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Twelve years ago, Jack and I were married on a blustery winter day in Nebraska. It was the start of our family and is an event I think about often.

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If Jack looks freakishly thin, that’s because he was, heehee.

After being sealed for this life and the life to come (meaning we’re married forever…sorry Jack. You’re stuck with me), we had a small reception at night, which challenged even the best Nebraska driver to arrive without sliding off the road. We celebrated with friends and family and started our life together.

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Twelve years later, we still make it back to the Winter Quarters temple in Nebraska at least once a year, again offering us a chance to reflect on the happiness our marriage has brought. Four states, five apartments, three fixer-upper houses, innumerable animals, and five and a half kids later, and we’re only getting started!

Though we once and a while celebrate our anniversary with just the two of us, we really do enjoy making it a family event. This year, we took a quick trip down to The Great Smokey Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee to mark the special day. Jack joked that since we’d decided not to get each other gifts (the 12th year theme is silk, pearls, and linen…what on earth is a woman supposed to get her husband?!), the cabin was our shared gift since the beds had linens on them. Good enough for me!

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Our cabin was right on the Roaring Fork River. It was absolutely dreamy.

 We left after church on Sunday and arrived just in time for dinner that night. We stayed at an adorable Airbnb cabin that was practically brand new, was so cozy, and fit all of us just right.

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Even though we escaped the snow of Indiana, it was still quite brisk down in Gatlinburg. That didn’t stop everyone from piling into the hot tub to practically boil alive. I seriously think we’re going to have to get one of those for our deck.

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Then it was off to bed so we could spend a full day exploring the area.
Easier said than done with excited little kids…they probably stayed up until ten, giggling and talking.
I tried getting them to bed on time.
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The next morning was equally chilly, foggy, and damp as we headed out in search of adventure. Before we got far, Jack spotted boiled peanuts and as one who always embraces his Southern roots, he bought a few cupfuls to share. Everyone tried one, but only Kate and Zoey took a real liking to them.

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Goober peas, anyone?

We decided to check out the national park nearby first, seeing as we love spending time outside as a family. Though we didn’t see any elk or black bear (bummer!) there were plenty of Pip, Goldie, and Rosie’s relatives out wandering around.

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We knew we wanted to take a family hike, so we settled on a 2.6 mile hike up to Laurel Falls. We got a chance to try out some of our new hiking gear Santa brought us. Although Zoey was happy to sit in the hiking backpack, she was pretty insistent that I carry her. Um, no. I’m already carrying one kid, and I wasn’t in the mood to carry another.

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The hike itself was relatively easy. The trail was paved (mostly/sort of) and wasn’t on a terribly steep incline. We watched for mushrooms, noted the different flora than Indiana, and enjoyed the view.

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Teaching Henry to forage for Oyster mushrooms.

 The area really is a hauntingly beautiful place, especially when draped with a thick covering of fog.

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About halfway up, little legs started getting tired, kids started realizing they didn’t dress warm enough despite being told to wear their warmest clothes, and my fear of heights reared its ugly head.
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But up and up we continued because once we set our mind to something, we do it.
Usually.
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There came a point in the trail when I made Henry hold my hand and everyone hug the wall of the rock face because we were getting that high up on the mountain peak. We could hear some of the water rolling below but I wasn’t about to let the kids lean over the edge to look. Jack solved that problem by hoisting them up to see.

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Yep. Take in that view. A few hundred feet to your death.
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Of course, signs like this didn’t help my confidence:
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After persevering, we made it to the end of the trail and were rewarded with the beautiful waterfall in all its glory.

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Claire was particularly proud of the waterfall sharing her middle name.
The trek back down was much faster since it was all downhill but at one point, Zoey was cold and tired enough to scream her way through the forest until she fell asleep. Then, she didn’t care where she was.
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Since we all made it out alive, with relatively little complaining, we celebrated by satiating our enormous appetites by eating our weight in crab, shrimp, hush puppies, and steak.
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One thing Jack immediately noticed about Tennesee were the enormous clusters of Oyster mushrooms hanging on every other tree. More than once, he had us stop on the winding, steep, scary-close-to-the-edge-of-the-road so he could go harvest mushrooms.

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He wants to come back in the fall to look for chicken of the woods, another mushroom he likes. Fine by me!
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Stuffed full of seafood and brimful of mushrooms, we went to the local aquarium after the kids begged and begged to go. It literally cost us an arm and a leg to get in (boo!) but we spent several hours there to get our money’s worth.

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A pretty cool sawtooth shark.

The plus side of being there in the middle of winter was that it was nearly empty, which meant we got the clownfish all to ourselves…

…and the jellyfish petting…
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 …the horseshoe crabs…
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…and some incredibly friendly stingrays.
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Once we finished gawking at all the fish, we decided to go to dinner but not before we said hello to every snowman in Gatlinburg.

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At every turn, there was another snowman.
Or sometimes, a pair of them.
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We stuffed ourselves again, headed back to the cabin, soaked in the hot tub, and hit the hay early. It was a long day!

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The morning we were to head home, we couldn’t resist stopping by a petting zoo in the foothills. Jack spoils me way too much…so much of our vacation was spent looking at animals, which is not exactly his idea of fun.

We fed elk…
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They were so docile and curious!
 …pet a very friendly emu…
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 …were surrounded by fallow deer…
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…stroked a velvety soft kangaroo…
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…and gave treats to a Bactrian camel.

Basically, it was like the kind of farm I dream of having someday. So many animals to play with! First, I think we need some goats…

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And just like that, we were on our way home, over the mountains, through the icy gorges, and back in still-snowy Indiana (I was hoping it would melt while we were gone. Oh, well).

It’s always hard to get back into the routine of things. I had to prod the girls to wake up for school, groceries needed to be acquired, and bills needed to be paid, but Jack spoiled me with one last surprise before he goes back to work: dinner. A heart-shaped, Oyster mushroom feast while I took a nap and the kids helped him. I could get used to that kind of service!

Though we’ve had our share of heartaches, we overall have been extremely blessed in our marriage and family life. Jack never ceases to amaze me, makes me laugh daily, works hard, and loves us so much that we never have to wonder.
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We love our family, and are amazed at what twelve short years has brought us.
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The Elikers!
Here’s to many, many more years on earth together, and an eternity to come!
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Happy one dozen to us!
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Welcome to the farm!

True stories of raising children, remodeling, braving the elements and plotting out life, all while living on a humble acreage in central Indiana.

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