Packing up can mean many things. Moving to a new home, changing jobs, retiring, or even a professional or spiritual makeover that requires storing away old ways of doing things to make room for a new you.

Of course for most of us, packing refers to gathering the necessary things – clothes, business items, camera, spending money, etc. – to go on a trip.

I’m still at the making (and changing) lists on paper and in my mind point in my preparations for the 2015 NFPW Conference. Today’s main Sunday afternoon project is to do what I hope is a final sort of papers for the business meetings to get down to the essentials.

I tend to be a “take along everything I might need” packer, at least in the making lists stage. However, I’ve gotten better at trimming the list, partly because I’ve become a more efficient traveler over time and mostly because “everything” won’t fit in a suitcase and carry-on bag.

The other thing I’m packing up now is this blog, with entry 200 since I started it four years ago as the newly elected NFPW president. After serving two years in that role, I am completing two years as the Education Fund director.

So, while I may keep this blog active and contribute occasionally if I have something to share, I won’t be a week-to-week writer. Also, I plan to ask our next website administrator to remove (or at least move) the link to my blog from the website home page.

That space should be for NFPW leaders who are regular contributors with a more focused mission or who currently are in office. A blog is a good way for our president and other executive board members to keep in touch between the regular monthly eletters and quarterly AGENDA newsletters.

There is not much new I could add at this point and it’s time to step aside.

I’m glad Cynthia Price of Virginia, who served as president ahead of me and continues her informational blog about social media, branding, conducting conferences, etc., encouraged me to start a blog as a new experience.

She and current President Teri Ehresman of Idaho talked me into continuing these past two years, mostly because my more traditional personal column was so different from Cynthia’s and from the “Talking With Teri” blog that has been great in helping us get to know each other better.

I know the leaders we elect in Alaska will have their own unique styles for the blogs they will write.
I can’t wait to start reading them.

For now, I’m packing up. Similar to packing for a great travel adventure, it doesn’t mean I’m going away forever, only that I’ll be visiting with you via this blog only from time to time.

I spent much of Saturday morning on a farm southeast of Shelton – about 25 miles east of Kearney – doing an interview, taking photos and shooting videos for a Kearney Hub section D cover feature updating the work by Nebraska gardeners to restore eight ancient varieties of corn grown by the Pawnee Nation’s ancestors before they were forced to move to Oklahoma.

NFPW members who were on the 2011 conference pre-tour learned about this effort on the first stop we made at Kearney, The Archway. Cultural Education Director Ronnie O’Brien gave us a tour that included a Pawnee-Arikara made earth lodge and a garden where she picked some of the Pawnee corn she was growing that summer.

O’Brien got involved in the effort 12 years ago when she wanted to plant a garden of Pawnee crops at The Archway. She made a connection with Deb Echo-Hawk in Pawnee, Okla., who is the keeper of the seeds, and learned that most corn varieties were down to just handfuls of seeds handed down through generations of Pawnee families and kept mostly as sacred relics.

The eagle corn, which is white kernels with dark purple splotches resembling eagle wings, has recovered well thanks to the efforts of Nebraska gardeners like O’Brien who were entrusted with some of the remaining 50 kernels.

Other varieties have been more difficult to grow because of weather conditions, the age of seeds and the need to have the plants a safe distance from all the field (feed) corn grown in Nebraska to avoid cross-pollination.

In fall 2013, I did an update with Ronnie at her Archway garden where she was thrilled to discover that some of her red flour corn crop had produced speckled red and blue kernels. Speckled corn was thought to be lost forever.

All seeds produced in Nebraska and Oklahoma go into the Pawnee seed bank and elders decide what happens to them next. In the case of speckled corn, some kernels were planted in Oklahoma, where they learned that the desired traits tended to show up in the most stressed corn and smallest ears.

O’Brien, who left the Archway in 2014 and now teaches hospitality management courses at Central Community College in Hastings, still is a “corn sister” to the Pawnee. She organizes Nebraska growers for corn and also Pawnee Spotted-Like-a-Horse and black beans, Arikara watermelons, sunflowers, and squash.

After working with yellow flour corn, another highly endangered type of Pawnee corn in 2014, she again planted the red flour corn that had produced some speckled kernels in 2013 and some of the speckled kernels themselves.

Ronnie O'Brien3

She may be picking the first ears from her home garden about the time we’re having our NFPW conference in Anchorage. For now, she can only hope she will be unwrapping a wonderful new gift of more speckled seeds.

O’Brien saw hope Saturday in one ear with its nose peaking above the shuck that showed it was turning from all white to multiple colors.

Speckled corn1

I use this story to reflect the continuing coverage done by all journalists who have beat assignments. Often, the work involves monthly meetings, budgets and drawn-out legal issues that aren’t nearly as interesting as Pawnee corn.

I’ve been covering some of my ag and natural resources beats at the Hub for nearly 29 years now, although I rarely enter the continuing coverage category of the contest because much of the progress is slow. So many of the stories sound alike because they must include the “nut graphs” of history and other information for readers who did not see the previous stories.

Our Alaska conference also has a continuing coverage theme. We will elect a new set of officers for 2015-2017, with some candidates who have already have served us well in other offices and some new folks who are stepping in to serve NFPW.

We also will be selecting a new management team.

The goal whenever there are leadership changes is to continue to provide members with outstanding services and programs. As a past president, I can tell you there are many, many, many things handled by the management team, elected officers and appointed program directors (contests, COA, membership, etc.) throughout the year that go unnoticed because they do their jobs and volunteer assignments so well.

I know that our history of outstanding continuing coverage for NFPW will continue.

As I was driving down Interstate 80 today going to North Platte to visit my mom, now in her own room at an assisted living facility near my twin sister, I began wondering about where all the people in the cars and trucks had been.

Plus where they were going and who they were.

Each story would be unique, of course, as are all of our individual lives. No two people have ever shared exactly the same experiences, and common experiences don’t have the same affect on different people.

It is wonderful to be unique. Every editor I know just about comes unglued when a “nearly unique” or “sort of unique” or the always popular “very unique” comes across his or her desk.

We each are unique. One of a kind, with no kinda, sorta, very or limited about it.

An Associated Press regional director who spoke to our Nebraska Press Women group several times over the years and was a member himself for a time often reminded the reporters in the room that we probably walk past a dozen good stories every day.

That’s because each person has a unique story and there probably is something interesting in there somewhere if a skilled reporter decided to take the time to dig for it. And, of course, if the unique person was willing to share enough of that story.

I suspect that even the most well-researched biographies have big holes in them because the subjects never revealed enough of the inner thoughts and feelings most people keep private throughout their lives.

I like being unique. It means that for good or bad, beautiful or ugly, there is no one else now or ever who was exactly like me.

Or like you.

One of the best things about an affiliate or NFPW conference is the opportunity to learn a little about some new people and a little more about longtime friends.

For those of us going to Alaska, we’ll soon be awash in stories, observations and opinions that will be part of the chatter on the tour bus rides and during every break between conference meetings, speakers and award presentations.

When I received the email last week from Pat Richardson and Connie Huff of Alaska that included the itinerary and other information about the 2015 NFPW Conference pre-tour, I did a little happy dance in my head.

I’m not the overtly emotional type, so I didn’t do an actual happy dance. My colleagues at the Kearney Hub would have thought I had gone a little nuts.

Although it might have been different if I had been surrounded by some of my dance-prone extrovert NFPW friends. (Marlene and Marianne of Illinois immediately come to mind.)

Even with gloomy Gus type people, it usually is easy to tell when something makes them happy. Holding back a smile sometimes can be as impossible as trying not to sneeze.

I think the same is true with animals, although some wildlife specialists and pet experts might argue that what humans interpret as happy behaviors often mean something else.

On my Saturday morning walk around a wetland behind my house, I was accompanied by a chorus of frogs. It was a happy sound I hadn’t heard since our wet June turned into a dry July.

However, it had rained an inch or more Friday night, following another nice rain earlier in the week.
So far, the spring and summer of 2015 is much like 2014, with a dry July being followed by a wet August.

There probably were some farmers singing the “If you’re happy and you know it…” song in their heads this week.

With crop prices very low again this year, rains during the growing season that have greatly reduced irrigation costs may be the only chance to at least break even for many farmers. Meanwhile, the pastures have allowed wonderful grazing for cattle, cutting down or eliminating the need for early supplemental feeding.

I was at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area later Saturday morning to take photos at a “Becoming an Outdoor Family” event where people of all ages could try kayaking, fishing, archery and shooting sports.

Little kids were pulling tiny bluegills out of a pond with grins on their faces as if they had just hooked trophy fish.

Fishing1, Leo Vickers, Omaha-crop

No one can convince me that my kitties, Tas and Thai, don’t express joy. They sure seem happy to see me when I get home from work and they purr when I scratch their necks or comb their hair. I have been known to sing the “If you’re happy…” song to them.

I love to see sandhill cranes do their version of a happy dance during the spring migration stop by about 600,000 of them in the Central Platte Valley in Nebraska. In the fall, they might stop overnight, but if I see or hear them at all, it is just as they fly over.

Yes, a lot of the head bobbing, wide wing displays, jumps and vocalizations they do in the Platte River and surrounding cornfields and wet meadows are to make an impression on a mate or prospective mate before they continue their flight north to nesting grounds in Canada and Alaska. But they sure look happy to me and it makes me happy to watch and listen to them.

IMG_2120-crop2

So, while all the stops on the Alaska tour sound wonderful, I can’t help but be most excited about seeing some of my sandhill crane friends at their summer home at Creamer’s Field.

I was assured by two Alaskans volunteering in March at the National Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary southeast of Kearney that the cranes at Creamer’s Field are part of the group that migrates from south Texas and stops in Nebraska for about six weeks from late February-early April.

I’ll have a camera pressed to my face during that part of the pre-tour, with a smile on my face and the “If you’re happy …” song playing in my head.

And then I’ll hope the cranes will do a little happy dance as a memory I can keep until they return to the Kearney area again early next year.

It’s August now and I’ve given myself permission to really start thinking about the 2015 NFPW Conference in Alaska. I can’t wait to see more of that beautiful state and have time to enjoy the company of my many NFPW friends.

It is said that half the fun of going someplace or doing something special is the anticipation. I believe that’s true.

I have lots to do at work and home before it’s packing time, but when I take my daily walks or have other thinking times, I guarantee that Alaska is on my mind.

I have already taken the first step by getting out a yellow legal pad to start making a comprehensive list of things to do – kitty supplies, contact kitty sitter, hold mail, make sure I have all the travel supplies and clean clothes ready, etc.

I have a tendency to pack and repack a suitcase in my head dozens of time … usually when I want to be sleeping … before I go someplace even for a weekend. My Alaska to-do list won’t eliminate that habit, but it might cut the mind-packing exercises in half.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have an active to-do list on my desk, in my pocket or both. Even before I reached post-middle age and my short-term memory went into hiding, a list of things to do was insurance that I’d meet all (or at least most) of my responsibilities.

I’ve also written out questions for interviews for my nearly 38-year career as a newspaper reporter. It is less embarrassing to stop and check a list of questions I prepared ahead of time than to have to call back later to ask something obvious.

There are times when I get through an interview without checking my questions list until I’m done and discover I asked everything on it and more. And fewer days when my to-do list stays in my pocket and I manage to complete all the tasks anyway.

My Alaska list is similarly important in ensuring I take the travel and NFPW business supplies needed, and as a reminder not to try to take along everything I own.

However, it also has the wonderful benefit of allowing me to anticipate this special event every time I write something on the list.

I’m dealing with fair fatigue.

Any NFPW member who ever was a 4-H member (leader, parent, friend, volunteer) or ever worked for a rural newspaper or the county office of a state university’s Extension Service knows exactly what I’m feeling this first full day after the week-long Buffalo County Fair.

For you city folks, all I can do is list some of the energy sapping parts of the experience: early mornings, late nights, long hot days, lots of people, noisy animals, loud music, spinning colored lights of carnival rides, and stories to write and photos to sort with a brain that stopped functioning properly hours earlier.

There can be a lot of waiting around at a fair, especially when there is an animal judge who is, let’s say diplomatically, very meticulous. A week ago today (Wednesday) it took from 8 in the morning to after 9 at night to complete the 4-H Horse Show, even though the timed events – pole bending, barrel racing and roping – had been done Tuesday night.

I will always have a love-hate relationship with the county fair. I know the same is true for all the exhibitors, 4-H families, Extension staff and others whose hours on the fairgrounds were much longer than mine and responsibilities much greater.

One thing we probably all have in common is an urge to punch anyone who asks, “Are you having fun at the fair” at a particularly bad time in the middle of fair week.

I enjoy taking photos at the fair. What more could you want than kids, animals and wild rides?

Carnival, fireball3-crop

I like to visit with the many people I know from the ag community. It’s a joy to see the youngest exhibitors who were scared to death to enter a show ring come away excited and happy.

I greatly admire the 4-H families who are producing outstanding livestock, baked goods, garden produce, sewing projects and many other things. I admire them even more for the amazing children they are raising.

4-H swine, Mykayla Tincher, Kearney

These kids embrace the hard work and dedication required to raise animals. They are polite, respectful, good sports and fun-loving.

4-H Rabbits, Heidi Weekley, Amherst

Yes, there was a certain amount of time spent talking and texting on phones, but not at the expense of a job that needed doing. I actually saw a group of teenage boys playing a card game with upside down coolers used as tables.

Every mid-July, I go through the same cycle of kind of looking forward to the county fair, enjoying some of the events, thinking after a few days that it will never be over and vowing that I cannot cover one more county fair in my career.

We all have those big projects in our work that nearly send us to the end of our ropes. They’re the “I’d rather quit that do that again and feel this worn out again” projects.

The truth is that deep down, I know that next July I will again start highlighting the schedule of fair events and prepare to do the whole thing again.

It’s been a long, strange week for my family during which homes and roles were changed, and we all had an exercise in considering what tangible things are important in our lives.

On Monday, we moved my mom to a memory care unit in an assisted living home in North Platte, about 90 miles west of Kearney. She had lived in an independent apartment in a retirement complex near me for more than 14 years, after moving from the small town home in Wilcox she and Dad had built in 1974 as my twin sister Lisa and I headed off to college.

Before that, my parents had lived on our family farm for 30 years.

Dad died in 1996 – I was at the NFPW Conference in Charlotte, N.C. – and Mom was fine alone in her Wilcox home until 2001. She could have stayed longer, because my farmer brother, Glen, lived just 11 miles away at the farm and I was about 25 miles away in Kearney.

But Mom decided she no longer wanted the responsibilities of finding someone to mow her yard or scoop snow from her driveway. If the winters were long and snowy, she was confined to the house a lot because it was too dangerous to walk to the post office, store or church.

That wasn’t an easy move for her 2001, but she was committed to it and soon had a new “home” in Kearney.

This time, the decision was not hers. At age 96, she has needed some extra care and attention the past two to three years from home health care services and from me as her closest child. When Glen died three years ago this week, that also took a regular visitor out of the care equation, not to mention a big piece of her heart.

So Lisa, our other brother James and I decided that Mom’s fading memory made it the time for a change. The obvious answer was to find a nice place near Lisa, who would take over my role as day-to-day visitor.

She still has three boys at home, but at age 19, 19 and 18, they are in school, job training or preparing to go into the U.S. Marines.

Lisa manages all of the farm and Mom’s business, and is home during the day. One of our biggest concerns has been having Mom alone for days at times when I’m working long hours, such as this week’s Buffalo County Fair week, or gone for a week or more to the NFPW Conference in Alaska.

Lisa and I had talked to Mom about the move on July 5, but, as expected, she did not remember the conversation when we all gathered for the move and to clean out her Kearney apartment last Monday. It was sad and difficult for her to see Lisa pack a suitcase and then leave for a place she hadn’t seen.

I do believe that some of the explanations we gave about why the move was in her best interest and would take a big worry away for her children did make some sense to her.

During 2 ½ days of sorting and packing – things we each took, a bunch of the household items that two of her grandchildren can use, and some furniture, clothes and other personal items going to North Platte – we had to make a lot of toss, keep and decide-later decisions about many of Mom’s things.

She has settled in pretty well at North Platte, although she is in a two-person room for now. We have been first in line for a private room since December, but felt we couldn’t wait any longer to make the move in case she would have a medical emergency and there would be no place available in either Kearney or North Platte to fit her needs.

I went to visit with her on Saturday. Lisa and I took lunch that we ate in a private dining room, and then we visited for awhile until I needed to drive back to Kearney.

Seeing us leave, whether it’s to drive 90 miles home or just a few blocks away, is hard for Mom, as it has been for some time. However, the Linden Court staff tell Lisa that Mom is doing fine when we aren’t there.

We look forward to getting her a private room where we can recapture a setting that seems more like home to her.

It’s just one of those big changes in life that we all face, whether it involves a parent or our own lives. We’re thankful that we have options, but it still isn’t easy.

That’s true whether it involves changing homes, taking a new job or, as both my affiliate and NFPW are doing, charting a new course for an organization.

Nebraska Press Women members worked Saturday at a special summer meeting on the second floor of the Prairie Winds Art Gallery in downtown Grand Island in a third strategic planning session.

The overall effort started with a member survey that had about a two-thirds response, which I understand is an amazingly high number for any type of survey. Our strategic planning leader Judy Nelson of Lincoln reminded us that the last detailed NPW survey had been done by then vice president Jill Claflin before she moved to Georgia to oversee communications for Habitat for Humanity.

Judy Nelson1

Jill was in Georgia for 18 years and we so happy that she chose to return to Cozad recently and jump right into the the middle of NPW activities again.

We acknowledged that 18 years was too long to take a detailed look at our members needs and interests, and to make some specific plans for our future. The timing is right because NPW turns 70 in 2016 and plans are being developed for a celebration at our spring meeting in Lincoln.

One of the topics in my group – we divided into three groups Saturday to set goals and some priorities toward reaching them – was how the programing and promotion of that event can fit our key areas of membership, visibility and branding.

Group3

We had started this process at our winter board meeting in Grand Island and continued the middle part at our spring convention in Lexington. By the time Barbara Micek and Nancy Hansen host us for a fall meeting in Columbus and Genoa, we will have specific goals with committees assigned to move forward on them.

It has been interesting to me as a member of the NFPW board to watch the same process go forward on the national level. The board and appointed directors worked on this for most of our spring meeting in Las Vegas, under the leadership of Cynthia Price of Virginia and Karen Stensrud of North Dakota, who peppered us with questions and encouraged us to present any an all ideas.

One of the best things about our NPW work on Saturday is we had three twentysomethings – two 2015 members and one who will join in 2016 in September – and another more veteran weekly journalist who is new this year. Their input is much needed to enlighten the majority of the rest of us who count our NPW and NFPW membership in decades.

By being involved in this process on both levels, I hope to find elements unique to each that can be shared with the other.

All of this is probably a message to do some self-review and goal setting, but I think I can handle only two such efforts at a time. Maybe 2016 will be my self-awareness year.

Independence Day has two meanings for me.

It’s the celebration of our country’s founding, of course. But especially in recent years, it’s the day when I carve out a little time to do something I want to do, even if part of the day involves work at the newspaper, chores at home or family responsibilities.

I spent my Independence Day afternoon Saturday at the Sumner Rodeo. It’s a 65-year tradition at the small town about 35 miles northwest of Kearney that is put on by the Sumner Saddle Club … in other words, all local volunteers and sponsors.

Barrels, Lexi Christensen, Lexington2-crop

The family that oversees the rodeo are great folks. They let me go just about wherever I want to go to take photos. This is one of the few rodeos that is in a small outdoor arena and has one of its two performances in the middle of the day. Those are required conditions for my basic camera equipment.

I love the time to just do what I want to do in the way I want to do it. Such times have become increasingly rare.

I loved the drive up Highway 40 past green corn and soybean fields, grazing cattle, and carpets of green pastures that were the recipients of wonderful spring rains. With a pretty good south breeze, the tall grasses and swaying crops seemed to be, as Willa Cather put it, as if they were galloping across the landscape.

NFPW member Mary Jane Skala went to the Sumner Rodeo with me the past three years. In 2012, she had been in Kearney and working at the Hub for only a month when I invited her to go.

She sat in the bleachers so quietly throughout the rodeo, I didn’t know what she thought. Then in late June 2013, she asked me if we were going to the Sumner Rodeo again.

Bull, Conner Halverson, Gordon3-crop

Mary Jane now works at the Ghost Ranch retreat in New Mexico, but still writes her Hub column each Monday. Part of her message last week was that she would miss going to the July 4 rodeo this year.

The events, as usual, included bareback and saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, and team, tie-down and breakaway calf roping. The rodeo always ends with the signature event: bull riding.

Bull, Garrett Stricklin, Ainsworth3-crop

The bulls, broncs and even the wily calves mostly won over the cowboys and cowgirls on Saturday. One bull rider had the wind knocked out of him and a couple others had a hitch in their get-alongs after being bucked off, but no one – and no animals – was serious hurt.

Meanwhile, I caught up with some people I know, drank the best iced tea I ever had about mid-way through the rodeo and drove home with the galloping landscape as my escort.

I told myself along the way that I MUST create more Independence Days just for me. I really couldn’t remember the last time I went somewhere or did something that didn’t have a work or other have-to component.

And for the next two months, whenever I get tired or feel there are too many demands on my time, I will remind myself that the NFPW Conference in Alaska is ahead.

It will be my 2015 Independence Week!!

I was thinking of my NFPW friends Wednesday night as I sat under a huge white tent on the grounds of the historic Frank House on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus.

It was the first night of Nebraska Chautauqua week in Kearney at which one re-enactor was featured for most of the program. On Wednesday, it was author Willa Cather, portrayed by Cather scholar Betty Jean Steinshouer.

Mark Twain, portrayed by Warren Brown, is the emcee each night of the Chautauqua. It concludes Sunday night with Nebraska’s Chief Standing Bear, the Ponca chief who won a court case that for the first time declared that Native Americans have citizenship rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Twain and Cather knew each other, so they shared the stage at the end of Wednesday’s performance to answer questions, first in character and then as scholars of the two authors.

Willa Cather2

I went to the Chautauqua with Nebraska Press Women member Glennis Nagel, who had been my news writing teacher at Kearney State College in the 1975-76 school year and a mentor ever since.

Also with us was Jane Ziebarth Bovill, a UNK teacher education professor and one of my best friends at Wilcox High School back in the day. Her husband recently died, so this was a good event to ease her back into some community-UNK activities.

As I listened to Willa Cather’s words, I thought the NFPW members on the Nebraska pre-tour ahead of our 2011 conference in Omaha-Council Bluffs.

The Virginians who came along were especially excited to visit Red Cloud, the Nebraska prairie town where Cather grew up and met many of the people who would be the patterns for characters in the great author’s Nebraska-based books.

Cather was born in Virginia. She was an unhappy 10-year-old when her family moved to such an empty place. Eventually, she fell in love with the vast land and sky, and came to admire the immigrants and other pioneers who settled the prairie after the Homestead Act gave them an opportunity to own their own land.

I was surprised to hear Cather say her book “O Pioneers” is flawed, mostly because she tried to pattern it after other writers’ styles. Any flaws escaped me because it always has been my favorite Cather book, with “My Antonia” a close second.

Jane and I told Steinshouer that the granddaughter of Annie Pavelka, the immigrant girl who inspired the Antonia character, was a friend of ours in Wilcox.

I interviewed Phyllis once for the Hub and she showed me a family scrapbook that included a handwritten note from Cather to her father, Hugo. In part it told Hugo to thank his mother, Annie, for sending the kolaches home with her on the train after a visit to the Red Cloud area.

My great-great-grandfather went to Red Cloud after serving with the Union Army during the Civil War because his parents and at least two brothers already were in the area. They operated a mill on the Republican River and owned a store.

Great-great Grandpa Charles R. Potter moved to the Wilcox area to the northwest to open his own store on the Alma-to-Kearney freight route. The name, Freewater Store, distinguished his business from other road ranches that charged teamsters to water their animals.

I’ll never know if he or other Potter ancestors ever crossed paths with Cather in Red Cloud.

The Chautauqua provided a nice evening to be with two good friends listening to Cather’s and Twain’s voices talking about themselves.

Cather, Twain3

In her essay for the Chautauqua program, Steinshouer wrote that while Cather went to the University of Nebraska to study medicine, she quickly changed her career path after writing reviews of theatrical and musical troupes passing through Lincoln and Omaha, and seeing her name in print in the Lincoln Star Journal and Evening News.

It was an interesting twist Wednesday to learn that nine of her stories during that time were about the Big Tent Chautauqua Assembly along the Big Blue River near Crete in 1894.

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