Tag Archives: Grandpa Chronicles

Under a Full Moon

March 3, 2016 by

The hiking trails at Platte River State Park are a jumble of twists and turns, ups and downs, forks and choices. Each junction—each meandering tendril—offers a different destination.

I know the waterfall is down this path, I recall thinking on a recent night hike with my young grandsons, Easton (6), and Barrett (4). The haunted tepee (haunted because I made it so in a campfire tale over s’mores the evening before) is up that trail. And the choo-choo trains that rumble past the edge of the forest what seem a million times a day are best viewed if we instead take that other branch of the trail over there.

The boys relied on Grandpa to know which direction to go, and a full moon lit the way for us in making navigation easy that night.

But the rest of life’s decisions won’t be so easy.

Easton and Barrett will have many choices to make in selecting the paths that will be their life journeys. My hope is that they will always make wise decisions at every junction, but I know that this is wishful thinking.

Along the way I hope that they learn humility, fairness, love, and compassion. I hope they fight for what they believe in. I hope they contribute to their community. I hope they learn how to make a slingshot. I hope they develop an appreciation of the arts and that which unites all of mankind. I hope they hate their first taste of alcohol. I hope they come to learn that peanut butter and salsa sandwiches are delicious. I hope that one day they will tell me about their favorite author. I hope they visit me when I am a broken-down pile of musty old bones. I hope they remember me when I am gone.

I hope they are strong, safe, healthy, and happy—and have families of their own someday that are the same.

I hope they are curious. I hope they find passion. I hope they reach. Reach for something. Anything.

Most of all, I hope they become exactly who they want to be and are comfortable in their own skin.

Like the trails at Platter River State Park, life for them will be a jumble of twists and turns, ups and downs. The footing will sometimes be treacherous and slippery, but I hope they always have a full moon to guide their way.


Move Along

August 24, 2015 by

This article appears in August 2015 Her Family.

The forbidden occupies a special place in the imaginations of young children, so it’s no surprise that a vital role in parenting (and grandparenting) resides in the task of setting clear boundaries—that process of delineating what is and isn’t allowed. That stove is hot. That knife is sharp. That street isn’t to be crossed.

But curiosity is the fuel that stokes childhood development, and the desire to explore and understand the unknown is at the very heart of learning. I was reminded of this fact on a recent outing to the zoo with my 4-year-old grandson, Barrett.

Like many frequent visitors, we have a specific circuit for navigating the sprawling zoo, one that invariably begins in the Lied Jungle. It’s a place of great adventure for Barrett, but perhaps not for the reason that one might expect.

The attention span of a 4-year-old is about as fleeting as the fame of most reality TV “stars” (Snooki, anyone?), and the trickiest part of any zoo excursion is to get my grandson to focus on the featured attractions—the animals.

Tapirs? Meh. Monkeys of every stripe? Ho hum. Exotic birds in a rainbow of colors? Save it for a box of Froot Loops.

No, what really turns him on are those emergency exits, utility closets, and entrances to hidden passageways situated along the path that wends its way through the dank environs of the jungle. You know the ones, those doors whose cleverly crafted facades are designed to blend seamlessly into the craggy, vine-draped space. They have the power to send Barrett into a frenzy of unquenchable, just-gotta-know-what’s-behind-there curiosity.

“Secret door!” he squeals with every new (and frequent) encounter with these camouflaged barriers. The magnificence of a planet’s flora and fauna is at his feet, but all Barrett seems to care about is imagining what double-super-secret wonders must lie just beyond those doors— those portals to the mysterious and the unknowable.

The same rang true in both “The Spooky Place” (Barrett’s name for the moonlit swamps of the Kingdom of the Night exhibit) and the shark-infested waters of what he calls “The Fishy Place.”

I’m glad that Barrett is curious. I’m happy that he has the ability to conjure visions of some alternate reality lurking just beyond his comprehension. Such inquisitiveness is a great asset and bodes well for a growing mind. And I also take comfort in knowing that the time will soon come when the zoo’s critters will take their rightful place as the center of his attention.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is on every list of the nation’s best zoos, and deservedly so. But I feel that the place is ready for a minor makeover, one where every door is…well, just a door. Remove those faux finishes. Paint them a boring green or black or beige. And please don’t stop there. Install one of those audio box thingies at every door to play a recorded message.

“Move along,” the gentle voice should drone in a continuous loop. “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

Grandpas everywhere will be grateful.


The Grandpa Chronicles

June 26, 2015 by


Article originally published in June 2015 Her Family.

Clouds can be real jerks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for them when playing a lazy afternoon game of scanning the skies for accidental compositions that bear a resemblance to a fluffy elephant, indian chief, or bunny rabbit.

And to be fair, vapors of the cirrus variety are innocent enough. What’s there not to like about the diaphanous tendrils of these angelic waifs of the cloud world? No, it’s those bulbous, low-hanging cumuli (derived from the Latin for “poopie head,” if I remember correctly) that are the real troublemakers.

These bad boys of the ethers demon-strated their bratty stubbornness on a recent camping trip with my preschool-age grandsons, Barrett and Easton. The plan was that a campfire soiree would yield to a bit of sleepy-eyed stargazing. With star chart in hand, I’d be champing at the bit to regale the boys in a constellation-by-constellation exploration of the heavens. Oh, what celestial beauties awaited! Orion! Ursa Major! And (all together now) Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse!”

But a thick blanket hung and pelted us with seven hours of continuous rain through the shank of the day. Like I said, clouds can be real jerks. As if to further taunt us, they receded to reveal a canopy of stars only after the kids were tucked away in their sleeping bags.

So for now I’ll have to settle for stargazing of the indoor variety, the kind that had occurred a few weeks earlier in a visit to The Rose children’s theater. The gloriously gaudy space is a visual treat in itself, but leave it to a small child to be swept away by the simplest of sights. Midway through the play I noticed out of the corner of my eye that 5-year-old Easton wasn’t paying attention to the actors. Instead, he was craning his neck skyward. The production called for a dragon-shaped constellation to be projected on the ceiling. Overhead was a slow-motion parade of stars drifting across the vault of the majestic theater; a mesmerizing star field watching over starlets on the stage below.

The look on Easton’s face was one of awe-filled wonder. It was as if he was chewing up the entire cosmos and digesting it in one big intergalactic gulp. All I could do for what seemed an eternity was to observe the observer, combining the viewer and the view. If only I could have bottled the look in his eyes to make it last a lifetime.

Sure, it was an experience that I had hoped to capture under real stars, but grandpas can’t be too choosy. There will be other camping trips, other starry nights. For now I’ll just have to soak up the magic whenever and wherever it comes.



Catalonia Dreaming

April 30, 2015 by

Article originally published in April 2015 edition of Her Family.

Barcelona didn’t get any snow this past winter.

The soccer-crazed (make that fútbol-crazed) Spanish city that hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics is on roughly the same latitude as Omaha, but its seaside position on the Mediterranean means that its climate is a far cry from the hot-cold rollercoaster ride that is life here on the prairie. Barcelona’s record low temperature came on Dec. 27, 1962, when the mercury dipped to a downright balmy 18 degrees. 18!

By contrast—and based on 30-year averages obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climactic Data Center for the months of December, January and February—the Weather Channel last year ranked Omaha the 5th coldest major U.S. city.

Which means that I am more than anxious for the new season and all its promise of increased outdoor activity, especially camping with my grandkids, Barrett (4) and Easton (5).

I wrote last summer about my first wilderness trek (all the way to the very deepest, darkest corner of my back yard) with Easton, an ill-fated adventure that had me carrying the sleeping child back inside in the wee hours of the morning. He survived the night like a champ, but I tossed and turned due to a noisy, beery party on a neighboring deck. The boys have since been on a series of one-nighters with their parents, Eric and Lauren, in a fixer-upper camper owned by and nicely reworked by Boompa, the boys’ pet name for their other grandpa, Brian.

But I have yet to be able to go camping with my grandsons.

The plan this year is a pretty simple one. I’ll be watching the weather for the first weekend that isn’t too very chilly in the hopes that I can wrangle an invitation to tag along for a campout at an area park. Summit Lake State Recreational Area, located only an hour away and two miles west
of the hamlet of Tekemah, is one of the
usual suspects.

Now, Summit Lake is no garden spot. It’s a manmade lake in a rather sparsely forested setting with meager hiking opportunities surrounded by cornfields. I remember camping there about 30 years ago when the trees in the campsite were freshly planted. My reaction was a limp “meh.” I’ve camped there a couple times over the last two summers and my reaction is still a tepid “meh, but now with more mature, if sparsely planted trees.”

But none of that matters.

What matters is that I’ll be out in nature with my grandkids and their parents. Time, to me, both stands still and seems eternal when camping. And now I’ll be able to experience it in entirely new ways with the grandkids. There’ll be a smoky fire. There’ll be some smoky red meat above that fire. And there’ll be s’mores oozing with gooey goodness before the boys settle into their sleeping bags for the night after a not-too scary ghost story or two.

The Catalonian capital of Barcelona may have better climes, but I’ll take Summit Lake with Barrett and Easton any day.