Benjamin missed yesterday because of the eclipse, so he started kindergarten today. He and Dave made his lunch last night, and he and I walked to school while Dave dropped Phoebe off and met us at Sanchez. Benjamin was both excited and nervous on the playground, but he lined up and made it into his classroom to put his lunch in the laundry basket marked “Mrs. Rothman” and adorned with a picture of a ladybug. He hung his backpack on his hook and disappeared from our view.
After school we learned that he’d had a good day. Congratulations, little boy! You’re truly getting big.
We had such a great weekend! A year ago, we were camping with our friends the Gawenuses, and Kevin was telling us about a total solar eclipse that was coming in August of 2017. He said we’d need to get a hotel room almost immediately. It sounded very interesting, especially to Dave, our amateur astronomer, but also very far away. The year flew by, and after all that time waiting, the weekend finally came!
After considering the hotel option, we instead planned to camp somewhere in the zone of totality, because our home in Colorado is only a few hours away from the total eclipse. As the date neared, we poured over maps of BLM land and tried to figure out just how packed the highways were truly going to be. About a week ago, Lisa Gawenus mentioned a new plan: her mom and dad live in Dix, Nebraska, which is about 2 hours from here and only 1 hour from the zone. What if we camped in the Hochstedler backyard and drove up to Alliance, NE, or thereabouts on Monday morning?
A brilliant plan! We were able to spend Friday night NOT scrambling to get out of town. In fact, Dave and Phoebe went to a talk up at the Berthoud Observatory while Benjamin and I did the grocery shopping for the coming week. Saturday morning I went for a run, we had our usual burritos at Cannon Mine, and the kids and I strolled around the Lafayette Peach Festival while Dave got a haircut.
We packed up the camping gear plus a load of astronomy equipment and drove off after lunch. After an uneventful drive with nary a spot of traffic, we beat the Gawenuses to Dix and introduced ourselves to John and Dorothy, Lisa’s parents, who welcomed us with open arms. We set up our tent, had some dinner, and put the kids to bed. It was very civilized to brush their teeth in the bathroom! We four grownups stayed up drinking wine and beer and chatting, gazing up at the clear Nebraska skies.
Sunday we spent the day lazing around the yard. We went to the playground, and Kevin flew his drone with the kids.
Video of B on playground:
We ate tons of food and made a slightly amended plan for the eclipse, based on the weather. The Internet informed us that the Scottsbluff area was going to be better viewing than Alliance, so we planned to leave for there by about 6:45 a.m. We were on the road right on time.
After a little bit of driving around, we stumbled on Lake Minatare State Recreation Area in Nebraska. We ended up on a road that led out to a peninsula and an old lighthouse built during the WPA era in the 1930s. There were dozens of people there, but not a crowd, and we were right on a lovely lake. After a bout of morning fog, the sun was shining like crazy. We walked along the beach while Dave set up his equipment and played some of what Benjamin calls frisbee ball. It wasn’t too long before C1 (the first contact of the edge of the moon with the edge of the sun). We alternated playing games with putting on our eclipse glasses and gazing up at the ever-shrinking sun. I’ll leave Dave to tell you about all of his filters and wedges; suffice it to say, we had all the cool gear. Phoebe had brought a notebook and wrote a report about what was happening (of her own volition!)
The wind kicked up. The sky got darker. We watched the bite out of the sun get bigger and bigger. We met other folks watching the sky. We ate snacks. We were all more excited than we thought we’d be, and then the moon slipped directly in front of the sun. Later, we all agreed that the 2 minutes went by in a flash. It was beautiful and spectacular. It was far more moving and powerful than I expected. It was worth every minute of the preparations and more. Just like the eclipse chasers on NPR said, once you’re seeing it, you’re watching in awe while wondering how soon you can see it again. We could see Venus clearly, and the sky looked like sunset. It was dark! And the edges of the sun slipping around the edges of the moon were glorious and otherworldly. It’s so hard to understand how powerful the sun is, but seeing how bright our sky is with most of the sun obscured was a great object lesson.
While we waited for Dave to photograph and view C4, we climbed up in the lighthouse, which was really neat.
What a perfect day! Great friends, the perfect place to have a stunning experience, and a pretty reasonable amount of traffic. We were home in time to eat a pizza and get Benjamin ready for his first day of kindergarten tomorrow.
Phoebe is really excited to be starting second grade. She has a few friends from last year in her class, and her teacher, Mrs. Marshall, likes to camp, so the classroom is decorated with all sorts of cute camping images. Right up Phoebe’s alley! We’re looking forward to a fun year.
Our final destination was Jennifer and Lee’s house at Buckhorn Lake. We had a great time there two years ago, so we’d all been looking forward to going back for more than a year! We arrived in the afternoon, got settled in, and headed down to the lake to get acclimated. The kids were a bit timid, but that wouldn’t take long to overcome. On our way through Millersburg, we’d seen a sign for a brew pub, so we decided we wanted to go into town for dinner that evening. It would be the only meal we’d eat out the entire trip! The Otts were happy to join us, but it turned out that the brew pub was actually two separate things, and the brewery was closed. The restaurant was open, so we had some dinner and headed back for bed. Benjamin had decided he wanted to sleep in the pack-n-play, but in the big kids’ room, so all five kids planned to sleep together in two bunk beds plus a pack-n-play. As always on the first night with new sleeping arrangements, it was a bit chaotic, but they eventually fell asleep. Dave and I watched a movie while Jennifer and Lee taught online courses. (I can’t remember the order, but we watched Logan, Edge of Tomorrow, and Lego Batman: The Movie in the evenings. I slept through almost all of all three of them.)
Tuesday, July 4
It’s always fun to wake up whenever you want, eat some breakfast, and wander down the lake…vacation! On the fourth of July, my brother Matt and sister-in-law Erin joined us at the lake house for the day. We all went out on the boat for a while and took turns tubing. Later in the afternoon, Phoebe and I headed back to the house to make deviled eggs and six-layer salad for our cookout dinner. Phoebe deviled a dozen eggs all by herself, making half with paprika and the other half with capers. The others, including Benjamin, went out on the boat some more and Dave, Lee, and Matt did some high-speed tubing. We had hamburgers, hot dogs, and Long Island Iced Teas made with Matt’s clear liquor combo. It was a lovely way to spend the Fourth of July.
Wednesday, July 5
On Wednesday morning, I went out for a run—I meant to circumambulate the lake, but I got lost and ended up seeing only one side of it. It was so hot and muggy by 7 a.m.! I didn’t take any photos on the fifth. We spent most of the day down at the lake. Dave got a chance to drive down to Urbana to see his college saxophone professor; we’ve kept in touch with Hap and Mary Ann all these years through Christmas letters. They had a really nice conversation, reminiscing about their time together and talking music.
Thursday, Phoebe and I got up before everyone else and went down to the lake for our biennial mother-daughter kayak trip. We made it all the way to the playground, which was our goal! I absolutely love to be out on the lake in the morning; we had it to ourselves. Phoebe felt too tired to make it back, and cried quite a bit, but she didn’t really have a choice except to keep going, and she ended up being tougher than she thought. Later in the day, she was talking about how much fun she’d had.
Every chance we got, Jennifer and I snuck out to the front porch to read. I had started (and am still finishing) a terrific book my friend Karen gave me for my birthday, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis.
Last full day at the lake. We were pretty much done with the boat and tubing, and we’d started to have some afternoon thunderstorms. We still managed an hour or so at the lake, but the kids played inside a lot, especially a car-racing video game. After the kids went to bed, Jennifer and I spent an amusing hour or so looking up people we remember from our Wittenberg days on Facebook.
I went running in the morning and was finally able to make it around the lake! We were able to stay at the lake house until it was time to go to the airport, and the weather was cooperating, so we did a bit of swimming and then got everything packed back into the Ottmobile. Jennifer drove us to Cleveland, and we buzzed through security and had plenty of time for dinner before we got on the plane.
Dave and I were so glad to get back to the dry air in Colorado! You can tell you’ve had a nice long vacation when you’re ready to go home afterward. My friend Reneé picked us up in Cherry Blaze, and we got home right around bedtime. We had Sunday to recover before going back to work. It was so great to see family and friends. The kids were terrific, and our vacation was a highlight of a busy and fun summer!
Grammie and Pappy wanted to leave for Rehoboth Beach close to 9 a.m. on Friday morning, July 30, so we all ate breakfast together, loaded up, and said our goodbyes. We drove with the kids to Pittsburgh, where we met Grandpa and Grandma Gribble at the Natural History Museum at lunchtime. We’d brought a paper bag lunch, so we ate at a picnic table outside before going into the museum. We saw a very interesting Egypt exhibit and an equally interesting polar exhibit. I’m fascinated by Inuit art, so I really enjoyed a few paintings they had on display. It was a great, if too brief, visit with the grandparents Gribble. Midway through the afternoon, we were back in the car, navigating horrendous traffic to get to Grandma and Grandpa Hazelton’s house by dinnertime. (We missed it, but they fed us anyway.) The kids are comfortable there, and of course it feels like home to me, so we unpacked and settled in.
On Saturday, my brother Nathaniel and sister-in-law Laura came from near Pittsburgh to see us, and we had a great time touring Grandma’s garden and yard, playing on the playground, riding the Irish Mail (why do I never take photos of that?), playing a ton of Legos, and reading books. In the afternoon, we went over to Brandywine Falls, which was really fun. Benjamin particularly loved a rooster that kept crowing in the yard at the inn. Every time the rooster crowed, Benjamin said “he said it again!” My mom had a worship service in the evening, but she’d made a bunch of delicious food, and we contributed some bacon-wrapped jalepeno thingies to the festivities. Aunt Nancy, Aunt Shirlie, and Martha joined us for dinner, and Dad grilled some spare ribs. We stuffed ourselves and got caught up in person.
Sunday morning we went to church with Grandpa (and he was kind enough to wait and go to the late service so we wouldn’t have to get the kids up extra early—they’d gotten used to sleeping in a bit). The rest of the day we spent playing and hanging out with Grandpa and Grandma. Benjamin and Grandpa are kindred souls; they both have one pointy ear and wear hearing aids, and they find each other hilarious, so there was lots of giggling. Mom and I had a few minutes to spend together on a trip to a few stores, so we got to catch up.
The next morning was Monday, so I got up and ran six miles, which got me near Brandywine Falls and back, partly on the very nice trail. We spent the morning together and had lunch; then we packed up for our short drive to the Otts’ lake house.