We Live in a Sod House

When we decided to move from Ohio to Nebraska, we realized that to people we knew in Ohio and Indiana, Nebraska seemed very far away. We heard jokes about how we were moving to the frontier and were we going to live in a sod house? We suddenly noticed how many tv shows chose Nebraska as a character’s home state when they wanted to portray him or her as being from the middle of nowhere.

It's right there, in the red.

It’s right there, in the red.

I sorta understand that. When we started thinking about moving, we had to get out a map to see exactly which of the big, rectangular states Nebraska was. (I’m not completely sure I can find it today on an unlabeled map, but don’t tell anyone that!). Having read every pioneer book available in the school library as a child, I could imagine Nebraska as a wide, rolling prairie dotted here and there by weather-beaten old houses.

However, one trip out here proved that many of those stereotypes aren’t really true. I mean, we take some pretty modern modes of transportation.

After I made them climb up for the picture, I saw a sign that said to stay off the wagons. Laura Ingalls would smack me if she knew I'd broken the rules!

After I made them climb up for the picture, I saw a sign that said to stay off the wagons. Ma Ingalls would smack me if she knew I’d broken the rules!


We have plenty of up-to-date highways.

The Oregon Trail cut across Nebraska, at Scott's Bluff.

The Oregon Trail cut across Nebraska, at Scott’s Bluff.

My kids got to walk along the actual Oregon Trail. This is where the real pioneers walked...or rode. It doesn't get more exciting than that to a pioneer buff!

My kids got to walk along the actual Oregon Trail. This is where the real pioneers walked…or rode. It doesn’t get more exciting than that to a pioneer buff!

Joke after joke about living in a sod home. Come on, you guys. You know that we have regular houses out here, right?

Sod home preserved the way settlers actually lived in it. This is the real thing!

Sod home preserved the way settlers actually lived in it. This is the real thing!

Our children have become rather style-conscious after moving here. They’ve always got to have the most up-to-date fashions.

I can totally imagine her a pioneer.

I can totally imagine her a pioneer.

Howdy, partner.

I absolutely refuse to smile in this ridiculous get up.

She's just sweet.

She’s just sweet.


And out here in the wild West, we have modern-day forms of communication.

We got the complete tour of this real life Pony Express station--all one room of it!

We got the complete tour of this real life Pony Express station–all one room of it.

Churches here are remarkably trendy.

Actually, the churches here are very trendy, even more than the ones we left. That's material for another post, though.

Actually, the churches here are very trendy, even more than the ones we left. That’s material for another post, though.

Of course, I’m being sarcastic. We took all of those pictures on our vacation to Scott’s Bluff and Chimney Rock. Our house looks very similar to the house we had in Cincinnati, and the town reminds me of my hometown in Indiana with some exceptions like fast food, a mall, and more amenities. People here go to college and work in offices and have lives just like people back where we came from. It’s not that much different.

However, in this part of the country we do have one thing I have never seen back home.

This is indeed a real place. The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. It is a wonder to behold. If you've never been, you should go.

This is indeed a real place. The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. It is a wonder to behold. All of those pictures, mosaics, decorations on the sides of the building are made of corn. Thousands of tiny kernals of corn. I feel for the poor person (probably someone’s intern…or administrative assistant!) who had to glue all of those things on there! If you’ve never been, you should go.

Stay on the Path!

Shortly after we moved to Nebraska, we took off on a vacation to visit a few sites around the state. We drove five or six hours across the sparsely-populated region of western Nebraska before we reached Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock, people! We can drive to it in less than a day! This in and of itself is remarkable to a person who spent most of her childhood reading books about settlers going west and seeing this famous landmark on their way.

The visitors center, located on a country road in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, is within view of Chimney Rock and surrounded by open fields full of scrubby brush and clumps of grass. Along the sidewalks leading to the visitors center, we saw many of these signs:

One is complaining about the sun in his eyes, of course. There’s always someone who, when faced with life-threatening danger, complains about the trivial!

For those of you who are like me and can’t read that small print, I present the zoomed-in version of the sign:


Did they really need to add the graphic of the snake to get their point across?

Oh yes! A warning about snakes. Not just snakes, but rattlesnakes. Not those little garter snakes everyone says are harmless. Deadly, biting, rattlesnakes. Not only did the signs warn visitors about snakes, but they warned them in five languages. The people who posted those signs were serious!

Seeing that, I immediately remembered the first time I saw a snake of any kind in the wild. My sister and I happened on one at a similar location, Devil’s Tower, on a family vacation when I was in high school. We ran ahead of our parents on a trail. I looked down and right in her path, right where she was about to step, lay a snake, coiled up, ready to strike. I screamed for her to run, and she did so without asking any questions. That night, lying in a hotel bed, we swore that when we had children we would never, ever tell them about our fear of snakes. We would never pass that fear on to them. Neither of us had any idea before that day that we would react to snakes the way we had, and we didn’t want to give our kids any hilarious stories of Mom freaking out when a tiny garter snake visited the back yard.


Devil’s Tower, scene of snake-induced panic in my youth.

On this vacation, I remembered our vow and determined that I would not act afraid of the potential danger. I wanted my kids to enjoy the beautiful scenery, not spend their vacation in the car, fearing invasion of the snakes. It may have worked, but I caught at least one of them scanning the ground obsessively the rest of the day.

The woman in the gift shop gave us some important advice that afternoon. Hearing us discuss our fear of snakes, she said, “They’re out there. We find them quite often. Just stay on the path, and you’ll be alright.” She didn’t deny the danger or make us feel dumb for fearing it. She admitted that it was real and that we should watch out but also told us that if we did what we were supposed to do and didn’t run foolishly all over the fields we would be fine. Happily, the path at Chimney Rock was wide, paved, and easy to follow. We followed that path and kept our eyes peeled for anything snakey


Chimney Rock, in the middle of a snake-infested prairie full of who-knows-what. How did the pioneers cross that without a paved sidewalk?!

That vacation lives in each of our memories as one of the best parts of our first year in Nebraska. We will all remember the fun we had, exploring our new state together. The kids barely remember the snake element of that trip, and we didn’t even see one snake the whole time. In a way, it was symbolic of our decision to move in the first place: plenty of unknowns that we could fear and that could have caused us to stay in our old life and seek something safe, something familiar. That may have ended up alright. Who knows? What I do know, though, is that stepping onto what ended up being a pretty safe and wide path and making decisions to do new things despite fear ended well.

Now if we can just keep that lesson in mind the next time a big change approaches!

Go West!

A few years ago, I drove home from work thinking, “This is it. This is what I’m going to spend the rest of my life doing. Driving to and from a mall to work in a little store with people half my age.” Despite the fact that I had a decent amount of education and remembered feeling some passion and drive in my life, at forty years old I felt stuck in a low-paying, low-respect customer service job. Not long after that, my entire world changed. My husband lost his job and found another one almost half a continent away, and we picked up and moved west to the prairie. When the chaos of the job loss hit, we feared everything. How would our kids react to moving? Would they have friends in the new place? Would we like the new town and our new jobs?

Oregon Trail Marker

Then we moved, and everything changed. When it changed, it changed for the better. Now I work in the same college that my husband does, and while I’m only working in an office, I still feel like I’m contributing to training the next generation. Not only did my work change, but somehow in the process of picking up and moving, my family and I changed. My kids grew up. My husband became a more constant presence in my day to day existence. We acquired a lot of pets. We eliminated a lot of debt. We began to learn to slow down and enjoy each other.

I decided to stop holding onto quite a few things I held dear before, a lot of stuff from the past that weighed me down, and start looking at what was good in life. And you know what I found? I found that there’s a lot of good stuff going on.

We now can say we have lived in Nebraska for an entire year. During that year, we weathered a cold Nebraska winter. We traveled along the path that many settlers traveled going west and visited quite a few historical sites along the way. We learned a new town, found our way around, and put down some roots. This blog is about the things that changed, the things we experienced and keep experiencing. I’ve learned a lot in the last year, and maybe the thing that stands out the most to me is how sometimes in life the things that look bad are, in the end, good. Very, very good!

I found this in the snow in our back yard. My daughter wrote it.

I found this in the snow in our back yard last winter. My daughter wrote it. She’s right. Thanks, God!