Home Again!

Whilst the rest of the family flew out to their respective cities on Saturday morning, Tallinn and I stayed until Sunday at noon. My mom and dad have a smaller place now so all 8 of us couldn’t fit under one roof. My brother, Craig and his wife, Mayra, and son, Alex, were away on a Thanksgiving cruise they purchased pre-COVID (and had been delayed several times). They live 10 minutes away from our folks’ house, so they allowed the kids to stay there. So Saturday my mom and I spent the morning washing sheets and towels and replacing them all in Craig and Mayra’s house. They came home that afternoon and we were able to go out to eat that night and spend a few hours together. I have always had a special connection with my brother so it was great to spend some time with them. Sunday brought church services and brunch with Craig, Mayra, Alex, and my parents before Tallinn and I hit the road. We left a little after noon and the traffic was HORRIBLE. No accidents, just a lot of people leaving the city to head back to wherever they came from. More than once, I thanked God that Rich was not on the drive with me, as 2.5 hours were added to my first day due to standstill traffic. After years of living and driving in Boston, Rich is not a fan of traffic. Understandable. Tallinn and I stopped in Moore, Oklahoma around 8:45 p.m. to visit with some good friends of ours from Norway: Nick and Kana Mauldin. Wow, it was so great to catch up with them…even if it was only for an hour or so in their car! We will make it a longer visit soon, I hope! We made it as far as Wichita, Kansas the first day…finally stopping at half past midnight. Tallinn and I both just crashed hard and then left around 9 a.m. to get home in time to pick up Lily from school on Monday.

I, again, got a few photos in…mostly in southern Nebraska. The weather was beautiful and we came back a different way than we came. Sheila, my Aussie-accented GPS guide, didn’t seem to think I could do 3 point turns on country roads, so when I went off on a tangent to chase an old barn to photograph, or a crop dusting plane, she had me do big “around the country block” moves that led me to some even better views of random rural stuff. I have put a few photos below of what we saw. The cows were free range feeding in corn fields and were resting comfortably – even when I pulled up right next to them to take photos. Then my killer Australian Cattle Dog got his first view of a cow (from his crate in the car) and went bananas. The cows were on their feet and backing up in a flash. Ah well.

I now find myself playing catch up again now that I am back home. I have slid back into my routine of YMCA classes, and carpooling Lily and her friend to school. Laundry is going as well as lasagna for a dinner tonight for our last LiveStrong gathering. I will miss these strong, warrior queens. I am working on Christmas stuff – wrote our Christmas letter and now need to tweak it a bit before printing. I ordered our Christmas photos and can’t wait to see the finished product as I am using a new printing company that comes highly recommended from more professional photographers. Gotta be better than Walgreens 1 hr photo, I am thinking! AND….I also ordered prints for a friend who asked me for some autographed prints of my photos. Gotta say, I was pretty humbled by that! Amy Tamkus, your prints are being printed!

Thanksgiving Shenanigans 2021

Rich and our four kids flew down on Wednesday morning to spend Thanksgiving with my parents. Lily is the reigning Settlers of Catan winner….Tim is STILL the reigning Monopoly king, although Lily gave him a run for his money…literally. There was A LOT of food and all of it was delicious. My parents are used to a quiet existence with just the two of them and the six of us and my dog invaded their space and made it a bit louder than normal. They are still standing and still smiling. We lamented over the Huskers losing…both in football and volleyball. (it was a rough day on Friday for UNL teams). We spent about an hour and a half taking family photos around their area. Rich and the kids are all safely at their respective homes now. I spent the afternoon sifting through these photos to share.

My favorite outtake of the day….

Road Trip!

Tallinn and I drove do

wn to Houston the Friday before Thanksgiving to spend a week or so with my parents. The rest of the fam showed up later on to join us. I just followed the directions that the GPS (I call her Sheila since she has an Australian accent) sent me on….which was rural highways throughout most of Nebraska and Kansas then into Oklahoma. My trusty companion, Tallinn, did not complain once when I stopped to take photos of old barns and new windmills or little country churches. So I stopped often! He seemed to be content to listen to the audio books that I chose for the trip as well. He was the perfect travel partner. Although….at the hotel we stopped at in Denton, Texas, he went in the elevator once. Once. He did NOT like it and would not go back in again. So, we huffed it up and down 3 floors with bags. Here are some photos from our trip down to Houston last week starting with a gorgeous sunrise in Omaha and ending with a striking sunset in Norman, Oklahoma!

Fall in Nebraska

This fall has been LOOOONG…which is awesome, because it is my favorite season in Nebraska. The weather has vacillated between warmer and then downright cold….and the trees have had vibrant colors for a longer time and the colors have been so much brighter. I think God was trying to give me the opportunity to get some good photos of my favorite season this year. Lily and I went to OPPD Arboretum to take some photos. I then went on my own to Platte River State Park. There I climbed the huge tower to look out over the river and the trees. I missed a lot of the great colors but there was some left. I then got to pet the horses. I had the whole place to myself. On my out there, I stopped at Louisville State Park. The rain and wind hadn’t started yet (got caught in it in Platte River State Park) and the lakes were so still and were reflecting the trees around them….it was just so pretty.

My Oldest Son, Joe

My oldest son, Joe Messina, had his 27th birthday this past Saturday, November 13th. I had a good reason for not getting his birthday on this blog….I was spending it with him! Michelle, his wife, was in a wedding here in Omaha on Saturday. He had to come up on Saturday when we got off of his fire fighting shift at his department. I got to take him out to lunch at Shirley’s Diner (and watch him eat a breakfast burrito that was the size of his giant waterbottle – no exaggeration!), and watch him open his presents. His sister was teasing him about being old….27!….and I concurred after he was so excited about getting a leaf blower for his birthday! LOL! He told me he was a homeowner now with a big yard and this was perfect! Lily made and decorated a cake in her culinary arts II class this past week, so it was perfect timing for Joe’s cake, which he took with him when they left on Sunday morning.

Joe has always been a smiling person…he swear he was born smiling. I was petrified when he went to basic training….I figured he wouldn’t be able to stop smiling and would get in trouble. He made it through…smiling. He has grown into a man that I am so very proud of. He works hard, plays hard, and loves his wife, Michelle, with all his heart. Life is always brighter when Joe is around. I am so blessed to be his mother and known that he has something of me pumping through his veins. I am so proud of him and love him to pieces!

Honoring Rich Messina

I have been so very busy and I didn’t post on here about my husband’s birthday on the day of his birth…November 3rd. Rich and I married pretty young. I was 20, he was 22, almost 23. The chances that our marriage would last weren’t great but we have stuck through it…through thick and thin….in health and now in sickness. I have loved this man for over 30 years. We have had 3 beautiful children and travelled the world together. We are very different people – we have different tastes in music, different interests. However, we complement each other pretty well and always have a good time. Last night we spent 3 hours at the Baxter Arena watching the U.S. Olympic men’s curling trials with Lily. We had a blast! Rich has a lot of wild ideas….and most of them come to fruition and are a success. One of them was retiring from the military and opening a Play It Again Sports store in Omaha. I thought it was a crazy idea. Yet here we are, 7 years after its grand opening, watching his business just thrive. When I first started chemo in December of 2019…I just wasn’t able to do a lot. I was so tired and felt so sick. He was really wonderful about helping out on top of all he was doing at work. November is also caregiver’s month…and although I wouldn’t necessarily call him that in this moment, he still does things everyday to care for me in a small way (which is big in my book)…like washing my car….picking up dinner….going to the Y with me….going on a walk with me. Although he is much like a 13 year old in a 53 year old’s body, and that can make my eyes roll…he is a lot of fun to be around. I have included a few photos of him below. Happy birthday to the love of my life! I hope to be around to celebrate with you for years to come!

Quick Trip to Virginia

We had been home for about 2.5 days when we left again. This time we went to Woodbridge, Virginia for some family events. Rich’s brother, Joe, and his wife, Heather, live in Woodbridge in a beautiful home. It was so nice to get to see their home. Heather’s oldest son got married on a spectacular Friday evening in their backyard, which backs up to a state park. His new wife is from Russia and so there was plenty of vodka flowing along with yummy food from Russia and the U.S. Heather did a wonderful job making it a special event for them. She turned around the next night and threw a massive Halloween party – very obviously her favorite holiday. Her house was….well, it is really indescribable. I have a pretty large vocabulary, but I have to say I have no words for the décor of her house during Halloween. It was so creative. It was a marvel. Rich was told the theme of the party was Halloween movies. Well, I am more of a harvest person than a Halloween person and not a movie person…let alone Halloween ones. Rich came up with the idea of being characters from “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Tim had driven over from West Virginia to spend the weekend with us and attend some rugby games at FedEx Field before going to the Halloween bash. Tim was Pig Pen, I was Lucy, and Rich was Charlie Brown. It was fun but we ditched the sheets pretty quickly so we could communicate a bit better! We had a great time watching the rugby games! It has been a hot minute since I have seen 15’s being played on an international level. We watched Army beat Navy and then the All Blacks absolutely smashed the USA Eagles. But it is always a treat to get to see the haka. We knew one of the players on the Eagles…he is originally from South Africa but went to high school in the Omaha area and played with both Joe and Tim in high school. It was awesome watching Hanco play again…and at such a high level. We bumped into a few of the Eagles at the airport the following day and stopped to talk with them. Nice blokes. We had a fabulous time in Virginia and will be going back for a big Messina gathering during the Christmas break. I didn’t take my camera with me, so these are all phone photos!

Trip to Colorado

The reason I have been so quiet on this blog is not because something is wrong, but because something is RIGHT. I have been feeling pretty good. I am doing at least 1-2 classes at the YMCA each day. Some are not for the faint of heart. I did a zumba class tonight that melted the waterproof mascara right off my face…true story. I rarely wear makeup but decided to splurge and wear makeup to the dentist today. I forgot I had it on until it started melting off my face along with a gallon of sweat. I have found classes that I like and I keep busy…but am whipped at night. But all of this to say that I have been busy. We went on three quick out-of-state trips all in a row, and I think it has taken me three weeks to catch up with work, home, and life in general. The first trip was a day trip to Kansas to help move Joe and Michelle into their new house in Missouri. It was a 25 minutes drive between moves, but it was easier with Rich’s big truck and trailer packed full of their furniture. We drove 3 hours down…helped for about 5 hours then drove back home…just in time for me to go to my LiveStrong class at the YMCA. It was a long day but it was really nice to help out a little bit.

Rich, Lily, and I went on a 5 day trip to Colorado in the middle of October – a couple of days after going to Kansas/Missouri. We flew into Denver and then rented a car and drove to Estes Park and then Rocky Mountain National Park to as far as the roads were open….as we hit snow almost immediately. We had done our homework looking around at places that we wanted to see and maybe have me photograph. Some we weren’t able to go to because of the weather and the roads being closed. Some we just happened upon and were magical. We got to see some very good friends on this trip. Rich and I decided that outside of Nebraska, our biggest friend base is hands-down in Colorado. We both lived and worked there for 4 years and many of our friends from other assignments have retired there. We stayed our first night in Edwards, Colorado with dear friends we knew in Norway. What a wonderful time spent with them as the snow flew outside. It was great to catch up in person. Susan and Tom McClurg…we treasure you both! We then went to Aspen to spend some time at the Maroon Bells. This is a set of three mountains that is well-known to photographers. We took photos there in January when we rode snowmobiles there. However, with so much snow, you couldn’t even see the lake at the base of the mountains. So we went to try and capture the aspens when they were yellow. We were a little late for that…but did get some wonderful photos. Rich, God bless him, got up at 6 a.m. to take me to the Bells to take sunrise photos. It was 8 degrees and dark when we arrived. I set up shop next to a man originally from Prague, Czech Republic. That’s one of the cities I have spent a few days at! We had a really nice chat trying to forget that our fingers were freezing. We wound our way around down to Manitou Springs for our last couple of days. We had dinner with my first karate family…my kempo ohaha…and it was WONDERFUL to hug these people. We had practiced martial arts together with these two families almost 20 years ago. The Maxons and the Lindsays….so, so, so good to gather for a meal with you all! During the daytime we did things like Pike’s Peak Cog ride to the top (the air is quite thin up there – and cold!), hike in Garden of the Gods, Florissant Fossil Beds, the Air Force Academy, and the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. We also got together with some military friends. We had the Bakers (BB flew with Rich at the USAFA) and then two nurses that I was on active duty with at Scott AFB as 2LT’s and one of our charge nurses (a major at the time). That was such a blast from the past to have all of us former Air Force nurses from Scott AFB Med Center together again. When we made our way back up to Denver, we had to stop and have one final meal with a really good friend, Kevin Graefe. We met in college at the University of New Mexico….then we were stationed together at Scott AFB, IL, and have always kept in touch. They were in Parker while we were in Colorado Springs years ago, so we got together often then. Again, it was like years melted away in minutes. It was a fast and furious trip to Colorado and I loved every moment of it. I have probably way too many photos from the trip and I will most likely bore you with the ones below. However, it was a really great time and I am so glad Lily is getting to meet some of the good people that we have surrounded ourselves with during our married lives. It is always nice to hear her say, “I can see why you like that person so much!”

Veteran’s Day Musings

If you know me at all, you know that I feel pretty strongly about the people who are willing to serve our great nation. My family comes from a long line of military service. My grandparents, my father, my uncles, a cousin, myself and my husband, and now my son….that’s the Neitzke side. My father-in-law, Rich’s uncles, his siblings and their spouses, are all military. Four generations on one side…three on another. It is the life I have lived and I really don’t understand living in one house all your life or going to one school…or growing up with your grandparents, aunts and uncles living around the corner and seeing them every week for Sunday dinner. That is as foreign to me as much of my nomadic life is to many of you. When we get together, we tend to playfully jab each other verbally about their prospective service…why the Army is better than the Navy or Air Force or vice versa. It is just how things work in military families.

I want to thank all my family and friends who are military veterans. Honestly, if you aren’t military and you are my friend, you are the exception. My military friends have become like family to me…especially those whom we were stationed with overseas, so far from our families. We adapted to life in Asia and Europe with the help of our military friends. We went through the pain of putting down a dog for the first time….adopting a puppy or two….adopting a DAUGHTER…and having kids in high school….all with the support of our military friends. I remember calling a friend, Deb, to ask how to use the teeny tiny Norwegian washers and dryers….because it was taking HOURS to do laundry and two teen boys in sports was a nightmare scenario. Same friend let me cry on her shoulder after we had to put our Weimaraner, Aiko, down suddenly just 2 months after arriving in Norway. We had people who threw me a baby shower on Okinawa when we were adopting Lily because I had no baby stuff…or girl stuff. People jumped in to do everything from carting us to and from the Naha International Airport, to standing in as proxies for her Godparents when she was baptized. (Lily was our Chinese daughter – waiting to be an American – baptized in Okinawa, Japan by a Nigerian priest in the U.S. Air Force – yes…light a candle and sing Kumbaya – it is a beautiful thing!) When Joe and Rich both had incidences in Norway that needed emergency care…then extended care…I had friends to call to ask about the Norwegian healthcare system. My mom, a former military wife of 30 years, sent me vanilla and brown sugar in the mail when we lived in Norway because I just couldn’t find it and wanted to still do Christmas baking. And travel or looking for a new assignment? There is always someone who has been there or knows someone who has…to get you the real information of where to go…what not to do, etc. The best friend that comes in on her night off to be with you while you are in labor with your first child and admits him to the nursery and gives him his first bath (now a neonatal nurse practitioner and Godmother to said first child!) The nurse friend that comes and watches your infant because the babysitter is sick and mom & dad are both military and have to report to duty…..and Kris, God bless her, her fiancé had just had his wisdom teeth taken out so she was watching over him as well! Then there is the other vertically challenged bridesmaid at a Naval Academy wedding who got relegated to the end of the line with me…who was a Naval Academy midshipmen and I was getting ready to swear in to the Air Force….we have only ever met at this wedding nearly 30 years ago and we are still friends – as it would be of course with two military women standing next to one another for hours on end during a rehearsal, wedding, and reception. These are the bonds I have with my military family – unbreakable and unforgettable.

Rich and I both spent this Veteran’s Day morning at our respective dentist offices. What were the chances? I am happy to say we are both cavity free and I am happy to put that in my rear view mirror for 6 more months. I have talked to my dad and my son today, thanking them over the phone for their service. I am so proud of both of them. My dad wore his uniform to a Veteran’s Day recognition ceremony at my nephew’s middle school yesterday.

Nebraska Sunset

Okay last one today for photos….can you tell I am playing catch up? This was from my back deck and then the street in front of my house a few nights ago….actually Sunday night, because Rich was elsewhere in Omaha and called me to tell me to go look at the sky. I was already out with my camera taking photos! It was crazy beautiful! God’s canvas….even in the city.