Monday, June 29, 2009

Of Lincoln and Apartment Hunting

Spent an interesting and exhausting weekend in Lincoln with three recent high school graduates, scouting out the apartment possibilities for their college years. I now feel as if I know Lincoln's neighborhoods intricately!  The ironic development is that after visiting dozens of houses, apartments, and duplexes, the boys decided to put an application into the VERY FIRST complex that we visited. I can't complain too much, though. It was good to have them see what else was out there before they made their choice.

I got a very enlightening lecture from one prospective landlord. It was for a duplex that ended up being in southwest Lincoln, which, after I found out where it was, we weren't interested in seeing. However, as I began answering questions from the landlord about who would be living in it and why they were coming to Lincoln, the landlord said "How about your son find his own apartment? He and his friends need to look for themselves." He went on to say that he had been through this with his own children, and that the boys needed to become independent. I can't say that I disagree with him, it was just an interesting source for a lecture of that kind.

Saturday afternoon, we had had our fill of apartment hunting for the day, so we drove out to Fremont to my daughter's in-laws beautiful home on Woodcliff Lake. The boys were a little apprehensive at first, because they couldn't believe it was going to be any fun, but they had a blast! Woodcliff Lake is a man-made lake that began it's first incarnation as a sandpit. The owner created a unique design - a circular central lake with spoke-like coves coming off of the main lake. Today the coves and outer bank of the lake are lined with beautiful homes, some permanent, some summer residences. There's a large community room and a couple of saloons and restaurants on the lake as well, a perfect place to spend the weekend.

Our host and hostess were wonderful, as always. Lots of food and a couple of pontoon cruises around the lake. 

Again under the category of you know you're in for stomach dropping news when it starts out "honey, I'm OK..." It seems that Friday night a fast-moving severe thunderstorm hit North Platte, with a couple of tornadoes and high straight-line winds knocking out power, uprooting trees and blowing off part of the roof at the Union Pacific Diesel Shop. The Mister generally works in a 6' x 6' glass box on the top of a 60' tower overlooking the service track, orchestrating locomotives onto the right trains. He climbed down the stairs at nearly the height of the storm to take shelter in a locomotive cab. His skin is still sand-blasted from the force of the wind. The wind tossed the tower around so much that a half-full pot of coffee was empty while still sitting in the coffee maker. 

Fortunately, no major injuries and the damage is already being cleaned up. As much as I hate being in storms, it's almost as hard knowing that your family is in one and you can't help them in any way.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Nebraska Paradise

For once I'm not going to blog about the beautiful Sandhills of Nebraska. This time I'm going to go on and on about the beautiful Loess (pronounced "luss") hills of Nebraska. The Loess hills are just south of the Platte River Valley, stretching roughly between Cozad and North Platte and continuing on until nearly reaching Highway 6.

We spent the afternoon at the beautiful Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center. The premiere attraction at Dancing Leaf is the reconstructed Pawnee Earth Lodge. The view from the Lodge area is amazing.
As you can see, the topography is quite different than the Sandhills. Rough, steep and treelined.

The banks of the Medicine Creek are one of the richest areas in the U.S. for fossils. Fourteen major and countless minor "type specimens" (the first of it's kind) have been found in the area.
The above is a plaster cast of one of the most unique and largest saber-toothed cat ever found, and it was unearthed right in the area. Among the major fossils found nearby is "Archie", the type-specimen and largest of it's kind, Imperial Mammoth fossil that is on display in Elephant Hall at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. The Museum at Dancing Leaf is filled with displays like this, and trace the development of the Plains Peoples from the times of throwing spears, through the development of the atlatl, then bows and arrows, and finally the influence of the European settlers.

The farm yard of a typical earth lodge dwelling was the most important place in the community. The lodge itself would only have been used as a shelter, with most of the activity of daily life taking place in the yard.
The creek at the bottom of the valley would have been vital to the survival of the residents of the Lodge, but their home was actually placed high on a bluff to protect it from possible flooding.
Even though the afternoon we visited was well into the 90's, the interior of the lodge was cool. The design and thick walls made it so, as well as the control of air flow through the long entrance tunnel. Twelve to eighteen people would live in this lodge, in a matriarchal family unit.
And here are the sleeping quarters. The Lodge is available for overnight guests - complete with sleep-number beds - just add the number of deer hides underneath you until you're comfortable. The accommodations also include full use of the 115 acres, hiking trails and canoeing ponds. Most of all, it includes the expertise of your hosts to explain life in this ancient culture.
Just in case the rustic Lodge isn't to your liking, Dancing Leaf also features comfortable, beautiful cabins, secluded and with spectacular views of the Medicine Creek valley.
See - all the comforts of home.
Dancing Leaf also features an Earth Dial, which documents the rotation of the earth, phases of the moon and tracks the solstices and equinoxes. It compliments the huge Medicine Wheel on a nearby hillside, which unfortunately we didn't have time to hike to.
The Gift Shop at Dancing Leaf carries the most complete line of Native and Earth centered art and gifts available in the area.

Last of all, the beautiful home of the hosts, which they open up to large parties (wouldn't this just be fantastic for a wedding?) of up to 75.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Idea of Paradise

I wish I were a poet or an artist, or even much of a writer or photographer.  Then I could explain just how beautiful the Nebraska Sandhills are. What they smell like. What they sound like. What they feel like.

Since I'm not, I will just have to be satisfied with enjoying them myself and continuing to try in my stumbling way to share them with everyone else.

There were a million things I had to do on Sunday, and I opted not to do any of them, but instead enjoy a hike. I call it a hike because I always carry a backback (otherwise it would just be a walk, and that doesn't sound near as adventurous), and today, I even cut a walking stick. The Mister is always worried that I will encounter a rattle snake or other dangerous critter and not have a weapon. Since a gun is too heavy, and I probably would just end up shooting myself, a walking stick is a good alternative.

I had an inkling it was going to be a great day when a small flock of turkeys greeted me just south of the Birdwood creek.
There were three toms and two hens, but no babies, which I wondered about. I never did get a good shot of their beards, but I think they were big. They gobbled back at a whistle or a shout, and weren't really worried about me, just kept wandering around and eating grasshoppers.

A little further on, my cousins' horses posed for a photo. The little guy in the center is always funny to watch. When they are out running in the pasture, you can tell that in his mind, he is a big horse. He is always straining to take the lead, which he never does, but he tries.
They were especially friendly today.
I parked a little way north of the cabin, because my cousin has had cows in near the house and the fence was up. The gate is too tight for me to open, so I just walked.

When I got to the cabin I stopped to check our handiwork from earlier in the week. Under the heading of "if it's not one thing, it's another" I found that a swarm of bees had taken up residence right near the front door. You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it to really see them, but there were a lot of the little buggers, obviously doing what bees do best, making a hive.

Ah well, I wasn't equipped to do battle with bees, so I left them alone.

A short hike into the hills and I came across a red ant hill. These guys were also scurrying around working very hard. I got real close and took several shots, and hopefully you can get an idea of how many there are.

Unfortunately, I took a little too long to get the shot I wanted. Shortly after this, I was shucking my britches just as fast as I could to squash one of the little devils that had found his way up my pants leg. There are advantages to hiking alone.

I've told you before that the yucca flowers are edible, and that cows find them delicious. Here is evidence. A beautiful yucca stalk eaten right down to the spikes.
After about a mile and a half of hiking and I am rewarded with my first glimpse of the Birdwood.
The beautiful Birdwood valley. It was well worth the hike.

Right about the time I was enjoying the beautiful view, I realized that I had to make it a mile and a half back to the Pilot and I was exhausted!

I started making a mental list of everything that could happen that would spell disaster. Of course, I hadn't bothered to tell anyone where I was, so who knows how long it would take for me to be found. Thank goodness I had Tweeted from a hilltop. At least that would give a clue to my whereabouts.

Now of course, nothing did happen, but even something as simple as rolling an ankle would have made things difficult. I have resolved to always tell someone where I'm going, what route I plan to take and when I expect to be back.

On with the trek. The prickly pear cactuses are in bloom. The little green bees are making the most of the bounty. He's in the right-hand flower. Click to enlarge to see him at work. For being so tiny, these little guys make one heckuva noise. It sounds like a distant siren, or the whining of race cars around a faraway motor speedway. Stop and listen closely and it becomes obvious what is making the noise, but at first they are hard to spot.
Just one of the beautiful draws I passed during the day. On the return trip, I foolishly decided to take a short cut across the draw instead of skirting it. The trip down and across wasn't bad, but as I started up the far side I realized that I was far too tired to enjoy the climb.

I made it though.
There are lots of these balls of what look like spit on the plants. I wonder what they are. One of the first purchases when the cabin is habitable is going to be a picture book about the flora and fauna of the Sandhills so I can answer all of these questions.
Some type of a thistle.
And some pretty yellow flowers.
And a lone pretty pink flower.
There you have it, another beautiful day in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee's always on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lone Schoolhouses

I am old, but not that old. However, I attended a one-room country school from Kindergarten to 7th grade. In Nebraska, one-room school houses are generally known as Class 1 districts, meaning that they only go until 8th grade. When it was time for my older brother to enter High School, my father made the decision to move to town. That town was Sutherland, population about 1,000, with an average graduating class in the high 20's.

It was a metropolis to us country kids, though, and quite a scary proposition.

It has only been recently that I've been thinking about what it must have been like in the reverse. The teachers in these schools were generally young women, in their first job fresh out of teacher's college. Many times they boarded with parents in the area, but in the case of my school and others, there was a small apartment in the basement. 

The school building I attended was sold years ago and moved to some farm or ranch as a storage building, but the two pictured below are very typical. Very isolated, very lonely, very remote. The young women who taught here must have been incredibly brave, or incredibly in need of a job!

I have always felt that Nebraska's Class 1 school districts were a treasure, the small class sizes, low teacher/student ratios, not much opportunity for kids to get in trouble... Unfortunately, the Nebraska Legislature didn't agree with that view and a few years back passed LB126, which in essence, is forcing the closure of all the K-8 schools.

In Broken Bow recently, one of the last Class 1 districts in the county closed. In my opinion, a step backward, not a step forward.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Be bold!

I am not the boldest person in the world. A lot of times I just pretend to be, and other times I have a little help.

The other day, #3 son accompanied me to the Sandhills to do a little work on the cabin. On the way home, we saw the same three antelope I see regularly on the drive. If I had been alone, that would have been the end of the story. If I got a picture at all, it would have been of their white furry rumps skeedadling over the hill.

But, at the urging of the boy, I hopped out of the Pilot, climbed the fence and started stalking antelope.

It's hard to sneak up on any wily critter when a Curlew is broadcasting your every move.

I've always found it to be a good practice that when hiking in the Sandhills, it's best to keep your eyes on your feet, just in case. However, when you're trying to sneak up on something, that's really hard to do. That's why when a toad about the size of a dinner plate hopped across my foot, I about... well, I about jumped out of my skin.

Cross a small rise, run down a gully, top another hill... and here they are, still running away!

Down another small valley and, success! Caught them stopped and looking at me. The boy swears that he saw a little bouncing bundle of baby antelope when we first caught sight of them, but by this time the cautious mamas had him stashed safely in the grass.

It wasn't long before they decided they had better things to do than stand around and watch this crazy woman come closer and closer to them.
Another shot of my favorite native Sandhill plants, getting ever closer to full bloom.
And here I am, after a three-quarters of a mile or so trekking over the Sandhills on my quest, wet to the knees and very winded, but happy that I was bold, for once!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Crazy? Not Us!

As we were finishing up our day of work on Monday at the cabin, the Mister and I decided that we are finally at the stage in the project that, if we brought a total stranger to see the place, they would no longer think we were crazy!

Here are a couple of "before" pictures of the outside of the cabin that were taken on one of our work days last winter.

And now, Ta Da! Here it is with it's brand new roof. No more worrying whenever it rains (and that has been a lot so far this summer, which is a good thing!) that there is water damage going on.

This is a close-up that shows the last little bit of the old porch is gone - the line of rolled roofing that was still attached above the door.
Have you ever known one of those kind of people who come up with real good ideas, but then enlists family members, friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers for help in making it happen?

Unfortunately for everyone else, I am that person.

My brother, who doesn't particularly like heights spent all day on Sunday straddling the peak of a very steep roof to put up all the tin. And that was after he had spent all day Saturday on site, alone, cutting the tin to length.

Of course, it goes without saying that the Mister just shakes his head and rolls up his sleeves whenever I come up with a new crazy idea.

Here are some before and after shots of the interior. This is the attic with all of the fiber wall board hanging down, and mountains of mouse-pee-soaked mattress stuffing all over the floor.

Here it is as it looks now. Don't be a smart-aleck and point out that the floor is only half scrubbed. I know it, and am not looking forward to finishing the job. It gets hot up there real fast in the morning! You should also notice that the Mister got the dividing wall torn down.
And now for the downstairs. I tried to remember the angles that I had taken the original pictures from, and think I did a pretty good job of recreating the shots. A few things to take note of are the barn swallow nest above the door, and the ancient linoleum under all of the debris on the floor.No, it isn't waxed, the floor was just still wet when I took the picture! The Mister rigged up a 50-gallon barrel in the back of his new Ford F-150 truck (can you tell he's proud of it?) to haul water up to scrub with, and it took all of it Monday.
This is the north room. The bedroom which I believe my father was born in, as I know he was born on the ranch, and this is the obvious choice. Again note the barn swallow nest. What isn't obvious in this picture is that the raccoons who lived here for awhile made thier potty in the corner. Can you say ewwww? I did, many times, as I scooped it out.Almost clean enough to live in... all right, not quite, but close.
Another before and after shot of the main room downstairs.
And again, another.Note the bundles of fresh sage hanging on the wall. There is no shortage of sage in the sandhills, so we picked several bundles and placed them throughout the house for purification, and because it smells good. On the next trip up, we'll burn the dried sage in a brazier and hang more fresh.
Oh yes, I didn't forget the dove nest in the window. On Sunday I noticed that it was no longer eggs the mama was sitting on, but babies. I was really worried that all of our shenanigans might scare her off for good, but she kept coming back. This picture was taken Monday afternoon, and the babies are enjoying the sunshine. Doves certainly get prettier as they grow up.

Do you have a renovation project in mind? An historic property that needs some tender loving care? My advice to you is to get going on it. If we had started this project ten years ago, it would be done by now and we could be enjoying it. That said, ten years from now we'll appreciate that we got it done.

As I was scrubbing the floor, feeling like I would have rather been anywhere else but there, tired of the project and wishing I had never even considered it, I got to thinking about how fortunate I am to have the project to do. After all, the homestead had been abandoned for nearly 50 years. It could have been in so much worse shape, but many people committed small acts (and some not so small, like tinning the roof of the barn), that held it all together. My cousins, who have rented the pasture land for years checked on the place periodically, covering the windows, making sure the door was shut, covering the hole in the roof when the chimney fell down.

I wonder what my dad would think of the project. Probably he would still think we were crazy, that there's a lot more important stuff to spend our time on. But he would be the first to tell anyone that I didn't listen to his advice very often! After all, you can tell a Seifer, you just can't tell 'em much!

So that's where it stands today. Thanks for stopping by. Coffee on a camp stove next time.