Hoping to Find What I’m Looking For.

A month.

Really, over a month.

I’ve been silent for a long time here on my blog, and I don’t know that I’ll ever really be able to talk about why. Not that it’s anyone’s business in the first place. But if you want to read a little piece of why, have at it.

But Week 2 of summer break just began, and in two days I am starting the first leg of a 5,000 mile road trip.

Elizabeth Gilbert went to Italy and India, Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, I’m driving all over hither and yon.

And like Ms. Gilbert and Ms. Strayed, I’m looking for something on this trip. Peace. Clarity. Love.

I have a new phone that can store dozens of podcasts and thousands of songs (not to mention a movie or two), and the promise of friendly faces in every city I’m staying in. I have plenty of snacks and planned meals to eat in the car, and will still go to Jazzercise whenever I can.

I haven’t had a grand adventure since going to Japan three years ago, so I figure I’m due.

I’m sure I’ll post a time or two from the road–at the very least, perhaps a photo dump–but I’m hoping this trip will recalibrate my brain and my spirit. I need help with both.

 

 

Oh, Utah, You Trickster.

A year ago this past weekend, I was in Utah for two events to try and get people to buy my book. I wrote this when I got home, but never published it. Enjoy. 

Two weeks ago, I flew to Salt Lake City for a couple of book-related events. Given that my book is a memoir about a single Mormon woman, it made sense to return to the Motherland and share my stories.

My plane landed at 1:10. By 1:25, I was at the rental car counter. By 1:30, I had the following conversation:

Attendant: Email, please, to send a receipt to?
Me: Ms…
Attendant: Ms? What about your husband?
Me: I’m not married.
Attendant: What about when you DO get married? What then?
Me: Well, I waited 25 years. I don’t think marriage is happening. And I’m fine with that.
Attendant: Oh, that just means God knows you haven’t NEEDED a husband yet. When you do, you’re gonna have to change your email address.

Here’s the thing: I was not at all surprised by that conversation, which proves two things to me. First, marriage still reigns supreme in Utah. Second, I totes made the right choice to move away.

My reading was attended by a handful of people, but I expected that because my competition in Provo was a BYU football game. But I loved the people who showed up–they asked great questions and the Provo Library is a thing of beauty.

After my reading, we walked out of the room…and right into a bride’s photo shoot. My friend Peggy thought it was the funniest thing, to walk out of a reading of my book, in which I make peace with not being married, and into a bridal photo shoot.

I loved being in Utah with the mountains and the final breath of summerish air, and time with Peggy never disappoints. I’m glad I took the time to go, and though every time I visit I entertain the thought of moving back, I appreciated God’s gentle–and humorous–reminders that I belong on the prairie.

Road Trip Part 2, or My Nieces Are Awesome.

After a good night’s sleep, we piled in the car again and drove an hour north to the Agate Fossil Beds. I chose this national park because it said it had paved trails, which I figured the 7 year old could manage better than tall grasses. One small problem though:

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And true, I could’ve told them that we probably wouldn’t see any snakes and if we made noise they would stay away, but I must admit, I was also a bit freaked at the prospect of running into one of those creatures. Maybe I’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark one too many times.

So we walked up to a bridge and back, but did not make it up to the hills you see in the distance behind that rattlesnake warning.

The best part about this national park was Ranger Anne. The National Park Service has this great Junior Ranger program, which engages kids through a variety of activities at the park. Once the activities are completed, the rangers have the kids recite a pledge to protect the national parks, and they are awarded with a badge. Ranger Anne added a line to the end of the pledge, though: “And I promise I will not put a baby bison in the back of my car.”

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Emma still can’t look at a camera. But she conquered her fear of rattlesnakes and stepped inside the tipi.

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These two also weren’t afraid of potential snakes in the tipi.

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Obligatory National Park sign photo

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The nieces after an hour of tooling around the park. This was as close as we got to the fossil beds.

We headed back to Scottsbluff for lunch, but made a pit stop at the Black Sheep Wool Company, where we saw no sheep, but lots of yarn. And this–which I have never seen before:

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Apparently this is a thing! Little Free Library!

We ate lunch at Chili’s, where I realized Lauren had eaten chicken fingers for every meal but breakfast since leaving Omaha. Not having kids of my own, I didn’t realize this is actually rather normal behavior for kids her age. Usually my rule is that we don’t eat at chain restaurants when out of town, but between my FODMAP drama and Emma and Lauren’s pickiness, we needed to stick to places we could trust.

I promised them pool time, if the pool was fixed. It was, so they played around in a hotel pool that was the rough equivalent of a king-size mattress. Have hotel pools always been this small and I’m just now realizing it?

After some pool time, we headed up to Scottsbluff National Monument. Lauren and McKenna tell me on the drive up that the bluffs got here because Nebraska used to be an ocean. An ocean? I ask. They affirm. Yes, an ocean. I am not sure I believe them, but I’m a teacher and who knows what kids are learning in elementary school these days.

We drive up to the top of the bluffs, and I see a sign for a 1/2 mile hike. We head in that direction, and then a couple who had just returned from that hike tell us a rattlesnake had camped out in the middle of the trail. So my grand plan to take my nieces on any hike at all never materialized. But we did get some good photos, albeit with my iPhone, because I left the fancy camera in the hotel room. The fancy camera and I did not have a good couple of days.

We headed back down to the visitor’s center so we could watch the film about Scott’s Bluff, and wouldn’t you know–2 minutes into the film we hear that the bluffs are remnants of an ancient sea! Look at my smart nieces.

Emma picked up two more badges–one for Scott’s Bluff, and one for the centennial celebration of the National Park Service. Like I said, smart nieces.

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Sporting badges for her hard work.

Incidentally, how Scott’s Bluff got its name is really quite morbid. Ah, history. You fun.

We got back to the hotel around 7, popped in A Bug’s Life (we had seen so many bugs that day and thought that film would be an excellent choice), followed by Enchanted, and our trip was over.

We drove back to Omaha the next day, an uneventful but long drive back home.

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who have driven across Nebraska, and they complain about the terrain on their drive. They aren’t wrong–the landscape along I-80 isn’t appealing. But on this trip, I was reminded of how gorgeous most states are if you take the time to get off the proverbial beaten path. Nebraska did not disappoint in that regard. Not 10 miles after we headed north off I-80 were we greeted by lush, green, rolling hills.

This was an excellent test run for a trip with my nieces–perhaps next summer we will go explore a different section of northern Nebraska.

One that doesn’t have rattlesnakes.

Road Trip Part 1, or Auntie Mame 2016.

When I decided I would take on the Nebraska Passport program, I knew I wanted to get out to western Nebraska. I’ve traveled I-80 more times than I can count, but I am embarrassingly ignorant of Nebraska state highways. I decided on Scottsbluff, because I’d be able to knock out several stamps in one trip. As I started planning this adventure, I realized I don’t always like traveling alone.

I travel alone most of the time, because that’s just my reality. But I want to do less of that as I approach my twilight years. And since I’m not dating and therefore won’t ever be married, and I’m too old to have kids, I get to wrangle my nieces and nephews into traveling with me. Basically, behold my future:

So. Test case number 1: my three local nieces and I would road trip out to western Nebraska and see some sights.

We had quite the itinerary planned, and I quickly learned that planning is great, but be prepared for it to all go to hell. Which it did, 45 minutes into our trip.

The tire pressure light on my car blazed bright orange as soon as we hit Lincoln. If I was by myself, I wouldn’t have stressed too much about it. But I had these girls with me, and I was way more concerned about their safety than mine. So we stopped in Lincoln to fill the tires. Problem solved.

Until we got about 30 minutes from York. Light blinked on again. This time, I knew I would feel better if I stopped and had the car looked at. So McKenna looked up a tire shop in York and we spent 30 minutes with the kind people at Penner’s Tire. They could find no good reason why my tire pressure light was on, assured me I had no nails in any tires, gave me the names of tire shops they trusted in Kearney and North Platte, and sent me on my way.

At this point, we were nearly 90 minutes behind schedule. Yet still we stopped at a bakery in Grand Island, to get a stamp in the passport.

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Smiles before we ate the cookies. Not as many smiles after we ate them.

The food wasn’t quite what we were expecting, but you know, adventure. I was hoping to stop at a couple of other fine Nebraska establishments, but I knew Chimney Rock closed at 5, and this first day would be our only day to see it, so we pressed on. But in my haste, I forgot to fuel up in Grand Island, so we had to stop in North Platte. For anyone who has traversed I-80, consider this: we started in Papillion and proceeded to make stops in Lincoln, York, Grand Island, and North Platte. Much like I imagine our pioneer forbears did. So I was totally feeling the tedium of our journey every time Emma would ask “When will we be there?” or Lauren would comment on the sheer duration of our travels.

But at 4:45 MDT, we pulled into the parking lot at Chimney Rock, amid clouds and sprinkles. I am determined to learn how to use the DSLR better, so I quickly whipped it out and snapped some really awful photos, made some adjustments, and took this one:

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But as I look at it now, it actually looks a bit like a giant middle finger, which is somewhat apt as that’s how our presence was received by the workers at at the visitor’s center. Not that I blame them; we must have been a sight, we weary travelers rolling up 15 minutes before closing time. We did not get close at all, because we saw signs for rattlesnakes, two mosquitos started feasting on my arm, and we ran into a wasp.

We were outside for maybe 5 minutes. Which was long enough for me to shoot this gem:

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I still haven’t mastered the aperture settings, because sky is supposed to have some element of blue, not pure white. But these mugs, coupled with Emma’s inability to look at a camera, make this the best image I could get, considering the fear factor involved.

We traveled on to our hotel, where I had promised the girls they could jump in the pool, only to learn that the pool was closed. Never in my life was I so happy to have brought a portable DVD player, an A/V cable, and five movies that would appeal to all. So instead of the pool, we watched Ella Enchanted, followed by The Princess Bride.

A good sleep was had by all–I shared a bed with Emma, who really didn’t infringe on my space at all despite firm warnings from McKenna and Lauren.

And for Thursday’s adventure, you’ll just have to come back tomorrow.

Complaints.

It starts innocently enough: I launch my Twitter app.

This is how I get most of my news these days, to be honest. I follow a variety of journalists from varying points on the political spectrum, as well as academics and politicians. But it can get bleak quite quickly.

Like this morning, when I read several pieces about Donald Trump before 10 a.m., and all I could think was, “this is what Suzanne Collins would write in a prequel to ‘The Hunger Games.'”

So I hop over to Facebook where life can be a bit more pleasant, until I go into one of the groups that, yes I asked to be part of, only to read complaint after complaint about everything from road construction to graduation ceremonies, and all I could think was, “Does anyone know how to be happy anymore?”

I spent most of my day today with a friend and her two sons, driving 90 minutes to Homestead National Monument. We took our time there. Watched a film about homesteaders. Looked at the museum. Ate lunches that we packed. Hiked a swampy, boggy trail to the education center. Looked at duct tape art. Visited a one-room schoolhouse. Stopped for a treat, then drove home.

I did check my email a couple of times, as I was hoping for an answer to a tech question before close of business, and I posted a photo to Instagram. But I shot most of the photos of the day with a Canon T5 and stayed away from Twitter and Facebook. It was a wonderful day, unencumbered by vitriol and dread.

When I got home, after checking for ticks, showering, and eating dinner, I opened Twitter and Facebook again, saw more of the same anger that I saw this morning, and all I could think was, “Maybe if we spent more time in nature, more in-person time with friends, more time away from social media, maybe we wouldn’t be as angry.”

It’s worth a shot, right?