Friday, August 28, 2009

We Have Such Great Kids

Shortly after 6:00 a.m. on a morning last weekend, the Mister and I woke up to the sounds of children in our living room. We knew they were coming, but had expected them to come quietly in the middle of the night, and then sleep until about noon.

They had different plans though, and arrived ready to start the day. But first the event called for gathering on the front deck to watch the sun come up and enjoy some coffee and conversation.

We were rewarded by a magnificent morning, with the a beautiful sunrise in the east.
If you've wondered about my numbering system, it goes oldest to youngest. Making it home this weekend were #1 daughter and sons #2, 3 and 4, along with one significant other and one dog.

While the breakfast casserole baked in the oven, we enjoyed the changing light and planned the weekend ahead.
That weekend included installing a metal roof on the two garages that the Mister and I, with a little help from our friends had de-shingled over the last couple of weeks. Now we were getting some help from friends AND family in getting the job finished.
Before I left for my job, all of them were them were hard at work.
By the time I returned after a short day at work, they were putting the finishing touches on the projects.
A job like this takes a lot of supervision to make sure it's done right. The boys are working while the Dads are giving hints and tips learned years ago when the tables were turned and it was their fathers looking over their shoulders.
Supposedly a tin roof will never have to be replaced again, so let the next hail storm come! Hopefully it's true, because roofs in Sutherland aren't very old, with hail hitting some parts of town about every year. We see more and more roofs being replaced with tin.

And the work wasn't done yet. The next day, after bribing them with another hot breakfast, I cajoled them into teaming up to wash my windows.
There's a lot of windows, and each one has to be taken apart to be washed. They are old windows, so it's quite a job, but my kids are up to the task.
As you can see, they were very meticulous, and the end result was just fantastic. I highly recommend their work.
Their trip home wasn't all work and no fun... For the fun, you'll have to wait for the next post, but we did manage to have a good time.  The pictures are already uploaded, I just have to complete telling the story behind them, then I'll be ready to share.

The kids who didn't make it home for this weekend, #1 son and #2 daughter are in California celebrating the engagement of the #1 son and planning the wedding that will take place in Idaho next spring. We miss them, and are hoping that we'll have the chance for our rapidly expanding family to all get together then.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why we do what we do

All over the news these days there seems to be stories of people's greed. The pro athletes who won't start playing because they don't think their multi-million dollar contract is quite big enough to pay for their obvious talent and ability, the Bernie Madoffs of the world who enrich themselves by stealing from others, the lavish and over-consumptive lifestyles of today's rich and famous.

I'll really be aging myself here, but do you remember the lyrics to the classic Country song by Loretta Lynn "One's On The Way?" About a million years ago by today's reckoning, but probably in the late 1960's or early '70's.  It compares the lifestyles of the rich and famous to those of us on the front lines of making ends meet in middle America:

They say to have her hair done, Liz flies all the way to France
And Jackie's seen in a Discoteque doin' a brand new dance
And the White House social season should be glitterin' and gay
But here in Topeka the rain is a fallin'
The faucet is a drippin' and the kids are a bawlin'
One of 'em a toddlin' and one is a crawlin'
And one's on the way

This blog post isn't about the hard working Americans and their struggles in every day life. It's about what happens when those hard working Americans find something that needs to be done.

Last night I attended a two-hour meeting with the organizing committee of the North Platte Rail Fest. These hard working folks all have day jobs. Some blue-collar, some white-collar, and some that in-between breed of small business owners who do it all. Busy people with families and responsibilities. Yet they have contributed countless thousands of hours over the past year to plan this year's festival.

Why? Are they going to make the big bucks out of it? Are they going to get much besides Monday morning quarterbacks telling them how they should have done it differently?  For these folks in particular, they get a lot out of it. They get to be a part of something that has changed the culture of an entire community. 

Being a railroad town like North Platte hasn't always caused it's citizens to hold their heads up with pride. By it's very nature, railroading is a hard, long, dirty job. What kinds of people do these jobs? Good ole' fun lovin', beer drinkin', hard workin' but hard partyin' kinds of people. Men and women whose significant others won't let them in the house at night in their work clothes, and who have a separate washing machine to use just on them. I know what I'm talking about here, folks.

But these same people are the ones who have raised families, coached little league, been scoutmasters, church deacons, village board trustees, school board members and generally contributed greatly to the wonderful lifestyle we get to live here in Nebraska.

The people at Rail Fest saw that they weren't getting the recognition that they deserved and created a celebration to change that. They also petitioned Congress to have North Platte officially named Rail Town USA. And now thousands of rail fans come to North Platte each September (the 18th, 19th and 20th this year, by the way) to celebrate the accomplishments of these men and women who keep Union Pacific and America rolling. And the people of North Platte get to hold our heads up high because we're a Railroad Town! 

Rail Fest is only one committee of an organization called Original Town that is a group of people who saw a different kind of need. The residents of one of the oldest sections of town (hence Original Town), needed an advocate to make sure that they weren't overlooked when the clean-up, fix-up, beautification activities happen. I don't know the statistics, but Original Town has helped many families repair run-down homes, clean-up and paint others, and made life better for lots of folks.

Ah, but enough about them. What about North Platte's Habitat for Humanity? How many volunteer hours do you think it takes to build a house? Who knows, but they've completed 26 of them in the past few years, and have three in various stages of construction at the moment.

North Platte's RSVP program? More than 600 volunteers, retired from their lifelong careers, who still want to contribute to the community by giving of their time.

What about my mom and mother-in-law? My mom has volunteered for as long as I can remember at Sutherland's nursing home, spending hours each week bringing some fun to the residents there. My mother-in-law works (for free!) at the hospital and surgical center in North Platte making sure patients have as good a day as is possible under the circumstances.

My brothers and sisters? One brother built an entire house (OK, it was a playhouse) to be auctioned off so the kids of Sutherland can have a swimming pool. Another brother and his wife give tirelessly to their church and the homeless shelter. Sisters? Between school, church, and community work, they still have to fit in real jobs and families.  And we're no different than other Nebraskans.

These are only a small example. Recently I've had contact with the local VFW on a road rally celebrating the 110th anniversary of the organization, local community celebrations, a car show, arts in the park, a gun and knife show, the Nebraska State Rodeo Association, the Lincoln County High School Rodeo, United Way, farmers market, the people who organize a regular Open Mic, Arts Around Town...

I just tallied up the total donated goods and services for a single event that we're trying to bring to North Platte, and it's just over $250,000.00! One event that a team of people are working on like it's their job, to bring to the community that will benefit mostly other people.

The list is truly endless.

It's my job to help organizations like this. Most of these people do it just make things just a little bit better for their community.

According to a study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, Nebraska ranks number two in volunteerism in the nation.
In all, Nebraskans last year donated nearly 67-million hours of their time, which works out to more than 49-hours for every Nebraskan. That’s $1.4 billion dollars in services donated.

All that and we're number two! Can you imagine the numbers racked up by the people in the number one state of Utah?

So, why do we do what we do? I don't know, but I'm just glad I'm surrounded by the kinds of people who do it.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Final Installment of Road Trip 2009 - Colorado's Ancient Legacy

All along the plan had been for Mesa Verde National Park to be the highlight of our road trip to southern Colorado, but we got sidetracked along the way into many other amazing adventures. I'm glad we did, but Mesa Verde is such an amazing place, we really could have devoted much more time and energy to it.

Our first view of the cliff dwellings were breathtaking.
So what is the first thing I did? I forgot the commandment Do NOT lean on the stones! Yes, these stones that I have cavalierly placed my elbow on were laid by the ancient Puebloan people between 1250 and 1300 AD. Thank goodness I didn't knock it over!
The Rangers you get for the guided tours to the cliff dwellings vary greatly in their speaking ability, knowledge of the history and the park, and their attitude. There are three guided ranger tours to take - Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House (the one that you see in these pictures). After you take all three, you'll have an idea of the differing abilities of the rangers. If you took one tour that wasn't particularly interesting, I recommend taking it again with a different ranger. That is, if you're up to it. They are very strenuous.
This particular ranger really enjoyed his work and had a tremendous knowledge of the park and the people they are interpreting.
In the past few years, nearly all of the park has burned. The ecosystem of the burned areas has totally changed from the forest it was before the fire. Here, you can see that prairie is taking over. According to one ranger, it takes nearly 30 years before the soil has recovered enough to support tree life. Many of the trees they planted to try to reclaim the forest died, so they stopped planting.
After our first day at Mesa Verde, which we spent at Chapin Mesa, the furthest from the Visitor Center, we drove into Cortez for dinner. Finally, after all these years of seeing Sleeping Ute Mountain and not being able to pick out the figure, I saw it in person, and the light dawned. Can you pick it out from this picture?
Day two at Mesa Verde started with a guided tour of Cliff Palace, the most recognizable ruin in the park.
The hike to the ruins includes LOTS of steps.
Lots and lots of steps.
But all of the hiking and climbing is worth is once you're down in the ruins themselves.
The NPS has done an amazing job in maintaining these ruins without destroying the integrity of the site. They weren't helped by the fact that most ruins had been discovered and looted long before the area became protected.
Going down all those stairs also means going back up.
As you drive through the park, there are MANY scenic overlooks, some which involve a considerable hike, and some that are only a few steps off of the road. I recommend taking every one of them you possibly can. The Mesa Top Trail is especially rich with places to stop, and from the vantage points provided, you can see hundreds of ruins.
Thank goodness the NPS decided to build stairs and ladders, and not make visitors use the precarious hand-holds favored by the ancestral Puebloans.
The daughter seems to be enjoying the climb, though. This is taken halfway up the ladder seen in the previous photo.
There are yuccas in Mesa Verde as well, but they are a lot different than the ones we're used to in Nebraska. The fruit almost looks like hanging cucumbers.
And here are the two intrepid explorers doing a self-portrait at one of the scenic overlooks.
A kiva in one of the cliff dwellings. Even though kivas are common in Puebloan culture today, their use in the ancient world is still not completely understood. Some experts say they were ceremonial only, others say that they were extended living spaces occasionally used for ceremonies. While most kivas in Mesa Verde are shown without the roofs, which have collapsed, each kiva would have been covered with a solid roof that made a courtyard for the space above.
So are you tired of the views of cliff dwellings yet?
Park Point is definitely a must-do stop. Here is a view of Shiprock in Arizona (many miles away) from the top of Park Point.
It's hard to believe the trip we have been planning and anticipating for more than a year is almost over, but that indeed is the case. Lunch on the final full day was in Alamosa, and we finished in time to watch the departure of the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad
A final quick trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. It was about 4:00 p.m. when we arrived, and the area by the stream was a lot of fun, but when we tried to hike up into the dunes themselves, we quickly realized that it was going to be much more than we could handle. We contented ourselves to cooling our toes in the water.
Just pretend, if you will, that this picture of Nebraska Outback is on her hike down from the dunes you see behind her.
Our final home-away-from-home, a Camping Cabin at the Pueblo Colorado KOA. An absolutely incredible thunder storm rolled in across the Rockies shortly after we got settled in for the night. The light show was amazing. No hail or dangerous winds, just a little rain, light and noise, so it made for an exciting night.
We actually packed up in the morning and made another short detour back to Garden of the Gods. Mostly to shop in the gift shop, but we enjoyed the view, too. Then we had a little retail therapy back at historic Manitou Springs before it was time for a tearful goodbye at Denver International Airport.

It sounds like our next adventure is going to be a long-awaited wedding, then maybe whitewater rafting in Idaho next spring. Sounds like fun!!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Our Heritage in Stone

Even though the calendar says August, summer is definitely drawing to a close. There is a distinct autumn chill in the air in the mornings, the cicadas are crooning their final tunes, the kids have returned to school, and all people can do is talk about Nebraska Football!

As with all seasons, it's a time of transition, and for me this year more than most. Shortly after I get this written and posted, all the kids who came home this weekend will accompany the #3 son to Lincoln for the school year. Sometime this afternoon, the house will be quiet.

The main question the kids asked this weekend is "what are you going to do now?" That is something the Mister and I will have to answer as we go along.

Anyway, it doesn't mean that all of the fun is over. Earlier this week, a perfect evening led to the urge to go on a country cruise, and we choose one of our favorite drives. It's a little rustic, and as you can see, the road must be shared with the local population.
We made a stop about halfway into the trip at an old country cemetery. This is in the country near where I grew up, and back in those days, a small church stood next this little burying ground. I don't know what has happened to the church, but the cemetery is still safe and sound.
In no way do I intend to be sacrilegious by posting the pictures of these stones. I only want to get your mind to thinking about the lives that were lived between the dates carved into the granite. 1842 to 1919, and laid to rest in the middle of the Nebraska Sandhills. What do you think the story is?
There is not much of a story between the two dates on the next stone, but you know the story lies in the hearts of others resting beneath different stones. This, unfortunately, is not an uncommon story in any rural area in the early part of the 20th century, where the lives were hard, and medical car far away.
And again, the heartbreak that lived in this household for these years in the 1920's can be read in the beautiful names bestowed upon the precious daughters.
And again...
And another, with only a single date.
And the lesson to be learned from all of this is written on the stone below:
Remember me as you pass by
As you are now so was I
As I am now you will be
Prepare now and follow me
Something always to remember when considering history, different cultures, or simply meeting new people. While many things may be different, their thoughts and emotions and reactions to life's tragedies and triumphs will very nearly be the same as yours.

And now on a lighter note. It was a magnificent evening, the late summer sunlight slanting down at a soothing angle, puffy white clouds floating across the sky, beautiful scenery and wildlife.
Below is an example of the summer bounteous hay crop being preserved for the winter ahead. These are small round bales, of a type not commonly seen any more, although very popular a generation or so ago. Hay preservation comes in many forms - the simplest being haystacks, then there's the haystacks that look like huge bread loaves, then small square bales, big round bales and big square bales. I may have to do a photo essay on this one of these days.

The main drawback in putting up small round bales is the equipment that is used. Small round balers are vicious little beasts that can be deadly to a rancher who doesn't respect the danger. Many lost body parts and a few their lives, thinking they could clear a hay plug or make a simple repair without shutting the power down.

But the bales do look beautiful sitting in the field.
A little closer to home and we were challenged by a spike Whitetail buck to a race. He gave up, and we went on our way, relaxed and refreshed by our drive in the country.
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to your Regularly Scheduled Blog, Soaring in the Colorado Rockies

Before we could begin our soaring adventure in the Rockies, we first had to make it to Durango. On the map, it really looked easy. Turn south at Montrose, then go through Ouray and Silverton and you're almost there. Reality was another matter. It's a good thing I had had a warm up on Pike's Peak earlier in the day, or I'm not sure I would have made it. Below is a video the daughter found on YouTube. It will give you some idea of the drive, but I don't think it quite conveys the sense of sheer terror driving along those sheer cliffs engender.



Is anyone surprised that I found my way to the Irish Embassy Pub in downtown Durango to relax with Arthur Guinness after the harrowing drive down the "Million Dollar Highway"?


The next morning, it was up bright and early for our ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for our Soaring Tree Tops Adventure.


The scenery heading back up the Animas River Valley was spectacular, and much more relaxing to do by train than by car!

The railroad not only skirts the canyon along sheer cliffs, but at times crosses the river on trestle bridges.

On some of the steeper grades, the engine makes a lot of smoke to get the train pulled over the hill. It's not really clear in this picture, but some of the train cars are open-air. I don't know how comfortable they would be if it's cold, and the smoke may get in, but the view has to be spectacular.

Upon arriving at Soaring Tree Tops, we're given a safety briefing, then hitched into the harnesses that will allow us to zip through the treetops. I need to give a shout-out to the fantastic staff of Soaring Tree Tops Adventures. They are wonderful - friendly, professional, courteous, and highly skilled at what they do. They eagerly follow the directive of the company to learn each person's name, and to make polite conversation during the lull between landings and take-offs. My daughter and I did our best to remember everyone's name, but I know we missed a few. So thank you to everyone at Soaring Tree Tops - Emma, Laurel, Kelsey, Evan, Simon, Noelle, Mark, Kyle, Amanda, Jamie, Montana and Emily and everyone else on this terrific staff. By the way, all of the staff, whether it's the kitchen staff, or the desk staff have guest safety as their number one priority - each of them gives your safety equipment the once-over every time they encounter you. Also, FYI, they are known as Sky Rangers - super hero kind of stuff!

The best description of Soaring Tree Top Adventures has been put together by the company itself on their website:
Soaring® Tree Top Adventures, a canopy tour zip line attraction in the Durango Colorado Mountains is the first of its kind and scale in the United States. The all-day zipline course allows guests ages 5-91 to traverse cables that make them feel like they are gliding through the air like birds from tree to tree, on a network of stainless steel platforms high in the Ponderosa canopy. The canopy tour eco-adventure consists of over 24 zipline spans through alpine mountains, Aspen forests and across the beautiful Animas River. Soaring Canopy Tours® is a fun and safe zip line adventure for the whole family, and is a great outdoor activity for kids, families, corporate groups and adventure seekers looking for a unique Colorado adventure.

Soaring® Tree Top Adventures boasts the largest, highest and safest zip line canopy tour course available, with over a mile and a quarter of zipline spans through spectacular scenery. This Colorado zipline attraction has quickly become one of the top tourist destinations in the state.

Soaring’s® zip lines are designed to offer excitement that is safe and accessible to all ages, with the help of friendly Sky Rangers (guides), who assist at every tree. Soaring’s® canopy tour course has won raves from Petzl climbing gear owner Paul Petzl, who has enjoyed Soaring’s® zip line course and has complimented Soaring® Tree Top Adventures on the ingenuity and safety of their ziplines. Arborist David Temple is also excited about Soaring’s® patented system of suspending its stainless steel platforms in a completely non-invasive way to the old-growth Ponderosa pines it uses without need of penetrating the trees with hooks, bolts or screws, making Soaring® a unique, eco-friendly outdoor adventure as well as a thrilling day long adventure.

Soaring® Canopy Tour’s amazing zip line attraction is remotely located on 180 private acres surrounded by the San Juan Mountains of Durango, Colorado, and is accessible by the Durango & Silverton Railroad. Guests must take the Durango train to access the Colorado ziplines, as no roads lead to the pristine old-growth forest where guests will find this unique outdoor activity.

Soaring® Canopy Tours has been rated the #1 attraction in the United States, as well as the #1 attraction in Colorado in Durango on tripadvisor.com.

I really encourage you to go to their website and see the video available there. These still photos just don't do it justice.

After a little more instruction, we're ready to head out on our first Soaring Adventure.

This is one of the most beautiful sections of the course - it cuts right through the middle of a huge aspen grove. As we were told by one of the Eco-Rangers, an aspen grove is one of the largest living organisms on earth - each individual tree actually being a shoot off of the main root, so they are actually all the same tree. Kind of cool, huh? The Eco-Rangers filled us in on all kinds of nature info throughout the day.

As you can see here, the girl took to soaring like a duck takes to water.

It may appear that I was a little more cautious, but later in the day I did manage to let go and fly, even soaring upside down on one of the longer courses later in the day.
All of this adventure really takes a lot of energy, and Soaring Tree Top Adventures really comes through at lunch. Just look at this gourmet spread, all served high in the trees over the Animas River.

Many of the longer courses criss-cross the Animas River, which makes for some very exciting soaring.

And here's another shot of the beautiful Aspen Grove. I think if you enlarge the photo one of the two of us is gliding down the line.

We were incredibly fortunate this day. Soaring Treetop Adventures is located mid-way between Durango and Silverton, and is only accessible by train or by helicopter. After dropping us off for our adventure, the train continued on to Silverton. Unfortunately for those passengers, it broke down in Silverton, and was more than a couple hours late reaching Soaring Tree Top. However, it was good for us, as it allowed us to Soar over the second half of the course another time!

The final course of the day is right at 1400 feet, and we reached speeds of up to 40 miles an hour while flying down it. Exhilarating best describes the feeling.


Even with the delay, the day was over much too soon, and we boarded the train for our return trip to Durango. Not surprising at all, we slept most of the way back. More of our Colorado adventures to follow!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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