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!

Throwback Thursday: Wedding Trip Part One

When we committed to pursuing adopting our 4th baby this year, we knew we’d need to be especially frugal in the coming months, which meant no huge, adventurous travels this year, but we also knew we’d definitely be heading east for my brother’s wedding in May. I never actually got the chance to blog about that trip, so I’m coming back to share about it now! In addition to keeping our friends and family updated on our lives, serving as a place to share my contemplations, and offering a window into our lives for others who may be interested in adoption or home-schooling or special needs parenting, this blog also serves as a journal of sorts for our family, so I try to document our adventures, even if I don’t get to all of them right away!

Our family of introverts sometimes has a hard time being in enclosed spaces with any number of people for any length of time, so it wasn’t long before this set-up arose in the car 🙂

img_0431

In general we have a good time, though 🙂 And we made it to Louisville on our first day and spent the evening hanging out with our friends Luke and Ann and their kiddos.

img_0434

We don’t get to see Luke and Ann often, but we are always blessed by the time we do get to spend with them. We so appreciate those friendships that feel like a taste of true home – you can pick up where you left off and enjoy laughter and fun and deep conversations all at once, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen each other.

We then took two days to drive from Louisville to the east coast. In the past, our strategy has generally been to drive as much as possible each day, but this was our first trip after Matt’s heart attack in New York, and we both were a little nervous and felt the need to make it as low-stress as possible. For Matt that mostly meant not having to get up super early or rush out the door in the mornings and drive late into the night to make it to our destinations, so we planned much shorter drives for each day on this trip. We were able to stop and have lunch with one of our friends from Matt’s grad school days one day, and we found a reasonably priced hotel midway between Louisville and Virginia and spent the night there and let our kids enjoy the pool and the access to cable tv!

Then we made a slight detour and spent a couple days with my best friend from high school, Jessie, and her family. We were going to be pretty close to where she lived, and I hadn’t seen her in years, and we hadn’t met each other’s youngest kiddos, so it was really great to get to spend some time with her and her family! On top of that, she agreed to embark upon an adventure to see the ocean with us 🙂 The girls, especially Miranda, have been asking for a couple years now when they’d get to see the ocean, and it seemed a shame to be so close without making time for it, so we all piled into the van and drove out to Virginia Beach one day. It was cold and fiercely windy and even rained on us a bit, but it was also glorious!

Miranda especially could not have loved it more.

img_0449

She’s like her mama in that way. I don’t think there’s anywhere on earth that I experience the majesty of God like I do standing on the shore of the ocean. The immensity of the expanse of the water, the power of it all – it’s sublime. I don’t really have the words for it, but it’s always a powerful experience for me to visit the ocean.

img_0484

It was great to get to experience that with my kiddos!

img_0480

(Yes, this is the best picture we got of the 4 of us – I mentioned the wind, right!?!)

The kiddos loved playing in the sand, and there was an amazing playground on the beach where we enjoyed playing and ate our lunches.

img_0458

img_0472

Then we headed back to Jessie’s house for the evening, and the next morning we were off, on our way to Luray, Virginia for Danny’s and Sharon’s wedding!

another Thanksgiving blessing

In addition to the joy of spending time with family over Thanksgiving, Matt and I were also incredibly encouraged by our time with some friends.

One of the hardest parts of leaving Chicagoland for Missouri was moving away from a number of good friends, many of whom were older than us and from whom we had learned so much and with whom we had enjoyed so many grace-filled hours.
We’ve spent time with Frank and Sheri and Noah, Jackson, Natalie, and Ellie playing games, running all over the City Museum, discussing literature, parenting, counseling, and theology, and exploring such important questions as whether it is possible to consume 6 Saltine crackers in 1 minute.

05 - saltine fail
The Saltine Challenge (Summer 2009)

Ken and Tammy have offered much marriage and life counsel to Matt and me over the years. We’ve traveled with them, shared meals with them, laughed with them, cried with them, prayed with them, and so much more. It has been a joy for us to spend many hours with Natalie and Stephen and later Glendy and Larissa, as well.

06 group
their visit to Columbia (Summer 2010)

And the Conlons have been part of my life for more years than virtually anyone else – Helen was my 2nd grade teacher, and when she learned I’d be attending Northwestern University, near where she and her husband Eric had moved after they’d gotten married, she welcomed me (and later Matt, too) into her family’s life. I started baby-sitting for Catie during my freshman year of college and later spent many hours with both Catie and Maggie, baby-sitting, enjoying the family’s company, and joining them as they battled through Maggie’s cancer.

06160032 (2)
Catie as the flower girl in our wedding

Though I did a woefully poor job of capturing these encouraging moments in photographs, we were able to spend some time with each of these families during our Thanksgiving travels, and it was wonderful. There’s something about those 10 or 20 year long relationships. These people know us – our strengths and weaknesses, the good and the bad. They love us wherever we’re at but also encourage us, sometimes explicitly and other times implicitly, to grow more and more into the people God designed us to be. Their love for us mirrors His love for us. And we feel the same way about them. I believe I will count each and every one of these people as friends until the day I die, and I’m ever so thankful. These friends are such a blessing to us, and those few hours we had with them were a true joy.

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).

IMG_7530

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.

IMG_7538

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!

IMG_7572

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

IMG_7579

…though some of us have rather interesting technique!

IMG_7580

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.

IMG_7618

IMG_7628

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.

IMG_7624

IMG_7622

IMG_7626

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.

IMG_7649

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.

IMG_7660

IMG_7669

IMG_7704

IMG_7699

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!

IMG_7713

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!

IMG_7559

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.

IMG_8140

IMG_8141

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.

IMG_7724

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!

IMG_7729

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.

IMG_7735

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.

IMG_0180

And then we took it outside and let it erupt!

IMG_8183

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.

IMG_7740

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!