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.

He Knows Me Well.

My Uncle Brent called me last weekend, just to chat. During our conversation, he asked me what my summer plans were.

“Oh, I’m taking this summer off. I’ve had two really busy summers in a row, so I deserve a summer in which I do nothing,” I said.

He laughed. “You? Do nothing? Come on, you’re doing something, going somewhere, right? Utah? Come to California!”

But I was insistent: “No, I really am just going to relax and not do much this summer.”

I’ve been thinking about that conversation all week, and my uncle is right–I’m just not the type to do nothing. So I’ve done a little research into what I can do this summer, and I think I found a perfect plan:

  1. Become a Google Certified Teacher. There’s some webinars and an exam to take, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and summer would be a good time to do it.
  2. Explore Nebraska.  It’s time for me to accept that I am a Nebraskan, and as such, I need to know more about my state. This program looks absolutely delightful, plus ripe for blogging fodder.

So there you have it, my summer plans. Should be a good time.

A Favorite Person I Was Forced to Miss.

Prompt: What’s the most time you’ve ever spent apart from your favorite person?

To answer this is to surely make enemies, as I have to identify who my favorite person is. I have lots of favorite people. How do I pick just one to write about? So if you are reading this and you fancy yourself one of my favorite people, just know that you probably are, and I’m only writing about ONE experience of ONE period of time I spent apart from ONE of my favorite people.

My sister Deanne.

When she moved to Japan, I thought I would die. For years, we talked nearly every day. Even if for only five minutes on my way home from school, we checked in every day. That would be impossible while she lived in Japan, with more than half a day’s time difference between us.

Sometimes we talked as I drove to school at 6:30 a.m. (while she was putting kids to bed). Sometimes I stayed up past my bedtime and talked to her until 11 or 11:30 p.m. (while she had a few moments before picking up kids from school). But one thing’s for sure: communication was sporadic and it sucked.

Now she lives in the Eastern Time Zone and I got so used to not talking to her that I forget I can call her pretty much anytime without her being dead asleep (unless she’s napping) (which has happened).

Yes, it was tough to be apart from Deanne, even though we haven’t lived in the same state since 1996. But the time apart did teach me to be a little more self-reliant when I would be fretting over some problem, and it reminded me to be grateful for time spent with her.

Even when that time is both of us one the phone, not saying much of anything, just sitting there knowing someone is on the other end of the line.

The Mom and Dad Project.

Some background:

Over a decade ago, a dear friend of mine was in the process of transcribing audio of her dad telling his life story. I remember thinking, “That’s a great idea. I should do that.” And then I jaunted off to grad school for two years and when I came back, so many other things demanded my time.

Last year, my Aunt Sarah asked me to help with edits on a book she was compiling that told the story of my Nana and Gramps. My Gramps died in 1989, Nana in 1998, so she had spent hours cobbling together stories of their lives–mostly from secondary sources.

In November 2015, StoryCorps sponsored The Great Thanksgiving Listen, in which they encouraged high school students to talk to the older members of their families and record their stories. I offered my journalism students extra credit if they participated–they had to select questions, conduct an interview, and then upload the interview. When I told my newspaper staff about the opportunity, I shared with them how I wish I had asked my grandparents more questions about their lives.

On to present day, inspired by the background information:

This year for Christmas, I gave my parents each a notebook with 40 prompts. For at least 40 weeks, they will jot down important remembrances based on the prompts. I will show up to their house and record them talking about the prompt (the journalist in me gets to ask follow up questions when needed) and my nieces will help with the transcribing.

By the end of the year, I’ll have a notebook from mom, a notebook from dad, audio recordings, and transcriptions. All primary sourced, ready to be compiled into a narrative.

I didn’t want to rely on my and my siblings’ memories to tell the stories of my parents. I want them to tell their stories. And rather than hoping they’d get around to it eventually, I’m forcing their hand.

I hope they don’t mind.