While watching the CBS “Sunday Morning” show during a workout on my elliptical, I was reminded of all the wonderful places I’ve seen around the United States while attending National Federation of Press Women annual conferences.

There was a feature about the man who has been the solitary winter caretaker at Yellowstone National Park for 42 years. The frosty scenes around the lodge, Old Faithful and the surrounding area were familiar from the 2008 late summer post-tour there hosted by our Idaho members.

Steve – didn’t catch his last name – is an accomplished photographer. His winter images show Yellowstone in a way no one else sees it, and some have been published in National Geographic.

I saw a different part of Yellowstone in spring 2012 after the NFPW board meeting at the same Idaho Falls hotel. NFPW President Teri Ehresman and AGENDA Editor Cathy Koon took several of us on a two-day tour that included the north road through the national park.

One of the amazing things about networking at NFPW conferences and seeing new places is that I immediately pay attention to broadcast and print stories about those places. Plus, I know there are friends who may live and work nearby.

Last September in Greenville, S.C., I was asked by people from several states about the Good Samaritan Hospital cafeteria here in Kearney. Video cameras in the new, garden-level cafeteria caught a wall of water crashing through the floor-to-ceiling windows during a deluge of a rainstorm in early August.

That video, used by Nebraska TV stations and on lots of media websites, made the national news. So it was seen by many NFPW members across the country. By the way, NFPW member and Kearney Hub colleague Mary Jane Skala wrote a story for Saturday’s newspaper about the cafeteria’s restoration and reopening.

Whenever I watch “Alaska State Troopers” on a cable TV network, I remember going to Alaska in October 2011 as the new NFPW president to attend the Alaska affiliate’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Sherrie Simmonds, one of the Alaska hosts for our 2015 conference in Anchorage Sept. 10-12, took me sightseeing one day. On the highway to Girdwood, we saw a trooper with a stopped car and a videographer nearby, and concluded it must have been a ride-along day for the TV show crew.

My other visit to Alaska was the 2000 NFPW Conference, and I can’t wait to get my plans made soon for the 2015 conference and tours.

Just think of the places we’ve been in just that past few years: Greenville, S.C.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Omaha, Neb., – Council Bluffs, Iowa; Chicago; San Antonio, and on and on. At each conference, we’ve had opportunities to travel with NFPW members who live there.

They show us places we may never have seen before and may never see again. As you know, I see every conference as an opportunity to learn new things, network and as a photo op.

I wish I could invite all of you to south-central Nebraska right now, where millions of migrating geese and ducks already are in the air and on the wetlands, and about 600,000 sandhill cranes will be coming in the next week or so.

Some cranes are here now. It was a thrill about a week ago to hear my first crane song. But the big show of cranes flying over, roosting in the Platte River at night, and jumping, dancing and showing off in our area cornfields and grasslands is a March treat.

Meanwhile, pure white snow geese with their black wingtips are the best show. So, until the sandhill cranes take over the rural Nebraska stage and until I can go crazy shooting photos in Alaska six months from now, here is a postcard from Nebraska.

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There was a popular game show several years ago that even made it big on prime time TV. I think the title was “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” or something like that.

I remember that each contestant had several options when he or she was stumped on questions that got more difficult on the way up to a possible grand prize of $1 million. The contestant could poll the audience and hope that only smart people came that day, call an expert or phone a friend.

I didn’t watch the show much, but whenever I heard someone use the phone a friend option, I assumed the friend was in a computer lab with a dozen other friends who were searching the Internet like crazy once the question was asked and the timer started ticking.

I had a phone a friend moment Thursday night that was worth about a million bucks. I had a very tough workday on Thursday – won’t go into the details – plus a stress-fatigue headache that had been hanging on for several days.

Just before I was going to call it an early night, my phone rang. I heard, “Howdy,” and knew it was longtime Nebraska Press Woman friend Mary Pat Finn-Hoag who does about the same job at the Norfolk Daily News as I do at the Kearney Hub.

No only does she know about work stress, headaches and issues with editors in general, she also was having a bad Thursday.

She mostly was calling to tell me she couldn’t make her usual Kearney visit in late February for the Nebraska Women in Ag Conference. She also has too much work to do and the ag women from Northeast Community College who usually come to Kearney by the van load were down to just a couple who were traveling at odd hours this year.

Mary Pat and I will see each other in Grand Island March 7 for the annual NPW Winter Board meeting, so there will be some visiting time then.

On Thursday night, we mostly were sounding boards for each other. In a competition for who sounded the most wore out, I think it was a tie. As my mom would say, we both sounded like we’d been dragged through a knot hole.

But, you know, by the time we were ready to say good night, my headache seemed to be gone and we both had decided that Friday would be better.

No, we did not sing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,” but it was a little bit of that kind of feeling.

I already knew I would head southwest of Kearney about 50 miles to the Elwood area early Friday. I left in the dark and the sunrise was starting just as I crossed the Platte River bridge south of Overton. A few miles later, I was able to photograph the sun behind an old barn.


My destination was a ranch to interview of the Women in Ag keynote speaker ahead of the conference. It so happened that she and other ranch workers were moving 220 pregnant Red Angus heifers from a harvested cornfield, across Highway 23, through a pasture canyon and on to the corral that morning.


It was a great photo op for the profile, and I wished while I was taking photos that Mary Pat could be there to enjoy it too.

That’s one of the many great things about being an NFPW member – to wish I could share moments I enjoy with some of my best friends.

Another is to get a phone a friend call or email or handwritten note at the very time I need it most.

The past week has been filled with highs and lows at work and in the weather.

Three days ago, parts of Nebraska within an easy drive north of Kearney had up to 14 inches of wind-blown snow. We were on the south edge and ended up with about the same 2 inches as we had last weekend.

I was concerned enough about the Wednesday forecast that I caught a ride to work with my managing editor and his four-wheel-drive vehicle rather than risk getting my little car stuck in a wind-blown drift not visible at 6:30 in the morning or not being able to get home after work.

I would have been fine coming and going, but I did spend my first 30 minutes home removing snow from behind my garage door and at the end of the driveway, thanks to the snow plow.

The wind is always the big thing in the Great Plains, making visibility terrible during even a minor snow event and leaving areas of bare ground (street) right next to a waist-high drift. It also produces deadly wind chills. The “feels like” temperature was in the minus teens Thursday morning in some places, but reached highs in the 70s and near 80 in southern Nebraska on Friday and today.

Talk about variations of highs and lows in the weather and people’s feelings about it.

While I sometimes think it would be nice to live in a place with more moderate weather, I also wonder if people who experience similar conditions all year can fully appreciate a warm winter day or the coming of spring.

I’m in the middle of one of my most stressful times at work, which makes me frustrated, tired and, sometimes, at my wit’s end.

The Hub staff, led by business writer Mary Jane Skala, is finishing writing and photo assignments for the annual FOCUS section – business and industry – that will run one section a day over five days the third week in February. Mary Jane took the lion’s share of assignments, but the rest of us each had four or five stories.

I’ve never been a fan of special sections because we take dozens of great stories and dump them into one or multiple sections. We’re so busy working on sections that the daily content often suffers, even though we’re trying to keep up with our beats and special events at the same time as the section work.

I finally finished my five stories for FOCUS on Wednesday, which has made me late getting started on the one big section I oversee. The Salute to Agriculture special section will be published March 17, during National Agriculture Week.

I do most of the stories and ask the other reporters and freelance correspondents to do one each.

I discovered on Friday, only because I asked about the deadlines for Salute to Ag, that the ad department had moved the publication date from March 24, which was on the original schedule of the 50-plus sections we do each year, back to March 17.

An earlier deadline will really make me feel overwhelmed and cranky.

The final stories will be interesting, but I know I’ll feel like I just went through the motions. There’s not enough time to gather the information in the right way, do enough editing or even remember the details later if a copy editor-section designer asks a question.

Everyone I know in any field of professional communications feels this way sometimes, maybe even most of the time. The one positive thing I’m telling myself as I head into the teeth of the “too much to do all at once” storm is that returning to anything that remotely seems like a normal routine will be a worth celebrating.

The high of being a journalist comes when I find a great story to tell or amazing photos to take and, despite doing this work or decades, I’m still excited to see the newspaper come off the press with the end result for everyone to see.

For me, there have been enough of those days to get me through the overwhelmed times.

But for now, I’m reminded of a day years ago when I was on a treadmill at the Kearney YMCA and saw a woman I knew – went to church camp with her younger sister as a teenager – struggle on the stepper machine. She looked at me and said, “This is like hitting your head against the wall. It feels so good when you can stop.”

It is a cold, windy winter day in south-central Nebraska.

I won’t complain too much because I know the small amount of snow we have here – maybe 2 to 3 inches – is nothing compared to what this storm will bring to the states to our east and all the way to the East Coast, where many people still are digging out from the feet of snow that came with the last winter storm.

The biggest problem here is wind-blown snow and some icy roads. My driveway reflected many areas around Kearney. Most of it had nothing but some ice on it, yet there was a 2-foot drift in front of my garage door, right behind my car, and a similar swirl along the sidewalk up to my front door.

I spent some time this morning getting the driveway pile out of my way, something that would have been required anyway to go to work Monday morning. I hope I don’t have to clear it again then.

To raise my spirits, I thought of the things I had read Saturday in the latest edition of NFPW’s AGENDA about our 2015 conference in Alaska. I know it’s a colder, snowier place now than its rhyming state of Nebraska, but I also know that Alaska won’t be as miserably hot as Nebraska when we all go there in early September.

I can’t wait. I haven’t registered yet, but I told our Alaska hosts last September in Greenville, S.C., to count me in for the four-day pre-tour and one-day post tour. I know from AGENDA that they already have some unique speakers planned for the conference.

And, of course, I can’t wait to also see all my NFPW friends from across the Lower 48.

I’ve found over the years – decades – of going to NFPW conferences that the months of anticipation are part of the fun. Part of that is getting more details as the weeks roll along about the learning and fun conference activities from the NFPW and host state’s websites and publications.

I’ve been dreaming a bit about Alaska since last fall, but on this cold Super Bowl day, I vow to really get excited about making plans for the 2015 conference.

I’ll use the dream to help me through the workdays ahead that seem too long and difficult.

So, as a diversion from the wind howling outside of my house, I decided to look back at some Alaska photos I took in October 2011 when I was the new NFPW president and visited the Alaska affiliate.

I hope this one will get you dreaming of Alaska 2015 too!

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I’m sitting before my laptop and my fellow NFPW members as a 2015 contest entrant.

I’m proud to say that. Proud of our two-tiered contest that starts at the affiliate level, with first-place entries advancing to the national competition.

I’m also proud of myself for getting my entries accepted into our online contest without having to call national contest expert Katherine Ward of Delaware, headquarters contest director Gloria Watson or Nebraska contest director Terri Hahn.

I was smarter this second year of the online contest in how I prepared. I saved newspaper page pdfs and photos into an “options” folder on my work computer throughout the year. After making my entry selections, I relabeled each pdf and jpg with the category number and letter, where applicable, and a word or two describing the topic.

Then, I asked our imaging specialists at the Kearney Hub to merge pdfs so that every story, jump and/or sidebar was in one pdf, representing one entire entry. They also reduced the photo jpgs to the required size of less than 1 MB.

So, I spent some time Saturday morning typing headlines and publication dates into individual entry forms, and downloading files.

I found one photo that hadn’t been reduced, so I just saved everything and uploaded that fixed photo this morning.

I was a little confused when I hit “submit” on the first entry and had a message about paying for the entry. So I went to the “pay now” tab, clicked on the off-payment option for everything.

Then it was “submit,” “submit,” “submit,” “accepted,” “accepted,” “accepted.”

It was a familiar process once I got started, but I had worried that I wouldn’t remember anything about what I did right or wrong during our inaugural contest last year. Yes, I did have to contact Katherine a time or two for help in 2014, and she was very patient with me and my tendency to worry greatly about anything labeled “online.”

Now that I’ve practiced the entry process twice, I expect that it all will seem rather routine next year.

I hope all of you are in the process of joining me as a full-fledged “submitted” entrant in your affiliate or the at large contest. It is a great way to get feedback on the work we do over the course of a year and it’s nice to be acknowledged for some of that good work.

I will end this in the same way I ended my similar blog a year ago with this absolute truth: If I can use the online contest, anyone can.

My longtime Nebraska Press Women friend Mary Pat Finn-Hoag and I were exchanging emails recently that mostly were our very long lists of work to do at our daily newspapers, plus some additional concerns for family and friends who are having difficulties right now.

One of the reasons we’ve been friends so long, besides our many years as Nebraska and National Federation of Press Women members, is that we do similar things professionally.

We both are staff writers on daily newspapers in Nebraska cities that are regional hubs for shopping, manufacturing, medical services and education. We both are farm girls who stayed near home for college and most of our work years, Mary Pat in Norfolk in the northeast and me in south-central Nebraska’s Kearney.

So, we know the ups and downs of being overwhelmed with regular tasks on our beats, plus special section assignments, plus special events and conferences to cover, plus anything unexpected that comes with working at a newspaper.

The very cold weather for the first half of January also made doing even routine things outside very difficult.

So, as we were sharing issues and supporting each other with “I understand” comments, I wrote to Mary Pat that maybe we should just get “overwhelmed” tattooed on our foreheads.

NO, we would never do that. A tattoo is permanent, you know.

Plus, I realized later, that overwhelmed can have several meanings, depending on the circumstances.

While we were mostly overwhelmed with the burden of too much work and not enough hours in the day to do it as well as we would like, there have been times when we’ve been overwhelmed with positive feelings of joy, excitement, pride or anticipation … such as counting the days until a vacation or traveling to an NFPW conference.

Any kind of change has the potential to create overwhelming feelings of dread or uncertainty because of all the unknown factors.

I thought about that Saturday afternoon at the Crane Trust headquarters property along the Platte River about 35 miles southeast of Kearney. The main mission of this non-profit is to preserve habitat in the river and adjacent areas used by endangered whooping cranes that migrate through central Nebraska.

You are much more likely to see hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes in the region from mid-February to early April during their rest and feeding stop midway through their spring migration. They are studied by the Crane Trust scientists because sandhill cranes’ preferred habitats are the same as for whooping cranes.

The next step in preserving and perhaps enhancing those habitats, particular the trust’s native prairie along the Platte River started Saturday at dusk when trucks carrying 40 genetically pure bison from a northern Nebraska Panhandle ranch arrived at the trust. The bison exited the livestock trailers into a specially built corral.

These rare bison are part of just 1 percent to 2 percent of Plains bison with no crossbreeding with cattle in their family trees. Their ancestors were protected, pure bison from the Yellowstone National Park herd.

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After the two mature bulls in the herd arrive this week and the entire group settles in, they will be released into 1,000 acres of fenced prairie along the river. For the first time in probably 150 years, bison and sandhill cranes will be in the same place at the same time in the Central Platte Valley.

As the trucks arrived Saturday afternoon, I was amazed at how quickly the scared – overwhelmed – expressions on the bison’s faces faded. They quickly started grazing prairie hay spread in the corral and got drinks at the water tank. One baby started nursing its mother.

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Maybe they know better than we do not to get all emotional and make what could be an overwhelming situation worse. Maybe you just take that step out of trailer and see what comes next.

My stories and photos about the bison project will run in the Weekend Kearney Hub this coming Saturday. I’ve already told the trust staff that I want to come back this summer for more photos when the prairies are green and blooming with wildflowers, and the bison have settled into their new home.

Actually, it would be fun to be there in a couple of weeks when the holding pen gate is opened and they first get to experience the prairie. I’m sure they will be overwhelmed … in a good way.

Fellow Kearney Hub staff writer and longtime NFPW member Mary Jane Skala and I spent our Saturday morning doing some birding.

It still will be about five weeks before we see the first of the 600,000-800,000 migrating sandhill cranes in the Central Platte Valley, but there are some overwintering geese.

Our mission Saturday was to see bald eagles.

We have some eagles that stay in south-central Nebraska year round and some that migrate. They hang around some of the bigger lakes – Harlan County Lake down on the Republican River, and Johnson, Elwood and Lake McConaughy in the Platte basin – and can be seen along the Platte River channels, if you know where to look.

Before sunrise, we headed about 40 miles southwest of Kearney to the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s J-2 hydropower plant, just below Johnson Lake and southeast of the town of Lexington.

Bald eagles gather there because the irrigation canal downstream of the powerhouse remains open, flowing water as a result of warm water leaving the hydro. So, viewing generally is best in the long, cold conditions we have now because the lakes and rivers are mostly iced over.

Eagles can’t drill through the ice like ice fishermen, so they rely on the remaining flowing water to fish. They also hunt for small mammals in our harvested cornfields and grasslands.

There were more than a dozen eagles down the canal from J-2 yesterday morning, including brown immature birds and dynamic black and white adults. However, they were a little too far away for good photos.

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Mary Jane enjoyed watching them from inside the powerhouse. I took her there one other time two years ago and we saw exactly one eagle. I’d been there the week before in 2013 to do a story and there were several very close to the building.

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We both know and accept that you can’t design, request or conduct events that involve wild animals.

We tried a few other side roads near J-2 and then I suggested we go to the Kilgore Island road southeast of Kearney where I had photographed some eagles for the Hub on Wednesday. They hang out in a certain row of big trees along the Platte River’s north channel where they can hunt in the river or in the area farm fields.

I got some good shots of one eagle enjoying a Wednesday lunch of something furry he had caught and brought back to his favorite tree limb.

Kilgore Road Tree, eating5-crop

Those eagles were in that area again Saturday morning, but only a couple spent any time in the trees. Mostly, they stayed about a quarter-mile away in the field.

I think I was more disappointed than Mary Jane at not getting closer encounters Saturday.

Still, I’m always amazed to see the bird that is our country’s symbol. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, they were on the endangered species list because, it was learned, their exposure to certain pesticides caused their eggs to be too brittle to allow babies to survive.

Then, you would have had to go to Alaska to have any good chance of seeing a bald eagle in America.

The thought of ever going eagle viewing in central Nebraska, 1,500 miles from an ocean, with no mountains or forests … at least in the way most folks would define them … was outrageous.

So how wonderful and amazing it is to be able to do that today!

That said, I’m counting the days to go to Alaska to the 2015 NFPW Conference in September, where I’m sure I’ll have many wonderful opportunities to photograph eagles and other wildlife.

I’ll sign up for the tours our Alaska members are planning for us as soon as they’re ready to post all the details for those adventures and the conference too. I hope I’ll see you there.

I spent one quiet morning of my vacation between Christmas and New Year’s reading through my 2014 Kearney Hub stories to make some selections for the Nebraska Press Women contest.

The entry deadline for Nebraska and other affiliates entering our second year of the NFPW online contest is still about a month away. People who know me well know that I usually start on my contest entries early, partly because I have the time to do it over the holidays.

Also, I’ll need some help from the prepress department at my newspaper to shrink individual photos down to the 1 mb limit to submit online and to consolidate pdfs for the stories with jumps and/or sidebars on multiple tearsheet pages.

It’s both rewarding and exhausting to go through a year’s worth of work. It is easy for me because I still do a clipbook and can just go through that. See, low-tech still can be more efficient at times.

It makes me tired to think I did so much in the past 12 months. Since many of the meetings, issues, ag and natural resources feature pages, special sections, and special events are part of every year, it’s almost overwhelming to enter 2015 knowing that work and more is ahead.

Going though the clipbook also is rewarding. The perfectionist in me always can find errors or see ways in which I could have done things better. The older, wiser, more forgiving me is proud of the overall quality of my work.

I know that any deficiencies were not from lack of effort. I start thinking about ways to do some of the annual stories and photos better or different in 2015.

I encourage all affiliate and NFPW members to enter this year’s contest. It always is a learning experience. Often, the judges’ comments and/or awards represent the salute for your good work that may not come from an employer or others.

So as you look through your 2014 accomplishments on the way to preparing those entries, be proud.

NFPW members are the most talented, hard-working people I know. That’s true for those who continue as active full-time professional communicators, freelancers, part-time writers and photographers, and also our wise and wonderful retired members.

It’s Christmas Eve. It’s a time for wishes, even for wishes we know can’t come true.

As children, we learned early that we rarely, if ever, got all the presents we wanted at Christmas. As adults, we accept that we can’t fill the empty places at the dinner table where relatives and friends who are far away or no longer on Earth with us should be seated.

I struggle with the “can’t” part of Christmas Eve this year, knowing that I can’t be in the place I’ve been for all but a few Christmas Eves in my life: Pleasant View Christian Church.

This old photo is of the pre-school Sunday school class, with me and my twin sister Lisa on the right.

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The tiny wood framed church around the corner from our farm was closed because the 102-year-old congregation got too small to continue. The final service, potluck dinner and special program were on June 1.

The pews were filled one last time.

I took photos, of course, including one of my Mom, at right below, and Mary Arehart. Both had been church members for decades, serving as Sunday school teachers and in almost every other role as needed. While I was at the 2014 NFPW Conference in South Carolina in September, I got word during the pre-tour that Mary had a stroke. She died a few days before I got home from Greenville.

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Items inside the church, which was constructed in 1948, were given to the Franklin County Historical Museum, current and former members, and others with ties to the church’s history.

In its earlier days, the congregation had met in two other long-gone buildings, the Pleasant View School and Ash Grove Store.

Area volunteer fire departments used the empty church building for a training burn this fall. During Thanksgiving Day at the farm, my sister-in-law told me the basement hole had been filled in. I didn’t have the heart to go see the empty space where the church had been for all my life.

My cousin, who owns the property, has said he might leave the front yard trees and grass to maintain an outdoor gathering place on the Pleasant View corner.

I’ll have supper with Mom tonight, but we aren’t going to a Christmas Eve service. We would have many choices at churches with services similar to what we had at Pleasant View.

But it just wouldn’t be the same. So, maybe next year.

Christmas Eve at Pleasant View included singing all the old Christmas hymns and lighting candles. The two things were combined to close the service when we circled the one big room on the main floor, each holding a candle and singing “Silent Night.”

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I choose to have a different silent night this year to remember fondly and with some sadness all those Christmas Eves at that country church surrounded by people who were so important to me.

I’ll also make a wish and say a prayer that everyone’s coming new year is filled with all things merry and bright.

The thunder rolled a few times and the heavy gray clouds that have covered south-central Nebraska for days – seems much longer – brought a nice, short shower just as the weather forecast promised.

This is a remnant of the ferocious storms earlier this week on the Pacific Coast. We won’t see anything like that or like the record-setting snowstorms earlier this fall in the Great Lake states.

While some parts of the Sandhills and north-central Nebraska may measure show in inches before the system moves out Monday evening, south-central areas can expect rain for as long as the temperature remains above freezing, and then mostly sleet and light snow driven by cold north winds.

It was strange to go for a walk around 8:15 this second Sunday morning in December wearing only a hoody style jacket. With the temperature around 50, the jacket mostly was to protect me from the drizzle. It was like walking through a damp cloud that had settled on me.

The past week of gray, sometimes foggy and drizzly weather, combined with a load of work dampened the little bit of Christmas spirit I’ve had. I just haven’t been that merry or in a mood to deck the halls.

My Christmas mood is muted every year. Much of that is my own fault for not taking advantage of more of the many Christmas programs and other special events.

I need an attitude adjustment. But how to do that sometimes is as much of a mystery as how to adjust the brakes on my car or fix any number of things around my house.

My Hub ag feature this week was about the AgrAbility program presented by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension and Easter Seals Nebraska. Occupational specialists work with farmers and ranchers who have disabilities – everything from bad backs to lost limbs – to help find ways for them to continue doing the jobs they love.

The help can involve assistance in getting new equipment, making adjustments to existing machinery or other equipment, or simply teaching ag producers how to do things in a different way.

One of the AgrAbility specialists in our area wrote a column to describe the program in general and I interviewed a Minden farmer who had benefited from it.

The same farmer and his family lost their home to a March fire and only recently were able to move into their new, still-being-finished home after seven months and 10 days living in a fifth-wheel camper.

Then on Father’s Day weekend, he lost two pivot irrigation systems, two grain bins, augers and other equipment in a windstorm.

I teased him about being like Job and he said he had been reading that book in the Bible.

The farmer said something else that he had learned through AgrAbility that I promise to remember when I’m feeling sorry for myself on a cloudy day.

He said that sometimes when everything seems to be going wrong, the only thing you can change is your attitude.


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