Parenting, Hogwarts style (Slytherin)

It’s time for the unjust blanket vilification of Slytherins to stop, I say!

Find my thoughts on parenting Ravenclaws here, Gryffindors here, and Hufflepuffs here.

Hogwarts_coat_of_arms_colored_with_shading
Hogwarts coat of arms: by Jakovche – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15920926

House: Slytherin

Value: Excellence

Slytherin children are subject to pressure from two different sources. Many fellow Slytherins will expect them to uphold the honor of Slytherin House, by which they mean maintaining blood purity by any means necessary, including dark magic. Even non-Death Eater Slytherins often harbor expectations, consciously or not, that Slytherin children ought to be a few pegs above those belonging to other Houses. As a result, failure and humiliation–which are inevitable for anyone–are ten times as hard on the Slytherin child as on anyone else. To recover, they will double down on their efforts to prove themselves, often turning to the dark side in the process.

At the same time, many members of other Houses take it for granted that a Slytherin is by nature deceitful, dishonest, and downright evil. And we know that as a child is treated, so he will behave.

Together, these two types of pressure act on children whose undeveloped prefrontal cortexes make it difficult for them to know right from wrong and even more difficult to act accordingly. It is no wonder, then, that Slytherin has developed the reputation as the “bad” House.

Slytherin children are not inherently inclined to evil. What they have is incredible drive. They will pursue relentlessly whatever they have learned to value. They will sacrifice anything to reach their goal. As a result, they can become capable of greater acts of nobility and self-sacrifice than members of any other House, Gryffindor included. Alternatively, they can become capable of monstrous acts, showing utter indifference to the lives and well-being of others.

Clearly, parenting a Slytherin can be a challenge. To  lead your Slytherin toward the light instead of the darkness, you must provide a strong, consistent moral grounding and an external superego to fall back on whenever they are tempted to go astray.

The good news for parents of Slytherins is that your child will never lack motivation to succeed.

Once he identifies his area of expertise, he will hone it to perfection with no prompting from you. Further, he will strive to excel even in areas which he is not naturally good at. If anything, you will need to encourage your Slytherin to relax once in a while, to pause and enjoy life.

Slytherins especially need you to provide time and space for them to make and enjoy friends. It isn’t that Slytherins are bad at making friends. In fact, they are naturally quite charming when they care to make the effort. But left to themselves, Slytherins are even more single-minded than Gryffindors about making allies (rather than friends) among those with a common purpose, and forgetting about everyone else. Slytherin kids need to take time to play with friends, to pursue common hobbies and have fun together. It is also important for Slytherins to make friends outside their own House. They will be surprised to find that friendships with Ravenclaws, Gryffindors, and even Hufflepuffs are both enjoyable and productive: a different point of view on what the Slytherin values not only puts things into perspective, but allows him to discover new paths toward achieving his goals.

Whatever the adult Slytherin values, he will cling to with an almost unbreakable tenacity. It is difficult (though not impossible) to turn an adult Slytherin away from whichever path he has chosen, good or evil. If you have successfully led him toward good, he is set to become one of the heroes of legend. He will sacrifice anything–his friendships, his career, his property, even his own life–to carry out his mission. But setting aside such extreme circumstances, he will be an exemplary (though perhaps rather humorless) spouse, parent, employee, and friend.

Parenting, Hogwarts style (Hufflepuff)

Our son recently tested as a Hufflepuff on an online quiz. I don’t consider that official since the Hat wasn’t present and he’s only 5, but he certainly does have a few Hufflepuff tendencies.

My thoughts on parenting Ravenclaws can be found here, Gryffindors here, and Slytherins here.

Hogwarts_coat_of_arms_colored_with_shading
Hogwarts coat of arms: by Jakovche – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15920926

House: Hufflepuff

Value: Love, growth

Hufflepuffs have a reputation for being duffers, but this is unfair. Ravenclaws do not understand them because Hufflepuffs express themselves by doing, not through the spoken or written word. Gryffindors and Slytherins don’t understand Hufflepuffs’ utter lack of interest in attaining status or glory.. But if parents can get past their need for their children to achieve the world’s definition of success, they will find that Hufflepuffs are pure joy to raise and be around.

Hufflepuff children are easygoing and naturally happy. Having no need for social status means they are practically immune to peer pressure, and are excellent influences on children from other Houses. They are happy with what they have rather than seeking after what they don’t. Rather than wanting every new toy that comes on the market, they see myriad wonderful possibilities in what is immediately to hand, which the other Houses are incapable of perceiving.

The Hufflepuff child needs unconditional love and support from her family. She naturally loves everyone, and it confuses her when her love isn’t reciprocated. If those she loves most don’t love her back with the same perfect joy and simplicity, she can be deeply wounded.

Hufflepuffs need little supervision. They naturally understands their limits and are content to work within them. The Hufflepuff welcomes parental involvement in her projects, but if left to herself for a while will astonish you by producing amazingly advanced structures or inventions out of sticks, stones, and whatever she can scavenge.

To learn, she needs plenty of raw materials and to be allowed to experiment and make messes putting them together. If denied these things, your Hufflepuff will wilt. If you insist that your Hufflepuff focus on what you want (status, academic success, excellence at sports, or what have you) rather than on what she does best, she will have a hard time growing up, and will spend a large part of her adulthood trying to get back to who she really is.

Hufflepuffs are super-competent in their own arena, but indifferent to projects and assignments imposed from outside. If they think this work will improve their own preferred field of endeavour, they’ll tackle it enthusiastically. If not, they will do as little as possible to get by. What your child does and achieves comes straight from her heart. If you can appreciate this more than what other people say about her, you will never not be proud.

Hufflepuffs children are outgoing and get along well with most people, but rarely take the lead. They joke and laugh a lot, which can rub people of more serious bent the wrong way. Unlike the other houses, they are even able to laugh heartily at themselves. However, they might not understand that others don’t enjoy being laughed at as much as they enjoy laughing at themselves, so that they sometimes appear insensitive In fact, it would never cross their minds to take pleasure in other people’s misfortunes, and are always willing to lend a hand. They do not recognize or understand differential social status, making them good friends to the underdog and objects of bewilderment and derision to certain Slytherins.

Hufflepuffs are mostly free from adolescent follies. They grow into their adult bodies, emotions, and minds smoothly and cheerfully. When teenage Hufflepuffs do go wrong, it is usually under the influence of someone they love, usually someone from another House.

The adult Hufflepuff is the ideal friend, spouse, and parent. They can be a bit quirky, they can seem a bit oblivious, but they are not. If they don’t seem to recognize the existence of a problem, it’s probably because the problem doesn’t really exist. It takes some training for them to understand the more temperamental Houses and their vicissitudes, but because they love them, they are willing students.

 

Parenting, Hogwarts style (Gryffindor)

Carrying on from my last post, here are some thoughts on parenting Gryffindors (I wrote about Ravenclaw kids here, Hufflepuffs here, and Slytherins here).

Hogwarts_coat_of_arms_colored_with_shading
Hogwarts coat of arms: By Jakovche – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15920926

Gryffindor

Value: Noble purpose

From the moment they are Sorted, Gryffindors are expected to display nobility and heroism at all times. This is a lot of pressure for a little kid. Your Gryffindor is unlikely to shrink from a challenges, and quite likely to take on more than he can handle. Provide your Gryffindor child with abundant challenges to conquer, but make sure they are in keeping with his age and abilities as he grows.

Parenting a Gryffindor small child is a harrowing experience. They seem to lack any sense of danger, and never question their physical ability to handle anything that comes their way–or, more likely, that they rush headlong toward. If the parents are Gryffindors they will be proud of this characteristic, even while they are frantically scurrying to protect their children from danger. Parents from other Houses are going to have problems. If your child has Gryffindor tendencies, make sure that she has a large, diverse landscape to explore, but make the boundaries tall, wide, and cushioned.

Gryffindor children love competitions, sports, and games. Fear of failure never hobbles them, only drives them on to greater efforts. Easy victories mean nothing to Gryffindors, and epic failures will not prevent them from trying again. The Gryffindor can handle more adversity and setbacks than people from other Houses, and a Gryffindor bouncing back is truly a sight to behold.

When it comes to making friends, Gryffindors naturally ally with people who share their ideals and goals, and tend to forget the existence of those who don’t. They are not arrogant, but may come off this way. A Gryffindor may become a leader among his friends, but never by design. Their friends look to them for leadership because they have a natural capacity for it.

Gryffindors have a hard time finding balance in their lives. One thing: academics, sports, or something else, seems all-important, and everything else falls by the wayside.

Teenage Gryffindors can’t wait to launch themselves into quests. You’re just going to have to let them, or they’ll do it without your knowledge and input. Hopefully, trustworthy adults will be their guides in choosing the right quests and getting through them safely. It’s not unusual for teenage Gryffindors to get in well over their heads, however. Usually they manage to get out again, one way or another. Indeed, a sadder-but-wiser Gryffindor might actually be a better Gryffindor than one who has never met his edge.

If you are a Gryffindor parent, your grown-up Gryffindor children will be proud of you and see you as fellow questers. If you belong to another House, your Gryffindor child may not always see the point of you, but will still love you very much.

 

Parenting, Hogwarts style (Ravenclaw)

It’s official: my daughter is a Ravenclaw, and I couldn’t be prouder. She was Sorted at a nearby Harry Potter in the Park event, and an official certificate of her Ravenclaw status is now framed and residing on our mantle.

After mulling over my role in raising a Ravenclaw for a few days, I began to put together some ideas about raising children based on which Hogwarts House they most resemble.

For each House I’ve identified a primary value which drives its members. For Ravenclaws, it is the pursuit of Truth. Gryffindors require a noble purpose to serve, while Hufflepuffs need to be creating, building, and growing things in whatever realm they turn their hand to. Slytherins are destined to greatness, and their drive is so strong that they face great temptation to use devious means to achieve their goals. If they can overcome these temptations, however, they become capable of greater acts of heroism than members of any other house, Gryffindor included.

All four segments are a bit long taken together, so I’ll do one at a time. In honor of my little Ravenclaw, I’ll begin with her house.

[I’ve since added my thoughts on Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Slytherins.]

Hogwarts_coat_of_arms_colored_with_shading
Hogwarts coat of arms: By Jakovche – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15920926

House: Ravenclaw

Value: Truth

A Ravenclaw requires two things: information, and enough space and time to synthesize that information into an elaborate web of theories according to which she understands the world. This is the task of the Ravenclaw’s life, and if it sounds intimidating, it also sets you and she up for a lifetime of wonder and exploration together.

Parenting a Ravenclaw is very rewarding. She will nearly always be up for anything (if given adequate advance notice). A chance to learn or experience something new, no matter what it is, will intrigue and exhilarate your Ravenclaw. That said, your Ravenclaw is not especially fond of either peril or discomfort, so don’t plan on the extreme types of adventures that Gryffindors thrive on.

Although the Ravenclaw child is often somewhat brusque in manner, she is unfailingly kind and helpful. It takes her a while to warm up to other children, but once she does she gets along well with them. Ravenclaws are typically reserved and are rarely social leaders. However, from an early age, they develop unusually long-lasting and mutually supportive friendships with a select few. Among their inner circle, they are loving, devoted, and loyal, and will display their precociously good and rather goofy sense of humor, which they keep a secret from everyone else.

Most Ravenclaws hate being corrected in any way. If you reprimand her, or even suggest that she change the way she is doing something, don’t be surprised at her extreme reaction. Ravenclaws rely on their intelligence in everything they do, and the merest suggestion that she’s misapprehended or is misapplying something knocks the scaffolding right out from under her. That’s not to say you shouldn’t reprimand your Ravenclaw. In fact, successfully growing up Ravenclaw means finding out that making mistakes is normal and essential for learning.

Ravenclaws are truthful and straightforward to a fault. To deliberately lie or even soften the truth goes entirely against the grain. As a result, your Ravenclaw will often seem rude, but from her point of view, she is merely being truthful. Although they rarely lie, they do withhold information, and value their privacy more than most. Do not poke at your Ravenclaw’s secrets unless there is a real need, or they will react with genuine distress and will shut you out more than ever.

Ravenclaws are uncomfortable with emotion, so that the ups and downs of adolescence comes as a real trial. They need from their parents unconditional love and support, and encouragement to return to their own true life mission from whatever follies they might stray into.

Adult Ravenclaws will come to respect your superior experience (although they will probably not let you know this), and will draw on it as much as they can. They prefer a loving relationship, but with clear boundaries, with their parents. If you treat them as an equal or even ask them to share their area of expertise with you, they will be overjoyed, although they will almost certainly not tell you so.

 

The good death of moral authority

I once heard a sermon which described the role of the church as a sort of cultural referee, meant to call society out whenever it steps over the line. I’ve never agreed with that sermon.

For one thing, I don’t think such a role for the church has Biblical support. As far as I know, secular authority (represented in the New Testament by the Roman empire, and in the Old Testament by a number of kingdoms outside of Israel and later by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires) is always treated as inherently evil: oppressive, destructive, and opposed to the God of Israel. However, no Biblical figure ever tries to reform these entities. Moses leads Israel away from Egypt, he doesn’t try to reform it, even though given his privileged position with Pharaoh perhaps he could have. Jesus speaks against the misdeeds of the Pharisees, not those of Pilate, Caesar, or even Herod the Great, as big a slimeball as he was.

Paul was rather more involved with the Roman world than Jesus was, given that he was a Roman citizen. He owns this status in Acts 22. Given that the Roman empire was far more corrupt and distant from Christian values than our own country, if it is the role of Christians to reform the culture, you would think he would have something to say about this–or perhaps renounce his secular citizenship in disgust, claiming citizenship in only God’s kingdom. In fact, he emphasizes that the “heavenly kingdom” is not an alternative to the secular political authority, or any kind of secular authority at all. (The Romans had poor self-confidence, and were awfully sensitive to that kind of thing.)

But what he does is pretty much the opposite. In addition to claiming his citizenship, he points out what is due to him as a citizen (Acts 22:25), although it is pretty obvious that he doesn’t expect his rights to be honored. In his letters, Paul advocates a rather passive approach for Christians in engagement with the culture. Roman officials, centurions and so forth, are not called upon to leave their posts, even though they are in service of a godless culture which existed unashamedly for the benefit of the powerful at the expense of everyone else. In his letters, Paul advises Christians to be peaceful, even passive; nonconfrontational, making a parade of their conformance to Roman expectations in everything that did not impinge upon their worship. He urged them to give the Romans no legitimate reason to persecute them. Further, he does not himself nor does he ask anyone else to speak out against the culture. He does this in full knowledge that the Christians (including himself) were being and would continue to be persecuted anyway.

Paul wasn’t concerned with reforming the culture, he was concerned with building the church. Is that also our concern–and if not, should it be?

The evangelical view of engagement with culture has, for the last few decades, has appeared to adhere to the “referee” point of view. Abortion is wrong, so outlaw it. Gay marriage is wrong, so keep it illegal. Seems simple enough, right?

The problem with the church as a moral authority, in my opinion, is that the church is only as good an authority as the church is moral. Here is an example. I knew a man who was a conservative Christian, and appeared to me (though perhaps I was perceiving incorrectly) to be representing that position in his work life. He behaved somewhat unfairly to at least one person I know,  with regards to leave from work to which they were entitled, but which he denied. A few decades later, I learned that he was guilty of sexual harassment of women in his workplace.

From a Christian point of view, was his failure evidence of the failure of Christianity’s moral code? No, it isn’t. We all acknowledge that humans are fallible, but this is not evidence of God’s fallibility; that is why we need God’s salvation. However, when it comes to presenting Christianity as a moral referee for the culture, does this theological point matter?

No, it doesn’t. Christians would like to think that they are pointing to God when they present themselves as moral authorities, but they’re not. They are representing themselves. As a result, what we have are people and institutions who are themselves riddled with sin and moral failings, who are presenting themselves as moral authorities over other people.

The culture at large is, to a greater and greater extent, ignoring them. And they are right to do so. Further, the culture is becoming more and more hostile to Christians, or at least to what they perceive as Christianity because that is how it has been represented to them by the Christians noted above. Perhaps they are not right to do so, but it is certainly predictable that they would; given the aspects of Paul’s letters discussed above.

When Christians are, predictably, ignored or treated badly, are we supposed to yell about persecution and wrap ourselves in first amendment religious freedom? Sure, we can call upon that stuff, those are our rights as citizens. But don’t be surprised, and be prepared to deal with it like a Christian, when those rights aren’t honored.

The church is not a moral authority in the sense that we are set above other people in (not until Jesus gets back, anyway). We are morally authoritative in terms of how we tend to ourselves. And how are we doing with that?

The prophets of the Old Testament speak over and over about two things: care for the orphans and widows, and worship of the one true God (nothing about seeking legal redress). Jesus drove the moneylenders out of the temple, and called the children to come to Him. Are we focusing our energies on making sure the helpless have what they need? Are we speaking out against greed and gluttony? Have we committed to being more holy than the scribes and Pharisees, giving back not only a tenth of everything we get, but all of it? Are we devoted to studying Scripture and regular prayer, individually and in groups, to enjoy the presence of God and determine His will? Are we supporting marriages and families within our churches? Are we doing what God has explicitly told us in His Word to do? If we, who have dedicated ourselves to God through Christ, aren’t (and I’m not) doing what we’re supposed to, how can we demand that those who have no relationship with Jesus do what we think they are supposed to do?

Church discipline has almost died out in most denominations. Where it still exists, at least in my experience it focuses on sexual sin, which only really gets ink in the Bible when it is in conjunction with the worship of pagan gods. Church discipline doesn’t touch on greed or the worship of other gods (celebrities, sports, wealth), which is all the prophets ever seem to want to talk about. This is, no doubt, partly out of a desire to not be judgey, but it is also because no one cares. If you get kicked out of church, that only means you don’t have to get up early on Sunday any more. It’s a get out of jail free card. You don’t even have to be a church member to get into Heaven, in most denominations’ points of view, so why bother?

Apparently not even church members can take the church’s authority seriously any more, and the church tacitly doesn’t expect them to. So how can we be a moral authority for anybody else?

The real reason we can’t be a moral authority for the culture is because God has not called us to be. God has called us to tend to and grow the church: supporting each other in a Godly lifestyle, making sure everyone has food, clothing, and shelter, showing love to everyone, keeping a sharp eye out for apostasy, and calling others to join us.

Right now, the ultimate death of the church’s moral authority is taking the form of Donald Trump’s candidacy for President. It is impossible to consider him an exemplar of a Christian or any other recognizable code of morality. Trump’s defenders’ only response to this obvious truth is that, well, the other candidates can’t be either. But guess what: they’ve never pretended to be! Clinton, Obama, and their ilk do claim to be Christians and to behave morally, and you can call them out on that where they’ve failed, but unlike the exponents of the Christian right they have not justified the legitimacy of their leadership on the basis of their superior moral authority. Which is good, because like the man I discussed above, they would have failed.

Trump is like an undead version of the Christian right, a zombie or golem, himself unholy but brought to unnatural life in order to protect those who have abandoned attempts at living like Christians in favor of forcing others to behave according to their (not God’s) decrees, and protecting themselves from persecution by force (political and perhaps other means as well).

The “unchurched” might not have God’s guidance, but they aren’t always wrong (n.b. Balaam and Cyrus). Right now, they are absolutely correct to ignore the church as a moral authority, because that’s not what we’re for. Contrarily, as things with God so often go, if we did not seek moral authority by virtue of our status as Christians, but rather did what God told Christians to do, we might actually acquire a bit of moral legitimacy as we went along. Some people might actually want to join us. After all, Jesus told us to make disciples, not laws.

Summer Camp: Bible learning activities.

Have you ever decided you were going to read all the way through the Bible, from beginning to end? Did you actually manage to do it? Cool, then you are one up on me.

My attempt to go all the way through the Bible, beginning to end, with the kids, suffered a similar fate. I have a hard time keeping it simple. I thought I’d go all the way through Bible history, illustrated by a timeline, while differentiating between Biblical genres:  Pentateuch, historical books, prophets, writings, Gospels, and epistles. The result is children who I am not 100% sure would be able to tell you who came first, Moses or Jesus. Oh well, at least we spent time with the Biblical texts, that’s what counts, right?

Here a few resources we’ve used and liked in our attempts to grapple with the Bible as a family:

Books

We have a bunch of children’s books of Bible stories, devotions, and so forth. You can usually find a wide assortment of these at your local secondhand store for not much money invested. I’ve found most of them to be surprisingly good-quality, although you’ll want to look through them to ensure they are in line with your own theology.

The Jesus Storybook Bible. Last fall our church I helped organize an Adult Education series on Faith Formation, and this book was recommended as being kid-friendly and doing a good job of staying faithful to the meaning and intent of the Biblical text. This is an important text at our kids’ Christian school, too.

Listen to the Animals: Devotionals for Families with Young Children, by William L. Coleman. This link is for the actual book that we found in a thrift store, but it seems to have been superseded by the newer The Big Book of Animal Devotions by the same author. Each entry contains some interesting animal facts, then concludes with a reflection on Christian life. Kids like it, because it’s about animals! And it gets them engaged with thinking about life as a Christian.

Children of God Storybook Bible, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This book has beautiful art and children seem to really enjoy the stories. They aren’t very long, either, which can be very beneficial when it comes to children.

Printables

Ministry-to-Children.com has nice coloring pages to go along with many, many Bible verses, and lots of other ideas too.

Free printable Psalm 118:24 cards from Teachers Pay Teachers have many potential uses. We posted them around the house to remind ourselves to Rejoice!

Vacation Bible School

Remember Vacation Bible School? So fun. If I remember correctly, that’s where I learned that I am actually good at at least one playground game: Smaug’s Treasure. I’m sneaky.

These days, many if not most VBSes are scheduled for evenings. Our church hosted one of these a couple of years ago, this year we hit up a church down the street from us. VBS is usually open to neighborhood kids, as well as to members. TMy kids loved both of them and sang/are singing the songs weeks later.

To find a VBS, look for signs or check the websites of churches near you. Please do pay attention to the safety policies of the churches: how they control who kids are released to, and how they ensure kids are never alone with adults or teens. This is a huge priority for responsible churches these days, and a written policy should be in place and adhered to.

Morning devotions

Ideally, I would do this with the kids year-round. It seems to have a big effect on kids’ (and my) moods during the day, and is a good lifetime habit to instill. In reality, where unfortunately I’m still to be found, this happens when I happen to think of it.

During the first couple of years of Camp, devotions took a similar form to school’s Morning Message. We’d read a Bible story from one of the kids’ books (see above), and sing songs. Now, I’m pretty bad at these songs, somehow I missed out on them as a kid. Sometimes I’d have the kids teach me songs they knew, sometimes I’d fall back on songs I learned while teaching Sunday school.

For some reason, my son doesn’t like singing unless it’s his idea. So more recently, we’ve been doing the “reading” portion of devotions, and leave the singing for when it happens spontaneously.

In conclusion

Now that I’ve reminded myself of morning devotions, I’ll plan on doing it today! Thanks, blog.

Summer Camp road trip: Southeast NE, central KS

When you hear “southeast Nebraska” or “central Kansas” do you think “VACATION!!!” We do, and maybe you should too! After all, you have your nature, geological wonders, the Wild West, and lots and lots of sunshine.

Should you ever find yourself with a few days to while away in southeast Nebraska and/or central Kansas, here’s some cool stuff to do.

Cool meaning fun and awesome, not temperature. It is HOT in the plains in the summer.

Platte River State Park:

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outdoornebraska.gov/platteriver/

This place was dear to my heart even before we got married there over a decade ago. It’s about a half hour away from both Lincoln and Omaha, located away from the interstate in idyllic ruralness. In addition to air-conditioned modern cabins (which we opted for), there are teepees to camp in. Always a good time: the view of the Platte River from the Lincoln Journal Tower, the swimming pool, paddleboats, hiking trails, and summer activities for kids. Restaurants are not especially plentiful: the on-site one is hardly ever open, which is unfortunate because it used to be really good.

Across the interstate from Platte River SP are Eugene Mahoney State Park and the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum. In addition to more cabins and hiking trails, Mahoney possesses a lodge with restaurant, miniature golf and a driving range, an aquatic center, and lots of other cool stuff. The SAC museum is a pretty cool facility, with lots of historic airplanes and other information and activities. Since the first Captain America I can never think of either Bucky Barnes or the SAC museum without thinking of the other.

There’s also an outlet mall, Nebraska Crossing, east on the interstate about 15 minutes or so. I’m not really a shopping person (see previous post), and those things are pretty much everywhere these days. But hey, it’s there if you need it.

In Lincoln this time, we visited Pioneers Park and nature center. Playgrounds, picnic areas, and walking trails abound, buffalo and elk graze behind fences for your observation, a nature center educates kids (and grownups) about the prairie ecosystem, and hiking trails travel through woods and prairie land. Be sure to traverse the swinging bridge, and keep an eye out for the Indian. You’ll know it when you see it.

I was very excited to re-visit the Lincoln Children’s Zoo with my kids, not having been there since I was a kid myself. A lot has changed, but luckily Leo the Paper-Eating Lion is still there. He doesn’t eat leaves or grass! Heeee eeaaaatssss papeeerrrrr! They’ve changed his voice, though. If you need to know what he originally sounded like, I can do a pretty good impression.

Okay, Leo isn’t the only cool thing at the zoo. There are also the animals, looking comfortable in beautiful exhibits, play areas, and of course the train. Plus, the zoo is well-treed and shady throughout, which is important in Nebraska in July.

Food in Lincoln: Lincoln probably has a lot of amazing cuisine. I’m not really familiar with that, though. What I can recommend is pizza and burgers:

Valentino’s: Best pizza anywhere, in quantities that will astound you.

Runza: You can get an actual Runza if you want to. It’s ground beef cooked with cabbage and encapsulated in bread. It tastes like it sounds! However, the burgers, chicken sandwiches, chili, cinnamon rolls (they’re Miller & Paine’s cinnamon rolls. Miller & Paine hasn’t existed for 30 years; it’ a Lincoln thing), and onion rings are all excellent.

Zesto: Burgers. Ice cream. Yum.

Post Rock Country, Kansas:

Post rock fences in Ellis County-500
legendsofkansas.com

Post rock country is named after the limestone fence posts you will see lining the pastures on all sides. The limestone is the result of an inland sea which once covered the land, and you will find shell impressions in the fence posts and random rocks strewn by the side of the road, left by ancient sea creatures.

Allow me to wax poetic for a moment.

This landscape is unlike anywhere else I’ve been. First of all, it’s huge. Your view stretches off to the horizon in every direction. The sky is immense. You have a God-like view of the weather for miles around: a thunderstorm coming a couple of hours away; a rainstorm off to the north. The land is almost treeless, and neither flat nor hilly but a shape all its own. It’s kind of jagged, with sudden hills with flat tops, relics of the ancient inland sea.

On this trip we did some fossil-gathering. If you don’t have permission (and sturdy shoes) for wandering around in someone’s pasture, just look alongside any gravel road:

WIN_20160721_14_54_55_Pro
On the left, limestone with shell impression. On the right, a mastodon tooth collected years ago by my dad.

 

If you’re into geology, or want your kids to be, check out the mushroom-shaped rocks at Mushroom Rock State ParkMushroom-Rock-State-Park_gallery.png

And if you want to conduct some historical investigations into the Old West, Dodge City is nearby. But if you’d prefer to take the road less traveled, look at all this info compiled about the odd characters who frequented Ellsworth in the Kansas Cowboy.

If you do stop by Ellsworth, get some ice cream or espresso drinks

Looking for food? I used to go to the Ellsworth Steak House when it was a diner named Macatee’s. It has changed quite a bit since then. I miss the rotating advertisements that I used to stare at during breakfast, but I think the food is even better than then. But if you just need some ice cream or espresso, or want to do some antiques shopping, visit the Ellsworth Village Mall downtown. While there, go upstairs to see an 1887 organ in a vintage Masonic Temple. Ever wonder what those guys used to do in there?

If you happen to find yourself in little Lincoln, KS, try out the Sunrise Cafe–yum.

That was our trip to Nebraska and Kansas! America is an amazing place–you should see it!