A Quick Trip to Montana

Rich and I went to Montana for a quick 4 day trip to talk to our builders, figure out where on the property our house will be (we got to stake out our house on our land which was made it a bit more real), met with the county noxious weed commissioner (she had no sense of humor whatsoever), and talk with a banker to work on financing our build. Even though it rained three of the four days we were there and the river was RAGING from the excess rain and fast snow melt…we had a great time and got a lot accomplished. We did get to spend a long afternoon in Glacier National Park. One of these times we are going to time our visit for when the full park is open. They were still working on clearing the several feet of snow along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. I think it is a pretty short window…July through Sept maybe. But that is where the bear grass and wild flowers are and the stunning views. However, we got to see some relatively stunning views down below as well…even if we were soaked with rain and covered in mud after the 4.5 mile hike. We actually saw a woman in her wedding dress (the bottom 6 inches was covered in mud) because they wanted to take wedding photos at Avalanche Lake. The rain stopped so I got a few photos without the rain drops. We also got to have dinner with a wonderful family I met as a secretary at Fort Crook Elementary. We can’t wait to be neighbors! Lilacs were blooming everywhere and we enjoyed 55 degree weather the whole time. Enjoy the photos…

why wouldn’t you want to live here?
Our view from our living room
a low rainbow

Dramatic Summer Skies in Omaha

It has been REALLY hot in Omaha the last week…and it will continue, unfortunately. However, this means as a part of tornado alley, we have lots of pop up severe storms, especially in the evening. Thursday night, I looked out the window and the outside was orange. I walked outside and it was hot and humid and ORANGE…like I was wearing orange colored glasses. I grabbed my camera and took a few photos. The sky and the clouds were amazing. So these are all from my front yard or back deck. God’s beauty.

A Trip to the Zoo with my Lucky Charm, Lily

I feel like I am forever playing catch up with my life on this blog, especially when it comes to processing photos. On May 31st, I took Lily to the Henry Doorly Zoo here in Omaha. I have been there several times, but we quickly realized it had been about 7 years since she had been there. There were not a TON of people there, as there was rain predicted, but there were definitely more than when I was going before if was completely opened and I was wearing a winter coat. We spent about 5 hours walking around. We had a blast. Lily really loves puffins. They had some in the aquarium near the penguins. She was pretty excited to spend some time watching them in action. They aren’t the most popular exhibit so we were able to spend quite a bit of time watching them on the way in….and then stopped again to say goodbye on the way out. She also really liked the red panda, which, I have to admit, is pretty darn cute. He doesn’t come out much but was out for about 20 minutes that day before going back indoors. I hadn’t had a chance to see him prior to this visit. Evidently he is shy. The bengal tiger who is always snoozing…was, well, snoozing. However, it is warm enough that the flies were out and bothering him enough that he got up and was pacing throughout his enclosure. This allowed me to get some good photos of him. Lily was certainly my lucky charm! The lionesses were out and when they hear the click of my camera, tend to look right at me, so that helps to get good photos…but it still makes me shiver on the other end of a telephoto camera to see a giant lethal cat like that staring me down. The rhinos were mud bathing. The pigmy hippos were blowing bubbles. The giraffes were making faces….although I found out later that the matron of the herd had died the day prior. These photos are of all the adult females…so perhaps they were feeling a bit lost. I know how that goes. The elephants were outside….Eugenia and Sony were with their moms for a big but then decided to give us all a show and have a bit of a romp. They were wrestling and playing. What a pure joy it was to watch them play together. I am guessing it is pretty rare to have two elephant calves to photograph that are so close together in age…they are only 2 weeks apart. They are still nursing. Sony is the youngest, but as a bull calf, is now bigger than Eugenia. She tended to be the one on top of the elephant calf pig pile though.

Now that the zoo is fully open, we were able to get food and drinks there. If you live here in Omaha, I am warning you that when they say “elephant sized pretzel” they mean it. It was literally the width of my forearm and came in a medium sized pizza box. It was the best pretzel I have ever had, but it feeds a family of six. You have been warned. Lily and I had such a wonderful time walking around experiencing the zoo. I had over 22,000 steps by the end of the day (I did go to a cardio class and walk the dog in addition to the zoo…but still….lots of walking). We haven’t seen the seal lions yet. Maybe I will try and head out sometime soon for that. It is just beastly hot right now and I am not sure a lot of the animals will be out because of the triple digit weather. Anyhow, if you are tired of cute zoo animals, sorry to disappoint. There are several photos. Even the cheetahs were cooperating. I am going to have to take Lily more often!

A Bit of Sun

I like to spend a few hours every day on my back porch. Even in the horribly hot weather we have right now, I enjoy sitting out there watching the birds, feeling the sun on my face and the breeze through my hair. I have a set of windchimes on my porch given in memory of our Joe. It is relaxing for me to sit back there and listen to an audio book or write letters to Joe and listen to them gently clang in the wind as I sit under an umbrella. I am a big lover of sunflowers and a dear friend, Emily Ryan, more of a big sister, really, brought a few to me a couple of weeks ago. They lasted a long time for cut flowers and I was testing out a new lens and took them onto the back porch to get a few photos of them.

Wildlife Safari Photography Class

At the end of April, very early on a cold, rainy Saturday morning, I gathered with about 20 other people to go on a photo shoot at the Wildlife Safari in Ashland, Nebraska. It is a part of the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo…but not located near it. It is about 30 minutes from the zoo proper and it is mostly one of those places where you drive out through winding roads and get to see herds of buffalo and elk and then hike up to large enclosures of bald eagles, wolves, and bears. There are some closures of owl exhibits due to avian bird flue scares in the area, but we had the park to ourselves for the first couple of hours and not many people came out in the driving rain. There was a class the night prior at Rockbrook Cameras, a local camera shop. There were some photographers with Tamron lenses there to somewhat guide the class and to lend out glass to those who may not have super long lenses. I do, thanks to Rich several Christmases ago. The rain was not a lot of fun as you still have to roll down your window to take photos. If you have ever lived in Nebraska, you know it almost always rains sideways thanks to our generous winds. Thanks to three years of rainy weather conditioning in Norway, I was fine with tromping in the rain to take photos. The animals are all wet. We were all wet. For those who want to know, wolves do smell like wet dogs. And….if you have enough time, you can catch most animals with their tongues out!

81st Tulip Festival in Orange City, Iowa

I have been attending a grief counseling zoom class online for the last few weeks and one thing they talked about last week was self care. You have to do things to try and bring yourself joy…or at least a little break from all the grief. It could be something as easy as getting your nails done, or for me, going on a photoshoot. I signed up with a local travel company to take a bus to Orange City, Iowa this past Friday. There was a tour guide and we were fed a Dutch meal upon our arrival. There was almost 40 of us on the tour bus from Omaha. I went alone…just me and my camera. I was curious to learn about the Dutch Tulip Festival. Having been to the Netherlands a few times and having lived in Norway for 3 years, I thought this would be pretty interesting. I got to take lots of photos of tulips, the Straatfest (like a fashion show of old world native costumes), street scrubbing, and Volksparade. There is a senior who is nominated as the Tulip Queen each year. This year was Queen Naomi’s year. There is only about 6000 people in Orange City and I think all of them were in the parade. After the straatfest, the bergermeister (or mayor of the town) comes through the streets with some other town council folks and inspect the street for cleanliness. The streets have to be cleaned for the Tulip Queen and her court for the parade. The boys throw buckets of water on the street and the girls use scrub brushes to clean. I have to mention at this point that the temperatures did not get out of the 50’s and there was a pretty brisk cold breeze as well. Some of these young boys were SOAKED. I think every kiddo was there dancing or singing. Most of their parents and grandparents were there dancing as well. I also spent some time walking around and taking photos of their late-blooming tulips and replica windmills. I also learned how they make the famous wooden shoes that everyone was wearing. The Orange City Marching Dutchmen, their award winning high school marching band, march in those wooden clogs. I was amazed! The noise was incredible. Anyhow, this was my 12 hours of grief therapy and I captured several photos of families and flowers enjoying a cool May Friday.

Hanging in there…

This is the answer that I give to people who ask how I am doing. I don’t want to give them the flippant “fine” because I am not fine. I haven’t been for awhile. I was just getting used to being able to honestly answer “fine” when we lost Joe. Now I am “hanging in there”. Every morning I quickly scan my Facebook memories to see if Joe’s face will make an appearance. Today was a photo from his graduation from high school from a friend. That was kind of hard. My mind started to think of his 10 year reunion and how he wouldn’t be there to show off his amazing wife and all his tattoos. He wouldn’t be drinking beers with old friends and telling stories of his time at Bellevue West High School that had inflated with a decade of time. Joe was dyslexic…he was moderate to severely dyslexic and school was a struggle for him. What would take an average person an hour would take him 4 times that long. When he set his mind to it, though, he could accomplish anything….like graduating from high school….going to college and graduating from UCM….from going through the OFD academy and then wanting to go to paramedic school. He was enrolled in anatomy and physiology at a local college when he died….in preparation to start paramedic school. He was working so hard with that.

Joe Messina at Bellevue West HS May 2013 with his very proud parents

I had a few other photos of Joe this week I am going to share. One was from high school rugby. He started playing rugby in Norway alongside his brother. The two of them continued to play in the Omaha area throughout high school and then they each played in their respective colleges. Joe loved the game and I became a pretty involved rugby mom. I used to collect and wash all the jerseys for their high school team. I usually washed them twice.

This is why I washed the uniforms twice….they needed it!

The last two I didn’t remember. They were from 7 years ago in 2015 when we were visiting Joe. Lily was so little there. She adored her older brothers and especially had a fondness for climbing on Joe. On her last birthday, he seemed to realize she was growing up and bought her a mace keychain and a book on personal finances. I had talked to him at great length about Lily and her future as an adult, because I wasn’t sure how long I would be around for it…or if I even would. He seemed to take that to heart and was trying to talk to her more and more about her future plans. She is finishing up her last week of her junior year. She won’t have Joe at her graduation from high school next year cheering her on and that just guts me. He was so proud of her and she loved him so much. I look at his instagram page and he has all sorts of posts about missing his “little sis”. Now HE is the person we are missing oh so much.

Today I sent out the last two thank you’s for Joe’s Celebration of Life. I know they are so late, but I just couldn’t put into words how much the Olathe Fire Department and the MO Army National Guard has done for our family in regards to Joe’s passing. They stood up and helped when we were all so grief-stricken that we couldn’t think straight. Countless members of Joe’s unit and OFD friended me on facebook so they could keep up on what was going on with our family and so they could share memories of Joe with us that we might not have seen. They continue to take care of Michelle and are in contact with her all the time….mowing her lawn and making sure everything around the house is okay. These guys have stepped up when they could have stepped back, and I am so proud that Joe was counted in their ranks of both of these awesome organizations. Thank you so very much. Joe would have been so very grateful and proud of the way you are taking care of the love of his life, his wife, Michelle. So I feel that having all the flowers dead and gone….the thank yous all sent out now…that a period of mourning has been checked off in a way. I don’t want to go on without my Joe…he made me smile and laugh like no one else in our family could do. I guess I will leave you with a quote I saw online that sums everything up pretty well: I miss the memories we’ll never have.

Mother’s Day 2022

I had been dreading it for weeks….gone into a pretty bad funk days prior. I did NOT want to go to Branson because not only would I have to grieve my first Mother’s Day without Joe away from the comforts of my own home, but it was a weekend we were supposed to spend with Joe and Michelle in the first place. I am not into touristy places and would rather spend the day outside in nature. Rich finally had to tell me, as I was in danger of digging in my heels and not going at all, that he had planned to surprise me with flying in Tim, my youngest son, to Missouri to spend the weekend with us. There was also the added bonus of being able to spend a few hours with Michelle dangled in front of my nose like a carrot as well. So I sucked it up and went. I did have a nice time but it was hard.

We left on Friday, May 6th, the 2 month anniversary of Joe’s death. The mood in the car riding down to Kansas City to see Michelle was that of a deflated balloon. It was good to see Michelle and take her out to lunch. She, too, was deflated. It was a rough day for all of us. I just wanted to stand in her living room and be next to my son’s ashes. I didn’t want to make things any tougher on her though, so we said we had to head on to Branson. She gave me a gift bag as we were leaving for Mother’s Day. It was so very kind of her. You see, she could easily wash her hands of us if she wanted to. But I love her as my own, and I wish I could do anything to help stop her hurting. I didn’t open the bag until we were in the hotel room. I am glad because I completely fell apart with her most gracious gift to me. You see, I don’t have much of Joe’s. As a grown, married man and owning a house, he had his stuff. I have a lot of photos and some papers. I treasure all of it. Growing up, Joe always had a teddy bear he called Bears. I bought it for him when I was pregnant for him. It is made by Precious Moments and is now considered a “vintage” bear. Joe would get a kick out of that. Actually, Joe and I had talked about this bear a lot over the last couple of years because he wanted to find one to give to his first child someday….but we weren’t having any luck…as they aren’t made anymore. One of the things Michelle gave me was Bears. Joe slept with that thing for a long time….until high school I think. Even as a married man, he had it in his home stashed away somewhere. I was able to hug Bears…to smell Joe….to have one item that summed up his childhood in my possession. It meant the world to me. I stood in my hotel room and ugly cried for a long time. It was just the most precious gift to a grieving mother…her child’s most loved stuffed animal. Bears was LOVED. I had sewn his limbs back on more than once. This past week I found the original “vintage” bear on ebay and had it sent to me. Here are the comparisons….I just want you to know that if you were loved by my Joe Messina, you were loved fiercely. He didn’t do love any other way.

Bears on the left….and what he looked like prior to being loved by Joe on the right.

Michelle also gave me two shirts…one for me and one for Lily…that had been Joe’s. They were the t-shirts Joe wore during his OFD training. What a spectacular gift for us both…to be able to wear something that Joe had worn. I don’t know if Michelle realized what a priceless gift she gave me this first Mother’s Day without Joe. But it was just that, priceless.

On to Lily. Rich didn’t realize it, but Lily had taken one of my photos of a cardinal I had taken recently and painted it during her free time at school. It turned out amazing! I am putting a few of her other paintings on here for you to see as well, because we think she is pretty talented. She was selected to go to an art camp for high school juniors at Hastings College this summer. We are so happy for her! Joe was always amazed at her artistic ability, as am I!

It was so wonderful to see Tim! He lives so far away now. I remember when he lived in Lincoln and we could drive an hour and see him and take him out to lunch. Now he lives in California and he is busy working at Stanford. He is so busy, yet he takes time out to call me when he is driving home from work. He usually texts me during NBA games we are both watching or UFC fighting events. We were able to sit and watch a UFC PPV event while in Branson and that was great. He knows a lot of the histories of the fighters, which makes watching live with him a lot of fun. He and I will be going to a rugby tournament in San Jose in July, and I am really looking forward to it. We all wore our Messina “Family is Everything” Italian shirts on Mother’s Day. As much as I love this photo….two very important people are missing: Joe and Michelle.

Rich, Lily, Cyndi, and Tim Messina at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park – near Branson, Missouri
When I took this photo, I kept thinking that this is how my grief felt….like I was waiting for Joe to join me on a bench to watch a beautiful sunset in Missouri….yet as I waited for him to come join me, my tears of grief over missing him just flowed and flowed, until the bench was being overtaken by them.

I tried very hard to not spend Mother’s Day in tears. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. We went to Mass at a beautiful church called Our Lady of the Lakes. We then went on to go to the zoo and then to Dogwood Canyon Nature Center. We played some board games. I tried to explain to Tim and Lily that my tears for Joe shouldn’t make them feel any less loved….that a part of my heart died with Joe and it was just so very painful. We got home and all the emotions I had tried to stave off during the weekend (because I was never really alone) threatened to rise to the surface as I was finally in my safe place to grieve openly – home. However, Morgan Oslica, whom I have known since she had baby teeth, stopped by with a big arrangement of beautiful flowers and a card that said, “Happy Mother’s Day. We’re all thinking of you this Mother’s Day. Thank you for raising an incredible son, who was an incredible friend to all. From all your kids you’ve helped along the way.” It was the sweetest thing. I thanked Morgan but for those of you who might be reading who helped out with this, thank you. My Joe surrounded himself with the best people. I have always been so thankful for that.

When we first moved to Omaha, Rich dug up a bunch of tulip bulbs around a tree in our front yard. That was almost 7 years ago. This year one pink one managed to come up. It only bloomed for one day before wind and/or rabbits took off the bloom. I told Lily it was Joe giving me a mother’s day gift from heaven.

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park – Lampe, Missouri

We had a Sunday afternoon planned riding a wildlife tram in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park in Lampe, Missouri (about 45 minutes from Branson). However, because of the flooding in the area, the park was closed to all the tram rides. They allowed people to come and walk in the park. It was really beautiful and there were a lot of waterfalls. With the extra water in the area, the waterfalls were full and pretty. There were several stone bridges and a pretty stone chapel called The Hope Wilderness Chapel. This nature park would be the one thing that would bring me back to the Branson area again….especially in the fall. They have trams to visit fields of bison and to peer at bald eagles. Thanks to my good friends, Deb and Todd Banchor for the information on the park. We are so blessed to have a nice long walk there.