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Papillion, NE, water tower

Kev’s Traveling: 2020 Quarantined in Nebraska Part 1

I hesitated to say anything about this trip before, but I am in Nebraska. No, the Travels with Kev world headquarters hasn’t moved to the Cornhuskers state, but my short visit turned into an extended stay due to safety concerns.

In early February, I booked a trip to my sister Paula, who lives in Papillion, NE, before most of us knew what was to come.  If I knew the true scope of this pandemic, I would have stayed at home. With a lot of conflicting information, I decided to take the trip, although taking some precautions.

I did take the train out here, and the trip aboard the California Zephyr went well. My return tickets may get rebooked once again; it has a few times already. I am trying to keep safe and keep my family’s health in mind as I proceed with this adventure.

It Could Have Been Worse

Abby and Kev
Abby and I are enjoying my extended stay.

Paula and Mikey have two kids, Abby, the five-year-old Newfoundland “puppy,” and their twenty-month human daughter, Mackenzie. Both girls adore their Uncle Kevy (a term only a select group of people use). I never knew I could love both of them as much as I do. I might be taking a few liberties with this, but it is my blog, haha.

I am stuck in the right place, I think. Paula and her husband are great hosts, and I believe they are thankful I am here because there is one extra adult to help with Mackenzie and someone to help out around the house.

I am fortunate to have a loving and supportive family, both back in Wisconsin and Nebraska. It is a blessing to stay with people I am comfortable staying with as long as I have.

I enjoy my time with my nieces, playing outside, going for walks, and kicking balls for Abby, activities both girls enjoy. Plus, it is keeping me active, and that’s good. The other day I walked over 2.5 miles without leaving the yard! Running after a toddler and kick a ball for a dog that only chased them but does not bring them back takes a lot of effort.

I am thankful my parents are doing well back home; both are taking precautions and in good health. With that said, I worry about them.

Living With A Toddler

Mackenzie is enjoying the outside.

I am not known as a “kid person,” but my niece is changing things. I slowly like the “little” humans more and more sympathetic to parents and caregivers.

The Adjustment

Mekenzie is a bright little girl but sometimes too smart.

Like most of us, she tries to avoid consequences for activities she knows she shouldn’t, but yet wants to participate in doing. To ensure no witnesses, she will instruct you to “go” to send you out of the room before trying to do what she shouldn’t. We are on to her little game!

I forgot, living with a toddler entails you watch the same shows or movies over and over. Although we do this as adults too, I like to think we vary the selection more. Mackenzie’s favorite film, for the time being, is Megamind.

Surprisingly, she does enjoy train videos, often while sitting on my lap. One day she was playing on my phone and started one and then wanted to watch more. Mackenzie starts dancing and yelling ding, ding, or “Ta” for Thomas when a train appears on the screen. Often she wants to use my phones to watch trains or ask for them to play those videos on the TV.

I love dabbling in psychology, and watching her cognitive development is fun. Every week there is a skill set she masters, and her vocabulary grows. The latest stage of her development is pointing, identifying, and saying the names of people and things to the best of her abilities; right now, I am “Ka.”

Facetime with grandma
Mackenzie likes to be a dinosaur when she Facetimes with Grandma.

Mackenzie’s Development

It amazes me how well she understands technology. She loves to Facetime, and she discovered how to use emojis, so when she chats, she looks like a dinosaur. If she wants to talk with Grandma or Grandpa Monteith, she often points to a phone and roars like a dinosaur or says Papa for grandpa.

When Facetimeing, she takes the person on the other end on an adventure. The downside is you only see from her eyes up, and her camera work is very shaky. She will show them parts of her world that she finds important.

I never thought that an almost-two-year-old would teach me something new about my iPhone, but she did with the emoji thing. I also learned that I could have a smaller keyboard on my iPad, and I think I learned how to get the old keyboard back.

Anytime she can break into anyone’s phone, she enjoys looking at photos of loved ones. Mackenzie knows what app and folder have the pics she wants to see. She does get upset that her movies are not in my movie apps!

Her love of technology extends past phones to the TV as well. She pushes the buttons with “motes,” aka remotes, although she is always happy with the results of her actions. Watching YouTube with her is a sport, and if you finish a video, it’s a victory. It is like watching TV with your dad, but worse (I love my dad, but I am a one show at a time type of person).

Big And Fluffy – Abby

Abby Chilling
Abby is relaxing outside after chasing balls and playing.

Abby, what can I say about the big fluffy puppy, actually a lot. She is loveable and friendly, but she seems needier than usual. She cannot get enough scratches, playtime outside, and water from the outside faucet.

This time of the year, this double-coated beauty blows out her undercoat for the summer. You can brush her every day, and the results will give you enough fluff for two small dogs.

She enjoys our morning routines; I am the first one down the stairs, so now she can go outside earlier than usual and receive more one-on-one time. Usually, she gives me enough time to grind my coffee beans and press the Aeropress before her requests to go outside.

While she stretches and does what dogs do outside, I give her fresh water and breakfast. After her first time back in, she gets a treat, her dental stick. Often she plays with it by pouncing on it and throws it in the air, but if she is in the mood, she may eat it alfresco. I don’t get her actions, but hey, we all have those things we like to do that others think are odd.

Often she tries to convince me to go out and play, but I want to get work done. Early in the morning is my peak work hours. When Mackenzie is awake, working is not always as productive as I want. She wants to hit buttons on my computer too, but often not the right ones.

Abby Prepped Me For Being An Uncle

Abby and Mack
My nieces, Abby and Mackenzie, are playing outside.

I knew Abby when she was a puppy, and I am learning similarities between dogs and kids; now hear me out before getting nasty.

Phrases I first used with Abby and now Mackenzie:

  • What is in your mouth?
  • Spit that out!
  • Where are you going?
  • Bring it here!
  • Why did you do that?
  • No! NO! STOP!
  • What is that smell? Oh, come on now. How?

And when things are too quiet, and either girl is are of direct eyesight, you know they could be up to something they shouldn’t. Although with Abby, she is usually sleeping.

The Quarantine Blues

Social distancing is a dream for some and a nightmare for others; I am somewhere in between.

It’s hard not to go a little stir crazy these days. We are binging on Netflix, Hulu, Prime, and other streaming programs like so many others. We find ourselves watching The Tiger King a few times instead of cleaning. I find Waco very interesting, and my standard shows of The Office, Parks and Recreation, Super Store, Cheers, Frasier, Shitt’s Creek, King of the Hill, and others.

I am used to working from home, blog-wise, but I can’t do that as an organist. Being a church organist has many challenges; we often do not own our instruments like a trumpeter or zitherist, and if we did, they are not that portable for traveling. With many churches closed during these times, I hesitate to reach out to find an organ to practice on while I am here.

Playing the organ is a source of income for me, an escape, and my way to meditate.

Working From I Mean On The “Home”

Ego Mower
Mowing my Paulas lawn, not only to be helpful but to clear my head.

I enjoy fixing things around the house, and there are a few things to repair here, like any home.

Additionally, I enjoy mowing lawns. Mowing allows me to listen to podcasts, get in a walk, and have some personal time. It’s a way I can enjoyably help out while I stay here. Besides, I don’t think they enjoy mowing.

Months ago, my folks booked a trip to come out here later on in April, but their train trip is getting canceled by them. My dad likes to putz around the house, too, so Paula and Mikey made a list of activities for my dad to tackle when he was here. He was looking forward to the list, but I am taking over part since they are not coming out. I think we got a bulk of them done.

Safe Quarantine Outings And Activities

Nebraska Wildlife Safari
We saw a gang of elk enjoying the sun while driving through the Wildlife Safari in Ashland, Nebraska.

Typical Activities

Most of my trips to Nebraska include a few regular activities, but not this trip. Our favorite activities include going to the zoo, going out to eat, library time (for Mackenzie), play at a few parks, and other activities like haircuts at the Papillion Barber Shop. Well, none of those activities are happening. My brother-in-law is now my barber; he is not too bad.

Our big outing for this trip is shopping, although we keep it to a minimum. Instead of going out to eat, we have mastered online food delivery.

Paula’s Social Distance Birthday

Paulas 33 b-day
Paula’s Birthday Cupcake

April 5th was my sister’s birthday. This year, her birthday was less exciting than she wanted.

As we get older, we forgo the big parties often for a meal out with friends and loved ones. This year needed a creative solution. Instead of going out to eat, we picked up cupcakes from Small Cakes cupcakes, one of her favorite treats,

She found a fun social distancing activity to get us out of the home to see animals. So, her birthday outing was getting the whole family in the Buick and traveled to the Wildlife Safari Park. (Well, Abby stayed at home.) Hundreds of other people and we had the same idea.

It was fun seeing native animals of Nebraska in their natural habitat from the safety of our cars. Our only regret with this trip is not planning better because we went on a whim. We should have brought or eaten before we went.

Trying Different Coffee Drinks 

Whipped coffee drink
The famous Whipped Coffee Drink of the 2020 Quarantine

People are experimenting during this time of looking for something to do, and we are no different.

Now, Paula is a tea and Mountain Dew drinker and not a coffee drinker like myself. But she discovered a coffee drink online she wanted to make, now known as the Quarantine Whipped Coffee Drink. Now, I like brewed coffee, iced coffee, cold brew, or a delicious hot whole milk latte, and this drink was none of those.  But she wanted to make it so bad I thought I would be the great big brother, and I said I would try it; she made it.

The drink comes in two parts; milk over ice, and on top of that, a whipped topping, the consistency of marshmallow fluff.  (If you want to make it click here.) The topping ingredients include instant coffee, sugar, and water, all whipped together. After making the topping, you take a photo, post it on social media, and mix it.  I drank, I tried, and no need to try it again.

I also tried the PBR’s Hard Coffee, another drink I do not need to try again. Now neither were awful per se, but neither is my style. The PBR tasted like a sweet coffee drink that comes in a bottle with a hint of alcohol.

Who knows, you might like them!


Abby out on a walk
Abby is out for a walk.

At this house, walking is an activity that transcends generations and species. If you said “walk.” a toddler and a puppy get excited. We take a few routes around Paula’s subdivision, each about a mile, some way hillier than others. Eastern Nebraska is not flat like I thought; there are several reasonably steep hills around here.

One day, we took Abby to walk at the Walnut Lake and Reaction area for a change of pace.  Paula thought the trail was about a mile plus long, but we found it is not.

The path surrounding Walnut Lake is 3.1 miles, not a bad walk for me, but Abby, by the end, had the look of “are you trying to kill me?” Mackenzie did well but had her fill close to the end. Maybe tasty snacks and entertainment might have saved the day.

Nebraska is not a shelter in place state at this time, but we are trying to be respectful of others.

Wrapping Things Up

The past few weeks have not been easy for me, and I am sure they are hard on you too. In the beginning, I didn’t know who to listen to or what I should do, but now, I know who I don’t believe. I have a date to go home, but that could change at any time (editors note: it did change).

While my plans of going to the zoo changed to a ride through a wildlife safari, and my sister didn’t get the birthday she wanted, but we are safe and have our health. I wanted to be home by now, but now I get to share in the life of a little girl, well girls, who think the world of me.

As of now, my dad and I are still planning on his retirement trip (more to come), pending everything goes back to a new normal by August. The November Disney trip is probably changing to Spring 2021, but this is due to a schedule change and not related to current times.

Mack and I
Mackenzie and I were relaxing outside on a beautiful day.

Don’t Give Up! We Are In This Together

Remember, we are not alone. Take care of yourself. Reach out to your friends when you feel lonely; there is a chance they feel isolated and could use a conversation.

We may miss our favorite activities, but soon they will return. But right now, we need to take precautions not only for ourselves but for the ones we love. Science is accurate, and we need to listen to get through this pandemic as quickly as possible.

Soon we will be traveling again; don’t give up on your travel dreams. If you’re feeling depressed, look at photos of past trips. I discovered some lost images, and scrolling through them brought back memories and filled me with joy and hope.

If you are new to travel and don’t have photos from past trips, don’t worry. Visit blogs, Youtube Channels, Instagram, or podcasts of places you want to travel. Instead of memories, build dreams.

If you have the money, now is an excellent time to replace or buy travel gear. Many places have sales going on now. If you are thinking of travel backpacks, start here.

Don’t give up; I believe in you, and you should believe in yourself too. We will be back on the rails, on the road, or in the air again!

If you are interested in traveling via Amtrak, check out my Riding Amtrak page. If you want to see more from me, contact me, or join the email list, click here!

Safe Travels (soon)!



Kev has traveled over 125,000 miles on over 660 trains all around the United States aboard Amtrak. When he is not on the move, Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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