Last month Jayden completed a pretty big milestone in his life. Our handsome young man graduated from high school! We could not be more proud of him and what he has accomplished. This fall he will be attending tech school as part of their network administrator program.
We threw a graduation party in his honor at our home, and me being the proud parent that I am, I went overboard as is my usual. 🙂 We had remodeled our garage a couple of years ago and turned it into an entertainment space. The color scheme we chose for the garage just happen to go really well with Jayden’s school colors. It turned out to be perfect!
Since Jayden is going into a computer related field, not to mention that the kid is amazing at everything that has to do with computers, we decided to use a computer theme. A good friend of mine made Jayden’s micro chip cake and also did three different flavors of cupcakes each with its own computer themed topper such as a mouse, the CTRL ALT DEL keys and the power button. They all looked and tasted amazing! The cake topper is a custom bobble head which I ordered off Etsy and no party is complete without M&M’s customized with Jayden’s face! I had actually found a Groupon for the custom M&M’s and got a pretty good deal on them.
In continuation with our computer theme, we decided to use our smart TV to display a slide show of pictures of Jayden throughout his life rather than have physical photos displayed. It didn’t take up any extra space and it was really easy to pull images onto a flash drive and plug it in. After I was done looking through pictures and reminiscing of course!
Since we live in South Dakota and you never know what the weather is going to do, we rented a tent and had it set up over the driveway to provide an area with extra seating and cover in case of rain or snow. The weather however, turned out to be perfect. It was an overcast day and it was neither too cold; nor too hot which we were extremely grateful for since the day before was windy, rainy and cold. We were so thankful for the weather that day and also all of our amazing friends and family that stopped by to wish Jayden well. We love and appreciated all of you!
When we’re traveling to a new place, we shun eating anywhere that we can find back home. We avoid the chain restaurants like they’re the plague. Why in god’s name would you visit somewhere like New Orleans and eat at Burger King or Arby’s? If you’re the type of person who would visit one of the most culinary diverse cities in the world and eat at McDonald’s, you are automatically dead to me. That was harsh. No you’re not dead to me, but I will give you a very intense WTF stare.
Many talk about the different Cajun and creole foods you can find in New Orleans, now while those two names are used interchangeably they are by no means the same. The names creole and Cajun were derived by the people who created them and the food they had access to. Cajun is considered “country food” while creole is considered “city food”. Tomatoes used to be a major determining factor for whether you were eating creole or Cajun food. Since the city people had access to tomatoes from ships coming into port, their dishes tended to have them whereas the Cajun’s didn’t have access. The two cuisines have since been integrated and now both make use of tomatoes in their recipes. Another misconception is that the food is spicy. I can honestly say, the food is not spicy, but it is very well spiced lending to the bold flavors we experienced.
Another thing we found incredibly interesting is the lack of bread plates in New Orleans fine dining restaurants. After our second meal with no bread plates, I asked our waiter about it. He said that people in New Orleans do not use bread plates because they love to party and have a good time. They love to eat and don’t need to bother with putting bread on a plate. Just break off a chunk and enjoy it. Now these are my kind of people!
The Ruby Slipper: The morning before our swamp tour we enjoyed breakfast at the famous Ruby Slipper. The Ruby Slipper is a post-Katrina success story and an amazing place for a unique New Orleans breakfast. The eggs cochon is a Ruby Slipper specialty. They’ve taken apple-braised pork debris and piled that onto a buttermilk biscuit, then topped that with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. Delicious and very filling. I highly recommend trying it if you have the chance. Another Ruby Slipper specialty is the BBQ shrimp and grits. Please note that ‘bbq’ in New Orleans does not mean smothered in BBQ sauce like it does in the Midwest. BBQ there, just means grilled. Pair either of these meals with a mimosa or bloody mary and you’ll turn non-morning people into morning people with just one bite.
Eggs Cochon, The Ruby Slipper
BBQ Shrimp & Grits, The Ruby Slipper
The Ruby Slipper, New Orleans
Café Du Monde: Of course, no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a stop at Café Du Monde. Beignets and chicory coffee are a great way to start the morning. A few words of advice for visiting Café Du Monde: 1.) Don’t wear dark clothes, 2.) Bring cash and have it ready, 3.) Don’t wait for a table, if you see one open take it, even if it’s not been cleaned yet. They’ll clean it when they come to take your order, 4.) Have your order decided before your server arrives, 5.) Don’t inhale right when you’re taking a bite, that powdered sugar with get you!
Beignets & Chicory Coffee, Cafe Du Monde
Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans
Croissant d’Or Patisserie: If you’re looking for a lighter breakfast, this adorable French bakery is a must. Nothing like a meringue and vanilla latte to start your morning. If you prefer savory instead of sweet, they have plenty of options for you as well. Everything is made fresh daily.
Lunch Muriel’s: If you’re in or around Jackson Square during lunch time, Muriel’s is an excellent place for some local fare. We started with some squash soup with crème fraiche, which was delightfully sweet. For our meals, we chose the blackened Mississippi catfish with buffalo sauce and the stuffed mirliton. Mirliton is a type of squash that is common in Louisiana and very popular around Thanksgiving. The mirliton was filled with Andouille stuffing and a creole shrimp resting in a roasted tomato sauce. The catfish was melt-in-your-mouth perfect, especially with the butter sauce. If you’re just looking to have a couple of drinks, Muriel’s has a beautiful balcony that overlooks Jackson Square.
Stuffed Mirliton, Muriel’s
Blackened Mississippi Catfish, Muriel’s
Squash Soup with Creme Fraiche, Muriel’s
Muriel’s, New Orleans
Acme Oyster House: Another New Orleans institution is the Acme Oyster house, which was established in 1910. We arrived for Sunday lunch around 11:30 and the restaurant was full and had about 20+ people standing in line outside. This for me, makes the anticipation of food so much greater. If there’s that many people waiting to get in, you know you’re in for a special treat. They did not disappoint. After slurping down a dozen raw oysters on the half shell, Reed and I devoured fried oyster and fried shrimp Po’Boys respectively. Amazing!
Shrimp Po’Boy, Acme Oyster House
Acme Oyster House, New Orleans
Supper Antoine’s: The first meal we had in New Orleans was at the famous Antoine’s. This restaurant has been operated by the same family since 1840, and is the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller. We enjoyed three different types of baked oyster on the half shell for our first course. We absolutely had to try the oysters Rockefeller which boasts the original Rockefeller sauce that was created in 1889. In addition, we also tried Huitres Thermidor which is an oyster baked on the half shell with bacon and tomato sauce and the Huitres Bienville, which is an oyster baked on the half shell with a white wine sauce, onions, pimento and fresh peppers. For my first time having fresh Gulf oysters, it was an amazing experience. For our entrées we both chose a filet of flakey, buttery gulf fish, one with lump crab meat sautéed in butter and the other topped with shrimp, mushrooms, oysters and cheese sauce.
Stuffed Baked Oysters, Antoine’s
Filet de Gulf Poisson Pontchartrain, Antoine’s
Antoine’s, New Orleans
Arnaud’s: Arnaud’s has a very long and colorful history, which you can read about here. Arnaud’s has an amazing menu which allowed us to try a number of different local dishes. We started our meal out with Alligator sausage and turtle soup. The alligator sausage tastes a lot like most sausage, which means it was delicious. The turtle soup on the other hand, has a very distinct flavor. It’s a very hearty dish and was very enjoyable. For our main courses, we chose veal wohl and Fish Grenobloise. All of our food was absolutely amazing, since I forgot to take pictures of it. Believe me, even without seeing it, it was GOOD!
Arnaud’s, New Orleans
Paladar 511: It’s not your typical New Orleans restaurant. Paladar 511 does Italian food their way. The house made ravioli is my absolute favorite item on the menu. I love ravioli, I love mushrooms, the sauce is amazing! I really have no words for it. It’s that good. The wagyu hangar steak is a must. You really can’t beat wagyu beef. Their menu is always changing, but everything we ate there was incredible. It’s unique and very well executed. It’s no wonder it was named one of New Orleans Top 10 Restaurants for 2019!
House Made Raviolo, Paladar 511
Wagyu Steak, Paladar 511
Believe me when I say, all the food we ate in New Orleans was absolutely amazing! You can’t find food like this anywhere else. Make sure you visit hungry. Most of the places we ate at were on the expensive side, but there’s plenty of restaurants down there to fit any budget. Bon Appetite!
New Orleans…….there’s a peculiar vibe that echoes along the streets as you walk through. A three hundred year old energy that draws you in and makes you feel like you’re not alone on this plane sustained by the smell of jasmine that comes and goes like a transient daydream.
It’s an amazingly refreshing smell; that is until you reach Bourbon Street. Synonymous with street drinking, flashing girls, beads and public intoxication; Bourbon Street definitely lives up to its reputation. If I may be so blunt… it’s gross. There are puddles of murky, putrid foulness everywhere. Now, I know I don’t paint a pretty picture of Bourbon Street, but it’s kind of a rite of passage when you visit New Orleans for the first time. You still should try it. Buy a drink in an obnoxiously large cup and walk down the street. Even if you only walk a block, you should do it at least once.
Mark Twain said it best when he called New Orleans food “as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin”. New Orleans has flavors you can’t find anywhere else. Everything we ate was a grand experience for our taste buds. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t in a food coma throughout the entire trip. I’ll go into greater detail about what and where we ate in my next post.
Ghosts, Alligators and Vampires
We headed out to the Bayou early Sunday morning for an up close and personal with the local gators. The Bayou is beautiful. The trees are covered with Spanish moss, there are magnificent looking birds and of course alligators. Funny thing about Spanish moss, it’s not Spanish and neither is it a moss. It actually is from the same family as pineapples and is native to the Bahamas, Mexico and Southern United States.
Seeing the gators in the wild and interacting as opposed to the ones in the zoo that just lay in one sad spot all day was incredible. It was incredible to see them laying in ambush mode, waiting for a raccoon or bird to get too close to the edge of the water. Our swamp tour included some wild boar and raccoons and we even got to see the tree that Disney used for inspiration for “The Princess and the Frog”.
Tree Disney used as inspiration for “The Princess and the Frog”.
Sunday night we took one of the New Orleans Ghost/Vampire tours. It was a lot of fun touring the city at night and hearing all the local ghost stories. We got to see one of the houses used to film “Interview with the Vampire” and the haunted home that had been purchased by Nicholas Cage and supposedly bankrupt him. Although we didn’t see any ghosts, our tour guide was an amazing story-teller.
Building used in “Interview with the Vampire” film.
The French Quarter
The French Quarter is so beautiful. The architecture is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The intricate iron work, the big beautiful balconies with all the hanging ferns. And the colors! Everything is so colorful!
So many beautiful colors in New Orleans!
That balcony! Those ferns!
Let me twist that stache!
We started Monday morning in the French Quarter with beignets and chicory coffee at Café Du Monde. After our delicious breakfast, we headed over to Jackson Square. Jackson Square was the site of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. A statue of the hero of the Battle of New Orleans (1815), Andrew Jackson adorns the heart of Jackson Square. The beautiful St. Louis Cathedral overlooks the Square and is open for visitors to take a peek inside unless mass is in session. Muriel’s restaurant also overlooks Jackson Square and is a great place for lunch. If you’re looking for some delicious adult beverages they have those too and allow you to enjoy them on their balcony overlooking the square where you can watch the artists performing and selling their beautiful works of art on the sidewalks surrounding.
Jackson Square, New Orleans.
St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans.
St. Louis Cathedral, basilica ceiling.
St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans.
Muriel’s overlooking Jackson Square.
After exploring the square, we headed over to the French Market. I have to admit, the French market was a little disappointing. The market is full of souvenirs to fulfill your every whim, but the vendors are all selling the same things and very little of it was actually hand-made. So needless to say, we walked through the market pretty quickly and then headed over for a relaxing walk along the levees. New Orleans turned 300 this year and the city has a small lit anniversary sculpture to commemorate the event.
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Everything in the French Quarter is a lot closer together than you think, so we were able to see and do everything we wanted in a lot less time than we initially planned. So with our extra time, we headed over to tour the WWII Museum. It came highly recommended by some of my co-workers, so we decided to check it out. Let me tell you, we were not disappointed. The museum is amazing and is very well-organized. It’s very interactive including a simulated train ride and submarine ride. Those are not included in a regular ticket but can be added on for a little extra. With a regular ticket you get a key card that you register on a kiosk before you enter the museum. From the kiosk, you get to pick someone either military or civilian who served during WWII and you can follow their stories throughout the exhibits with the kiosks located all throughout the building.
National WWII Museum, New Orleans
National WWII Museum Lobby
Model of the D-Day Invasion
Better than Bourbon?
During our visit, a lot of the local residents told us we needed to check out Frenchmen Street. So we did and it did not disappoint. If you’re looking for a Bourbon Street-like experience, but without the obnoxious smell or inebriated people; well then Frenchmen Street is definitely for you. The average age of the people who hang around Frenchmen Street is about 10 years older than Bourbon Street, there are better options for Jazz Clubs and they have a great open air market called Palace Market where local artists sell their work. I love art and getting to meet the artist is an incredible bonus. We came home with some really great pieces.
The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street
The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street
Palace Market, Frenchmen Street
Palace Market, Frenchmen Street
Palace Market, Frenchmen Street
The Garden District
In the Garden District you will find some of the most beautiful architecture we’ve ever seen. The mansions are spectacular and home to quite a few celebrities. We managed to find one of writer Anne Rice’s homes. It was pretty spectacular. The Garden District is also home to a beautiful historic cemetery, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. You do not need a tour guide for this particular cemetery, but people are available at the entrance if you do want one. Since most of New Orleans is below sea level, above ground tombs are a necessity. The design and architecture of these crypts is beautiful. So much history can be seen here, a lot of the graves show many generations of a family in the same tomb. The Garden District is accessible via the Saint Charles Street Car if you’re not crunched for time. If you do take the street car, make sure you have exact change for the ride. Some locations allow you to purchase a day pass if you plan on riding the street cars around the city.
One of author Anne Rice’s homes
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Garden District
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Garden District
“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” ― Louis Armstrong
My husband and I were a couple of band geeks throughout our middle and high school careers, but neither of us could have ever dreamed of being as amazing as the musicians at Preservation Hall. It’s the jazz music your band teacher has wet dreams about.
If you want to hear traditional New Orleans jazz in an intimate setting, Preservation Hall is the place. The venue is however very small, so intimate is an accurate description. We opted to purchase tickets for the “Big Shot” seats. These tickets allow you to skip the line and have an actual seat in the two front rows. If you don’t have tickets, you will have to get in line early to get in and you will be standing for the performance as well. Now, even if you’re not able to get into Preservation Hall, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to hear jazz music. There are jazz clubs all over the city or you may come across an impromptu performance on a street corner.
Outside Preservation Hall
The Stage at Preservation Hall.
Jazz performance outside Cafe Du Monde.
Although short, our trip to New Orleans was amazing. She’s an amazing hostess, and there’s no place quite like her. Until we meet again New Orleans, we bid you adieu.
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
Nestled into the woods just outside of Keystone, SD, lies a haven. A haven that brings camping in the woods up to an entirely different level. A level high above sleeping on the ground in a pile of pine needles and pooping into a hole in the ground. Now, I know some people think that this isn’t real camping unless you’re hauling your own gear through the woods and pitching your own tent, sleeping in the dirt and building your own fires. Well, let me just stop you right there so that I can inform you that after you’ve surpassed that milestone age of thirty you tend to wake up with stiff necks, achy backs and extreme exhaustion from sleeping on the ground. At least, if you’re me you do, which makes the thought of camping in a tent sound absolutely awful. So don’t discount this new era of ‘glamping’ until you’ve at least given it a try.
We kept driving up and up, following these tiny little signs and cairns, not sure how long it was going to take us to get there. Finally, we came around a bend in the road and starting seeing these canvas structures of all different sizes peppered throughout the landscape. We really had no idea what to expect when we got out of our car. But everything from the check in to check out was pretty amazing. A very friendly hipster from the east coast gave us a very warm welcome and tour of the property. He hauled us and our bags to the tent in a golf cart and was able to provide a power source for Reed’s bi-pap machine since there’s no electricity in the tents.
The night we got there was chilly and rainy, but there was no shortage of warmth around us. There’s a small restaurant in the visitor tent. They have a very limited menu, but everything on it is executed very well. After we dropped off our bags, we headed over to the restaurant for supper. I ordered the grilled trout with vegetables and Reed had the flank steak with fries. Both were amazing. Even more amazing, we ate our supper just outside the visitor tent and were able to watch the sun set over Mt. Rushmore while we dined. Breathtaking.
Sun setting over Mt. Rushmore.
There are a number of tent options available through Under Canvas Mt. Rushmore. Some come with a private bathroom and some don’t. The option we chose was called the Stargazer. It was given this name, because you can literally lie in bed and watch the stars through the Plexiglas area above your head. It was cloudy and rainy during our stay, but the clouds did clear enough that we were able to see the big dipper, which was still pretty awesome.
The tents themselves are pretty spectacular. After pulling back the canvas flaps, you walk into an element of luxury you don’t usually equate with the great outdoors. The tents have wall to wall wood floors, a kind sized bed, comfy leather chairs, a wood burning stove and a beautiful cow skin rug to finish it off.
This place is the epitome of relaxation and comfort. The beds are amazingly comfortable and with 2 comforters and an extra blanket you’ll never get cold. The 24-hour coffee, tea and hot chocolate bar is an added bonus as well. You can even arrange to have coffee delivered to your tent in the morning! A community fire pit is set just down the hill from the visitor center. It’s fully stocked with everything needed to make your own s’mores. Bottom line is, we had an amazing stay. The only downside was that it was only for one night. We will definitely be back for a longer stay.
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.
Bridge over Niobrara River.
Smith Falls State Park, Nebraska.
Cool spring water is very refreshing. Smith Falls State Park, Nebraska.
Smith Falls State Park
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.
Carhenge, Alliance, Nebraska
Carhenge, Alliance Nebraska
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?
Taken through the Chimney Rock Visitor Center Telescope.
Chimney Rock, Nebraska
Fits right in the palm of my hand!
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.
Antonio’s Taco Shop, delicious!
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.
Hiking Toadstool Geological Park.
My own personal Toadstool!
Toadstool Geological Park
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.
Boat ride with NYC skyline reflected in the window.
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.
Reflecting Pool 9/11 Memorial
Rose left on 9/11 Memorial with new World Trade Center building in background.
Remains of concrete stairs from one of the towers. 9/11 Memorial Museum
Fire truck, 9/11 Museum
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!)
Wall Street Bull
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.
Trinity Church, NYC
Grave of Alexander Hamilton.
Graveyard, Trinity Church, NYC.
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.
Times Square, NYC.
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.
Strawberry Fields, Central Park, NYC.
Rembrandt, Self Portrait. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
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.
Chelsea Market, NYC
Inside Chelsea Market, NYC.
The High Line, NYC
The deck of the Intrepid Museum.
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.
Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh. Museum of Modern Art, NYC
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!
Falls Park Farmers Market
Pickle Sized Cucumbers!
Who loves asparagus with hollandaise?
More Leafy Greens
Never was a radish fan, but they looked pretty.
Homemade preserves and salsas.
My favorite vendor! Skipping Stone Pizza!
Best breakfast pizza ever!
The nectar of the gods!
Our final product.
Rhubarb pie made with my grandmothers pie crust recipe and some Stensland vanilla ice cream.
We’re South Dakotans born and raised and even we haven’t seen or experienced everything our beautiful state has to offer; but we’re working on it! For now, we’d like to share some of our adventures from our Black Hills vacation.
Situated in the western half of the state, lies some of the most beautiful country in the Midwest, the Black Hills and of course the Badlands. The two display vastly different terrains and a distinct beauty of their own.
When people hear South Dakota, they automatically think Mt Rushmore. Now don’t get me wrong, Mt Rushmore is a very important landmark and brings thousands of visitors to our state every year, but South Dakota has so much more to offer that many people don’t realize. We’re a very family friendly state. There are so many things for kids to do here, that they won’t know where to start first but they’ll definitely want to see them all!
The first stop on our South Dakota adventure was the Badlands National Park. The Lakota name for the Badlands is “Mako Sica” which translates to “land bad”. Badlands National Park displays 244,000 acres of dramatically eroding landscape, which means that if you visited the park every year you’d never see the same park. The Badlands exist because 75 million years ago the Great Plains were covered by a shallow sea. The park offers a number of hiking trails and allows primitive camping as well, as long as you sign in on your trails. The beauty of the land formations may take center stage of this gorgeous area, but there’s also plenty of wildlife and fossil beds as well.
Shortly after leaving the Badlands, we arrived in Keystone, SD where we had arranged our hotel stay. From the city of Keystone, Mt Rushmore is just a quick drive up the hill. Mt. Rushmore, the most recognizable icon representing South Dakota displays the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln; four men whose leadership left an incredible impact on America as we know it. The mountain was carved by a sculptor known as Gutzon Borglum, who passed away a few months before its completion leaving his son to complete the project. An avenue of flags lines the pathway to the viewing balcony for Mt. Rushmore. The Presidential trail offers different views of the faces and is an easy trail to navigate. It also allows you to view local wildlife around the park. We didn’t stay for it, but in the evenings there’s a nightly lighting ceremony.
Mt. Rushmore, Black Hills, SD
George Washington, Mt Rushmore, Black Hills, SD
There’s so many great places to visit and activities for kids in the Black Hills that we can’t possibly talk about all of them in one post so we’re just going to highlight our favorites.
The Cosmos: the Cosmos was so much fun. It’s weird and it messes with your mind and it’s completely awesome! Balls roll uphill and standing straight is a 45 degree angle. As the story goes, the Cosmos was discovered in 1952 by two college boys looking for a place to build a cabin. When they came upon this area, the “laws of logic and physics seemed to be turned upside down”. The tour takes about 30 minutes and is very inexpensive. Anyone 12 years and older is $11 per person, $6 for kids 5 years to 11 years and 4 years and under are free.
Reptile Gardens: Reptile Gardens holds the Guinness Book of World Records for world’s largest reptile zoo. The giant tortoises were probably our favorite part! They offer a few different shows throughout the day, one being the alligator show where at the end our son was able to pet a baby alligator! They also have a collection of birds and a Prairie Dog town.
Big Thunder Gold Mine: At Big Thunder in Keystone, you’ll take a tour through an actual gold mine. You learn about how the mine was created, what tools were used, and the history of its original owners. After the tour, we had the opportunity to visit their museum which boasts the largest collection of Black Hills gold mining equipment. If you’re feeling super adventurous, you can also try your hand at gold panning. You get to keep what you find and they guarantee you’ll find something!
Rushmore Cave: Rushmore Cave is absolutely stunning! A couple of stalactites and stalagmites were photographed by National Geographic. There’s even an area where you can spot a pigs nose! The tour lasts about an hour and costs between $10-$16 dollars per person. It’s really incredible and should be on your South Dakota vacation list. After our cave tour, we headed over to the Gunslinger 7D Interactive Ride, which was our son’s favorite part. You get to choose from different scenarios and fight aliens or even zombies. Your seat moves and vibrates while you’re trying to fight off the enemies
Sylvan Lake: Another picturesque place you need to visit is Sylvan Lake located in Custer State Park. If the drive leading to Sylvan Lake wasn’t beautiful enough, when you finally reach the lake you find yourself inside a postcard of some far away land. There’s plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, swimming and small watercraft such as paddle boats and kayaks.
Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, SD
1880 Train: I loved trains when I was a kid. I remember getting an electric train for Christmas when I was around 8 years old. Getting to ride the 1880 train was a real treat, it’s a working steam engine! The train runs between Keystone and Hill City, so you get on in either city. We got on the train at Keystone. The trip takes about an hour one way. Along the way, we had the opportunity to see the remnants of old mines, some wildlife and the National Forest.
1880 Train, Keystone, SD
Wall Drug: On our way back home, we decided to stop for the “free ice water” at Wall Drug. It’s a very touristy stop, but it has an interesting history (which you can read about here) and kids love it. There’s numerous fun photo ops in their backyard, quirky displays and some of the most delicious fudge I’ve ever eaten! It was a great end to our short little trip. We hope, you’ll come visit our great state this coming summer. You won’t be disappointed!
This year our Christmas tree was extra special. It was the first year that we cut down our own. What makes it even more special is that we cut it from our own back yard! Wait what? Yes, we got our Christmas tree from our back yard.
The truth is, the tree was in a terrible location. It wouldn’t have been a problem, but a couple of years ago we put fence around our property, which rubbed right up against our tree. The bigger the tree gets, the more it pushes against the fence. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t we just have the tree relocated? Well, for the simple reason that the fiber optic cable and internet lines run very close to where the tree was planted and there was no way to remove it without causing thousands of dollars in damage and repairs.
So the three of us made the decision to give our tree a grand farewell and show it all the holiday love we could. Jayden helped me cut it down, then we decorated it with ornaments we’ve been collecting since his first Christmas. He went through a Scooby Doo phase, a Star Wars phase and one year even chose the Beatles Yellow Submarine. Needless to say, it turned out pretty amazing and smells pretty good too!
I’ve always loved Christmas lights! Growing up, I always had my own set of lights to hang up in my room. There’s something very magical about the glow of Christmas lights, especially when it’s the only light in the room! We love our little tree, and will enjoy every moment of this Christmas season. Then once spring comes, we’ll give our tree one final goodbye when we get together with our friends for the first neighborhood bonfire of the year.
For now, I need to find a way to keep the dogs from drinking all the water from the tree stand!