Fort Atkinson State Historical Park

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, twokidsandamap.com

My husband and I were just saying how little time we have spent traveling around our local area here in Nebraska lately. We swore last night, no matter what, we were getting out and doing something local today. Hopefully a new adventure we haven’t tried in the last year. Initially, we planned to go berry picking. Nope, closed. Then we thought about taking a short walk around one of our local recreational parks. Eh, not incredibly exciting for the Fourth of July Weekend. Since I wasn’t struck with any ridiculously amazing ideas, I thought I would turn to Oh My Omaha, a website that has been very helpful to us as a new family in the Omaha area.

June 29th, Kim posted about some Independence Day Celebrations and one idea was a trip to Fort Atkinson State Historical Park in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. This weekend was one of several “living history” weekends they hold where you are able to watch, and participate in, re-creations of what it was like to live in and around the fort back in the early 1800s. The fort was free, except you do need to have a Nebraska state park entry permit ($26 annual or $5 for one day).

It is no secret that we are huge fans of historical re-enactments (check out our post on a Civil War Re-enactment, or visiting Colonial Williamsburg…Holy cow, I practically grew up visiting Colonial Williamsburg and just realized we only have one short post about it, clearly I have a job to do!). This trip back in history did not disappoint either!

I am SO glad we hopped in the car and went straight in that direction! Fort Atkinson is only about fifteen minutes north of Omaha, and it took us 30 minutes to drive there from Papillion, an Omaha suburb. It is located on the edge of Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, a small city of 908 people (2010). Click here for other things to see in Fort Calhoun.

The fort itself is an impressive re-creation, which you can read all about as you walk in and out of the various rooms. The hospital, kitchen, mess, barracks, and more, all surround the parade grounds.

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, twokidsandamap.com

You are able to walk in and out of well over a dozen rooms and learn about Fort Atkinson’s history. However, I HIGHLY recommend visiting the fort during a living history weekend. Upon entering the fort, the kids received a scavenger hunt paper that kept them busy the entire time. They were constantly looking for answers and learned several new bits of information…do YOU know who a Cooper is and what he does???

The fort is very hands on and there are so many rooms where you can test items and get involved. I hope this doesn’t get out to your work honey…

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, twokidsandamap.com

We enjoyed asking the re-enactors questions about their various skills and abilities, and what life was like. We ate butter that had been churned that morning on bread that was freshly baked. My ten year old enjoyed learning how to bobbin weave lace with the weavers, and my fourteen year old son was thrilled when the blacksmith handed him a miniature sword that had been forged right in front of him from a nail.

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, twokidsandamap.com

My personal favorite was the Sutler Store.

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, twokidsandamap.com

I am ALWAYS complaining about gift shops at the places we visit. If I am going to purchase a tourism token while we are traveling, which is INCREDIBLY RARE for me to do in the first place, I want it to be something authentic, original, and unique to that location. Preferably created on site. Well, this shop had several things that fit my standards, like this Fort Atkinson doll, and I just loved it.

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, twokidsandamap.com

Heather, Sarah, and Morgan (below, left to right) man the Sutler Store counter, handing out dozens and dozens of free candy sticks awarded to children who completed their scavenger hunt papers.

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, twokidsandamap.com

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, twokidsandamap.com

The re-enactors were all so friendly and full of facts to share. I cannot wait to let my friends in on the secret of this little gem hidden away north of Omaha. What a great time we had!

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, twokidsandamap.com

If you live in or around Omaha and are looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon, or if you are in town for a visit, be sure to take a trip to Fort Atkinson State Historical Park and definitely try to visit during a living history weekend! You won’t be sorry! And thanks again for the suggestion Kim at Oh My Omaha!

Don’t Miss Your Local Fall Festivals!

I feel it is safe to say, no matter where you live in America, you are probably able to find some sort of local fall festival.  You may not live near apple orchards or pumpkin patches, but you likely have at least one event to celebrate the harvest.  We happened across one of our local festivals by complete accident!  I saw an ad two days before in the Momaha, a local Omaha magazine our daughter brings home from school.


Apple Jack Festival - twokidsandamap.com

My advice:

DON’T MISS IT!

I have yet to attend a fall festival that I regretted.  In Virginia, I drove 3 hours to go to my nearest, decent sized apple orchard and the State Fair happened to be along the way.  I picked apples (and many other fruits) on a regular basis in Newport, Rhode Island.  Here in Nebraska, I am lucky to be in America’s heartland, amidst acres and acres of rolling farms.  It is hard to turn around without running into a cornfield or an apple orchard.  We don’t buy apples at the grocery store right now, instead we stop at the local orchard on our way home to buy a few pounds.  I hope we are able to do the same with other fruits and berries in the spring and summer.


Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard - twokidsandamap

There isn’t much you need to know before you go U-Picking:

  • It helps to have a water bottle handy.
  • If you are picking somewhere that will let you, I recommend you bring your own bags for the sake of being eco friendly (make sure it is a light bag so you are not paying for the extra weight when they weigh it).
  • Most local businesses would prefer cash (some ONLY take cash) so they don’t have to pay ridiculous credit fees.  We always try to have a few 20s with us when we go.
  • Apple picking (or anything else for that matter) really doesn’t take very long.  You park, usually check in at the main office, pick your fruit (10 minutes…or a little more if you are walking through a big orchard), weigh your pickings back at the office, and go.  Of course, if you go somewhere like Kimmel Orchard (see more below), you will be spending a bit more time there).

Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard - twokidsandamap.com

Festivals are the same:

  • Bring some water, a stroller for little ones, and some extra cash.
  • Decide to go in advance so you can time your day well.  We attended the Apple Jack Festival in Nebraska City, Nebraska this morning and it began at 8:00am.  It was a 40 minute drive, but we still left early enough to arrive before 9 and I am SO glad we did.  We beat the traffic, beat the lines, and had a wonderful leisurely walk through the orchard.  Our group of 9, comprised of two families, had a blast.

Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard - twokidsandamap.com

If you are anywhere near Nebraska City, NE around this time of year, I HIGHLY recommend you attend the Apple Jack Festival.  It is celebrated in the entire city, as well as most of the local outlying orchards and several farms.  All things apple appear around every corner.  Be prepared to eat apple donuts galore, drink apple cider until you burst, and enjoy hayrack rides, pony rides, and at Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard, an obstacle course to keep the kids entertained!

Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard - twokidsandamap.com

Kimmel is great year round, not just during the festival.  They boast 40+acres of U-Pick property including strawberries, peaches, pears, apples, pumpkins and more!  The shop is enormous and filled with homemade goodies to buy.  My friend, from Brendid, and I even took part in a tasting of Kimmel’s dozen or so wines made with grapes grown on their property.  No, we didn’t try ALL of them! 🙂

Wine Tasting at Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard - twokidsandamap.com

The Orchard also shares it’s property with the Kimmel Education and Research Center, a University of Nebraska Partner focused on agriculture and natural resources.  I truly could go on and on.

Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard - twokidsandamap.com

We had such a fantastic experience at Kimmel Orchard and I cannot wait to return.  It was well staffed, with over 100 volunteers from a University of Nebraska fraternity and sorority.  The orchard is clearly no stranger to this event and they knew exactly how to set up to make things run smoothly for their thousands of visitors.  We will definitely be attending the Apple Jack Festival every year and Kimmel will certainly be a place we bring many of our friends who regularly come to visit us from all over the world.

Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard - twokidsandamap.com

Aren’t our children just lovely???

If you haven’t attended a fall festival yet, you are missing out!  It isn’t too late this year…go read your local paper, magazines, or blogs and find out what is happening near you!

 

It’s as Easy as Riding a Bike

“It’s as easy as riding a bike,” she said.

We had spent the last twenty minutes strolling from the streets of the Old Market in Omaha, Nebraska to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.  The plan was to walk across the bridge so that we could stand in two states at once. The bridge crosses the Missouri River and connects Omaha, Nebraska to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Smack dab in the middle of the Missouri River is the state line and it is celebrated by a plaque that highlights this line on the bridge. We were about to arrive at the foot of the bridge when my sister was distracted by a B Cycle station.

The B Cycle station is a bike sharing system. You pay to rent a bike and then you can return it within your allotted time to any station in town that has open spots. Marissa immediately tried to lure me into a bike ride back to the Old Market.

“Absolutely not,” I shrieked, “that is not going to happen.”

“Why not? Come on! It’s as easy as riding a bike,” she said.

As I tried to distract her with the excitement of standing in two states at once, I was thinking about the last time I rode a bike.

I had let my kids and husband push me into purchasing a beach cruiser and when we got it home, it was time to try it out. I hated every minute of it. It had been years since I had ridden a bike and I weighed a lot less then. I was uncomfortable, self-conscious, and I was having a very difficult time keeping up with my family. That was the last time I rode that bike and it collected dust until we gave it away.

Sixty pounds lost and a couple of years later, I find myself staring at the B Cycle station.

The bright blue bikes were mocking me. You can’t do this. You still need to lose 40 pounds. You put five pounds on since going back to work. You haven’t kept up your workout regimen. You will surely die when you can’t pedal fast enough across the street.

All of these things and more played through my head the whole time that we walked along the bridge. A couple of pictures later and a stroll back down to the foot of the bridge and we were staring at those darn blue bikes again.

“We are going to do this,” said Marissa as she read the directions on the pay station.

It looked like there was no way around it so I took the bike out of the docking station.

Beep, beep, beep. That was the sound of the second bike waiting at the ready.

I hopped on with little grace and pedaled around the flat sidewalk for a few minutes. I stumbled just once while we did a couple of turns in a nearby parking lot and then we were off.

“I probably look ridiculous, don’t I?” I yelled up to her, still worried about how I looked.

“You look like somebody who is having a great time,” she said over her shoulder.

That gave me pause. I could feel the smile set on my face. She was right. I was having a good time. I didn’t need to worry about what anyone else around me was thinking. I still have forty more pounds that I would like lose. None of this mattered. I was enjoying myself.

As we pedaled down the sidewalks, we both giggled like school girls. We were those tourists laughing out loud as we tried to snap a selfie (oh, yes we did).

And I felt like a little piece of myself was set free.

6 Reasons To Visit (or move to) Omaha, Nebraska!

Hello from Marissa, Two Kids’ East Coast Editor! Did you see the announcement that I am moving to Omaha, Nebraska!?! If not, now you know! In about a month I will be digging up my roots in Newport, Rhode Island and relocating to the grand city of Omaha, Nebraska. Now you can call me the Midwest Editor!

Omaha? you ask. Grand?

I would be remiss if I did not admit that I had the same reaction. We tell people where we are relocating to and they have the same reaction…Oh. Omaha. Why?

In our case, we don’t have much of a choice.  My husband’s job sends him where he is needed. However, we have met several past residents of Omaha and they speak only amazing things of the city. I was eager to find out why people loved Omaha and what it had to offer. After a week there house hunting, I now know. The place is PHENOMENAL.

Omaha Push Pins
Jen, of Two Kids, even flew out and joined me for a few days of my house hunting trip and we had a terrific time exploring. There is so much to see and do – a list of 6 things is not enough, but I will try nonetheless…

1. Omaha LOVES visitors.  Omahans are proud of their city and they are happy to share that pride with you.  The tourism center was closed the day we were down there, but I did learn from our new friends The Walking Tourists about the Nebraska Passport (really click that link, it’s a great resource). It’s an awesome guide to Nebraska, highlighting must see attractions, restaurants, etc. to visit while you’re in the state. Many of these places are local to Omaha. You receive a passport stamp each place you visit from the guide and you are able to keep track of your travels across the state. The passport can be picked up at any location that participates. I grabbed mine and received my first stamp at Hollywood Candy, definitely a must see! Visit Omaha is another resource you can’t miss out on.  Their site includes a plethora of things to do, calendars, and information.  Right now they are encouraging you to share pictures of your visits on Instagram using #omahaweekend.

Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge in Omha
2. The downtown area is bumpin’! Jen and I spent a day traveling all over downtown, in particular the Old Market area. People out shopping and dining made it clear how much they enjoy being a part of this community. The vibe is fantastic and you really feel the energy of the local artists and culinary masters. And because of reason #6, it is so easy to get anywhere without a major hassle.

Omaha
3. Food, Food, Food!  I ate my way through Omaha in my 7 days and didn’t have a meal I didn’t like. Everything from the Upstream Brewing Company (12 beer flight!) to Mexican food at La Mesa in Bellevue (terrific cheese dip) to Stokes Grill and Bar (fantastic steak tacos and we had a blast bantering with our servers) to Spin! Neapolitan Pizza in Papillion. Trip Advisor has a list of 1,157 restaurants to choose from and I am elated to try as many as possible.

Stokes Bar and Grill Omaha
4. Attractions.  The pictures at the end of our trip were priceless.  Jen and I walked out to the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge where we stood over the Missouri in both Nebraska and Iowa.  On a whim we rode B-Cycles from the bridge back to the Old Market. We spent a morning walking around the tranquil Lauritzen Gardens where they also happened to be holding a plant sale for a day.  I am saving the Omaha Zoo, apparently the best zoo in the world, for an outing when my whole family has relocated.

Omaha B Cycles and Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge
5. A smile around every turn. My realtor became my best friend (and not just because he was trying to sell me a house). I stopped in to get information from the school my kids will be attending in Plattsmouth and felt like I made new friends with all the administration (one of the principals lives in the neighborhood I’m buying in). Our servers at Stokes were helping me think of captions for my Instagram photos. We met up with fellow bloggers The Walking Tourists who shared a WEALTH of local information and places to see.  The ladies at my hotel front desk were telling me about different schools and areas to live in.  The cars on the freeway let me into their lane whenever I put my blinker on.  Seriously, every person I met in and around Omaha was so happy to just be plain nice and pleasant.  Okay, except for that one guy who honked behind me at that stop sign.  He must have just been traveling through town through. 🙂

image
6. It really does only take 20 minutes to get anywhere in Omaha. I drove around all hours of the day and night during my house hunting and tourism adventures. Never did I encounter any traffic. The infrastructure of Omaha and its surrounding cities is fantastic. The roads are wide, easily traversable, new in many areas, and clean!  Parking downtown was no where near a problem.  As a matter of fact, the parking pass we paid only $5 for was good until 6am the next day!  That is unheard of in most cities I have lived around!  Not Omaha.

Nebraska Tourism Passport
The memories I made this week will last a lifetime, but more importantly, I have a whole new outlook on our move to the Omaha area. Our family is going to thrive there. I don’t know if three years will be enough time for us to enjoy all this city has to offer but I am going to strive to make it happen!  Stay tuned and follow my Nebraska traveling to see what happens next!