Midwest Ruminations: A road trip, family vacation and four-state photo journal

Dakota Confusion

My 7th grade geography teacher assigned yet ANOTHER diorama, and while I usually relished a fun, creative, easy project like that, I did not relish not getting to choose the state. I wanted to do New York (Broadway!) or Tennessee (Nashville!) or Florida (Disney!). I would have taken Georgia (Peaches!) or Texas (Cowboys!) or California (Hollywood!). Plenty of states that had interesting attractions for me to create out of cardboard, throw some glitter on, and get an easy A.

But I was assigned North Dakota.

BORRRRRRRRRING.

I was so annoyed by the whole thing that I put off doing the assignment until the night before, procrastinating longer than I ever had before. I mean, how hard could it be to put together a box full of boring crap from a boring state? I grabbed some of my brother’s farm animals, drew some mountains on the background and printed out a picture of Mount Rushmore. Done.

The next morning, I dragged my uninspired project into class, totally prepared to wing (and ace) my five minute North Dakota presentation. But then my friend sitting in front of me pointed out something I hadn’t realized:

“Mount Rushmore is in South Dakota.”

She turned her diorama around to show me. Lo and behold she was right. Mount Rushmore was in SOUTH Dakota, not North Dakota. I groaned, ripping from my shoebox the one interesting thing about my state. Now I had plastic farm animals and…. that’s it.

Twenty years later I find myself married to a man from South Dakota and sometimes still question WHICH Dakota has the majestic mountain of our founding fathers. (Kidding! I know it’s South Dakota!)

And this year, thanks to our remote jobs, we were able to spend three weeks with his family in Sioux Falls, SD and Lake Okoboji, IA. We packed up the car with what felt like half of our possessions – twice as many clothes as we took for our six-week European adventure; my Soda Stream; two desktops, two laptops, and extension cords; yet we managed to forget tons of stuff like Justin’s bar tools, a coffee pot, and sunscreen. And we drove from Nashville to Sioux Falls, making a pitstop in Indiana to visit a college friend of mine. On the way home, we stopped in Madison to visit an old college friend of Justin’s.

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Without further ado, below you’ll find my photo journal, detailing the stuff we did, the places we ate, and the fun we had with family 🙂

 

 

Photo Journal

 

Bloomington, IN

We drove from Nashville to Sioux Falls, stopping to visit my friend Charlotte on the way. She took us to the Cardinal Spirits distillery, where we sampled many types of delicious alcohol (and bought some to take home), and Malibu Grill, where we had good food, good drinks and good conversation. It was a short visit but fun nonetheless.

 

Sioux Falls, SD

A quiet boom is happening in Sioux Falls, driven by the rapidly developing healthcare industry; supposedly it’s the fourth fastest growing metro area in the country. Everything all new and orderly, from the commercial areas to the residential neighborhoods. Some of it is so new that you’ll drive down dusty unpaved roads that take you into Harrisburg and other suburbs where neighborhoods don’t yet have the luxury of mature shade trees. While the winters are bitter cold and snowy, the summers are hot and the oft-clear blue skies means you better slather on sunblock (but at least you don’t have to deal with the humidity of the South).

After a few days of living at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, it hit me what most of Sioux Falls reminded me of: Brentwood, a suburb south of Nashville. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. New construction; beige and tan strip malls of regional chains, paint/wine classes and gymnastic studios; walking trails and plenty of family-friendly establishments.

 

I’ve been to this part of the midwest half a dozen times, for summers and Christmases, and one thing that’s always struck me is that a polite community of simple pleasures: nature, beer, family. Though the vast number of restaurants is not particularly diverse (mostly ‘bar and grills’), it’s not hard to find good food at super affordable prices. We found ourselves surprised by the quality of our meals more than once. Our favorite establishments during our visit were Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe (fresh, healthy salads and killer smoothies), Barrel House (the best gluten free pizza of my life), Pho Quynh (family-owned traditional Vietnamese fare), Chevy’s (a medium-sized Tex Mex chain similar to Chuy’s), and Tinner’s Public House (unexpectedly excellent meals including tender, tasty souvlaki that Justin inhaled).

 

The point of the trip was, of course, to spend time with family but I wanted to see what Sioux Falls had to offer! We explored the downtown area, enjoying the sculpture walk and finally seeing the David statue replica and a local brewery. We stopped by the Falls that give the city it’s name (beautiful as ever!), checked out the Butterfly House and Aquarium (even though I freaking hate butterflies), splashed around in the Beresford pool, and took in a minor league baseball game (something we like to do in Nashville from time to time). And we spent a lot of time enjoying the summer weather with Justin’s family.

 

The best part, out of everything, was having enough time to spend with everyone without feeling rushed, like we often do when visiting for the winter holidays. Spending a couple weeks in one place allowed us to pretend we lived there,  and fall into a semblance of a routine, working during the day and spending the evenings with family.

 

 

Lake Okoboji, IA

Ever year, Justin’s mom’s side of the family spends a week in West Village at Lake Okoboji. I’m in love with this beautiful family tradition and so happy we go to spend a few days on the lake (in the middle of cornfields! literally!) with everyone.

 

Though we did have to spend one of the days working, we were able to take a couple days off to relax, get in some (shaded!) beach time, compete in a floating beer pong tournament and take in some of the local attractions including Arnold’s Park, which has the the 13th oldest wooden coaster in America. It was exactly what we both needed!

 

Madison, WI

After saying goodbye to Justin’s family, we headed out to a place I’ve never been but have heard Justin rave about since I met him. He went to school for a couple years in Madison and made lots of good memories in this liberal hippie town. We had less than 24 hours to explore but in that short (and very rainy!) time, we did go to the local co-op, an old bar he used to frequent, had a fantastic dinner at Graze and tasted some libations at the Robin Room bar. It poured most of the evening but I still feel like I got a good feel for the place and look forward to returning one day! I loved our AirBNB, which was just off of Willy Street in a hispter-y neighborhood full of old houses, large trees and cool spots for drinks.

 

 

Final Thoughts

It had been a long time since we’d done a road trip together so I loved that aspect of it. While Sioux Falls is not a place I could live being so far north, away from a big city and major airport, I am grateful our job allowed us to temporarily move in with family and be part of their lives even for a short time.

It was hard being away from our cats for 22 days (only the second longest time we’ve been away from them) but we did find our third furbaby during that time, getting to meet him as soon as we got back to Nashville just days before we jetted off for a short work retreat to Vegas.

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Have YOU spent time in the midwest? What’s your favorite thing to do/see/eat in Sioux Falls? We need to compile a list of places to try for the next time we visit!