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Literally hours after Jack returned home from the work portion of his trip to Portugal, we were on the road to Nebraska to celebrate for the 4th of July. Last year, we had a quiet Independence Day, in part because we were in the middle of moving and in part because the holiday landed on a Tuesday (Boo!). Determined not to be left out of the fun, we packed up while Jack was at home and the second he pulled up the driveway, we jumped in the car and were off. Normally, we stop about halfway but since Jack and I were both tired of traveling, we decided to push on through. It was a late night for the kids–too many 3rd of July fireworks going on as we pulled into Nebraska to want to sleep–but we made it.
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We had quite the show coming into town!

Naturally, since the kids were up late, they woke up extra early…sleeping in is a concept that they don’t quite understand. Fine by me. I’m a morning person anyway. Once I got everyone fed and dressed, I left them with grandma and was out the door for a morning jog, which took me by my old middle school. It was the first place I earnestly tried running and though I was horrible at it back then, I’m still plugging away at it, and am slightly less horrible. But, at least I enjoy a quiet jog with Raven and the accompanying nostalgia when I tour my hometown.

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With time to spare, I made it back, showered, painted everyone’s toes in patriotic colors, and then we went to a pancake breakfast with family and old friends.

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Since we were close to the park, everyone got in a bit of swinging, going down the slide, and spinning on the tire swing.

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One of my favorite things about going back to Nebraska is that both sets of grandparents live only about ten minutes apart. At Jack’s family’s house, we caught frogs…

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A grey tree frog with sticky little feet.
 …and watched inch worms hurriedly measure our fingers…
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…and ate perfectly ripe mulberries out of their enormous tree…
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…and helped fill up the pool…
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 …and set up fireworks for the show later that night.
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Every year, Jack’s parents throw a pretty impressive 4th of July party. Everyone comes over to grill, catch up with each other, and enjoy the amazing fireworks display.

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This year was no exception. The fireworks were amazing but without the typical Nebraska breeze, we did get pelted on occasion with tiny pieces of soot.

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Right during the finale, a wonderful, cool wind blew in and saved us from being hit by any more fireworks shrapnel but it also brought with it a slightly intimidating thunderstorm–having lived in Indiana for several years now and constantly being surrounded by trees, I almost forgot just how far you can see in Nebraska. So, the second the fireworks were finished, everyone rushed to clean up and head to their cars before the storm hit.

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Not one to waste our vacation time, we decided that instead of napping after two late nights, the following day, we went to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. While I got Zoey loaded in the stroller and packed snacks and water, Jack was across the street, eating ripe apricots he’d found. Typical Jack…always foraging for something.

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After our fill of apricots, we went in and ooo-ed at the mother and baby orangutans…
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…and ahhh-ed at the impressive male gorillas.
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We wandered from exhibit to exhibit with the twin cousins…
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…and had in depth discussions about which animal was our favorite.
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When it got hot, the kids changed and we took them to the most impressive splash pad I have ever seen. We’re talking life-sized humpback whales, orcas, and sea lions, well-timed water spray, and animal sounds mixed among the children’s shrieks and squeals.

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It sure kept this baker’s dozen worth of kids happy.
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While poor, sleepy Jack had a bit of a rest himself.

(He was still catching up from his jetlag from Portugal!)
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When everyone was all soaked and pruny-fingered from the water, we changed and went to play on an equally impressive shipwreck.

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Evelyn and I worked on conquering our fear of heights together…
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 …while Zoey enjoyed digging in the soft, white sand…
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 …and Henry climbed the lifelike models of insects. Claire and Kate were around, too, but always on the move and too fast to photograph.

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After pushing around a giant marble carved like the earth, we went to the best part…
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…The Lied Jungle!
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Our monkeys.

Seriously, taking a trip to Nebraska just to see this exhibit would be worth it. They’ve got all kinds of forest creatures, some of which are free to roam. Like bats.

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Some people ran screaming from them as the bats swooped about, diving into their feeding trays to grab a mouthful of fruit, while our kids watched in awe as they fed. What’s a little guano when you get to be up close to a mother bat and her baby?

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The aquarium is pretty fantastic, too. There’s something mesmerizing about watching turtles and sharks and fish glide past.

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We took a hurried visit to the giraffes, butterflies, ostriches, and elephants and just like that, the zoo was closed and we were headed out the door.

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But not before climbing on the bronze lion statue, a must for every kid who passes through the entrance and one of Claire’s favorite parts about the zoo–climbing? Yep! Cats? Yep! Dream come true!

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Then, it was more swimming with cousins on Jack’s side…
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…and being silly…
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Zoey practically crazed with mulberries.
 …and more mulberries…
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My feet were stained for a week from the mulberries!
…and finally feeling the effects of all the adventures we’d been having.
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Though the list of people we get to see on every trip back to Nebraska grows smaller each time, one of our favorites is to go see my Grandma Lamb, who still lives in the same house she has ever since I was around. Claire got to climb the same silver maple I used to–although it noticeably is feeling the effects of its age, and has less limbs than it used to. They all rolled down the front hill like I used to, looked at photos of Grandpa Lamb from his military career, and clunked around on the same piano I did when I was little. Again, nostalgia is a funny thing.

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When we’d finally left her with a handful of cicada shells, we said our “until next time” and went to a luncheon with Jack’s family…

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…where Jack promptly scared about half the children present with a few props he found upstairs in his sister’s playroom.

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Ah, Jack. Or, er, the Cowardly Lion. Always good for a laugh!
Not far from Lincoln is a state park that butts up to the Platte River, a significant waterway in Nebraska. When we got there, we looked around at some of the things I’d enjoyed doing when I was younger, one of which was climb up an observation tower. With Nebraska as gloriously flat as it is, you can see for miles. It’s always something I appreciate about my home state.
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The cherry on top of it all was attending a melodrama there. I used to go to a small town melodrama and it was one of the highlights of the year. If you’ve never been to a melodrama, GO! It really is amazing how much four people can make you laugh with their overly dramatic, witty performances. Even Henry was boo-ing the witch and tossing popcorn at her, a perfectly acceptable (and expected) behavior at a melodrama.

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What a fun cast!

 If that weren’t enough fun for the day, we stayed up late and headed to the observatory to look at Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and a set of twin stars. I think we have galaxy lovers in our family!

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Still not ones for sleeping in, there is always time for cooking lessons with grandma. Claire is certainly becoming a pancake pro.

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After church, where my sister and her husband had their newest little girl blessed, we went over to Jack’s parent’s house to share some popsicles, karaoke, and laughs.
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Which then turned into a kid’s dance party. With Jack enthusiastically joining them. Naturally.
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My favorite though was looking through old photos of Jack that my mother-in-law had found. It took the kids a minute but once they realized who they were looking at was dad, they were so excited to flip through them all.

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Plus, the kids got to know some of their aunts, uncles, and cousins who we don’t get to see as often. It’s nice that Nebraska is still the easiest meetup place for us all.

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So wiped that she was fine sitting with whoever would hold her.

And just like that, we were enjoying our last Nebraska sunset over the cornfields, packing up, and saying goodbye.

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The trip home was uneventful, the house and farm was in order when we arrived, and the house had been left clean, so we could relax when we unpacked. It’s never fun saying goodbyes but we have plenty of good memories to carry us over to the next time.

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Vacationing is HARD.
 Plus, the twin cousins were hot on our heels, so the fun didn’t really end there!
To Be Continued…
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Kate is the most organized unpacker I’ve ever seen.
What a fantastic fourth we had! Hope you all had a wonderful time celebrating America, too!
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Welcome to the farm!

True stories of raising children, remodeling, braving the elements and plotting out life, all while living on a humble acreage in central Indiana.

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