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Nebraska by Morning

I had Friday all figured out. Then Hermine came.

It started earlier in the week, John and I decided to go out of town for Labor Day weekend, now that he has weekends off while he’s on a day staff job. Originally, we thought Boston, then we thought it would be much more enjoyable if we had grandparents to help for a couple days. And the Nebraska opening home game happened to be an hour away from John’s hometown that Saturday. So off to Nebraska we planned.

Then, Hermine. In Charleston, Hermine causes some (minor) flight delays, school cancellations, some power outages and a few drops of rain, but what it really caused was panic, panic that we weren’t going to get out of Charleston on Friday like planned.

I got home Thursday night and, sitting at the dinner table, John said…”so I was thinking.”

Here we go.

He’d booked a fight from Atlanta and a hotel in Augusta so we could drive a little over halfway that night. And a rental car to drive in. Since I clearly had no say in the matter, I quickly fed the baby dinner, inhaled leftover salad and got to packing. We were out the door at about 8:15 with a wide awake baby and a short drive to the airport to pick up the rental. I went and parked the car in the long term lot, made the baby a bottle of milk and John pulled up in a rental minivan the size of a spaceship. He said he asked the attendant to give him whatever car the attendant wanted far away.

The baby fell asleep at about 9pm as we sat in typical Charleston traffic, and John spent the rest of the drive looking for somewhere to eat since he was so excited about his new plan that he forgot dinner.

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Super thrilled about this last minute road trip.

Finding anything decent to eat in the middle-of-nowhere towns that span the drive from Charleston to Augusta was a complete failure, and we landed the spaceship at our hotel around midnight, where the baby decided to wake up from her three hour power nap. We got a king size bed and put her between us, hoping she’d fall asleep quickly so we could get a few hours before having to drive two more hours to Atlanta. But, like John was too excited to eat, she was too excited to sleep, and the rest of the night was spent with her rolling around on the bed shouting puppy.

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An attempt at hotel breakfast before the sun rose. It wasn’t eaten.

Despite driving most of the way there anyway, having just one, short flight to Cornhusker land was much better than John’s usual ‘book as many flights as possible and spend two days traveling’ itinerary. But, by the time we landed, I was starving, we were exhausted from practically no sleep and the baby was wide awake.

Our first stop was Whole Foods in Omaha to pick up supplies, since John’s small town grocery store has a dismal selection of organic food and what they do have is almost more expensive than shopping at Whole Foods. We grabbed a quick lunch and ate it in the car while the baby napped, then bought a couple hundred dollars worth of meals, snacks, baby food, milk, coffee and zoodles. Our second stop was Target to pick up baby safety items, a booster seat, baby gate and some toys. This trip, by the way, was a surprise, so even though John’s mom is usually prepared, she had no idea we were coming.

We drove an hour down the Nebraska-Iowa border and slightly west into Auburn arriving just before John’s mom was supposed to get home from work. The baby terrorized the dog, Tater, while John and I hid all of our stuff downstairs. Luckily, Tater was less scared of toddler baby than crawling baby of last Thanksgiving, so she tolerated her from her perch on the couch next to Grandpa.

John’s mom was definitely surprised. The problem is though, that John lives for surprises. Most of our visits have been surprise one’s. If I were his mom, I’d live in fear that I’d open the door on a random weekday and my son, daughter-in-law and baby would be waiting, expecting dinner and clean sheets. Maybe that’s why she keeps such a clean house…

The rest of the weekend was what you’d expect a small, slightly isolated Midwest town weekend to consist of–my post run mornings spent on the back porch blowing bubbles and chasing the dog with the baby, driving around assessing the Auburn real estate (we make a habit of doing this every trip, after four years I’m essentially an encyclopedia of Auburn), home cooked meals, grilled chicken, veggies, delicious egg casseroles and the beginnings of perfect fall weather, cooler temperatures, afternoon warmth and the smell of fresh cut grass and endless cornfields.

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Baby, Grandpa and poor Tater.

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Best friends. Or Tater guarding her house?

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A surprise community garden on my run.

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Tour de Auburn, this was one of my favorite homes. I love the cottage feel. And the Nebraska flag, naturally.

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On Saturday, John and I got to go on our fifth date night of the year, the opening Cornhusker game against Fresno State. The University of Nebraska is in Lincoln, about an hour northwest of Auburn–a college town surrounded by urban sprawl. Lincoln is smaller than Omaha, but it’s growing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someday, soon, it actually reached John’s hometown.

We got to Lincoln early enough that I could get a pedicure–one of the things I had planned for the Friday Hermine came. My first pedicure since…honestly, I couldn’t tell you. But it worth the wait, especially now since I can hardly reach my toes around this giant bump. John ran some errands while I got pampered, then we quickly went to the Lincoln Whole Foods–almost a micro-Whole Foods–for a quick sandwich and pizza dinner and some snacks for the game (that we ended up having to throw away at the gate).

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At that point, it started to pour. I wasn’t expecting rain, and knew that my suede sandals would get destroyed on the long walk from the parking garage to the stadium, so we stopped at Target to pick up umbrellas and a pair of sneakers. Out of all the sale sneakers, these won. #merica

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Nebraska games are always a good time (we’ve been to one every year that we’ve been together), probably because they’re ALWAYS full. John talked a big game about forgetting to buy towels to wipe off our seats after the rainstorm, then surprised me with the same indoor seats we had during the freezing Thanksgiving Iowa game. Although we still had to walk up about 20 flights of stairs. I can run 8 miles, do a barre class, walk John airport pace if I’m feeling motivated…but wow, stairs get me now that I’m this far along in my pregnancy. We stayed until the 4th quarter, when Nebraska was clearly dominating and we could barely keep our eyes open, and then headed back out to Auburn to a sleeping, happy baby who got to play with her ‘bobby’ (puppy) all night.

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At one point over the weekend, we were trying to get the baby to nap before going over to John’s grandma’s house, so we drove a loop around southeast Nebraska, west towards the tiny but polished town of Johnson, northeast to the obviously meth lab saturated town of Brock and farther east to the hilltop town of Peru, home of Peru State College.

I’ve always found towns this small spooky–besides a post office, a library and a bar, Johnson was mostly just a neighborhood and a school. I can understand living in a town that size a century, or even half a century ago, if your livelihood was farming or you were a pastor or a small town doctor, but it amazes me that people live in these isolated communities in 2016. Driving through them is driving backwards through time, to when you didn’t’ need entertainment like juice bars and yoga studios and movie theaters and Whole Foods, to when you simply just wanted a community and a church. I could never picture myself in Johnson (and certainly not in a desolate, dirty town of Brock) and I’m always curious when we pass through, is everyone who lives here from here? Or do people move to towns this small with intention?

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Johnson had qualities I liked. The town felt prideful, with manicured lawns and well kept homes. But Brock is not a place I’d ever like to return to. It was downright scary. All the houses were rundown, there were no parks, or visible people, and I just had an eerie feeling the entire 5 minutes we drove through, like eyes were watching us, ready to snatch our family and keep us in one of their abandoned buildings.

I was happy to leave and head past several miles of rolling cornfields to Peru. Peru State College is tiny, and it’s not a typical college town. There aren’t coffee shops and lines of bars and clubs and an Urban Outfitters, there’s one bar on a short street at the bottom of the hill surrounded by closed shops and empty buildings, the college, which actually sits on the top of the hill that’s the endpoint of the world’s hardest mile race (someday John and I are planning on winning it) is compact, but clean and upgraded, with good sports teams. The town itself is just several streets of college-looking houses, some that are well kept, some that need some work and some that house the college staff. Peru sits on the west side of the Missouri river at the very edge of the Nebraska state line, and all I can think about when we go there is a story John’s mom showed me in the paper several years ago of a college student disappearing and presumed murdered by a local Peruvian(?). That river freaks me out.

Our tour of the surrounding towns ended at John’s grandma’s house on the very westside of Auburn. Her farmhouse sits on acres of land that she rents for alternating years of corn and soybeans, and it’s one of my favorite places to go. It’s beautiful property, and despite a renovation from a tornado in the 90’s, her house is a testament 20th century farm life with fascinating antiques and pictures of their ancestors. We enjoyed some family time, chased some grasshoppers and a cat and let the baby run around the farm that’s been in her family for generations.

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The size of the grasshoppers.

The size of the grasshoppers.

Auburn was the most relaxing place we could have gone for the long weekend, even with the extended travel and John’s crazy ideas, and being pregnant. It was nice to just check out for a bit from the craziness of Charleston traffic, stressful work and our insane schedules and hang out with John’s family and friends. I always feel a hominess in John’s parent’s house, maybe it’s the smell of home cooked meals or morning coffee and fresh laundry or maybe it’s just a welcome feeling that comes from being with family and having nowhere to be and nothing to do. I have to be extremely careful what I say here, because John will file it away as proof that I want to move to Auburn. Although, with his track record, he’s likely already purchased a home there and a rental car to get there.

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Back to reality with a sad face and a Nebraska bear. While the baby eats her breakfast.

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