Destination Europe

The summer before my senior year of high school I traveled abroad.  I went with my mom, art teacher Raelene Schliep and her husband Bub, my best friend Jackie Ridgway, and two other students Emily Moore and Brianna Schlick.  It took some convincing to get my parents on board with letting me go on this trip.  My mom said she didn’t want me going alone and my dad said the only way I could go is if my mom went too.  So I had to convince her that she really wanted to take two weeks off of work, spend several thousand dollars, leave my dad and sisters at home with a large time difference and a few communication barriers, fly 8 hours overseas to another country with different customs, language, and currency.  Sounds as easy as asking to invite a friend over huh?  

Eventually I got her on board to go.  We applied for our passports, bought travel locks and european outlet adaptors, set up a special bank account (incase we lost the debit card we didn’t want someone being able to drain our bank account) and exchanged some dollars for Euros.

We traveled to Italy, the French Riviera, and France through an educational tour group called EF Tours.  We were combined with two groups of students from Oklahoma and a group of obnoxious girls from an all girls school in St. Louis.  The people were fun and I still stay in touch with some of the people from Oklahoma.  It was interesting to be surrounded by people from other states and ways of life, all while experiencing a foreign country.  

Jackie and I being art students and traveling with our art teacher, were fascinated by the old architecture in Rome, the ornate details of the many cathedrals we visited, and seeing the work of master artists in The Orsay Museum in France.  We were able to stand in front of a piece of work and have a deep conversation about the beauty, meaning, and elements.  We were like kids in a candy store walking through the museum guessing which artist had painted which piece and ooing and ahhhing at the pieces we had only dreamed of seeing in person.  To travel abroad I feel like you have to be able to understand and appreciate the history, art, and culture.  So much of what we saw would have meant little or nothing had we not studied the stuff.  If we were to walk through a museum or cathedral without reading any of the descriptions we would have only seen, but known nothing.  I have learned that art can be right in front of you, but you have to learn to truly see it.  

I loved getting to share this experience with my mom.  There was nothing quite like it.  We kept travel journals and in hers she wrote about how part of her joy and excitement came from seeing the trip through my eyes, watching me learn, and seeing my excitement.

I could write a whole blog post about our eight hour overnight flight from Chicago to Rome, but I will some up a few of the main points.  I sat beside Jackie.  This was her first flight ever.  She put up our shared armrest and scooted her butt clear over onto my seat and laid her head on her armrest.  She saw I wasn’t using my tray so she took it upon herself to put it down and rest her feet on it.  I couldn’t sleep so I watched several movies.  From the many refreshments I had to use the bathroom.  Which meant waking Jackie up, waiting in line, and walking into a bathroom in which my shoes stuck to the floor.  Gross!  When I tried to slide the level to unlock the door it was stuck.  I went into panic mode thinking I would be stuck in there for the duration of the flight.  Or worse, what if when we got to Rome they forgot about me and I was stuck in the plane while everyone else enjoyed Europe?  So I did what every sensible person would do, I pushed from one direction and tried pulling from the other.  Still nothing.  I only had one option left SCREEEEEAAAAMMMM!  Just kidding.  Instead I knocked on the bathroom door until the flight attendant’s chipper voice responded.  I proceeded to tell her the door was stuck and she opened it from the outside.  I walked back to my seat debating on whether or not I wanted to tell the rest of the group that I got stuck in an airplane bathroom.

I spent most of the night watching the clock and the movies.  When our plane finally landed in Rome I hadn’t slept much but was full of energy.  I remember on the drive from the airport to our hotel I thought “Why did I waste money coming here?  It’s nothing like I expected.  Look at how gross this city looks.  There is trash and flyers all over the place.  Where are all the pretty adobe looking houses with flowers that you see in all the movies.”  Rome turned out to be a lot of fun though.  

Our first stop was gelato and the Trevi Fountain.  We threw some coins in and ate the world’s greatest form of ice cream.  Seriously there is nothing like Italian gelato and all the places in the United States that claim to serve gelato are lying. 


Tasting everyone’s gelato in Rome.



Tossing our coins in the fountain!


Bartering for our jewelry. After I bought mine, he lowered the price so everyone else would buy one too.

 We saw The Coliseum and some old ruins, enjoyed some delicious Italian food, and did lots of shopping.  Some highlights included bartering jewelry from a street vendor.  They sell cheap stuff and knock off items.  It’s illegal, so it’s hilarious to watch them pick up their stuff and run if the cops are near.  


Jackie and I inside The Coliseum

We also stopped one afternoon at a little cafe.  Rome was hot and we were tired and needed a break.  Jackie and I went inside and decided we were going to buy our first bottle of wine.  We had tried some of Bub’s the previous night at dinner and it was so bitter we wanted to spit it back out.  So we went up to the counter and told the guy that we wanted to buy some wine, but we wanted something that tasted like grape juice instead of wine.  He goes, “Aww, you want something sweet, like me.  I have just the one.”  We paid twelve Euros and sat outside under umbrellas with my mom, Raelene, and Bub while we waited for our wine to be poured.  Florence Bucur was the most charming Italian we met.  He was sweet, friendly, and quite good-looking.  While sitting and drinking our wine a bird had pooped on my arm.  I was quite disgusted and slightly mortified.  Once I got it cleaned up we proceeded to drink our wine.  When we were leaving we took a picture with Florence and he said, “Ladies if we meet again it will be because of fate or Facebook.”  He gave us his name, phone number, and address and told us to add him on Facebook.  From that moment on we described that story as having wine with Romeo.Image












My mom and I in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s blessing. It was an amazing experience.


Then we went to Vatican City where we got to see The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. We walked through the Sistine Chapel and saw The Pieta.  Everything was beautiful beyond words.  The next day we went to St. Peter’s Square where we attend Pope Benedict XVI’s public blessing. 

After Rome we went to Florence and Siena, which fit my perceived description of what all of Italy would look like.  The countryside was so beautiful and the weather was sunny, breezy, and perfect!


The inside of Siena’s Cathedral. All the churches are so elaborate, with many side alters, and huge pipe organs.


Then we went to Pisa. It was like a few city blocks in a gated area. We visited the cathedral and St. John’s Baptistry. The Baptistry is a circular shape, so when someone sings a chord it echos and sounds like a whole choir. We saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa and ate some Pizza.


We visited some cute little towns like Monticatini. They were fun, relaxing, and had amazing food.


This was taken on the beach in Cann. The town was a little sketchy. There were lots of bars and dark alleys. We were a little freaked out and didn’t want to be out late at night.


This is Monaco, which we nicknamed the city of rich people and yachts. We saw the changing of the castle guards. A cruise ship was docked and had booked most of the attractions. Even though they weren’t full, we weren’t allowed to participate. We also weren’t allowed to go to church (it was Sunday) because the area kids were receiving First Communion. So Jackie and I did a photo shoot instead. Nothing like taking senior pictures in Europe! Then we drove by Monte Carlo (where all the rich celebs vacation) and visited a perfume factory in Nice and went to a rock beach where we could swim in the Mediterranean Sea.


We rode the fast train to Paris. We only had 10 minutes to get all 50 people in our group and everyone’s luggage loaded. The train ride was so much fun and it went 200 miles an hour so we were there in under 4 hours. In the picture is me, my mom, Jackie, and our friend Molly from Oklahoma. My mom and I are holding blue and orange backpacks that everyone was given through the tour group. I find this ironic because all the travel safety info said to try and blend in and not look like tourists, yet everyone in the group had these lovely backpacks.


We got to see many views of the Eiffel Tower. This was at sunset the night we first arrived in Paris.


The next day…


Our view during our riverboat tour.


The view at night when it lights up. We had made it to the top as the sun was setting, so we saw a gorgeous view of Paris at sunset.


This photo is just a small part of the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. The landscaping was amazing. In the background is a huge pool that people actually ride in rowboats on. There is a huge maze like area to the side that has different things inside to stop at. There is also a beautiful fountain in the center of the gardens. The palace had gold gates (spray painted gold because it was too expensive to maintain the old ones), a hall of mirrors and chandeliers, and tons of art.

In Paris we also saw The Notre Dame Cathedral, The Orsay Museum, and The Louvre (home to the Mona Lisa).  We had to ride the subway to get around in Paris.  It has a zillion different routes and was so confusing.  The night we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower we had to race through the subway to catch all of our stops before it shut down for the night.  Imagine trying to cram 50 hurried people in our group in among all the other people who wanted on.  Otherwise we would have had to walk several miles back to our hotel in the dark, unfamiliar streets of Paris.  I loved seeing the sites of Paris, but I’m not sure I would return.  

Some things I found interesting about this trip: In Italy you “play chicken with traffic.”  You walk out and the traffic will stop, but they don’t stop until the last minute so it’s kind of scary.  There are lots of scooters and they zigzag through traffic.  A few times I thought some people were going to die because they drive like such maniacs.  Shops close down in the afternoons for naptime and close pretty early in the evenings.  Water is often served at room temperature, without ice.  On the hot days in Rome that was hard to get used to.  Some rest stop type places charge you to use the restroom.  In Rome they are ashamed of new buildings and don’t dig for a subway because of all the ruins.  Italians were charming and helpful.  French people were rude and aggressive.    

This trip was an experience I will never forget. I hope to return to Italy, as well as visit many other European countries.







School Consolidation and Small Town Population

I received an email through the loper email system from Charlie Bicak, Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs.  The email invited students to the Rural Education Symposium that will be held in Kearney on April 5th and 6th.  UNK is partnering with NU’s Center for Great Plains Studies to host the 39th annual symposium, but this is the first time in Kearney.  Everyone is welcome to attend the event and UNK faculty, students, and staff are encouraged to attend.  

This year’s theme is “Gains and Losses from School Consolidation in the Great Plains.”  “How do we sustain the vitality of rural schools and rural communities?  What are the causes and consequences of school consolidation? How do we support the success of rural students?” are all questions that will be addressed at the symposium.  The keynote speaker, Paul Theobald, has published many books on community-and place-based education.  His speaking topic will be “Rural Schools and Communities at the Intersection of Assumptions and Evidence.”  More than two dozen other speakers, including Gov. Dave Heineman, rural education researcher Marty Strange, school district superintendents, and university deans, will be giving presentations.  Some fun will be added to the symposium including a public concert by the Hutchins Consort, a photography exhibit at the Museum of Nebraska Art, and sandhill crane watching.

I almost passed over this email, but the first two lines caught my eye, “One-third of American children attend school in rural or small towns.”  Hmm, that actually pertained to me, so I kept reading.  “Three-fourths of these schools have fewer than 2,000 students.”  I graduated from a class of around 40, counting exchange students.  The message, “Many communities in the Great Plains have been losing population for nearly a century.  School consolidation is an approach already chosen by many school districts while others struggle to find different strategies.  What are the options and how can we support rural schools?”  It was that message that got me to read the entire message AND decide I wanted to attend the event.  Unfortunately I can’t make it because I will be attending another conference that same weekend.

So now that I gave you all the conference information, I will tell you why I care.  I will start with the issue of population.  As I previously mentioned I come from a small town, actually it’s a village.  The town of Deweese has roughly around 60 people.  The town has a grain elevator, a bar called The Mill, a post office (which might be closing), Blackshirts Liquor store, and a Catholic church.  My school, Sandy Creek, is five towns consolidated with the school in the center, on top of a hill next to a cornfield.  The towns are Deweese, Fairfield, Edgar, Glenvil, and as of my senior year, Clay Center.  

Back in the day all of these towns had a large enough population for their own school.  Fairfield had a hospital, college, and many other businesses until a tornado hit in 1908.  An article on GenDisasters said, “more than forty buildings were more or less wrecked and some of them, were entirely demolished.  The loss there will exceed $100,000. ”  It’s interesting to think about what this town might have been like if the tornado hadn’t come through.  Maybe the college and hospital would still be going today, creating jobs in the area, which would bring in and keep more families.  

Right now the people that live in the area are farmers, people who have grown up there, families who run the few businesses in town, a handful of teachers, and any newcomers seem to be druggies who live in the rundown houses and junk up the yards.  Seriously though, I’m not even joking.  When I was in elementary school the school bus drove by a meth lab everyday to pick up the students who lived across the street.    

There is a lady in town nicknamed “The Crazy Lady.”  To help you see while this description is pretty spot on I will tell you a few stories.  She is like 50 or 60 and has been known to offer sex for money.  She wears short skirts, hooker boots, fish net tights, and sometimes it’s quite visible that she chooses to go without certain undergarments.  She painted bible verses on her house and decided to open up a bed and breakfast.  Not sure she has had a whole lot of business.  One day she got the cops called on her because she was sunbathing naked and she told the cops that her doctor said the best cure for herpes is natural sunlight.  Well then!  By all means carry on!  Some people just don’t have a clue…or an ounce of decency.  

So what about this town is inviting?  There are little to no jobs.  A limited selection of houses, most of which have been junked up and abandoned for so long no one in their right mind would want to live in them.  I don’t ever see the population rising.  Instead I see it decreasing.  Kids will grow up and move away and the families living there will grow old.  The only thing that will keep it alive is if newer generations of farmers keep coming in and raising their families here.  

Back to more of the school issues.  I’m not going to pretend like I know a lot about the financials of running a school.  So instead I will tell you about my experience.  Numbers are so small that in order to offer cross country and wrestling we had to combine with another nearby school, Lawrence Nelson (just for those sports).  My junior year there was plans to consolidate Sandy Creek and Clay Center.  Clay Center had as few as 6 high school students in a class.  There was so much controversy over which facility would be used, which teachers would be kept, and if the name would be changed.  

The Clay Center community were losing their school and they felt like they were losing their identity.  They wanted their traditions and legacy to be continued.  Which for that I felt bad.  Many felt like Sandy Creek should have to change their name and mascot.  This would have meant changing the sign out front of school, the gym floors, the hallways and lockers, all sports uniforms, marching band uniforms, choir robes, etc.  Personally I didn’t care if we had to change our name or our mascot, but it didn’t seem like it was worth the trouble or the large amount of money that would be wasted to replace what was already new, up-to-date, or in good shape.  I found the more important issues being academics.  How about we spend this extra money on offering new classes or college credit classes?

What I thought was funny was that it wasn’t so much the current students who had a huge problem with the merge or concerns about the name, colors, and mascot, it was the alumni and parents.  The students from Clay Center who joined my senior class also weren’t too thrilled.  Understandably they wanted to graduate from THEIR school.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to have to go to “someone else’s school.”  Maybe I didn’t have enough school spirit because a change in building or name, to me, didn’t mean losing your history, your friends, or a quality education.

My class was able to combine some traditions.  Clay Center students usually passed down a key to the underclassmen at prom and my class started passing it down at graduation.  We were able to combine talents and be great at many things.  It became the first year that Sandy Creek competed at state journalism, where we received third, the next year we medalled.  Some more classes like graphic design were offered, in which we also gained some new high tech equipment.  

The consolidation meant that Clay Center’s junior high and high school came to Sandy Creek, but the elementary was able to stay at Clay Center’s facility.  This coming year, three years after consolidating, even more changes will occur.  For the first time their will be a middle school with grades 6-8 attending school at Clay Center’s facility.  The high school will have much more classrooms to work with.  They have also implemented many college level classes and next year they will be doing some exciting things with technology.  All elementary students will receive iPads to use at school, junior high will get to use individual laptops at school, and high schoolers will get individual laptops that they will be allowed to use at school and take home.  

Some good things can come from consolidation, even though at times it feels like you may be losing your identity and what you have worked so hard to create and achieve.  I think this is such an important issue to think about because in the future even more rural schools will most likely be consolidating.  School buildings are getting older and might be too costly to update and classroom sizes are dwindling down.  What I’m interested in is if my school will ever combine with any other of the nearby school and how far is too far in terms of combining and students traveling to school? 

A Peaceful Observation

When my alarm when off at 7a.m. I sprang out of bed in anticipation of where I would venture off to come 9:15.  I made the short drive from west center to Barista’s and parked my car, ready for a cup of, well I hadn’t quite made up my mind at that point.  As I approached the door I could hear the lively melody of the music inside.  Taking in the lighting, warm colors, sounds of chatter, and coffee aroma peaked my excitement as I made my way to the counter.  I was overwhelmed with choices, needing time to study everything on the menu, change my mind three times, and finally do eeny-meany-miney-mo.  The vanilla bean from Starbucks is one of my favorite drink, but I haven’t found one quite like it at other coffee shops.  The specials had a choice called white bunny and I thought it could be close.  White mocha with coconut.  Gross!  Not going to happen.  I settled with my springtime favorite, a peach pear smoothie and a cinnamon roll.  

The counter was lined with cinnamon rolls, danishes, pound cake, cookies, silverware, napkins, straws, and several different choices of tea bags, while the cooler was filled with different flavors of milk and water, vanilla cream soda, and yogurt.  By the back entrance there is a large selection of flavored coffee beans and a grinder with a sine that says, “Ask any barista for assistance before grinding beans.  Thank you!”

For the next hour I sat and studied my surroundings, watched the other customers, checked email, Facebook, and Twitter, and enjoyed the peace and serenity that flooded away the stress and anxiety I was feeling up to that point.  Coffee shop atmospheres tend to do that.  The intoxicating smell of coffee can almost instantly warm my body and my soul.  The rich, warm yellow/tan and brown textured looking walls remind me of the warmth and comfort of sitting in front of a fireplace, cuddled up with a good book.  The sturdy looking wooden tables and chairs have a strong presence throughout the coffee shop, while the black booths, brown couch, and chair are a welcomed haven for those looking slouch into the cushions.  Mood lighting was created from lamps and six sets of lights spread out across the shop, with five lights to each set and each light facing a different direction.


The decorations add to the overall vibe of the place.  Above each booth is a beautiful picture depicting pink and yellow flowers.  Nearby the couch is a large bookshelf, filled to the max with books.  Titles and authors jumping out are James Patterson, Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, “Moby Dick,” “Behind the Oval Office,” and a large red and black book, “The End to Racism.” Chai tea cans and three miniature tea cups line the top of the bookshelf.  Above the couch rests a three part canvas depicting the top of a coffee cup, with swirls of foam making a unique design.  My favorite piece of work is hung by the counter.  It’s a picture of a man and woman walking down a street lined with shops.  The warm and cool colors create nice contrast and draw viewers in.  The art was appropriately selected and adds to the overall feel of the coffee shop.Image

The machines busy at work, the baristas laughs from behind the counter, the overhead music, and the chatter of conversations among friends, family, and coworkers intermix creating a plethora of sounds.  The music is light, sometimes lively, but always relaxing.  Some customers get animated talking to their companions, while others are wrapped up in their own world.

While studying the people in the coffee shop, I noticed ages ranging from around 18 to 45, both male and female.  Some looked studious buried in a book, typing away on a laptop, shuffling through a stack of papers, and showing design plans to a business partner.  Others were making phone calls, carrying on intimate conversations with their companion, or picking up their drinks and going about their day.

I noticed a studious looking dark haired guy, dressed in black and wearing glasses reading “The World is Fat” while sipping tea from a mug.  He only set the book down and pealed away his eyes when he got his two refills.  Two men dressed in khakis and dress shirts were engrossed in conversation.  The one man had a book and his phone on the table, perhaps he had been awaiting the arrive of the other one.  The free wifi is a hit as several electronic devices were in use.  

By 10 o’clock there were 19 people in the coffee shop.  There were times when the line got long.  I overheard several 

people ordering chai tea.  One man went to pick up his dry cleaning while his mocha was being prepared.  One of the four baristas working was congratulated by her coworker for “restocking everything like a champ today.”  

Barista’s is unique because you don’t only go there for a product or service, you go there for the atmosphere and the way it makes you feel.  It’s a place to meet people and enjoy a cup of liquid caffeine.  A place where people can come after being in the cold, looking for something to warm their bodies and souls.  It’s a perfect place to study or read.  In a visit one can find energy, ambition, relaxation, and a boost of happiness.  

As for me and my coffee shop experience, this time of observation didn’t feel like an assignment at all, but rather like some much needed me time.  


A Day With Grandma

I spent a day of spring break at my grandparents house. I grew up dumping flour and sugar into mixing bowls to make cookies, spreading frosting on cakes, and dropping dough into grease to make donuts. My grandma and I have baking days where we get together and bake lots of goodies. We have 70 fruit trees on our farm that my brother planted as an FFA project. One year we made 13 pies from scratch. It’s become a usual thing. This time over I baked a cream cheese pumpkin roll and a banana cream pie with my grandma.

When I got to my grandma’s she was cutting out obituaries from photo copies of newspapers from 1915 and 1930. We went down to her basement and spread out on the pool table was newspaper clippings, photos, letters, and family trees. She was sorting through tons of stuff my great grandma had and organizing it. Looking at the pictures was really cool, as was reading some of the handwritten letters. My great grandma’s cousin had written her from New York where he was a plastic surgeon. He had sent her some before and after pictures of some of his work. Some of it was nose jobs, removing eye puffiness or wrinkles, a boob lift, and separating the skin of a burn victim that had melted his skin on his chin to his neck, pulling his face downward. That was rather interesting. It made me think of how handwritten letters are a thing of the past. I used to love getting mail, whether it was my pen pal at school or a birthday card from aunts and uncles. Looking back at the letters to and from my great grandma or even the love notes my parents had written each other in high school, they are treasures. Will my kids or grandchildren enjoy looking back at my tweets and Facebook postings? Is it the same as a handwritten letter? Is it even comparable?

Another thing I enjoyed about seeing my grandma’s genealogy project was reading the old newspapers. The Fairfield Auxiliary paper on Thursday, January 30, 1930 had me laughing. The town’s jeweler/optometrist wrote a column called Ticker’s Tips and that week it was about a man who was in to pick out an engagement ring. “… From the look on his face as he went out, I guess he’s going ahead and do it. Anyway Mr. Jones showed him some mighty nice blue-white diamonds and he didn’t faint at the price.” In my county’s paper there is a section where each town can write about who had coffee with who, where people traveled, who their overnight guests were, etc. And I think it’s funny. Nothing like a small town and knowing everyone’s business, but then publishing it in the paper too. Well the papers from 1915 and 1930 had that too!

Giving Blood, Saving Lives

My high school student council hosted a Red Cross Blood Drive each semester.  When I turned 16 I was so excited because I could give blood with parent permission.  I brought home the yellow sheet of paper for my parents to sign.  Their reaction to my request for permission was pure shock.  I wasn’t the most cooperative child when it came to medical type things.  I was a baby about getting scraped knees, cringing at the touch of hydrogen peroxide and always needing a Band-Aid.  When I had to start swallowing pills my parents had to mix them into my food and I would spit them back out.  I hated doctor visits and had to hold one of my parent’s hands when getting shots.  I’ve had to get my wisdom teeth out twice and the first time was so bad I nearly cried in the waiting room of the dentist’s office the second time.  So when I told my parents that I voluntarily wanted a garden hose jabbed in my arm to drain the blood right out of me, they were quite surprised.  

They had never given blood, but were proud of me for wanting to go through with it.  I wanted to have the chance at helping to heal someone or save a life.  So I brought my permission slip back and chose a time slot, one o’clock in the afternoon to be exact.  

A few days before the blood drive I began to drink more water than usual to stay hydrated. The day finally came and I was nervous, but excited.  I headed to the gym, signed in, drank some juice they handed me, and had to sit and wait.  And wait some more.  Then finally I had to go sit at a computer and answer some questions about traveling out of the country, diseases, etc.  Then I had to have my hemoglobin tested.  When I mentioned before that I’m kind of a baby, I meant it!  I hate getting my finger pricked.  My reading was too low.  The nurse said I could try one more time or was free to go.  My first thought came with a flood of relief.  I had tried but didn’t have to go through with it.  Then I decided if I didn’t do it now, maybe I never would, so I told her to prick me one more time.  The second time it was high enough.

So I climbed onto the big blue chair and the nurse asked me which arm I was going to use.  I was taking a cake decorating class that evening and decided I didn’t want to use my right arm to give blood.  Just in case it hurt, I wanted to be able to use my right hand to decorate with.  So the nurse cleaned my arm with the yellow gunk, drew a dot on my vein, and jabbed me.  It wasn’t so bad.  I thought “Wow I can really do this!”  I was squeezing a ball to keep the blood pumping and soon my arm began to ache.  When the nurse finally came back over to me she held up the bag of blood and it was only a fourth full, with no more pumping out.  She took the needle out and told me my vein had collapsed.  I must have been feeling brave because I asked her if she could poke me again or use my other arm.  Sadly (or rather thankfully) she said no.  

I had to sit, ice my arm, eat some food, and drink some water before they would let me leave.  It hurt to move or lift my arm.  I had to use my other hand to coax my arm into any new position.  By the time my cake decorating class was over my arm had a huge dark bruise.  My arm even hurt the next day.  

The following year the Red Cross had changed the weight requirements to give blood and I no longer qualified.  I was sad that I never got my chance at helping someone, but I still offered all my friends encouragement as they contemplated giving blood.

On November 2, 2011 my dad turned 40.  For him this meant a morning doubled over in pain before finally telling my mom to take him to the emergency room.  By the time they reached the hospital he could hardly move he was in so much pain.  It took several hours of testing before they could figure out what was wrong.  He had diverticulitis and his colon had ruptured (similar to a burst appendix).  So he was rushed into surgery.  His road to recovery was going to be a rather rough one.  He was worn out and incredibly sore with a rather large incision line.  He also had the discomfort of knowing he would have another surgery in 3 months that would put him back through the same recovery process.  

After witnessing the health issues and recoveries of loved ones, donating blood has become very important to me.  It doesn’t take much time, if there is pain it will eventually go away, and it could save lives.  

Spring Break

I began my spring break by heading to Omaha Friday after classes.  My husband and I checked into our hotel, ate supper at Perkins, played laser tag and glow golf at the Family Fun Center, ran on the treadmills at the hotel, and went hot tubbing.  

After sleeping in, the next morning we grabbed muffins from Perkins and headed to West Roads Mall.  We did some shopping and ate a fabulous lunch at The Cheesecake Factory.  We were both stuffed after our meal but decided we couldn’t pass up the cheesecake, so we got a slice of banana cream and white chocolate caramel macadamia nut.  After that we went back to our hotel to relax for a bit before going to supper at Dave and Busters.  We are both arcade junkies (since I’m not old enough to go to the casinos, we have to settle for this).  We usually spend entirely way too much money, even if the prizes are lame, in which case we make some little kid’s day by giving away all our tickets.  Anyway we spent about two hours in the arcade where we won over 7,000 tickets.  My favorite games were wheel of fortune, deal or no deal, and the one where you drop coins in and they get pushed off a ledge and you try to get them to fall off.  We ended up winning a couple t-shirts, a nice poker set, and a baseball bat.

The next day we went to Cinnabon for breakfast.  I got the middle of a carmel pecan roll.  It was divine.  Then we headed to the Oak View Mall and did a little more shopping.  After that we drove around forever trying to get to Famous Dave’s because the old restaurant locations were still showing up in the iphone maps.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch of their world’s best cornbread muffins, brisket, BBQ chicken, and ribs.  Then we went back to our hotel with full stomachs ready for a nap.  When we woke up we realized we only had an hour left of shopping before stores close on Sunday evenings and I still wanted to go to the Village Pointe Mall.  We went in a few stores and had decided we would eat at Bravo.  Neither of us were very hungry yet, but we didn’t want to drive all the way back to our hotel and then back again an hour or so later when we were hungry.  So luckily Best Buy wasn’t closed for another hour and we could kill time there.  We looked at all the games, computer software, new Mac computers, and then went over to the kitchen section and looked at all the stoves, fridges, washers and dryers, and finally the TVs.  We like to point out all the things we want to have in our future home “once we are rich” as we like to say. I don’t know if any of you have been to Nebraska Furniture Mart, but I fell in love with their red and silver show kitchen.  It’s my dream kitchen and one day it will be mine.  Anyway, we ate supper at Bravo, an italian restaurant, after.  The meal, service, and atmosphere were all exceptional.  

Monday morning we woke up, packed our bags, and checked out of our hotel.  We ate an early lunch at IHOP.  Then we went to Oasis Spa and got hot stone massages and wraps.  It was my first massage and probably the most relaxing thing I have ever done.  Then we went to the Farm House Cafe connected to Mangelson’s.  We found it while shopping for wedding decorations and have tried to return each time we are in Omaha.  They have the best bakery!  I always get their wedding cake which is a white cake, whipped cream, and strawberries and Gavin always gets their Snicker’s Cheesecake.  We had a plate of nachos and got our desserts to go.  Then we made the trek home.  

We didn’t go far or anywhere overly exciting, but it was a nice getaway.  We were able to enjoy time off from work and school, relax, and enjoy each other’s company.  After a few days back in Kearney I have now returned to my home on the farm to enjoy a few days with my family. 

In high school I took several art classes.  It was always my favorite period of the day and was a release for all the frustrations of the day or made a good day even better.  I will share with you my artists mission statement that I developed in high school along with some of my work:

The purpose, the passion, it inspires me.  Art, like life, is expression, open up to interpretation, perspective; everyone’s being different, original, genuinely beautiful.  Art is a stress reliever.  It’s my escape.  I can put my ideas into a piece of work and see them flourish.  I can create and develop something all on my own.  I make all the choices.  I can make people think, I can control their thoughts and emotions, all through my work.  As an artist I hold power.

My favorite subjects are landscapes.  I like to look at a scene and paint it freely.  I look at the world and think, this is art.  The beauty, serenity, it’s all God’s masterpiece.  It’s His art for us.  I see sunsets and sunrises and I’m inspired.  I see barns and country scenes and I think of home and comfort.  I see mountains and the ocean and think of the vast and endless possibilities.  Landscapes are what I look at and decipher a meaning, a metaphor, a new way to view life.

I see myself in my artwork.  I see what inspires me. I see hard work.  I see passion.  When I look at my art I see something I’m interested in, something I want the world to think about, or something that is special to me.  My artwork is my own.  It’s a piece of me, designed by me.  Other people see the subject.  Some may decipher my meaning or purpose and some may make up their own.  That’s what’s so special about art; you can choose how it touches you.

Here are a few of my pieces of artwork, I tried to show you a broad range of media, but as you may be able to tell I prefer painting.



My favorite piece of mine… I painted this from a picture I took of the water pump in my front yard.


Self portrait in a coffee mug.


Abstract baseball painting.


Tropical drawing.


Still life drawing using three different drawing techniques.


Canvas painting of meaningful things to me. The top left corner “I will never forget you” is in memory of a friend of mine that died. Fleur de lis showed up in all her art. I love daisies and Chinese symbols (though that is just brush strokes). The pink is a tree and it’s roots made from my favorite song lyrics. The “Life’s a gamble” is because I love playing cards and have many family memories doing so. I like the verse “For we walk by faith and not by sight.” The quote “Trials are not enemies of faith but opportunities to prove God’s faithfulness” seemed to fit at the time. I love music and thought the quote was inspiring. Ambition is my favorite word. Sometimes we have to remain hopeful to carry on. Love, well love is powerful.


These are pictures I took of couples sitting along the river while I was on a riverboat tour of France. I made it into a college and printed it on a huge canvas. When I own a house it will be hanging in my Paris room with all my other decorations. (Freshman year my dorm room had a Paris theme.)


Water color….not my specialty, but nonetheless reminds me of home.


Clay bust of no one in particular. (It would have been much harder to make it look like a real person.)


Lino-cut with a fishing theme. This was fun to do and is nice because you can make multiple prints using different colors of paper and ink.









Being Raised Catholic, Celebration of New Pope

What is faith?  Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives several definitions.  Faith is”allegiance to duty or person, fidelity to one’s promises, sincerity of intentions, belief and trust in and loyalty to God, belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion, firm belief in something for which there is no proof, and something that is believed especially with strong conviction.”  Faith probably means something different to each of us.

My grandparents started Manna Resort Christian Camp in Fairfield, NE. where hundreds of kids go every summer to stay in cabins, swim in the pond, go down the zip line, spend time with friends, and praise God in the sheep barn dubbed “The Praise Palace.”  I grew up attending camp, where my heart was lit with passion to know God.

I was also raised in the Catholic Church.  For me, this meant being mocked and questioned.  I often heard remarks in regards to how much it must suck not to eat meat on Fridays during lent, how holy days of obligation are stupid because church on Sundays alone is more than enough, how priests seem gay or molest children in their spare time, how all Catholics worship Mary, priests, the pope, and saints, and the list only goes on.  I didn’t always have answers for all the questions and sometimes I couldn’t tell you why I believed what I believe other than that it’s what I was taught growing up.  I will keep my answers short for you by saying: It’s not that hard to sacrifice meat on Fridays during lent.  It shouldn’t be a chore to spend an extra hour every now and then devoted to God on Holy Days.  Some priests have done some terrible things, just like other regular human beings, but just like most people aren’t rapists, neither are most priests.  They live a life of celibacy because they spend their time serving the Lord and their parishes, who are their family.  We don’t worship Mary, though she holds a special place being Jesus’s mother, just like how you probably think your mom is special.

I have never made fun of someone for their faith, tried to shove my religion down their throat, or acted like my faith is superior to theirs.  I respect the differences in what others believe and I wished growing up that people would have done the same for me.  Thanks to the media the whole world, Catholic or not, is probably aware that we have a new Pope.  Following some of the news stories I have seen many of these same comments from people who I assume to be adults.  Personally I think it’s annoying as many of them are uninformed or think that what applies to one Catholic applies to all the rest.

Moving along, I was very excited to see a new pope chosen.  I was a big fan of Pope John Paul II, who was such an inspirational man. Maybe I’ll blog about him someday.

When I went to Italy in June 2010, my mother and I attended Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing in Saint Peter’s Square.  He rode in on the popemobile and drove through the crowd waving and then gave his blessing in several different languages.  It was so exciting to get to be a part of it.  You haven’t seen a church until you’ve been to the cathedrals in Europe. The Vatican is such a neat place and St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel are pretty incredible.  The artwork is amazing.  I anxiously awaited the white smoke being released from the Sistine Chapel to tell us a new pope was chosen.

Pope Francis is the first to choose the name of the Saint devoted to serving the poor. “For many Catholics, a great deal of hope rests on the new pontiff’s choice of the name Francis, the saint who disdained formal authority, devoted himself to a simple life, cared passionately about the marginalized and saw actions as counting far more than proclamations.” –E.J. Dionne Jr.

“Reporters stateside embarrassed themselves daily by projecting their own values onto the centuries-old institution — insisting that the church has to modernize on issues ranging from women priests to same-sex marriage to abortion, ” Kathleen Parker said. “Such issues are not of prime concern to the church or the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. Rather, Vatican concerns tilt more toward alleviating poverty in the developing world and ending the persecution of Christians. And, of course, getting its own house in order.”

She goes on to say:

No one needs a primer on the scandals that have plagued the church the past few decades — or the more recent discoveries of financial mismanagement and the “gay cabal.” The new pope will have to yoke himself immediately to these burdens. Amid such troubles — not to mention managing a world religion, an assortment of eccentric personalities and a vast charitable and diplomatic empire — he will need a sense of humor.

The church faces enormous challenges, but none so daunting as communicating the Good News, which translates to helping millions around the world. Whatever one’s personal opinion of Catholicism (I am not Catholic), the church remains a bulwark against Western secularization and the growing culture of choice. Is it really desirable, just for starters, that the leader of the Christian church embrace the destruction of human life in the womb?

One may make painful, personal choices as the law permits, but even non-Catholics can find solace in the barricade that men and women of conscience erect between human beings and the abyss of relativity. If the church means nothing to some, it is at least a welcome noisemaker in the public square, fearless in making the argument that life does matter.

Without the Catholic Church — the largest charitable organization in the world — millions of the least fortunate would suffer. Catholic Relief Services works in nearly 100 countries and reaches 100 million of the poorest people with emergency aid and health care, including 280 HIV and AIDS projects. Catholic Charities USA provided food services to 6.5 million people last year, according to Vatican sources.




You have all heard the saying “pictures are worth a thousand words.”  I prefer to tell my stories through pictures.  I have taken thousands, so narrowing it down to these took quite a bit of time.  My family is very close.  We have lived on a farm my whole life, so while other kids played at the park after school or during the summers my brother, sisters, and I did things like irrigate with my dad, play in the river, weed the garden, run through sprinklers, jump on the trampoline, or do awesome imaginative things like pretend we were Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, cowboys and indians, or try not to touch the “lava” a.k.a. carpet.  I was very close with my brother all through junior high and high school, but the age difference between my sisters and I made them seem kind of annoying.  My littlest sister liked to do things like tell mom how fast you drive to school, play in my room, mess with my make up, and hang around me and my friends.  My senior year they stopped being so annoying and I began to love their company and still do.  My sister Kaylee is a sophomore in high school and my sister Kyara is a 5th grader.  I call Kaylee my sunshine because she is always laid back and chill.  She is really sporty, doesn’t get caught up in drama, and is always happy.  Kyara is a tender-hearted, animal-loving, sweetheart.  She loves to do anything her big sisters do, is more sarcastic than all my family combined, and can whip up almost anything in the kitchen.

My parents were high school sweethearts, got married, started life on the farm, and soon after started having kids.  They will be married 25 years this August.  They have instilled in me a great work ethic and strong faith, shown endless support and patience, and been an example of love, friendship, and the true meaning of family.  I usually talk to both my parents at least three times a week, sometimes everyday.  I love going home and spending time with them and when my husband tries to tease me saying I’m just like my mom….I take it as a compliment.  (When my dad calls my mom her mother’s name, she doesn’t think of it as a compliment…so maybe parents just get crazier with old age.)

Here are a few photos to give you a glimpse of my family:

Family photo at my wedding

My dad (Dale), mom (Pam), me, my husband (Gavin), brother (Tyler), sister-in-law (Jamie), niece (Tylee), sisters (Kyara and Kaylee) at my wedding. Both my sisters were my maid of honors.

Everyone in my family holding up a Loper sweatshirt Christmas present.

My brother, sister-in-law, and myself all attend so UNK, so my parents thought it would be fitting for us all to sport Loper apparel. -Christmas 2010


This is a fun family portrait. We set the camera up on the back of the tailgate and run to our places before the 10 seconds were up. All our family photos seem to happen this way. Last year my mom wanted to take our Christmas photo before my brother and I went back to college. It was getting dark out so my dad drove the combine into the yard to shine some light around us.



This is me and my siblings before Christmas Eve Mass. Our Christmas tradition used to include eating shrimp, homemade bread, cheesy green beans, and baked potato on my parents’ wedding china before church. Then we would set out milk and cookies and go to church. Santa always came while we were at church and when we got home we would open presents. The next two days we would spend at each of my grandparents houses who live 10 miles from my family’s farm.


My mom, sisters, and I at the base of Winter Park. My dad stays busy irrigating during the summers, so my family would often take ski trips during the winter. My parents and grandpa taught my brother, sisters, and I how to ski. The mountains are one of my favorite places to be and hold so many treasured family memories.




UNK Confessions Tarnishes University Reputation (Revised Final Draft)

**There are quotes from UNK Confessions that may make some readers uncomfortable.  The language and grammar is taken directly from their posts.

UNK Confessions is the current buzz around campus, leaving students gushing about the dirty details of last night’s hookups, students plans to get trashed tonight, and well every other nasty act imaginable.  That’s right; students can anonymously post their intimate details to UNK Confessions on Facebook and @UNK_confessions on Twitter.  There are 1,050 likes and 878 people talking about this on Facebook, with 30 tweets and 414 followers on Twitter.  I “liked” the Facebook page when it first came out and I’ll admit I found a few of the postings funny.  Since then the postings have become a way for people to make up vulgar stories, try to hook up, make stereotypical remarks about sorority girls and fraternity guys, bash the morals of those who have spoken against the page, and trash the reputation of the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Everyone who has heard of UNK has surely heard “You can’t spell drunk without UNK.” I think it’s safe to say that every college could be considered a party college, with people that party and like to have fun.  UNL also has a @UNLConfessions and @UNLproblems, which are very popular on Twitter.  While there are sites like Texts from Last Night that share these kinds of stories, they aren’t affiliated with an institution.  It’s a relief knowing UNK is not alone, but it feels different knowing that you could be sitting beside some of the confessors in class, standing behind them in the cafeteria lines, or worse, sharing a dorm room.

UNK Confessors’ wonderfully descriptive posts include: “Baby just make me cum, and then don’t make a sound,” “I need a woman, not a pre-teen drama bitch cunt slut fuck,” and “If you see a girl walking awkward tomorrow and find a condom in the fountain that was us.”  The faculty and leaders of UNK are also questioned (whether true or not) in posts like “Last night I banged my trig teacher” and “My R.A. fucked 3 resident girls on our floor last year, telling all of them he was a virgin. If he didn’t buy us all drugs and alcohol I would think he’s a dick.”  UNK Confessions wouldn’t be complete without stoner stories like “Taking rips of the bong should be on my resume” and “My Saturday night last weekend= 2 colt 45s 12 beers 3 blunts and 50 milligrams of addy. Haha I had so much fuckin fun and plan to do it again this weekend.”

Even the posts a person likes can portray them in a negative light, as one confessor mentioned, “By seeing what girls like certain posts, I know who the easy fucks are. Thank you for advertising, makes my life easier.”

UNK has worked hard to become and maintain their status as a Top 10 University.  What will sites like UNK Confessions mean for UNK?  Would prospective donors consider not giving funds to UNK because the site gives students and the university a terrible reputation?  Would prospective students turn their back on UNK because they want to be a part of something a little classier and a lot less trashy?  A disgusted person confessed:

I thought we were smart enough to use a little common decency and some semi-coherent grammar. […] It’s one thing to know this is happening behind closed doors but for this to be public knowledge, as if this behavior is normal and acceptable, is just utterly disappointing. Maybe UNK has failed. Maybe we have failed.