If it involves quirky games, Runzas, explosions, parks, visits to urgent care, cheese puffs, hot humid weather, cute little kids, and food-lots of food; then it must be the Smith Family Reunion II!
Yup, this year we brought it all to the heartland, Lincoln Nebraska- home of cornhuskers and huskerettes. We figured this was as close to the middle of the country we could get. There were 10 kids under 10, supervised by 9 adults (well at times some adults could be included in the kids catagory) all neatly tucked into Kevin and Nicole’s gracious living arrangements. For a week we shared rides, food, fun, conversation, counsel, and viruses.
It had been so long since Jordan from Wilmington Delaware had seen and tasted a maple bar that we took, not one, but two trips to The Donut Hole downtown. These weren’t just maple bars, but bars with meat- strips of bacon curled on top of a bed of frosting and fried dough. Their other donuts weren’t bad either. It was amazing to me how far those donuts went. Cut into fourths we sampled everything and the grandkids energy exploded while the adult’s metabolisms caused our bodies to slough onto the couches.
We visited several stores- Rocket Fizz where they had a store filled with candy brands that covered a generation and soda pop that ranged from flavors like Banana Nut, Cotton Candy, Bacon with Chocolate, and of course, Sweet Corn. We enjoyed it so much we went back a second time before we left. We also went to Licorice International where they sell, you guessed it, Licorice! Had some great samples of licorice from all over the world. We also had some great ice cream from Ivanna Cone. They hand make their ice cream right on site and the flavors vary each day. My Cream de Menthe was smooth, creamy and refreshing.
We finally made the trip to the world famous Omaha Zoo, recently voted the best zoo in the world. At the Omaha Zoo we go into the animal’s world to see them-such as desert domes, underground caves, into darkness for the nocturns, tropics and savannahs. We were there for hours and probably still only covered half the exhibits. But with tired, wilty kids and grandpas we needed to leave.
In that same Omaha visit we visited the Winter Quarters visitor’s center where some of our pioneer ancestors camped before crossing the plains to Utah. There the kids, and a few adults, dressed up in pioneer garb, posed while pushing a hand cart, and learned about what it took to get ready for the several thousand mile journey across the wilderness in the mid 1800’s. With several photos taken in front of the Omaha Temple we were reminded of our quest to be an eternal family.
Some of us made the trip to the University of Nebraska campus where we wandered through the bookstore, bought Nebraska gear, wore obnoxious looking corn cobs on our heads, and paid a visit to the most sacred shrine in Lincoln- Memorial Stadium where the Cornhuskers play a few football games each year. They even have a gate worshippers could go through that gets you into a part of the stadium overlooking the field. We also went into their training facility and a hall where all their Bowl game trophies and photos and gear from some of Nebraska’s football folk heroes. I even told a receptionist there that I had taken off my Oregon Ducks cap while walking through the hall. She appreciated the respect. She didn’t see the “GO DUCKS AND BYU COUGARS” graffiti I penned in some very obscure places. Just kidding. I didn’t really do that. Well, just under the drinking fountain maybe…
We also took a walk from campus to the state capital building. The capital tower rises over 300 feet and visitors can take an elevator almost to the top and walk around the observation deck. This gives a great view of the surrounding Lincoln area. The noon sun was hot and the humidity made us feel as if we were still in the tropical exhibit at the zoo. When we finally arrived to the capital we noticed Jan was pale and sweating. We had her sit for awhile but then a tour guide burst into the room telling us that if we wanted to tour the building we best be getting over there. We stayed to be polite but we really only wanted to learn how to go up into the tower. We learned a few things though.
Over the 4th of July we learned that Nebraskans are firework freaks. All fireworks are legal and people begin the afternoon of the 3rd to launch their explosive devices. I’d noticed on an earlier visit that Nebraskans use their garages and driveways for tailgate parties before football games. Any football games. They do the same for the firework displays. They pull out the chairs, the grill, the cooler, grandma and their individual treasure trove of fireworks and spend the 3rd and 4th of July just talking and eating. Then there’s lots of screaming, running, ducking, dodging, and hiding from the chaos caused by errant explosives. Such fun!
And finally, where there are Smith’s gathered, there are Smith Olympics! Started many years ago as a Family Home Evening activity we’ve kept this multi- event game competition alive each time we get together. There are no prizes, just winner’s pride-for about a minute. Each family had one or two events we competed in. There was plastic cup stacking, water balloon tossing, hula hoop body weaving and blowing cups across the table with balloon air etc… However, I have to say, my favorite was one I didn’t even participate in. Because it was my game. We teamed up and one team member put on a shower cap which we then sprayed with shaving cream. The other team member stood about five feet away with a bowl of Cheetos Puffs. One by one they tossed the puff and tried to land it on the head of the other team member. It was not an easy task and a few of the children were horrified that we were ruining cheese puffs but it was lots of fun. The boys with Cheetos sticking out of their heads looked like they were at a Little Orphan Annie audition. That was so much fun that Jan and I now spread dip on our shower capped heads with chips poking out. This keeps our hands free to carry our plate or drink around.
We loved being with everyone. But the times I cherished most were actually the quieter moments, talking one on one, playing a few board games, watching World Cup Soccer on TV, and everyone randomly joining in singing a rather raucous version of “Let it Go” as we watched the movie Frozen. Oh, and the urgent care visit was for Noah who caught a slip n slide in his eye and required a few stitches. At least, for a few days, Lincoln, Nebraska was “the greatest place on earth.”