The warmest place on Earth in January? South Dakota!

The weather outside was frightful, but inside the Watertown (S.D.) Convention Center was so delightful — thanks to the warm hospitality of NWTF South Dakota volunteers.

I spent last weekend with a few dozen of them at their annual state convention, where they handed out awards for awesomeness in volunteerism and events. I served as the keynote speaker, did a seminar on communicating with nonhunters, and spread general goodwill on behalf of the NWTF headquarters staff. It was an easy task with this great group of folks.

Here I am with my South Dakota NWTF “host” family, the Schauers. Dad Ron was inducted into the state’s NWTF hall of fame for his volunteerism. All three of them got my stamp of greatness for taking care of me during my stay.

Here I am with my South Dakota NWTF “host” family, the Schauers. Dad Ron was inducted into the state’s NWTF hall of fame for his volunteerism. All three of them got my stamp of greatness for taking care of me during my stay.

It began when the Schauer Family picked me up from the Sioux Falls airport, saving this Southern gal a potential stroke of having to drive in below freezing temps, dodging ice patches or waiting for pending doom as the snow crept in.

They said, “South Dakota volunteers are like family.” I found that to be true as they instantly took me in and made me one of their own for a few days. I felt like an exchange student from the other “South” state.

But the family vibe was even more evident watching the volunteers interact with each other. They spent just as much time encouraging each other and pitching in to help, as they did ribbing and poking fun in a good-natured way. Looks like a family reunion to me, no?

I found it wonderful how so many “flesh and blood” families came to the convention as well, proving the NWTF offers something for everyone. Among the training seminars on turkey hunting and NWTF events, the Bramble Park Zoo brought in critters for kids of all ages (like me) to pet and get a closer look — a hedge hog, bearded dragon and, ew, snakes, to name a few.

Conference planners also offered a visit to renowned artist and son of Watertown Terry Redlin’s museum. I slipped in and took a fast-forward tour of the three levels of original art and prints, thanks to my NWTF sister Becky Schauer hauling my tail over there between speaking engagements.

I’m thinking this Dakota didn’t get its “prefix” based on geography; it’s because it gives the South (as in Dixie) a run for its money on hospitality.

Thanks, South Dakota NWTF, for a great weekend. And I’ll be thinking of you until spring comes and thaws out your awesome state — and brings turkey season your way.

 

Booty shakin’ in a food plot

I’m lame. I know.

It’s been almost three weeks since my last post, but things have been a bit hectic around here. My husband’s been on a 10-day elk hunt in the middle of nowhere. There was a death in his extended family. My family came in town. And there have been some significant changes at work in the last few weeks.

My only excuse is I’ve been distracted.

Continue reading

The sound of silence

People ask me when my husband and I plan to take our son Cooper, 3, hunting.

I fight the urge to burst out laughing, because it’s neither polite nor constructive.

Instead, the recollection part of my brain takes over, and I think back to 5:30 the evening before, when I pick Cooper up from daycare, or “school” as we like to call it.

Cooper helps Daddy broadcast seed for a food plot. Of course, some kind of stuffed animal is always in tow.

Here’s typically how our 8-minute ride home goes…

Me: What did you do at school today?
Cooper:
I don’t remember. What’s that bird doing over there?
Me:
What bird?
Cooper:
That one flying. I bet it’s going home to his mommy and daddy. Or maybe McDonald’s. Do birds eat French fries?
Me:
Some will, but…
Cooper:
No they don’t. They eat seeds. We need to put seed in our feeders at home. Daddy and I need to. Hey, where’s Daddy? Is he home yet? I need to go potty.
Me:
Can you wait until we get home?
Cooper:
Can I have a treat when I get home? Daddy will give me a treat. I want a peppermint. Can I ride my bike when I get home? Will you ride with me? I need to put on my helmet. Hey, there’s a stop sign. S-T-O-P. That’s stop. You didn’t stop, Mommy. Why are stop signs red?
Me:
Well…
Cooper:
Caleb pushed me down at school today. I fell on my hiney.
Me:
Is your hiney OK?
Cooper:
Ooooooooh, you said hiney! You’re a potty mouth!

You get the drift.

But what you don’t understand is that’s ONLY THE FIRST MINUTE.

I snap out of my glazed-over look and back into the present conversation. I politely answer, “When we feel he can sit still and be quiet long enough to really enjoy it.”

In the meantime, we take him to check trail cameras and food plots. Cooper “hunts” for feathers and acorns along the way. I’ve learned to bring along a small paper bag with a handle to tote out the treasures he finds.

We talk about hunting. And we answer a TON of questions…

Where are all the deer?
Do deer sleep in the woods?
Do they get scared at night?
Why did a turkey lose that feather?
Do turkeys have mommies and daddies?
What’s that noise?
Will that bird pick me up and take me away?
Why do you have a garden in the woods?
Why is it dead?
What’s that smell?
Why do animals poop in the woods instead of the potty?

Again, all in just the first few minutes. Now you understand why Cooper isn’t quite ready to hunt. But we’re holding out that the silence — necessary for hunting and our sanity — will come in the next few years, as will his desire to take part in the activity.

That’s the beauty of Families Afield. Ever heard of it? Basically, it’s an initiative began by the NWTF, National Shooting Sports Foundation and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance that pushes for parents, not politics to decide an appropriate hunting age for their children.

The rate we’re going, Cooper will be about 47.

 

Post-Palooza post and photos

I’m going to say it: It was freakin’ hot. I think the entire country sizzled a week ago Saturday, the day of the Turkey Palooza. South Carolina was no exception, reaching a near record temp of 106 F.

Yep, I really had to go in the dunking booth, which actually felt pretty good on that hotter-than-the-Devil’s-house day. You’re witnessing the split-second before my first dunk.

But we had fun — and that’s not just something I repeated to convince myself it’s true. The Turkey Palooza proved to be a good time, and I could see it in the sweat-speckled faces of everyone there.

An estimated 2,500 folks came to the Wild Turkey Center for food, games, music and — the big daddy attraction — fireworks. Was the NWTF ready for them? I could say no sweat, but with the Easy Bake Oven heat, that would be a lie.

It took a lot of hard work and 140 volunteers to pull off what quickly became more like a festival. Remember, these are some of the same folks who put on a convention and sport show for more than 35,000 every year. We know how to host a first-rate event, if I say so myself.

Here are some images to prove it. Just click on the first one to take you through a slide show. If you’re a Keepin’ Up With Karen subscriber (thank you!) and reading this off the email that was automatically sent to you, then click on the blog web link to view the slideshow.

 

Turkey Palooza winners: It could be you!

A quick post to announce the Turkey Palooza online winners. Sure, we gave away 15 gift packages to people who came to the event last Saturday, but we didn’t forget the rest of you who couldn’t make it. So here ya go!

Latanya Green, a recent transplant to South Carolina, was chosen by the “Bloodline TV” crew for taking the best photo with the larger-than-life cutout of Alex Rutledge. Latanya won a range-to-field-to-wall turkey hunting package for posing with her cutie patootie girls.

NWTF Facebook photo contest
Scott Bell from Indiana was randomly drawn from the folks who voted for the winning photo of a Palooza-goer and the cutout of Alex Rutledge. He will receive a “Bloodline TV” prize package from Alex Rutledge in the flesh!

My Facebook contest
Anyone who was my friend on Facebook by 10 p.m. EST on Saturday, June 30, went into a drawing for a prize — a Grand Slam candle set handmade by me. I also threw in an NWTF-logoed Blazer lighter to set them ablaze. The winner is Tim Tipton from Kentucky!

Tim may not be jumping up and down at winning a bunch of candles, but I hear the lighter is good for lighting cigars. Then he can use the candles to cover up the smell. Just a suggestion.

Keepin’ Up With Karen blog follower contest
In yet another attempt to lure in more blog followers, I gave a prize to one of my beloved subscribers. Everyone who jumped on the Keepin’ Up With Karen train by 10 p.m. EST, June 30, had a chance to win signed turkey calls from Michael Waddell and Brenda Valentine. And the calls went to blog follower Dean Underhill of Kentucky.

The Bluegrass State is on fire!!!

I appreciate everyone taking part in our effort to spread the fun of Turkey Palooza.

Check back next week for some Palooza photos. In the meantime, I’m taking a long weekend off, whether I deserve it or not!

It’s a Turkey Palooza!

The NWTF is getting a little bit of an early start on July 4 fun with its first-ever Turkey Palooza this weekend. The NWTF campus will be buzzing with activity on Saturday — games, food, live music, auctions, culminating in a big honkin’ fireworks show. All the ingredients for an Independence Day-type festival, but we’re getting our turkey on instead!

So what’s a palooza anyway? I had to look it up myself.

Apparently, “palooza” is a term that came to be after I graduated high school in 1995. It’s nowhere to be found in the dictionary I received as a graduation gift — the days before you could Google everything.

I keep that dictionary in my desk drawer, because I still believe Mr. Webster over what I find online.

Palooza was not where it should’ve been in the “P-Q-R” section, after palooka (an inexperienced boxer), so I defaulted to Wikitonary.com. It says a palooza is an exaggerated event. That tells me absolutely nothing.

So I’m going to say a palooza is a big celebration, which is what I think is the intention of the events on Saturday. Add “turkey” before it, and it becomes a big NWTF party.

The Turkey Palooza began as a thank you to the Edgefield, S.C., community. The NWTF has called Edgefield home since 1973, employing folks from all over the Central Savannah River Area for nearly four decades. We love it here and want our neighbors to know it.

We also want them to get to know who we are and what we do for North America’s wildlife and hunting traditions. I’m not joking when I tell the story of a woman working in the McDonald’s drive-through no more than a mile or so up the road from NWTF headquarters. She actually asked me where we keep all the turkeys. Sigh…

Well, Saturday will be a chance for her to get the full NWTF scoop. Turkey Palooza participants can tour our Winchester Museum for free, typically a perk reserved for NWTF members.

Another bonus for NWTF members is an exclusive VIP area with its own games and made-in-the-shade seating area.

But anyone and everyone can enjoy the fun.

If you live within driving distance of Edgefield, you should totally join us. I’ll be there broadcasting live with WKSX (92.7 FM out of Johnston), giving away prizes, jawing about the day’s activities and trying to convince the show host to let me play some Def Leppard.

If you don’t live nearby, you can still get your palooza on too. Stay in touch here at Keepin’ Up With Karen and on my Facebook page for ways you can win prizes — even if you live in Idaho!

Oh, and click on the video above to get the skinny on what’s happening at the Turkey Palooza. (And make note of that sweet voice convincing you to stop by. It’s me!)

Reflections of Daddy

You really can’t call me a daddy’s girl. Dad did a good job of treating my sister and I the same. But I sort of ended up the daughter who is more like a son.

I can remember the two of us riding around in his old “booger green” (that’s what I called it) Chevrolet pickup, with a pack of snack crackers and a Coke. We cruised the country roads of northern Alabama, occasionally stopping by the co-op to pick up seed for his vegetable garden.

He chaperoned my youth group’s caving trip, where we spent the night in a damp cavern after hours of belly crawling through mud. We laughed to each other at the scaredy-cat boys who were afraid of the dark.

Just realized Dad has all the photos of us together from “back in the day.” Here’s one from my files of us during my college years.

A few years back, I tagged along with him, his brothers and their sons on a fly-fishing daytrip in the Tennessee mountains. It was great to share a boat with just him and our guide, laughing at our rookie mistakes.

Now I’m the subject of many of the stories he tells his friends (whether they care to hear them or not). Dad doesn’t hunt but loves to keep tabs on where I’m going next and what I got while I was there, so he can report all the stats at his morning coffee group at Burger King.

Growing up, I favored more of my dad’s side of the family, closer in looks to his sister than anyone else. Now, I’ve taken on more of my mom’s features. However, I still have a dimple in my chin, just like Dad.

As far as my career, I’m less like my dad as well. I make my living by keeping my fingers attached to a keyboard. I’m not sure Dad even knows how to turn on a computer — or that he even cares to learn. He probably won’t even know this ode to him exists until I call or text Mom to pull it up for him. She’ll have to print it out so he can read it.

Dad never needed to know how to boot up a laptop. He worked in a chemical plant for 32 years, making a living for our family. His free time was spent in the yard and garden, at church, and simply being a great dad.

I always knew Dad loved my sister and me. But until I became a working parent myself, albeit one with only three years of parenthood under her belt, I never fully realized what a commitment he made to our family.

Like father, like daughter. Here we are on one of the many mountain vacations Dad planned for the family. This had to be five or six years ago. We still go every year, but now my sister and I have taken the reigns on the planning.

So, Dad, let me say thank you…

Not just for pulling 32 years worth of shift work (many of them on swing) … but for always being there for me. I can’t remember you ever NOT being at a piano recital, softball game or school program, when I’m sure a nap sounded much sweeter than 20 variations of “Clair de Lune.”

Not just for staying up ‘til the wee hours of the night assembling bikes and Barbie dream houses on behalf of Santa … but for keeping the magic (and innocence) of Christmas alive for as long as you could.

Not just for planning station wagon-packed trips around the country when there were only AAA Triptiks and an atlas to guide you … but for instilling in me a sense of curiosity that extends beyond my front door.

You’ve taught me how to be a friend and a parent, and how to live in the present. More importantly, I’ve learned there’s no person I’d rather emulate than you.

Come to my “turkey work”

Tickled pink: Kara Grace Green, youngest daughter of Wheelin’ Sportsmen Coordinator Randy Green, caught her first fish at the NWTF Employee Appreciation Day.

Cooper, my 3-year-old, thinks I work at the best place ever.

He constantly asks, “Mommy, when can I come to your turkey work?” And every so often I’ll pick him up early from daycare and bring him back to the office.

In his sweet little mind, there are no deadlines or creative differences. The only inbox he’s ever had was during a Valentine’s Day party, a decorated shoebox filled with cartoon-themed cards with suckers attached.

To him, the NWTF headquarters is full of taxidermy turkeys he can (gently) touch. It’s where people call him “bud” and give him candy from their desk drawers. And a detour to the CEO’s office yielded a camo hat and turkey pin.

What is it with biologists and snake handling? Remind me to ask Scott Vance, assistant VP of conservation programs, once he puts that thing down.

The other week the NWTF held an employee appreciation event at the office, an evening of grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, games, archery, fishing, skeet shooting and (the toddler holy grail) an inflatable slide. Forget Disney World, the NWTF had to be the best place on Earth, according to Cooper.

A couple days later, I had to laugh when we drove by the office building and the little munchkin wondered out loud where the bouncy house was. If only every workday were that fun and carefree.

It’s easy to get jaded after a long week of meetings, projects and seemingly endless e-mails. We’ve all been there. Heck, even Disney loses a bit of its magic after standing in long lines and paying $20 for chicken fingers.

But when I sit back and look beyond an average day, the NWTF really is a good place to work.

May 31 served as the perfect example. That morning, a dozen or so wounded veterans from the VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., spent the day at the Wild Turkey Center. More than 60 NWTF employees emerged from their offices, cubicles, even the warehouse, lined the building entrance and gave those warriors a well-deserved standing ovation for their service.

Bryce Lawrence, the spawn of Public Relations Director Brent Lawrence, thwacked targets, while his dad manned the grill to feed roughly 240 NWTF employees and families.

My heart swelled with pride, not only for the men passing by, but for my co-workers who value freedom and understand sacrifice. I cried a bit.

Now, I don’t have a lot to compare the NWTF to. It was my first real job out of college. And I’ve stuck with it for nearly 13 years. But I’m pretty sure this is a fine place from which to draw a paycheck.

The one thing most everyone who leaves the NWTF says they miss the most is the people. I have to agree. You won’t find a group who cares more about others.

It’s like family, and I’m not saying that as a cheesy cliché. We don’t always agree, even get along at times, but at the end of the week we stick together to get our “turkey work” done.

Accounting’s Marlys Wooten snapped this pic of Cooper and me racing down the inflatable slide. Great shot of the fun we’re having, but heavens, please ignore my hobbit feet.

NWTF employees lined the entrance of the Wild Turkey Center to welcome a group of Wounded Warriors from the VA Medical Center of Augusta, Ga. What a moving way to begin a workday.

Ready, set, go!

My bag is packed, the wheels are up and my spring has just begun.

I’m on my way to Oklahoma to share camp with some of my turkey industry cohorts. It’s the first of six trips in the next six weeks — four turkeys hunts, one speaking engagement and a Women in the Outdoors event. I estimate that to be roughly 9,580 miles in the air, 2,490 on the road, not to mention the dozens of miles on America’s back roads by truck or old logging roads on foot.

My bag is packed and so is my spring. Y'all up for the ride?

I hear it all the time: Must be nice to get paid to hunt.

It’s a hardy-har-har statement that’s partly true. I’m about to chase turkeys in four states and I’m on the clock (which is super cool). It’s a blessing … but not a vacation.

Each trip/hunt comes with an expectation. (You didn’t think I was invited simply for my relentless charm, did ya?) I’ve got to deliver a story.

That means when I’m not in the woods, I’m interviewing folks and taking pictures, posing for pictures for the other writers and maybe get interviewed myself.

I’m not saying it’s not fun. ‘Cause it is. But my mind never stops working, even when my back is against a tree and there’s a gun on my knee. I’ll simply whip out the notepad on my iPhone and jot down my thoughts to revisit in detail later.

And just because I’m on a work trip doesn’t mean work back at the office mysteriously stops. No naps for me in between hunts. There are voicemails and e-mails to answer, blog entries to post and magazine articles to edit.

OK, so maybe I tackle all that after a quick nap.

But I think my biggest challenge is the mental tug-of-war of not being at home with my family. There’s a tinge of guilt for being away from my little critter, leaving my husband to shoulder the load. But the tables will turn next week, and I’ll be home while he’s off somewhere. It’s a team effort that sometimes includes bringing in the second string (grandparents) when we’re both gallivanting around the country.

I think about my family a lot when I’m away, but I don’t worry. I pray.

I lift up roughly the same prayer before and during every trip. And last year I found a bracelet that has this Bible verse printed on it:

That you would bless me and enlarge my territory. Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain. 1 Chronicles 4:10

I think of it as my working mother’s prayer. But it’s really a traveler’s prayer.

I’m grateful for the chance to hunt all over the country, meet new people, connect with friends, for the ability to put my experiences on paper and the means to share them with others.

Every experience enlarges my territory. And I hope your territory grows this spring as well. Perhaps you won’t make several cross-country treks to do so. But maybe your mental territory will expand in some way.

You’ll call in your first turkey yourself. Or maybe you’ll do the same for a new hunter.

Perhaps you’ll keep a journal of your experiences this spring to share with your grandchildren.

Invite a nonhunting friend over for a wild turkey dinner.

Or maybe you’ll simply not carry a gun to the woods one morning and soak in the sights, sounds and smells of spring without an agenda. You’ll only carry a grateful heart. (OK, maybe that’s a bit much to ask.)

No matter how we enjoy this spring season, let’s use it to grow as people. And I pray that God will keep us all safe as we do.

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.