Look for Something Good

Today I started feeling like everyone’s life is a mess. Do you ever do that? Just start thinking about people you know and realize that just about everyone’s got something big they’re facing. And by “big” I mean potentially life-altering: relationship problems that just don’t end, debilitating depression, gender identity issues. This afternoon I started thinking about these things and about how life is more often than not pretty complicated and messy, and I told my friend, “I just want to go back to the time when everybody’s lives were happy and OK.” I can’t do that because, of course, that time doesn’t really exist. We just think it does when we’re young and we haven’t lived long enough to have enough people open up and share their secrets with us, when we don’t realize that everybody’s struggling in some way with something.

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One of the fond memories: vacation with the family in the mountains.

I was thinking about that this evening when I saw a Facebook post asking people to share their fondest memories. I shut my eyes and started thinking what I’d write if I were going to share. I have to admit, it took a while to get past the obligatory days: my-kids-were-born and wedding day, but as I pondered it I realized I have an awful lot of fond memories.

  • sliding (on purpose) on a patch of ice on the sidewalk in Kharkov, Ukraine only to run into Andrew at the end and knock him down
  • walking everywhere around Simferopol and Kharkov with Andrew while we were dating, not feeling tired because I was just so happy to be with him
  • cleaning my first apartment on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Kherson while listening to 80’s music on a little red tape player
  • walking Betsy, the best dog in the world, in the cold every morning and snuggling under the covers with her at night
  • sitting at the island in our kitchen as a child and talking to my mom as she cooked dinner
  • lying in bed as a little girl, watching the “digital” clock dial turn every minute
  • reading for hours every day during Christmas break when I was in junior high
  • fighting with my sister over which direction the fan would point in high school
  • making a video with my Ukrainian friends to give to the missionaries before they moved back to the US
  • teaching my dad to use his iPad and staying up late making funny videos on it
  • spending time with my great-grandma, my grandma, and her sisters, and listening to them as they sat outside, breaking beans and laughing together and thinking about how much alike they looked and sounded
  • eating rice pudding in NYC with my friend and just being happy to be together
  • Andrew making a surprise visit to see me in Simferopol, a 12-hour train ride from his home in Kharkov, while we were dating
  • playing Michael Jackson music and dancing with Andrew and the kids after supper every night when the children were little
  • making Christmas cookies with my grandparents and my cousins and standing still while my grandpa vacuumed the flour off our clothes
  • watching Oprah and praying for her with my friends in Bible college
  • putting up a tiny Christmas tree in my first apartment and accidentally getting myself twisted up in the lights
  • the best vacation ever in Wisconsin Dells when I was about nine and my parents saying yes to everything we wanted to do
  • teaching my kids to crochet
  • some really fun parties with missionaries in Simferopol
  • walking part of the Oregon Trail with my kids and Andrew
  • meeting some writing goals I thought I wouldn’t meet
  • going to work and seeing a surprise gift waiting at my door
  • meeting my best friend (I’ll let you all think it was you–but I actually remember the moment I met a lot of you, and all of those moments were pretty great)
  • my mom teaching me to write and later to type
  • riding the scariest amusement park ride I’ve ever ridden with my ten-year-old and being more scared that my phone was going to fall out of my pocket than I was that I’d die in the ride
  • lunch dates with my American friend in Simferopol–especially the one where she slipped on a mossy sidewalk and fell in a puddle, getting green moss all over herself
  • meeting a friend to talk about writing and not talking much about writing but a lot about everything else
  • eating chips and drinking Coke and talking about life with a friend on the balcony of an apartment in Kharkov
  • laughing with my roommate about the stray horse in the courtyard of our apartment building in Kherson
  • making the kids laugh a lot by making up lyrics to a song on the radio and mimicking the person singing it
  • going to dinner with a friend and staying until they closed and then talking in the parking lot
  • lying in bed, cuddled with Emma and Andrew, warm and soft and sleepy
  • working half the night to do inventory with my boss and coworkers and laughing at everything
  • waking up with baby Emma on one side, Andrew and Hannah on the other, and Alex on my feet and not daring to move for fear of waking them up
  • lying on the picnic table at night in our back yard in Indiana when I was little, thinking about what I’d do when I grew up

Just typing all that out, just the fifteen minutes it took me to think those up, turned around how I felt. Life stinks in a lot of ways, but, man, there are some good things about it. The next time I lament giving up my alone time to be with someone else, I hope I remember how all of those things in my fondest memories list were done with other people (well, one was a dog, but maybe that sorta still counts). My friends and family make my life worth sorting out the rough parts!

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Turn It Off; Turn It On Again

Having fun with my mom

Having fun with my mom and the kids during Christmas break.

This year I had a Christmas break for the first time in years. I worked retail for eight years, so Christmas was never, ever a break for me. When we moved to Nebraska, I began working at a college. The offices are closed during Christmas, but I always still went to work at least half of the days while the rest of the staff was off because I was hourly and needed the hours. This year, I got put on salary, which includes some paid time off, including the week between Christmas and New Year’s!

Counting weekends, that’s eleven days of glorious sleeping in, eating Christmas food, catching up on all the stuff I don’t do during the work week. During this break, I began to see the value of rest. These eleven days were sorta like what happens when you call IT for help with your computer and they say, “Well, did you turn it off and turn it back on again?” And you sheepishly say, “Hmmm…what a novel idea. I’ll try that.” And that works.

Finishing Tasks

One thing I noticed about being off for this long was the ability to finish tasks. I  finished a writing project. My laundry basket was actually empty for a day or so. I cleaned the house more than once. I cooked enough food to feed us for just about the entire time on leftovers. These are things that often only get half done because I just don’t have time to do them. I do them in bits and pieces because two hours an evening isn’t enough to complete all the stuff I need to do.

Free Time

When I’m working every day, a weekend is spent catching up on things I didn’t get to do. Saturday and Sunday aren’t days off. They’re days doing other work. OK, so I’m not going into an office and sitting at a desk. Instead, I’m running around doing laundry, cleaning, cooking, doing errands. I feel very accomplished when these things are done, but often they’re done only in time to begin the next week. If I want free time to do any hobbies or even just read a book, I have to stay up and sacrifice sleep. With eleven days off, I got done with the tasks I thought were so important and even got to have free time! I spent hours crocheting and watching Netflix, and when my mom visited I got to spend time with her instead of going to work while she was here. After two or three days, I completely lost track of what day it was, and, while a bit disorienting, that feeling was so freeing! Not to have to remember whether today Hannah had piano or Emma had gymnastics felt so great. I had a vast series of minutes, hours and even days spreading out in front of me, free and unencumbered by the things that usually bind my time.

Rest

We hear all the time how good rest is for us, physically, spiritually and emotionally. I don’t think I really have a grasp on how important it can be and how not getting it can affect my relationships and my attitude. I don’t think most of us know that. We fill our time so we don’t have to spend that time reflecting. We don’t like to face ourselves in silence and think about things we’d rather forget. In some weird way, we like to give up free time because being busy makes us feel important and needed. I know that I feel guilty if I’m not filling up every moment with work, but I keep reminding myself that doing the things that help me feel rested is good work too. It’s important. It’s like hitting the reset button, turning my head and my heart off and turning it back on again. Sometimes that goes a long way toward fixing the things I don’t like in my life.

So here’s to resting, to taking time off work, to thinking about nothing! If this is an indication of 2016, it looks pretty good so far!

The Best Way to Travel with Kids

 

Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

I’ve been a mom for almost thirteen years. All of that time, we’ve lived far away from family. That means that most “vacations” have been trips to the grandparents’ houses and have involved driving long distances with very small and very squirrely people. We’ve tried all kinds of methods to get from point A to point B without a murder/suicide pact, but I discovered the best one yet last week: travel with coworkers.

It sounds crazy, I know. In fact, before we left for our 14-hour road trip to ICOM (International Conference on Missions) in Columbus, Ohio, I dreaded the idea of packing my husband, my three children and myself into a mini van with my boss and another professor from the college where we work. I imagined hours of monotony infused with severe whining and me maybe doing something horrible like yelling at the kids while simultaneously trying to hold an adult conversation with a Ph.D.

My boy is the cutest boy.

My boy is the cutest boy.

As it turned out, though, I was very wrong about the whole thing. In fact, I hadn’t even considered the idea that the presence of outsiders might make our family nicer to each other. My children, being preteens and old enough to entertain themselves for longer stretches than 3.2 seconds, brought books, notebooks, homework (!), DS games, and they actually kept themselves busy about 70% of the time.

Of course, kids their ages are decent at being nice to each other, but sometimes they get tired and feel cramped and bored. When that happened on this trip, the children did something wonderful. Instead of yelling at each other and pushing each other around, they calmly (most of the time) expressed themselves and guess what! Having two extra adults in the vehicle proved wonderfully handy. Instead of Andrew and me shouldering the entire burden for entertaining and refereeing, whenever the boredom started setting in, one of the other grown-ups came up with something interesting for them to talk about or listen to or do. Imagine that! We brought a village in the van with us, and they helped us raise our kids for a few days.

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving...

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving…

One of the professors regaled us all with stories from his doctoral dissertation in literature, and that proved interesting and informative.  During the long ride home, in what felt like the middle of the dark night but really was only about 6 pm, the other one broke out in a narrative poem/story he recited from memory. Very impressive, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss.

The best parts, though, were not related entirely to the children’s behavior. I watched us all together and I realized a few things.

1.  I enjoyed seeing my coworkers in a different and unusual setting. I see them at work, interacting with students and other faculty and staff, but I never see them on a ridiculously long road trip with children. They both have grandchildren of their own, though, and I got to see the grandfather come out in them. I like them better now, having seen how gently they treated my children. Like I said above, my children don’t get to see family very often, and this trip reiterated for me how God provides families for us when he leads us far from our biological families.

2.  Children spend more time with their parents than anyone, and I think that sometimes can get oppressive. They need other people’s input in their lives. Seeing other adults, listening to them talk, hearing the way they spoke to each other and to their own children on the phone during the trip gave my kids a different perspective, little glimpses of other ways to view the world. Not to mention that they listened to us converse about things other than what was for dinner and whether the cats and dogs will ever get along in our house. They got to hear about theology and literature and ministry and all sorts of important things that I know very little about and rarely discuss with them.

3.  My own behavior improved drastically on this trip because nothing will make you nicer and more patient with your children than having your boss sit there and listen to you talk to them. I realized how much my attitude affects the children’s behavior. The old saying holds some truth: “If Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” That can go for Dad, as well, of course. One person can bring down a carload, and one person can build up a carload as well. I need to remember that in everyday life!

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year's ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year’s ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

So now that we have made it home and have managed not to do anything horribly embarrassing, we can be thankful for the experience. I think my kids will remember the time they travelled with the faculty! Now if we can just convince them to go with us on our next family vacation…!

What If People Talked About Soft Drinks the Way They Talk About Coffee

I’m visiting my sister in Hawaii this week. Yes, I know. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it. You know, beaches, beautiful sunsets, warm weather. We ate dinner outside last night, and no mosquitoes attacked us, no prairie wind blew our dinner off the table, and we did not even have on jackets.

How interesting that the beautiful lamp silhouette appears just in front of the sun...

How interesting that the beautiful lamp silhouette appears just in front of the sun.

But I hate to unload my troubles on you.

Besides the heavenly surroundings, I get to be with my sister. Until this trip, I hadn’t seen her since she and her husband moved away from the midwest about three or four years ago. It seems like a lot longer than that, since my kids were just little things when they left and now they’re getting ready for being teenagers, but I guess it was just a few years ago.

At the beach, in case you didn't notice.

At the beach, in case you didn’t notice.

I’m blessed with a good relationship with my sister, which is interesting to me because I can’t say I’ve had the very best relationship with the rest of my family all of these years. My sister and I never really argue about stuff. We did some when we were little, and I remember an epic battle when we were teenagers. It had to do with a fan that she kept pointing at me, even though I said I didn’t want it pointing at me and moved it away every time she moved it toward me. (I only fight over really important stuff like that.) Full of rage, I saw her impossibly large, 80’s-teased-out, curly hair and impulsively grabbed a handful of it and pulled. She rose from the couch in painful indignation and ripped out half my bangs. I mean, I heard those babies screaming as their follicles left my head.

At that moment, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. Although she is younger than I am, my sister has always been a force to be reckoned with physically. I have always been able to reason my way to winning just about every argument, but if it ever comes to a knock-down-drag-out with her, I am destined to lose, lose, lose. And in a way that I will probably never forget. Like the time she punched me in the stomach and knocked the breath out of me or the time she grabbed both of my arms and wrestled me to the ground. Yep, I think twice before I tangle with her physically, especially now that she’s a personal trainer and I’m an overweight, middle-aged mom who would rather sit at her computer than run a mile.

That last big fight over the fan ended with her chasing me to my parents’ room and me waking them up to beg for protection, which is what I usually did, being the tattletale oldest who could probably make anything look like the other’s fault (sorry, Emily!).

So we get along pretty well and have come to the comfortable place where we don’t really bring up things that I can verbally bash her in or things that she can send me to the ER about. Instead, we like to make fun of things. That was one of the things we were both looking forward to doing when I came here, and I yesterday we started the fun.

It was morning, and I saw their coffeemaker and told her how I have thought about getting a Keurig machine. I don’t really drink enough coffee to make a full pot of it, so it seems like a waste of time to get out all of the stuff to make coffee. Seems like it would be easier just to pop one of those little thingies into the machine and make one cup. She said she didn’t drink coffee, and I said I don’t like coffee, but I drink it because if I don’t drink it I’m going to want to drink Mt. Dew.

There, I said it. In the morning, first thing, I will pour a cup of super-healthy Mt. Dew if I can. Before I even think about it, I will grab that 2 liter and swallow down enough calories for a meal. Now that I’m on a health kick and at least trying not to consume a week’s worth of calories in one cup, I’ve cut back on Mt. Dew and all soft drinks. Instead I drink a little bit of coffee in the morning, just so I can have something different and not boring, like water.

The bad thing is that at work people make coffee because they like the caffeine, and I really do not want the caffeine. I would rather have decaf, and I would love it if I could find caffeine-free Mt. Dew in the stores. Unfortunately, it is as rare as a snowball on the Hawaiin beach.

This led to our discussion: what if people talked about soft drinks the way they talk about coffee. Every morning, I read my newsfeed and find all kinds of memes about coffee and how people can’t live without it. When you put it in a different context, you can see how strange it is. What if the newsfeed were clogged with memes about drinking soft drinks early in the morning?

coke baby

mt dew demon

cat

batman

 

Mt Dew sad

Mr Pibb raccoon

It seems odd to me that so many places offer free coffee now. Churches hand it out, my daughter’s orthodontist supplies it, our bank gives it to customers. Why is coffee such an acceptable thing to hand to people, but nobody offers a free Coke to every person who enters. Now that the Keurig machine has made it easier to make a single cup, it seems even more places offer it, but don’t tell me it’s because it’s cheaper than a soft drink. Those little Keurig things cost money, too.

Well, anyway, we had a good laugh over it, and now I’m wondering what more we can laugh about while I’m here. Maybe the teenagers posing like porn stars in their bikinis on the beach?

Things I’d Never Say If I Didn’t Have Kids

You said WHAT?!

You said WHAT?!

There are just some things I never dreamed I’d say until I had kids. I mean, some words should never come out of a sane and culturally-appropriate person’s mouth (see #1). Some phrases sound completely ridiculous when spoken to anyone but a three-year-old, and when I hear myself saying them I just hope no one heard me…or wish someone were here to laugh with me about them if they did! So, in honor of the start of the school year, I present you with a list of some of the things I have said over the years to my children.

1. Do not put that toilet brush in your mouth again.

2. I prefer to use the bathroom without people in the room with me/talking to me/sitting on my lap.

3. Please stop picking a hole in my hand.

4. We all wear clothes when we leave the house.

5. Do not stand on top of a table next to a second-floor, open window while wearing socks.

6. When something is in the trash, it needs to stay there and should never be removed and placed in your mouth.

7. I can’t wait for school to start.

8. Which restaurants have kids eat free tonight?

9. Shorts must be longer than your underwear if you’re wearing them in public.

10. When your father is sleeping, do not jump on his stomach.

11. Let’s buy a hermit crab!

Don't ask me embarrassing questions like that ever again!

Don’t ask me embarrassing questions like that ever again!

12. Did you just poop?

13. Never trust a cat alone in a room with an un-caged guinea pig.

14. Say that again, but this time at least sound like you love him when you do.

15. I think a 12-passenger van is exactly what we need.

16. Eat one more bite. Do it because you love me!

17. You’re only allowed four squares of toilet paper in this house!

18.  You’ll understand this when you get bigger.

19. What would the Wiggles do to cheer you up if they were here (while in the ER getting stitches in a 2-year-old’s head–followed by our family singing a medley of the Wiggles’ greatest hits)?

20. Let’s use our vacation money to visit relatives every summer for the rest of our lives!

IMG_0329

Please do not eat while leaning over my computer.

I know there are more. I wish I’d written them all down! Doesn’t every parent say that at some point? I thought I’d remember all of the funny things. Now middle age has hit, and I can barely remember where I parked my car, much less things that happened ten years ago!

I’d love to hear some of the funny things you’ve said to kids or things your parents said to you. Chime in with your funny stories in the comment section!

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!

 

We Crashed a Family Reunion

This is how I sometimes feel when visiting relatives.

This is how I sometimes feel on vacation. I know I’m not alone in this growly, too-much-fun-is-just-too-much feeling.

I am smack dab in the middle of a week of visiting relatives. And by relatives, I mean step relatives. My youngest daughter, surrounded by my stepfather’s family at a reunion, looked at me with a look of shock and awe and said, “Are all these people my relatives?!” She’s grown up with my stepdad as one of her Papas. He’s treated her like a regular granddaughter. So how to answer that question? Do I say “No, these are just some strangers who have taken us in and treat us nicely”?

I thought for a moment, then said, “Yes, they are your family.” She’s heard all about divorce and remarriage. She knows that Papa isn’t my dad, but I think she needed to fit the new people into her life in some manner, and this was a good way. After all, you can never have too many people to love your children, right?

And maybe I sometimes also feel like this on vacation.

And maybe I sometimes also feel like this on vacation.

Besides, these relatives are actually really great. My mom and stepdad, Tim, have been married for twenty-some years, so even though much of his family lives in Colorado and I live in Nebraska I’ve met many of my stepdad’s relatives before. I went to their family reunion about 18 years ago, when my parents’ divorce and remarriages felt somewhat fresh to me still, and I was unsure how to answer that question of who they were to me myself. I felt strange as an outsider coming into their homes and meeting all of them. Would they even want me there? But they accepted me as one of them from the beginning. Treated me like one of the family when I probably did not, in fact, seem like one of the family to them. Even so, I felt accepted by them.

Last weekend we packed up our car and my parents’ SUV and headed west to Colorado. The vacation promised greatness from the beginning because the children rode in the car with my mom and Tim, and Andrew and I got to spend the entire eight hour trip alone in our car! We all checked into a hotel in Denver, and each night one child slept with my mother, giving us the luxury of only two children, one per parent, and a much easier bedtime routine.

We did some typical touristy things.

We went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. You can see Denver in the background.

We went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. You can see Denver in the background.

Lookout Mountain in Denver. Not pictured: Buffalo Bill's grave...or maybe not. There's controversy over whether he's actually buried there or not.

Lookout Mountain in Denver. Notice that there is at least one stuffed animal in every photo. This is true of just about every picture ever taken of my girls.

Crossed the Continental Divide...

Crossed the Continental Divide and had our picture taken…along with a stranger’s fingertip. So glad we have that little bit to remember him by!

In the evenings, we had dinner with Tim’s family. The children were shockingly polite. My son even impressed his elders by removing his hat during introductions and inside the house. Nobody argued. Nobody spilled anything or had any wild bodily fluid episodes… not even the children!

The very best part of the whole trip so far, though, happened after a discussion of an injury of my mom’s and how she still is taking medication for it. This came on the heels of a conversation about how Colorado has legalized marijuana, so naturally someone commented about how Mom should self-medicate her injury while at the same time enjoy the state’s newest legalized drug. Of course, my mother would never, ever do such a thing, and that made the joke even more funny.

Andrew and I were talking to Tim’s sister-in-law, who was hosting us at this reunion, and told her about the joke. We said she should have made brownies and sprinkled them with some parsley to offer my mom. She laughed and said, “Well, actually, we have brownies for dessert!” We laughed at the irony and thought no more of it…until she came out carrying a tray of brownies and sporting a twinkle in her eye. She held them out and offered them to us. “I made these special brownies for our guests from out of state. Because you can’t come to Colorado without sampling some!”

Brownie, anyone? Come on, you know you want one!

Brownie, anyone? Come on, you know you want one!

This was possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. This woman, a sweet and beautiful great-grandmother with wonderful artistic ability and a soft-spoken demeanor, offered my mother a plate of pot brownies! I still laugh just thinking about it.

Maybe it’s because this other family hasn’t been intimately present in every minute of my business or because I have only a few pleasant memories of them at two short family reunions. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been an adult in their eyes and have been treated like one from the first day, or because I don’t hold them to the high standards with unreachable expectations like I do my own family at times, but sometimes other people’s relatives who have become your own can be a whole lot of fun! And maybe answering my child’s question the way I did showed me that it’s ok to love stepparents and that loving one group doesn’t mean I don’t love the other.

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.