Published in the Casper Journal January12, 2011

I can think of a lot of words to describe the Wyoming State Inauguration last week:  interesting, invigorating, inspiring, informational; but the word that describes the inaugural events best is intimate.
I often forget this is “small-town” Wyoming.  So, when I received a personal phone call from one of the newly-elected officials, inviting me to the inauguration, I was a bit surprised.  We’ve lived in several other states longer than the two years we’ve been in Wyoming, but have never had a personal invite to any statewide special events.
On Inauguration Day, we woke up early and made the two hour trip to Cheyenne.  Having been to Cheyenne only a few times before, I remembered again what a beautiful drive it is.  Arriving at the Cheyenne Civic Center, we parked next to a huge trailer labeled, “Homeland Security.” 
“We’d better leave everything in the car, to avoid a long security check,” my husband suggested.  “Good idea,” I agreed.  Coming from Las Vegas, we were sure that any huge event would involve heavy security, metal detectors, perhaps even being frisked.  With just a small notebook and pen in my pocket (we even left our cell phones and overcoats in the car), we followed the hurrying crowd to the building. 
As we walked inside, we were greeted not by a stern security guard, but by a friendly usher.  “That was easy,” I breathed.  The security was there, but in a protective, comfortable manner. 
We immediately saw one, two, three… several people we knew!  Everyone was checking in overcoats at the desk, and carrying large purses, cameras, cell phones, etc. 
“It’s not as tightly secured as we anticipated,” murmured my husband.  Entering the large auditorium, we were surprised to find that seating was open, and immediately found seats toward the front with a good view of the stage. 
Looking around us, we saw some people dressed to the hilt, while others wore jeans and cowboy boots.  “Welcome to Wyoming,” whispered my husband.  Everyone was talking, laughing and meeting up with old friends.  The atmosphere felt comfortable.  Casual, but electric. 
The program started, the audience hushed, and the candidates entered, escorted by spouses or a parent.  The color guard presented the flag and the audience rose.  A great swelling seemed to leap from the crowd as we listened to The Star Spangled Banner.  It was incredible.  “The land of the free and the home of the brave,” rang truer than ever as I glanced around at the free, proud, comfortable, down-home audience.  No pretense here.  No fa├žade or fake patriotism.  Just regular people:  ranchers, teachers, cowboys—honoring their next governor.
A dignified Reverend prayed for the new officials to have “sound judgment,” and included a blessing on “all of us, not to forget You.”  Amen.
When the officers were sworn in, the intimate feeling was still present.  When the candidates naturally stumbled over a few words during their oaths of office, the audience murmured pleasantly; when they held their family Bibles, everyone nodded their approval.
Governor Mead’s address was simple.  No flowery oration or stirring campaign promises; just a regular man, who had become governor through the support of regular friends and everyday people.  In his words, “Wyoming has the kind of people envisioned by the Founding Fathers; we take care of ourselves and each other.”
Afterwards, the crowd massed into the capitol building.  We waited outside on the steps in the freezing wind, until we could squish into the rotunda with the hundreds of other well-wishers.  Still, the feeling was intimate.  Laughing, talking, catching up with old friends, and nearby, a new governor and his wife, greeting everyone personally.  “This is Wyoming,” said my husband again.
Sandwiches, a fun chat with Al Simpson, a recognizable nod and handshake from the senators, a hug from Cindy Hill, becoming acquainted with several state legislators, and a quick trip through the capitol to see what we could.  The day was memorable. 
Later, we chatted with our friends in another state.  “Oh, yes, attended the inauguration today.  Met a dozen more legislators, traded stories with the elected officials, saw lots of people we knew.”
Once again, people in Vegas wouldn’t believe it.  People in New York, or Seattle, or Detroit wouldn’t believe it.  This is Wyoming.  Interesting, informative, invigorating and inspiring.  But most of all, intimate.
Nettie Francis is Editor of The Wyoming Woman Magazine


From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal January 5, 2011

Our family has a New Year’s Resolution:  This year, we will purchase a new vehicle.  You’d think that just whispering such a statement would bring dozens of car salesmen to our door.  But, alas, despite the fact that we have personally shared our resolution with six salesmen, no one is knocking yet. 
Why do we need a new vehicle?  It could be, perhaps, that our kids are too big.  It could be, perhaps, that the seat belts are too tight.  But I think that the most likely reason of all is that our current van is two sizes, too small. 
For nearly two years we’ve put up with it now—the squishing, the squeezing, the complaining and groans.  But whatever the reason, the kids or the seat belts, we’re officially in the market for an eleven passenger vehicle.
“Why do you need such a big van?” asked one skeptical salesman.  “Do you run a daycare?”
“No,” I responded firmly.  “I run a family.”  
However, if we are in such desperate need of a new van, why are we having such difficulty locating one?  I must admit, we do have a high order—nearly as high as Mt. Crumpit.  Our dream vehicle includes eleven seat belts, five doors, and All Wheel Drive. 
“They don’t make vans like that,” one salesman told us.   
But, despite the pessimism we’ve encountered, we know that such vans do exist.  We’ve found several which meet our criteria.  Unfortunately, they’re always in Florida or Vermont, or have been sold a day earlier.  But this is the West!  There must be an AWD van this side of the Mississippi. 
In our current van, when we’re all traveling together, oh the noise, noise, noise, noise!  The only way to combat it is to sing, sing, sing, sing!  (Actually, with all of our voices within inches of each other, the tone is really quite pleasant.) 
Ironically, the youngest members of our family enjoy the most space.  Infant car seats these days come with headrests, cup holders, entertainment—the whole gamut.  Plug several of those colossal contraptions into our van, and the remaining seat space for our tweens and teens is nearly gone. 
On other occasions, when all ten of us must be at the same location, we simply drive two vehicles; a practice which isn’t very economical, and doesn’t work at all when I’m the only driver available.
 I have fond memories of the family van of my childhood.  There were eleven children, but only eight seats, so my older sister and I often held smaller siblings on our laps.  I remember traveling long distances, lounging about, reading books, changing seats and lying on the floor.  It was a different world then – less stringent and less safe, but perhaps a little more family-friendly. 
Some of my favorite memories are of our van’s idiosyncrasies.  It had a sunroof which opened by a crank handle, and caused the people in the middle seat to feel as if they were in a hurricane, while those in the front and the back felt only a slight breeze.  
Another cool feature was the stick shift.  It wouldn’t stay in gear without the driver manually holding it.  Daddy kept a bungee cord under the driver’s seat.  On long trips, the driver could shift into gear, and then hold the shift while the front and middle passengers wrapped the bungee cord around the stick and hooked it underneath the middle bench.  This set-up was purely inspirational, and allowed the driver to use both hands on the wheel, perhaps like an ancient form of cruise control.  It worked well until the driver needed to shift down, of course.  At this point, all three members were once again needed to unhook the bungee cord and shift back to first gear. 
While these childhood memories are near and dear to my heart, I’m willing to sacrifice them for a safe, competent, law-abiding, modern van. 
Well, we have an entire year to reach our goal (although I’m not sure how much longer we can hold out).  While we wait with our feet ice-cold in the snow, puzzling and puzzling, we’re hopeful that either a salesman’s heart will grow three sizes, or our own search will turn up the van of our dreams. But for now, we’ll enjoy the close company in our current van, and the fun memories we are building.  Still, until we achieve this New Year’s resolution, every time I travel with nine other passengers, I may act like a Grinch.
Nettie Francis is Editor of The Wyoming Woman Magazine.