Tag Archives: hiking

Nettles, and Ivy, and Ticks—Oh My!

April 28, 2017 by

Christine Jacobsen likes to see parents taking their kids outside. “There’s more of a risk to keeping them inside,” she says, citing obesity and other problems. Jacobsen, the education specialist for the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District, often heads summer camp programs and outdoor field trips for students. Jacobsen says she took her own children outside frequently “from the get-go.” When her children were infants, her husband and she would take them on hikes in carriers. Her children now appreciate the outdoors. Jacobsen says that the more parents can get their kids outdoors and learning about their natural world, the better.

Many parents fear what dangers may lurk outside. Jacobsen says, “Here in Nebraska, especially in eastern Nebraska, there’s really not a lot to be worried about,” noting that any venomous snakes, such as rattlesnakes, are restricted to western Nebraska. However, one should learn to identify and avoid minor perils such as nettles, poison ivy, ticks, and mosquitoes.

Nettles

Jacobsen advises that nettles are a common plant hazard. She describes nettles as a woodland underbrush, about 2-3 feet tall, with green “sawtooth leaves.” She says they are invasive and often establish in disturbed places such as areas that have been mowed or tilled over. “They move in and take over an area,” she says. The bottoms of the leaves contain irritating hairs that cause redness and itching, she says. Jacobsen’s nettles remedy in a pinch: “put mud on it.” She also advises wearing long pants when in the woods.

Poison Ivy

Like nettles, poison ivy irritates the skin. Look for “mitten shaped” “leaves of three,” says Jacobsen. She also says poison ivy is typically seen in the woodlands, where it grows as a short, understory plant and as vines. “It’s the first vine to turn red in the fall,” says Jacobsen.

Reactions to poison ivy can include blisters, inflammation, and swelling. Jacobsen says the oil in the leaves is the cause of these reactions, and that the oil can be transmitted. Jacobsen’s remedy: washing the site to lift the oil. She advises seeking medical advice for severe reactions.

Ticks

Ticks are another nuisance. Jacobsen says that although the incidence of tick-spread lyme disease (typically by deer ticks) is low in Nebraska, hikers should be mindful of ticks. These arachnids are tear-drop shaped and have small heads. Dog ticks are generally larger and light brown with an “hourglass shape” on the back. “Deer ticks,” she says, “are like pepper—they’re tiny.” Use insect spray as a precaution. She acknowledges that many parents don’t want to put DEET on their children, but Jacobsen recommends it, noting that after being outdoors children should take a shower to wash it off and to look for ticks that may have attached.

Mosquitoes

Nobody likes mosquitoes, but they can be avoided. Jacobson advises using DEET to avoid them as well. She says mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn.Mosquito bites can be irritating. “Don’t scratch,” she says, noting that breaking them open can introduce infections. Jacobsen recommends cold packs and calamine lotion for bad bites.

Even with these minor hazards lurking outdoors, it is worthwhile to let children explore nature. They will form happy memories of hiking in the woods, playing in the mud, or catching their first fish, and develop an appreciation for active living.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

A Professor in Motion Stays in Motion

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The sun barely penetrated the narrows of the canyon. Kris Berg, Ph.D., scrambled over dusty red rock, carefully avoiding the steep cliffs that plunged down 50 yards on either side of him. History and geology combined with each footprint he left behind.

While most come to Las Vegas to roll the dice, Berg would rather hike with his wife in the outdoors, taking in the natural beauties of the world (which he accomplished during a recent winter trip).

Berg is a self-described exercise nut. The physical fitness bug struck him at a young age. When Berg was just 12 years old, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Rather than a healthy boy, people saw him as fragile and sick. In high school, Berg’s coach even kicked him off the football team.

“I’ll show you. I’ll be so healthy that no one would do that again,” Berg thought.

After his family moved, a new doctor told Berg to experiment. So Berg lived his life, not letting diabetes limit his physical abilities.

“Exercise is such a powerful thing,” he says. “People are always looking for a magic pill. It’s right in front of us.”

He played multiple sports in high school and college. The science behind it all stimulated and fascinated him. With a doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Missouri in hand, Berg began teaching at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

“Top to bottom, front to back, he is enthusiastic,” former student Robert Buresh says.

Kris Berg, Ph.D.

UNO had no laboratory at the time so Berg developed one with the backing of the dean. Berg, a prolific researcher, made ties with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He developed an exercise physiology lab geared toward an investigative-driven program which would look at the human body from a scientific angle.

He soon started a special exercise program for Type 1 and 2 diabetes. His own brother had passed away from the disease at 32. Berg spent years of his career dedicated to informing the public on the positives of exercise to help regulate blood sugar.

Berg’s interest never wavered. He tackled osteoporosis next. The Strong Bones Program was born, helping the elderly build up confidence and mobility to avoid falls.

“We were very fortunate Berg initiated this program,” Berg’s former colleague Josie Metal-Corbin says. Although a dancer and yoga enthusiast, 65-year-old Metal-Corbin took the class for the added strength training and sense of community. The classes soon combined into the Adult Fitness Program.

After four books, more than 200 articles, and 45 years at UNO, Berg hung up his tennis shoes last May and retired. However, retirement didn’t stop him from doing what he loves.

Berg still finds time to visit with graduate students who need his help on papers, and he spends two hours or so a day researching.

“I wanted to go on being physically active regardless of age,” Berg explains.

Long and lean at the age of 73, Berg follows a diverse workout plan. He smacks the ball around on the tennis court four or five days a week. The physical and mental “chess match” keeps him sharp. He also still shovels snow, pulls weeds, and hikes.

“I have a tremendous enjoyment of exercise. I never get bored,” Berg says.

At the gym, Berg avoids the machines, preferring resistance training (similar to his classes). He stresses the importance of maintaining coordination and mobility. His goal—for himself and for others—is to prevent age from becoming an obstacle to living life. 

The Adult Fitness Program is open to members of the general public age 50 and older. The supervised fitness class takes place twice a week at UNO’s Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER) Building. The program costs $36 for three months; parking costs $54 for three months. Contact the UNO Exercise Physiology Lab at 402-554-3221 or exphyslab@unomaha.edu to enroll.

Visit unomaha.edu for more information.

10 Cheap Things to do in Omaha This Summer

This is going to be no ordinary summer in Omaha, and the best part is, you won’t have to budget much to enjoy it with your family. There are inexpensive and free activities throughout the metro, from a pool with a pirate ship to a trail that leads to a waterfall. There are indoor and outdoor film series for families, as well as free festivals. Here are 10 ideas for cheap fun in Omaha.

1. Spraygrounds

For free water fun, head to one of the city parks with a sprayground: Benson Park, Fontenelle Park, Kountze Park, Orchard Park, Seymour Smith Park, Upland, Morton, Westwood Heights, and Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge Plaza. These spraygrounds are great because they’re also near playgrounds. You can find additional outdoor fountains and spraygrounds that cost no admission to play in at Omaha Children’s Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, Shadow Lake Towne Center, and the First National Bank Tower.

2. Festivals
Free summer festivals in Omaha have kid-friendly aspects to them, while introducing new things to see, hear, and taste. Dance at a music series like Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing and Stinson Park at Aksarben Village. The Omaha Summer Arts Festival has an entire area dedicated to children’s activities.  Shakespeare on the Green has a tent of costumes for children to try on. Taste of Omaha is free, but you’ll want to buy tickets for food and rides.

3. Hikes

For the price of park admission, an adventure awaits on a nearby trail. One kid favorite is an easy trail that leads to a waterfall at Platte River State Park just outside of Omaha. Head to Hummel Park to search for the staircase that always baffles its climbers—no one can settle on how many steps there are. For a gem hidden in the middle of the city, visit Heron Haven Nature Center just northeast of 120th and Maple streets.

4. Unique Pools

Swimming is fun no matter where you go, but some local pools offer some fun extras worth checking out. The popular city pool at Lake Zorinsky has waterslides and a fun splash. Cross over the Missouri River to Council Bluffs to visit the city pool, Pirates Cove Pool, where kids can play around a pirate ship and use two waterslides. Head indoors to the Salvation Army Kroc Center and check out the newly renovated pool and waterslide.

5.   Explore the Old Market

The Old Market has so many things for kids to see, hear, and taste. On Saturday mornings, stroll the bustling farmers market. Visit any day of the week and you’ll likely encounter musicians playing music and charming horse-drawn carriages. Kids love the Old Market Candy Shop and Hollywood Candy. Head to The Passageway for toy store Le Wonderment, and then go on a hunt for the Zodiac Garden hidden behind an art gallery there.

6.  Downtown Fun

There’s more fun just beyond the Old Market. Slide down the big slides at Gene Leahy Mall. At Heartland of America Park, you may catch a gondolier offering inexpensive rides around the lake. Cross the “The Bob” pedestrian bridge to take that iconic picture standing on the state line. The building at the base of the bridge is the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters, which has a visitor’s center with free kid-friendly activities.

7. Bowl or Skate for Free

There are two national programs for children to sign up for that get them free rentals at local venues. Kids Bowl Free allows kids to have two free games each day all summer long. Shoe rental may not be included. Kids Skate Free is a similar program. SkateDaze participates in this program that allows children 12 and younger to skate for free once a day all summer long. The skate rental fee isn’t included.

8. Family Movies Series

Ruth Sokolof Theater at Film Streams has a great series for families, and children’s tickets are only $2.50. They show a mix of classics and first runs. Large chain theaters often have film series during the summer featuring slightly older movies at a discounted price. Check your closest Marcus Theatre and AMC Theatre to see if they’re participating. Check the calendar of events for Midtown Crossing and Sumtur Amphitheater to see when they show free outdoor movies.

9. Fan Fest

Feel like you’re a part of the NCAA Men’s College World Series experience for free at Fan Fest right outside the stadium. You can get into the spirit by playing interactive games, taking a photo with the trophy, meeting players, and soaking up the atmosphere. Fan Fest is open through the run of the series. Go to Open Day Celebration to catch batting practices and autograph sessions, concluding with the opening ceremony and fireworks. That’s all free, too.

10. Fort Atkinson

On the first Saturday and Sunday of the month, May through October, head to Fort Atkinson to see interactive historic recreations depicting life 200 years ago. Children can complete a scavenger hunt, earning a little treat at the General Store for finishing it. Actors shoot off a cannon during the re-enactment, which is cool for some kids and too loud for others. A state park permit is needed to get into the park to see the re-enactments. 

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

 

The Johnsons

Photography by Sarah Lemke

Distant from the city lights and engulfed by nature, one might feel overwhelmed by the unidentified bustle in the bushes, the sticky humidity, and the irritating mosquitoes. For the Johnson family, it means they’re all together, and it’s their home away from home.

Ransom and Julie Johnson have taken countless camping trips with their kids.

The couple upgraded their tent size as they welcomed their children over the years. The Johnson clan—which includes Grace, 9; Ella, 11; Nate, 19; and Merci, 27—camps together several times each summer.

Ransom and Julie agree that the family time spent outdoors together gives their curious children a much-needed chance to disconnect and explore.

“It’s good to see them get out and open up their minds. Instead of saying, ‘Oh entertain me,’ it’s ‘What am I going to find to do?’ And they always find something,” Ransom says.

“They might be knee-deep in mud and their clothes are all wet, but it doesn’t matter,” Julie adds.

The family spent several days last year on a camping trip to Yankton, South Dakota. More often, however, the family spends long summer weekends at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in Waterloo, Nebraska. Although it is only a 30-minute drive, the couple says it is the perfect distance from home.

“One thing that always amazes the kids is how much they can see once they get out of the lights of town. How much more brilliant the stars are,” Ransom says.

When everyone feels cooped up in the house, and the kids are bickering with one another, the short escape does a lot of good for their family.

“You get them out to the campsite for two-three days and they don’t have anything to fight about anymore,” Ransom says. “They have to rely on each other. They get along with each other.”

Ransom has been camping for as long as he can remember.

He introduced Julie to the leisure activity when they were dating. While they started out with a two-person tent, they’ve accumulated quite the camping haul.

Over the years, they’ve built up a supply of two 10-person tents, a couple of smaller tents, a canoe, and many pieces of cooking equipment. Their supplies range from coffee pots, to coolers, to Dutch ovens.

Most of the time, their camping meals consist of burgers, sandwiches, or hot dogs. Other times the family eats fruit, or chips and other junk food.

“It kind of just depends on how much planning and preparation is involved,” Julie says. “Sometimes we just grab what’s in the cupboard and go.”

The spontaneity, Julie says, is what makes the trips so memorable.

“The kids can be sitting, reading, and then they see something,” Ransom adds. “And all of the sudden they’re off to investigate whatever leaf blew by, or whatever it may be.”

Much of the children’s love for nature can be attributed to their respective involvement in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The couple started their son young by not only signing him up for Cub Scouts while he was in the first grade, but serving as the group leaders for a few years. Their son, now 19, participated in Boy Scouts, working his way through the ranks to earn the title of Eagle Scout.

The two younger girls, ages 9 and 11, have been involved with Girl Scouts from a young age. Julie helps out as a co-leader with both troupes.

“It’s important,” Ransom says. “It lets kids explore so many different things … in scouting you can touch on everything from cooking and sewing to rock climbing, robotics, and 50-mile hikes.”

Ransom himself was a Boy Scout. From the parents’ perspective, their kids’ involvement in the programs has been a crucial part of their growing up.

“It teaches them responsibility to the community and to the family,” Ransom says.

The Boy Scouts troop the Johnsons’ son attended camped 11 times per year—sometimes more. Beginning in the fifth grade, they took an annual week-long camping trip to Camp Geiger near St. Joseph, Missouri. There, the boys would stay in tents and earn merit badges.

The Girl Scouts also have the opportunity for an annual overnight wilderness experience where they stay overnight, hike, shoot archery, and take in the nature.

“It’s really about slowing down,” Julie says. “When we’re hustling and we’re talking, we miss seeing the deer or the wild turkey. I try and encourage the girls to just be observers of nature.”

It is plain to see where the love for outdoors stems from in the Johnson family. All the family members appreciate the little moments in the camping, hiking, and memories made on their highly anticipated summer adventures.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

l-r: Ella, 11, and Grace, 9, spend quality time in their family tent.

Elizabeth Byrnes

November 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…Toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

-Elizabeth Byrnes

Tucked away in a discreet supply room at Ralston High School, beyond the steel lockers and crowded classrooms, Elizabeth Byrnes is stocking nonperishable goods.

While classmates hurry to first period at 7:30 a.m., Byrnes shuffles paperwork, counts inventory, coordinates volunteer shifts, and organizes pick-ups and drop-offs for the school’s food pantry.

Byrnes is not your typical teenager. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who gabs on a smartphone and loves to shop at American Eagle. But this 5-foot-6-inch brown-eyed beauty takes her community service seriously.

So when she saw a sign last year advertising the school’s free food pantry, titled the R-Pantry, Byrnes decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it was needed,” she says.

On that particular day, she visited the small closet of a lecture room where teachers had been operating a makeshift pantry that allowed students in need to shop anonymously for food, toiletries, and other supplies inside the high school.

Roughly 60 percent of students at Ralston Public Schools receive free or reduced-rate meals.

To create a healthy pantry, teacher Dan Boster says the Ralston High staff noticed the need and donated nonperishable items and the seed money—roughly $800 worth—in exchange for casual dress days.

“Once the pantry was created, we handed it off to the students,” says Boster, who also serves as National Honor Society adviser and oversees the pantry project.

Byrnes acquired the larder responsibility and has helped it evolve from the small closet of a lecture hall into a spacious supply room with large tower shelves brimming with food as diverse as artichoke hearts, fruit snacks, and granola bars.

Byrnes has grown the one-person operation to having 70 volunteers on deck to assist when needed. She has presented before the Ralston Chamber of Commerce when soliciting for donations and has advocated and made Ralston High an official Food Bank of the Heartland donation site.

She describes the families who utilize the pantry as living break-even lifestyles, existing paycheck-to-paycheck, with little left over for simple luxuries such as lip balm or toilet paper. Students from such families experience a lot of stress and anxiety over where their next meal is coming from, she adds.

“I saw how education is extremely difficult to get, especially if there’s a need in the household,” Byrnes says. “Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

Food insecurity—which means that people lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle—can be invisible, she explains. “Not knowing if there will be dinner on Friday night or lunch on Saturday.”

The R-Pantry idea is a positive response to a really challenging situation: student hunger. It is not the ultimate solution, but it is a start.

“I have so much respect and admiration for these students who are asking for help to support their
families.”

Byrnes excels in calculus, biology, and creative writing. She serves on DECA, is a class officer, and participates in National Honors Society. She enjoys running, hiking, and playing with her two dogs—Sophia and Jack.

Byrnes credits her family for always influencing her to do what’s best and help those in need. Dad (Robert E. Byrnes) is a doctor. Mom (Mary Byrnes) is a mortgage banker. Brother (Kent Keller) is a police officer.

“Her empathy for people runs very deep,” her mother says.

However, the driven teen doesn’t always communicate well with mom and dad, jokes her mother: “She was never one to seek glory. We didn’t know how involved she had been in the pantry until she was recognized. When she made homecoming court, we didn’t know about it until people began congratulating us.”

Mom adds, “She moves through life as if this is just a job. Helping others is just what she does.”

Byrnes plans to attend a four-year university next year and major in biology. She’d like to someday become a cosmetic dentist or dermatologist.

Byrnes encourages other young people: “If you see something you could change or help out, don’t be afraid to jump in there. You could change someone’s life with your one small action.”

The R-Pantry at Ralston High School (8969 Park Drive), is open on Fridays after school until 4 p.m. To volunteer, contact the school at 402-331-7373.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

High on Jesus

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

The Front Range looms overhead as Dan and Dawne Broadfield sip their morning coffee. Towering at a height of 14,259 feet, the snow-capped Longs Peak is the highest point in the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Residing at an elevation of nearly 1.5 miles above sea level, the Broadfields live on the forested grounds of Covenant Heights. The year-round Christian camp is located nine miles south of Estes Park, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, near the base of Longs Peak.

estespark6The parents are career missionaries and together have visited Haiti, Mexico, Canada, England, France, Belgium, and Holland, among others. As assistant director of facilities, Dan helps to maintain the 65-acre Covenant Heights, while Dawne home-schools their three children: 18-year-old Darby, 14-year-old Dakota, and 11-year-old Max.

Their days are filled with hiking, fishing, backpacking, paddleboarding, archery, and kayaking. They have unfettered access to high ropes, zip lines, and a climbing wall—perks of living at a wilderness retreat. The same activities draw campers from across the country.

If the weather is nice, Dan and Dawne say they might go six to eight hours without seeing their offspring, and that’s fine for both parents and frolicking children alike.

In summer, nighttime unveils an infinite heaven of twinkling stars, with the Milky Way shining down on three hammocks arranged in a triangular formation in the trees. Each hammock cradles a Broadfield child, peacefully sleeping.

estespark2

Once the weather turns chilly, they gather firewood for campfires. The winter season also brings snow-shoeing, ice hockey, and cross-country skiing.

Wildlife is an integral part of living at the campground, where animals also make their home. Coyotes, moose, and deer frequently wander through Covenant Heights. Herds of elk are common visitors; during the fall rut, the bulls’ high-pitched bugling will echo for miles.

“The other day, an elk walked through the middle of (the triangle of hammocks),” Dawne says. “Our youngest woke up and thought, ‘Uh, oh. This isn’t good.’ But the elk eventually moved along.”

estespark5The free-spirited mother of three does have one rule about sleeping outdoors. Her kids can’t have lipgloss, sunscreen, or other scented items in their pockets. Bears live in the neighborhood, and scented items or food will attract them. Dawne even brings her bird feeders inside at night so as not to attract unwelcome scavengers.

She loves life amongst the animals. In fact, her animal-watching pastime vaguely reminds her of childhood years spent in Omaha. “We went to the Henry Doorly Zoo about every two weeks,” says the one-time Omahan. Dawne’s father served in the Air Force at Offutt Air Force Base for three years, when she was in fifth through eighth grades.

Her adult life unfolded away from Omaha. Before relocating to Colorado in 2015, Dawne and Dan were living in San Antonio, Texas, where they ran an art gallery and online networking platform for artists called ArtLife.

“Here we are now in Estes Park because we felt like we ran out of space in San Antonio. We wanted to become more of a starving artists community,” says Dan. “We want to develop an artists community up here. I want to create a safe space for people to come and hone their skills. It’s the idea of not being in their normal circumstances.”

estespark4Surrounded by natural abundance, the family feels rich. Not so when it comes to the latest technological amenities. They have a satellite television, the only reliable phone is a landline, and mobile internet service is patchy from camp.

Dawne says “there’s a 20-minute window about twice a day” for internet access. An avid photographer, she posts almost daily on Instagram from her smartphone during those limited windows of online accessibility.

Her photo stream documents their neighbors, mostly the wildlife (@adeltadawne). “We have lots of moose that hang out,” she says. “The elk, the deer, the eagles, and then I sprinkle in family stuff.” If it is necessary to check something online, they head to a coffeeshop or the library in town. Dan and Dawne enjoy their wireless existence. “I kind of like the idea of being disconnected,” Dan says.

Christian wilderness retreats have a rich history on the Front Range near Covenant Heights. Even before Colorado was a state, missionaries were spreading the gospel across the landscape.

estespark3Summer encampments for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) date back to the 1890s. The YMCA summer campsite from 1908 remains the site of the modern-day YMCA of the Rockies. Today, the organization hosts Christian gap-year programs for 18-to-24 year olds “seeking personal and spiritual growth while working in a seasonal job at Snow Mountain Ranch.”

On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park into existence, and the nationwide National Park Service came into being the following year (celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016).

Covenant Heights arrived on the scene in the early 1930s through the fellowship of the Covenant Young Peoples and Sunday School Conference of Colorado and Wyoming. The coalition of Rocky Mountain churches sought to give “a concerted effort to provide inspiration, Christian fellowship, and evangelism for the young people of the churches in Colorado and Wyoming,” according to its website. Covenant Heights’ current permanent campsite became operational in 1948.

Separate from the YMCA or Covenant Heights, the nonprofit Wind River Ministries also runs the ongoing Wind River Ranch, a “Christian Family Guest Ranch Resort”complete with dude ranch.

Regardless of one’s spiritual inclination, the sweeping mountain vistas are inspiring throughout the vicinity of Estes Park.

In the wake of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, residents of Estes Park voted to block the opening of recreational and medicinal dispensaries within the limits of town and Larimer County. It was a strategic move to preserve the region’s wholesome reputation as a family destination. Meanwhile, federal marijuana laws reign supreme over Rocky Mountain National Park and other federally owned lands.

Getting high on Jesus in the Rocky Mountains, however, is always 100 percent legal.

Visit covenantheights.org for more information.

estespark1

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.

Moon2

On Top of the World

February 19, 2015 by
Photography by Beverly Kracher, Ph.D.

Bhima, our guide, waited for us on the trail. We caught up to her after stopping to adjust our daypacks and enjoying some wild berries. Under her umbrella, which protected her from the burning sun, we could see Bhima’s smiling face and playful eyes. She quickly evaluated our moods and stamina. She said to us, for probably the 30th time, “Not far to go before we get to the next tea house. A little bit up, a little bit down.”

Bhima was coaching us. Though it was probably another hour before we reached our stopping point, she was saying the thing we needed to hear to make it.

“A little bit up, a little bit down.” Those words have had a forceful affect on my life since returning from this year’s trek. I was in the Annapurna Range of the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal. Hikers have tried to describe the magnificence of this massive range—the raw beauty, the incredible scenery, the water buffalo, and the orange/yellow sunsets over the snowcapped mountains.

Try as we might, it is impossible. You have to go there on your own to know what Nirvana is like.

This was my second trek. The first was so powerful that I knew I had to come back with my sister. Barb and I had poured over books about the yogis and sadhus in India and Nepal when we were kids. We were inspired by their quest for spiritual enlightenment in the Himalayas. So this time I was with Barb. Her husband, Joel, came with us because he loves to explore life, too.

We hired 3Sisters Adventure Trekking Company for our trek. Three Nepalese sisters own the company and provide jobs to Nepalese women by hiring and training them as guides and porters. Walking through the majestic mountains with four Nepalese women (one guide and three porters) brought the heavens to earth. As we walked, we learned about their quest for opportunity, education, family, and freedom. I found, as I always do when I travel, that while people dress differently and have different customs, we basically desire the same things. In this, we are one race.

While trekking, Bhima showed us the way yogis and sadhus walk. The technique is two-fold. First, they take it easy. They are the tortoises not the hare. Second, they use a lower-body relaxation technique. As they hike up a mountain they rest their back leg as they push off with their front leg. Continuous movement creates stress, so relaxing the back leg, even for a second, reduces tension and increases power. In these two ways, Bhima taught us to pace ourselves and to use our legs in a way that would allow us to walk twelve hours a day.

A little bit up, a little bit down.

Since my return I have learned to pace my life just as I paced my steps up the steepest and longest trails I have ever encountered. The temptation was great to fall back into my hectic work life.

When I think about this it’s like listening to a sad song.

The beauty of the Himalayas are still with me. I can very easily feel the peace anytime I try. I know that is good for my heart. And there is one more thing. I carry a joyful, even enlightened, attitude where I see the ebb and flow of life as “a little bit up, a little bit down.”

I can be my best and do my best. And that attitude makes me feel like I’m standing on top of the world.

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Hitting the Trail

July 8, 2014 by

Beyond Fontenelle Forest and DeSoto Bend National Wildlife Refuge, most of the significant day hikes in Eastern Nebraska or Western Iowa take you up and down the steep bluff lines of the region’s major rivers. Basically, in our landscape, if you don’t want to hike cornfields, you have to get back to the rivers.

Those bluffs in places such as Mahoney, Platte River and Indian Cave State Parks often offer the closest thing to a wilderness experience in the area, but they also present the closest thing to a real hazard. Typically, you’re walking on loose dirt, wood chips, rock aggregates, or compacted clays. The footing can be tricky when dry, downright unnerving when moist.

Not trying to alarm, here. Just be mindful when you hit the trails, especially with older parents or young children.

A few tips for a safe and enjoyable hike:

The right shoes
You don’t need $500 mountaineering boots. You just need good traction, something that protects your ankles from twists, something that limits the bend in your foot, and, depending on the forecast, something that either breathes air or repels water. Gore-Tex optional. Any light hiker will usually do. Kids will probably lobby to wear their athletic shoes. This isn’t the Front Range. Unless it’s muddy, the Nikes are usually okay.

A walking stick
This may feel like you’re overdoing it, but, again, those slopes can be trickier than you realize. Walking sticks are cheap (even sometimes free on the forest floor) and they can be the difference between a close call and a fall.

Water, water, water
In our area, hikers very often ignore the hydration issue. Sure, you’ll survive on these relatively short trails. But you may be awfully thirsty, especially if you make a few wrong turns.

Bug repellent
What the region lacks in 14,000-foot peaks, it makes up for in mosquitos and ticks.

Sunscreen
You may be out longer than you planned and you’ll still get plenty of sun in the woods.

A snack
Again, this may not be a life or death issue, but, especially
with kids, you’ll be a hero when you pull out treats at the halfway point.

Family Camping

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s something about lying under the stars in a sleeping bag surrounded by trees and chirping crickets that’s calming. It’s the spirit of camping—that feeling of being completely absorbed in the wonders of nature.

It’s also a feeling that many people don’t experience anymore. Some say it’s because they don’t care much for being outdoors; others say it’s because they’d miss the comforts of home too much; and still others say it’s because they don’t have the patience to spend that amount of “quality time” alone with their families.

But ask any camper, and they’ll tell you that you’re missing out on a peaceful experience, one that all family members can benefit from and appreciate.

Papillion firefighter Michael Borden, 33, is a big proponent of camping. While growing up in Harlan and Underwood, Iowa, he went camping often with his parents and grandparents. “My grandparents had a Winnebago at a spot near Stanton [Iowa],” he says. “They slept inside while we slept outside in a tent. We’d set up all season long on the weekends with them, so I have a lot of fond memories of camping.”

Borden says that, while he could do without the bugs, he still thoroughly enjoys camping as an adult. “My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” His wife, Tracy, however, doesn’t share the same view of camping. “If it were up to her, she would have an RV and be out at Mahoney [State Park] with a swimming pool and activities for the family.”

Borden explains their different takes on camping reflect their different personalities. “She’s the worrier and likes to plan things. I’m more go-with-the-flow and just like ‘whatever’…but we usually compromise. We’ll take the car out and set up tents. We find middle ground.”

“My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” – Michael Borden

But it’s not just Borden and his wife that go out camping. They also bring their two daughters, Ella, 8, and Ayda, 6, who enjoy creating memories while family camping.

“Two years ago when we were camping, the cicadas were coming out, and the shells were everywhere,” remembers Borden. “My oldest, Ella, was 5 or 6. I consider her to be the girlier of my two, but she thought the shells were so neat.

“She had a friend there, too, and both of them were filling all of the cupholders in our camping chairs with the shells. It’s fun to watch kids go camping because they see things so differently—like everything is just fascinating.”

The family used to go camping nearly every free weekend, spending a lot of their time out at Two Rivers State Park, but Borden says it’s harder to go camping now because his daughters are older. “They’re involved in things, so we’ll try to get out as much as we can, but it depends more on schedules—swimming lessons, soccer, and everything else.”

_DSC0906_WebThey have a few camping trips planned for this summer, so long as the weather cooperates. “I wish we did it more often,” he says. “But it’s nice during the summer because I have odd hours [as a firefighter], and Tracy is a teacher, so she has the entire summer off. We can go out on a Wednesday during the summer instead of a weekend, which is usually busier.”

Borden believes it’s good for kids and their parents to spend time outdoors because it’s a perfect opportunity to be together as a family. “We just got Ella an iPod Touch for her birthday, and she always wants to be listening to music, playing games, and texting friends. I remember playing when I was a kid. We didn’t have cell phones or computers. There’s almost too much accessibility with that stuff, so it’s nice to get away from all of it and just be in the moment.”

Like Borden, Elkhorn native Elizabeth Bullington, 27, grew up camping. “It’s always been a part of the family tradition,” she says. Bullington’s brother, uncles, and grandfather were all Eagle Scouts, so her family has been very involved with the Boy Scouts, which meant plenty of camping opportunities.

“One camping trip I’ll always remember was a Boy Scouts outing my sister and I went on with our dad and the scouts,” Bullington recalls. “It was almost wintertime, so it was really cold. My sister and I were sleeping together to keep warm, and our dad came in and tucked us in to make sure we’d stay warm. The next morning, our bodies were warm, but our heads were freezing,” she laughs.

Bullington, who now works as a program supervisor with Childhood Autism Services, says camping is a tradition that she’s been able to share with her husband, Nick, and almost 2-year-old son Reese.

“There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.” – Elizabeth Bullington

“I think a lot of people find it hard these days to go camping because of the comfort issue. [Nick and I] have a queen air mattress in our tent, but sometimes people in my family like to sleep under the stars in sleeping bags. We’ve done a camper once before, but we prefer a tent because it feels more like camping.”

For Bullington, it was easy to share this experience with Nick because his entire family camps also, gathering every year at Ponca State Park for an annual camping trip. In fact, the idea of doing an annual family camping trip spread to Bullington’s family as well. “My parents wanted to find something we could all do, and we thought, ‘Let’s go camping!’”

Bullington says she and her family are planning to meet for their annual camping trip in Clear Lake, Iowa, this July, and she’s looking forward to it. She and Nick have gone on the family trip for the last three years. “We try to choose somewhere between Madison, Wis., and Omaha because my sister lives in Madison and the rest of us live here. We’ve camped in Iowa the past few years.”

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese.

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese. Photo by John Gawley.

The annual trip became a lot more special for Bullington when she was able to bring Reese, even though he was still fairly young when he went for the first time last year. “We’re not going to let the age of our child stop us from camping. The way we see it, he’ll adapt to the outdoors just as we do,” she says.

Though Reese wasn’t yet walking the first time they went camping, Bullington says it was fairly easy to take him with on the trip. He slept on his changing pad in the tent with them, and they brought toys to keep him entertained while they were inside and outside of their tent. “We didn’t do a whole lot of water activities or hiking, but you have to give up some of the things you like to do to include family. [But] that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun.”

Bullington agrees that society’s dependence on technology has made it difficult to get children (and even other adults) to spend time outdoors. But she maintains, it’s an essential part of childhood. “There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.”