April 6, 2017

Visiting Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure in Nebraska City has become such a family favorite, we bought a membership. It’s one of my “Happy Places” that I can return to repeatedly and never get bored. That’s nature for you.

We’ve gone every season, though for this post, I’m sharing mostly summer and fall pictures.

Go figure, the snowless, winter pictures just aren’t as beautiful.

What to expect at the Tree Adventure

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure

There are a variety of structures at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure that blend in well with the setting.

At the Tree Adventure, you will find a mix of paved and dirt trails. None are too long for little legs, nor very challenging for tired adults.

Along the paved trail, you’ll find interactive pit stops. Some will ask you to identify the tracks in the pavement, the smells in a box, or to stop and listen to bird calls.

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure tree house

The cabin next to the 50-foot tree house has hands-on activities for kids.

Further afield, you’ll find the 50-foot  tree house/lookout tower. Kids will be tempted to race to the top, but try to get them to peek inside the cabin-like room next to the tower first. There are some cool things to see and do in there.

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure climber

Pretending to be a spider at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure.

If you stay on the paved trail, you’ll find a couple more active pit stops for kids. There are things to climb through, climb under, over, etc. It’s great for working on their gross motor skills, but let’s be real. We’re happy to have yet another thing to help tire kids out.

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure outdoor education area

Playing the wooden xylophone at the Tree Adventure.

There’s an outdoor education area (actually two, but we just go to the big one) where families should plan on spending quite a bit of time there, especially if you have a young builder. I’d say skip the area if you’re not visiting with kids, but don’t – you’ve got to try the outdoor xylophone, at least.


There is an apple orchard where you can pick apples in the fall, as well as a pumpkin patch. There’s a hayrack ride offered to drive you out and back for those two activities.

Throughout the year, there are themed activities to spice up your next visit. In March, there’s a gnome hunt that we tried this year. You search for little statues hidden throughout the woods, using clues and a map to help you. There are also weekend events with activities connected to learning about different animals and insects.

You can see upcoming events planned for Arbor Day, Sunset & S’Mores and more here. Some of these events include activities at other Arbor Day Farm properties.

Into the woods

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure dirt trail

It’s worth stepping off the paved path to go further into the woods of the Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

There is a loop called the South Table Creek Trail that goes deeper into the woods, and it’s less than a mile long. Don’t skip it! You’ll cross bridges, encounter “kissing trees,” chairs built for three bears, and find a little fairy door in a tree.

There’s also an added game of sorts, where you’ll look for wooden cutouts of birds and a squirrel. Granted, some will want to look for the real things, this game has become a competitive sport for my family.

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure bridge

One of the bridges found along the South Table Creek Trail at the Tree Adventure.

The trail through the woods does have some inclines and stairs, so it’s not super stroller-friendly.

About the trees

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure entrance

The entrance to Arbor Day Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

Being part of Arbor Day Farm, trees are a focus at Tree Adventure. Obviously. You can visit the greenhouse and get your own free tree seedling to plant at home.

In the visitor’s center, you can also learn more about the role of trees by playing some of the interactive exhibits and watching a short movie. We often skip that area when we visit, but if it’s your first time, check it out.

You can take an hour-long discovery ride to learn even more. It’s $5 extra per person.

Food at Arbor Day Farm

There is no restaurant on property of the Tree Adventure, though occasionally we’ve bought lunch from a vendor who’d set up shop outside the Tree Adventure visitor’s center. You can purchase food next door at the restaurant inside the Arbor Day Farm winery/orchard shop. I recommend getting the apple pie a la mode if you go that route.

And sample the wine, if you’re of age.

Usually, though, we pack a lunch and enjoy it on the trail. You’ll find some benches in the forest and at the outdoor education center, as well as picnic tables near the visitor’s center.

If you go

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure

Where: 2611 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, Neb.

Cost: $8, adults; $6, children ages 3-12; FREE, children 2 and younger; the All-Access Day Pass also includes admission to Arbor Lodge State Historical Park mansion, and costs $15 for adults, $11, children ages 3-12, and FREE for children 2 and younger.



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March 30, 2017

Watching The Total Solar Eclipse In Nebraska

Unless you’ve been on a social media break or you live under a rock, you’ve heard about the total solar eclipse this summer (Aug. 21, 2017). And the bigger news for Nebraska is that the path of this eclipse passes through it.


Why is a total solar eclipse big news?

A solar eclipse is a type of eclipse that occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun. When it’s a total solar eclipse, the Moon fully blocks the Sun, and then a shadow is cast on Earth – it’s almost as dark as night.

Edgerton Explorit Center educator, Dan Glomski, explained the significance in Nebraska well (read full text here): “Total solar eclipses are extremely rare events. The last visible from the Grand Island area occurred in the year 1194, and the next won’t be until the year 2744. In fact, there hasn’t been a total solar eclipse witnessed in the continental United States since 1979 and won’t be another until 2024.”

Where To See The Total Eclipse In Nebraska

So, now you want to be somewhere that falls along the path of the total eclipse, don’t you? I’ve been geeking out about this for months, and already booked my hotel room in Grand Island. Should you go there? Should you go somewhere else? Don’t ponder it for too long, lodging is filling up.

Here’s a list of some of the activities I thought sounded the most promising for families. 


There’s a weekend of events in Alliance, as they bill it: “Food, Bands, Arts, Games along with educational and fun events to make your visit to Alliance memorable, educational, and fun for the entire family.” What stood out to me were the motocross races that weekend. There’s also the music fest, Toadstock: Party on the Prairie, Aug. 18-22. Carhenge also happens to be one of the viewing places for the eclipse, so there’s that.


One of the closest cities to Omaha that’s falls into the path of the total eclipse is Beatrice. The main viewing site is Homestead National Monument of America, which was named by USA Today as one of the top 10 places to view the solar eclipse. The PBS animated show, “Ready Jet Go,” will be part of the events Aug. 20 and 21, with all-ages programming, including demonstrations by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory astrophysicist Dr. Amy Mainzer and live music by the Ready Jet Go Band. Around town, find Stock Car Racing on Aug. 18, as well as special screenings of ‘50s horror movies . It also coincides with Village of Adams Community Days.


There will be country music and a life-sized board game in the park, and following the eclipse, the town plans on having a brief fireworks display and a watermelon feed and ice cream social.

Grand Island

There’s free viewing at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, which sounds like a cool venue for it. The Crane Trust has some amazing activities included with its two-day packages, including kayaking, fat biking and hiking (price includes overnight stay). The city has also partnered with nearby towns for a complete weekend of activities, includingThe partnership is working to create viewing opportunities and educational programs surrounding the eclipse, including Eclipse Extravaganza at the Edgerton Center, a portable planetarium that will travel throughout the state, a nighttime star party, and more.


Hastings is holdings its first ever SolFest from Aug. 18-21, that looks like it’s going to mix art, music, and science.


Kearney will have several viewing sites, including the Arch. Some of the weekend festivities include live music and an astronomer chat.


Our state capitol is on the north end of the totality path. Head to the Saltdogs baseball field, Haymarket Park, for viewing. There is a special noon game that day, which will go into eclipse delay, so fans and players can enjoy the rare phenomenon.

North Platte

Sitting on the edge of the totality path, North Platte has some great activities for all ages in the works, including historical presentations of Native American and early settlers’ reaction to past eclipses; make and take art workshops; astronomy education for all ages; and area historical and cultural presentations.

Pawnee County

There are a couple sites to view the total eclipse. In Table Rock, one location includes a farm with a view of the valley and the entrance fee covers lunch. Organizers point out that the farm is neighbors with Amish, so there’s an interesting twist to your viewing.


Details aren’t out yet for Ravenna, but organizers have indicated that festivities will include speakers, concerts, vendors, games, and many more exciting opportunities.


Activities start Aug. 17 here, with a rodeo that runs through Aug. 20. There’s also a 5K race and parade on Aug. 19. There’s a lot planned actually. There are two dedicated viewing sites:  Logan County Fairgrounds or August Wind Golf Course.


Morgan Birdwood Ranch in Sutherland has a couple packages for those looking for an unordinary way to experience the eclipse: From a secluded ranch. The price point is out of my range, but maybe you’d like it.


A lot of activities on the schedule for Aug. 20 and 21, in addition to viewing the eclipse, but the ones that sound fun to me include a prairie tour/trail ride for $35/family, a working cow dog exhibition, sod house tour, and a petting zoo. 

More things to know about the solar eclipse

Where did I get this information and where can you find updated details? You’re going to want to go to this site first. Several cities or counties have their own pages, as well. 

Before you go: Some of these viewing sites charge a fee, so be sure to make a reservation to be sure you get in on the day of the eclipse. And as noted earlier in this post, hotels are filling up. My first choice destination for the weekend had ZERO hotel rooms left, so don’t procrastinate on booking.

Are you planning on traveling to see the total solar eclipse? Where and why did you pick it?

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January 19, 2017

10 Places You Must See In Nebraska

Celebrate Nebraska’s 150th birthday in 2017 by exploring the state. I’ve been lucky to explore our state with my kids, though there are still some Nebraska attractions on my bucket list left like Chimney Rock and Lake McConaughy.

Want to get out there and explore Nebraska? Here are some of my favorites (in no particular order):

Nebraska attractions

10 Nebraska attractions you must see

1. Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Neb.)

Checking out the view from the stagecoach at Fort Robinson.

Western Nebraska’s biggest attraction is one of my favorites, Fort Robinson. A few family favorite adventures were the off-road jeep ride, the carriage ride, and since both kids were so little, the guided horse rides.

2. Holland Performing Arts Center (Omaha)

The concert hall inside the Holland Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy Nick Allen on Flikr

The best venue, hands down, in all of Nebraska to hear a concert is the main concert hall inside the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha. It’s a beautiful building and the sound is incredible. If your favorite performer ever plays there, you must go.

3. Fort Atkinson (Fort Calhoun, Neb.)

Don’t miss the blacksmith during the re-enactment weekends at Fort Atkinson, located in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.

Located in Fort Calhoun (so pretty close to Omaha), you should time a visit to coincide with an historical re-enactment. I brought the kids to one and it was a lot of fun.

4. Smith Falls State Park (Wood Lake, Neb.)

A view of Smith Falls on a sunny day.

We used to canoe the Niobrara River with friends and family every year, and Smith Falls was always a must-stop destination. It’s the highest waterfall in Nebraska. I dare you to stick your head into the water there.

To get to the Niobrara River, if you’re coming from Omaha at least, will mean passing through the Sandhills, which is another pretty sight to see.

5. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium (Omaha)

On hot days, the aquarium at Omaha’s zoo is a great place to escape the heat.

The most popular Nebraska attraction, by far, is Omaha’s zoo. It’s huge, it’s beautiful, and it keeps getting better. Some of the newest additions include African Grasslands and Alaskan Adventure sprayground. Here are some experts’ tips on visiting the zoo.

6. Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure (Nebraska City, Neb.)

Happy and mud-covered children at Arbor Day Tree Adventure.

This Nebraska City attraction is so cool, we try to visit every season each year. The forest trail, the treehouse, the inviting natural play areas…I love it. I might also love the fact that it’s next door to a place that serves fabulous apple pie and has a wine tasting room.

7. Toadstool Geological Park (Oglala National Grasslands)

Let’s play “Spot the trail” in this picture at Toadstool.

This is off the beaten path, but definitely worth a visit to see this place and hike around. They’re pretty much Nebraska’s own Badlands. Careful hiking around there with little ones, though.

8. Brownville, Neb.

In the center of Brownville on Main Street, you’ll find this old cabin.

So much art and culture packed into a little Nebraska town. Browse bookstores, art galleries, or check out a winery.

The town is also near Indian Cave State Park. I recommend combining a visit to both for a complete day.

9. Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)

A sea of red at Memorial Stadium. Photo courtesy Asten on Flikr

It’s something to experience at least once: The football stadium becomes the third most populated “city” in Nebraska on Husker game day. Wear red or else.

10. Nebraska Wildlife Safari (Ashland, Neb.)

You have to beware of animals crossing the road at the Nebraska Wildlife Safari.

I’m a sucker for driving among bison, I guess. This is a great attraction that showcases Nebraska’s wildlife. Get out of the car to see the bears, wolves, bald eagles and other critters out there.

Honorable mentions Nebraska attractions

A few more favorite places in Nebraska that didn’t make the Top 10 cut: Omaha’s Old Market, Plattsmouth’s Sisters Thai and German Cafe, and Chadron State Park.

* * * * *

There are a lot of exhibits and events planned to celebrate the 150th. Check out the calendar of events here.


Your turn: What is on your must-see list for Nebraska?

October 11, 2016

Omaha Neighborhood Favorites

Whether you’re visiting or lived here for 20 years, there’s a good chance you don’t know about a few of our hidden gems. I’m sharing some of my Omaha neighborhood favorites so that you can get out there and explore the city.

Kids will definitely like anything in blue lettering!



Includes: Old Market, NoDo

Eat: Plank Seafood Provisions, Blatte Beer & Table (they even have a changing table in the bathroom), Wilson & Washburn, Ted & Wally’s

Drink: Upstream Brewing Co., La Buvette

Caffeinate: Bean Smith Coffee Roasters

Shop: City Limits, Jackson Street Booksellers, True Blue Goods & Gifts, Hollywood Candy

Do: See a show at Bluebarn Theatre or The Rose Theater, walk across The Bob, get creative at Art Works inside Joslyn Art Museum, see the train garden and children’s garden at Lauritzen Gardens 

Play: Try the big slides at Gene Leahy Mall, Omaha Children’s Museum



Where: West of downtown

Eat: España, Lot 2 Restaurant & Wine Bar, Ted & Wally’s/Localmotive (Localmotive just announced they would close by Oct. 15, 2016)

Do: See a concert at The Waiting Room

Drink: Krug Park, Benson Brewery, Infusion Brewery

Caffeinate: Aromas Benson

Play: Benson Park


Central Omaha

Includes: Midtown Crossing, Blackstone, Aksarben Village

Eat: Mula Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria, Crave (kids eat free on Sundays), The Grey Plume

Drink: Crescent Moon

CaffeinateCrane Coffee, Caffeine Dreams (don’t miss the patio in back)

Shop: The Afternoon

Do: Attend a free movie screen or outdoor concert in the summer like Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing

Play: Aksarben Village’s Stinson Park



Where: West of downtown

Eat: Marks Bistro (grab a table on their patio), eCreamery, Dundee Dell, Dario’s Brasserie, Great Harvest Bread Co. (get a free slice of bread!)

Do: See a show at Omaha Community Playhouse

Shop: Scout Dry Goods & Trade

Play: Memorial Park


South Omaha

Where: South of downtown

Eat: Guaca Maya Mexican Restaurant, Jacobo Grocery, Bakery & Tortilleria (you’re going to want to get the fresh chips and salsa from their deli), Lo Sole Mio

Do: Stroll Historic South 24 Street, visit El Museo Latino

Play: Kroc Center Omaha Family Recreation Pool


Northwest Omaha

Eat: Salt 88, Flagship Commons

Do: Visit Heron Haven, try standup paddleboarding at Cunningham Lake


West Omaha

Eat: Over Easy, Shucks Fish House and Oyster Bar, Twisted Cork Bistro

Do: Ride the ferris wheel inside Scheels, visit Boys Town 

Shop: Fat Brain Toys

Play: Lake Zorinski, Amazing Pizza Machine, Dave and Buster’s


This post was inspired by a recent Kansas City trip I was planning. I’d stumbled across this post and thought I could do something similar for Omaha.


Your turn: What are your favorites around the city? Please leave a comment and let me know!

August 15, 2016

Kids & The Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum

The Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum has created a space for children of all ages to explore STEM ideas (that’s science, technology, engineering, and math).


The Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum opened the new Children's Learning Center in early August 2016.

The Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum opened the new Children’s Learning Center in early August 2016.


The new Children’s Learning Center opened last weekend. It consists of 10 interactive stations designed as an out-of-classroom experience for children to experiment and learn about science, technology, engineering, and math and the physics, forces, and technology of flight. Families can easily spend an hour here, especially if the children get into building structures at a couple of the stations.

One engineering station asks kids to build a building or bridge the can stand up to an earthquake.

One engineering station asks kids to build a building or bridge the can stand up to an earthquake.

I explored with my preschooler and first-grader and they had as much fun as the older kids there. Some activities were better suited for the limited patience of little ones than others, but with the help of an adult, they could build and experiment alongside the big kids. 

Thank you to the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum for the complimentary passes so I can visit and get some great pictures. It was a fun day!

What you’ll find at the Children’s Learning Center

The Bernouli Blower was a beacon for little ones with the the colorful beach balls.

The Bernouli Blower was a beacon for little ones with the the colorful beach balls.

Bernoulli Blower: Discover the principles of airflow and how air speed and pressure effects objects, like beach balls.

KEVA Planks: Create structures and gain first-hand experience with balance, leverage, geometry and the principles of physics.

Children build structures that can stand up to the shaking earthquake table.

Children build structures that can stand up to the shaking earthquake table.

Make-it-Tables: Experience the engineering design process by building machines or structures using materials provided.

Interactive Kiosk Station: Explore the four forces of flight.

Kids race their LEGO cars on a test track at the Children's Learning Center.

Kids race their LEGO cars on a test track at the Children’s Learning Center.

Wind Trainer: Learn about the science and technology of flight in terms of aircraft roll, pitch and yaw.

Dual Test Track: Learn how friction, drag, weight distribution, and gravity affect the design and operation of aircraft and other vehicles.

The area with the large blue foam blocks was like a free-play engineering playground.

The area with the large blue foam blocks was like a free-play engineering playground.

Innovation Station: Create inventions, environments, and activities with large scale foam blocks that encourage teamwork and imagination.  

Quake Table: Design structures and explore the phenomena of earthquakes and their effects.

The tennis ball launcher almost always had a wait on opening day. There's something making things airborne that draws a crowd.

The tennis ball launcher almost always had a wait on opening day. There’s something making things airborne that draws a crowd.

Tennis Ball Launcher: Explore the effects of gravity on different sized and massed objects.

Twin Air Blaster: Experience how airflow impacts aircraft design.


What else is for kids at the museum?

The Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Neb., is a must-visit if your kids are fascinated by airplanes and spacecraft.

The Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Neb., is a must-visit if your kids are fascinated by airplanes and spacecraft.

If your kid loves planes, you’re set. This place has a ton of them, and many that you can peek inside. There’s also an area dedicated to Nebraska’s astronaut, Clayton Anderson, who’s from Ashland, Neb.

There are a few items that are an additional cost to admission, but can be a big hit with kids. My kids can’t resist a bounce house, so that one is always a stop for us.

There’s also a planetarium, small 50-cent rides, and flight simulators.

If you go

Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum

Where: 28210 West Park Highway, Ashland, Neb. (about 30 miles west of Omaha)

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve; closed: New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving & Christmas

Cost: Adults, $12; senior citizens, military, $11; children (ages 4-12), $6; FREE for children aged 3 and younger

Extras: Planetarium shows, $3 for adults and $2 for children ages 4-12 (free for members); all-day bounce house, $5 per child; flight simulators, 2D rides are $9 for members $10 for non-members, and 3D rides are $12 for members $13 for non-members.



Upcoming 2016 events for families

Here are a few of the upcoming events and programs offered at Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum. Find more events here, and explore the educational offerings here.

Second Tuesday of every month – Pint-Sized Play Dates. Children ages 3-5 can participate in an hour-long themed activity.

Oct. 22 and 23, 2016 – Planes, Trains & Autos. Come dressed in costumes to trick or treat at different stations

Dec. 3, 2016 – Santa Goes to Space. Meet Santa, see Imperial Stormtroopers from 501st Legion, and enjoy free planetarium shows.


August 8, 2016

Inside Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Woodland Refuge

This summer, my daughter met a bird and fell in love with it because they shared a name.

This bond she formed with a peregrine falcon at the new Raptor Woodland Refuge surely means we’ll be visiting Fontenelle Forest more frequently now.

The entrance to Fontenelle Forest's Raptor Woodland Refuge in Bellevue, Neb.

The entrance to Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Woodland Refuge in Bellevue, Neb.

The refuge opened this summer.  Have you been? I was invited by Fontenelle Forest to check out the refuge when it first opened. It’s a spectacular addition to the great Omaha metro educational offerings for families.

What’s at the Raptor Woodland Refuge

There are 12 houses for birds of prey at the Raptor Woodland Refuge.

There are 12 houses for birds of prey at the Raptor Woodland Refuge.

This beautifully designed area is an incredible new home to the birds the organization has rescued. It appeals to kids, I think, because it resembles a treehouse almost. It’s 30 feet above the forest floor.

The two bridges to cross to add to the treehouse appeal.

There are two bridges inside the raptor refuge, helping create a treehouse feel to it.

There are two bridges inside the raptor refuge, helping create a treehouse feel to it.

The refuge houses 12 species of rescued birds of prey, including owls, hawks and falcons. Since these birds can no longer survive in the wild, they have a home at the refuge and provide educational experiences to visitors.


The species on display have their own home, so there are 12 structures to see there. Each one has information about the birds, including where it was rescued and other interesting facts.

The view of the refuge from the forest below.

The view of the refuge from the forest below.

When we were there, volunteers were on hand to answer questions.

About Fontenelle Forest

Fontenelle Forest is a wonderful gem not far from downtown Omaha. I’ve visited with the kids in different seasons, making each visit feel new. There are very short and manageable trails for families, including the accessible boardwalk, as well as more adventurous undertakings.

One area of Acorn Acres has some climbing structures. Elsewhere, kids can play with musical instruments, build a fort, or play around (or in) a water feature.

One area of Acorn Acres has some climbing structures. Elsewhere, kids can play with musical instruments, build a fort, or play around (or in) a water feature.

If you’re visiting with small children, definitely make time to visit Acorn Acres, a 1-acre natural play area where children can explore, climb, make music, and build structures.

Also, don’t skip the visitor’s center. You’ll find a few animals on display on ground level.

Different animals native to Nebraska are on display at the visitor's center.

Different animals native to Nebraska are on display at the visitor’s center.

We often encounter volunteers inside who bring out different birds to educate visitors.

Kids can ask questions and view birds up close at Fontenelle Forest.

Kids can ask questions and view rescued birds up close at Fontenelle Forest.

Head downstairs, as well, to check out kid-friendly displays, puppets and costumes, plus my kids’ favorite thing – a playground. No matter how tired they are from a hike, my kids always insist on playing down there before we leave.

The playground in the basement of the visitor's center at Fontenelle Forest.

The playground in the basement of the visitor’s center at Fontenelle Forest.

If you go

Fontenelle Forest

Where: 1111 Bellevue Blvd. North, Bellevue, Neb.

When: Fontenelle Forest is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. The Raptor Woodland Refuge is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on holidays. Trails are open dawn to dusk for members (with a Keyless Access FOB) and visitors entering before nature center closes.

Cost: $9.50, adults; $8.50, seniors (62+); $7.50, children/students (2-17); and FREE for members and children younger than 2