Like Riding a Bike

Today I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I rode a bike.

I did not ride this kind, and I did not end up on my face. So all in all, a good experience.

I did not ride this kind, and I did not end up on my face. So all in all, a good experience.

My bike sat discarded in the garage through the births of three kids and a lot of sleepless nights that produced days when bike riding was the last thing on my mind. I taught my own children to ride, but I have never been much of a rider myself, so I never rode it. In fact, I think the last time I rode a bike was the summer after my oldest was born. I can’t remember any bike riding after that.

Once in a while the kids ask me to ride with them, and I say something like “I don’t really like to ride. I’ll walk, and I’ll meet you at the park (or wherever).” They’re old enough to do that now. Before I could let them go ahead, I sat outside with a book or the phone and watched them ride up and down the street in front of our house. Today I decided to join them.

I don’t know what got into me. Why did I decide this was a good day for me to break my 12-year bike-riding moratorium? Whatever the reason, I found myself pumping up the tires on my husband’s bike (mine has squeaky brakes, and, believe me, I don’t want to draw any more attention to the middle-aged me wobbling down the street than necessary). I got on confidently. I mean, why not? I don’t have any skinned-up-my-whole-body stories to tell. I took off down the driveway. It went faster than I expected. A lot faster. I tried to put on the brakes, but I realized I reverted back to the bike riding I learned as a five-year-old…when there were brakes on the pedals. I felt a moment of panic as a tree approached and I veered around it while frantically groping for the brakes. Somehow I managed to stop slowly enough that I didn’t hurtle forward over the handlebars.

What my girls saw when I got on the bike today.

What my girls thought of me when I got on the bike today.

As my heartbeat returned to normal, I heard the girls behind me. They weren’t laughing, thank goodness. Instead they were worrying. “Do you think we should do this? Maybe she’s not ready,” one of them said. “It’s been a long time. I’m not sure she really knows how to ride one,” the other one answered.

“We’re not going until you ride down the hill and back up,” my oldest called out to me from the driveway.

“What do you mean? I’m fine. Shut the door and let’s go!” I answered.

“Uumm…I’m not so sure. The ride up the hill is pretty hard.” Now keep in mind this hill is barely visible. I’m not kidding. We live in Nebraska, people. It’s not the Rocky Mountains. I rode back up to them, convincing them I was ready.

Here’s some of what I heard on the way:

“She’s still back there, Hannah. She’s ok!” (after turning to check on me).

“What would happen if Mom fell and skinned her knee really bad? Would she cry?” LIKE I WASN’T EVEN THERE!!!

“She’d probably get mad and make us leave her alone!” What am I, a mother bear?! ROAR! Sadly, they’re probably right.

So what did I learn from the bike riding experience? For one, the old saying is true. You don’t forget how to ride a bike! I was a little nervous riding with children around me. Children who tend to cut in front of me and make me think I was going to hit them and maybe do something like run over them. But I’m pretty glad I did it.

Second, I probably should do more things that I’ve written off in the last decade. My kids have been my excuse for not bike riding, not travelling, not working out, not doing more stuff like that. For a long time, they really were too young to do much with, and for a long time I mourned losing those things that I would have done if there were no kids. Then somewhere along the way I started kinda liking not doing a lot of different stuff and fell into a habit of doing the same things all of the time. They’re older now. Maybe it’s time to branch out.

Hopefully, it won't come to this.

Hopefully, it won’t come to this.

Third, they’re going to take really great care of me when I get old. I always wondered if they’d just let me wander off down the interstate in my nightgown in February, but apparently they are pretty good mother hens. Maybe we’ve done something right. Whew! It’s about time we saw some fruit of all these years of labor!

I’ve been sitting in the library writing this. I just heard the librarian say that the library closes in fifteen minutes.

Does this mean I have to ride home?!

 

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Why You Can Go Home Again

This one really isn't packed. I've seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on one once.

This one really isn’t packed. I’ve seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on once.

A few weekends ago, I went to Cincinnati to pick up my children after their visit with friends. I experienced something I hadn’t experienced since I lived in Ukraine and traveled back and forth every summer. No, it wasn’t a good bowl of borscht (although I kinda wish it were) or a packed trolleybus in 90 degree heat (very glad it wasn’t that). What I experienced was that feeling of going home again.

I drove into town from the south and caught sight of the skyline across the Ohio River. I have never been a big fan of cityscapes, but seeing it reminded me of how my husband always pointed it how beautiful it looked when we drove into Cincinnati from that direction. I drove across the Ohio River and remembered that claustrophobic feeling of being caught in the very narrow space between the wall of the bridge and a semi truck in the lane next to me. That bridge was the one that gave me an unreasonable fear of accidentally driving over the edge and plummeting into the water below, not knowing which child to save if they were all buckled into their car seats. I’m glad I rarely cross any bridges these days! Even more glad my kids can swim!

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

Seeing the place we used to live and our friends who still live there reminded me of a few things.

1. Living in a new place and navigating around it for the last year, I forgot the feeling of knowing where I was going and understanding where places are without having to plot out my driving plan ahead of time or plug addresses into Mapquest. Being back in the place we called home for 13 years made me miss living somewhere that I felt connected to in a deeper way than just knowing the path to the grocery store and back. Not only did I remember where things were, but I remembered that sense of really being a part of life in a particular location. It takes a while to feel completely integrated into the new place, and being back home reminded me that we aren’t really at that stage here yet.

On a positive note, though, moving somewhere new shows us all that we really can learn a new place, find friends, and fit in. We may feel a sense of “otherness” at times, but we still feel like part of what’s going on in our new place. I think that has built confidence in our children, and I’ve seen them become more outgoing and mature since we moved.

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I'm not the one holding the camera?

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I’m not the one holding the camera?

2. Not only did I see places I remember, I saw people I hadn’t seen in a year. In my experience, when I see the people I know and love after an absence, I often feel like we are just picking up where we left off. Maybe I have these grand ideas about emotional and exciting reunions, hugging and crying, but in reality those things don’t usually happen to me. When I arrived at my friend’s house to pick up the kids, one of her children greeted me nonchalantly, and then my friend walked in the room. We both said, “Hey!” like we’d just seen one another last week. I love that. I wouldn’t trade that easy familiarity for all of the hugging, crying, made-for-tv-moments in the world!

The kids and I went to dinner with other friends on the spur of the moment. I called them up, and before I knew it we were all sitting in Skyline laughing and eating and having fun. More fun than I remember having had together when we actually lived within five hundred miles of one another. When you live close, you just think you’ve got all the time in the world to get together…but then you don’t.

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

On the way back to Nebraska, we talked about how weird it was to see everyone and how Nebraska seemed almost like a dream. The children wistfully said they felt like they’d never left Cincinnati in the first place. I reminded them how nice it is that we have people we love in both places, how if we’d never moved we would never know that out here on the prairie live a whole bunch of great people! My children are learning early in life a lesson I didn’t realize until my adult years. A seasoned missionary once told me, when talking about how hard it was to leave people you love, “When you’re a missionary, no matter where you go, you’re leaving people you love, but you’re also going to other people you love.” That concept has stuck proven true time and time again in my life.

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter's. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world's best ice cream place?!

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter’s. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world’s best ice cream place?! Alex looks a little less-than-ecstatic about it, though. Can you tell who the introvert is after a lot of social interaction?

3. Some things are more important than sleep. I hadn’t willingly pulled an all-nighter for years. Having babies cured me of the desire to stay up past about 1 am. However, I stayed up late both nights I was there. One friend and I stayed up until 4 am! Does that time even exist anymore? After hours of sitting on the couch talking about everything in the world, she asked me, “What time is it?” I looked at my nearly useless watch that has not one real number on it, and my exhausted eyes crossed. I said, “I think it’s 4:00. Is that what this says?” The next night I went to Applebee’s and then cruised around Colerain Township with my former coworkers until way late. Who needs sleep when you have such a limited time together?!

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

I think that the longer I live, the more I realize that it’s not true that you can’t go home again. Home just changes definition, becomes more fluid, and grows to include a new place after you leave the old one!

 

Winter is Coming

Just a little chilly. Maybe put on a jacket.

Just a little chilly. Maybe put on a light jacket.

Before we moved to Nebraska, people said things like, “You’re gonna freeze out there. It’s practically the tundra.” I read books like My Antonia where the endless Nebraska winters produced suicidal tendencies in settlers living in dugouts. Even cashiers in grocery stores and people in our new neighborhood, upon finding out that we had arrived in June, said things like, “Oooh! You haven’t lived through a winter here yet.” I began to wonder if we had moved ourselves to Siberia on accident.

Prettymuch what we expected before we moved here.

Prettymuch what we expected before we moved here. It turned out to be more like what Cincinnati got after we left!

Then the winter hit, and it was cold. Temperatures reached down into the -20’s with wind chill factors in the -30’s. But guess what? Back in Cincinnati, our friends had the same kind of cold with one additional fun thing: lots and lots of snow. Like, many-snow-days-of-cancelled-school snow. Our kids pouted as they trudged to school day after day with only one cancellation the entire winter. We had very little snow here. I couldn’t help but smile when remembering the warnings about moving somewhere so violently freezing.

Around the end of April something interesting happened. It got warm. Really nice and really sunny and really warm, and the grass actually started getting green. Spring! By now, it’s summer, and we are experiencing the beginning of hot weather. Last summer it got up to around 105 or so, and I expect the same this year.

Summer view of the area around the college where I work.

Summer view of the area around the college where I work.

A couple of days ago, I stood in my office and looked out the window. I saw green fields and a few trees, their branches swaying in the wind. I saw beautiful blue skies with puffy white clouds. I stood there thinking about how beautiful it was outside, and I realized something. I realized I could not remember what that view looked like just a few months ago when the cold wind ravaged that prairie. I mean, intellectually I remember that it happened. I know in my mind that I used to dread Tuesdays and Thursdays because I had to walk from the building where my office is located to the building where chapel was held and the cold wind forced me to lean into it and stuff my already-gloved hands deeper into my pockets. While I do remember that, I don’t feel it. I don’t feel connected to it. I caught myself thinking, “Eh, it wasn’t all that bad.”

Winter view of almost the same spot as the above picture.

Winter view of almost the same spot. Note the side mirror in the picture…no way I was leaving the car for this one!

Maybe this is a Midwest thing. Maybe we’re so used to the extremes in weather that we just accept them. We complain about them, but we accept them. Then when they leave, we enjoy the new season. I know that some people love living in places where it’s warm all of the time, and I can definitely understand that. However, a big part of me thinks that the change of seasons is a gift. Right about the time I’m sick to death of hot weather and think I won’t be able to stand walking from a nice, air-conditioned house into the near-jungle humidity that is the Midwest summer, fall hits and cooler temperatures bring a sweet relief. When winter drags on and the darkness feels oppressive and the gray colors drab and I think I’ll be able to double-wrap my house in all of the crocheted items I’ve been creating all season to medicate my winter brain, spring comes, and I forget about winter.

One of those crocheted items I created to keep my fingers from freezing in the winter weather.

One of those crocheted items I created to keep my fingers from freezing in the winter weather. Yes, I may be showing off just a little.

Two weeks after I graduated from college, I moved to Ukraine. I spent the next five years there. The first winter dragged on for me. Weather that winter was colder and icier than any of the subsequent four I spent there. I lived alone, and, even though I had a job and spent most of the day doing it, I had lots of long, dark, quiet evenings full of reading and watching ten-year-old reruns of Santa Barbara. When spring hit, I learned two things:

1.  If you are the first to stop bundling up and start wearing regular clothes in public, everyone thinks you lost weight over the winter.

2.  When you survive something that was difficult and long, you remember it, but you also sorta forget it.

That spring, my friend and I were talking about whether we’d ever get married and lamenting the singleness that was our life at the time. I remember saying, “It’ll happen someday if it’s supposed to, and when it does the single times will be like last winter. We’ll remember them, but when the spring comes, they’ll seem like the distant past!” That goes for more than just singleness (and, let’s face it, some seasons of married life make the winter of my singleness look pretty good!). I’ve found that to be true for the Winter of My Children’s Babyhoods, and the Winter of Difficult Job Situations, and the Winter of Stressful Family Times. When those times subside and the spring hits, the intense emotions of the winter fade. Just as the pain of childbirth seems less after the baby is born (well, so we mothers claim!), the cold of winter and the pain of difficult times lessen when spring or resolution hit.

The gravel road leading to the college did get a little snowy. At least it kept the dust in place!

The gravel road leading to the college did get a little snowy. At least it kept the dust in place!

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that surviving hard times doesn’t require work. Sometimes getting through the winter requires resourcefulness, ingenuity, and downright toil! When the bulk of the work is done, though, and the light of spring starts to show through the cloudy, gray winter, and when the moment comes when I can stop and look out the window and finally take a deep breath, I realize I don’t remember winter the way I thought I would.

Ahhh! Spring has arrived!

Ahhh! Spring has arrived!

I write this because I need a reminder to enjoy today while I have it and not to stress out over the difficult things. I write this as a reminder to myself that if I focus on what’s good today, someday the bad things will seem like one of those distant winter memories. “Eh, it’s not so bad after all.” I write this so that this summer, when it’s 110 degrees and spending even three minutes outside threatens to turn me into a burnt ember, I will remember that soon all of the heat will be a memory, and the cool temperatures will rescue me!

Five Fun Things about a Small Town Festival

Bright, colorful, sugary, savory: what's not to love?

Bright, colorful, sugary, savory: what’s not to love?

 

A few days ago, my husband and I spent a fun evening eating whatever junk food we wanted, and we didn’t even have to share it with our kids! This fun date night was made possible by a joint effort between our church and our town. The leaders of neither knew when they scheduled Vacation Bible School and Papillion Days the same week that they were contributing to a fun night out for at least one tired couple, but this year they did just that.

The festival our town holds every year is one of the first things we attended here when we moved to Nebraska, and it helped create some of our best memories of our year. Here are five things I think are great about a small town festival.

Looks innocent enough, right? One long bar, four rows of people on each end...

Looks innocent enough, right? One long bar, four rows of people on each end…

1. Family legends are made. Last year, my then ten-year-old son and I rode the scariest and most ridiculous ride ever created. Everyone else in the family cowered at the enormity of it, but we looked at each other and said, “We will brave the ride known as OMG.” And we did.

Oh, what's that happening? The bar turns circles in the air?

Oh, what’s that happening? The bar turns circles in the air?

And the people dangling on the ends of it also spin? That's a recipe for motion sickness for sure.

And the people dangling on the ends of it also spin? That’s a recipe for motion sickness for sure.

All the way around. Yes, indeed.

All the way around. Yes, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I must admit I screamed. Quite a bit. But in my own defense, I was much, much more afraid that my iphone would slip from my back pocket and smash to the ground in a million beautiful, high-tech pieces than I was of the ride. If we ever brave the OMG again, the iphone will remain safely in my husband’s pocket!

2. All the junk food you can afford. Where else can you get a fried hot dog wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese? Who even knew these existed? I’m a little sorry I didn’t try it, although it probably contained enough cholesterol to clog even the cleanest arteries.

What? A hot dog wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese, and all of it is fried. I don't know if I should eat it or use it to oil the hinges in my house.  Cholesterol crazy...but also sounds kinda good.

I don’t know if I should eat it or use it to oil the squeaky hinges in my house.

And who can resist Grand Dad’s Homemade Ice Cream? That brings back childhood memories of the county fair . Yum!

Why are these things always powered by John Deere engines? There must be a story there somewhere.

Why are these things always powered by John Deere engines? There must be a story there somewhere.

3. Nice people, and usually a few that you know. Hey, it’s a small town, right? So you’re bound to run into someone you know. For me it was a woman who might or might not have been the mother of one of my daughter’s friends. I saw her. She looked familiar. I thought maybe it was my daughter’s friend’s mom. I smiled. She smiled back. She looked like maybe she recognized me. I had that moment of should I or shouldn’t I say hi. I didn’t know her name, and, sadly, I don’t even remember her daughter’s name. I walked past and whispered to my husband that I felt bad for not talking to her if she is, in fact, someone I’m supposed to know. He said, “Well, she should feel bad, too, because she didn’t talk to you either.” Classic man answer, but a pretty good one.

I don’t have a picture of her for obvious reasons. That would have added the adjective “creepy” to the list of “rude” and “snobby” she was already silently using to describe me.

4. Lots of cool junk nobody wears anywhere else. Did you ever notice that when they set up booths selling clothes or jewelry at these things they display an awful lot of Native American dream catcher-y kinds of stuff. And those flowy, tie died, lacy, scarfy type dresses always hang in a couple of booths. Do they sell a lot of that? They must. Do people actually wear that stuff? Not sure about that. They did in 1990.

I'm afraid if I put on one of these whispy lace blouses, I might just float away. Like a ghost or something.

I’m afraid if I put on one of these whispy lace blouses, I might just float away. Like a ghost or something.

 

 

5. A parade the likes of which my 1950’s-loving relatives would have been proud. Just take a look at this gigantic American flag followed by old men in tiny cars, fire trucks, marching bands, and clowns throwing candy.

The main street through the historic part of town.

I didn’t know places still did this sort of thing.

 

White fire trucks! How cool is that?

White fire trucks! Oh, and there are fireworks. Forgot to include that in my list of great things about festivals!

Don't forget the white horse and carriage to go with the white fire truck.

Don’t forget the white horse and carriage to go with the white fire truck.

All of this goes on every June. All of it is within walking distance of our front door. Small enough that we walked to the festival, walked around the entire thing to scout out where to bring the kids this weekend, bought a sandwich and two very good lemonades, and walked home, all within the two hours we had before VBS ended. Seems like a pretty good deal to me!

 

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.