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?

Summer Break Week #10

Summer Break Week #9 didn’t count for much. I didn’t do a whole lot other than recover from my week at Kent State.

Oh, and I had a birthday.
But Summer Break Week #10 was spent in Branson, Missouri at the 2015 Rowse Howse Reunion.
I was not 100% sold on spending time in Branson, but we really had quite the wonderful week. I have some pics up on Instagram that document the week, if you’re over there. But this post is mostly about an important lesson I learned at the reunion: always pack a swimsuit.
I have a swimsuit that more or less fits me, but I didn’t pack it because, well, body issues. I’m not alone on this–women of all sizes (and even some men) unjustly punish themselves every summer over body issues. If not, we wouldn’t need this brilliant retort to how to best prepare for swimsuit season (some NSFW language).
The weather in Branson was the grossest humid heat I’ve felt in a while, and right outside my parents’ room was a pool that my nieces would’ve lived in if we had let them. On Tuesday, one niece asked why I wasn’t getting in the pool, and I told her it was because I didn’t have a suit. 
“Then you should go buy one!” she said.
So at 11:30 p.m., under the cover of night, Deanne and I headed to the Branson Walmart.
Read that sentence again, employ any and all stereotypes you have about both Branson and Walmart, and you begin to approach the environs we entered.
Lucky for us, the swimsuits were right inside the front door. Deanne and I looked through what was left, since the right time to buy a swimsuit is NOT the last week in July, but is the first week of April, apparently.
Branson Walmart had at least a dozen bottoms in my size . . . and no tops.
The largest top for sale was a size 4-6, a size I think I just skipped right over when I was 14. 
I’m really quite concerned about the dearth of tops in Branson–it’s supposed to a family-friendly vacation spot, but clearly there’s a bottomless beach somewhere.
Anyway. Deanne tried to convince me to just get some shorts, a sports bra, and a tank top and call it good, but I didn’t want to be that person at the pool–I’d rather just sit at the side in shorts and a tshirt, for heck’s sake. 
So that’s what I did. 
But I also learned a valuable lesson for all future travel: always pack a swimsuit. Because you just don’t ever want to have to explain to your 7 year-old niece the real reason why you don’t have one, and you definitely don’t want to be scrounging a Walmart at midnight in a city that must have private nudie beaches.

Summer Break, Week #8

I spent the 8th week of summer break at the ASNE Reynolds Journalism Institute for High School Teachers.

I may have gotten all the official titley stuff out of order, but there it is anyway.
I was selected for the week at Kent State (I could’ve been selected to UT-Austin or ASU), and the most heartbreaking part of being at Kent State was being so close to my friends in Bowling Green, Ohio and completely unable to sneak in a visit to them. 
I learned many things at Kent State, which I will probably blog about at some point in time, but not today. No, today, instead, I will blog about a lesson I’ve learned about myself over and over again, that my friend Sarah first helped me articulate many years ago: I can do hard things.
I am an introvert by nature. Case in point: it is 11:40 a.m. as I write this, still unshowered and in P.J.s, and I have zero desire or need to venture out into the land where people interact. I am completely happy with a laptop to write and books to read close by. And Hulu and Netflix, of course.
I tend to forget my introverted nature when applying for opportunities that I see as prestigious or enriching. I forget (until the day of) the anxiety and difficulties that will occur when accepted to those opportunities. Present at a statewide technology conference? Sure! Spend five weeks traipsing about New England with 20 strangers? Why not? Go to Kent State for a week and actually do journalism instead of teach it? What could possibly go wrong? Apply! Apply! Apply!
Summer Break Week #8 was mentally and physically exhausting. As Deanne told me, after hearing me complain on the first day, I was in the quadrangle of despair. Heat, humidity, lots of walking with plantar fasciitis, and an assignment to talk to random strangers about their coffee experiences in downtown Kent had me pretty wound up.
But as usually happens in my life, I looked around and realized I was surrounded by people who wanted me to succeed. From the instructors at the institute to the people in my group and even beyond (my newspaper editor sent me long-distance encouragement), I wasn’t set up to fail. Yes, I had to take a couple deep breaths and gather my courage. A lot of courage. But the social anxiety was mostly short-lived, and in the end, I was pretty proud of what I and my team created.
So Summer Break Week #8 was actually quite good in a variety of ways, not the least of which was connecting with so many journalism advisers across the country who inspired me, made me laugh, and commiserated with me. 
And now, I have to go, because while I was writing this, a friend asked me if I’d join her for lunch. 
Now is as good a time as any to ditch the P.J.s for the day.

Summer Break Weeks #6 and #7

Every summer, June feels luxurious. I have all the time in the world to do all kinds of amazing projects, read dozens of books, learn new pieces on the piano.

Then July 4th hits and panic ensues, and I start thinking like this.
Even still, here’s what the past two weeks looked like:
I finished my last class! You know, until the next time I decide to take classes. But the last class for this summer.
I saw “Inside Out.”
I’ve been binging on seasons of “Psych.”
I went to a block party (not usually my scene) at a friend’s house. Lots of food and fireworks.
I culled through all of my books, continuing my tidying adventure. 
I have basically just been relaxing and not doing a whole lot. Sunday I leave for Ohio for a week, and when I come back, I’ll be in my classroom, getting ready for next school year. 
Which starts in exactly 31 days.