Jump on the train or watch the train wreck…you’re invited

Sorry I didn’t post last week. Did ya miss me?

Time just got away from me. It seems as if all the parts of my job right now keep stacking up on this imaginary shelf above my head, and it all came crashing down on me at the first of the year — the March-April edition of Turkey Country (the biggest issue of the year), filling my dance card for SHOT Show (the biggest industry trade show of the year) and preparing for the NWTF National Convention (our biggest event of the year).

None of it’s a surprise. Each one happens annually. Just the immediacy of it all at the turn of a new year seems to catch me off guard every time.

As I sit at my desk, staring at various piles of paper, listening to my inbox ding with new items for my multiple to-do lists, I console myself that it will all be over with before I know it. Then I freak out again, because, well, that means it will all be over with before I know it. I just hope I’ll be ready.

It’s that same feeling you get at the beginning of a school year when a teacher hands you a syllabus. You read the long, detailed list in front of you and wonder how you’ll ever get all of it done (and still, like, have time for a life). But the reality is you will, taking it one task, one day at a time.

The next few weeks are gonna be crazy, but I promise not to forget you. I hope you won’t forget to keep up with me, because it’s going to be action packed, including trips to Las Vegas for SHOT, Nashville for NWTF Convention, new outdoor product reveals, giveaways, a possible meltdown by me. You don’t want to miss it.

Get the full experience by following me on Twitter (@Karen_Lee_NWTF) or friending me on Facebook. Search for Karen Lee and look for the same picture that’s smiling at you at the top of this page.

You can even ask the Internet spirits to magically let you know I’ve made a post by subscribing to this blog. It’s super easy. Just move your head a quarter-inch to the right. OK, now up a smidge. Type your email address into the little box and hit the subscribe button. You’ll get a message in you inbox to verify you want to take this earth-shattering step, but you’ll just coolly say, “It’s OK. I’m ready.”

And if you’re a real rock star, you’ll do all three.

Alright, people, we’re in this together. Buckle your chinstraps. ‘Cause here we go!

Achoo and bless you

I’m writing this from the waiting room of my local medical clinic. It’s time for my weekly allergy shots. Notice I said shots with two S’s. I get four of ‘em every visit.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, more than half (54.6 percent, to be exact) of all U.S. citizens test positive to one or more allergens. I, however, am a freak of nature and am notably allergic to more than a dozen things, hence the need for four needles piercing my epidermis every five or so days.

I get choked up on everything from grasses and trees to cats and cockroaches (gross, I know). Basically, all of God’s creation has the potential to make me sneeze, wheeze and produce buckets of mucus at the drop of an acorn.

I'm bringing sexy back with Kleenex.

I’ve had problems with allergies as long as I can remember. I recall getting scolded by my mom for leaving wadded up tissues in my pockets as early as elementary school.

My first stint with allergy shots started during college, since the older-than-the-Parthenon freshman dorm I lived in was apparently built with bricks plastered together with mold and mildew. Yeah, I’m allergic to those too.

When I moved to South Carolina to work for the NWTF, my allergies seemed to magically disappear. I popped a Claritin or Zyrtec from time to time, but it was nothing compared to the way the Alabama elements wrecked my sinus cavities.

Then I had a tangle with a swarm of fire ants while turkey hunting in 2003. Nearly 40 of those blasted critters had words with my torso, neck and face, and I was left with a rapidly closing windpipe and swollen Mick Jagger lips. Thankfully, I had a couple Benadryl in my vest and fell asleep with my forehead pressed against one the truck’s AC vents.

I swept the incident under the rug, along with the dust mites (yeah, I’m allergic to those too), vowing to have a couple little pink tablets on me at all times.

Fast forward to 2010. My husband, toddler son and I were cruising through a dried up food plot on a hunting lease. We were chugging along on a UTV when wheat and rye grass particles started flying. Motherly instinct kicked in, as I shielded little Cooper’s face from the flurry of flakes of supplemental food.

I, however, caught an eyeful, and within 10 minutes one side of my face became red, puffy and beyond itchy. I looked like a Picasso or Sloth from The Goonies. Not cute. This time the effects didn’t go away for several days.

That’s why I am back on the shots. And now instead of just Benadryl, I tote an Epipen everywhere I go. I don’t want nature to get in the way of me enjoying nature, if you know what I mean.

Just so you know, the irony of me being an outdoors magazine editor who’s allergic to the outdoors is not lost. Thankfully, I’ve been spared from reactions to ink, paper and Apple computers, so I’ve remained gainfully employed.

But it’s the chance to be outside — to hunt all over the country, attend NWTF outreach events, simply enjoy a spring day … the experiences that I share with you through this blog and Turkey Country — that makes my job awesome. I can’t imagine surrendering to the elements. My life wouldn’t be same without a hefty dose of outdoor time.

That’s why I don’t really mind hanging out in this waiting room. Every shot I get is a chance to stick it to those allergies and keep doing what I enjoy.

Merry Christmas…

From my family to yours, we hope you have a blessed day filled with fun, togetherness and lots of laughter.

A family photo in front of the chrismon tree at our church's annual Christmas Eve service. Cooper looks a bit distracted...visions of sugar plums perhaps?

Happy trail (mix) to you this holiday season

I’m about to get all Betty Crocker on you, maybe just a little Martha Stewart.

Here’s an idea for a cheap and easy Christmas gift for any outdoorsy type — holiday trail mix.

I realize trail mix isn’t a new concept, and perhaps a Christmas-themed version isn’t either, but I felt pretty crafty coming up with this sweet and salty mixture.

Hope this Christmas gift/snack idea helps you in a pinch or adds a little yumminess to your holiday season.

Throw together salted peanuts, shelled sunflower seeds, cashews, green and red mini M&Ms, dried cranberries and white chocolate chips in whatever combination suits your taste buds.

I scooped it into clear cellophane bags and finished it with some festive ribbon to give to some of my coworkers this year. I haven’t passed them out yet, but plan to next week.

Then I’ll know who doesn’t follow my blog (naughty) and who does (nice) as to whether they’re surprised by the gift.


I need a little Christmas (tree)

I jumped into Christmas with both feet this weekend.

I wrapped a few presents. Made yet another gift order from Amazon.com. Slurped down a mug of gingerbread hot chocolate from IHOP (it’ll change your life). Went to a local Christmas parade with my two main guys. Then topped off Sunday night with a road trip to Lights of the South in Grovetown, Ga., which boasts more than 4 million lights over 100 acres — and we walked them ALL.

I’m so giddy with holiday cheer I’ve even cheated on my tried-and-true XM stations (80s on 8 and Hair Nation) and dabbled in a little Christmas music.

I finally committed to decorating my office Christmas tree today. It’s a whopping 3-footer, complete with some of the hunting- and fishing-themed ornaments my mom has bought me over the years.

Oh, Christmas tree, office Christmas tree. You keep me from going holiday crazy…

My favorites are the little s’mores guys. They look like marshmallow snowmen, each sitting atop a graham cracker. One is roasting a weenie over a pinecone campfire; another is dressed in hunter orange and pointing his loaded cinnamon stick in a safe direction.

That little tree will serve as a beacon of cheesy, cutesy cheer all month long.

December is a juggling act for me, like I’m sure it is for all of you. It’s the beginning of production for the March-April issue of Turkey Country — our biggest issue of the year. It’s when my dance card for SHOT Show begins to fill. And it’s the calm before the storm that is the NWTF’s annual national convention (which is Feb. 9 to 12 at Nashville’s Gaylord Resort and Convention Center, by the way. Register online at www.nwtf.org/special_events/convention.html).

Mix all that with Christmas parties, shopping, decorating, overeating and plop it on top of daily life, and I’m one skin breakout away from throwing a tinsel-flyin’ hissy fit.

But there’s something about a Christmas tree that brings end-of-the-year, hectic holiday hoopla into balance.

Perhaps because a Christmas tree is often a reflection of who we are and what’s important to us. Each ornament tells our story — our hobbies, our family, favorite colors and interests, if we’re coordinated or like a little randomness (like me).

When you step away and look at the entire tree, all those tiny elements blur together to make a single, beautiful sight.

Take time to soak in your Christmas tree this December. Grab a cup of cocoa, put your arm around a loved one and look at everything you are, everything you’ve accomplished and what you stand for.

P. S. — I would love to see what your tree looks like and what it says about you. Send photos to me via email, or let’s become friends on Facebook and share them there. Search for Karen Lee National Wild Turkey Federation and you’ll find me and my alter ego. Pick Karen Lee for Keepin’ Up With Karen, otherwise you’ll find my grossly-neglected personal Facebook account.

Dead deer in church

I live in a small town. And I teach what can loosely be called choir for the 3- to 6-year olds at the Methodist church there.

I guess I got the gig because no one else wanted to do it. But I like kids, I’m a goofball and I like to sing, so it seemed like a good fit.

I have a crew of about six young’uns who are more like a box of squirmy kittens than an angelic chorus. And most of them have no interest in singing, so I have to be creative.

We routinely belt out a simple little ditty called “Rejoice In The Lord Always.” It goes like this:

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice (clap, clap).

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice (clap, clap).

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice (clap, clap).

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice (clap, clap).

To add a bit of interest, I have the kids do the song acting like a variety of animals. We’ll do an alligator where we extend our arms and chomp, chomp them together. Then follow it with a hamster and pinch our thumbs and pointy fingers for the clapping part.

“Let’s do a deer!” said one camo-clad half-pint.

It could only happen in a small town church...

I had them put up their hands to their heads like midget 10-pointers and scrape around the choir room.

“Let’s do a dead deer!” he said after the first round.

So instead of clapping, we held up our arms as rifles and said, “Bang. Bang.” And the kids all fell to the ground.

I’m not kidding. This really happened.

Like I said, it’s a small town where most folks hunt or are at least OK with it. Even so, I may never be asked to do children’s choir at my church again.

Remember Thanksgiving

Mondays suck.

There, I said it.

I’m typically not a gripe when it comes to starting an inevitable workweek, but there’s just something about Mondays that annoy me.

Take this morning, for example:

I woke up in the middle of the night to my son crying, “Mommy! Mommy!” I drug my body in its zombie-like state into his room only to discover that it was 6:30 a.m. — a mere half-hour before my alarm would sound. Grrr…

Thank you, Lord, for this big pile of leaves. It means I have a home in which to seek refuge, a chance for my child to experience the natural world and confirmation that the seasons still turn even when life gets too hectic to notice.

I later poked myself in the iris with an eyeliner pencil, and my watering eye promptly converted the right side of my face into an Alice Cooper look-alike.

My son, who apparently was having a less-than-stellar morning himself, took a step backwards in potty training when he had a meltdown, demanding a Cars pull-up over his big boy underwear. Not in the mood for a fight, I carried the Go Diego Go drawers in my fist into daycare when I dropped him off this morning.

And the banana I had for breakfast was bruised…

Wah. Wah. Wah.

How soon I have forgotten Thanksgiving. Just a few days earlier I leaned back on the couch with a plate of leftover dressing and paused once again to give thanks for my many blessings — a loving husband, a healthy son, a supportive family, a warm home, food on the table — important stuff that can easily go unnoticed and under appreciated.

I vowed this year to give myself a swift kick in the giblets if I ever take those things for granted.

We’ll all do ourselves some good to remember Thanksgiving, even as we stand on the brink of Christmas. I’m all for celebrating the birth of my Savior, giving over receiving and spreading a little holiday cheer, but it’s the spirit of Thanksgiving that keeps us humble and in the right frame of mind amid the chaos of daily life.

My favorite veterans

I love old pictures. Not only do they look cool with their faded grays and sepia tones, it’s fun to hear the stories behind them.

Here are four of my favorites. I have them side-by-side in a frame at my house.

Meet my grandparents when they were beginning their lives together during times of war, conflict and unrest. Probably not so different than many young couples today.

These are my dad’s parents.

Granddad Lee served as Yeoman First Class in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was stationed in Mobile, Ala., and got a pass one weekend in 1941, when he hopped a bus to Chattanooga, Tenn., and married my grandmother on a Saturday before he headed back south to report for duty Monday morning. He remained stateside during the war, and built a life with his young bride that would last 61 years before my grandmother left for Heaven. Together, they raised four children who gave them eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

These are my mother’s parents.

Granddaddy Langham (everyone else called him Joe) was a Seabee, who spent time overseas during WWII and the Korean Conflict. He told us stories about his adventures abroad, always prefacing them with the statement, “Now this was before I found the Lord.” He became a Southern Baptist preacher, planting several small country churches along the coasts of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. He married Hazel Clark in 1944, raised four children and enjoyed nine grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren before Grandmamma Langham passed away in 2000.

It’s fun to relive the romance and nostalgia of past generations, but I’m sure they dealt with many of the same difficulties today’s military families face. Funny how the good moments seem to erase the rough ones over time.

I’m not in the military, nor is my husband or anyone else in my immediate family, so I can’t begin to understand the challenges of those who actively serve our country in times of war and conflict.

I may not be able to empathize, but I can pray. Pray for their personal safety. Pray they have the same rock solid support my grandfathers had back on the home front decades ago. Pray they return to their families unharmed.

Hug a veteran today. Or at least shake his or her hand. What they did for our country, or what they’re doing now, undoubtedly leaves a lasting legacy for future generations.

Cooper’s tree stand

My son, Cooper, is almost 3 and at the age when he repeats what he hears. It’s amazing what his little noggin retains. He’ll pull some zingers from out of nowhere that make me believe he actually does have the ability to listen when it doesn’t pertain to bedtime.

His cranial regurgitations range from funny…

“Milkshakes make mommy’s bottom big.”

to sweet…

“Pop is in heaven now, not Alabama.”

And sometimes they just blow me away, like last weekend when we were visiting my sister. Cooper was drawing with crayons, held up the pad of paper and showed me this:

Remind me in several years to let Cooper hang my tree stands and not CJ, who would NEVER put his steps that close together.

“Look at my tree stand, Mommy,” he said.

Now here’s where we separate the parents from the nons. Those who never have had a child will ask, “Where’s the tree stand?” And those who’ve had a munchkin or two will simply nods their heads and blankly say, “That’s great!”

What really got me, however, was his follow-up statement:

“We’re going to need to move it sometime.”

Who knows how many times he’s heard his dad say he’s going to move a deer stand? Who knew Cooper was even paying attention?

I immediately forwarded the picture to CJ, who was on a work hunt in Ohio. Deer season is a busy time for him, meaning he’s gone from home quite a bit. Constant travel is hard on families, but you can’t complain when we both make a living doing what we love.

But moments like this one make what we do for a living, as well as who we are as people and parents, worth it. Our little Cooper may not choose to hunt when he gets older, but I feel pretty sure he’ll understand why we do.

I believe he already does.

The sweetest deer meat

I’m an occasional deer hunter. As in I’ll hunt deer on the occasion that someone scouts a spot, hangs a stand for me and volunteers to babysit my kid. I enjoy it but rarely make the time to do anything but pull the trigger.

My husband, CJ, on the other hand, is an avid deer hunter. And his most recent passion is traditional archery. It consumes his brain in the fall. If he’s not hunting some other state in the name of work, (CJ’s a PR guy for some notable companies in the industry.) he’s at one of his leases.

And before he gets on to me for making him sound like a deadbeat dad during deer season, he’s really good about sharing parenting and household responsibilities — before and after shooting light sets in.

Take this year, for instance, something clicked in him to start processing and cooking his quarry himself. Two does down already this season, and our kitchen-turned-butcher shop has seen more deer parts than the local taxidermist.

The best part of his recent camo culinary exploits is that he WANTS to cook dinner. We’ve had venison Sloppy Joes, deer roast, grilled backstrap and other carnivorous cuisine.

All I have to do is answer a few text messages about the crockpot during the day and tuck a napkin in my shirt collar when I get home from work.

So I say, hunt away, husband of mine! I’ll take care of the kid and the laundry.

And if any of you have venison recipes for CJ to try, send them to me. I’ll be sure to pass them along.