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In Love
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In Love in Omaha
A walk through Omaha's Lauritzen Gardens and Heartland of America Park
By Lynn Smith
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My husband Mark and I are recent empty nesters. For 50-something baby boomers like us, the transition from a full house of four to a half full (never half empty) household of two was difficult at first until we realized that we could take the opportunity to start dating all over again.
Inventing the Love Walk
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In our 20s, newly married and frugal, our dating was inexpensive and inventive. My new husband, in an effort to make date nights fun, coined the term "Love Walk". It meant strolling arm-in-arm, walking in all seasons, talking and sharing together. Frugal, yes. Wonderful, always.

One of our first "dates" as empty nesters was a long weekend getaway to Omaha, Nebraska. No plans, just us, until my better half blurted out "Love Walk!" My heart skipped a beat as I had not heard those words in years but my smile gave away my excitement. "Lauritzen Gardens," he said while pointing at travel information on our hotel room desk. "Let's go, what are you waiting for?" I exclaimed and threw on my jacket.

Reconnecting
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The weather for our Love Walk was cool but once we got to the warm Lauritzen Garden Lobby, that didn't matter. I knew it would be a wonderful experience with close to a dozen gardens, numerous trails, waterfalls, a bird sanctuary and a breathtaking conservatory.

We began in the Marjorie K. Daughtery Conservatory with its garden-lined paths reminiscent of those in the southern United States. We slowly strolled, fingers intertwined, along the paths framed with vibrant azaleas. We discovered a gorgeous 10-foot waterfall amid moss-lined trees and admired in contented silence. We made our way up to an outside overlook and were stunned by the breathtaking view of the Missouri River Valley. We could see for miles on this clear day with a big blue sky and wispy white clouds, and the rapidly flowing river was mesmerizing. The two of us stared at the view, my head on his shoulder.

"This is like our future," I beamed. "A new beginning but with so much history — like those trees along the riverbank. They have deep roots but they're still growing and changing."

Mark smiled, nodded and knew just what I meant. We love our children tremendously, and made a wonderful life for them. We are so proud that they are making their own futures with our family nest to always fall back on. But realizing that now was our time too, well, that was something that just occurred to me and I was incredibly excited for that next step in our journey.

The next stop was the Rose Garden, which has over 2,000 rose plants. My husband pretended to pick a yellow rose for me (he knows they are my favorite) with an impish, playful grin. "Don't you dare," I whispered half laughing. I loved watching him act so silly — it reminded me of the early days of our marriage.

As we continued on, we laughed at his faux rose-stealing bravado until he stopped dead in his tracks. I looked around to see what had caught his attention and burst out laughing. We were in the Model Railroad Garden and my middle-aged hubby suddenly looked like a little boy. He pulled me over to see the model trains that were chugging along through little towns and incredibly detailed landscapes. I hadn't seen him so excited in a long time, and I loved it.

Neither of us wanted to end our day, so we decided to continue it by making the short drive over to the Heartland of America Park.

Walking in the Heartland of America

The early afternoon temperature rose and we enjoyed the sights and history of this beautiful park in the warm sunshine. The Heartland of America Park has over 30 acres and abuts up to the Gene Leahy Mall, Old Market, Lewis and Clark Landing and the Omaha side of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

This park offered a wide open space with a walkway that paralleled the river and was full of history. As we strolled on the paved walking trails we marveled at the WWII and Airborne Memorial Sculptures and read about this area's rich, deep history with Lewis & Clark Interpretive exhibits that dot the area. We discovered that the Lewis & Clark expedition came through Omaha along the Missouri River, right in this area, in 1804.

An Omaha resident taking a break from a bike ride smiled a friendly Heartland smile so my husband took that cue to ask him about the park.

"Summertime is the best time to visit the park—you can take a gondola ride or a tour boat. And the Fountain has an amazing light show. It projects water over 300 feet in the air! My son absolutely loves it. What brings you guys to Omaha?" he asked while retying his shoe.

"We're empty nesters and trying to get used to it," Mark said.

The cyclist laughed. "Makes sense. We have a toddler at home, so we've got a while."

Mark and I looked at each other and smiled, remembering those delightfully chaotic toddler years. As he was getting ready to go, the friendly cyclist said that this park also plays host to festivals, food and wine events and concerts.

"Summertime date, I like that," Mark whispered.

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We made our way back to the hotel as the sun began to drop; the Missouri River sparkled in its glow. As I kicked off my shoes in our room I walked to the window to admire the view of the river and I found myself all smiles. "Loved our Love Walk, honey!" my husband yelled from inside the closet as he hung up his coat.

"Oh, me too," I whispered. I took a deep breath and basked in the fading sunlight. Dating again at our age? I felt butterflies and laughed out loud.

"What's funny out there, Miss Omaha?" Mark asked.

"Just happy, honey!" I answered. "Just happy."

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