As a prelude to my morning walk around a wetland east of my house that is surrounded by expensive new homes, I walked north into an even newer construction zone. The property used to be an alfalfa field sprinkled with singing meadowlarks.

That loss, plus the many other aggravations of having construction all around me, made the sound of trucks delivering concrete at 7 this Saturday sleep-in morning seem like the last straw.

So I had a little talk with the contractor overseeing work at a foundation with a still-wet basement floor.

I questioned his neighborliness.

He explained that with winter coming, his crew must work on every nice day to get their homes built. And they have to accept concrete deliveries whenever they can be scheduled.

I understood that. He understood my frustration at having my routines and the land all around me disturbed.

I apologized for yelling – he said I was not the first person from my subdivision to do so – and said I was thoroughly frustrated with all the construction work the past two years and needed to complain to someone. He happened to be the boss on this particular morning.

That episode followed a frustrating work week linked mostly to one simple problem. Someone never called me back.

I had left my calendar mostly free and put off other projects to be flexible for a time that worked for this man. And he never even called me back.

It was a good reminder about the importance of responding to voice messages and emails, even if it is only to acknowledge that I received them, and that what we do or don’t do does affect others.

I had left the first voice mail message for the man’s employer on Sept. 12, asking him to serve as a middleman. I left phone numbers for my direct line at work and my cell phone, adding that it was OK to call me that night or over the weekend.

I left the same message late Monday afternoon because I had heard nothing.

Tuesday noon, I called the business’ office to ask if the middleman had been ill or was gone. No, the woman said, he was right there. He relayed through her that he had passed along my phone numbers to the man I wanted to interview.

That was fine, but why didn’t he call to tell me that?

Wednesday noon, I called the office again and got a different woman. I apologized for being so persistent. She promised to make sure the interviewee had received my message.

Now, it is Saturday afternoon and I still have not had a call back.

I did squeeze in another interview that had been on hold into Friday morning for a story in today’s Hub, but I would have done it on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday if I had known there would be no call back on the other project.

A counselor might say that when I yelled at the contractor this morning, I also piled on my frustration with the didn’t-call-me-back people.

The cure for such frustrations is to do something I enjoy, which usually involves taking photos.

On Monday, I enjoyed interviewing the new habitat manager at the National Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary. While I was out in the country south of Platte River, I noticed the masses of goldenrod carpeting the prairie meadows and road ditches.

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It is Nebraska’s state flower.

This afternoon, I took Mom for an outing to Apple Acres, an orchard several miles northwest of Kearney that also is having a bumper crop. The trees are loaded, and I can’t wait to try the tart Jonathans I brought home that are the size of baseballs.

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If that’s not enough to lift my spirits, especially if things don’t go well for the Huskers as they host Miami in football tonight at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, I still have a sure cure for the blues.

In my refrigerator is about three-fourths of the 1-pound block of dark chocolate I bought at the Education Fund silent auction two weeks ago at the NFPW Conference in Greenville, S.C.

I salute Media Women of South Carolina for hosting an outstanding 2014 NFPW Conference last week in Greenville.

Thanks also to our NFPW management team, officers and appointed directors, the South Carolina travel and tourism directors who accompanied us on the fabulous pre-tours and post tour, the speakers and workshop presenters, and everyone else who played a role in making last week a fun, entertaining, educational and memorable adventure.

All NFPW conferences are special. I have attended 25 now. My first was the 1987 50th anniversary conference in Williamsburg, Va.

If you never have attended one, I encourage you to start planning for 2015 in Anchorage, Alaska, and check out the ww.nfpw.org website for information about applying to the NFPW Education Fund for a first-timer grant that will cover your conference registration.

As an incentive, I’ll share a few things I learned in South Carolina. If you didn’t get to go this year, I hope to make you just a little jealous.

I learned about South Carolina’s history; ate wonderful Southern comfort food; saw a beautiful part of our country, with waterfalls, farms with blue Appalachian mountains in the background, gardens and forests; and felt the warm welcome of South Carolina hospitality everywhere I went.

I also learned that absolutely nothing enhances networking with my great NFPW friends from across the country than a morning spent flying through the trees on a zip line.

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At the conference itself, I was reminded to go after my dreams, even if it means leaving my comfort zone, from Francine Bryson, a national pie baking champion who was a finalist on CBS’ “The American Baking Competition.” She also taught us how to make better biscuits.

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I was inspired by the stories shared by two of our high school contest winners, who reminded us to listen to that small voice we often hear that can lead us to being in the right place at the right time. They also gave us a glimpse back to our own moments when we realized our calling as professional communicators.

I was amazed – again – at the tremendous generosity of our NFPW members in donating items to the Education Fund’s silent auction, and then bidding high and bidding often to ensure we can continue to award first-timer grants and support the high school contest and the next generation of journalists, broadcasters, authors, and multi-media and public relations specialists.

There was much more, of course, on all those fronts: fun, entertainment, great food, great speakers, tremendous workshops and inspiring moments.

It’s hard for me to believe our NFPW Communications Contest Banquet was starting about now last Saturday.

At the end, President Teri Ehresman of Idaho called Parliamentarian Debbie Miller of Arkansas to the podium to present the annual closing proclamation, which is a wonderful, cleverly written recap of conference week.

Then, Past President Meg Hunt, co-chair of the South Carolina conference, came forward, raised her glass, made a toast and wished us all safe journeys home.

Final toast, Meg Hunt, Teri Ehresman, Debbie Miller

It was a perfect end to an outstanding week.

Thanks again Media Women of South Carolina!!!!

I was at the Plum Creek Cemetery Saturday morning with two members of the Phelps County Historical Society. My goal was to take photos to illustrate stories I’m working on for this week’s Kearney Hub on a water project and its relationship to several Oregon Trail sites in the area.

About two miles east of the cemetery is a mass grave where 11 of 13 men killed in August 1864 during what’s known as the Plum Creek Massacre are buried. A war party of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians attacked a wagon train carrying freight, killing the men and kidnapping a young woman and boy.

That site isn’t impacted by the water project, but the berms of a shallow reservoir south of the Platte River will be on three sides of the Plum Creek Cemetery. It honors early settlers in the area and Oregon Trail travelers, and is within a few hundred feet of where a small military outpost, road ranch and store used to sit.

It’s well known that there are unmarked graves of trail travelers within and surrounding the cemetery. That’s one issue that will be studied during development of the two reservoirs that will temporarily hold water and release it when it’s needed to enhance river flows.

While the study may include bringing in ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint any remains, for now, the best proof comes from the two historical society members. Patti and Sandra say they have located 319 bodies using their witching skills.

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I took photos of them doing that on Saturday, plus some portrait shots to go along with a sidebar story about a new book they have written about the Plum Creek area’s Oregon Trail-era history.

Witching, in this case, involves using L-shaped wires – Sandra’s are from a common coat hanger – and walking slowly across an area. The women hold the short end of the “L” in their hands and close to their bodies, and start with longer pieces of the wires straight ahead and parallel.

When the are over a buried body, the wires move. Patti’s turned out to the left and right. Sandra’s cross in front of her.

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I asked what would happen if they used each other’s wires. So they tried it. Patti’s still turned out and Sandra’s still crossed.

I’m a skeptic by nature and by profession. So they insisted that I try witching using Patti’s wires.

I walked a step or two and the wire in my right hand moved left until it crossed the other wire. It happened again a few steps later.

I have no idea what was going on, but I know I wasn’t moving anything and the wind wasn’t blowing hard enough to make the wires cross.

My mom used to talk about her dad witching for water wells. That usually involves a Y-shaped branch from a willow or other tree. So, maybe I have an untapped talent for witching.

Still, I’m be more inclined to believe any body count revealed at Plum Creek Cemetery by ground-penetrating radar and other more science-accepted tools.

The witching experience reminded me that everyone has gifts – talents – that are important. Some are just stranger than others.

I’m always amazed at the different talents in the room when I’m at Nebraska and National Federation of Press Women conferences.

I don’t mind getting up in front of people to talk, but I have friends in both groups who would volunteer to do almost anything except that. The introvert in me is much less comfortable in one-on-one situations, but I’m backed up by a lot of extroverted “people persons.”

I can write and take photos, but you don’t want me doing any social media things beyond sending emails. I’m not a public relations specialist or book author, but I have a lot of friends who have those talents.

Now I’m wondering if some of them also might stumble across some untapped witching talents someday.

Throughout my two years as NFPW president, Mary Pat Finn-Hoag sent me cards and emails or called me. We talked about a lot of things, but she always ended every phone call and each written note with these words, “just breathe.”

Mary Pat has known me for all 35-plus years that I’ve been a Nebraska and NFPW member. So she knows that some of the things I do best are worry, stress the details and constantly make to-do lists.

There are two to-do lists on the table next to me that outline things I need to take to the 2014 NFPW Conference and things I need to do before I go.

Many other people in my state affiliate and on the national level were similarly supportive during my term as president … and well before and long after, too.

But it’s Mary Pat’s “just breathe” that I say to myself when I’m getting to wound up and worried.

Taking walks and going outside with my camera are two things that help me relax. I have a butterfly bush in my front landscaping, just below my kitchen window, which is a prime location to take photos just steps from my front door.

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A section of hike-bike trail will be going along the north side of my property sometime soon, which will require a fence and some new landscaping. I plan to include another butterfly bush or two.

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I had expected the trail work to be done already. One thing on my travel to-do list is to check with the Kearney city engineer about when he thinks the contractor might start tearing out a hedge on my property and a big section of my front yard for that project.

I have told him I don’t want any work done when I’m traveling, mostly because I want to be sure the part of my lawn sprinkler that will be involved will be properly plugged to prevent water from running everywhere.

That became a bigger worry overnight Aug. 8-9 when we had a terrible storm come through Kearney that dropped about 3.5 inches of rain in an hour or so. You may have seen on the Internet or network TV news the Good Samaritan Hospital security video of a river of water breaking through the floor-to-ceiling windows of its relatively new lower level cafeteria and kitchen.

Anyway, I’m getting excited about coming to Greenville, S.C., in a couple of weeks. I’ll have things checked off of my checklist and can enjoy some travel fun, the networking, learning opportunities, good food and wonderful hospitality for a week.

I’m also keeping President Teri Ehresman in my thoughts and prayers. No one understands the pre-conference preparations she’s making better than a past president. Also, I know she has a big week ahead with work responsibilities and her daughter’s wedding.

So Teri, two words come to mind: Just Breathe!

I’ve often said I would not have made a good pioneer, but thank God my ancestors were.

The good pioneers were brave and bold in heading west, while not knowing where the great overland trails that passed through Fort Kearny would take them. Their goal was to find a better life for themselves and their children in that great somewhere out there to the west.

They knew there would be hardships when traveling the Great Platte River Road and trails even farther west, but they could not have imagined just how hard it would be to face weather that always was too hot, too cold, too wet , too dry or too windy. They dealt with injuries, diseases, rivers too wild to cross and mountains too high to climb.

And there was the constant threat of conflicts with Native Americans who were desperate to hold onto their lands and their ways of life in the midst of a great migration of pioneers passing through and eventually settling on their lands.

In Nebraska, many of those conflicts were in 1864. So, when organizers of last week’s first Oregon-California Trails Association Convention in Kearney were selecting a theme, they chose that piece of history.

The conflicts were discussed by people with ancestors on both sides. The day tours and presentations also included topics about the Pony Express, military history tied to Fort Kearny, Native American and pioneer cultures, and road ranches along the Oregon, California and Mormon trails.

The convention’s concluding event Saturday night was a Nebraska supper at Fort Kearny State Historical Park featuring locally grown sweet corn, potatoes and apples baked into cake, plus smoked beef brisket and chicken.

The fort’s regular crew of re-enactors demonstrated military drills and fired a big canon. There also was a demonstration of a Pony Express mochila hand off by a grandfather and his 13-year-old grandson, who is just a few years younger than most of the original riders.

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A Colorado couple brought a team of milking Devon oxen, which were the kind of oxen used by many pioneer travelers. The same animals could pull a heavy wagon loaded with provisions and personal items, and provide milk. If one died, there was value in the meat.

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We still have pioneers today in people who see brave new worlds to explore in their travels or professions. Many NFPW members could wear that title, even if they’ve never been in a Conestoga wagon or spent time on the Oregon Trail.

They are the types who always hear the word “challenge” when someone tells them “no.”

Willa Cather’s “O Pioneers” is one of my favorite books. It is set a little later in pioneer history and describes hardships faced by the first and second generations of pioneers who settled the Nebraska prairie, including people like my grandparents.

When the storm clouds gathered in the western sky, as they did Saturday night at Fort Kearny, those settlers closed the barn doors, huddled in their sod or wooden houses, and prayed that their crops and livestock would be safe in the morning. Farmers and ranchers still do that today during stormy summers like we’re having this year.

The earliest travelers on the overland trails had nowhere to hide. When storm clouds came their way in any form or fashion, they lowered their heads and continued to go west.

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At the end of the Buffalo County Fair each year, I give myself permission to start anticipating the annual NFPW conference.

It has been later or earlier than usual the past two years, with the 2012 conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., a few weeks into September and the 2013 conference in Salt Lake City in late August. We’re back on schedule this year to be in Greenville, S.C., during Labor Day week.

I can hardly wait.

There are constant reminders now in the emails from President Teri Ehresman, our headquarters staff and conference planners as we prepare for the business meetings, COA and contest banquets, Education Fund silent auction, speakers and other learning experiences, and tours.

I had another reminder this week that came out of the blue, but with perfect timing. It was early Wednesday morning – the morning after the last events at the fair – and I was getting ready for work.

I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, turned on the radio and one of my favorite singers, James Taylor, immediately sang, “In my mind I’m going to Carolina.”

If that wasn’t permission to mix in some planning and anticipation time with all the things I still need to do at work in August, I don’t know what is.

We had an NFPW spring board meeting in Greenville a few years ago, which was my first visit to South Carolina.

So, I did a little research and found a woman there who gives van tours around the northwest part of the state. She showed me part of Appalachian country, plus some historical sites around Greenville.

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I loved it and I looked forward to coming back for a longer visit.

I have signed up for three of the day tours, Sept. 1, 2 and 3, prior to the actual start of the conference. The pre- and post-tours set up by our conference hosts everywhere we go are a great way to see parts of the country in just a few days. Best of all, there is more time to visit and have fun with NFPW members from other states.

Some of the sites on the South Carolina tours I’m taking are places I saw during my first visit to Greenville, but many will be wonderfully new.

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I’ve started to think about the things I’ll take with me to the 2014 conference and I will make my travel checklist soon. As inspiration, I looked at photos I took earlier in the Greenville area.

So, as James Taylor said, “Yes, I’m going to Carolina in my mind.”

Better yet, in four weeks, I’ll be going to Carolina for real!!!

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The 2014 Buffalo County Fair concluded today, making it a day of great relief for me. For seven days straight – some of them with heat indexes over 100 degrees – I was at the fairgrounds for an hour or two or six.

I cover the fair as part of my agriculture beat at the Kearney Hub. There were many things to see and do, including a concert by the country group Little Big Town, a carnival with lots of rides and games, and exhibits of all kind.

However, Nebraska’s number one industry is agriculture and Buffalo County is one of the top-producing counties for crops and livestock, so the focus of the fair always will be on ag-related competitions and entertainment, and especially on 4-H.

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As usual, I was asked several times this week if I was having fun. Usually, I say it would be more fun if I wasn’t working, although most of what I do is take photos, which can be fun when it involves events such as bull riding and mutton busting.

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It also would be more fun if there wasn’t several hours of work to do after every fair day to sort and identify photos, and write about the grand champion winners in the market sheep, beef and swine competitions for 4-H members.

The heat and humidity did take the starch out of me on several days, but mostly I’m just brain tired. Sleeping for about 48 hours – if that were possible – sounds great. I hope to take a day off this week, and just getting back to a more normal routine helps in my recovery process.

I’m sure members of the fairgrounds and Extension Service staffs, and all those 4-H families (at least the parents) are thinking the same thing.

NFPW members know the feeling, too. Maybe they’ve never covered a county fair, but everyone I know has been involved in covering, planning and/or hosting big events or projects.

Parts of such things are fun and it certainly is rewarding at the end of it all to know that you did a good job.

However, days later, it still can feel like I’m on a roller coaster that hasn’t quite stopped. Or in the case of the Buffalo County Fair, the 360-degree Fireball that took riders – certainly not me!!! – upside down.

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So was covering the county fair fun in general, or more or less fun than the past 20-plus fairs I’ve covered?

Ask me in a week or so when my brain is rested, the house is sort of clean again, the laundry is all done and the roller coaster ride truly seems to be over.

I’ve always had a need to organize things, plan ahead, create to-do lists and edit stories just one more time, if time allows.

I know that drives other people crazy. It even drives me crazy sometimes, especially when I’m focusing on planning instead of getting a good night’s sleep.

However, I know my age-related memory issues would be a lot more frustrating if I couldn’t count on having a written list of things I need to remember. Being so routine oriented eases my mind because I probably did things at the right time, even if I don’t really remember doing them.

After a very long week of work and facing the always trying Buffalo County Fair in the week ahead, it was nice to stumble upon one benefit of my plan-ahead personality this afternoon.

I found my stash of things I may bring to Greenville, S.C., Sept. 4-6 for the NFPW Education Fund Silent Auction that is a highlight for many of us at every annual conference.

I’m focused on it even more this year as the Education Fund director.

The silent auction is a critical fund-raising event for NFPW’s 501(c)3. The proceeds allow us to offer members professional development grants and also first-timer grants if they haven’t attended a conference before.

First-timer grants will pay the full conference registration for 14 members coming to the 2014 conference.

The Education Fund also supports our annual high school communications contest.

I knew that, as usual, I had put away in my spare bedroom several things with the 2014 Education Fund auction in mind. So, I went into the bedroom this afternoon to just take a look … and start figuring out if the things I want to take will fit in my suitcase.

I remembered several of the items. However – and this is where memory loss can be a good thing, sort of – I found other really cool things that I had forgotten until I saw them.

At least I think they’re cool.

I won’t spoil all the surprises, but here is one example. Sometime in the past 10 months, I found an NFPW purple handbag. I really hope that someone in Greenville will decide she can’t leave the conference without it.

It was one of those forgot-all-about-it surprises that seem to occur all too often these days.

I’m sure there will be many surprising items at the 2014 auction. There have been great events, memorable moments and many surprises at every NFPW conference I’ve attended – all but two since 1987.

I hope to share a bunch of them with you in Greenville!!

I took Mom and one of her friends to the Museum of Nebraska Art this afternoon. For those of you who were on the 2011 NFPW Conference pre-tour to Nebraska, this was the old Kearney Post Office building where we had our Sunday night supper seated in the largest exhibit space.

There were many interesting things to see, including “Regionalist Works of Grant Reynard,” who was a Grand Island native best known as an illustrator for many of America’s most well-known magazines during the first half of the 20th century.

However, we spent most of our time in the NFPW supper room admiring the “Stitching Time: Over 100 Years of Quilts in Nebraska” exhibit that featured 20 quilts on loan to MONA mostly from historical museums in central Nebraska, Nebraska State Historical Society, and the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Although there were masterpieces of color and design, including geometric, traditional and other quilt patterns; pictures done in cloth; and a beautiful vase of flowers that could be considered fine art, I mostly think of quilts as common people’s art, history and poetry all in one package.

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Some were made only for display and some for use as bedspreads.

There was even a newspaper quilt by an unknown artist that was dated 1911 and kept under glass because, as could be expected, the newspaper base had not held up that well. It’s amazing that it and other household type quilts survived at all.

It was fascinating to look at the fine stitches and consider the choices of patterns and colors by the true artists. However, the most interesting to me were the crazy quilts.

These are the ones done by people who obviously grabbed scraps of cloth and other things around the house that had been kept because they were pieces of family history from old clothes, bedding and other sewing projects. The pioneer artists cut the scraps into unusual shapes to avoid holes and wear patterns, and put the quilt puzzle together in a way that suited them.

The “You are the Darling of the Earth Crazy Quilt” made in 1898 by Edith Withers Meyers was embroidered with names – primarily first names or nicknames – sayings and dates. I’m sure it all meant something to her, her family and neighbors at one time.

Today, it just seems like sweet foolishness.

But think a minute about what it means to the maker to have saved these pieces of history. Think about all the interesting, wonderful people you’ve met in your lifetime, just at NFPW and affiliate conferences alone. Wouldn’t you like some way to tell the world how much those people meant to you and how being with them, even if only a few times, enhanced the quality of your life?

Maybe a crazy quilt or written personal history or blog or albums filled with old photos aren’t so silly. Especially if many years down the road they give viewers or readers a reason to smile, even if those viewers have no clue about what they are seeing beyond knowing that someone cared enough to record some memories.
The Meyers’ crazy quilt made Mom, Ada Lynne and me laugh for one more reason. At the bottom was an embroidered message that was spelled wrong, but still reflected a thought we’ve all had at the end of a hard day or big project.

“done at lass.”

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Mary Jane Skala and I made our annual July 4 trip to the Sumner Rodeo Friday afternoon.

She sat in the stands soaking in the events and the atmosphere of a small-town rodeo in an outdoor arena along Highway 40 that has been organized and run by generations of the same local families for 63 years.

I enjoy going to the Sumner Rodeo because I like to take photos on my own time in my own way, when I don’t necessarily have to think like a photojournalist who is illustrating a story or providing a daily feature.

I always offer my “on my own time” Nebraska photos to my editors, who usually want my images of cowboys trying to hang onto bucking horses and bulls, sandhill cranes and other wildlife, or just pretty places in the country.

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Yes, I’m one of those people who does for recreation something similar to what I do at work. When I ask people I interview about their hobbies and interests, most either describe something similar to their professions or something 180 degrees different.

At the Sumner Rodeo, I know the people. I know where to stand to take good photos, while not blocking the view of people in the stands and, most importantly, not getting run over. I understand enough about the events to anticipate (as much as is possible with animals) where the action might be.

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In this case, Mary Jane and I like the same thing for different reasons. However, our paths part when it comes to other spare time interests.

For example, she went to the Indy 500 as usual for a Memorial Day weekend family gathering. I can respect the technology and talent that goes into building race cars and driving them fast, but I just don’t care to watch car races. Ditto for NASCAR – sorry, Hoffman sisters.

I’ll admit it here: World Cup or no World Cup, I find soccer boring. The field is too big and there isn’t enough scoring. There always are a few moments of excitement, but those are shown on TV as highlights after the match, game or whatever it’s called.

I like riding in boats to see beautiful scenery, but I couldn’t stand to be in a boat all day fishing. I love visiting mountains, forests, prairies and beaches, and taking long walks with my camera in hand.

However, I don’t want to camp in the great outdoors. On our drive to Sumner Friday afternoon, Mary Jane talked about having her camping gear in her car and just itching to use it in some remote place.

Isn’t it great that no two people are exactly alike in any way, including our talents and the things we love to do in our spare time?

That truth always is reflected in our NFPW Conferences. There are workshops specific to different areas of professional communications every year, along with opportunities to indulge various special interests in the pre-tour and post-tour offerings by our host affiliate.

The South Carolina members have a three-day post-tour planned to Charleston, but also day trips for the three pre-tour days, Sept. 1, 2 and 3, before we go into our Sept. 4-6, 2014, conference.

Each pre-tour day there are several choices of things to do to fit your interests. I chose ones that have “great photos” within their designs. I’ll see waterfalls and mountains, historical sites and botanical gardens, and even take a zip line through the trees.

I can’t wait, and I hope to see you there!!!

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