I just came in from a Saturday afternoon walk in the sunshine.

It has been almost three weeks since we’ve seen the mid-50s with (for Nebraska) a modest south wind. It was good November walking weather.

We’ve had the polar vortex at work in the Great Plains for what seems like a very long time. We’ve had sunny days that didn’t make it out of the teens or below-zero wind chills. Some overnight lows dipped below zero, and we’ve also had the clouds roll in on winds gusting to 45 mph.

I am in no way comparing our situation to the terrible snow conditions in the Upper Midwest and especially along the Great Lakes. I’ll take some below-zero wind chills by themselves any day over 7 to 8 feet of snow.

Our forecast is for clear skies on Thanksgiving Day, but with highs only around 32 degrees. In the meantime, 40s and windy conditions will prevail.

So, I guess I’ll have to savor today’s walk in the sunshine and return to daily workouts on my elliptical in the basement.

I’ll also use today as a reminder to treat myself to small pleasures and look for even a few minutes of joy at times when work, family or others issues weigh heavy on my soul like the more common gray November skies.

My kitties, Tas and Thai, seem to understand the value of sunshine moments. They like to sit in a window even on cold days to look for some sun and anything else that might be interesting.

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Throughout every winter, Thai follows the sunspot on the floor that comes in through our bay window each morning and circles the dining room table into the afternoon.

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That sunspot was of even greater value on Wednesday when the furnace went out.

I had a dentist appointment after work, so I didn’t notice the chill until I got home around 5:30 p.m., which of course is just after most businesses end their work days. I called my current furnace guy/plumber who excels in customer service, but he said it would do no good for him to come because he didn’t carry parts, if one was needed, for my brand of furnace.

So I called the local heating and air-conditioning company that installed it. I left a voice mail message, expecting a call back that never came. Meanwhile, I turned the oven to warm and left the door open until bedtime.

We did find. Clothing layers, blankets and kitties provided enough warmth to make the night bearable.

I went to work at 6 Thursday morning to make sure I could get my newspaper deadline work done before the furnace repair folks finally called to say they needed to me to come home to let them in. It was an easy fix – a faulty switch – completed in less than an hour.

Yet, I carried a load of aggravation with me all day Thursday. An issue with my managing editor and a terrible headache added to my grouchy mood when I went to see my mom after work. After I snapped at her, I did take her advice to go to bed early, which was a cure for what ailed me.

However, I really felt bad about how I had acted. I’m never Little Mary Sunshine, but I’m usually nicer than I was Thursday evening.

So to seek forgiveness, I took flowers and chocolate chip cookies with me on my Friday-after-work Mom visit.

She acted like she didn’t remember my bad behavior. Part of that is her memory isn’t that great anymore and part, I’m sure, is that moms are programmed to overlook such things as long as they don’t continue.

So as Thanksgiving approaches, I hope the sun shines on you and it takes a good long time for you to count all your blessings.

I’m sitting at my kitchen island in my red “Nebraska Huskers” sweatshirt, partly because the Huskers are playing the most important game of their season so far this afternoon in Madison, Wisc., and mostly because this is the fifth straight day that the daytime high temperature won’t get out of the 20s.

That’s not unreasonable in the central Great Plains in November, but this arctic blast came earlier than usual and was accompanied by nasty north winds, especially earlier in the week. Kearney even made a national news mention last Sunday night because our high that day was in the 70s and the forecast for 24 hours later was a temperature of around 10.

We’ve been better off than a lot of folks in states to our west, north and northeast, which have seen tons of snow. My nephew, Scott, who lives in Kremling, Colo., said there were 12 to 15 inches of show in the mountains when he left to come home to visit his mom and grandma.

Plus, I was able to spend most of my work week inside, unlike a lot of my farmer and rancher friends, and a whole host of other folks who must do much of their work outside, no matter the weather.

There is some light snow falling outside my kitchen window. I had been optimistic, or maybe naive, in believing the dusting we got overnight would be it, so I got out my big broom and shovel around noon and made quick work of getting the first layer off of my driveway and sidewalks.

Even my relatively easy encounter with cold weather this week was a reminder that we can’t order perfect conditions to fit our work requirements or activities.

I’ve felt particularly bad for our Kearney Hub photographers and sports reporters who had to stand for hours in the bitter cold covering state playoff football games, and go to Lincoln (two hours one way) and back for the state volleyball tournament.

Just getting dressed to go out for lunch and run some errands exhausted me.

Whether it’s bad weather, an interview that doesn’t go well, a typo that got through several layers of proofreading, a phone call or email from someone who didn’t like a story or at least the message within the story, no work assignment and no work day goes perfectly. It’s how we adapt to those trying conditions that counts and that shows we are professionals in what we do.

And if all else fails, I’ve found that ice cream will make things better, even on a cold, snowy day.

My 20-month-old grandnephew, Ryan Glen Potter, reminded me of that truth this morning when he was feeling a little tired and cranky while visiting his great-grandma at her retirement place in Kearney that always has soft serve ice cream available.

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I was reminded this week, in one of those hand of God ways, of my starting point as a journalist.

I had reached the “can’t deal with it any longer” point with a pile of papers, magazines and newspaper clippings on my Kearney Hub desk that were there because they contained story and/or column ideas or because I had intended to read them “someday.”

I successfully edited the pile down to a few good ideas and a lot of paper for recycling. However, I found one piece of history that someone gave me in the past year that I’d forgotten was in that pile.

On Wednesday, Nov. 5, a yellowed, folded copy of my Wilcox High School monthly newspaper emerged from the pile. I was happy to see it and amazed at the publication date, Nov. 5, 1973, exactly 41 years earlier.

That was in the fall semester of my senior year.

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I bet almost all of my Nebraska and National Federation of Press Women friends also worked on their school newspapers. It was a start to many professional communicators’ careers, even for the ones who chose broadcasting, public relations, advertising or writing books as their focus.

My tiny, rural Nebraska school – around 300 in K-12 and a senior class that year of 17 – had an actual class, with a teacher-adviser, for yearbook production and The Eagle newspaper.

The English teacher who already had encouraged me as a writer was the first to teach me the basics of journalism writing, editing and content. The Eagle’s layout and printing were done at a small weekly newspaper about 30 miles away.

It mostly focused on school news, with a page 1 story of the National Honor Society-selected student of the month. Remarkably, there also were interview type features with local opinions on state and national news topics.

The boys wrote short summaries of the football and volleyball games, and there were similar reviews of marching band events.

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There were senior profiles (think shorter, simple versions of our NFPW president’s “Talking with Teri” blog), a list of the top 20 music singles of the month, black and white photos of a silly pep club skit and other candid moments with students and teachers, and a list of November birthdays for every K-12 student and the custodian.

Wilcox was too small to have a town newspaper past its early pioneer days, so The Eagle served that role too by including community event announcements. The school was and still is the center of Wilcox events, so anything related to it is of community interest.

In the Nov. 5, 1973, edition has what may have been my first essay-column effort. It was a made-up piece about a dark Halloween night with a full moon and the sound of footsteps following me.

Not bad, I thought as I read it, even for a then 17-year-old just getting started in journalism.

However, a lot of the content and much of the editing wasn’t so good. I’m sure our teacher wanted to balance making sure nothing really terrible was printed with the need to let us make decisions.

It was a good learning process, but kind of embarrassing now. I was the student editor.

The last week in October is my annual week off to get things done at home that are impossible to schedule during a work week or that take more time and/or energy than I have at the end of a work day.

I’ve had a lot of successes – kitties and me to our respective doctors for annual checkups, furnace check done, a minor plumbing repair, painting of the wooden box over my basement egress window and a bench under my kitchen window, and even a Wednesday drive to Wilcox so that Mom could see the harvest going on in farm country.

As usual, some things on my week-off list won’t get done before I return to work tomorrow morning, including closet cleaning and extra reading.

I did get some cleaning done beyond the routine tasks of dusting and sweeping.

I actually found the top of my kitchen island. That didn’t look like such a big job when I dove into it, but it took more than an hour to sort the stuff – lots and lots of stuff – into “keep” and “junk” piles.

How did I accumulate so many papers and other things? More importantly, why did I save it all?

Another to-do list item was to do some car shopping.

I loved my 2004 Pontiac Vibe and would have purchased another one about two years ago if General Motors had not stopped producing Pontiacs in 2010. I had installed back shocks and front brakes on my Vibe in the past six months. It ran fine and looked good inside and outside.

But it had nearly 94,000 miles on it and I knew its trade value was shrinking fast. I waited too long with a previous car that went seriously “clunk” while I had a new car on order, which meant I lost almost the entire trade value.

I wanted a new car almost exactly like my 2004 Vibe, but I knew that was impossible. Too many bells, whistles and new technologies that, apparently, everyone but me wants now are standard even on the most bare bones model.

I did find and decided to purchase a 2012 Ford Focus with about 22,000 miles on it. It is a four-door hatchback, like my Vibe. While I’m still learning how everything works, most of the basic driving tools are almost the same. The salesman even set the radio to the station I always listen to, so I might never have to figure out how to change channels.

So, buying a new-to-me car took up a lot of my week. As did cleaning out the old car.

Talk about an accumulation of stuff! It was a real eye-opener because I thought I had just the basic needs in that car for work, pleasure trips and foul weather.

Those “essentials” filled several boxes for sorting, even after I threw away the obvious junk. Then I spent an hour Saturday before the Nebraska-Purdue football game came on TV deciding what to put into the new car.

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A somewhat smarter me now has a lot of loose things – maps, extra pens and notebooks, windshield scrapers, etc. – in two boxes, one in the trunk with the irrigation boots and going-to-the-farm boots, and one in the back seat with my tripods, cap and umbrella.

I know my closets and dresser drawers are similarly over packed, and let’s not even think about my work desk at the Kearney Hub or my file cabinets here at home. I will attack those projects, but maybe one at a time so that I don’t get overwhelmed and angry at myself for keeping so much stuff.

The kitchen island and car projects have made me think about other ways I have cluttered my life with things or with worry, anger or bad moods. Such clutter makes everything more difficult, including my work at the newspaper, the things I do for NPW and NFPW, and my relationships with other people.

So I’ll tell myself as I keep sorting through the clutter that it’s a tough job that pays big rewards when it’s done.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of change, especially huge, life-changing change thrust upon me by outside forces. I can deal with it much better if it’s part of a plan gradually implemented for which I can give an opinion or have choices.

I have been very upset – over the top, beyond all reason upset – this year about changes developers and the city have made and continue to make on and around my property.

There is a new street where I’ve had a dead end for 22 years. I’ll have a special tax assessment to pay for a part of it.

Between the street and my house is a new section of the city’s hike-bike trail. Its construction required removal of my privacy hedge (a mess of a thing, but still good for privacy), changes in my lawn sprinkler system and new sod that I’m watering daily to ensure it gets a good start going into winter.

I’ll get a 4-foot chain link fence built in the next few weeks. Because the contractors were so late in paving the trail, I’ll wait now until spring to plant a new hedge and maybe an additional backyard tree to restore some privacy.

I’ve complained about this a lot to anyone who would listen.

After visiting some of my friends near my hometown of Wilcox, about 25 miles southwest of Kearney, this week for harvest-related stories that ran in the Weekend Hub, I feel ashamed.

On June 14, a terrible windstorm went through a lot of south-central Nebraska, with Wilcox and the surrounding farms hit particularly hard. Grain bins were destroyed just three months before the harvest season and hundreds of pivot irrigation systems were tossed, bent and flipped just weeks before the most critical part of the growing season.

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Mother Nature helped by proving a relatively wet Nebraska summer. The pivot dealers and their crews did amazing work in restoring irrigation service to farm fields that still had crops – there also were terrible hailstorms this summer that destroyed may cornfields – and some farmers and grain elevators were able to get new bins built.

Still, the costs, labor and worry involved in all that are enormous.

One of my Wilcox friends lost all of his on-farm storage. Every big blue Harvestore silo, every steel bin, everything.

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He has a bagger to put his 2014 corn into long plastic bags as a temporary solution. With corn prices around $3 per bushel, well below the cost of production, the bags will preserve some of his marketing options so he doesn’t have to sell it right out of the field at a loss.

James said starting from scratch on his storage has a silver lining. He and his son can consider what they want the future of their farm to be and plan accordingly.

He and the other farmers who lost so much and still face so many big decisions about their futures have amazing attitudes. James said no one moped around after the storm, because rural Nebraska folks just aren’t that way. His neighbor talked about “cowboying up” and getting back on the horse.

I hope their positive attitudes linger in my mind whenever I start to complain about the minor changes in my life.

Our NFPW President Teri Ehresman is planning some strategic planning time at our spring 2015 board meeting. We need to do that, but had to put it on hold in recent years as we focused on developing online professional and high school contests, a really big change for NFPW.

I vow to keep an open mind and try to make some worthy suggestions next spring when change is in the air and on the table.

It’s harvest time in Nebraska and across the entire breadbasket of America.

It is my favorite time of the year because it features such wonderful things as cool weather that is not too cold to make outdoor activities miserable, the beautiful colors of the gold and red leaves, baseball’s World Series, football season, and my traditional home-based week off from work to get caught up on at least a few things.

However, it mostly is about the harvest. One of the early lessons of life when you grow up on a farm is that most, if not all, of a family’s income for the year depends on avoiding bad weather and other perils of a growing season, being able to harvest a good-yielding crop, and then selling it for more than the cost of inputs.

Harvest is both a celebration and a worry most years. Farmers work long hours around big, dangerous machinery as they hurry to get grain in the bins before the snow flies.

This year’s worries for many south-central Nebraska farm families are that thousands of acres of corn and soybeans were damaged or destroyed by wind and hail storms over the summer, many on-farm storage bins also were destroyed, and the low spot price for corn, at just above $3, won’t pay the bills.

Without risk management tools – crop and building insurance, and a marketing plan to contract grain for delivery during non-harvest months to get a better price – almost no one will make any money this year. Those things are in place on most farms just because no one can stay in business over the long haul without them.

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I also think of my farmer dad and brother whenever I pass a field where a combine is running through the cornstalks and there is the distinctive smell of corn in the air. Harvest was their crowning achievement every October, the farmer equivalent of an Oscar or an Emmy for a job well done.

In other “fields,” fall also is planting time.

Membership renewal forms will be sent out soon to National Federation of Press Women members as a reminder to pay dues for 2015. It also should be a reminder for all of us to recruit at least one new member.

Planting such seeds – getting new members started and growing along with us – is the only way NFPW or any organization can be sustainable.

Add some punch to your membership sales pitch by encouraging new members to enter our two-tiered online contest, attend an affiliate meeting or even take a trip of lifetime next September to attend the 2015 NFPW Conference in Alaska.

A paid membership would make a wonderful Christmas gift for someone special who is involved in a field of professional communications and would benefit from our contest, conference and/or website-accessible workshops and seminars, and the great networking.

It’s a gift I’ve been giving to myself at harvest time for the past 36 years.

It’s batter up in the second game of the ALS championship between the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles. The Royals won the first game in the best-of-seven series Friday night in 10 innings, Kansas City’s fifth straight win, four of which have been in extra innings.

I just want my NFPW friends in Kansas and Missouri to know I’m doing my part in cheering on the Royals. It was 1985 the last time they made the playoffs, so there is a lot of pent-up cheering to do.

I was a big KC fan in the George Brett-Frank White, etc. era that included a World Series win.

But I kind of lost interest in baseball in recent years because so many players change teams so often that it’s hard to develop a relationship with a team, especially from long distance.

I was raised on the principle that you always do your part.

My dad served on the local school board for about 11 years. He was treasurer for many of those years at a time when that meant doing book work that now is done by a superintendent or business manager in bigger school districts.

My parents always did their parts at church and for other community events. My late farmer brother Glen couldn’t be a volunteer firefighter because our farm is 11 miles from town, but he was on the rural fire district board for a long time.

In farm country, everyone pitches in to help when someone needs it. In the spring when Glen first was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, area farmers finished planting his crops. At silage-cutting time in the early fall, farmers go from place to place with the silage cutter until all the silos are full of winter cattle feed.

I tend to gravitate toward people who can’t imagine not doing their part, whether it’s stepping up to take a leadership role in their affiliate, NFPW or other organization; volunteering to help with special projects at work or within their communities; or just being dependable by doing the tasks they said they’d do.

So, how am I doing my part when it comes to a baseball playoff?

One way is to feel good for fans like Gwen Larson of Emporia who got to go to Kansas City’s Sunday playoff game against the Angels.

However, my most important contribution is to stop watching the Royals playoff games when the other team starts a comeback or ties the game, and especially when a game goes into extra innings.

I sense that I’m a jinx when I care too much about the outcome of a game.

I’ve gone to bed early more than once during a televised Nebraska football game in hopes the Huskers can pull out a fourth-quarter win after playing terrible for three quarters, which they almost did against Michigan State a week ago.

I’ve seen only replays of all but one of Kansas City’s playoff wins, including the one last night. When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was check the Internet from my phone to see which team won.
It’s 2-0 Kansas City at the end of the first inning now. That’s great. If the Royals can keep their offense going, I might be able to watch the entire game – nine innings only, of course.

If the Baltimore bats get too hot or if the game is tied at the end of nine innings, I will do my part and change the channel.

I’ve had a couple of days to catch up with projects at home and get back into the tasks at work after a wonderful – as usual – Nebraska Press Women fall convention last Saturday in York.

York, which is about 50 miles west of Lincoln, is where I worked at the daily News-Times for nearly eight years. So, Saturday was a homecoming of sorts by being with my NPW friends and also because of the many familiar sights.

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Our Friday night NPW board meeting was at the Chances R, a wonderful downtown York restaurant well known throughout Nebraska. We dined on steak, prime rib and pan fried chicken, with the business meeting before and after the actual eating part.

The featured speaker Saturday was State Poet Twyla Hansen of Lincoln, whose work often reflects her farm girl past growing up in rural Nebraska. The only bad part of her Humanities Nebraska-sponsored creative writing workshop was that it needed to be twice as long.

She read some of her poems and then gave us a writing exercise: Tell a story while using words describing all five senses, plus color and movement. That wasn’t so easy for those of us who aren’t great spur-of-the-moment writers. However, several people read what sounded like pretty polished work after about 10 minutes.

Hansen told us creative writing, like all writing, is a process where one thing leads to another. Sometimes we are led to places we didn’t expect and we may be reluctant to go.

Her message was to keep ourselves wide open to such writing adventures and just “go there.”

After a wonderful lunch – good food and Press Women events just seem to go together – we headed south of York to the Wessels Living History farm, a wonderful place that preserves the history of the many Nebraska families who lived on the wide open prairie in the early 1900s.

The huge white house with a wrap-around porch is decorated inside as it might have looked in 1925, including appliances like a corncob-burning stove. Outside, there is a huge windmill used to pump water.

There also is a red barn, granary, woodworking shop and big white Lutheran church moved in from the country just last year.

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The places and things we saw weren’t far removed from the childhood experiences of NPW members who grew up on farms. The much smaller white frame country church of my youth closed on June 1, so it was nice to know a similar church will live on as an example of such places that gave country kids like me so many special memories.

Although the farm museum is just south of I-80, it still sits under a vast sky, so visitors get a taste of Nebraska’s wide open spaces. I hope that like me, they all leave with good memories and some ideas for a poem or story.

I have a love-hate relationship with fall. I love almost everything about the season, except that it flies by so fast.

Maybe that’s because the early part still seems like late summer and the final month has all the trappings of winter.

It certainly has been warm like summer this past week, with highs in the mid-80s. The only thing that seemed like fall was some fog Wednesday morning.

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The coming week starts with summer weather, but highs in the mid-60s roll in by Friday, according to the most recent forecast that includes good chances of rain mid-week.

The leaves are turning and the crops are going from green to tan, but they still have weeks to go to get dry enough for harvest.

There are Friday night football games – former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was in the small town of Gibbon just east of Kearney last night for the Gibbon-Wood River game for a TV series about rivalries.

Apples, pumpkins and squash dominated the produce at the farmers market this morning.

But I know that too soon, November will come with its gray, damp days.

I often lump the entire month of September into my definition of fall, instead of just the final week. September always flies by because fun flies by, and the first full week of September usually is the NFPW Conference and related tours.

So, September starts with a week off from work, followed by a week with too much to do to catch up. By then, it’s half over.

The good news for Nebraska Press Women is our fall conference is next Saturday in York. What a wonderful way to kick off what I hope is a great October.

Our main presenter will be Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, who will have a creative writing workshop. In the afternoon, we’ll spend time at a living history farm just south of York, which is new since I worked for the York News-Times from 1979-86.

I hope it will be a perfect fall day to enjoy being outside and with good friends.

I also hope it is the first of many perfect fall days bathed in amazing yellow light, topped by bright blue skies, and alive with all the last-minute activities of migrating birds, buzzing insects, and farmers harvesting corn and soybeans.

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I keep telling myself to pause and enjoy such days before they are gone for another year. Having a camera around my neck is a good reminder.

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.

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