Family Vacation 2018: South Dakota

After our time in Omaha, we headed off to phase two of our summer travels – a few days in South Dakota! Since we don’t live near any of our extended families, most of our trips have been focused on traveling to see them, but especially as our kids get older, we want to make it a priority to show them more of the world, as well. We thought that with the ages of our kids, a trip out to South Dakota could be a good fit – some tourist attractions and opportunities to learn about nature and history but no long days in museums (which would be heavenly for Matt and me and much less so for our children!), and it was close enough that we wouldn’t have to drive forever to get there.

We left Omaha on Saturday morning and drove out to Wall, South Dakota, where we were joined by my mom and brother David – it was so nice to get some time with them on this trip, too! After a night in the hotel, we got up and visited Wall Drug the next morning. The kids actually did a great job of browsing and enjoying the experience without asking for 50,000 toys, and at the end we let them each choose one item that we’d buy for them.

Then that afternoon we drove through the Badlands, which were beautiful beyond what I can describe.

Had I realized we’d be able to get out of the car and climb around, I would have put everyone in shoes other than flip flops! It worked out alright, though 🙂

For the rest of our time in South Dakota, we’d arranged to stay at an AirBnB, which, we’ve discovered, is really what makes vacations work for our family. Spending days at a time in a standard hotel room is too overwhelming, but having more space and being able to prepare our own meals makes everything so much more manageable.

The morning of our first day on the western edge of South Dakota was spent at its most well-known attraction – Mount Rushmore! The big kids and I will be starting to learn about American history this year, and this was a great introduction, giving us an opportunity to talk about some of the presidents and a bit about the history of our country.

Knowing that we were heading into some red states and that we already stand out as a multiracial family with a child who sometimes uses a wheelchair, I intentionally did not pack any of the kids’ and my political t-shirts. I hoped we’d be at least a tiny bit inconspicuous. Miranda does not share that desire, and she and I had the following exchange while at Mount Rushmore:

Me: “Why do you think that they chose those four presidents to be on the mountain?”
Miranda: “Umm, because they thought they were good ones?”
Me: “Yeah, I think you’re right.”
Miranda, loudly: “Well, they won’t be putting Donald Trump up there, that’s for sure!”

We’re hoping the rest of the country comes to its senses and joins her in that opinion soon, as well.

We went from Mount Rushmore to Crazy Horse, which Matt had seen about 30 years ago but which the rest of us had never visited. It was fascinating to hear about its history and construction and the plans for its completion and to compare and contrast it to Mount Rushmore. There was a bus tour that allowed us to get close to the monument itself, and we were so glad we took advantage of that opportunity. The bus driver doubled as a tour guide and gave us more information and stories about Crazy Horse and its construction, and it was great to see a closer view of what was actually happening. Seeing a monument of this size being financed privately and in conjunction with efforts to support Native Americans was so impressive.

The next day we drove out to Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower, something to which Matt had been looking forward for quite some time! The kids really loved it, too. Miranda and Atticus are enthusiastic climbers, and Miranda talked a lot about coming back to climb it someday (we saw several climbers while we were there!), and she enjoyed any opportunity to climb on the boulders around the path we walked around the landmark…and I spent much of my day trying to keep Atticus safe while he attempted to follow her!

The following day I got up early drove out to Rapid City (everything is so spread out in South Dakota!) to meet a friend for breakfast, one of my co-moderators in the Facebook parenting group I help to moderate. It was a joy to sit down with someone who just gets it, who parents a child who has lived through trauma and who subscribes to the same parenting philosophy Matt and I use in interacting with our kids. It was so nice to meet her and spend a few hours together!

Our van’s brakes had been grinding, and it was in desperate need of an oil change, so after my breakfast date, I called around to local repair shops and sat around for a couple hours while our brake pads were replaced and oil changed – not super exciting but necessary. I didn’t get back to the rest of the family until around 2:00, which limited our afternoon options, but Matt and David researched some choices, and we ended up taking a scenic drive and getting out and walking around a bit. South Dakota is so beautiful!

The next day it was time to head out, so we packed ourselves up and started the long drive back home. We had one more attraction to see along the way – the Corn Palace!

And then after an overnight stop in Omaha on the way back, we made it home 🙂 Overall, it was a great family vacation time. There was some drama, but overall, the kids did really well with the driving time, and we really enjoyed our time as a family in South Dakota. It was so nice to have my mom and David there, too. The kids love hanging out with them, and though our night time adult hangouts were shorter than we would have liked, it was good to get even those little bits of time. We got to enjoy experiencing a new place together and talking about our country and its history. All in all, I’d say it was a successful vacation!

The Great Road Trip of 2015 (Part 2)

The Great Road Trip of 2015 was so great that it is necessitating multiple posts, in order to avoid any one post becoming so lengthy that even my family doesn’t want to finish it 🙂 If you missed part one, you can check it out here.

As our time in Virginia came to an end, we piled back into our car and headed to Washington, D.C. for a couple days. Danny and Sharon had asked if it would be possible for us and for her family to meet during this trip so that we’d all have an opportunity to get to know one another a bit before the wedding next spring. I’ll admit that I was somewhat nervous about how it would go to have so many people packed into one apartment for 2 nights, but it all worked out!

We arrived in the city on Friday afternoon and were treated to a motorcade passing in front of us at an intersection – Danny and Sharon guessed it most likely belonged to Vice President Biden.

After getting settled into Danny’s and Sharon’s apartment and having lunch, we headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing. We opted to travel by metro, much to the girls’ delight!

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Madeleine CaiQun said, “Mom, do you know why I’m crying happy tears?”

“No, why?” I asked.

She replied, “Because I’m just so happy that the train is moving so fast that I have happy tears.”

Asked later, both girls said that their favorite part of the day had been the train ride.

However, we were also able to take in some other noteworthy sights! Our first stop was, of course, the White House!

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Moments after we took this picture, security guards asked everyone to back off across the street.

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They didn’t tell us why, but Danny and Sharon said they’d never seen that happen before, so something interesting was probably going to happen. We could see snipers on the roof.

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We waited around for probably about half an hour and were just getting ready to move on when we heard a helicopter flying overhead. We were able to see one helicopter fly behind the White House to land…

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…another take off from behind the White House…

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…and another fly by off to the side.

Apparently any time the President is flying in a helicopter, there are also 2 decoys that fly nearby to provide added security for him. We definitely enjoyed getting to see that! But then we headed to our next stop, the Washington Monument.

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We would have loved to see more of this awesome city, but the girls were getting tired, and it was approaching dinner time, so we headed back to the train…

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…in which we managed to fit 5 people into one seat, which was highly entertaining to my mother 🙂

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The next day we spent relaxing at Danny’s and Sharon’s apartment and at their pool.

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And we did indeed get to meet Sharon’s parents, who are lovely people 🙂 I’m really thankful that, just as I married into a family of people I genuinely like, it seems like Danny will be marrying into a family with great people. Unfortunately, I apparently considered the day to be so relaxing (I actually took a nap! by the pool!) that I failed to get a single picture of us hanging out with them! We really enjoyed the time with them, though, and it was nice to meet in person in a low-key environment.

Sharon’s mom, Patti, actually suffered a stroke just 2 days after our meeting. She seems to be recovering incredibly well, which is a huge answer to prayer, but if you are a praying person, I’m sure she would appreciate continued prayers, as she has a long road of recovery. We’re looking forward to seeing both her and Sharon’s dad again next spring at the wedding!

After Sharon’s parents left, we just hung out at the apartment for the rest of the evening and enjoyed our time together. Atticus, in particular, enjoyed their sweet dog, Dixie 🙂

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That was our last night with my side of the family, and the next morning we headed out toward Matt’s side of the family in upstate New York (coming up in part 3!).

The Great Road Trip of 2015 (Part 1)

As I wrote this post, we were homeward bound for the last part of our great road trip of the summer – 16 days with 15 nights spent in 5 different locations! It felt somewhat crazy at times, but it was really good. Since we have no family nearby, we have to travel to see everyone, and maintaining those relationships is important to us, so off we went!

Our first night was spent in Louisville. We had a cookout and enjoyed seeing some good friends who used to live in Columbia but have now moved on to Louisville (and some of our current CoMo crew who were also in Louisville at the same time for a conference).

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The kiddos appreciated the play time, and, for my part, I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with some other mamas whom I really respect and enjoy. Ann, then Jessie, and then I had our first babies between the spring of 2009 and spring of 2010 (with Ann serving as our doula for Miranda’s birth!), and here we are with our third babies, all born between the winter of 2013 and winter of 2014.

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The next morning we were on the road bright and early, heading for Virginia, where we’d rented a vacation house with my parents and brothers. The girls settled right in – just look at the joy on their faces as they enjoyed a pillow fight with Danny and Sharon!

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Mini-golf (in Anna and Elsa capes made by my brother David!) was a hit…

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…though some of us have rather interesting technique!

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Atticus started out in the ergo but quickly grew frustrated during the times I’d stand still and was happier once my dad came and hung out with him.

IMG_7591One evening we walked around a nearby lake and enjoyed some beautiful views.

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Everyone enjoyed the first part of the hike, but some of the smaller members of the family got tired and rather histrionic as the hike progressed. At one point Miranda proclaimed loudly, “We’re not going to make it! We’re all going to die!!!” She has a bit of a flair for the dramatic 🙂 We opted to shift the arrangements a bit at that point, and instead of Atticus riding in the stroller, Matt pushed Miranda in the stroller, Sharon carried CaiQun, and I carried Atticus the rest of the way.

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That wasn’t quite the ending I’d been hoping for, but we got some exercise, and most of us enjoyed the walk. Apparently even Miranda told one of my brothers the next day that she’d had a good time walking around the lake and was looking forward to doing it again. Hmmmm…

The next day we went out to Luray, where Danny and Sharon are getting married next spring. We got to see their wedding venue, which is gorgeous, and the girls practiced for their flower girl role, about which they are quite excited.

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We also got to visit the Luray Caverns, which was really cool. The girls remembered learning about stalagmites and stalactites from our science curriculum from last year, and we all enjoyed the tour through the caves.

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Here are the girls, back at the house, showing off the matching Anna and Elsa t-shirts and necklaces my mom brought for them. Frozen is the first full-length movie we’ve had the girls watch, and they’re quite into it right now!

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CaiQun had a birthday coming up the week after our time in Virginia, so everyone brought gifts for her (including those Frozen items), which she very much enjoyed.  Matt’s favorite of the gifts was from my dad, who brought her a laser light that shines as thousands of little dots. I’m sure we’ll have much fun with that in the future!

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We spent a fair amount of time hanging out at the vacation house, but we also tried to get out and have fun. One morning most of the group went hiking on Storybook Trail, while my mom and I stayed at the house, me to get work done, and my mom to help with Atticus. That was definitely a highlight for Miranda, who spent the rest of the vacation talking about her mountain climbing abilities.

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One afternoon we went swimming at the community pool. Miranda especially enjoyed it, swimming all around the pool with her water wings on – she’s really improving in her swimming skills this summer. My dad and Danny talked me into playing football with them, which was more humorous than successful, as they are both inches taller and many pounds heavier than I am, so it’s nearly impossible for me to catch a pass with either of them defending me or for me to defend against them. It was entertaining, though 🙂 And while we played, my little guy napped.

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He came down with a cold and was sometimes willing to nap at strange times and in strange places in order to get in a little bit more rest!

And while we were out a lot, we also enjoyed our time just hanging out at the house. One day we had a potato chip taste test – the rest of the family had gotten some snack size bags of the trial flavors of Lays potato chips – truffles, gyro, Rueben, and sausage, egg, and biscuit chips. Most of us agreed that the best was the sausage, egg, and biscuit flavor, but the others were pretty horrible. CaiQun had a slightly different opinion, announcing that she liked each and every one, so she finished off all of them!

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The girls and I learned about volcanoes in science the week before our trip, so one day we did the classic baking soda and vinegar volcano eruption science experiment. The girls and I mixed up the clay to make the volcano.

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The “clay” was really more like dough, though, and the girls did not particularly enjoy attempting to shape it into a volcano, so Danny and I took over and made a valiant attempt.

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And then we took it outside and let it erupt!

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We also took advantage of our time at the vacation house to play some games. Many of my childhood memories are of playing games with family and friends, and we always had a large assortment of board games and card games around, some well-known and others rare. It’s fun that the girls are now getting old enough to enjoy game-playing, as well – though my dad seems puzzled by our attempts to keep the focus on fun moreso than on competitiveness! Here the girls are playing what I remember as one of the earliest games I played, Orbit, with my dad and brother David.

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All in all, our stay in Virginia was really enjoyable. We appreciated the opportunity to spend so much time with family and explore a different area of the country!