the ocean. As much as I love keeping up on social media, there is something to be said for unplugging and just relaxing.

I am thankful that we have had opportunities to relax on beaches from Hawaii to our local lake. A beach doesn’t have to be on the list of Top 10 Beaches in the World to enjoy it. I am also thankful that I live in a state with over 10,000 lakes to enjoy! Even just thinking about sitting on the beach is making me feel warmer. As I write this, there is a dusting of snow on the ground, and it is the coldest it has been since last winter. 🙂

To follow other 30 Day Blog Challenge participants, click here.

My Eyes May Have Leaked a Little

Jonathan, Anna, and I headed out west for a short vacation last week. Our real reason for heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota was to see Christina, who is spending her summer at the Black Hills Playhouse as a tech intern. We hadn’t been able to hug her since May, and we were missing her sweet face.

We stopped at a lot of the typical touristy places, and had fun. Seeing those sights with your 20-something offspring is much different than with your 2-something offspring. We stayed in Wall, SD the first night, so we were just over an hour away from our hotel in Keystone, SD. We arrived early enough that we went straight to Mount Rushmore.

The monument was beautiful. We had been here when the girls were in elementary school, so we knew a little about the area, and had anticipated the view. We were not disappointed!

Mt Rushmore - July 22, 2013
Mt Rushmore – July 22, 2013

We went through the museum under the observation area, and decided to sit in on the 14 minute film about the making of the memorial. This is where the “yeah, yeah, we’ve seen this before” turned into “wow, did you know that?” and “I wish I could get a copy of all the quotes!”

Maybe it is the times we are living in. Maybe it’s the climate of me, me, me. Maybe it is the feeling of disconnect between neighbors. Whatever the reason, I was struck by the patriotism of Gutzlon Borglum, and the reasons he gave for selecting those particular four presidents.

He selected Washington because he was the father of our country. He was not worried about his political ambitions. He was worried about building a foundation for a young country that would stand the test of time.

Jefferson was selected to represent the growth of our country. President Jefferson orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase, and sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition.

Lincoln represents the preservation of our country, after he was able to reunite the United States after the Civil War. Borglum greatly admired Lincoln, and made many pieces of artwork about him.

President Theodore Roosevelt helped to make the Panama Canal a reality. He also orchestrated peace between countries, establishing the United States as a world power. 200 million acres of National Parks were set aside during his presidency.  His presence on Mount Rushmore represents development of our nation.

The story behind the sculpting, the selection, and the accomplishment of the monument is very educational. As we were leaving Mount Rushmore, Jonathan overheard someone talking about the evening lighting ceremony. We thought that sounded neat, so we decided we would come back the next night (parking is $11 per car, good for the rest of the year, so we could go as many times as our hearts desired).

We had no idea what to expect. We did know that we should get there early, and I’m glad we did. The amphitheater was full by the time the ceremony started.

The ceremony began with a 10 minute talk by a park ranger. She talked about the memorial, sharing quotes from each of the presidents that were represented on the memorial. After her talk, we watched a short film about the presidents and the carving of the mountain. It was very patriotic. The film ended with the singing of America the Beautiful. It was very dark at this point, but as we looked at the flag, during the song, we noticed the lights were starting to shine on the faces. By the time the song had ended, the faces were fully lit. That was my first set of goosebumps. Then, all the veterans were invited forward to assist with the lowering of the flag ceremony. This may have been the first time my eyes leaked. The 75 or so men and women on the stage were given a standing ovation. Most people sang the National Anthem…I was a little too choked up to get the words out.

Flag lowering ceremony
Flag lowering ceremony – not easy to take photos with tears in your eyes

After the flag was lowered and properly folded, each of the veterans introduced themselves and their branch of service. My eyes may have leaked a little at the presenting of the flag to the park ranger.

When the ceremony was done for the night, I couldn’t help but think about what this monument means, and how important it is to remember the ideals and sacrifices these men had made in order for me to be able to live in a country where I am free to worship how I want, free to make the choices I do, and free to help others has I see fit.

These men weren’t looking out just for themselves or their political aspirations. They were more concerned about their fellow Americans, and the country they led. They were led by the people, for the people. President Washington refused to be crowned king, because then America wouldn’t have the freedoms they longed for.

I left the ceremony thinking that every single American should be given the opportunity to attend the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore. Every Senator, Representative, and Presidential candidate should be reminded about the principles that our country was founded on in the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

Mount Rushmore at night
Mount Rushmore at night

Days later, as I sit at the computer in the comfort of my home, trying to put into words the emotions we felt, my eyes may have leaked a little.