Henry Doorly Zoo Cuties

Before I left for Texas, I spent a day just walking around the zoo taking photos. It was cold and rainy and miserable. I didn’t have the zoo to myself, but the weather did scare a lot of folks away, which was great. When I entered the zoo, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that everyone was being allowed into the elephant house now. We have two baby elephants at our Omaha zoo, and visits have been strictly monitored and restricted. I could go in there and spent 15 minutes falling in love with Sonny and Eugenia. Next spring there will be another baby elephant born. I gave a donation in Joe’s name to support these baby elephants and Lily got a stuffed elephant in the mail from the zoo that was addressed to her from Joe. She sleeps with it. Joe loved animals and loved our zoo here in Omaha. So I spent several hours walking around taking photos of several different animals and sea life. I am sharing some of these photos with you. Last photo dump of the night…promise!

The Last Bluebonnet Photo

So in Texas, it is a tradition with most families to take photos of their kids in the bluebonnets each spring….or maybe their dog…or horse…or maybe the whole family. I saw a lot of that while I was down there. There is certain bluebonnet etiquette you should follow…including to not trample on them or pick them. They aren’t easy to grow and like to grow wild. You can plant a hundred seeds in your own yard and may or may not get 5-6 plants over the next couple of years. The fields that have been developed have done so over many years. Their blooms last about 2 weeks. I was ever so lucky to have hit a late season this year as they can start as early as late February. The dry winter helped me manage to hit the peak season in mid-April. They are already starting to fade. Since I was the one with the camera and travelling alone, I didn’t get a picture of ME in the bluebonnets. So on my way home, in Ennis, TX (the home of the Bluebonnet festival), I asked a random stranger to take my photo on my phone in the field of bluebonnets. This woman was near my age and she saw my necklace (a firefighter’s badge) and immediately asked me if I was married to a fireman…my eyes misted over immediately as I looked up at her and told her it was in honor of my son, Joe, who had died 5 weeks prior. As I looked into her face, trying to control my emotions, I noticed she was also wearing a necklace with a badge on it…that of a policeman. Her husband is a policeman. She took a couple of photos of me and then as I stood up, she asked if she could hug me. She did and the dams were let loose and here I was in Ennis, TX, sobbing in this woman’s arms. She explained that she had lost a daughter at birth 30 years ago and her heart still hurt over it. She said she couldn’t imagine having a child for 27 years and then having them ripped away from you. She then stood there with me, in the middle of the bluebonnet field with her arm around my shoulders, and prayed aloud for me and for Joe and our family. It was such a wonderful experience. Sometimes you meet angels in the guise of a stranger…in a bluebonnet field in Ennis, TX.

Trip Home from Texas

I am a sucker for anything that catches my eye when I am alone in the car with a camera on a road trip. It is a two-day drive from Houston to Omaha, and I spent the best of it finding things to take photos of. I took photos of all sorts of animals in bluebonnet fields…Texas Longhorn cattle, some weird water buffalo-looking cattle, cattle-cattle, two random llamas, horses, swans, and an egret/crane (I honestly don’t know the difference). What I didn’t see was any snakes (and I looked hard because they are evidently all over those bluebonnet fields). Yikes. I don’t do snakes. Pig skulls yes…snakes – that’s a hard pass. Joe once owned a white corn snake named Cora. I wouldn’t go into his house in Warrensburg, MO when he had her out. Yep. Would rather sweat in the humid, hot sun of Missouri in the summer than be inside with a snake draped around Lily’s neck. Nope, nope, nope. I was told over and over again to watch for snakes (especially rattlers) and red ants. Found the red ant hills. Avoided those. I don’t think I got any photos in Oklahoma this time. I hit the jackpot in Kansas though. I stayed in Wichita, KS in a hotel and was on my way home on the highway when I had the strong urge to pull over on the highway and check and see if there were any highland cattle farms nearby. This is also a bucket list of mine…to be able to take photos of highland cattle. I had looked in a few states but not found any place close. Well, I was 45 minutes (in the wrong direction of course) from a Highland Cattle farm. I drove there, knocked on their door and asked if I could walk their farm fence and take photos. They were very happy to let me. They even said I could go into the pasture if I wanted to. She assured me they wouldn’t charge and gore me. Well, that hadn’t even crossed my mind until she mentioned it! Anyhow, it wasn’t necessary because I got lots of good shots from the electric fence…and managed to not get too distracted and touch it. So here is another big photo dump…but these are mostly of animals and they are cute!

These longhorns were talking to the “ladies” (regular cows) on the other side of the fence.
Is this a water buffalo/cow mix? I don’t know!
This longhorn was wondering alone in the woods
So pretty with the bluebonnets and evening primrose flowers
Such a beautiful horse!
And a random llama…
A field of hot pink phlox near Round Top, TX
Bluebonnets and Painted Indian Brush as far as you could see
Longhorn momma and her baby
Playing peekaboo with me and my camera
Getting braver with a friend nearby
These three will be triple trouble soon!
This was in someone’s yard…it was too pretty to pass by
another beauty I stumbled upon
The perfect Texas spring photo!
There were two donkeys and they were adorable!
Heeee
Haw!! (love this photo – it makes me smile)
If you have spent time with horses…can’t you just feel the velvet on her face?
This was a draft horse and one of the biggest horses I have seen. I had to reach up to just rub her should joint.
Another message I wanted to share
This field in Ennis, TX was amazing
Swans and on the bridge is the egret/crane bird.
There were many other photographers there with me. I was telling one of them that if I lived there, I would always be out on that bench.
such a beautiful scene
This little calf was adorable!
A little cutie
had to pull over off the highway to take this sunset shot of the windmills
Then the true sunset…
highland calf nursing

This is how I feel somedays….
nibbling on greens

Texas in April

I spent a few days with my parents in the last week…celebrating my mom’s birthday and attending my first ever NBA game to watch the Atlanta Hawks destroy the Houston Rockets during the last game of the regular season with my brother, Craig, and his family. Unexpected surprise was that Hakeem Olajuwon was in the house. That made the Rockets’ loss a bit more palatable. I took my time getting to my parents’ house driving down there from Omaha. I took the road less travelled and hit several country gravel roads because they just looked inviting off the highway. I usually have pretty good luck on these roads. I can go as fast or as slow as I like and take my time looking around and stopping for photos. These off-the-highway excursions didn’t disappoint. I even found an intact animal skull amongst the blue bonnets on the side of a country road that I put in a gallon zip lock bag and brought home to Lily. Yep…no hair bows for that girl….an animal skull is more her cup of tea. Her high school science teacher helped her figure out that it was a pig skull and he thought it was “quite a find!”. At least someone thinks I am cool. I showed it to my nephew, Alex, and he was not as impressed. He couldn’t believe I touched it, let alone picked it up to bring it back with me. Lily and Rich have been soaking and cleaning it so Lily can do something with it…yet to be decided. One of the days I was in Houston, I packed up my mom and dad into my car and took them on an outing to go find some Texas wildflowers. Bluebonnets were on my bucket list to photograph, and they bloomed really late this year, so I was able to get them at their peak. There were also fields of Indian Paintbrush (orange flowers), coreopsis (the yellow flowers – also called tickseed), and a pretty light pink flower called evening primrose. I also found a beautiful bunch of lavender wisteria. That was gorgeous and smelled so good…but attracted a lot of bees! My parents had only really seen the bluebonnets on the side of the road in patches over the last 8 years of them living in Texas. I did some research on good places to go and we found huge fields full of flowers. It was a nice drive and beautiful scenery. Another photo bucket list item checked off! So my next few posts will all be photo dumps mainly….so be patient with me.

St. Peter’s Church in Nebraska
An apt message for Easter and for our family
A bee in your bonnet – Texas bluebonnet!

A hidden field of bluebonnets off a gravel road
country roads are the best
playing peekaboo over mom
Texas Bluebonnets
Another country road…
Country roads and Texas Bluebonnets….bonus!
the infamous skull finding!
I could look at this forever….
A field of Indian Paintbrush
I did lose some skin from some brambles peeking into this field of bluebonnets
Bluebonnets for as far as you can see…
The prettiest fields had both Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes mixed together
Lots of random wildflowers under the American flag
Wisteria
So very pretty!

Just a small little close up of Wisteria – found in a parking lot of a Food Saver’s grocery store!
Evening Primrose
Indian Paintbrush field
A barn and bluebonnets…
Acres and acres of wild flowers!
Close up of the bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes
The smell was amazing!
A true Texas spring photo
And even more Texas!
Salem Lutheran Church
Navasota, Texas
Taken from behind the Volunteer Fire Dept
Mom and Dad with the Texas wildflowers and Salem Lutheran Church
A cow pasture with wildflowers
The fields were so vibrant
“Every wildflower field needs a John Deere Tractor in it.” – Craig (my brother)
So I took a few photos for him…
I am partial to haybales…
So I took a few with haybales as well!
A field of coreopsis – tickseed
A close up of these pretty flowers
How pretty is this?
Close upss
I love trees…and these drew my eye to them
Fell in love with this wee one!
What a sweet face. He was missing his momma…they were all in another field
Going to find mom…
I would walk this country road everyday if I could.

Our KC Visit

I got home late Friday afternoon….just in time to unpack and head to Good Friday services with Lily. I then made cookies and went to bed so we could go to Kansas City early on Saturday morning.

Lily had her first college visit for herself on Saturday at Kansas City Art Institute. She had attended at least two at Creighton University when her brother, Tim, was considering attending there. But this was the first one just for her. I have to say, going to a fine arts college visit is a bit different than a state school. First off…it was really small…completely focused on art and was the size of a city block. No sports teams. It sounds like a very interesting school. Lily seemed to like it. We have others to look at still, but this was a good start. She would have Joe’s group of friends to look out after her and her sister-in-law, Michelle, right there close by. I know she originally wanted to reach out to this school because Joe would be right there, so it is hard for all of us to know that she won’t have him just a short drive away if she needs anything. The trip was a success though, and we were able to tour most buildings and get a good feel for how her college life would be if she chooses to attend there and they choose her.

We then went to see Michelle….because we missed her and because it was her birthday. We took her out to lunch and caught up on some of the day-to-day things that fall through with texting. Tim gave us a timely call and he was able to be with us over the phone as we went out to lunch with her. She is such a great woman…I treasure her as one of my own children, and have for years. It pains me she is having to go through this tragedy and that Joe isn’t physically by her side anymore. I know she misses him like crazy…just like we all do…but in a much different way. She is having to be way more stronger than anyone should have to be, and it makes me so proud of her yet breaks my momma’s heart all in the same breath. It was nice to be able to hug her, cry with her, and shower her with a few gifts on her special day which she didn’t really want to celebrate.

After lunch, we went to Olathe Fire Station #1….where Joe worked most of his shifts. His crew was on today, so I wanted to bring by some cookies and tell them hello. I was kind of nervous going in there unannounced and taking Michelle with us. We were welcomed with open arms (cookies or not – it would have been the same). We stood there and talked to Joe’s good work friends….his fire fighting brothers. We helped go through some of the names of people who had ordered memorial t-shirts for Joe…and then they discussed where the money made would go…what charity in Joe’s name. Michelle has some good ideas on that. I picked up a LOT of t-shirts and will start packaging them up and mailing them this week. They also showed me a sticker they had made and put on their fire truck, on the window where Joe would have usually sat on calls. It says RFB 446 on it… Remember our Fallen Brother (446 was his badge number). It meant a lot to see that. I left there feeling happy to see these great guys….yet so, so sad that Joe didn’t get to spend more time with them. Joe was really good about surrounding himself with good people, and the Olathe Fire Department definitely counted. They were so wonderful about including him so quickly (okay, he had a way of charming his way into people’s hearts pretty quickly). I feel bad they didn’t get years to spend with him. I feel bad he didn’t get years to spend with them. All I know is they have been so wonderful to us and to Michelle. I am confident that whenever those guys go on a call, Joe is riding with them on the wind…there to protect his brothers, if only in spirit.

For those of you not from our area, KC is a little over 3 hours from our house in Omaha. So we left early yesterday…we got to see a spectacular sunrise. We also got to see a spectacular sunset on our drive home. I have to admit I was a little melancholy on the drive home. Rich and Lily slept while I drove and listened to mindless chatter and music on the radio. Of course I was thinking of Joe…missing him. For a good majority of the drive, I had a small section of a rainbow reflecting in a cloud right in front of me….like for 2 hours of the drive. I would like to think that was Joe just showing me a little love on the way home. When we got home, our front storm door had been painted by LuAnn and Jeff Anglo….friends from our church for Easter. What a wonderful and pleasant surprise!

I have been playing catch up for today…trying to get back on schedule with laundry, bookkeeping at work, and life at home. No Easter photos this year. It was hard enough getting through the Mass this morning. We actually had snow flurries for several hours late morning into this afternoon. Crazy for so late in the year. Although we are still heartbroken this Easter and everything is just still too raw for celebrations, I take peace in knowing that Joe celebrates Easter everyday. Wishing all of you a very Blessed Easter season.

Sunrise
This is how I envision Michelle and Joe…even though he is gone, I still feel like he has his spirit wrapped around her in love
Joe’s spot on the truck
Remember our Fallen Brother

This was the tiny bit of rainbow I followed for 2 hours home last night
Gorgeous sunset

The Thin Red Line – A Brotherhood

Last Friday I started my drive down to Houston, Texas, to see my parents and my brother and his family. It was a nice drive. I spent the solitude listening to audiobooks….’80’s music….and some of it in silence, so I could talk to my Joe. It helps to have some alone time to just talk with him.

I can think that we all agree that Joe was taken from us way too early in his life. He had a lifetime of love ahead of him with Michelle, and he had a promising career with the Olathe Fire Department. He loved being a fire fighter. The last call he went on was a hard one… there were fatalities in a fire and even though it was a tough call, he was still gung-ho about moving forward to do whatever he could with his brothers at OFD.

One of the firefighters and friends from the fire department had some memorial badge stickers made for Joe. Lily came home from the celebration of life with one….I hadn’t seen them. She said a firefighter gave it to her. I started seeing postings of the fire department brotherhood and the stickers on their gear. I asked if I could get some stickers and I was told they were all gone….but they would order more and send me some. I got them last week. I sent a couple to my Tim in California. I also brought one for my brother, Craig, who is a LT in the Cy-Fair Fire Department here in Texas. He put it on his helmet. What an honor. The fire department has been so supportive of us and especially Michelle. The brotherhood is very strong. I am overwhelmed at how wonderful they have been. Thank you, Michael DeVaul, from the NKCFD, for the memorial stickers for my Joe. Here are some photos….

As Time Crawls By

It has been a month. One month today…right about this very moment in fact, that Joe was taken from us. Crazy enough, all the sirens in Omaha just went off…it is a scheduled thing, but it was just weird coincidence for this one moment in time. We had a group of Joe’s friends over for dinner on Monday night. They actually made dinner and we supplied the kitchen and the house. It was nice to have some people who love Joe as much as we do join us for a meal and then sit and talk. We also video called Michelle, who had Zac and Megan there. Since everyone knew each other, it was good for everyone to support each other, albeit awkwardly, over the miles that separate all. Rich had breakfast this morning with a friend of his who lost his daughter in a car accident several years ago. He said it must have been a sight to see two big, grown men crying over their breakfast at the Farmhouse Cafe. I am so glad people have come forward to support him from their own experiences. Lily just came home from school early with a stomachache. We are all just feeling the loss of Joe today in our own way. Considering she has only missed maybe 4 days out sick in the last 12 years, I was happy to come and get her and bring her home. We continue to have people from all over the world who knew Joe reach out to us. It has been a blessing to see how many lives he touched in his life. It reminds us all that we need to live life to its fullest and always be compassionate to others. As Zac Oslica so aptly put it in his eulogy for Joe, his best friend, you need to learn to live like Joe and love like Joe. A month has gone by and it isn’t any easier yet. I still have flashes daily that this must all be a bad dream…and then the reality that it isn’t is gut wrenching. This photo was flashing on my echo show as I started this post and it is one of my favorites of Joe. It was taken at Ft. Benning, GA when Michelle and I were there visiting Joe for family weekend during basic training maybe seven years ago. Just love that smile! I love you, and miss you, my son.

A Most Precious Gift

Today the UPS guy stopped at our house for a delivery for me. I wasn’t expecting anything so I was wondering what in the world it could be. Well…it was THE WORLD….a book compiled by friends of Joe’s when we lived in Norway. The book was entitled, “Our Love for Joe Messina from Around the World”. The cover was the last picture I took of our four kids together….on the day after Thanksgiving last year while we were in Houston. Inside were some photos of Joe when he was a gangly teenager…and pages and pages of letters from his classmates and teachers at the International School of Stavanger.

As Rich and I read these beautiful letters to us about Joe and his impact on others…even at an early age, we shared some laughs and shed many tears. We had always thought Joe was a great kid…and then a great man because we were his parents and we were biased. This proved that even out of our sight and care, Joe was a good person. I know he didn’t always make good choices…but he owned up to them and made them right when he could. I am very proud that he was our son and he touched so many people’s lives.

We lived in Sola, Norway from May 2017 until June of 2010. Joe went to the International School of Stavanger for 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. He had the pleasure of participating in soccer, track and field, baseball, basketball, surfing, and of course, rugby, where he excelled on the pitch and gained a lifelong love for the game. So many teachers, parents, and students reached out to me shortly after Joe died..even the principal. International Schools overseas are not quite like American schools. They are quite a bit smaller…maybe 30-40 students per grade level. Everyone speaks different languages and comes with different cultural traits. The schools depended on heavy involvement of parents, so I could immediately picture most of the faces to the names of the letters in this book…albeit their middle school or early high school faces. I knew them as well. They also sent a huge flower arrangement to Joe’s celebration of life.

A local friend of mine was commenting the other day about the support of our military family, and the support of the people we had lived with in Norway. It was a very special group of people from multiple continents and countries…all trying to make their way together through Middle School and High School. I am not sure who put this together, but it is truly something I will treasure for a lifetime. I felt like I was getting a long distance hug from each of you. Thank you so much!

A Few Zoo Pictures

If you have ever been to Omaha, you know that we have one of the best kept secrets….one of the world’s best zoos. The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is an amazing place to go and just wander around for hours….days even. When we first moved here, the kids and I would go and explore the zoo several times during the summer. We all had such a great time…even in the sweltering heat. All of my kids have always loved going to the zoo. Both Joe and Tim wanted to be zoologists for several years growing up. My boys grew up watching and idolizing men like Steve Irwin and the Kratts Brothers. We went to the zoo in Beijing when we were in China to adopt Lily and actually left a bit early because Joe was so upset over the white Bengal tigers in empty cages. This is my 12 year old Joe at the time, crying for the sad life these animals were living. So when around the time Joe died, I got a flurry of Henry Doorly Zoo ads in my email in box and in my mailbox, I took that as a sign that we needed to re-invest our interest and money in the zoo. There were 2 elephants born at the zoo for the first time ever at the beginning of 2022. They need toys and special equipment and extra vet care. The zoo also supports many wildlife projects in Africa to keep animals surviving in the wild. So right before we went to Kansas City for Joe’s services last weekend, we went to the zoo. We gave a sizeable donation and became patrons of the zoo. We have also given to the baby elephant fund in Joe’s name. I think he would have liked that. We had Tim with us and Tammie, Rich’s sister. Unfortunately, it was Omaha Public School’s spring break and ALL of Omaha seemed to come out on an uncommonly warm and sunny spring day. We only stayed a few hours because, honestly, it was a zoo….pardon the pun. It was way more people than I wanted to be with at the moment (or ever). But I did take my camera with me and shot a few photos I would like to share. I think Joe would have liked these since he just loved animals. I hope to go back again soon when the weather is awful and I have the place to myself more.

Some Days are Harder than Others

Today was a hard day. I actually am in a much better head space right now but the middle of my day was pretty hard. Joe was an adult. He was married to the love of his life and lived in KC. I am so lucky that I took so many photos of him…because I have those…but today in the mail, I received a lock of his hair that the mortuary in Colorado cut for us before he was cremated. The last day I saw Joe in person was on my birthday, February 15th. He drove up to surprise me the night prior. His hair was so long and curly on the top…I totally made fun of how he looked…like an alpaca. I even sent a photo to Michelle of him that morning. He still hadn’t gotten it cut a few weeks later, because drill weekend was another week away. Thank heaven for those long locks on top, as we were able to get a good piece of it. If he had been within regulations with the army…maybe not. It was hard to see his hair in a plastic baggy…knowing this is what I physically had left of my first born son. I went out and got something a little bit better than a ziploc with his name, birthdate, death date and case number on it. So today was kind of a hard day. Sometimes things just hit a momma’s heart just right and this was it.