Mini-cation: Ponca State Park Edition

Us Time

Seth and I have learned that we need time together. Dedicated time. Time without interruptions from work, mentees, family, friends, to do lists (that’s me!), and pets. We have to almost remove ourselves from life and it needs to happen on a somewhat regular basis. Before we used to make plans for a small vacation, or even a staycation, when things were getting rough. Not a great plan.


Now, we don’t wait. We schedule and plan these to happen at least once a quarter.  It gives us something to look forward to on the calendar. Something to plan together and daydream about. And inevitably it comes right when we need it. When we are both out of steam and have nothing to give to the other. Works out rather well!


Busy Season Is Coming

In July, we realized we both needed to use some vacation time (even though we have a 2 week trip planned later this year). We decided it’d be a good time to do a mini-cation. My boss gave me a great suggestion to check into Ponca State Park, just 2 1/2 hours north of where we live. There was hiking, a new pool, horseback riding, fishing, kayaking, a gun range, and a kitchen in the cabin to cook our own food! Exciting! I was able to secure a cabin for 6 weeks out and we started to look forward to the getaway.


Getting Out of Dodgemini-cation_ontheroad

When the day finally came to head north for our mini-cation, we were both exhausted. Seth assumed I would pressure us to get out of town fast and meet some schedule. Funny thing is, I didn’t set a schedule for this trip. And if anything came up in my head, I’d quickly push it out as best I could. We were leaving on a Sunday, so you’ll remember, Seth needs his time. So off he went, and I took mine too. I prayed for patience and tolerance and for God to take away my need for control, even if it was just for this trip. I wanted so badly to get along with my husband all weekend without starting stupid fights over not getting out of town soon enough.


When Seth returned, he was pleasantly surprised that I was moving at a slower pace and appeared to be thinking at a slower pace too (let’s be real here though, can I really ever slow my brain down much?) We still needed to get groceries, so we made a quick trip and picked up mostly Whole30 things with just a few off program items. Once packed, we were out the door only 30 minutes after my brain wanted to leave, but what did it really matter? Anyway, we probably would have left at that time had I pushed and kicked and screamed. This was a way better feeling and we calmly left town.
We made a pitstop for a late lunch at a small town diner. Our orders turned out to be Whole30, even though we weren’t trying. Go figure! It was a lovely, sunny drive through the back highways of Nebraska. I just love this time of year; the corn is tall, the beans are green and full. Beauty all around! We chatted and he taught me more about farming. I really enjoy learning from him.



Ponca State Park

We arrived at the park about 4pm and headed to pick up our keys. As I asked about the different activities available that I had learned about when I booked the trip, I was told most were closed down for the year for various reasons. “You’ll have to make your own entertainment.” Safe to say she didn’t know us very well. Challenge accepted. We usually have a good time where ever we are!


cabinWe unpacked at our “rustic cabin”, which was a cabin straight out of the 80s, with a flat screen. The bed was in a room about the size of a closet, there was a small bathroom with a shower that reminded me of what we had in my basement growing up. The rest of the space was open with a kitchen, dining area and a small sofa. Rustic was a good word for it.


Making Ponca Home

Just outside the cabin was a fire pit and picnic table with trees all around. It was so peaceful. Seth was ready to get to work and firewood was his first object. We hiked up the hill around us and found a cedar tree with some small branches. We’d only brought a hatchet, so the task was more difficult than hoped. Closer to our cabin, Seth spotted a dead tree and started to chop it down. Our simple task took us close to 45 minutes to accomplish. Covered in blisters and sweat, we managed to get it down, but were too exhausted to chop it apart. He kept telling me that THIS is when a hack saw would be handy. I mentally added one to his Christmas gift list, but was too tired to respond.


By this time, we were both ready for dinner and Seth decided we’d cook outside. Even though there was a full kitchen inside, how often do you get to have a flame grilled meal? We enjoyed our meal as we laughed over our first adventure of chopping down a tree with a hatchet.



After dinner, we sat around the fire until way past our bed time (we are normally 9pm bedtime people). The fire kept us warm on the breezy evening. Seth was quieter than usual. I knew he had something, probably work, on his mind. I’ve learned over the few years we’ve been married not to push. So I did most of the chatting that first night, and we even sat in silence. This is still a tough thing for me, but I have some friends who talk about this being their favorite thing to do with their spouse: sit next to them in silence. So I’ve been trying to give it a shot, and it wasn’t too bad, and best part, I did feel closer to him!


The Adventure

Day 2 was fantastic. We slept in. Seth cooked eggs, sausage and potatoes over the fire. We ate a large breakfast because we had big plans for the day and weren’t sure when we’d be back to eat. Knowing it can be tough for each of us to be out of routine, we separated for a bit to spend a little time with God before we ventured out. I can’t say enough how crucial this has become for each of us, and in turn, our marriage.


Missouri_SethOnce back together, we started off on a trail. It was beautiful and peaceful; it looked out across the Missouri River. This park has 17 miles of hiking trail, so when one trail ended and we headed for another. We started at the top of the hills and then went way down. At one point we wondered if this was a true trail, but we left our map in the cabin… So we just kept going.


Soon the trail became very narrow. The hills were incredibly high on either side of us. We paused to enjoy God’s beauty and just be in awe of His design. It was a windy day and the trees swayed and creaked around us, but we hardly felt it. Birds chirped and bugs buzzed, but most things stayed out of sight when we came hiking through.


This Escalated Quickly

Eventually, the trail disappeared. I became afraid because we were hiking along an extremely steep slope. To our right was a hill about 100 feet high and to the left, a swamp. Seth would go ahead of me and I’d follow once he confirmed it was safe. We weren’t sure what we were looking for, but hoped a way out would be obvious. At one point, I tried to follow, but the ground would slide away with each step I took. I couldn’t reachthe hill Seth and there was nothing around to grab on to. I started to cry and he calmly coaxed me each step of the way. Fear practically paralyzed me and he didn’t panic. His calming demeanor got us out of yet another sticky situation.


“Were you scared??” I asked him. “Yeah, a little bit, but I wanted you to know you’d be ok.” He truly is my night in shining armor. I felt relieved as we continued on. That was until we reached a point where the only way was up. As I stared up the side of that hill, I felt more fearful than before.


“Let me see how far I can get.” I looked over and he shot me one of his 100-watt smiles. He started up the side. I didn’t wait long before I joined him. We talked to each other with each new foot hole created and branch or tree trunk we reached. Because I am shorter than him, the way he went wasn’t going to work for me. I couldn’t reach the same things, so I followed my own path beside his.



Are you guys seeing the symbolism here too? We both have had some crazy experiences, especially in our journeys in recovery and I can see how this enormous hill represents that. We started at the bottom almost laughing at this huge task we would have to overcome. Because we are not one person, we each had to take our own path, but for the last 4 years, those paths have been side by side. And most importantly, we’ve cheered each other along the entire way.


When we reached the top, we high-fived and embraced. It was an amazing feel to accomplish that, especially doing it together. There’s no one else I’d rather climb ridiculously steep hills with, just like there’s no one else I’d rather do life along side.


Taking It Down A Notch

mini-cation by the lakeAfter our epic hike, we were ready for a less strenuous activity. We visited the Education Center and learned all about life on the Missouri River. Seth’s thirst for knowledge is so attractive. I think he read everything in that center! We hiked one more trail back to the cabin and decided to venture into town for S’mores stuffs and a hack saw.


Seth really wanted to fish while we were there — something he never has time for these days. So he rented a rod and reel and we sat next to a large pond. It was so relaxing, even though he lost 3 bobbers :) And I read my book — making my way through the Divergent Series when I can find time. I feel like I’m getting better at this whole bonding in silence thing!


SmoresWe used our new hack saw to cut up wood for our fire that night. We cooked our burgers and made a delicious meal. After we were stuffed, we sat by the fire until we were hungry for S’mores. While we waited, Seth started to open up. This is my favorite, when he finally shares what’s going on with him. You might remember me mentioning that he describes himself as a diesel engine, I just need to give him time to warm up. Well it worked! I learned how work was going and what he’s struggling with. Like him, I am sometimes quick to offer solution, so it was a battle to just listen. By the time we were done, it was late and my heart was full.


Back to Reality

Honest Abe'sIMG_7725The mini-cation passed far to quickly, as they always do. But I we accomplished what we set out to do: relax, reconnect, have fun, and love each other. We headed back home and agreed to cross of two more things on our list of things to do together. Honest Abe’s and Hurts Donuts. Both were worth the wait to experience together. And, yes, we were worthless the rest of the evening… A small price to pay for a getaway like this!


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