Friday Wrap: South Dakota Surprises

Hello, dear friends! We’re finally back home and are in the reminiscing stage of our trip to South Dakota, which was awe-some! I highly recommend this destination to everyone.


The girls and I were feelin’ our inner cowgirl all week. (These cute hats were gifts from our chuck wagon cookout, which we’ll discuss later.)

Now, I knew (from the pictures online and stories from friends) that we were headed to a really cool part of the country with plenty of sights and activities. So I shouldn’t have been so caught off guard by this trip, but I was. South Dakota is seriously beautiful.

Case in point…I’m one of those easy car sleepers who can log a solid 2-3 hour nap as soon as I hear the engine running. But once we hit the border of South Dakota, I was both-eyes-open.

It did help that we were able to divide the trip in half. We spent a couple of nights with our sweet family in Nebraska. So when it was time to keep driving north, I was refreshed and ready to roll.

Anyway, it was such a fun time overall, I want to dedicate this week’s “top five” to our trip. And specifically the five most surprising, breathtaking, exciting, and downright happy things we discovered. I’ll try my best to show restraint on the number of photos. I’ll do my best. Bear with me.

{ONE} Incredible Stops

First off, we’re usually beach people. We’ve never vacationed in the mountains in the summer – outside of a family reunion in Colorado when Evan was 3 months old. He’s 13 now, so it’s been awhile.

I had no idea how to tackle this trip, which meant I spent an enormous amount of time planning. Not only were hot mountains a new thing, but also the amount of time spent in the car. We logged a total of 35 hours. The lifesaver move was to map out strategic places to stop – to keep things interesting and give us a place to stretch.

Sioux Falls

I loved this stop right out of the gate. We’re standing in front of “the falls” in Sioux Falls! This was right after our delicious lunch at the Falls Overlook Cafe.

Corn Palace

Welcome to the Corn Palace! If you’re ever near Mitchell, South Dakota, you have to stop here. It’s the world’s only corn palace, so there’s that to check off the bucket list. 😉 On a more serious note, I was really touched by the image on the lower right. It was in the center of the arena, so it had a prominent place for everyone to appreciate. (Yes, it’s made out of ears of corn.)


Another “must see when you’re near” place is Carhenge. You know, like Stonehenge, but made with old cars? It’s both hysterical and completely cool. We hit this on the way home, since it’s in Alliance, Nebraska. We drove across the entire state of South Dakota on the way there, and drove across Nebraska on the way home. Another trick that allowed us to see something new the entire way!!

{TWO} Mount Rushmore & Crazy Horse

Of course these iconic monuments made the top five list. Mount Rushmore was pretty much the main reason for this trip. The girls had free fourth-grade national park passes, and we were feeling adventurous. The next thing you know…

Mount Rushmore family pic

We made it to Mount Rushmore!! I love this classic family picture. You may or may not see this again around Christmas.

Mount Rushmore montage

I thought we were just going to take a few mountain pics and call it good. But there are all kinds of things to do at the Mount. Avery worked her tail off to become an official Junior Ranger. (It’s legit, too. She spent forever filling out a workbook, and she had a test at the end and everything!). Don’t you like the picture of her and her new park ranger friend? After this, we worked up an appetite for some Thomas Jefferson vanilla ice cream, because apparently he invented it. Then we walked through the Avenue of Flags and found a few states that are dear to our hearts – like Arkansas.

Mount Rushmore Sculpture

On one of the hiking trails (because there are those, too) we learned exactly how the mountain was carved and what the sculptor and his 400 workers attempted to create. This is the nearly 3-story model that stands in the sculptor’s studio. It was quite a monument unto itself.

Meaning of Mount Rushmore

I must confess, I went into this visit fairly uninformed, so I read everything in sight. This description about the meaning of Mount Rushmore was fascinating to me, and it made me feel incredibly patriotic for being there. #godblessamerica

We also took time to visit Crazy Horse. Some of the travel sites said you could just drive by and get the whole gist of it, but from our experience at Mount Rushmore, I wasn’t about to miss out on learning about the significance of this monument. I mean, I was right here!

crazy horse

As an interesting fact, Crazy Horse is a privately owned monument that’s still being carved. You can see the face on the top/middle, and the white paint on the lower right is where the horse will be carved one day. To put the overall size into perspective, the entire sculpture of Mount Rushmore would fit into the lower portion of Crazy Horse’s face. Wow, right? This thing is a huge undertaking. And pretty much by one family.

crazy horse different angles

These two pictures give me all the feels. The top shows what the final monument will look like one day. Crazy Horse is pointing to the land in front of him to symbolize his statement, “My lands are where my dead lie buried”. The picture on the bottom shows Clara receiving a handmade bracelet from a Lakota Indian. He carefully explained to her it was made with glass beads and buffalo hide. He also sold beautiful earrings made with ink-dipped porcupine quills. <3

crazy horse museum

Right next to the monument was an extensive museum filled with thousands of artifacts. We had fun exploring and learning about all kinds of Plains tribes. Education for the win.

{THREE} The Badlands

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but…we almost didn’t go to the Badlands. It was a pretty long drive from our hotel in Hill City, and I had completely underestimated its awesomeness. Thank goodness THREE separate people said to me before we left, “You’re going to the Badlands, aren’t you?!” Man, I’m so glad we did.

Badlands 2

We entered the park from the side that’s closest to Wall Drug. The first view literally took my breath away. We pulled over and jumped out of the car to soak this in with a clear, windowless view.

Badlands 4

I kept telling Brandon to pull over for pictures. He was so patient with me. I mean, this place looked like another planet!

Badlands 1

God was definitely showing off here. I could have stood here for hours.

Badlands 3

Okay, just one more picture. I have close to a hundred where these came from, but I’m showing restraint. Please be proud of me.

{FOUR} Custer State Park

If we ever go back to visit, I want to plan more time in this park. In fact, I would even stay here in one of their beautiful lodges. I’m about to take you on a photo tour that will help explain why…

Custer State Park Lake

This is Sylvan Lake that has a hiking trail, boating, swimming, fishing and picnicking all within a manageable distance. After so much time in the car, it felt amazing to get some much needed exercise – and you can’t beat this view! You might even recognize it from the movie National Treasure 2 with Nicholas Cage.

Custer State Park

We also ventured over to the newest lodge and lake experience called Legion Lake. It wasn’t as busy, so we spent quite a bit of time kayaking, canoeing, and swimming. What a day!

Okay, get ready for some incredible rock formations.

Needles Highway_Cathedral Spires

After we played in the lakes, we needed to head to the other side of the park for our Cowboy Cookout, so we took the scenic Needles Highway. It definitely gave the Badlands a run for its money in terms of stunning views.

Needles Highway montage

We drove through a tunnel that was nearly the size of our SUV with a luggage topper. Whew. I love the picture on the upper right, because you can see just how tall some of these rocks were compared to our cars! There were rock climbers all over this park, too. Ideal place for that kind of thing. The bottom left is Cathedral Spires, which I thought was the most perfect name. The girls were all about becoming explorers among these hills.

Family Wagon

Once we got through the Needles, we landed at the Blue Bell Lodge just in time for our chuck wagon cookout. We sang songs with a cowboy on the way to dinner while watching buffalo herds move around us.

Cowboy cookout

Our dinner site was in a large meadow in the middle of this forest-like park. They grilled steaks and served it up with all the usual fixin’s of beans, slaw, cornbread and watermelon. It was THE best meal of the entire trip. Hands down. These singers were each on a wagon. Our cowboy was the one on the far left. He was hilarious. And a 4th grade teacher, so he was absolutely charming with all of the kids.

{FIVE} The Wildlife!

Lastly, I have to mention Bear Country USA!! This was Avery’s number one destination. She’s obsessed with bears, so this was a “must do” on our itinerary according to her. I was so glad it met her (very high) expectations. We were also pleasantly surprised with tons of other wildlife on our trip.

Black Bear

Bear Country USA was full of black bears. You were able to drive through (with your windows rolled up!!) to get up-close and personal with these giant creatures. It was extremely hot when we were there, so the bears were moving slow. It gave us a false sense of security, I’m sure. They could probably tear us apart in one swipe, but from the comfort of our air-conditioned car, they looked so cute and cuddly!! I mean look at this guy above. I just wanted to give him a big pot of honey.

Bear Day

The girls were over the moon about our “bear day”. We even got to feed the baby bears! PS. They love grapes more than strawberries. Now, on the right you’ll see a much different kind of bear. This was taken at Teddy Bear Town, which is the largest collection of stuffed animal bears in the world. It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records and everything! Talk about finding heaven on earth. We had visited this bear village earlier in the day.

Wild animals

Here are a few other furry friends we saw on our trip. The upper left was a herd of buffalo that passed us in Custer Park. The deer on the right was in the park, as well. The baby bear on the lower left was inside Bear Country USA. Also at Bear Country was the big horn sheep on the lower right. He was just wondering through. Beep. Beep.


This is more buffalo in Custer Park. They were everywhere. You can’t believe how large these things were. And look, they were right on the road!!

That’s pretty much a wrap. I hope you enjoyed a few of our pictures and consider visiting this place for yourself.

Now that we’re back home, it feels nice to sleep in my own bed and eat out of my own fridge. I will say, though, I’m gonna miss this constant view from my passenger seat. Good thing I get to keep these little bears >>

Car ride

Many happy trails to you!



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Friday Wrap: Family Road Trip

Aaaaand we’re off! Our family trip to South Dakota has officially started. In fact, I’m writing this post as we’re driving. I have the computer in my lap, coffee in the cup holder to my left, and sunscreen on my right arm…you know, all of the important passenger stuff.

Although, according to this hilarious diagram, as the shotgun rider, I should also be keeping my eyes on directions and ears on the radio. (They don’t call me DJ Mama Bear for nothin’)

For today’s weekly wrap up, I thought it would be fun to share a few items we put on our Must Pack list.

Inside the car, we have…

{ONE} A New Road Trip Tee

road trip shirt

If you saw my Road Trip Tip board, you may have noticed this cute number. Well, I decided to order it! How fun is this to kick off a little Griswold-style vacation?

It was also the first time I’ve ever purchased something directly from Pinterest. Has anyone else tried this, yet? It was super easy.

ready to road trip

See the “add to bag” button on the right? You just click and go to your cart – like any store.

{TWO) Travel Books

travel book cover

My girls wanted a special journal for their trip, and we decided to go the super fun route with Wreck This Journal. There are a few in the series, and this is a special edition is specifically for travelling. Perfect.

Just look at the first page…

travel book warning

How awesome is this? And the back cover offers suggestions for places to wreck your journal…

travel book back

{THREE} Furry Friends

You know how my girls love stuffed animals? Well, they have accumulated so many that it has caused a few situations. One being that they can’t take everyone on road trips.

So Avery and Clara held a “Bear Meeting” where they took inventory of everyone in the room. Then they listed all of the upcoming trips and assigned animals to attend each summer adventure. Girls after my own heart with all of this organization.

Here’s the official chart, complete with names.

animal list

Now, those who weren’t lucky enough to come along can still join virtually. The girls took glamour shots of each furry friend, so they’re on the iPad. Crisis averted. 

furry friends

{FOUR} Playlists & Podcasts

I was perusing for a good playlist for our trip and I came across this compilation that was featured on Lauren Conrad’s blog. Even though it’s a few years old, I thought it was a great list. (It had me at Matt Kearney.) <3

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 1.59.41 PM

Brandon and I also have a few podcasts up our sleeve. You know the Serial podcast, which sparked much debate about an inmate named Adnan Syed who has served nearly 16 years in a prison in Maryland? Well, many people believe he’s innocent, and he was just granted another trial – like on July 5th. So, now we’re planning to listen to Undisclosed, which is continuing to follow Adnan’s journey. #fascinating

We’lll probably mix things up with some humor, too.

{FIVE} Portable Snacks

Each person in our family has a favorite go-to road trip snack. So here’s the rundown of our stash.

I love a pack of cherry Twizzlers and ice water with a shot of Mio.


Brandon goes for more salty choices like a trail mix or Chex Mix. He likes those mixes 😉


The girls like to wait until we’re at a rest stop to get an ice cream treat. They especially like those F’real shakes. As the name says, they’re the F’real deal. So tasty.


Evan is pretty much the only health nut in the car. He likes fresh peaches, apple slices, or string cheese. Where did he come from?! Lol.

What’s your favorite road trip food or other Must Have item to survive a long drive?

I’ll be filling up on Twizzlers, snapping tons of pictures and simply enjoying some family time for the next few days. So I’ll see you on the flip side. Have a wonderful weekend (and week ahead), my sweet friends!




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Friday Wrap: Friends & Fun

We had an action-packed week with some dear friends in town visiting. Once things settled back into a routine, I found a few tidbits I wanted to share, so this week’s top five list is a bit of a mishmash. One thing that is the same…I’m happy it’s already Friday. Love me some short weeks.

excited otter

This is how I feel inside.

Now let’s get to wrappin’ up this week like a present, shall we?

{ONE} All Kinds of 4th Fun

I’ll start by sharing some pics from the weekend. It went by so fast, which usually means we were having buckets of fun. And I’m here to say that fun was had by all – kids, adults, and even the animals.


The girls are showing off their first fireworks of the day. They shot off some parachutes, which were fun to chase down. In fact, I think we still have some on the roof.

friends at the market

This was taken on our way to the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market. Look at our colorful ensemble.

avery and bear

You know how Avery loves bears? Well, she found one to play with at the market. (This is a beautiful mural on the side of a building in downtown Fayetteville, btw. I just love street art.)

weekend activities

This is a snapshot of a few more activities that filled our weekend. The kids had a blast painting each other’s faces, visiting Crystal Bridges Museum, eating Pedal Pops at the Farmers Market, and finally lighting some sparklers!! Notice the Solo cup hand protectors in the lower right? That was the best decision of the day. The kids could light sparklers without getting burned. #momwin

friends and tats

The adults had some fun, too! We’re showing off our temporary tats.


Leo was such a trooper to put up with all of the madness.

{TWO} Lemonade for the Animals

As you can see, we packed in a lot of activities over the weekend. We even squeezed in some time for a lemonade stand! Our friends had the idea of donating the money to charity, and the kids picked our local animal shelter.

lemonade stand

Look at those cutie patooties. They even had stuffed animals on their stand to help sell the idea of helping animals. 😉

After the sale, the girls gathered their profits and shopped at PetCo for treats and toys. When we arrived at the shelter, the lady who greeted us said to go ahead and give everything to the animals. So we spent the next hour or so visiting each cage handing out treats and making some furry friends. They were so excited to see us. It was hard not to take them all home. This is why I need a farm, people.

animal services

We could have stayed and played for days. In fact, the girls asked if we could go back soon to check on the friends we made. <3

evan with dog

This is Evan and Yoda. I have to tell you, at first Evan didn’t want to go with us. He was being a bit of a moody teenager. Once we got inside, though, something changed. His face softened and I think he really felt for these animals. He wanted to stop and pet each one. Later that night, he told me he was really glad he went. A good lesson for both of us. 🙂

{THREE} Vanilla Nut Bites

Okay, so on Saturday we decided to go swim at our friends’ pool. It was awesome to have our new, local friends meet our long-time college friends. It turns out they’re all from Nebraska, which is even cooler. (Go Big Red!)

Anyway, this is the occasion where I was introduced to these balls of goodness called Vanilla Nut Bites. They are delicious, easy to make, and healthy – my three favorite ingredients.

vanilla nut bites on a pan

I forgot to mention they’re also no-bake, which makes them ideal for summer snacking. Don’t go heating up that oven if you don’t have to. I rolled these up in less than 10 min.

Are you ready for the recipe? Here’s all you need…

vanilla nut bites

Vanilla Nut Bites

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in a food processor. Roll into balls (using a cookie scoop or something similar to make it easier) and put in freezer or fridge to set.

I’m tellin’ you, they are so good. And be prepared for inappropriate jokes about balls and nuts when you serve them – especially if anyone has had a glass of wine or two and/or has seen the SNL skit about schweddy balls.

{FOUR} Sweetest Tomatoes

While we’re on the topic of food, I have to announce we had our first garden tomatoes this week. It really happened.

With so much going on I hadn’t properly tended to the garden in awhile. The kids were playing outside and noticed something bright red in the tomato patch. Lo’ and behold, we had not one, but almost a dozen ripe tomatoes!

We quickly had a salad celebration complete with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a dash of sea salt. (That’s my favorite way to eat a fresh-sliced tomato. Sometimes I’ll add a basil leaf on top.)

They tasted so good, and I was reminded to add a bit of baking soda to the soil to help sweeten our next batch. Do you do that, too?

I also plant marigolds around the base of my tomatoes to help naturally keep bugs away. I think my mom gave me that tip. Anyway, happy tomato season!


I decided to put my tomatoes in whiskey barrels this year, because I read that the leaves are poisonous to dogs. I needed to keep them out of our backyard and away from Leo.

{FIVE} Fruit Fly Trap

This last item on my list is super random, but super helpful if you’re dealing with fruit flies at the moment.

All of the fresh summer fruits and veggies I’ve been picking up at the market (and now growing in my garden) have been attracting some unwanted guests. I get flocks (?) of fruit flies in one spot of my kitchen, so I started filling a small measuring cup with apple cider vinegar and a drop of dish soap (to help the flies stick to the vinegar). It works like magic!

fly trap

This darling cup is from the Pioneer Woman set. If you look closely, you can see a fruit fly already landed. I literally just poured this and it’s already working. Bam.

Thanks so much for stopping by and seeing what we’ve been up to in the Andersen house. We leave for our big trip to South Dakota next weekend, so you might see me pinning lots of things to my new Road Trip Tips board. All ideas are welcomed, so let me know your must-do, must-have road trip items!




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Friday Wrap: Fired up for 4th of July

{These are actually plates from Khols! Cute, right?!}

{This is actually a plate from Khols! Cute, right?!}

Happy Friday!! And how is it 4th of July weekend already? I have been looking forward to this date for quite some time, and it arrived in a flash. Why the excitement – other than my love for sparklers? We have some dear friends traveling up from Houston to visit us. In fact, they’re on their way now! Yay!

You know what that means, though? I’ve been in power mode this week getting things ready for our guests. I’ve been organizing and freshening up decorations around the house. (Nothing like a visit from friends to get me fired up to do these much-needed tasks.)

Since it’s 4th of July weekend (and the Summer Olympics begin next month), I decided to invest in a few patriotic items. I can keep them out all summer. First, we got our flag situation figured out. Now we can fly Old Glory any time. Well, during daylight hours. (If you need tips on flag etiquette, I posted this a few weeks ago.)

We’ve also been busy with these little projects. Check ’em out and maybe give them a spin for yourself!

{ONE) A Front Door Salute

4th of July front door

I saw something similar to this online. I decided to give it my own spin with a galvanized holder. I also like how the white hydrangeas look against our dark door.

This is a wider angle that shows our pinwheels in the urns. I also updated our pillow on the right there.

This is a wider shot that shows our pinwheels in the urns. I also updated our pillow on the right there.

Side note: I’ve been toying with the idea of painting our door a different color. I might have to poll you all soon. For now it’s just a classic black. Hmm. More on that later.

{TWO} Patriotic Blooms


This is a project my girls did all by themselves. I was so proud of them. They sat in the garage together and chatted and painted until they appeared with these amazing vases. Girls after my own heart.

They saw the idea on Pinterest. (Yes, my 10 yr. olds love Pinterest. They also share my account, so if you ever see an overpopulation of puppies and nail art in my feed, that’s probably a clue they’re online.) Anyway, I love how their creations turned out.

We filled the vases with Shasta daisies from our garden. I also tucked in a few sprigs of Lamb’s Ear. Oh, and we used a red bandana to help pull it all together on our outdoor table. <3

{THREE} Red, White & Blue Hues

Clara's 4th of July nails

These are Clara’s cute nails.

Okay, so as I hinted a moment ago, nail art is becoming a thing in our house. Avery & Clara weren’t totally into it* until they started seeing cute designs on Pinterest. They saw a picture that had red and blue nails with white polka dots, so we pulled our our fancy nail art kit and did them ourselves. Look at those darling digits. 😉

*I think nail polish felt like makeup at first. The girls aren’t into that kind of thing, yet, so it felt funny on their fingers. Once they looked at it as an art project, it completely changed their mind. Isn’t that funny?

{FOUR} 4th-inspired Food

You can’t have a 4th of July spread without something looking like a flag. Am I right? Especially with so many creative ideas out there. The one above was my favorite, because it seems fairly healthy. I thought the yogurt covered pretzels were a smart way to add white stripes.

I also bought a star-shaped cookie cutter to make a few of these numbers…


{source} This is simply star-shaped watermelon with blueberries and strawberries. I think it would be delicious with this dip!

hot dogs with cheese

{source} This would make a great lunch. I love the star-spangled cheese. Lol!

star shaped hand pies

{source} I’ve never made hand pies before, so I’m a little intimidated by this recipe. Here goes nothing!

I haven’t assembled any of these recipes just yet. I have all of the ingredients ready and waiting. I can’t wait to see how they turn out. I promise to post pics on Instagram! Follow me @KateJAndersen so I can follow back and say “hi!”

{FIVE} Star-Spangled Bangles


Our friends who are visiting us this weekend have a five-year old daughter. Avery & Clara can’t wait to pretend she’s their little sister for a few days. They’ve been planning all kinds of fun activities to do with her. This is one of our favorite ideas above.

It’s a bracelet made with blue beads and straws that are cut into short pieces. The bracelet (on the right) is our prototype. We used ribbon (instead of embroidery thread or string) so it was easy to tie. I think it also looks cuter once it’s finished.

What are you up to this weekend? Will you be celebrating with friends? Whatever is on your agenda, I hope it includes sparklers at some point!!



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