Urban Family Living
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Why a RTW Trip Isn’t Happening Anytime Soon

Why a RTW Trip Isn’t Happening Anytime Soon

The Badlands

I’ve always wanted to do a round the world trip with my family.  So many cool places to see, so many cool things to do!  It seems ideal to introduce the children to travel and to adventure while they were still young and adaptable.  We did a 3 week road trip this summer through the American West (the states of South Dakota and Wyoming) and I can now say definitively that I need to put that dream…

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One of the best activities we did in South Dakota was visit a former gold mine now open for tourists to visit,   Big Thunder Gold Mine, in the former gold town of Keystone.  Big Thunder Gold Mine was located next door to the big gold mine in town, Lucky Boy.  The owners of Big Thunder claimed the next bit of land over from Lucky Boy in the hope of intercepting a part of the same rich gold vein.

creek outside of Big Thunder Mine

Creek outside of Big Thunder Mine

The land belonged to the Native American Sioux tribe by treaty and was supposedly off-limits to non Native Americans.  Rumours of gold were so strong, however, that General George A. Custer was sent to investigate in 1874.  When Custer did find gold on his expedition, there was no stopping American and European immigrants from invading Sioux lands in search of the precious metal.  The American government tried to buy the land off the Sioux who refused to sell because the Black Hills were sacred to their traditional beliefs.  In response, the American government just looked the other way and let the gold miners stake their claims if they could protect them.  The initial prospectors did really well.  When the easy pickings were over, the next round of gold was either sifted from the streams or blasted out of the rock.

Big Thunder tunnel

Big Thunder tunnel

During the course of the Gold Rush, stagecoaches would regularly bring gold from Deadwood in South Dakota to the railroad depot at Cheyenne in Wyoming.  The stagecoaches were the frequent target of robbers and were protected by outriders and lawmen such as the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp and Calamity Jane.  The route spanning 200 miles could be done in 22 hours because they only stopped to change horses for fear of attack from bandits and the Sioux.

a Deadwood to Cheyenne Coach

A Deadwood-Cheyenne Coach

The Big Thunder miners’ story is pretty typical of the Black Hills Gold Rush that began in 1874 in South Dakota.  The miners were two German immigrants, Krupp and Engle, who did not know each other when they both arrived at Keystone at the age of 35. They soon became partners because they spoke the same language.  In gold mining, you always needed a partner to protect your back from unscrupulous fellow claimants.

mining tools

Mining tools were basic – a pickaxe, shovel, pan and dynamite.

In 1882, Krupp and Engle borrowed money from Bismark Mine to place their claim on the Big Thunder land.  Both miners worked days at the Bismark Mine and in the evenings would work on their own claim, Big Thunder. Being dirt poor, they did a lot of the mining by hand and by candlelight.  They only one had one pneumatic drill which they tried to avoid using. Instead they used a chisel to create holes and strategic placement of gunpowder to blast through the rock.  They found a small vein of gold after 15 years which inspired them for another 15 years.  Krupp eventually had enough and left town leaving Engle with the loan to repay to Bismark.  Having dug 680 feet into the mountain and 240 feet underground, all Engle and Krupp had to show after 30 years was 10 ounces of gold worth about $200.  Their claim was a dud.

tiny vein of gold

The tiny vein of gold

This story, however, has a very Wild West ending.  Engle decided to drink and to gamble his sorrows away. Everyone assumed that Engle was filthy rich thanks to his gold mine which was why he was living large.  The other gold mine owners (including the owner of the Bismark mine) entered into a high stakes poker game with Engle (not realising Big Thunder had no gold).  Having nothing to bet, Engle put his mine on the table and all the other mine owners did the same.  Engle won all their mines, was able to write off his debt to the Bismark mine and, indeed, became very rich.

mining tunnel dug by hand

Can you believe this was all dug by hand??

By sifting for gold and finding  a few flecks each, the children realised how difficult and tedious the job was.

learning to pan for gold

Learning to pan for gold

There was also really good displays showing different types of rocks and their qualities.

Good To Know

Located near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Big Thunder Gold Mine is very accessible and easy to walk through. Our tour guide was terrific and very knowledgeable.  They run small groups without waiting for more tourists.  For example, our family had its own tour guide. She taught the children also how to pan for gold and different things to look for in a gold mine.  I would definitely recommend this tour.

learning about mining

Learning about gold mining

For dinner we went to the Grizzly Creek Restaurant in town which has fairly standard American fare.  The children, however, loved the make-your-own-S’mores at the table.

making smokes at the table

Making S’mores at the table

Pursuing the Dream: The Badlands Gold Rush One of the best activities we did in South Dakota was visit a former gold mine now open for tourists to visit,   Big Thunder Gold Mine, in the former gold town of Keystone.  

Moody Rooms, Warm Metallics

Moody Rooms, Warm Metallics

brass lamps with grey walls

The interiors trend for warm metals is still going strong.  I think they look particularly striking when paired with a dark background.  This combination can show a strong Asian look.

2011 HHL Den traditional-home-officeTraditional home office design by other metro interior designer Atmosphere Interior Design Inc.

Warm metallics and dark rooms can also create a very contemporary style. The bronze lamp here really brings the…

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When my children saw the inside of the teardown house that we have bought for the first time, they thought it was a complete dump.  Hence, our new house has been christened Casa del Dumpo (apologies to any Spanish speakers).  I hope I have the last laugh because Casa del Dumpo will rise like a phoenix from its rubble post-demolition.  Mr. N is worried the resurrection of Casa del Dumpo will be painfully expensive.

When I saw a house listed near Casa del Dumpo advertised as new, modernised, extended and detached, I knew I had to see it. Hopefully it would be everything that Casa del Dumpo would become and Mr N could rest easy having seen the end result.

Boy, was I wrong.  The house was huge – absolutely massive – and too big in my opinion.  It is 5600 s.f. with 9 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms.  Done by a developer who I think would have been better off creating two homes out of the space, it feels sprawling without any sense of cohesiveness.

front of house

What is the point of a circular driveway if there is hardscaping in the middle that you can’t drive around?  I assume it is a circular driveway because there are 2 gates with dropped kerbs for each allowing entry/egress.


The kitchen is pristine if somewhat soulless.  The handle-less Leicht units are trendy as is the quartz worktop.  The sight-lines are driving me crazy – the top of the door doesn’t align with the top of the cabinets which makes it look messy.


I think the biggest problem with this house is that it feels big but doesn’t particularly have any wow factor.  As a developer, they went with the safest options to appeal to the broadest crowd but the result is kind of meh.

How boring is this staircase??  To me it does not spell grand entrance to an almost £4 million pound home.   If it were me, I would have gotten rid of the bedroom right above this space and made a double-story entrance with great lighting and a cool staircase.


Upon entering the house you are greeted by the staircase in front of you and two receptions to either side.  The flooring guiding you to the staircase is ceramic tiles and wood for the rest of the ground floor.  Once again, the developer tried for trendy with lime-washed oak floors but apparently potential buyers have hated the result.  Many viewers thought the floors just looked undone.  I think the issue with the flooring is short planks which makes the colour variation much more jarring.

living room

The carpet on the stairs carries through upstairs into all the bedrooms.  I know many people prefer carpeting in the bedrooms so I will just leave that alone. By the time, I made it upstairs, anyway, I had lost interest in the house.

I liked the bathtub in the master bathroom which was positioned near the door.  As soon as you entered the bath, the floor lights would go on because it was on a motion sensor.  The master walk-in closet was also nicely done in walnut veneer.

All the bedrooms had air conditioning which I was told was de rigeur for new luxury construction now.  To be fair, I am not here most of the summer but I was surprised to learn that you needed air conditioning in London in the summer.

The bedrooms either did not have built-in closets or fairly small closets.  When people are asked to pay over the odds for a property, they do not want to have to think about the little details like closets.  They could probably have reduced the number of bedrooms but made them more spacious and added built-in closets.

guest bedroom

So, this house was a dud for us.  I didn’t have any major inspirational break-through and my husband wasn’t impressed enough to overlook what will be 18 months of chaos ahead. I believe, however, that you can learn much from the mistakes of others.  What’s the take-home point?

If you are going to make a grand statement, own it!

Breaking that grand summary down into its parts, I would think the lessons were as follows:

  • Be careful how you allocate money.  All the Lutron lighting in the world isn’t going to impress if you have orange roof tiles and plastic windows.
  • The number of bedrooms doesn’t matter as much as how nice those bedrooms are.
  • Less can be more.  Lots of square footage just adds to the running costs of a house.
  • First impressions really count.  You want a good entrance and ground floor to set the tone for the rest of the house.
  • Sure you can pick trends but utilising them well makes all the difference in the world.
  • You need some statement lighting to add drama.

Here are some ideas to inspire you further.

The white-washed oak floors here look fabulous.  The boards are wide, long and consistent enough to enlarge the room.

Check out this white kitchen which has the doors to the garden go right up to the ceiling.  The all-white is very elegant.  I love the lighting as well.

Now this is a grand entrance to a big house.

What do you think?  Any thoughts on the McMansion?

Through the Keyhole of a Renovated Mock Tudor McMansion When my children saw the inside of the teardown house that we have bought for the first time, they thought it was a complete dump.  

Cheyenne, A Town Formerly Known as Hell on Wheels

Cheyenne, A Town Formerly Known as Hell on Wheels

cheyenne house

If you were a  19th century American pioneer woman, would you go to a town that was nicknamed “Hell on Wheels”?  Unless you were a hell raiser yourself, most respectable women would not.  The city of Cheyenne faced this problem in the 19th century when they were trying to get the capital city of the territory of Wyoming admitted as a state into the United States.

Cheyenne in Wyoming was settled…

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The Borgund Stavkirke, located near Laerdal Norway, was built about 1150 AD.  In 1969, Americans of Norwegian immigrant descent created an exact replica in Rapid City, South Dakota.  They had the permission and architectural plans supplied by the Norwegian government and the help of a master carver in Norway.

stavkirke south dakota

The Stavkirke is entirely made of wood and joined together with wooden pegs.  There is not one nail holding the structure in place not even in the roof.

The carvings of snakes and dragons are a holdover from Viking beliefs that represent the battle between good and evil.  Dragons were believed to be good (which is why they were always on the prow of a Viking ship).  The Stavkirke has lots of dragons as well as crosses showing the merging of older pagan beliefs with Christianity in medieval Norway.


Inside the Stavkirke, the ceiling is constructed like an upside-down Viking ship hull.

stavkirke interior

The front door has replicas of the original door furniture – a ring and a lock.  The ring was both a door knocker and a sanctuary ring in medieval  Norway. If an outlaw could hold onto the ring, they would be spared being killed.  Of course, he could also starve to death holding onto the ring since no one was bound to help him.

stavkirke lock

On the grounds is also a Norwegian settler’s log cabin which was relocated from nearby Keystone, South Dakota.  The immigrant, Edward Nielson, came to the the Black Hills in 1876 to prospect for gold.  Originally from Hole, Ringerike in Norway, he was 33 when he arrived in South Dakota.

stavkirke log cabin

The statues are a bit cheesy but this house has stuff typically brought by Norwegian immigrants.  It is an amalgam of a typical early settler’s house and not everything shown was available in each house.  The immigrants brought some tuff from Norway when they emigrated which was usually whatever they could fit into a small trunk like the one shown below.

settler's trunk

Being master craftsmen, the immigrants were able to put their woodworking skills to good use by making what they needed for their new life, starting with a house itself and then all the interior items, such as beds, children’s toys and cooking utensils.

I found this painting of a nostalgic scene from Norway touching.  This immigrant painted this scene from memory and he would never see his old home, family or friends again.  The journey was arduous and expensive to undertake and visits home would have been an impossibility. I didn’t have such worries when I moved to England because I knew I could visit my family and friends in the USA often.

settler painting

I am amazed at the courage it would take to pack your whole life into a trunk, leave everything you know behind and move to an unknown and somewhat hostile environment.  I don’t think I could have done it – could you?

A Bit of Medieval Norway in South Dakota The Borgund Stavkirke, located near Laerdal Norway, was built about 1150 AD.  In 1969, Americans of Norwegian immigrant descent created an exact replica in Rapid City, South Dakota.  

On my recent flight from Boston to Denver, I had the best form of in-flight entertainment – the Sky Mall brochure.  It’s been some time since I’ve flown domestic US airlines and, clearly, in the interim Sky Mall have upped the ante from the usual jewellery, perfumes etc that you find in British Airways shopper’s magazine.  With the Wi-Fi on board (which is indeed as fabulous as it sounds), you can now click onto sky mall and order away.  No more flight attendants peddling their wares down the aisles just as you are about to fall asleep.

Without further introduction, I bring you my curated list of 10 favourite home and garden items on Sky Mall.  (In no particular order because it would be so hard to choose a number 1!)

Sippy Wine Cup

Look a sippy wine cup!  For mommy juice.   Do you think your guests will get upset if you hand these out at your next party?  There are discounts for buying 2 or more.

wine sippy cup

I’m thinking play dates would be so much more fun with mummy juice.  Don’t judge.  Oh wait, that’s what I’m doing here.  Don’t you judge!  It’s OK for me.  I’m special.  My mama told me so.

Pool Decor

Class up your pool with Poolvaratti!  He glides his plastic gondola around your pool and serenades your guests with opera.

venice gondolier

Creative Storage

Who still has a whole wall full of collection of CD’s? Even the grandparents I know have gone digital with their music and photos. But if you have over 2000+ CD’s, this system could be a life saver.


This King Tut Egyptian sarcophagus is more than just decorative.  With 14 shelves inside, it has tons of storage to tidy away your clobber.  Helpfully, the sarcophagus comes in either a male or a female version. So many decisions, perhaps you just need both to balance out your room.


Garden Ornaments

I expect it’s like watching QVC.  After a few hours as a captive audience you think why yes I do believe I need a cubic zirconia tiara for the low price of $19.99. Or in Sky Mall’s case, this giant yeti playing peekaboo in my garden.

shy yeti

shy yeti

If you want to have full-size and less bashful yeti, striding confidently and purposefully across your yard, this option is better for you.  I’m thinking if you are going the yeti route, you might as well spring the full $2000 and go for the life-size verson.  You don’t want a dinky yeti, do you?

walking yeti

Zombies are the new vampires, I’m thinking this zombie climbing out of the earth would appeal to many people and not just at Halloween.

zombie in the ground

Or if you just want to annoy your neighbours, put up this camper van tent in the back garden.  It’s so big, you can’t miss it.  Plus, your teenage kids can have a party in it!


Show off your sense of humour with a squirrel climbing a tree complete with safety equipment.


Indoor/Outdoor Fake Lawn

If you have a geriatric dog, or perhaps just a lazy one, how about this ingenious fake lawn?  It comes with a scented fire hydrant to direct your dog to the appropriate spot to do his business.


Bonus Items:

I couldn’t stop at just the home and garden stuff, the products were all so interesting.  Check out these items for your family.  The dog has a little umbrella to stay out of the rain! genius!  I’m thinking though that any man with such muscular arms probably doesn’t need a Spanx-equivalent tank top to suck in his gut.  As for the feet massager, if you need such heavy duty circulation for your veins, possibly you should see a doctor.

To be fair, Sky Mall has a ton of stuff you never knew you needed.  I only picked out some of the more interesting items.  Which one is your favourite?

The Best of Sky Mall for Home and Garden On my recent flight from Boston to Denver, I had the best form of in-flight entertainment - the Sky Mall brochure.  

Sometimes the simple pleasures of summer can be the most fun (and delicious!).  We love to pick fruit and vegetables from farms we encounter on our summer travels.  Children seem to think fruit is even more delicious if they have picked it themselves.raspberries

This summer we did a lot of travelling up and down the Eastern seaboard visiting family and friends.  We have picked corn, apples, pears, peaches, blueberries, and blackberries from assorted farms.

We even found wild grapes on Martha’s Vineyard.  They were not ripe enough to eat though.

martha's vineyard grapes

In one orchard in Connecticut, we found a sunflower maze to wander through.  It was so pretty and so much fun!


As summer draws to a close, I shall miss this simple task of finding a farm on the roadside and grabbing some fresh fruit straight from the source.

What simple summer pleasures will you miss?

Simple Summer Pleasures Sometimes the simple pleasures of summer can be the most fun (and delicious!).  We love to pick fruit and vegetables from farms we encounter on our summer travels.