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My Brother the Tour Guide

After Christmas mom had to go back to work. We were left to fend for our selves with nothing to entertain us. So Justin stepped up to the plate. Actually he loves to plan outings. He is the one that plans any vacation, and he finds the coolest things to do. He found the jeeps to rent in Colorado. We had a blast four-wheeling through the mountains. It was just like the song.

But that is beside the point except that once again he went above and beyond the call of duty to find fun things to do. On Thursday we headed into the city, or at least close enough to it for us. We went to Brookfield Zoo. It was cold out and hot in the buildings, hardly any people were out and it was free, it was awesome. The Goblin Child was excited to see some of the animals we had been talking about, the bears that hold their paws up and say grrrr! Zebras and giraffes, mostly a big white bird, she saw it and said bawk! As I tried to explain that chickens say bawk, birds say chirp or tweet, we haven’t decided for sure yet, the big white bird said “Bawk!” We sat and looked and “Bawk”ed at it for a long time. Justin and Stephani had came very well prepared bringing strollers and blankets for all.

As it grew dark the lights came on. It was dazzling in the evening chill. The beautiful old brick buildings and tree lined walks all decked out for Christmas. The crowds grew and carolers came out to entertain. We made one last stop at the children’s zoo, an indoor interactive play ground for the children. They ran about for a bit and we got to see and pet a chicken, very exciting I guess, apparently she never gets to do that at home. Then with us adults being utterly exhausted we made a quick stroll through more lights and headed home to meet mom for supper at, my favorite, Portillo’s . I used to eat there almost every day before I moved away.

The next day mom got up and went to work even earlier than usual, I think she left by four, so she could get done in time to join us for lunch and the afternoons entertainment. We picked her up, leaving her car behind in a parking lot, we already had to take two vehicles to fit all the car seats, three seemed a bit extreme.  Heading north we made Hu Hots in time for lunch. It was my brothers special birthday lunch, Happy Birthday Justin!

After stuffing our faces until it was uncertain whether we would ever be able to move again, we went to the museums. I don’t even know the name of them which is very sad. They sat right on Lake Michigan, two years ago when we tried to go see them they were closed and we spent lots of very cold but fun time walking on the beach. This year they were open and with the children we decided to forgo the water. The first had a big model train set up just inside the door and half our group never made it past there. The rest of us enjoyed looking at fossils and art and I can’t even remember what else, but it was fun.

The second museum looked very un-child friendly when we walked in. It was a civil war museum and you had to pay to do part of it, we of course opted for the free parts. On the ground floor was a very haunting memorial to all the American wars. A dark room with stars twinkling overhead and soldiers from all eras around a campfire. Upstairs was the typical museum and a great library with legos for the kids to play with even costumes to try on. I’m afraid that Stephani and I enjoyed that far more than the children. The end of the building was all glass to admire the view of the water from. We watched from there for the trolly to come so we could catch it for a ride.

When it came around the corner we raced to meet it in time and enjoyed a ride around the town on a real old fashioned trolly. It was bright yellow  and fun, if The Goblin Child hadn’t been so completely exhausted it would have been tempting to go a couple of rounds. After that we headed home, all of us being wore out. Mom, dad, Goblin Child and I went to get moms car and the others took a more scenic and hopefully less traffic rout through Wisconsin and down through Richmond Il. They did get home first if not by much and ordered us all pizza from Lou Malnati’s. It was delicious. If I keep mentioning food it’s only because that’s the whole point of most vacations, perfectly normal right? Thinking about it now is making me very hungry.

Merry Christmas

I figure it’s better to say it late than never. That is also my stance on Christmas cards, The last batch will be in the mail soon, I promise. We kind of ran out of envelopes and time.

Mostly though I am referring to Christmas itself.

We were awoken by the sound of stampeding hooves above our heads. Or possibly a very excited twoish year old excited about opening his presents. We rolled out of our nice comfy air mattress, after a full nights sleep, and prepared to go above stairs.

Mom had breakfast cooking on the stove, Justin was working to keep Sabbath from opening his presents. We leaped into the foray. Paper flew every which way as we tore into gifts. Sabbath had carefully chosen a bottle of Mountain Dew for his father, beautiful perfume for his mother, and m&m’s for Elly. We opened presents for hours it seemed. The Goblin Child was surprisingly reluctant to rip wrapping paper to shreds. I thought that would have been right up her ally.

Mom and Dad’s house is the perfect Christmas house. It is a beautiful house anytime, only slightly newer than my brothers, nineteen seventeen or maybe nineteen o seven, somewhere around there. They have worked hard at bringing out its character and inner beauty, now, all decorated for Christmas it really shines.

Once done with presents we went back to breakfast. This being one of the few time when mom cooks, she was not only cooking but making us her world famous pancakes. If they aren’t quite world famous they should be. She spreads them thin and with the help of lots of butter and syrup she grills them extra crisp, then folding them in half, fills the center with chocolate chips. Words can not begin to describe the heavenly taste. Of course if we had them more than once a year we would be dead form all the yummy ingredients.

So full we could barely move from a delicious breakfast and exhausted from the excitement I really can’t remember the rest of the morning but I know that at some point we headed for the barn. I hadn’t gotten to see the new horse yet and couldn’t wait. My poor, long suffering husband came along to watch the child and they waited in the heated tack room while we rode. Except for a brief ride with grandma, for the child, not the husband. We did not make use of the beautiful new riding helmet she got for Christmas but fortunately no one fell off so it was hardly needed for this ride at least. We will make good use of it as she gets older and we can ride more.

It started snowing on the drive out and we bravely ventured forth into the rapidly increasing snow for our ride. Indie proved to be just as nice as I had heard. He went along happily if not as speedily as is his usual. We can blame that on the deep snow already on the ground making it hard for them to walk. We enjoyed dashing through the snow and made two laps around the hay field before heading in. The snow was starting to accumulate by then but we didn’t let that deter us from taking a wending rout home so we could see the deer.

Mom boards the horses on the outskirts of Bull Valley an absolutely gorgeous, something, I’m not sure what to call it, not a town just an area containing acreages and horse properties with big beautiful barns and pastures flecked with jumps. The houses are old, big and grand. We drove through the tree lined streets in the softly falling snow. Christmas lights were on shining in the wintery gloaming. The best of all was a pasture inhabited by lit reindeer. The lay on hill sides and leaped though trees, they were even jumping over the road. We slowed and gawked in awe.

If I mention mom’s pancakes I can’t leave out dad’s stew, we dinned on it that night and many others. It was spectacular and filling on the cold winter days. He has become quite the cook.

Christmas Eve

The child slept beautifully, we got to sleep in and catch up a little on sleep, oh wait no, that’s not what happened at all.

Did you know it’s harder for a tired child to sleep than a well rested one? It’s something I have learned well over the last year. The Goblin Child was so tired and in a new environment that she could hardly sleep at all. We gave up on the crib altogether. I do not like sleeping with the child in our bed but it was proving to be the only option. That way when she woke up every hour screaming at least she had been asleep for a little bit in between.

She woke up bright and early the next morning and I got up with her so at least one of us could get a little rest. It was so nice to just hang out and visit with my family. Mom had to work but dad was there and my brother and his family came over. After that we went over and finally saw my brothers new house.

It was so exciting they bought it over a year ago and I hadn’t seen it yet except in pictures. It is an old, old Victorian built in eighteen eighty six, it was in very bad shape. It had been repossessed and fairly trashed before they got it, but it was quite affordable with some beautiful points. He has been slaving over it ever since. He and my dad worked hard to refinish the hard wood floors, tear down ceilings, put up dry wall and fix plumbing. The beautiful old house is really starting to shine again.

Mom called while we were admiring and ordered us to stop by Tractor Supply and check out the boots they had on sale. My brother found a pair, we found my husbands preferred style for quite cheap and while looking for a pair in my size the sales lady discovered that the boots my sister-in-law and I were looking at were on sale for four dollars and twelve dollars respectively. My opinion of them went from so so to love, instantly, and we all got new boots for Christmas.

That night we got to attend the Christmas program at the church school where my brother works. If Willow Creek was Trans Siberian then Willow Creek North Shore was The Piano Guys. They opened with, or at least the first one we saw having arrived a little late was,  Carol of the Bells. The band was scaled back considerably form Willow Creek, it only added to the performance. There was a man on the drums, a guy rocking the keyboard and a woman who stole the show on the cello. Of course I could be prejudiced since it is one of my favorite instruments.  The night before we had a grand view from high up on the balcony, that night we sat in the second row.

After the great show we retrieved The Goblin Child from Promise Land only to find that she had found her first love. She had fallen asleep in a chair with a darling boy, a little old for her, maybe six. He sat still the whole night patiently letting her sleep. We took her and Sabbath to the cafeteria to decorate cookies and they found each other again. She was fascinated by him and he was happy to play with her. They and some other children ran laps, in a very well behaved manner of course. She really wanted him to pick her up, he wasn’t really all that much bigger than her. The time finally came when we had to pry them apart. He was very sad to hear that we were only visiting and she wouldn’t be there to play again.

The celebration wasn’t over yet, we went home and let the kids open one present each. The kids included my brother and sister-in-law. My husband and I abstained, we were able to contain our enthusiasm for one more night.

That night we got the best Christmas present of all, the child slept.



We awoke the next morning, I use the term loosely I’m not sure there was much sleep, somewhere in Iowa. Our stewardess? (whatever they are called on trains) kicked us out of the room so she could convert the beds to seats. After spending the night sleeping with our suitcases she informed us that not only could they be stored downstairs on some shelves but that we had to get them moved there.

The child and I went to find the dining car while my pack horse husband hauled luggage. It was our first taste of communal dining. I saw an empty table so I sat down. The waitress looked at me and I could tell from her malevolent glare that I had done something wrong. She was a wizened little thing wearing a rather unlikely Christmas elf hat. Apparently trying for a little Christmas spirit? Mostly the juxtaposition was startling. She demanded to know how many were in my party was it just me and the child? When I told her we were waiting for another she allowed me to keep my seat but quickly ushered a man into the booth across from me. I was a bit startled, unused as I am to eating with strange men.

When my husband returned, also surprised to find me dining with a stranger, we looked over the menu quickly deciding to split a nine dollar plate of pancakes. The poor unhappy waitress reiterated that the meals came with our room and we decided we could be much more liberal in our choices. By lunch we had the whole thing down and ate with out so much as a scowl from our server.

Iowa is a beautiful state with rolling hills and groves of oak trees, Illinois much the same and it was nice to be able to look out and enjoy the view with out having to drive. Unfortunately the train didn’t lull the child to sleep the same way a car ride does. Even without that pleasant trait there is something about a train, the muted roar of the engines as the steel wheels grind along the tracks. With each bump and sway a fear that this is the time the bounce will be to hard sending us hurtling off the track. It is a complete disconnect with the world outside this metal and glass universe in which we are temporary inhabitants.

As our destination drew nearer, and estimated time of arrival became later our contentment with our situation diminished slightly. We were supposed to arrive at one forty three, I love the exactness of their predictions. The train pulled in a good hour and a half late. My dad picked us up and we rushed home to get ready for our evening out.

Mom had reserved tickets for us at the six o’clock performance of Willow Creeks Christmas program. We should have had plenty of time to spare, as it was we arrived right on time slightly freshened but still a bit grimy from the train ride. The Christmas program is always a highlight of the trip for me, they do it up big. The opened very Trans-Siberian Orchestra like. A huge light show and very drum based.

Not very church like you think? Nonsense.

It was a very interesting rethinking of the three wise men, how could you tell that story without a drummer boy and the guiding star. They made a great video that played on the big screens interspersed with their spectacular music. In this remake the wise men were nineteenth century scientists and astronomers.  We sat in the top balcony, there are two. The rails were hung with swags of greenery and white lights it is huge and beautiful.

We checked the Goblin Child into promise land, other wise known as children’s church or sabbath school depending on the church, usually she loves it. I think she did here too, or would have if she she had gotten any sleep at all in the last twenty four hours. We got to experience having her number flashed up on the screen, that’s the way they call parents to come get their children when they are having problems. Rushing as fast as we could from clear upstairs to clear downstairs we found her finishing a crying spell but mostly happy. When I took her from the lady who was holding her she leaned in for a cuddle then wanted to go back to the lady. So much for wanting her mother.

I wanted to take pictures of everything but as soon as we walked in the church door my phone died.

Christmas Vacation, the Beginning

She took the long drive down very nicely.

She took the long drive down very nicely.

Following weeks of worrying about every little detail the day finally arrived, it was time to catch a train. The morning was cool but clear with lots of sunshine perfect for traveling. We had a twenty percent chance of flurries, no problem. We got chores done and finished packing then laid the child down for her nap and snuck in a quick one for ourselves.

We woke up to snow. What the heck, when did that happen? No problem the radar showed it mostly north of us and we were heading south, it was only supposed to be flurries anyway. We were still good to go. The roads were snow covered but not slick we made good time for maybe six miles.

As we came to the intersection It seemed at first that there were cars scattered everywhere. We slowed to go through and realized they had wrecked. We came to a stop and realized they had JUST wrecked. Pulling to the side of the road I remember seeing a man carrying a child up out of the ditch. All we could see was little legs dangling limply over his arm.

I stayed in the car to watch our own small child while my husband went to see if he could help. There was a minivan, what was left of it in the middle of the side road. A woman sat in the passenger seat, I never saw her move the whole time we were there. The whole front end of the van was gone, not a drop of glass remained unbroken and pillows, blankets and a cooler of snacks for the trip were scattered across the highway. In the ditch was a pickup smashed into the bank, the front windshield had a hole in it.

As I called 911 my husband came back to the car with two children in tow. They were rumpled and bruised and needed a warm place to wait for help to arrive. As they got in the operator asked if anyone was hurt should they send an ambulance. I looked to my husband his answer was a resounding yes. Lots of blood he said, then headed back leaving me with the boys.

I have seldom wished so desperately for the right thing to do and say. I had aspirin but knowing the rules, for horses at least, hesitated to offer any before they saw a doctor. I offered a bite of candy, chocolate is my cure for everything. They didn’t want any. We talked, they told me about their lives and visiting their grandparents for Christmas. Shortly their father came to check on them he was nearly frantic and trying to hold it together. His wife was injured but holding up, I guess, and his youngest boy was laying in what little shelter their destroyed van could offer bleeding and screaming. As a mother I can’t begin to imagine the horror. He looked them over briskly telling them they were OK then broke for a moment clutching them and sobbing before he regrouped and went back to the others.

It seemed like ages before the ambulance got there. It’s a volunteer department so the guys had to rush in from their work then back out on snowy roads. Once there they had to figure out who to help first. The young boy won but fortunately a fire truck was close behind. In my concern over the small child and the chaos of the scene I didn’t realize until we left that the girl who had been driving the pickup was pinned inside. She had gone not quite through the window then was tossed into the passenger seat. Her poor father was there also, called to the accident from their nearby house, he was sick with worry for his daughter.

We had a train to catch though and by the time enough police and other much more qualified people showed up we decided it was time for us to be going. The boys moved to the warmth of a police car and we watched them go wishing again that there was more we could do. With the horrors of the wreck fresh on our minds we headed off down the slick snowy roads.

Over an hour later than our original start time, we had to drive slower because of the snow and began to worry a little about making our train. We had allowed plenty of leeway though and it was only a snow flurries we would be out of it in no time, not. We planned to meet family in Ogalalla for supper and thought we should still be able to squeeze it in. We called just past Ash Hollow to tell him we were coming then the semi we were following chickened out after seeing a fellow semi spinning out going up a hill on the highway, he slowed to about ten miles an hour. I thought we were never going to get there. We did though and had a delicious supper. All the in town restaurant goers assuring us the whole time that the roads weren’t really bad, the salt trucks were out.

Back on the road again they were great till we go out of town. The hour and a half drive from there to the station took three. We crawled along feeling like we were speeding at forty then down to thirty as we tried to see the road ahead. Luckily the train was delayed as we arrived at the original leave time. So with fifteen or so minuets to spare we got to know our fellow travelers. A newly pregnant young actress was heading to Omaha and a young couple with a year old boy were heading to Naperville right along with us. Not the crowd I expected, not sure what I was expecting but it wasn’t this. We got along great until we said we had a sleeper. Then everybody decided we were pretty highfalutin, the reverse snobbery is simply astounding.

The Goblin Child lived up to her name. She scampered back and forth across the bed and screamed that special ear splitting scream at the top of her lungs at any attempt to restrain her. I spent the drive down wanting to clutch her to my chest and never let go, within ten minuets on the train I wanted to beat her. I didn’t of course, that should go with out saying but thought I should clarify. Did I mention the room was three feet wide?

We opened the door carrying a car seat, two suitcases, a diaper bag, purse and so on and found bunk beds, a foot of clearance between them and the door and that was it. No room under to stash bags no closet no nothing, it was a bit tight. It was a rough night and I wish I could apologize to our neighbors for the racket.

On the bright side we got a text from a sister-in-law saying that the people in the minivan were alright, the boy had only needed stitches apparently receiving no other injuries from being thrown clear out of the car. I hope that story was right because Chadrad got the story totally mixed up.

To be continued…….

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


Fortunately 2013 was not nearly as exciting as 2012, nobody can take that kind of a year twice in a row. This year our Christmas letter will be almost completely child-centric. It was a year of firsts for Elly.

January: Elly sat up for the first time this month and we began ordering seeds for this year’s garden.

February: Elly started eating solid foods, her first taste being cherry mash given to her by her father. We started the garden seeds indoors, hoping to hurry spring along.

March: Megan took Elly for her first ride on a horse and she got her first taste of garden dirt. We took her on her first vacation to see Aunt Doris and Megan’s entire family in Lincoln and Omaha, after which we all got VERY sick with the stomach flu.

April: Larel took Elly for her first four wheeler ride and we planted potatoes just in time for the big spring blizzard. A few calves were lost but we faired better than many.

May: We had the first hail storm of the year but it got the rain started and it didn’t shut off all summer. We stayed busy planting the garden, taking cows to pasture, and planting corn in the fields.

June: We got many more hail storms the worst of which missed us. The garden thrived and we feasted on produce from the greenhouse.

July: Elly enjoyed a busy first Fourth of July. We watched the parade in Crawford and took our yearly pilgrimage to Hot Springs, SD to purchase fire works and partake of homemade ice cream. Elly liked the fireworks although her bed time interfered with her enjoyment of the night. To celebrate Elly’s birthday we took a trip to Omaha to visit her grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousin. Also, we stayed at the Lied Lodge and explored the arboretum in Nebraska City.

August: This was an extremely busy month for us. It didn’t help that school started on the 7th this year. Larel didn’t feel like he had enough time to get all the work done he needed to before the kids and teachers started showing up at school. Elly celebrated her first birthday with family and friends, and lots of food and cupcakes. Larel saved a small kitten from the middle of a road and thus, Elly gained her first pet cat. Unfortunately for the kitten, Elly also took her first steps and started walking during this month. By attending his class reunion, Larel was forced to recognize that it was over 20 years ago that he graduated high school.

September: Elly’s Aunt Shannon graciously agreed to watch her while Larel and Megan drove to Scottsbluff to see the Marty Stuart concert. It was totally awesome by the way! It’s too bad music on the radio today isn’t as good as that was. There was a terrible storm that went through Hay Springs, bringing large hail and strong winds. During the storm, the roof was ripped off the high school auditorium. Repairs are still being made to the inside of the building.

October: This month started off with a full-on blizzard. We all agreed that it was way too early for that much snow, but it didn’t stop the storm from dumping on us. Elly’s grandma and great-grandma were here to see her dress up as a cow and take part in Moonlight Madness in Chadron. Several days later, Elly dressed up as a Nebraska cheerleader for her first Halloween.

November: Corn harvest came and went but not before Elly had her first combine ride. Our church provides care for children while parents attend service. We had been contemplating leaving Elly with the other children in the nursery and finally got the courage up to do so. We needn’t have worried…in fact, Elly actually cried when we came to pick her up because she was enjoying her new friends so much! Megan has started a DSC02657store on selling child’s dresses and antiques, it has been quite an adventure.

December: Since we didn’t travel back to visit Megan’s family last Christmas because of young Elly, this year we will be making the trip. Because of the nightmares associated with flying and driving, we are planning on taking a train to Illinois. It remains to be seen if it’s less of a nightmare, but it sounds fun at this point. It will be a first for both Larel and Elly! And last but not least Megan got Elly a horse for Christmas. It is a little early, but you have to start out the child on the path they shall follow.

Megan, Larel and Elly


I have never heard of it. Apparently it’s a country in Africa. On the western coast to be exact neighboring Ghana and Benin. That was as long as I was able to concentrate while reading about it on Wiki.

But it seems that we bought some little girl there a Christmas present. Our church participates in Operation Christmas Child a project run by Samaritans Purse. They have people fill a shoe box with gifts, what ever will fit but they offer some suggestions such as soap, a toothbrush and writing supplies. These things seem so rudimentary to me, it is hard to believe that there are children out there who don’t have the most basic of their needs met. It almost felt insulting to be giving a bar of soap, I mean really, I would be horrified to receive such a well meaning gift. We are so privileged.

We got to choose boy or girl, we went with girl because we have one and I thought we kind of got what they are like. And age we chose two to four again we have one, almost. The other option was whether or not you wanted to know where your box ended up, of course. Although now I want to know so much more. Who is she, what is she like, did she like any of the stuff? I understand it is a largely agricultural society, does her family farm like ours does? Did she really need soap and a toothbrush? I included a little horse statue, do they farm with horses? Should we have sent a toy tractor instead? Click here to read about Togo, and the Christmas presents

Samaritans Purse offers some really cool charities my favorite of which is their agriculture program. They will give a pregnant animal, goat, cow, what ever or even baby chickens to a family. The family then gives the offspring to another needy family and still has the animal to continue breeding for food, milk, eggs or fiber. They supply seeds and training in farming practices. Live stock to farm with such as oxen and donkeys. Agriculture is awesome.

Christmas Programs

We are headed to Illinois to spend Christmas with my family this year. We didn’t go last year because the prospect of that much traveling with the small Goblin Child was more than we could handle. It still is, she does not travel well, but we decided to persevere. Flying is fast once we get to the airport, only a two or three hour drive. Carrying a crying child on a plane for two hours then trying to walk the mile from our backwoods terminal at O’Hare, seriously we unload onto the runway, they roll out the little steps and everything, while dragging suitcases a child and car seat  was to much.

We thought about driving, two days with the Goblin Child in a car seat. Have I mentioned that she doesn’t hold still? Ever. We were trying to decide wich sounded least awful when a friend asked if we had thought about taking the train. We had not but it sounded like a good idea, so we got tickets.

I am excited and terrified at the same time. The station we chose is four and a half hours according to google. We get on the train around midnight at a stop that has no services no anything but a parking lot. The number of things I can think of that could go wrong are astounding, the ones that haven’t occurred to me yet boggle the mind.

Other than that it sounds great, we splurged for a room. Folding bunk beds, ah the luxury. I am hopping the child will fall back asleep after we find our room carrying a screaming child through a train full of people trying to sleep at midnight. She really is a good kid traveling just has not worked well so far.

Have I mentioned that on the return trip we get off the train around the same time? Later I think. Our car will have been sitting there by its self probably in below zero weather for a week. I’m sure nothing could go wrong there.

Christmas in Illinois though. I am looking forward to it, seeing family and all that but mostly we get to go to the Christmas program at Willow Creek church. It is awesome. Sorry mom, Justin, glad to see you guys too. We also get to see the Christmas program at the church school where my brother works, also awesome. They are huge beautiful productions very grand and well done with great music and gorgeous decorations. They are a highlight of the trip every time we get to go.

But last Sunday we went to a much smaller Christmas program. It starred some tiny children and some medium sized children. Most lines were remembered, the lambs wandered a bit. One spent the whole time facing the back of the stage. It was great. It was sweet and funny and very well produced. Really I loved it just as much as the big fancy one I am looking forward to seeing so much.

Christmas Music

It occurs to me that Christmas is almost here and I haven’t done any Christmas music.

It doesn’t get any more beautiful than this.

Warmer Weather

I carefully turned the wheels of the feed truck into the bank of snow, no parking break here. Pulling the handle I lay my shoulder into the door to open it. Stepping onto the running board I brace against the brisk breeze and nearly fall on my face as my foot doesn’t lift back up off of the running board. Regrouping I yank harder breaking the ice seal that froze my boot to the metal and repeat the process with the other foot before trudging off through the snow to break ice in the tanks for the cattle.

I’m so glad the weather has finally warmed up.