Teenagers. They’re dirty, moody, starving creatures that arise to see the light of day sometime after noon only to slink back into their cave after raiding the village for food. Fortunately for us, our teen monster is very interested in history. So, when we proposed a trip to Washington, D.C.; he was all for it.
When we started planning this trip, we planned it with Jayden in mind. He doesn’t travel like we do. We go, go, go all day. He doesn’t. So, to ensure that he didn’t lose interest in what we were doing right away we made sure to plan time each day for him to do whatever he wanted. Whatever that might be. Taking a nap. Watching youtube, what have you. Washington, D.C. has so much to see, that there’s no way you could get to everything in a week. So we allowed Jayden to make a list of things he absolutely had to see and another list of places we would see if we had time.
We booked our trip the week following Jaydens last day of school, which brought us to D.C. on Memorial Day. The city was buzzing.Streets were closed, parades were marching by and food trucks lined the national mall.
Where We Went and What We Learned:
The White House: The White House has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800. The building was burned down by the British during the War of 1812. It takes 570 gallons of white paint to paint the entire exterior of the building. Tours of the White House need to be requested through your member of congress.
Vietnam War Memorial: The main part of the memorial, the wall, was completed in 1982. It was fully funded by private donations. Celebrities such as Bob Hope helped with the fund raising. A 21 year old Yale University student won the memorial design contest. The wall was the subject of much criticism and so two statues were added as part of the memorial: the three servicemen and the Vietnam Nurses statue. Tributes and memorials are left at the wall daily. These items are collected and taken to a storage facility in Maryland. They are used in traveling exhibits.
We had the honor of finding the name of a serviceman that had served with my Uncle. This memorial is both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. No one really speaks when they stand in front of it. There’s a lot of pain and feeling of betrayal here. Admission:Free
Lincoln Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1922 after having taken more than 50 years to get it built. The design is based on the Parthenon of Greece. Bacon, the memorial architect was quoted as saying “a memorial to the man who defended democracy should be modeled after a structure from the birthplace of democracy.” Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived to see the dedication of the memorial. He was 78 years old at the time. The steps of the Lincoln Memorial is the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. There is a plaque indicating where he stood. Admission:Free
Washington Monument: The Washington Monument stands 555′ tall and was built to commemorate the first President of the United States. The trowel used to lay the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was the same trowel used by President Washington to lay the cornerstone of the Capitol building in 1793.
Korean War Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1995 by President Bill Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam. The memorial is made up of 4 parts: the statues, the mural wall, the pool of reflection and the united nations wall. The mural wall depicts images from photographs taken during the war. Jayden’s great-grandfather served during the Korean War. Admission:Free
World War II Memorial: This memorial didn’t exist when I visited D.C. back in high school, although its plans were in the works. President Clinton signed a public law in 1993 authorizing the establishment of a WWII memorial. Construction didn’t start until 2001 and it finally opened in 2004. The memorial is dedicated to all those who served and all those who supported the war effort at home. Admission:Free
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial: The FDR Memorial is probably my favorite. The red granite that makes up the walls of this memorial were brought in from my home state of South Dakota. The memorial is divided into rooms, each representing a different part of his presidency. FDR’s words engraved throughout the walls ring just as true today as they did then. Admission:Free
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: The Martin Luther King Memorial is not too far from FDR. It is a 30 foot high relief of MLK made of white granite. From the memorial, you can look out over the tidal basin and see the Jefferson Memorial. The memorials address is 1964 Independence Avenue referencing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. More than 900 applicants from 52 countries entered the design contest for the memorial. Admission:Free
Jefferson Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1943 by FDR. Originally, it was supposed to be a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. The start of construction inspired ‘The Cherry Tree Rebellion’ in which 50 women marched on the White House to protest the removal of cherry trees. Some women even chained themselves to trees at the construction site. Admission:Free
US Marine Corps War Memorial: aka the Iwo Jima Memorial was dedicated in 1954 by president Dwight D Eisenhower. The sculpture is based off the 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. The faces on the sculpture are the actual faces of the men in the photograph. Admission:Free
Arlington National Cemetery: The cemetery was established in 1864 and hosts more than 400,000 graves. In 1868, May 30th was proclaimed to be Decoration Day for the sole purpose of decorating the graves of fellow soldiers. The day was later renamed Memorial Day. Arlington is the only National Cemetery to hold service members from every war in US history. There may no longer be any additions to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier due to DNA testing. Admission:Free
Museums We Visited and What We Saw:
Holocaust Museum: It’s difficult to find the right words to describe the contents of this museum or the way it makes you feel. It’s something you need to experience in person. You need to read the words for yourself. See the images. Experience the smells. Any description I provide would do it an injustice. You just need to go. Admission: Free, but will need a timed ticket from March-August.
Ford’s Theater: The theater houses a small museum in the downstairs of the theater showcasing articles of clothing, John Wilkes Booth’s torn boot and the flag torn by his spur as he made his escape. After viewing the museum, you’re able to head into the theater where you can see the balcony where Lincoln was shot. Ford’s Theater also includes the house across the street where Lincoln took his last breath. The house was under renovation while we were there, so we could only view it from the street. Admission: $3.00 pp.
International Spy Museum: The Spy Museum is not part of the National Mall, so it does cost money to get into, but believe me it is worth it! Upon arrival you’re taken downstairs into a small room with columns filled with different aliases. You’re allowed to pick whichever one you want. After making your choice, you commit all the information to memory. After all, a good spy should never be caught with info on his person! All throughout the museum they have kiosks where you can answer questions about your mission. If you answer them correctly, you keep your spy status. However, if you do not, your cover will be blown. The museum showcases spy equipment used during WWII and the Cold War. It even discusses the use of spies as far back as Queen Elizabeth I. Admission: $21.95 pp.
National Museum of American History: Here we saw the first Da Vinci Robotic arm that’s used in our operating rooms today. There’s a fragment of Plymouth Rock and examples of the government issued clothing options for women during WWII. We saw many examples of popular culture artifacts including the first computer and the same Little People farmhouse that I played with as a child (kind of makes me feel old). Admission:Free
National Museum of Natural History: The Hope Diamond is a big attraction here. Get here early to avoid the crowd. You’ll also find fragments of an asteroid that landed in Arizona and if you happen to be standing at one of the balconies you’ll see the lobby where one of the Night at the Museum movies was filmed. The museum was in the process of completing a large dinosaur exhibit while we were there. It looks like it’s going to be amazing. Admission:Free
National Air and Space Museum: I’m a big Apollo 13 fan, so I was pretty excited to see Gene Kranz’s Apollo 13 vest that his wife had made for him. Also because we’re huge nerds, we were excited to read about the USS Enterprise. No not the ship made to boldly go where no one has gone before. It was actually the most decorated aircraft carrier in WWII, earning 20 battle stars. Admission:Free
National Archives: The National Archives was founded in 1934 by FDR. It is home to The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights and The Constitution. In order to maintain the preservation of the documents, the room is kept fairly dark and cool. The documents are pretty faded and hard to read, and it’s a very busy place so you’ll want to get there as early as possible. Amazing to be so close to these documents. It’s well worth a visit. Admission:Free
Mount Vernon: Mount Vernon is the home and final resting place for George and Martha Washington. The estate was nearly in ruins before the Mount Vernon Ladies Association was founded and raised $200,000 to purchase the home and 200 acres and start renovations. The exterior of the home looks like it’s made of stone, but Washington actually made a faux finish by putting sand in the paint to give the appearance of stone. The property hosts a stable, distillery and a gristmill and you can place your hands on trees that were planted by George Washington in 1785. If you’re a fan of the National Treasure movies, you already know that a scene in the second movie was filmed at Mount Vernon. They even offer a National Treasure tour where they take you to see the filming locations and talk about that secret passageway! Mount Vernon is privately run and does not receive government funding so there is a fee to get in. Admission: $20 pp, 11 and under $12 pp, National Treasure Tour $10 pp
Where We Ate!
Food Trucks: There were plenty of food trucks along the national mall. We found some Andalusia Style tacos to try.
Founding Farmers: Amazing farm to table cuisine. A favorite, I’ve read, of Michelle Obama’s. The restaurant is owned by more than 47,000 family farms. We had handmade butternut squash mascarpone ravioli, shrimp and grits with andouille, and skillet cornbread with honey.
Shake Shack: Our son isn’t an adventurous eater. So anytime we can get a burger, fries and a shake that doesn’t taste like fast food debauchery we’re all for it. We were pleasantly surprised with Shake Shack and there is one right next door to the International Spy Museum, so right after our tour we stopped by for a quick lunch.
Good Stuff Eatery: Another great spot for a really good burger, fries and a shake. We found this one in Georgetown, which we came to love!
Luke’s Lobster: All I have to say is BEST lobster roll ever! Plus their location in Georgetown is really cozy and cute!
Pi Pizzeria: A convenient location close to the White House. Perfect for hungry teens!
Wicked Waffle: As the name implies, all their menu items have a waffle component. Everything we had was delicious and the perfect meal after a morning of walking to all the monuments.
Georgetown: Georgetown was a short 10 minute walk from our hotel. We loved the area immediately. The area is filled with little shops, pubs and restaurants. A few of our favorite places include: Georgetown Cupcake, Olivia Macaron, Dean & Deluca, Luke’s Lobster and Good Stuff Eatery. There’s a small park at the end of the main area that contains a memorial for Francis Scott Key. And if you take the path by the river, you’ll walk by the Watergate Hotel, where we all know that Forest Gump got President Nixon in trouble! 😉
Where We Stayed: The River Inn on 25th street is located on a quiet street in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Georgetown, which we loved! Also it’s close to the metro. We opted to walk as much as we could while in D.C. The National Mall was only about a 25 minute walk from the hotel.
Our room was very cozy and had a small kitchen where we could cook our own meals if we wanted. The hotel gave you the option of having them stock the fridge for you. We used it mainly to store leftovers from wherever we had eaten or whatever treats we had found in Dean & Deluca! The hotel had a few tables and chairs outside for its guests to sit and relax. We made good use of them. At the end of a long day, it was the perfect spot to wind down.
Since all the monuments and most of the museums are free, our biggest expenses came from our flight, hotel and food. We used Uber a couple of times, but mostly we walked everywhere we needed to go. It is a very affordable family vacation. I’ll share our itinerary for D.C. in my next post.
Don’t have the budget for a big family vacation? No problem! What if I told you that you could have a fun family vacation right at home? Not possible you say? Well, I beg to differ. Ever heard of a staycation?
A staycation is a vacation you take at home or with minimal travel from your home. And it has many benefits such as financial savings, much needed R&R and quality family time. As impossible as it sounds, it can be done as long as you make preparations and set some ground rules beforehand.
If you’re kids are older, involve them in the planning process. Let them choose what activities they want to do and when they want to do them. If your family likes structure, create an itinerary together. If your family loves spontaneity, place all your activities in a hat and draw one out each day. Try new restaurants on staycation, or gather take out menus from all your favorite restaurants and have food delivered. If eating out every day is not an option, plan a freezer meal day and put together some easy meals that everyone will love. You should also plan to prep your home ahead of time as well. Have a marathon laundry day and get the whole family to help clean.
Set Ground Rules
It’s important to also set some ground rules for your staycation and the entire family should be involved in its creation as well. Ground rules could include all or some of the following:
No screens (phones, tablets, tv)
No working from home
No outside plans with friends
No independent activities
Just like any vacation, you’ll need to plan a budget. Set money aside for your activities, eating out or splurge for a housekeeper to clean for you while you’re vacationing. You can set aside money ahead of time and plan your activities based on that amount or you can plan all your activities, then decide if you’ll be able to do them all or if you’ll have to remove some.
Fashion some Fun!
See a movie: Rent a movie to watch at home or go to the theater. Many theaters offer matinee prices if you go earlier in the day. Better yet, hit up the drive-in! Living on the Eastern side of South Dakota, we’re just a short drive into Minnesota to hit up the Verne Drive in.
Have a Movie Marathon: Let each family member select a movie. After each movie, talk about what they liked or didn’t like about it. Who was their favorite character and why? Get some fun popcorn boxes and the boxes of movie theater candy to make it feel like you’re really at the theater.
Go camping: Find a state park close to your area or just go camping in your own backyard. If you don’t own a tent, no worries! Build a blanket fort and sleep in that!
Take A Class: Many communities provide community education classes covering a variety of subjects. Some are free but most cost a minimal fee.
Explore your city: Research your city like a tourist. Look on Pinterest or visit your local chamber of commerce and pick up a free city guide.
20 Things to do in and around Sioux Falls:
Go to a movie
Visit the Science Museum
Go to the Farmers Market
Go to a sporting event ( baseball, arena football, basketball or hockey)
Check out nearby State Parks
Go brewery hopping
Attend sangria Sunday or Thursday Night Porch Series at Strawbale Winery
Driving down desolate highways, surrounded on both side by rolling hills carpeted with yellow from the wild sunflowers that grow there. Northwest Nebraska has a sort of surreal loneliness about it. You have simultaneous feelings of being nowhere and being somewhere at the same time. It’s beautiful.
The first night of our trip found us in Valentine, Nebraska. We expected it would be a great starting point for our Western Nebraska road trip due to its geographical location to what we had planned to see. What we didn’t expect, was that we’d find an oasis in the Sand hills. In most towns with a population less than 3,000 people, you wouldn’t find a thriving craft brewery. Mostly because the bars and restaurants found there get their beer from those big named, super bowl commercial spending, manufacturers of piss in a can or bottle if you prefer. And that’s all they offer, since that is what their demographic likes. Bolo Beer Company, beer born and brewed on the American frontier, is a refreshing sight for sore eyes looking for good beer in desolate places. It’s a great place to hang out. The building itself looks like a giant shed meant for fixing farm equipment, but upon entering find a large open space with comfortable chairs and nice people. Their astro-turf covered backyard was an added bonus. The area is surrounded by a high fence and has multiple yard games, a fire pit and picnic tables.
Our first official stop on our Nebraska road trip felt like we stumbled upon a hidden treasure. Smith Falls, the tallest waterfall in the State of Nebraska at 63 feet, is a hidden gem found not far from the Niobrara River. Smith Falls State Park is located about 12 miles outside of Valentine, Nebraska. Getting to the falls requires a minimal amount of hiking that most of the general public should have no problem with. A quick climb down some stairs, a walk across an open field, take the bridge over the Niobrara River, walk across another open area and up onto a wooden pathway and you’re there! The walk was actually very beautiful, especially at 8:00 in the morning. The campers were all still in their tents, so we had the place to ourselves. Walking across the bridge over the Niobrara was magical. On one side, the sun was rising over the river and on the other a deer was crossing the river. Breathtaking. Smith Falls is spring fed and the water is cool, crystal clear and very beautiful. We ended up spending more time there than we had originally planned.
Our next stop on our trip across the prairie was a kooky little place called Carhenge. An exact replica of that stone circle across the pond, Carhenge is made of, you guessed it, cars. Jim Reinders and a number of family members built Carhenge in 1987 as a memorial to his late father. The structure is not something you would expect to see driving through this part of Nebraska, but it is a fun and crazy little pit stop. There are picnic tables and a small visitor center/gift shop as well. Although we were unable to summon the alien architects from the center of the circle, we were still grateful for the experience.
After leaving Carhenge, we traveled even further south and down into the sand hills where we found Chimney Rock. “You have died of Dysentery,” unless you were born in the 1980’s, you’ve probably never played the original Oregon Trail computer game. In the game, you play the part of a settler in charge of a wagon full of people that are trying to make it to Oregon in the 1800’s. Chimney Rock was one of the most recognizable landmarks on the early pioneer’s journey west on the Oregon Trail as it is in the computer game. In fact, it is because of this computer game that I learned about Chimney Rock in the first place. Does anyone remember when computer games were educational?
From Chimney Rock we decided to start heading north and found ourselves in Scott’s Bluff at an authentic Mexican taco shop called Antonio’s Taco Shop. It’s a small family owned restaurant and the food is amazing. We decided to sample a few items and so chose to do the mini tacos. We ordered marinated pork, beef and lengua, which is Spanish for tongue. Yep, we ate tongue tacos. They actually weren’t bad. They were tender and still tasted like beef, although there was that organ after taste to it. Now, I know what you’re thinking.’ I could never eat anything like that!’ Well, yes you can and yes you should. If you’re taking time out of your life to travel someplace you’ve never been to see things you’ve never seen, then you should also try foods you’ve never even dreamed of trying. It’s that simple.
Driving even further north, we eventually found ourselves in the Nebraska Badlands in a little area called the Toadstool Geological Park. The toadstool structures exist because the layers of clay and ash have been warped over time by wind and rain. These formations are amazing and there’s nothing like them anywhere. There are a few campsites available in the park and a couple primitive toilets. A couple was just leaving when we arrived, so we had the entire park to ourselves. The formations are amazing. It’s like looking into our geological past. The park also contains numerous fossils and animal tracks. Because of the fossilized animal tracks, scientists have been able to study animal migration patterns in this area.
The last leg of our trip brought up back into South Dakota at the all new glamping site near Keystone. But that will have to be a post all on its own.
Can you do NYC in 3 days? Yes. Will you be exhausted? Yes. Will your feet hurt? Probably. Should you do it? Absolutely! We did and saw a ton of cool things, ate some great food and listened to some amazing music. We were extremely exhausted and our feet hurt sooo bad by the time we got home but it was totally worth it. Here’s how our 3 days played out.
Our first mission after we checked into our hotel was to get some New York City pizza! It was delicious and of course we ate too much! After lunch we walked down by the water and were able to jump on one of the tour boats that take you around Hudson Bay. We went under the Brooklyn and the Manhattan bridges and then got a good look at the Statue of Liberty. Those lines fill in fast so get there early.
Next we ventured over to the 9/11 Memorial site and toured the museum. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the day that tragedy changed our country forever, as I’m sure most of you do too. As a result, the emotional experience was greater than it has been for any other memorial or museum I’ve ever been too.
We decided to stay in a hotel that was away from all the craziness, so we booked one located in the financial district of lower Manhattan only a couple of blocks from the shore of the East River. Our hotel was also just a couple blocks from the famous WallStreet Bull, but it was always completely surrounded by tourists whenever we walked by. (Hint: If you want to take a picture with the Wall Street Bull and not have to wait in line with a thousand other people, go on Sunday morning before 8am. There’s absolutely no one around at that time!)
What’s wonderful about New York is all the history you can stumble upon just walking through the city. We happened to stumble upon Trinity Church and right next to the church is a graveyard where you can find the burial site of Alexander Hamilton. Some gravestones around the church are so old, you can barely make out the writing on them. Many visitors leave pennies on the graves of Alexander Hamilton and his wife, which after a quick Google search revealed that leaving pennies on the grave would show the deceased loved one’s that they’re loved or simply that you visited. I didn’t want to leave a penny unless it meant something good, so after my research I learned that leaving a penny was not only meaningful but also a very old tradition.
Next, we took an Uber to Times Square. It’s colorful, noisy, full of people and very touristy. There are plenty of places to shop and interesting characters that, for a small fee, will let you take a picture with them. We stayed long enough to snap a few photos and then headed over to Central Park.
For us Midwesterners, Central Park was a beautiful respite from the concrete jungle that is New York. The park is absolutely gorgeous and a lot bigger than you think it is. We stopped by Strawberry Fields to pay homage to John Lennon then found a hot dog cart and headed over to the lake to have a picnic. The weather was perfect, the birds were chirping, squirrels running around and children playing. It was perfect.
We continued to stroll through the park until we emerged on the other side to find the Guggenheim. I’ve always wanted to visit this museum ever since I learned about its architectural design and saw Will Smith chase an alien all the way to the top in Men in Black. It did not disappoint. Afterwards we walked down to the Met to peruse their collection of Rembrandts.
On our way back to our hotel, we stopped in Little Italy for supper. We were told by a New York native about a restaurant called Lunella Ristorante and it was the most amazing Italian food we’ve ever eaten! Plus, the owner schooled Reed on the proper way to pour oil and vinegar for dipping bread. (The vinegar goes first!) We talk about that pasta we had there all the time! We can’t wait to go back just to eat there again!
On our last day in NYC, we decided to head up to Chelsea to have breakfast in the Chelsea Market. After some lemon ricotta French toast, we climbed up to the High Line and headed over to Pier 86 on the Hudson River to tour the Intrepid Museum. The Intrepid is an aircraft carrier that served tours of duty in World War II and the Vietnam War. It was also used as a recovery ship for some of the space missions. Many of the volunteers on the ship are former military. One particular gentleman on our tour was not only a World War II Veteran, but he had also served on the Intrepid! It was amazing to hear his stories and listen to him explain his job on the ship. Our WWII Veterans are becoming fewer and fewer, so to be able to meet him and hear his story was an amazing experience that we will never forget! The museum also houses the space shuttle Enterprise in their space exhibit.
After our tour, we headed over to the Museum of Modern Art. Van Gogh’s Starry Night is our all time favorite painting. To be able to see it in person was absolutely amazing! Get there early though, large groups tend to crowd around the painting, which is a lot smaller than you realize.
After leaving the museum, we decided to explore the neighborhood for a while and just happened to turn a corner and found the LOVE sculpture! I had forgotten about it until we saw it. It’s a great place for a cute selfie, if nothing else!
In the evening we headed over to Webster Hall, which was the reason for our trip in the first place, to see Tom Petty and his pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch. Webster Hall is a very old and iconic venue for performers and it was amazing to get to see a legend play there.
Having grown up in a small town (so small there’s less than 350 people who live in it) you wouldn’t think I would like being in a city as large and crowded as NYC. But as it turns out, I fell in love with it. The sights, the sounds, the smells (some were questionable), everything about this city feels like you’re starring in your own sitcom.
Although we did manage to see and do so much in our 3 days, there’s still so much we didn’t get to see and do. So, until next time NYC! We’ll be back!
The smells of fresh-cut flowers and wood fire pizzas on a warm Saturday morning. Can life get any better than that? Yes it can. Because among the flowers and pizzas, you’ll find a cache of fresh local produce, fresh-baked goods, meats and cheeses. In my mind, the only thing missing that would make this picture complete is wine.
I must confess, my husband and I normally come down to the farmers market a couple of times a month just for the wood fire breakfast pizzas. They’re delicious. Made with fresh ingredients and a very light thin crust. We’d grab two to go and a couple of coffees, then head across the way to have a picnic and just enjoy each other’s company in the peaceful setting that is falls park.
This time however, we decided to explore the market a little deeper and put together an entire meal made with only locally grown/sourced food. After walking up and down the market several times, we finally decided on walleye, chard, carrots, corn salsa and rhubarb. On the way home we stopped and picked up some locally made beer and locally made ice cream to finish off our meal.
In a world where you have to buy special cleaning solutions to clean all the chemicals off your grocery store produce, it’s in your best interest to visit your local farmers market and buy directly from the source. Also there’s just something genuinely satisfying about supporting your local farmers and knowing exactly where your food came from. Having grown up in a small farming community, I know firsthand how important they are to their local economies. So get out there and support your local farmers and ranchers!
Needless to say our meal was completely amazing and we can’t wait to do it again. Our completed meal was as follows: grilled Cajun walleye with corn salsa, grilled carrots with farm honey and creamed chard followed by rhubarb pie topped with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Needless to say, it was amazing! We had never had chard before, but it was excellent and I recommend you try it. Enjoy the pictures below from our day!