Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Part of Nebraska History - Black Homesteaders and a New Monument

Over a hundred years ago, a small group of Black homesteaders journeyed to the sandhills of Nebraska and ended up homesteading land near Goose Lake. This lake is located just north of the Wheeler and Holt county line (and about six miles west of my house). The area was named "Bliss" for the family who housed the post office. (side note: There were approximately 90 post offices in Holt County around this time.)

For the next few years, blacks and whites lived side by side as peaceful neighbors. The evidence of camaraderie exists in photos of an integrated school, baseball team, church, and cemetery. Hector Dixon owned over 1,000 acres plus held a job at the Amelia Creamery. He was also a school teacher. Another black homesteader - Jerry Freeman - was one of the first mail carriers.

Eventually, most of the black settlers left the area because the land was difficult to farm. Many of them moved to Grand Island or other large cities because factory jobs were plentiful. Eventually it came down to supporting your family instead of following your dreams. By the end of World War I, all had vanished from this North Central Nebraska region.

During these years, the blacks who passed away were buried in Goose Lake cemetery. During the 1920s and 30s during the Dust Bowl, several of the graves blew open. The white neighbors removed the remains and buried them in Valley View cemetery, which is located approximately four miles north and one or two miles east of the Goose Lake area.

Things changed, people moved, others remained. The black homesteaders, who built sod houses and dreamed of a better life than what they had as slaves in the South, were a forgotten element of Nebraska history. Their dreams withered and blew away along with the dust during the 30s and the sand that blows so strongly here today.

Then, a twist of fate brought people to the remains of one of the sod houses. And there, in the dirt, they found a toy pistol. Speculation swirled about who had owned the toy gun. And then, fate took another turn as one of the people who found the gun shared the treasure with his cousin, who became obsessed with finding the story.

That story and research culminated with the publication of Hector's Bliss: Black Homesteaders at Goose Lake, Nebraska, by Dennis Vossberg of Plainview, Nebraska.

That could've been the end of the story, but Vossberg wrote in the book's epilogue, that the black settlers who were re-interred at Valley View deserved a monument.

And so, a movement took hold. People began sending money to Vossberg for the monument. One of my husband's aunts was one of the first people to send a donation. And the people who own Plainview Monument Company were good enough to donate time and materials to the cause.

So, nearly one hundred years after their passing, the black homesteaders have a monument honoring the contributions they made to Nebraska's history and to the memory of their life near Goose Lake. And on Memorial Day, the monument was dedicated with an amazing crowd of close to 150 people in attendance. That's pretty amazing when you consider how rural it really is out here!

Eileen Watson, of Selma, Alabama, was able to at attend the dedication, along with her son, Dean, who resides in Lincoln. I had the pleasure of interviewing this remarkable woman prior to her visit, and I was so impressed with her. She commented about how her older relatives could hardly believe that the people here raised money for a monument for their ancestors. But, as she pointed out, segregation did not seem to be an issue in this area for the residents of Goose Lake and the Bliss area.

And what was most touching and impressionable to me was how people treated her like she was a long lost family member who had returned home. I was able to speak with her prior to the dedication at the cemetery, and when I introduced myself, she hugged me like we had been friends for a long time.

In an era that will probably see its first Black candidate nominated on the general election ballot in November, yet an era that still suffers from racial tension, I can proudly attest that there was none of that here on Memorial Day.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Garden season - farming in small quantities

We finally finished planting the garden this afternoon! Huge sigh of relief!

About a month ago, we planted tomatoes, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, green peppers, and potatoes. The potatoes are coming up nicely, except for in a few spots. If I remember correctly, those same spots didn't produce much lettuce last year. The other plants look mighty fine, so I am anticipating a good, healthy garden!

Today, we planted green beans, lima beans - actually the package said Christmas Speckled Beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and papaya pear squash. I bought two large planters and planted lettuce in one and spinach in the other. A little deck garden action never hurts!

Also planted iris and geraniums today. And we pulled a huge pile of weeds out of the front area. I'm going to have to get some plastic and put down so that we keep the weeds out of there. Also, about a month ago, I planted six rose bushes behind our new addition. All but one have leaves sprouting, so it should be nice and colorful back there this summer.

Tomorrow, I'm going to plant asparagus across the road in the ditch. I'm told I need to plant it there so it will actually come up next spring. I'm told the soil is always moist in that spot. And, I'm told that now I shouldn't have to worry about watering it every day. And I told him he'd better be right!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tsheets might help me out!

When the phone rings and I am beckoned to the field to run errands for the hubby (or other family member who live in our two-mile domain), I must stop what in the middle of writing an article or story. Just. Like. That.

It's an abrupt stop and, unfortunately, it sometimes takes the creative mind a few more minutes to get back in gear. But if I signed up for Tsheets. I'd be able to show just how much time I do spend writing and the amount I spend away from writing.

Of course, there's probably a downside to that too.... What about the days when I write only small amounts, but the ideas are building and I'm busy organizing and plotting those story ideas away from the computer. Then it would look like I am the lady of leisure here at dairy central and I'd surely be summoned to help outside. Yikes!

But there would definitely be times when the time management thing would be a good kick in the let's look at how my day begins.

Once in the office (which is just a few stumbles from my bed to my desk), I fire up the four-year-old Dell laptop, that had better not decide its had a long life, and check my emails to see what pressing press releases need to be dealt with. I try to multi-task while they download - some mornings there are over 150 press releases - and plan what projects deserve my attention for the day. Since it takes approximately 2:23 for the laptop to load before I can access email, I make use of my planner and check appointments during this time.

And then, I have a huge sip of tea and start typing. Usually I start by checking the statcounter for my blog. And after that, the day is filled with writing. And sometimes, a few errands.

Check it out at

When it rains....

I enjoy the fact that I can pitch articles and create something that others will (hopefully) enjoy reading.

What I don't like is the fact that I have five major deadlines in one week! And no, not ALL of these deadlines are results of procrastination. I completed the research for these topics in the past few weeks. And I allowed time for each article on a daily basis last week - organizing info, double checking with sources, adjusting pictures, etc.

But now it's time to write. I completed one of the articles yesterday morning and it only took about 45 minutes. I was pretty happy with that. And today, I should be able to punch out two articles.

Even though it might sound like I'm complaining because I'm busy, I'm really not. I'm so happy that I have the chance to freelance and do what I love. But when life and other responsibilities get in the way - or probably in this case, get ignored - it sits there in the back of my mind, stewing and brewing while I'm trying to create. And eventually I realize that I have two baskets of clothes in the bedroom that need to be put away and I haven't dusted the living room since April 4.

But c'est la vie. The work will always be here. So will the deadlines. And I will get all of it accomplished in my own way.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Procrastination and Perfection

It's a habit I developed in college. My theory was that I produce the best work I'm capable of when I'm under a deadline. It seemed to work for the most part; I always got things completed and they generally were of high quality.

Sometimes I think I developed the procrastination bug as a means of dealing with perfectionism. When I was younger, I wanted everything to be perfect. Everything had its place in my room. Everything had a purpose. But once I got to college, I think I might have started to wonder if I could measure up. So, I developed the procrastination habit. That way, I knew the deadline and could push myself for high quality work. Of course the downside was that I endured endless bouts of stress - all self-induced - and then breathed a huge sigh of relief once the project or paper was completed.

But now that I freelance, sure, I have deadlines I have to meet. But sometimes, those deadlines are far away, and I procrastinate and tell myself I can do it later. And then it is a week before deadline and I'm stressing to complete the article and email to the editor.

Take yesterday's deadline. I've known about it for over a week. Of course I had other deadlines interspersed in that time frame, but I kept telling myself I could get it finished in about an hour. And I would have - if I had not been summoned to help with moving cattle (even though all I had to do was stand on the corner and keep that out of our yard - which is much harder than it sounds because it took three of us!!

But the article was about auto racing and I wanted it to sound professional, but at the same time, I wanted to include racing jargon that added a little color to the mix. It needed to be edgy but not over the top. When I finished, I counted the number of terms and had 15. Hmmmm. Is that too many?

So I called my favorite editors - my parents - and forced them to listen to it.

So I edited it one more time - to guarantee perfection - and then hit the send button.

I am sure I could accomplish more every day if I didn't think every single article I wrote needed to be perfect. But I think it is important to establish strong relationships with the editors who trust my work. So, I'm sure the procrastination - perfection circle will continue to trick me. At least for a while.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fence, Barb-Wire, and Staredowns

OMG, I despise fences. I know they serve a purpose - especially here at dairy central - but in the past two days I've discovered that fences were put on this earth to torment me.

OK, maybe not, but yesterday, I rode in the tractor with Scott to the north fence line. He needed to move the feed bunks in the yard, so he hopped out and opened the fence. Then he asked if I'd want to wait and watch the gate so there would be no escapees.

Sure. So I had a stare down with a couple of them. The cute little jersey - #736 - came up to me and let me touch her (so see, she's definitely a show cow). Scott finished and came back through with the tractor; I picked up the fence and moved it over. That's when I noticed two problems: the barbed wire grazed my leg, leaving a humongous scratch (OK, it's only about an inch long) and I was wearing flip flops and sinking into the mud/cow manure/gunk pretty quickly.

Did I mention that these were my favorite flip flips? Did I mention that I bought them in San Diego three summers ago, and they are the first pair of flip flops that I have thought were comfy? Did I mention I will be requiring a new pair??

So today, I had to cater lunch in the field. No problem. New field, different gate. Right?

When I get there, the fence isn't stretched tightly. Not a problem. I know how to unhook this one (of course, I had to be shown how to tighten it back up about two weeks ago, but that's another story and I am digressing from the point). Obviously, when Mr. Terra Gator went through to fertilize the field, he wasn't confident in his fence-tightening skills.

When I pull on the lever to release the gate, it falls toward me, and not wanting to be scratched by barbed wire yet again, I grab for the post. Only this time, I missed and grabbed the wire. Now I have a puncture wound the size of the Grand Canyon (OK, maybe the size of a pencil lead) at the base of the pointer finger on my right hand. I hope it doesn't affect my writing. :)

Later this afternoon, I had to take a healthy dose of H2O out to the man in the tractor because 1.) he's my husband and 2.) he asked politely if I would bring it to him. Sure, not a problem. He told me I could just stop on my way home from voting (today is Nebraska's primary). I called him to see if I could go in through the east gate and get to field #5. He said there shouldn't be a gate up.

But there is. I tried to pry the heavy gauge wire from the post to no avail. I even tried pushing up on the whirl of wire that is wrapped around the post. If I keep doing that, you know what will happen: the wire will jab through my hand, and I will end up having to go to the ER and have stitches sewn into the palm of my hand.

On second thought, I'll go around to the west side. After all, I have mastered that fence. A quick phone call to the husband lets me know that I can leave the west fence unlocked, but when I get to the cornfield, I will have to open that gate because the black hos (our nickname for the group of black cattle that are more trouble than they are worth) are next to that gate.

Not a problem. Yeah, right.

I approached gate #2 and there they are - the black hos - guarding the entryway to the cornfield like valiant knights. OK, maybe not so valiant. After all, they were snoozing on the ground when I pulled up. By the time I got to the gate, it was time for a stare down: me vs. eight hos. I tapped on the car horn and they scattered. Except for one brave soul who thinks I will be the one to chicken out. I have news for you mister (or sister): I have a 2500 pound piece of metal to protect me from you. That piece of metal has a name: Jimmy by GMC. That's right; I win.

But as I attempted to close the gate -because the husband hasn't secured it tightly in the first place - I had difficulty getting the post into the hole and the barb wire lasso around the other post. Basically, I just stood there, hoping my real knight in shining armor (his armor is a red Case IH tractor) will come and rescue me so I can get out of this field.

And over the mountaintop, (yeah, yeah, it's just a sandhill), I saw Prince Scott riding his valiant steed.

He sensed my dilemma, told me he didn't tighten the fence completely because he knew I wouldn't be able to open it, and laughed as I back up into a grassland of black hos and sand.

Sure, life on the farm isn't always sexy, but there is always something to smile and laugh about. Even if I'm the one who is being laughed at!! :)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Uncooperative Weather

Weather in Nebraska in Nebraska. People always joke that if you don't like the weather here, just wait a few minutes and it will change.

Yesterday, the air had a strange feel to it: stormy, humid, cold. But the outdoor temperature was 63 degrees at one point. Then the cold front moved through our region, the wind picked up and it felt like an Arctic blast from midwinter slammed into our house.

Rain has fallen most of today, and while we will be wishing for these spring showers in late July and early August, right now I'm wishing it would cease and desist! The ditches are full, again, and it is causing problems with our planting schedule.

But instead of complain about it, I'll just wait until tomorrow, when the predicted high should be near 59 degrees and the sun should shine brightly.

Let's hope!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Chemo Observation

Yesterday, I met my mom and sister at the cancer center where my mom had her fourth chemo treatment. There is a big room with rows of highback chairs where patients sit during the hours-long process.

I made a few mental observations on the drive home:
It's like this group of disconnected people become a family. They share sound bytes of their lives: vacations, weddings, where they live, the layout of the land.

The bond binding them together is a toxic cocktail, mixed to perfection for each one's needs, and dripping into each of their arms.

The family reunion congregates once every few weeks; for others, the get-togethers are farther apart.

There's a feeling of camaraderie in this room, an inkling of an 'I'm gonna beat this thing" mantra being silently spoken, but the 'c' word is never mentioned - at least while I'm sitting here.

New Cows, Windy Conditions, and Planting

We got 16 new dairy cattle today. I'm not sure why we got them, except that I guess it was a good deal. It's kind of funny because if you know us and you're reading this blog entry, you know who is in charge of the dairy cattle and you know where this person ranks on the hard work scale. So......

I know that the week of the wedding, several dairy cattle went to auction. The day before the wedding, the auction was live on the Internet, and when "Bonnie", a huge mama of a milk cow came up for auction, Riley asked why Bonnie was there. Scott's dad said Bonnie was going to a bigger and better dairy; Riley replied with "you mean she's a bigger and better steak."


The wind is picking up. When I went to teach this morning, the temp was 58 and by noon it was up to 65, but a cold front went through this afternoon and the wind has increased dramatically. Rain and possible severe storms are in tonight's forecast. I can do without the rain, and I haven't heard the significant other say if we need it or not. I'm guessing NO because we need to get fields planted.

The new field is finished; now, six more to go. A second field is disked but not planted. Probably finish that field tomorrow if the weather cooperates. Otherwise, it will be a weekend spent in the field, which is tiring, but it brings peace and quiet to the house and I can write and concentrate on what I need to accomplish. But....

It also means that I am "errand girl" and spend time running for parts or running food and drink to the hubby. It usually allows for a nice break. Except for yesterday. There was a "fence stretcher" kind of lock on one of the gates. When I went in, I just instinctively knew how to get it undone, but when I drove inside the field and had to lock the gate, my mind went blank and I just didn't get it. So... I half-way hooked it and made Scott go down there with me and show me the proper method of locking the gate. I'm sure he was thinking "dumb blonde and non-mechanical wife." Now, it makes sense, but just for a moment, I had a brief lapse of..... fence-locking skills!!