Monthly Archives: July 2009

Anniversary Road Trip

Author’s note: this entry is enhanced (along with many others) with “pop-up” photo links. Click any link to see a related photo without leaving this page!

Vivian and I have been married for one year now, so over the weekend we took a four-day anniversary road trip across Nebraska and South Dakota to celebrate!

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We headed off west on I-80 and stopped at Pioneer Village in Minden. For those of you who haven’t visited this attraction, it’s something of a personal museum created by the late Harold Warp, a somewhat eccentric collector and pack rat. His collection includes a genuine steam engine that you can climb up inside, dozens of antique cars, and historic buildings filled with various memorabilia. He even managed to buy the one-room schoolhouse he attended as a child in the early 20th century, leaving such things as the original schoolbooks intact on the shelf from the last day of classes in 1938. If you’re the sentimental type and have a few hours to kill while traveling on I-80, come down and check this out.

Vivian and I continued on our journey to the panhandle, avoiding congested traffic and construction on I-80 by taking the old Lincoln Highway. The scenery was much more interesting along the old road, and there were far fewer cars as we drove along through the tiny whistle stop towns running parallel to the railroad tracks.

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We passed through a brief rain shower in time to see beautiful Lake McConaughy. I never knew such a beautiful body of water existed in Nebraska. As we traveled into the panhandle, we started seeing more evidence against Nebraska being all boring, flat farmland. We spotted Courthouse Rock and Jailhouse Rock from a distance along Highway 26, and then drove up next to Chimney Rock for some photos at sunset. I was surprised at the lack of signs directing us to Chimney Rock. Considering what an iconic symbol it is (it’s on Nebraska’s state quarter after all), I expected there to be at least some kind of sign directing us to the best spot to take a picture. Instead, we followed a lonely dirt road with nobody around for miles to share in the moment. I felt almost sorry for the old monument.

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Vivian and I spent the evening in Scottsbluff and managed to get some more photographic evidence that Nebraska is not made entirely of perfectly flat cornfields. We headed up to Alliance to check out Carhenge, a Nebraska landmark I’d heard about ever since my family moved here in 1995, but we’d never actually made the trek out to the panhandle to check it out. We were surprised to find a number of other amusing pieces of automotive art, including a covered (station) wagon and a large fish.

We continued north across the border into South Dakota and stopped for lunch in Hot Springs. It was a picturesque little town with a beautiful little waterfront that included a waterfall and a fountain of fairly potable spring water.

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We finished off the day by visiting a couple of South Dakota’s most well-known monuments. First was Crazy Horse, which we learned is privately funded and has been under construction for half a century. The original sculptor Korczak Ziółkowski spent half his life just getting started on it, and they only just finished the face some ten years ago. They have Ziółkowski’s original model for the finished monument on display, but Vivian and I aren’t entirely sure it would be finished in our lifetime. It’s still quite an impressive piece of work, and Vivian and I were quite happy to see it under construction.

Next up, of course, was Mount Rushmore. Vivian had never seen the four famous stone faces, and the last time I’d seen them was back in middle school. They’ve done some serious construction since then, and you can now walk up much closer to the mountain, and even follow a walkway underneath. It’s quite a site to look straight up George Washington’s nose.

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We spent the night in Rapid City at the Alex Johnson hotel, a historic old place with interesting Native American symbols used in their lobby decor (obviously predating the Third Reich by at least a couple years). The next morning, we headed off and spent some time at Wall Drug, a tourist attraction well-known for its free ice water widely-distributed billboards. We checked out an animatronic t-rex, rode a Jackalope, and took a couple goofy pictures, then bought some ice cream and souvenirs before hitting the road again.

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I had another surprise stop along I-90 for my wife: the tiny town of Vivian, South Dakota! I discovered this “census designated place” while hunting for attractions on Google Maps and knew we had to stop by. Little did we know Vivian had a town named after her with its own fire department, park, and Lutheran Church! If we were hungry, we could even have stayed for lunch at the Vivian Junction Lounge and Restaurant, but we had to hurry along and settle for sandwiches at Al’s Oasis in Chamberlain.

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Of course, no trip across South Dakota would be complete without a trip to the Mitchell Corn Palace, home of Cornelius the corn cob and a wide variety of corn-related memorabilia. The palace theme this year was “America’s Destinations,” and it was amazing to see what kind of art they could create using a mosaic of multi-colored corn cobs. Our friends know what big fans of corn Vivian and I are, so we had to grab a couple souvenirs before heading on our way.

We spent the evening in Sioux Falls, and celebrated the anniversary of our wedding night with a dinner at Red Lobster. It was the first time we’d had lobster since our New England honeymoon last year. I also gave Vivian the gift I’d made for our “paper anniversary” — a comic depicting events from our first year together!

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Of course, Vivian and I had to stop by Falls Park before leaving Sioux Falls the next day, strolling among the beautiful red rocks and roaring waterfalls before heading South for home. We drove into a series of rainshowers along the way, which made things a little wet and cut short our visit to Ponca State Park. We wrapped up our anniversary trip at Bob’s Bar in Martinsburg, a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a town of barely 100 famous for its giant burgers.

By the time we arrived home on Monday, we’d driven over 1400 miles across two states, but the time passed quickly because we found so much to see and do along the way. It was a great trip, and I never knew we’d have so much fun so close to home. I’ve had a wonderful year with my lovely bride and I’m looking forward to another year together here in Omaha!

Happy Anniversary, Vivian!

Anniversary Road Trip Video

Goodbyes and encore birthday parties

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Vivian and I have been keeping seriously busy this July (and we’re going to be even busier in a week or two. More on that later). At JNO on Friday, we said goodbye to Anna Baker, who’s going to be living up in Sioux Falls teaching swing dancing with our friend David Tritel for a year or so. We had a “goodbye jam” for her, and then Sarah Porter sang “Fever” as the rest of us danced after the Shim Sham. (And by “rest of us,” I mean everyone except the two or three dozen who had cameras trained on her the entire time.)

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Because one is never enough, our friend Dennis decided to throw a second surprise birthday party for his wife Kara over the weekend. Vivian and I and a bunch of our mutual friends gathered on Saturday to spring the event on her. Dennis did an amazing job with the decorating, food, and keeping this event secret for the last couple of months. We all had a great time and managed to burn off a sugar high by climbing a tree and doing a little swing dancing before heading home.

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On Sunday, the Omaha Jitterbugs were dancing outdoors again for Lindy in the Park. Vivian spent most of her time working on my laptop, while others of us chased a photogenic monarch butterfly and scrawled chalk graffiti all over the steps before calling it a day.

Be sure to tune in time, when Vivian and I will take a road trip across Nebraska and South Dakota to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary! Chimney Rock, Mount Rushmore, and the Mitchell Corn Palace will all guest-star in our next episode.

Fourth of July Weekend

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Vivian and I had another fancy, fun Fourth of July weekend together. It’s always nice when the Fourth falls on a weekend so you can have three solid days of explosive mayhem. We went shopping at a couple fireworks pavilions down in Sarpy county for an array of fireworks to set off, and then we joined our friends up at Jenny’s house for a pre-Independence Day party. We had an extended game of keep the volleyball in the air as the sun went down, then had fun like little kids with sparklers, Roman candles, and artillery shells. We also had plenty of dancing, of course, and Vivian got to do some sweet Charleston kicks with Sarah Little on the deck.

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On Friday, Vivian and I had a “day date,” going out for pasta at Lo Sole Mio and then watching the Wolverine movie together. That evening, we’d hoped to watch the fireworks at Rosenblatt Stadium on tenth street with our friends from GAMe. Unfortunately, the skies decided to unleash their wrath upon us after sprinkling lightly all day long. I was prepared to tough it out under a large umbrella, but everyone else was fleeing for cover and the police opened the street to traffic once we were gone. I hoped the city would have the good sense to delay the fireworks until tomorrow, when people could actually stay to watch them, but they decided to set them all off anyhow. Most of them were likely extinguished on their way up anyhow.

After we dried off, Hugh invited a bunch of us to hang out at his house and watch Liar Liar while eating grilled cheese sandwiches — a lovely “lemonade” moment if ever there was one.

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On Saturday, Vivian and I headed down to Ralston to participate in their annual Fourth of July parade with the Omaha Jitterbugs. Vivian was content to float around with Cliff taking photos and video this time around, and that gave her the chance to nab video of Debbie and me performing and arial for the grand stand at the apex of the parade. It was loads of fun, and the weather was just right: around 70 degrees and drizzling all the way. I’m not sure if I was wet mostly from sweat or precipitation. Naturally, we all crammed into a couple booths at Dairy Queen down the street to replenish whatever calories we’d managed to burn off.

We rounded off the day watching fireworks over Harrah’s Casino in Council Bluffs from the picturesque view of the new Pork Barrel pedestrian bridge. The weather was downright chilly for July, and I actually had to bring a hoodie, but the view was magnificent.

Video highlights from the weekend