Our Favorite Underrated Educational Activities in the Midwest

The Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, IA. In an unknown Iowa town, this beautiful work of art is built of semi-precious rocks.

Railroad Museum, Council, Bluffs, IA . The Henry Doorly Zoo gets all the credit in nearby Omaha, which is not surprising since it ranks one of the top zoos nation wide. However, my family also enjoyed this lesser known museum in Council Bluffs, IA. It was free and child friendly, and perfect for all the young boys in the family.

University of Nebraska Museum of Natural History– Lincoln, NE. This amazing museum featured three floors of animal exhibits, science displays, and fossils. The enormous woolly mammoth fossils were exceptional. Far from boring, even the youngest kids were riveted throughout the exhibits.

Ashfall Fossil Beds is one destination I haven’t seen myself, but reports from friends place this high on my to-do list.

Steamboat Arabia in Kansas City, MO. shows a slice of life in the post war pioneer frontier. Perfectly preserved artifacts from this sunken supply ship were fascinating, and on the job archeologists are at work and available for questions.

Summer Days

Sweltering heat and humidity set in at the beginning of the week, setting the mood for the transition into late summer. Another month and I’ll be making final preparations for the school year, a fact I’m trying not to think about longer than needed. For now, I’m relishing every minute of watermelon, campfires and summer sun-when I’m not occupied by waiting tables.

I started as a waitress all the way back in January, but I’m only just beginning to be really good at it. I am learning that most things are harder than they look, and I’ve been amazed by the amount of multitasking skills required. Balancing a thousand tasks at once is definitely not one of my strengths, but I have been slowly improving in ways to remember and organize multiple areas.

Interacting with so many people has also presented new challenges. I have had to  focusing on ways to make quick connections and conversations with total strangers from every background imaginable. Now I am starting to build a stockpile of topics (Are you from town? Busy day?) and tricks (I will stare directly at you until you finally make eye contact with me, and then I will smile so cheerfully to find out if you are friendly, so I can chat with you, or if you want me to leave you alone, and I will go away as soon as possible).

The family is bustling with even more activity than usual, between ongoing construction projects and trying to keep up with the baby and two puppies (a seven month old collie and a three month old Golden Retriever) who seem to spend most of the day trying to outdo each other in their escapades. Benjamin is also on his way to setting the record for earliest talker in the family, even thwarting attempts to teach him sign language. I once demonstrated the the word ‘outside’ when he was waiting by the door, and after a few moments of thought, said “out-ite” with a twinkle in his eyes.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,

How does your garden grow?


The vegetable garden is looking very promising this year, despite my one month delay in planting this spring.  Ever dependable cucumbers are sprawling and setting fruit, and two out of three sweet potato plants (this year’s latest experiment) are spreading vines in all directions.  The tomatoes are flourishing in 5 gallon bucket pots, the only way I have found to grow them successfully in our harsh clay soil. Thanks, Landon, for cutting the bottoms out of the buckets!


This year I tried three different varieties of the ‘Boy” tomato plants, and all of them are large and setting fruit. I miss having a Brandywine plant, my favorite flavored tomato, but the smaller fruit of the ‘Better Boy’ plants have avoided bug and animal damage much better for several years in a row. I’m hoping for a few more than five tomatoes this year, since we no longer have tomato-snatching chickens around. They went to live on a friend’s acreage earlier this year.

Last month young rhubarb plants were large enough for a small harvest. Daniel and I made a small crisp, which received very good comments from the family food connoisseurs.  Grapes vines are another experiment I began last spring, when I planted three bare root plants. One thriving plant is twice as big as the others and now has a few grape clusters hidden among the leaves. IMG_0840

Not to be outdone by the culinary garden, the summer flowers are in their finest.


Coneflowers and sedum:


This little flower was a surprise-I planted a whole package of bachelor’s buttons in spring, but didn’t see any of the plants come up.


Stargazer lilies:


A red peony from earlier in the summer:


Miniature lamb’s ears and balloon flowers:




A Few Moments with Benjamin

Look at this child.


The toddler twinkle in his eyes catches me off guard. He seems to be saying, “Here I am, World! Just wait, I am coming.”


Nothing draws my awareness to the passing of time as much as a child’s first year of life. Somehow, the even rhythm of days and nights has changed my tiny newborn brother into a this adventurous tike. This little boy, who mastered walking months ago, and is trying out new words every day. An adventurer, ready to explore, who seems to find trouble around every corner. Just a year ago, his only view of the world came from over someones shoulder. And he didn’t mind-he was too busy sleeping to think about adventures. Has so much time passed since then?


I have been thinking a lot about time of late. It’s so much harder to find time for everything I would like to do than when I was in high school, or even in the first two years of school. And yet, how time is used determines so much. What a priceless commodity!  Nothing is easier than letting it slip by, but there is so much responsibility in using it wisely.


I was spending some time enjoying the sun with Benjamin, who knows that being outside is ever so much more fun than staying in. There, his favorite pastime is to run to the far side of the trampoline, lifting his chubby feet high with each step, then turn and run back towards me.  Then he presses his nose into the netting to leave me with a sticky kiss before he squeals with glee and runs away to repeat the sequence again.

 When he finally tired of this game, we spent the last minutes until supper wandering the edge of the garden. I was trying to persuade him to use sign language for the word flower, but without luck. We will work on that one later. So we just looked at the flowers and tried not to pick too many. I took a deep breath as I felt the glowing warmth of the sun against my face and watched the clumsy baby fingers fingering leaves and petals. I knew there was no better way I could have spent those thirty minutes of precious, precious time.



Settling In

Slowly, gradually, I am growing accustomed to my new surroundings. The transition to life on my own is going smoothly. It helps that home is still very near, and I don’t have to go far to the familiar garden or squeeze little siblings tight. Periods of homesickness are very brief. Glancing at the calendar, I just realized that a full three weeks passed since my move.

I am starting to fall into a routine of sorts as well. Time passes with much more deliberation when I am alone, forcing me to consciously find a way to put it to use rather than stare at the walls wondering what to do next. I know I will appreciate this in the school year as I have essays to write and clinical paperwork to fill out, but in the meantime the empty hours are a challenge to fill. Boredom does seem to be the mother of task invention, though, and I’ve gotten to several activities that I’ve been postponing for a quite a while. For example, last week I took Maria out for a photography lesson-one I’ve been promising since early spring.

Overall, I think the change has been positive, and it brings me to look ahead. The next year is full of changes- I will wrap up school, graduate, and take my nursing board examinations to become a certified RN. I will look for and accept a job, and start work as a nurse full time-without worrying about writing graded reports at the same time. I will leave the classrooms I’ve frequented for four full years. My hearts drops for a moment. So many transitions, so many endings!

But endings which will give way to beginnings.

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