Tag Archives: traveling

Home And Away

January 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One fun side effect of travel is that warm, wistful feeling you get when you’ve been away long enough to remember just how much you love home. For Wendy and Todd McMinn, home is a corresponding reminder of just how much they love their travels.

The walls, shelves, and surfaces at the McMinn house feature a mosaic of global artifacts, telling the story of a lifetime of adventures. A German cuckoo clock, Chinese mask, Turkish lamps, Dutch wooden shoes, dolls from Guatemala and Colombia, glass piggy bank from Austria, and artwork from all over the world are just a few examples of the cache of vibrant items that decorate their Omaha home.

“We’ve been really blessed with the opportunity and ability to travel. When we first got together, I told Todd, ‘You have to have your passport,’” says Wendy, a nurse with a lifelong love of experiencing far-flung places. “Our home and spaces around the home reflect the places we’ve traveled and the different cultures and people we’ve met along the way.”

When Wendy’s military father was stationed at Ramstein Air Base, the family spent several years of her childhood in Spesbach, Germany. Her parents were intentional in ensuring that she and her brother got a full cultural experience.

“I never knew any different, and my parents always made it fun. My mom is from Louisiana, so she said, ‘Guten tag, y’all,’” recalls Wendy of the way she witnessed the blending of cultures from a young age.

She has many vivid memories from those formative years, like volksmarsching (a recreational walk meant to help engage American military families with the community), learning to swim at the schwimmbad, and trading chocolate chip cookies for sweet bread at the bäckerei downstairs.

The family also traveled throughout Europe during this era, and though they returned to settle in Nebraska in 1983, Wendy’s love of travel endured.

“My mom took me to Holland when I was 10; we saw the windmills and dams and had a really neat experience,” Wendy says. “We went to Heidelberg and all these different places…I felt such a value in those experiences and wanted my kids to learn that value and see different parts of the world like I did.”

Todd, a physician who grew up with more of a domestic family road-trip exposure to travel, agrees that their children—Harrison, 22; Emily, 20; and Grace, 18—have benefitted from seeing the world.

“Wendy encourages international travel, whether that’s mission trips she’s done with the girls, study abroad opportunities, or other travels,” Todd says. “Traveling with the kids has been a great learning experience for them.”

Some of the McMinn family’s favorite journeys have taken them to France, Germany, Holland, and the United Kingdom. On a crowded list of future travel wishes, Wendy says Spain, Australia, Russia, South Africa, and Iceland top her list.

The McMinns like to strike a balance of planning without rigid overplanning when they travel; they use public transportation when possible, and they always travel light. They especially love to visit art museums and historical sites, and they have a family tradition of grabbing a snack or coffee in museum cafes. When the kids were younger, Wendy and Todd would ask them each to pick an attraction in their destination city to research, then when the family was on-site, they would share information they’d gathered about those places with the rest of the family.

“For example, one of my kids picked the Trevi Fountain when we visited Rome, so when we got there it was her job to tell us all about it,” Wendy says. “It gave them some ownership and got them excited about the upcoming trip.”

The McMinns have certainly succeeded in passing their love of travel on to their three children, which Wendy says comes not just with its obvious pleasures, but also with an expanded worldview.

“I realized very young that there are lots of people out there, and many of them are so different than me, but that’s so cool. There’s a lot of difference out there, but it’s not to be feared,” Wendy says. “Travel is just such a deep-down part of who I am. Seeing other people and cultures when I was younger, I got a sense of the bigger picture and just how big the world is.”

Just like a typical McMinn itinerary, their travel-related home décor isn’t overplanned.

“It wasn’t preplanned; it just is,” Wendy says. “All of this stuff is just a part of us and our memories.”

“There’s no structure or plan to it,” agrees Todd. “But every item has a story that goes with it and sentimental meaning to our family.”

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home

Family Vacation Tips

June 20, 2013 by

Family vacation is a great opportunity to spend quality time together and create long-lasting memories. Get the most from your family vacation with a couple of quick tips from Boys Town Pediatrics.

Packing 

Make a list a couple of weeks before your vacation. Add to it as you remember items your family will need. Make sure to include:

  • Essential paperwork—pack plane tickets, health insurance cards, passports, and identification cards in a watertight baggie.
  • First-aid kit—include Ibuprofen, sunscreen, bug spray, prescription medications, band-aids, contact solution, antiseptic, Pepto-Bismol, sewing kit, disposable wipes, etc.
  • Back-up luggage—take precaution in case of lost luggage by packing a set of clothing, toiletries, and essentials in your carry-on.

Traveling

Discuss the travel arrangements and planned activities with your family. The anticipation of riding in an airplane or stopping to see the waterfall will keep them focused on what is to come instead of long travel times. Other travel tips include:

  • Bringing a reading or activity book or audio book.
  • Playing a game. See who can spot the most license plates from different states or bring cards for the plane ride.
  • Watching a movie. Have each child pick from a pre-selected group of movies.
  • Planning stops along the way. Sightseeing can prevent restlessness and unnecessary stopping.
  • Keeping busy during long layovers. Try to find the children’s play area or watch planes ascend and descend through the windows.

If you are traveling abroad, make sure to check the United States Embassy website for the country you are visiting. On the site, you will find information about required immunizations, travel advisories, and how to register your trip. It is also suggested to leave a copy of your passport back in the United States, so if your passport is lost, the information can be retrieved.

Meal Time

All the activities your family will do will keep everyone busy but also hungry. By pre-planning your family’s meals, you will save money and keep everyone going for the whole vacation. Fuel your family’s hunger by:

  • Carrying along pre-packed, filling snacks.
  • Bringing bottled water or a refillable drink container.
  • Planning a picnic instead of eating out every meal.
  • Picking out a few local treats to prevent too many sweets.

Making Memories

Make the most of your family vacation budget by booking tickets, excursions, and rentals in advance. Choose a few larger activities and leave room for free time, exploring, and relaxation. Consider free activities that include:

  • Hiking a trail or walking the beach.
  • Swimming at the hotel pool.
  • Bringing bikes and pedaling around town.
  • Checking out local events and activities.

Most of all, enjoy your vacation, relax, and make memories that your family will remember for a lifetime.

Sharon Ongert, 66

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

World traveler. free spirit. Social butterfly. All these terms aptly describe Sharon Ongert.

The native Omahan has always been an affable go-getter and shows no signs of slowing down as she hits her mid-60s. “I like to follow the advice, ‘Don’t buy things, buy memories,” Ongert confides one morning over drinks at Paradise Bakery.

Ongert in Egypt. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert at the Egyptian Pyramids, 2010. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert loves to travel. “When I was first married, my husband and I spent a year living in Europe,” she shares. “We visited 16 countries and 168 cities throughout western Europe and northern Africa. I guess that’s how it started.”

Once her two kids were born, the family continued to take trips to the Caribbean, Mexico, skiing… “Later, I began traveling with my mom to England, Australia, and New Zealand. My dad didn’t care much for travel, so he paid for the trips, and I’d go with her…it was the perfect situation.”

Ongert in... Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert on the chariot tracks in Pompeii, Italy, 2012. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Now single, Ongert continues to travel the globe, often with new friends made on past journeys (of which she has many). Egypt and Peru were recent vacation destinations. “Last year, I took two back-to-back Mediterranean cruises, which took us to Turkey, Croatia, Malta, Sicily, Italy…I keep a travel journal every trip I make and log in every day I’m gone so I can keep track of everything I do.” This year, she’ll put more stamps in her passport with trips to Russia and Scandinavia on the agenda.

In addition to travel, Ongert loves to work…yes, work. She has three jobs. She spends one or two days a week at both Ann Taylor Loft (Village Pointe) and Pottery Barn Kids (Regency Court), which she says has allowed her to make some wonderful friendships with co-workers of all different ages. She loves working with customers as well, adding, “I love meeting all the new moms and grandmas.” The social aspect of working retail is a major plus for Ongert, who once worked as the social director for a Miami-based cruise ship.

Ongert with a friend in Machu Picchu. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert with friend Linda in Machu Picchu, Peru, 2011. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert also officiates tennis matches for a dozen different tennis organizations. “My kids both played competitive tennis, and so I followed it for a long time,” Ongert recalls. “When my youngest graduated, I decided I’d train as an umpire so I could continue in the sport. I’m an independent contractor, essentially, and have chaired matches for the Big 10, Big 12, Omaha Tennis Association, high schools…I’ve watched so much good tennis this way. I’ve always got the best seat in the house!”

To keep up with this busy schedule, Ongert makes it a point to stay fit, working out daily at Lakeside Wellness Center, lifting weights and walking on the treadmill. She’s also a snowbird, traveling to Phoenix every March to spend a month hiking, playing tennis, and practicing her new favorite sport, pickleball.

Ongert at the Colosseum. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

Ongert at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, 2012. Photo provided by Sharon Ongert.

“It’s basically tennis on a much smaller court using a wiffle ball. It’s best for those who can’t cover the ground of a tennis court. It’s a lot of fun!”

That’s Ongert, always up for a new adventure.

History Comes to Life

October 20, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Durham Museum underwent a $1.2 million renovation this past year. But most of the improvements are not visible to visitors, according to Executive Director Christi Janssen. Behind-the-scenes work, such as security cameras and new heating and air conditioning, were main concerns. The renovations were another step forward in improving the visitor experience, the museum’s priority.

The visitor experience also has been enhanced by close relationships with national partners providing exhibits that would otherwise not be seen in Omaha: The Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum; Chicago’s Field Museum; and the Library of Congress and National Archives in Washington, D.C.

“A lot of our physical enhancements have been because of our partners’ needs for their exhibits,” says Janssen. “National museums have standards and requirements for their exhibition partners. They want a staff that understands what it takes to mount a successful show.” Exhibit costs can range from $50,000 to $500,000. “Security is a major part of the cost,” she says. “For the Abraham Lincoln exhibit, we had 24/7 security.”

The partnerships that Omaha’s regional history museum has forged have led to a new era of exceptional traveling exhibits.

Partners on Display

In 2004, the Velde Hall of American History was completed, providing environmentally controlled space for traveling exhibits, which further encouraged national partners to send exhibits to the Omaha museum.

In January 2011, the Library of Congress sent to Omaha With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition. “The Library of Congress said it was the best installation in the five-city tour,” Janssen says.

The Durham works with other partners, too. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry sent Mindbender Mansion this year, among the museum’s best-attended exhibits. More than 70,000 people visited. Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power, an upcoming exhibit (that includes Lady Gaga’s meat dress) will be on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Feb. 9-May 5, 2013.

Traveling exhibits from partners are sometimes matched with a compatible exhibit put together by Durham Museum curators. Examples are current exhibits now on display: The American Soldier reflects soldiering from the Civil War to the War in Iraq. Its companion exhibit, Worn with Pride: Americans in Uniform, gives a local angle to the same topic.

You may be surprised to learn that the museum’s largest artifact on display is right before you as you enter the parking lot. It’s the Art Deco-style building the museum sits in. The building was constructed in 1931 by Union Pacific as a station for railroad passengers who traveled in elegance.

Building2 copy

Walking into the museum’s Suzanne and Walter Scott Great Hall for the first time is an awesome experience. Interior walls are limestone with polished black Belgian marble and terrazzo floors. The ceiling is gold, silver, and aluminum leaf. Brass lighting fixtures hanging from the 65-foot-tall ceiling each weighs one ton. It takes 45 minutes to replace a light bulb.

Architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood said he designed the building “to depict the strength and masculinity of the railroad.” Because Omaha is Union Pacific’s headquarters, an all-out effort was made to construct a special building.

As airplanes, interstate highways, and Amtrak provided new ways to travel, passenger trains dwindled. In 1971, the final UP passenger train left the station. UP donated the building near downtown to the city. The building became the Western Heritage Museum in 1975. The regional museum is now called the Durham Museum after philanthropists Chuck and Margre Durham, who led a $25 million renovation effort to create the museum seen today.

Membership at the Durham has more than doubled since 2004. About 40 to 45 percent of visitors are from out of town, leaving behind money at local shops, restaurants, and hotels.

Education at the Museum

Households with children predominate the list of visitors coming through the museum doors, a major change since 2004. The Durham has set out to make the museum a place of education as well as fun for children. Museum staff follow state education standards, work with local Nebraska and Iowa school districts, and distribute curriculum guides as a resource for teachers.

An example is the curriculum ‘Hail to the Chief.’ Students are asked to identify a U.S. president, his years in office, and a major event tied to him.

The Velde Gallery of American History is a destination for many class field trips. Children also can sign up for summer camp and for summer workshops that offer educational games and tours.

These upcoming exhibits throw a spotlight on topics of educational interest:

  • Girl Scouts: 100 Years of Courage, Confidence and Character—Nov. 3, 2012 – June 9, 2013
  • We Want the Vote: Women’s Suffrage on the Great Plains—Feb. 23 – May 26, 2013
  • A T. Rex Named Sue—May 25 – Sept. 8, 2013
  • Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear—Sept. 28, 2013 – Jan. 5, 2014

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Saving Omaha’s Pictorial History

Two years ago, Durham Museum staff began the long process of digitizing more than 700,000 historical photos from the 1860s to the 1990s and making them searchable online.

Yes, you read that number correctly. More than 700,000 photos that document Omaha’s history from frontier days to modern days are in one archive. Some of the negatives and prints are more than a century old and were in danger of being lost to history as they deteriorated.

The Durham turned to interns for help. Each spends about 20 to 30 hours a week to archive and document the collection. The interns also get hands-on experience by building exhibits around the photo archives. Photos are organized in 17 different collections. So far, 50,000 of the photographs in the archives have been posted online, where they can be viewed or purchased for a minimal amount at durhammuseum.org.

“Ak-Sar-Ben is the most recent collection of photos and artifacts,” says Janssen. “We want to be the repository for all things Ak-Sar-Ben.”

Some people using the photographs are compiling family or local histories. Others are writing books or producing documentaries.

“There are not many communities that have this kind of historical documentation,” says Janssen.