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Every Call

On this, the occasion of her retirement from service to her community after 46 years, I want all to know the depth of my aunt’s commitment and, even more so, the amazing inspiration she is.

Uncle Jim and Aunt Paulette

She spent 46 years in service and often on call. One of my favorite things was to stay with my Aunt Paulette in the summer as a child. We would watch Disney movies together, listen to the Phantom of the Opera, and sit on the covered porch when the summer rains came and count the seconds between lightning and thunder. And, all the while, she was ready and willing for the call. That call she answered to save a life. That call she answered to hold a hand. That call she answered to do some of the hardest things someone must do; see suffering.

I am sure there were times of helplessness because no one in the healthcare profession gets to fix all circumstances, but she continued to serve.

She hasn’t served her community only in her profession but in many ways. Here is a list: 20 years on the Rescue Squad Ambulance Board of Directors, the Lions Eye Bank, the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, 4H leader, assistant girls’ softball coach, high school football season staffing the ambulance, a mentor in the local Young Women’s organization, Sunday school teacher, choir member, and Deacon.

Bowling tournament in Las Vegas.

Even with her dedication to the community, she still puts her commitment to her husband Jim of 11 years above all and loves the things she does for fun. She has been so kind to include me in many. I have never bowled with her, which is a shame I must remedy, but I have been on so many fishing trips, to so many quilt shows, and done so many crafts with her. These are things that will never lack appreciation from me.

I am so grateful to have her influence in my life. She is a wonderful, caring, strong, and loving person and has had a significant hand in my formation and those around her, especially my cousins. She has further shaped a community and made the lives of so many better. Thank you, Aunt Paulette. You deserve so much gratitude and the well-earned enjoyment of life.

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The views are of Belgium, but this is a story set in Peru.

Belgian Dream

I think we have lists of things we call ourselves related to the experiences we have had. They become intrinsic to our identity and at times, we rank them.

My top is world traveler. I choose this one for two reasons, my other labels are possibly assumptive in relation to me; daughter, friend, wife. Though I ground myself in the three of those, I claim many labels. Service member is one, but the one at the top of my list is exchange student.

The second of the two reasons I mentioned is that this experience which influenced my identity so strongly was my first as an adult.

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Home is in the Fields

Along Soldier Creek near Fort Robinson State Park grow thickets of honeysuckle in the summer. The smell grounds you in the moment and solidifies the memory.

Often as a child I would accompany my dad to work. This gave me so many experiences in the pastures in the sandhills of Western Nebraska. As an adult, I still love going to work with him whenever the opportunity arises.

Crossing the grasslands on foot to find a lush patch of trees near a stream or lake or riding in the truck on dirt roads and sneezing from the yellow clover in the ditches are places in which I find comfort.

The smell of the honeysuckle and the beautiful yellow blooms were not the only thing present that day. I had crawled over fallen tree trunks to get closer to the water where the yellow blooms were the thickest when my dad came to see what I was doing.

I had been so engrossed with capturing the perfect angle of the the most perfect blooms I didn’t even know what Dad was pointing to at first. He said, “Look,” and as I did in the direction he indicated, it took a moment, but the bull snake came into sharp focus camouflaged on the fallen tree trunk.

Now, I am not afraid of snakes, nor most other things, but I don’t like being startled. I think a lot of people would have reacted the way I did upon realizing a three foot snake had been watching your every move from a short distance away. I ran. I ran straight up the bank and out of the trees.

Cottonwood leaf in fall.

It’s not just the smell of honeysuckle that permiates my memories with Dad. The photo of the cottonwood leaf is another I can smell and evokes even stronger memories. It takes me right back home. The leaves collect on the ground in the fall and have an earthy smell. Those still in the trees make a distinct sound when joined by the rustling of aspen leaves.

The smell and sound remind me of gathering firewood; learning to use a chainsaw. A skill which has become handy due to the strong Nebraska winds and the adventures of home ownership.

Dad has taught me so many skills which have become the foundation for my success as an adult. Sometimes the lessons were a little gruff, but even that taught me to pay attention and get it right the first time.

So, with that, I would like to wish the dads here a happy Father’s Day. I hope you create memories today.

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Years in the Making

Plants on the dining room table and fish everywhere. I couldn’t be happier.

Mini waterscape in an oil pan.

After years of research and design, my husband is starting to live out a dream… aquaponics.

Talk and dreams became motivation with this last Christmas present. I have had Rodell, LLC for a few years with a DBA for my photography and for Christmas I added Rodell Aquafields for him. Since then, we have been slowly growing our aquatics collection ranging from bamboo and little fish in a bowl to now a 115 gallon tank enhanced with a hydroponic system.

Tank and filter system.

I have been so impressed with how he has been able to go from a design in his head to the reality of pipes, pumps, and tanks all successful on the first try.

He is now more than halfway through the building phase and about ready to transfer the seedlings from the dining room to the hanging and floating containers that will produce multiple times the harvest of traditional gardening and use 10% of the water.

Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, peppers; salad and salsa forever. Farmer’s markets here we come, but in reality, it will probably just be a good diet and gifts for the neighbors this year.

Hanging drip system to be filled with plants.

The dream is land and greenhouses as far as you can see, tanks of aquatic critters, and tilapia on the table everyday. It goes beyond that still to grocery stores, restaurants, and a storefront.

This amazing method of food production has the potential to be zero waste and water and energy conserving. Solar panels, chickens, and organic fertilizer production.

Someday, someday we say to each other, but it is very exciting to see someday happening now.

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A Cherished Day

I love where I’m from, but even more so, I love my family. Western Nebraska hasn’t been the sole source of information for my life, but my upbringing gave me a solid foundation and a springboard.

I say a springboard because I have an incredibly adventurous mom. I am grateful to have inherited her best qualities and I have never been afraid of “becoming my mother.” I hope I do.

My mom worked hard to make sure my two brothers and I had an understanding of the world and all the options and opportunities it offers. The year after I graduated high school, Mom encouraged me to study abroad. I was excited at first, then terrified. By the time June rolled around and I was facing getting on the plane alone to live for a year with a family I had never met in a country where I didn’t know the language, my mom had changed my mind and grown my confidence.

Remember how I said she is adventurous? She joined me the last month of my stay in Peru and we traveled the country together on trains, planes, and automobiles. We hiked to Machu Picchu, stayed in a hut in the rainforest, and swam in the Amazon River. We had a big adventurer together that month, and though this day was a small adventure, it was very significant.

On this adventure with my mom, we visited Toadstool State Park and the surrounding area. Just my mom and me.

I was getting ready to go overseas with the Air National Guard and was a bit nervous and not in the best mood. My fun-loving mom fixed that by running through my shots of the sod house windows below. It’s one of my favorite moments with her. She helped me forget how nervous I was and, again, instilled in me confidence in the days leading to my departure.

Through the Sod House Window I and II truly show the beauty of Western Nebraska and places you in a mindset to imagine living in a sod house. The hardships to get there were treacherous and the isolation of the land challenging, but the beauty around astounding; something not many take the time to see.

On the way home, Mom spotted a giant female snapping turtle. The kind that seems to smile at you but has no problem biting off your finger. She was very old and at least a foot and a half wide; draped in moss from the nearby lake and contemplating crossing the road. We stopped and moved as close as we were comfortable to avoid the reach of her long and hidden neck and I caught the moment shown above.

This is only one great experience in my life I have had with my mom and she is always finding ways to create more. I am so grateful to be her daughter and have her love of adventure.

So, Happy Mother’s Day to my phenomenal mom and all the other mothers out there dominating motherhood.

My mom always knows what to do to make “it” better.

By the Artist

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Chosen Bonds

I don’t remember exactly where this was taken, but I do know what it reminds me of.

Framed Reflection

You see, relationship is the most important thing to me in life.

This photo gives me a feeling of comfort. It reminds me of camping with my best friend and her family at The Pits in Bridgeport, NE.

The best part of relationship is celebrating each other. The hardest is watching the other face challenges. We have been lucky. Even though life has given us some doozies, I feel we have celebrated more often than not. In 34 years, since 1987, that’s a lot of celebration.

I had no idea at five years old, when she moved in to the house caddy corner to ours, we would still be friends at almost 40 and with no sign of slowing. I can’t even clearly remember a time she wasn’t part of my life.

There’s a strange and strong bond that forms when you choose your sister. She has always known when to call and what to send to cheer me up, support me, or just make the day better. I think she is the better friend of the two of us…she would likely say I am. That’s just the way we are.

Born two weeks to the day apart, we celebrate our birthdays more like friendship anniversaries. Everyone needs a friend like that.

My ultimate goal in life, if I accomplish nothing else, is to terrorize the nursing home with her.

Even though I know her favorite flower is the daffodil, just like my mother’s, I still occasionally give her roses in the favorite color we share; yellow signifying friendship.

By the Artist

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Here Comes the Key Change

Happy birthday week to the man who can’t resist the key change in Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror.

One of his favorite things to do is cook for people, especially with a seafood boil.

To the man who dreams of things for our future and is willing to take a “responsible” risk, which I thank him for because I would just jump thinking I could fly.

We have a shared and dark sense of humor because of our professions, but puns and dad jokes are my thing. They make him roll his eyes which makes me laugh even more. He’s secretly laughing too.

I have never met anyone who loves animals more. This bird also loved him back. She would not leave him alone and ended up following him through the tour.

Our story is not just intertwined with our shared sense of humor, but also with the music we grew up with. We met because he was the stage manager for the Wizard of Oz and I was a munchkin in our town’s high school musical.

“I joined choir in high school to be around the girls,” is what he says when I catch him singing Bui-Doi. He gets every one of my musical theatre references, knows every word to Les Miserables, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Pitch Perfect, it really makes me happy.

It hasn’t been just that. He saved my life in high school, well, at least saved me from serious injury. He was the school mascot on a float for our small town’s summer celebration. I was sitting on the v-hitch next to him and stood up as the driver hit the break. I started falling between the truck and the flatbed and he reached out and caught me. That is one of my favorite stories now.

After high school, our lives took separate paths, but we still ran into each other a couple of times. He ended up joining the Navy, I went to Peru then college. Almost 20 years passed and we had definitely forgotten about each other.

Our first trip together. He lived in New York City for a time and we had so much fun going to where the locals go.

We have been married almost five years now and we have been able to spend only one anniversary together. I am hoping this year we can make it happen. I don’t mind it so much, though, because the things that separate us on that day almost every year are the things I love about him.

His dedication, his drive, his ambition, and his desire to help others; all things required by his profession, all things that keep us geographically apart, and all things I admire about him.

Being apart can be difficult, but we understand the commitment to duty the other has made and neither of us ever complains when the other has to leave. I think that understanding is actually what makes us stronger.

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Forgotten Things

Sometimes we just need to dig a bit to remember who we are and what made us.

My great grandfather’s house still contains the milk jugs he used.

Whether our heritage is bright and shiny or rough and rusted, it is worth recalling.

We can reach back to things we don’t even know through the things people have left behind, as the milk jug shown above. I can imagine my great grandpa milking the cows and storing the milk in this.

Grandpa P.J. (Paul Jean) Hanson farmed, raised pigs, and drank cold day-old coffee while eating pancakes in the morning and had beef stew every night.

Though my great grandpa died when I was an infant, I swear I have a memory of him holding me.

Today, as I write, I feel connected with my past. Not my personal past, but the past that influences each of my family members in their own way. Those I know; my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and my grandma and grandpa, whom I all love dearly, all have our roots in Sweden.

P.J. was born here, but that didn’t diminish his staunch view of hard work and “all business” that comes with what is passed down in a Swedish immigrant family. The simplicity of his life had a certain beauty. As mentioned before; coffee and pancakes for breakfast, and beef stew everyday eaten from a table with newspapers for a cloth. What more do you really need when your life is outside?

P.J.’s work ethic passed to my Grandpa Bud. Grandpa softened in his “all business” view; I think I see it that way maybe because I am his grandchild, or maybe he really did. I remember nothing but kindness from him.

My grandpa worked hard all his life. I only ever saw him at Christmas or when he and Grandma came to visit, but I know this of him anyway.

He would put on his winter clothes and carry firewood in for the wood stove at Christmas. He loved to fish, but even moreso, play cribbage; a game which I have never been able to figure out no matter how many times my dad has tried to teach me.

He and Grandma had a feed store and Grandpa drove a school bus. When he passed, the church wasn’t even big enough to accommodate the couple hundred people who showed up.

All this to say, I feel grounded here. There are so many other stories to tell, on both sides of my family, that make up who I am. They are all worth recalling and worth telling.

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Real Lucky

I would be ignoring a large part of my heart if I didn’t talk about my brothers.

These two young men, I am proud to have as siblings, always seem to inspire me. They are both talented, brave, hilarious, and most of all, kind.

Two and a half years and nine years younger than me, I have seen them grow and noticed their significant moments in life; though not always physically present and even sometimes a little too wrapped up in what was going on in my life, I am still ever-aware of their presence in the world and glad for it.

To speak of significant moments; I remember so many details of what I was doing the day my youngest brother was born. I was in third grade and standing in line at the water fountain in the classroom when I was called to go to the neighboring town and meet my new brother.

Our neighbor took our middle brother and me home and we called the hospital from the orange corded phone that hung on the kitchen wall covered by the the shapes of orange, green, and brown baskets of fruits and vegetables on the wallpaper. So popular in the 70s.

She then took us to the hospital. I was thrilled. We were going to meet him. I didn’t know when we set out that my brother and I were to have the honor of naming him. Our parents let us pick out his first name and we came to the same one with no trouble at all.

Both my brothers are world travelers and have always set their own paths. I have been so proud to watch them build lives different than the typically-expected.

I might have influenced this love of travel for my middle brother as when we were very little, I “traveled” him from his crib to the couch when I was about three-years-old.

He was supposed to be napping, but I went to my mom and said, “My baby was crying.” She went to his crib and the safety gate was still up. You know, the not-so safety gate of the 80s?

I had somehow perfectly picked him up over the safety gate and placed him on the couch in the living room. He couldn’t have been more than six months old.

But, the significant part of telling this story is the, “My”, “My baby was crying.” I think this is a common sentiment among first-born children. We willingly take on a responsibility for the wellbeing of the younger, even when it is not needed.

What I have enjoyed most about my brothers is knowing them as adults. These incredibly interesting people with their own experiences, their own thoughts, their own feelings; I would choose them to be my friends, blood or not.

I am better for knowing them and even moreso, grateful to have a permanent bond. I got real lucky, and I don’t take that for granted.

Author’s note: I started writing this two days ago prior to realizing April 10th is siblings day.

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Random Road Trip

I can admit there is at least one thing I love about myself. Spontaneity. I have no fear of where the adventure will go and no holds barred on when it happens.

St. John and the Bee, Dorothy’s Rest

The summer my junior year of college became a trip to the Redwoods of California…on a random day at about 7pm. I packed a bag and got into the car. I was ready for an adventure and headed in the direction of Salt Lake City.

Crossing the Badlands felt like being yanked from everything familiar with the exception of the asphalt. The expanses of layered peaks and draws made it easy to imagine the shallow sea that once covered it.

Even though I was only driving through to another destination, it made an impression. I will go back to experience the Badlands themselves and in depth; seeking out the many fossils that bring to life a time when the Earth looked very different. I hope I find a trilobite; my favorite since I was a child. Forget the shark tooth, I want to see the arthropod.

After spending the night in Salt Lake City, I set out to Reno. There isn’t much to say about my stay in Reno. It was a hotel room and a trip to the gas station. I’m not entirely sure if the area I chose was the safest, but I came through.

Mendocino National Forest

In California waited for me Dorothy’s Rest; a beautiful Episcopalian retreat tucked in the wooded hills of Camp Meeker, CA. The overwhelming sense of calm brought by beautiful structures and the seclusion provided by the Redwoods took me right out of my stress and brought me peace. I suppose that’s the point of a Christian retreat; it worked beautifully.

The end, though, was a perfect way to finish my trip through the beauty of California. Though I made a poor choice in the route to Paradise and it took hours longer through Mendocino National Forest (I was basically lost), I was still able to spend some time with my great uncle Ed.

It was very special to see him at his home after chatting with him for years at family reunions. He was a Naval submarine commander and told me all about the harrowing training he accomplished to get there.

We bonded over sharing our military experiences and the Army Navy game. We planned to go to the next one together, unfortunately, that never happened and I regret that.

He was an incredibly kind and interesting man and I’m proud to have him in my family tree.

I honestly don’t remember the trip home; it was uneventful and forgettable as the adventure had come to an end. I loved every moment of it, but that memory with uncle Ed outshines all the rest.