Sunday, April 25, 2010

Marc Gunn in Concert - Over Way too Quickly!

It happens EVERY SINGLE TIME, only this time it's worse than usual! I book the artists, then get caught up in every day life, promoting the concerts, cleaning the house, planning the food... then the artists arrive, the guests begin to arrive, the concert begins, and I'm absolutely enthralled. Before I know it, the concert is over, it's the next morning, we're sharing breakfast with the artist, then they're on their way. Out of our lives, on to their next show, all too quickly.
This time it's worse, because I have been a fan of Marc Gunn ever since I discovered his Irish and Celtic Music Podcast about five years ago, when he only had a few shows posted. The podcast now over 80 shows, to tell you how long I've been a fan. When I first registered with Concerts In Your Home, I was asked for my "dream artists" to host, and my first listing was Marc Gunn. So you can imagine how excited I was when it worked out that he could come to Nebraska.
Except now, instead of anticipating the show to come, I am remembering the show that was. It was an AMAZING show. His music, showmanship, humor and enthusiasm really infected the crowd, which was one of the largest we've ever squeezed into our living room.
Since then I've been listening to the collection of his CD's that I loaded onto my iPod and thinking how we didn't hear even a tiny fraction of the music this man has produced. Therefore, I have made the decision that at some point, we are going to have Marc back for a repeat performance. I think everyone who was at the concert would agree. Except this time, we've got to get him a few more gigs in the area so he can stay longer.
Marc is always working on new projects, and his fans even have a chance to sponsor his new CD at The Year of the Kilt. He is also the host of Celtic Invasion Vacations, where small groups travel with him to become immersed in local culture, which of course, includes lots of music.
The hidden agenda for this concert was that we were using it as a ruse to celebrate the Mister's 50th birthday, which was about ten months ago. Of course, it's impossible to do something as a surprise when he's expecting it, so we went a different route.

The Mister can trace his family heritage back to Scotland where his clan, the McFeaters fled first to Belfast, then to South Carolina before moving west to Nebraska. Of course, it's much more convoluted than that, but the family history book is about three inches thick, so you should appreciate the condensed version.

Because the McFeaters were a broken clan, they came under the protection of the McLaren clan, whose tartan the decendants are entitled to wear. We decided that the Mister is proud enough of his Scots/Irish heritage that he should have a kilt to express his feelings.

Getting a kilt made for someone who is unsuspecting is no easy task. There are lots of different measurements to get so that the kilt fits just right. We solved this problem by telling him that he had to wear a tux to the upcoming wedding of our son. He was non too happy about the prospect and grumbled about it every chance he got. At Hirshfelds, the great mens clothing store in North Platte, I convinced the owner to go along with the ruse and create some bogus story about all the new measurements he needed for this tux - the length from naval to knee, the hip points and the buttocks at the broadest. The Mister thought this new information very interesting and couldn't figure out why the other boys, who do have to wear tuxes at the wedding hadn't had these special measurements made.
He was somewhat taken aback by the prospect of suddenly wearing a skirt, so it was fortunate that Marc was around to give him pointers and encouragement. I'm not sure about the whole authenticity thing that calls for going commando under the folds of the wool. My opinion is that it would be safer to actually wear something under the kilt, even if it won't pass muster with true Scotsmen.
As you can see, a man in a kilt does impress the ladies, and here he earns his first dollar down his waistband.
Now it was time for the highlight of the evening, the roast. The Mister has a lot to get roasted about, and the kids pulled no punches in pointing out his eccentricities.
They all focused on his propensity to want to do everything himself because he can do a better job, and the fact that he always has to have something to do.
Even our absentee son-in-law was able to get into the action, with a letter that the Mister read himself (because he knew he could do this whole roast thing better himself!)
One of our "adopted" daughters, who has only been in the family a few years has already picked up on some of the more obvious quirks and added a few anecdotes.
And a long-time friend, who makes frequent appearances in this blog shared some stories from the long past.
And just like that, the long-anticipated evening came to a close. It was a wonderful time, and I'm looking forward to the next bit of fun with all of our friends.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Helping Hands

What better way to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon than helping a friend in need? When a single mom friend of ours called to say that she needed to do some heavy-duty spring cleaning at her place and would we help, we jumped at the chance. Fixing fence isn't usually a job cowboys like to do, but these three have graciously given up their horses for hammers and went to work.
Rolling up high-tensile electric fence wire isn't the most fun job in the world. In fact, fencing in general isn't the most fun job in the world, but this high-tensile stuff has a mind of it's own, and it never does what you want it to do. We did manage to get it all rolled up, though.
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Any time the adults get together to do a community project, it means lots of kids, and lots of opportunity to have fun. At one time I counted ten young ones getting into various kinds of trouble. I actually heard one dad yelling at them to get off the roof of the barn. I think he was just being overly protective.
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This was our contribution to the entire operation. When I wasn't behind the camera, my job was running the chain on the business end of the post-pulling equipment. Given my level of ineptitude, I think the Mister was actually happy when I took up the camera instead of the chain. Of course the skilled part of the process is running the tractor, so that's where the Mister found himself.
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We managed to get everything on her list done, and we were tired but satisfied at the end of the day. Of course, the delicious steak dinner she provided was a great reward for a job well done.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book Review North By Northwestern by Captain Sig Hansen

North By Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters by Captain Sig Hansen and Mark Sundeen is published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press. It is available online at all of the major book retailers, as are both the Kindle and audio book formats. Fortunately the audio version is also available via download on, and I'm looking forward to listening to get a feel for all of the Norwegian names that I couldn't get a handle on in the print version.

My interest in the stories told on the Discover Channels television series Deadliest Catch was first piqued by reading the book The White Hurricane by David G. Brown. As I was absorbed in the tale of America's deadliest maritime disaster which occurred when a hurricane-force storm hit the Great Lakes in 1913, I recalled that my children occasionally watched a show where men lived in these conditions nearly every day. I started watching myself, and quickly became enthralled by the men who would choose this profession as a way of life. I have been avidly awaiting Captain Sigs book to become available as soon as I heard it was in the works about two years ago.

The story of the Hansen family fishing legacy is interspersed by the vivid account of the sinking of the wooden F/V Foremost, captained by Sverre Hansen, the patriarch of the American Hansen clan who first emigrated to the United States from the Norwegian island of Karmoy in 1958.

As much as it is a tale of the Hansens and the evolution of the Alaskan fishing industry, it is a tribute to the pioneers of those earlier generations who discovered the bounty of the Bering Sea and through trial and error, with heartbreaking loss of life, learned how to harvest it. The adventures of crab fishing in Alaska that have so captivated viewers of Deadliest Catch are interwoven with the history of Norway, Norwegien immigration, Norwegian culture in America and the personal histories of Sig, Edgar and Norman Hansen.

As wild and dangerous as life aboard the F/V Northwestern and the other fishing vessels featured on the show seems, the medium of television frankly can't capture the true character it takes to live and love that way of life. It is only through writing that fans like me can truly gain insight into these men. Only words, not pictures, can convey the pain, cold, exhaustion, fear, suspense, excitement, joy, satisfaction and much more that these men experience on a moment-by-moment basis. North By Northwestern certainly captures it all.

If your bookshelf, like mine, contains such titles as Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, The Seawolf by Jack London and Moby Dick by Herman Melville, this non-fiction version of the seafaring life will definitely be a valuable addition to your library.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Am I in the Running for Ultimate Deadliest Catch Fan?

Despite how obsessed my friends and family think I am, NOT EVEN CLOSE! I don't own any boxed sets of previous seasons. I don't own a single item of Deadliest Catch apparal (yet). I still have not seen the behind the scenes show from season 5 that I missed. I can't watch a scene and know exactly what season and episode it came from, and I can't name each and every boat and crew member that has ever appeared on the show.

OK, so everyone knows NOT to call me on Tuesday nights April through July, and I have been known to miss important meetings that are very inconsiderately scheduled for Tuesday nights.

I have blogged and shared other people's blogs about the show just a few times:
April 17, 2009
May 31, 2009
October 15, 2009

My Facebook account lists 27 "friends" who are also fans of or associated with the show, and a dozen fan pages of the same. My Deadliest Catch list on Twitter includes 42 fellow fans.

I do own an autographed copy of Captains Johnathan and Andy Hillstrands book "Two Brothers, The Bering Sea and the World's Deadliest Profession." I managed to cajole a good friend into standing in line for me at the Minnesota Travel Show (I was at the Denver travel show with the water-skiing squirrel for entertainment) to get it autographed.
I also own Spike Walkers books "Working on the Edge" and "Nights of Ice" I own Travis Arkets wonderful photography book "Deadliest Waters". And of course there's the official Deadliest Catch Book "Desperate Hours".

Now I have just finished Captain Sig Hansens "North By Northwestern", which is a fantastic read, and which I will review at a later time, and which I hope to get autographed soon.

But truly, I don't think any of those things means I'm obsessed. I am just an Internet and book kind of person, right?

Well, I did recruit a crew of "Deadliest Deckhands" for a jump in the river during the Hoggy Doggy Splash. I have achieved the rank of Veteran Deckhand on the FV/Northwestern Forums, but that has more to do with the fact that I like to talk a lot, not necessarily an indication of obsession with Deadliest Catch.

I suppose what would truly help me clinch the title of Ultimate Deadliest Catch fan is the fact that the Mister and I will be attending CatchCon 2010, the Deadliest Catch fan convention in Seattle on May 1! Oh yeah, we'll be there along with about 500 other fanatics, meeting the Captains and crews, touring the Northwestern and the Wizard, and watching some exclusive footage of the upcoming season. We are also going to arrive in town in time to pay our respect by attending the public memorial service for Captain Phil Harris, the Captain of the FV Cornelia Marie, who tragically passed away in February of this year. (Thank you to the Captain Phil Harris fan who put together the above picture.)

The highlight of the trip for the Mister is going to be walking the decks of the boats that we see in action each week facing the harsh conditions of the Bering Sea. For me, of course besides getting to meet the Captains and crews, it will be meeting all of the wonderful friends whom I know "virtually" through the Forums, Facebook and Twitter. I've never met an Internet "friend" in person before, so it will be interesting to see how close my impressions are to reality.

Think I've got "ultimate fan" status yet?

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.
But don't bother me on Tuesday night.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Continuing Education at the Heartland Byways Conference

I managed to take way too many pictures on our byways tour, a lot even for me! Since I want to share them with you, I'm going to intersperse them with some of the great stuff we learned about managing our byways and attracting visitors to them at the Heartland Byways Conference.

Our first speaker was Deb Miller, the first woman to head the Kansas Department of Transportation. Under her leadership, the Kansas Byway program has really thrived. She made a very important point in that no matter why people visit our state, in terms of quantity, what they see the most is our roadsides, so if they're going to have a favorable opinion of us, our roadsides darn sure better look good!

Kansas now has nine scenic byways, including two National Scenic Byways (Flint Hills and Wetlands and Wildlife) and they have also created the Kansas Backroads program to promote routes off the state highway system.

To enhance the beauty of Kansas roadsides, they have implemented an aggressive native wildflower and grass seeding program, modified their mowing practices and scaled back the use of herbicides.

Below: the entrance to the Kansas Wetlands Education Center along the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway. The National Scenic Byway program was begun in 1991, and is operated on a completely grass-roots basis. It is local activists who decide they want either a state or national scenic byway. They develop all of the funding sources (including Federal Highway Administration Grant applications), local partners, routes and attractions. After they are successful in their designation, they are completely responsible for maintaining and growing the byway. Wayne Gannaway, the byways specialist of America's Byways Resource Center provided an excellent overview of the byways program.

Every National Scenic Byway must contain one of the deisgnated intrinsic qualities: Scenic, Natural, Historical, Cultural, Archeological or Recreational. The byway brand is becoming a resource trusted by travelers to deliver a quality experience traveling America's backroads.

Below: We all enjoy the panoramic view of the Cheyenne Bottoms marsh while we eat a delicious lunch at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center.The education center uses their space to tell the story of Kansas and how the settlement has affected the wetlands and wildlife along with simply being a showcase for the importance of the Cheyenne Bottoms wetland and the wonderful variety of species that can be found there.Cheryl Hargrove, president of Hargrove International, a company specializing in heritage tourism, discussed the travel trends we are facing. The U.S. travel industry is cautiously optimistic for travel in 2010.

One of the key factors affecting this optimism is that, although there are still economic concerns, travel is now seen as much needed therapy to combat the stress and uncertainty of the day. It is seen as a need, not a want.

One of the troubling statistics Cheryl quoted is that since 1970, kids have lost an average of 12 hours per week free time, a 25% drop in play time and a 50% drop in unstructured times. Gone are the lazy summer days when endless possibilities, limited only by their imagination, stretch before America's children. Is it any wonder we grow up to be stressed out?

Below: The Kansas Wetlands Education Center is designed to provide sweeping views of the marsh and its inhabitants. Lisa Brochu, the Associate Director of the National Association for Interpretation provided two very inspirational workshops on interpration along byways. America is becoming a landscape of scary places, a "Geography of Nowhere" in which there is nothing unique, with chain restaurants, chain businesses make it hard to differentiate one place from another.

Byways preserve the integrity of our unique communities and special places, telling and preserving the important stories of our heritage and culture for future generations. What byways do isn't just a benefit for tourists, locals come to have a greater understanding and appreciation for what makes their place special through the creation of a byway.

Below: Byways provide an important link between local producers and potential consumers. Here the gift shop contains a wide array of locally grown and made products. The creation of the Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway is an amazing success story. Although the process took nearly ten years from conception to realization, which might indicate struggles an opposition, in reality what that time period represents is simply a dedicated group of people who left no stone unturned in building the foundation for a successful byway program.

The byway spans three counties, seven communities and three wildlife refuges. Each partner was given an equal voice and seat at the table during the planning and implementation process. Amazingly enough, while generating actual support was sometimes a challenge, the steering committee faced no actual opposition.

Very often, locals are the last to recognize how special and unique their place is, or why anyone would want to visit. The steering committee had partners in each community who worked tirelessly to educate locals on the importance of developing the byway.

Below: Wildlife isn't forgotten in the education center either. The Cheyenne Bottoms wetland is home to a wide variety of fauna, including numerous species of reptiles. Lisa Brochu emphasized the importance of a centralized theme that unites the byway and provides a foundation for telling the story. In my case, representing the Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway that stretches across Nebraska from Iowa to Wyoming, designating one theme that encompasses what is important about the entire byway is a little daunting. I was fortunate enough to have Lisa as my seatmate for the byway tour Thursday afternoon, and she was very encouraging that it is, in fact, doable.

Successful thematic statements include Laramie Wyoming: An Outdoor Town with an Outlaw Past; and New Orleans: Lingers on the threshold between the old world and the new, between history and legend. Now don't those statements just make you want to plan a visit?

Below: The Cheyenne Bottoms Wetland is in the final stages of the spring waterfowl migration, and in the beginning stages of the shorebird migration. There are many species of waterfowl in this photograph, as well as glimpses of the concrete bunkers that serve as duck blinds during hunting season. Pelicans are annual visitors as well. There is a small year-round resident population, but those represent non-breeding individuals. Pelicans will make the journey into the Nebraska Sandhills and beyond to nest. If I got my facts straight, which is not a guarantee, the birds below are Cormorants. As I mentioned above, the byway includes three wildlife refuges, the Nature Conservancy Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve, the Cheyenne Bottoms State Wildlife Area to the north and the Quivera National Wildlife Refuge near the south end of the byway.

Cheyenne Bottoms is the country's largest interior marsh covering 41,000 acres. The state wildlife area covers 20,000 acres and is managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The Nature Conservancy preserve contains 7,700 acres, while Quivera covers 22,000 acres of salt marshes, freshwater wetlands, woodlands and prairie. Quivera has been named a "Wetland of International Importance."

Below: At the Quivera scenic overlook, a fire of "undetermined origin" blackened 500 acres less than a week before our tour. Look closely and observe the green shoots already emerging from the blackened soil. Lots of Pelicans enjoy the waters of Quivera, and if you enlarge the photograph and look at the group of white birds behind the Pelicans, you'll see a colony of Great Egrets. Other wildlife make their home in Quivera as well. The shape in the middle of the cattails is a Muskrat den. And here is one of the little creatures swimming close enough to the bus window to get a decent (OK, half-way decent?) picture. These two Pelicans were disturbed by the monstrous tour bus invading their territory.Here is where I really wish my photography skills were greater (I realize that you all have wished all along that my photography skills were greater, but they are what they are!), and that the road wasn't so rough that it would make my longer lens impractical. Right next to the tiny island in the background is an Avocet. Behind the water is one of the numerous oil wells that dot the preserve. This is an example of the original saltwar marsh that comprises much of Quivera. The grass is inland salt grass.Though the effects of the fire I showed you above were caused by probably an unintentional man-made burn, farmers in the area use fire as a means of returning valuable plant nutrients to the soil. All of the preserves also use fire to control cattails and other overly abundant plant species, as well as to revitalize prairie environments. The creation of byways is all about telling America's stories through preserving our important transportation corridors. Much of our history is contained in the small settlements that dot the landscape, many of which are facing depopulation and tough economic times.

All told, the byway creation effort has received $600,000 in numerous federal grants to fund a variety of planning, development and implementation portions of the project. These dollars must be combined with local match of 20% (which according to my mathematically-challenged calculations comes to $120,000). Add to that an investment of approximately 7,500 hours of staff time and you reach a considerable investment on behalf of the local communities, the bulk of which was borne by Barton County.

The effort to create a byway, especially a National Scenic byway is not for the faint of heart. The effort requires strong and organized leadership, tenacity and the commitment to build support every step of the way. Obviously the organizers of the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway did a fantastic job.

The tiny town of Hudson, population 133, is one of the seven communities along the byway. It is home to one of Kansas "Eight Wonders of Commerce," the Hudson Cream Flour Mill that is one of the last remaining independent flour mills.

Below: Some of the structures along the central business district. The towering structure of the Hudson Cream Flour Mill behind the Hudson Community Hall. Grain elevators such as this dot the Kansas landscape and are known as "Skyscrapers of the Prairie."Hudson boasts a beautiful church and picturesque cemetery, although I didn't have time to stroll among the graves to get a sense of the story they tell. That will have to wait for another visit. Do you get the feeling that early settlers to the region were perhaps of Germanic origin? The final speaker of the conference was Berkeley Young of Young Strategies, Inc. Berkeley is the picture of a southern gentleman, who brings a persuasive argument about the importance of catering to the visitor to the conversation.

Byways must always focus on what we are going to do with the visitors once we get them to our place. They need to feel comfortable that they know what to expect, how to get there, and be confident that they are going to have a good time when they arrive. As time starved as travelers are today, the last thing they need is to finish their precious few days of leisure time and realize that they wasted it. We have a responsibility to make sure that they get what they need out of a vacation.

Byways not only sustain the heritage and core of our communities, they must infuse money into the local economy while doing it, otherwise they will not be sustainable.

If we are going to make a difference in the creation or success of our byways, we have to be committed to rolling up our sleeves and simply getting it done. As Berkeley stressed "Can't never could!" If we practice the right leadership model, we will develop a local team that will accomplish amazing things.

Below: The Nebraska contingent stop long enough in the beautiful Kansas early evening to pose for a picture.
I just love the story that the two pictures below tell. When originally platted, the founding fathers of Hudson Kansas had big dreams for the future of their town.
When the dust finally settled, the reality was slightly smaller than the dream.
However, it didn't dampen the peoples enthusiasm for their community. The tiny Wheatland Cafe served up a wonderful spread in the community hall for our enjoyment.
This has been a marathon post, even for me! Thank you for staying with me to the end. As you can probably tell, I am very enthusiastic about what I learned, and taking it back home to my own byway! I hope you'll have the chance to visit one of the nations wonderful scenic byways soon.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Heartland Byways Conference

America's Scenic Byways are one of our greatest treasures, telling the story of our history, heritage and tradition along the pathways we travel. This week I am in Great Bend Kansas at the Heartland Byways Conference. Byways committees from all across the Great Plains, primarily Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and North Dakota and Minnesota are gathered to learn how we can better manage our byways, improve the visitor experience and promote more travelers.

This being Kansas, the perfect table centerpiece is a sunflower. The conference headquarters is at the Best Western Angus Inn, and the folks here are doing a wonderful job making us feel welcome.
Part of the experience of traveling a byway is enjoying all of the local flavor. Tonights reception appetizers are brought to us by Simply Kansas, an organization dedicated to helping Kansas' local entrepreneurs bring their products to the marketplace.
Sue from our hosts the Kansas Scenic Byways is spreading the word about the wonderful byway program in Kansas.
Simply Kansas also provided music to accompany the evening. These "unnamed pickers" played fun folk and bluegrass music, and even invited musically-inclined guests to join in. This example of friendly inclusion is indicative of our entire time here in Kansas.
I often complain about the lack of good beer at the many conferences I attend, but that is not the case here in Kansas. The Tallgrass Brewing Company is located in Manhattan Kansas, and I heartly recommend the Ale. Delicious brown ale.
Those who prefer wine over beer weren't left out either. The Dozier Winery in Elmwood provided the white wines, and although I don't have any picts, the reds were brought to us by Smoky Hill in Salina.
My Nebraska cohorts are pouring over the newspaper insert produced by the Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism promoting Nebraska's beautiful byways that will be inserted into midwestern cities just prior to the summer travel season. If you are lucky enough to find one in your newspaper, you'll be hard-pressed to resist a road trip to Nebraska!
The early evening was the nicest part of the day. The clouds had gone, the wind had dropped slightly, and it was a perfect time for a walk. Spring has made more progress in south central Kansas than it has in Nebraska, so it's a wonderful treat to see the blossoms and new leaves on the trees, knowing that spring truly is just around the corner.
Yes, I really am working! Tomorrow I'll give you a few insights into some of the great stuff we are learning about making our byways better.
Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.