Tag Archives: outdoors

Scouts of Honor

July 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lillian Henry heard something scratching on the rolled-down screen of her cabin door at Camp Catron. She cautiously peered out into the pitch black night. 

Screech…screech.

Lilly jumped when she saw glowing eyes. A lot of eyes. Raccoons? But raccoons couldn’t possibly be way up here. Lilly, along with four other Girl Scouts, were packed into a sky cabin. The wooden structure elevated them into the trees well above the ground and out of reach of raccoons.

“We are all going to die,” one girl freaked out, screaming.

Lilly couldn’t blame her. Lilly wanted gum. It always calmed her down. Her sister, Genavieve “Evie,” had what she needed, but she was far away. Outside was whatever had the glowing eyes and was scratching on their door.  Bravery or impulsiveness rushed through the then-12-year-old-girl.

“People don’t make good choices at 3 a.m., even Girl Scouts,” Lilly, now 14, recalls, laughing.

Along with a friend, Lilly walked out in the cool night air. She banged on the door and woke up her sister.

“I was having a scary dream about a bear eating me,” Evie says.

But she didn’t get angry at her sister and laughed it off.  Pawprints on the screens confirmed the girls’ fear in the morning. The sisters believed the raccoons wanted to share in the fun, be honorary members of the squad. This camaraderie and adventure are two of the reasons why the pair have been in Girl Scouts well into their middle and high school years.

Evie, a sophomore at Gretna High School, started as a Daisy Scout, skipped Brownies, and returned as a Senior Scout. She plans to become an Ambassador. Lilly started as a Brownie. The eighth grader at Gretna Middle School is now a Cadette with Troop No. 44640. They are on the fence about camping. It depends on the weather or the mosquitos.

“Mosquitos get you in places you never knew existed,” Evie says.

This doesn’t deter them from zip-lining, tubing, and other outdoor escapades. In fact, the entire Henry family bonds over their love of all things Scouts. Heather is the leader of Evie’s troop, No. 43855. Matt leads his youngest two sons’ Cub Scouts Pack No. 244. Nick, 12, spends his time in Troop No. 282 with the Boys Scouts.

“It’s definitely a shared experience,” Matt says.

The sisters, dressed in their badge-adorned vests, are adamant their Scouts rule. Boy Scouts focus more on camping while the girls’ program offers a diverse mix of fun and education. It doesn’t matter if someone is a girly-girl or a tomboy.

“It [Girl Scouts] balances the love of outdoors and spa parties,” Heather agrees. “Girls just like to have fun.”

Nick, though, enjoys pitching a tent surrounded by the fresh air of the wilderness.

“You hear the crickets. You look up into the night sky and see a ton of stars,” Nick says.

Nick tells stories around a blazing campfire set by his own two hands. Along the way, he is gaining knowledge about being a leader and speaking in front of a group.

Signature programs are offered for boys and girls all the way to senior year and includes such topics as college applications, conferences, or leadership skills. 

Lilly believes the educational opportunities and activities empower women. She made a car out of candy on Engineering Day and learned how to put together a toilet from the only female plumber in Lincoln. Scouting has opened her eyes to a world of possibilities for young women.

Evie loves to help the younger children and meet fellow “sisters.”

“They are full of energy and have these cute ideas. They don’t know the world will fight them every step of the way,” Evie says.

Evie was once that little girl, sitting around the campfire terrified of her first time without her parents. Only 7 or 8, she wanted to go home.

“Why don’t you have some s’mores,” a leader told her. She helped Evie through her fears while they munched on sandwiches of toasted marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. Leaders like these have inspired Evie to become more extroverted.

Wendy Hamilton, a senior development director, met the sisters through the Girl Scout Advisory Group (GSAG) two years ago. The girls connected with Wendy’s gung-ho attitude, determination, and her love of all things pink. 

“Lilly is so positive and represents her age group in a mature way. Nothing scares Lilly, ever,” Hamilton says.

Except maybe raccoons at 3 a.m.

She says Evie is “always supportive of other girls.” Hamilton has seen her become more comfortable with herself. The sisters couldn’t be more different. Evie wants to be an engineer or a dentist. Lilly wants to be an English teacher or writer. The two still fight over things like socks, but the friendship is tight.

Volunteering, including selling those famous cookies, can stack on the hours, but it’s worth it.  The girls earned a trip to Washington D.C. to immerse themselves in history. The family works together to sell Christmas trees or popcorn. It can be chaotic with five children, but it works when the family can unite over shared interests.

Some days are wilder than others, but the Henrys are happy being together.


This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Front row, l-r: Nick, Johnny, and Daniel Henry
Back row, l-r: Heather, Genavieve, and Lillian Henry

Campfire Stories

July 2, 2018 by

Stories for Kids

Here are two campfire tales guaranteed to captivate those peering into the night sky or glancing over shoulders into the shadows…

The Fisher Stars

Constellations have fascinating histories, and different cultures have their own takes on the figures that can be seen in the stars. One of the more famous constellations is commonly known as the Big Dipper, but the Big Dipper wasn’t always known as such. In the early 1900s, a family might have called it the plough (a cultural remnant from England and Ireland). One of the more interesting explanations of the Big Dipper is this sacred story from the Ojibwa (also known as Chippewa):

Once there was a great man named Gitchi Odjig, and Gitchi Odjig was a great hunter. This was a good thing, because at one time on Earth, there was only winter. The world wasn’t completely unpleasant—if you worked hard, you could get enough; but all the days were cold, and all the days were icy. Your life was basically the freezing and thawing of your fingers. Gitchi Odjig’s skills served him well in this cold world.

Gitchi Odjig and his family had heard a story that explained that the sky they looked to every day wasn’t only a roof, it was a floor as well: a floor to a world in which winter was not present. The water in that world was free of ice. The trees wore green glossy things called leaves. You could walk during the day without a coat or hat. It was a beautiful story to hang on to, but even if people believed it, they didn’t think there was much anyone could do about the cold. Things were the way they were.

Gitchi Odjig’s son, however, didn’t think that way. He wanted to do something to make things better. He thought it would be wonderful if the warm world above somehow opened to this one. He held on to the idea.

Then, one day, Gitchi Odjig’s son was hunting, and he got a good bead on a squirrel. The squirrel stood up and spoke: “Please put away your arrows. There is something I think you’d like to know.”

Gitchi Odjig’s son was surprised, but he dropped his weapon and listened.

“You know and I know the constant cold we both live in is no picnic,” began the squirrel. “This frozen ground doesn’t yield much and is incredibly unforgiving. But there is something called summer, and it exists in the world above us. There is a weather that is warm and abundant. Instead of killing me, let’s work together to see how we can somehow bring that world here.”

The son took this information to his father, who felt that this was a sign and that it was time to hold a feast and discuss the matter. He invited all the animals he knew, and together they decided that they would travel to the highest mountain peak, and break through to the summer world.

They found the peak, and cracked through the top of the sky into the world above. They all climbed through. Gitchi Odjig couldn’t believe what he was feeling—the wind wasn’t bitterly cold; the trees rustled with beautiful drifts of leaves instead of clattering and whistling their bare branches; the ground was lush and green, and hummed with the music of insects; the water in the streams and rivers wasn’t cluttered and scabbed with ice. He was standing in the middle of summer.

But the people of that world did not appreciate these intruders, and they did not appreciate that the edges of the hole these intruders had climbed through had cracked and crumbled, and now summer (and spring, and fall) gushed down onto the earth in a giant torrent of colors, and life, and change.

They fixed the hole and started to chase Gitchi Odjig. In order to go faster, he turned himself into a fisher (which is a like a badger, or wolverine) and he was almost caught when he recognized that the people of this world were some of his distant relatives. He called on this connection, and convinced them to let him go.

Although he had gotten free, he could not break again through to the Earth. This saddened him, but beneath his sadness was a deep peace and satisfaction. He had brought the seasons to the Earth. He laid himself down at the scar where he had entered the sky, and was happy.

You can still see him laying there in the night sky, with the four points of the Dipper as the four points of his body, and the handle of the dipper his lithe tail.

The Cornfield Spider

You might have heard of the Jersey Devil, a beast that haunts the woods of New Jersey. That story involves a woman who was in league with evil spirits. She gave birth to a child which appeared normal at first, but then began to grow and change at awful speed, its head transforming into a goat’s head, its body becoming long and winnowed and serpent-like, and its back sprouting great leathery wings.

This area also has a legend like that. At the heart of this story is a beast that makes the Jersey Devil seem tame. This story involves a 12-year-old boy in league with shadowy forces:

One July night, a farmer who tended 500 acres west of Omaha saw his son at the edge of a field talking to a strange figure. The farmer called to his son, and the boy and the figure turned. The figure dissipated into thin air, but the boy ran, setting off up a slope into the knee-high corn. The father gave chase.

He again called to his son. The boy reached the top of the ridge and turned to look at his father. Then he disappeared down the other side. The father ascended. When the farmer was nearly at the top of the wide hill, something rose up from the other side—but it wasn’t his son.

It was a terrible thing with a long thin torso, great long arms, and wild long fingers that ended in thorny claws. It bent over long thin legs. According to the farmer, it was covered in wiry brown hair, and had an almost spiderlike body, with a small long head, like a human’s head that had been pulled in a taffy puller, then given sharp long teeth and wide lidless eyes. The farmer turned and ran. He could hear the thing loping after him. He made it back to the farmhouse, slammed and locked the door, and heard the wild scratching. Then, nothing.

He never saw his son again. However, a handful of people have seen a similar creature on summer nights, sometimes standing still and watching, sometimes giving desperate chase.


This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Outdoor Entrepreneurship

May 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There have been a few viral online videos for Ultimate Fishing Gear’s Skinzit electric fish skinner. The handheld device can also been seen on the rack at Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops, or on Amazon.com. Chris Kielian, an Omaha-area native and one of four owners of Ultimate Fishing Gear, says he crunched the numbers, and then sat back, amazed—the owners did not expect their product to generate $1.4 million in sales in the first year.

The prototype of the Skinzit was made from an electric tool.

The Skinzit is a machine that removes rib bones and skin from a scaled-fish fillet, leaving the meat intact. Kielan says the device produces 30 percent more meat than a typical fillet because the device allows one to spare the belly meat rather than simply discarding it. Simply cut the fillets from the sides of the fish, and Kielian says, “the device does the rest.” With a bucket of 10 panfish, 30 percent more meat per fish adds up fast. Kielian’s business partners are his brother, Brian, and brothers Eric and Perry Parks. They all share a love of fishing. Chris says they each contribute their unique skill sets to make their business successful. Chris is the main sales and marketing person. The partners agree that leaving their money in the business will help it grow. “We as owners don’t take much out—we keep it in there. Everything is paid for,” says Chris. “We reinvest.” Chris is able to reinvest because Skinzit is not his main source of income. By day, the Parks brothers run Computer Cable Connections, where the Kielians are also employed. Chris says the idea for Skinzit comes from the Townsend Fish Skinner, which is an out-of-production device that skins fish using the same mechanism, albeit hand-powered and narrower.

It took Chris and his co-owners roughly four years to create the product. Milestones in Skinzit’s actualization include selecting an engineering firm, testing and tweaking prototypes for a number of months, having parts manufactured on the assembly line in the Philippines, and having packages show up on the doorstep ready to sell.

Finished Skinzit product

“It took 4 years to get the first 5,000 (Skinzits),” says Chris. The capital cost was “heavy,” more than $500,000. Ultimate Fishing Gear owns seven patents on their product, which took roughly three years to acquire. A special electronic certification was necessary and recertification is required quarterly. But their greatest asset is their ability to use the internet.

Videos of their invention have racked up more than 30 million views across social media. The product hit the market in 2014, and in 2015 one video created by a customer generated almost 9 million hits. Another video of a customer using the product in late 2016 generated several more million views. Each video causes a large spike in sales.

“[Once you have a viral video], it wipes out your inventory,” says Chris, who suggests that Ultimate Fishing Gear has other ideas for novel products, but he cannot disclose them due to patent reasons. “I wish I could,” he says, sounding hopeful. His advice to other entrepreneurs and inventors is simple: “You need the time to make it work, the cash, and the capital. You want to have a product that no one else has—that was the key to the success of our product.”


Visit fishskinner.com for more information.

From left, Brian Kielian, Chris Kielian, Eric Parks, and Perry Parks

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

Living Large in the Backyard

July 31, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If there were but one thing to consider before building your very own epic backyard party central, equipped with all the essential grilling and barbecue fixtures, it is this: Your guests don’t have to live with whatever outdoor Franken-kitchen you cobble together from your inner Cro-Magnon desire for fired meats.

No, they rub their bellies, hopefully thank their gracious hosts, and go home. It’s you who must live with what remains.

The better approach, it appears, is the path Stephen and Joy Abels took on their West Omaha home.

From left: Stephen, Joy, and Chelsea Abels

“Be patient,” Joy says. “The best design is probably not going to be your first or second design.”

The Abels thought long and hard about what they wanted their backyard to be. They hosted regular gatherings, a tradition they knew would continue. They like pizza about as much as anyone else, but not so much that an outdoor pizza oven made a lot of sense.

And they knew they enjoyed hosting friends and family, but that didn’t mean they wanted to be a caterer—just grill some fine meats, maybe smoke the occasional brisket or prime rib roast. That would be sufficient.

From a practical design perspective, they most desired a space to spend comfortably warm afternoons and evenings with their guests.

But the Abels also knew their kitchen table overlooked the backyard from large facing windows. They didn’t want an expansive gray slab of concrete (with a few deck chairs anchored together by some sort of monstrous outdoor fire pit) to mar their daily view.

So they saved. They scratched out ideas on napkins and random scraps of paper. And they spent countless hours stalking the internet for other inspirations on websites like houzz.com.

They began planning three years ago, when Stephen went for an evening stroll through the neighborhood.

A few doors down, he noticed a neighbor’s impressive backyard fireplace. Stephen had no idea who the neighbor was, but in that moment, he turned up the driveway and knocked on the door.

“I introduced myself, said, ‘Love your fireplace, tell me about it.’ He said, ‘Come on in.’ And he gave me Hugh’s name,” Stephen says, referring to Hugh Morton, co-owner of Sun Valley Landscaping, the company that would eventually redevelop the Abels’ backyard.

The Abels wanted to create a space that felt “like Nebraska.” Morton was happy to listen and accommodate their wishes. The finished product fits perfectly in place.

Morton’s design includes native trees and bushes in the landscaping, brickwork resembling quarried limestone from Ashland, and even the calming white noise of a stepped water feature. Everything seems a natural fit.

Perhaps the neater trick is the elegant flow into the style of the house. Although built years apart, the outside living area transitions seamlessly with the style of the indoors.

“The challenge for Hugh was I wanted it to feel comfortable for four people or 40,” Stephen says. “And I think he did a good job.”

There’s plenty room for the epic backyard barbecue, if the mood strikes; or a tranquil afternoon of quiet study for the family’s four home-schooled children; or just another one of their weekly church group nights of about two dozen people.

It’s exactly what they need it to be, when they need it. As it should be.

They put in the time, making sure the space was just right.

“And whatever you think it’s going to cost,” Stephen says, “round up.”

Visit sunvalleyomaha.com for more information about the company responsible for the Abels’ backyard space.

From left: Christian, Cameron, Stephen, Chelsea, and Joy Abels

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of Omaha Home.

Nettles, and Ivy, and Ticks—Oh My!

April 28, 2017 by

Christine Jacobsen likes to see parents taking their kids outside. “There’s more of a risk to keeping them inside,” she says, citing obesity and other problems. Jacobsen, the education specialist for the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District, often heads summer camp programs and outdoor field trips for students. Jacobsen says she took her own children outside frequently “from the get-go.” When her children were infants, her husband and she would take them on hikes in carriers. Her children now appreciate the outdoors. Jacobsen says that the more parents can get their kids outdoors and learning about their natural world, the better.

Many parents fear what dangers may lurk outside. Jacobsen says, “Here in Nebraska, especially in eastern Nebraska, there’s really not a lot to be worried about,” noting that any venomous snakes, such as rattlesnakes, are restricted to western Nebraska. However, one should learn to identify and avoid minor perils such as nettles, poison ivy, ticks, and mosquitoes.

Nettles

Jacobsen advises that nettles are a common plant hazard. She describes nettles as a woodland underbrush, about 2-3 feet tall, with green “sawtooth leaves.” She says they are invasive and often establish in disturbed places such as areas that have been mowed or tilled over. “They move in and take over an area,” she says. The bottoms of the leaves contain irritating hairs that cause redness and itching, she says. Jacobsen’s nettles remedy in a pinch: “put mud on it.” She also advises wearing long pants when in the woods.

Poison Ivy

Like nettles, poison ivy irritates the skin. Look for “mitten shaped” “leaves of three,” says Jacobsen. She also says poison ivy is typically seen in the woodlands, where it grows as a short, understory plant and as vines. “It’s the first vine to turn red in the fall,” says Jacobsen.

Reactions to poison ivy can include blisters, inflammation, and swelling. Jacobsen says the oil in the leaves is the cause of these reactions, and that the oil can be transmitted. Jacobsen’s remedy: washing the site to lift the oil. She advises seeking medical advice for severe reactions.

Ticks

Ticks are another nuisance. Jacobsen says that although the incidence of tick-spread lyme disease (typically by deer ticks) is low in Nebraska, hikers should be mindful of ticks. These arachnids are tear-drop shaped and have small heads. Dog ticks are generally larger and light brown with an “hourglass shape” on the back. “Deer ticks,” she says, “are like pepper—they’re tiny.” Use insect spray as a precaution. She acknowledges that many parents don’t want to put DEET on their children, but Jacobsen recommends it, noting that after being outdoors children should take a shower to wash it off and to look for ticks that may have attached.

Mosquitoes

Nobody likes mosquitoes, but they can be avoided. Jacobson advises using DEET to avoid them as well. She says mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn.Mosquito bites can be irritating. “Don’t scratch,” she says, noting that breaking them open can introduce infections. Jacobsen recommends cold packs and calamine lotion for bad bites.

Even with these minor hazards lurking outdoors, it is worthwhile to let children explore nature. They will form happy memories of hiking in the woods, playing in the mud, or catching their first fish, and develop an appreciation for active living.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

The Johnsons

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Distant from the city lights and engulfed by nature, one might feel overwhelmed by the unidentified bustle in the bushes, the sticky humidity, and the irritating mosquitoes. For the Johnson family, it means they’re all together, and it’s their home away from home.

Ransom and Julie Johnson have taken countless camping trips with their kids.

The couple upgraded their tent size as they welcomed their children over the years. The Johnson clan—which includes Grace, 9; Ella, 11; Nate, 19; and Merci, 27—camps together several times each summer.

Ransom and Julie agree that the family time spent outdoors together gives their curious children a much-needed chance to disconnect and explore.

“It’s good to see them get out and open up their minds. Instead of saying, ‘Oh entertain me,’ it’s ‘What am I going to find to do?’ And they always find something,” Ransom says.

“They might be knee-deep in mud and their clothes are all wet, but it doesn’t matter,” Julie adds.

The family spent several days last year on a camping trip to Yankton, South Dakota. More often, however, the family spends long summer weekends at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in Waterloo, Nebraska. Although it is only a 30-minute drive, the couple says it is the perfect distance from home.

“One thing that always amazes the kids is how much they can see once they get out of the lights of town. How much more brilliant the stars are,” Ransom says.

When everyone feels cooped up in the house, and the kids are bickering with one another, the short escape does a lot of good for their family.

“You get them out to the campsite for two-three days and they don’t have anything to fight about anymore,” Ransom says. “They have to rely on each other. They get along with each other.”

Ransom has been camping for as long as he can remember.

He introduced Julie to the leisure activity when they were dating. While they started out with a two-person tent, they’ve accumulated quite the camping haul.

Over the years, they’ve built up a supply of two 10-person tents, a couple of smaller tents, a canoe, and many pieces of cooking equipment. Their supplies range from coffee pots, to coolers, to Dutch ovens.

Most of the time, their camping meals consist of burgers, sandwiches, or hot dogs. Other times the family eats fruit, or chips and other junk food.

“It kind of just depends on how much planning and preparation is involved,” Julie says. “Sometimes we just grab what’s in the cupboard and go.”

The spontaneity, Julie says, is what makes the trips so memorable.

“The kids can be sitting, reading, and then they see something,” Ransom adds. “And all of the sudden they’re off to investigate whatever leaf blew by, or whatever it may be.”

Much of the children’s love for nature can be attributed to their respective involvement in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The couple started their son young by not only signing him up for Cub Scouts while he was in the first grade, but serving as the group leaders for a few years. Their son, now 19, participated in Boy Scouts, working his way through the ranks to earn the title of Eagle Scout.

The two younger girls, ages 9 and 11, have been involved with Girl Scouts from a young age. Julie helps out as a co-leader with both troupes.

“It’s important,” Ransom says. “It lets kids explore so many different things … in scouting you can touch on everything from cooking and sewing to rock climbing, robotics, and 50-mile hikes.”

Ransom himself was a Boy Scout. From the parents’ perspective, their kids’ involvement in the programs has been a crucial part of their growing up.

“It teaches them responsibility to the community and to the family,” Ransom says.

The Boy Scouts troop the Johnsons’ son attended camped 11 times per year—sometimes more. Beginning in the fifth grade, they took an annual week-long camping trip to Camp Geiger near St. Joseph, Missouri. There, the boys would stay in tents and earn merit badges.

The Girl Scouts also have the opportunity for an annual overnight wilderness experience where they stay overnight, hike, shoot archery, and take in the nature.

“It’s really about slowing down,” Julie says. “When we’re hustling and we’re talking, we miss seeing the deer or the wild turkey. I try and encourage the girls to just be observers of nature.”

It is plain to see where the love for outdoors stems from in the Johnson family. All the family members appreciate the little moments in the camping, hiking, and memories made on their highly anticipated summer adventures.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

l-r: Ella, 11, and Grace, 9, spend quality time in their family tent.

Austen Hill

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Austen Hill knows that camping is an exciting, even vital, part of kids’ summers. He does his part to make sure the Papio NRD camps stay exciting.

“I like to do different activities that they may not get to do every day,” Hill says. “Many of the camps I’ve been to are kind of cookie-cutter in that they do they same activity each year, or each day.”

Hill’s camps include a variety of activities, and while the campers might see a snake each year, Hill makes sure to talk about different snakes so kids who may have come before learn something different.

It’s an amazing idea, especially realizing that Hill is a one-man show. He coordinates everything from spring registration to summer counseling.

He uses Pinterest and other internet sites to find fresh ideas and learn new things himself. Of course, many of his ideas come from his own life experiences. Hill grew up in West Omaha, in an area that included a cornfield and a wooded area where he ran around as often as the weather permitted, fishing, hiking, and pursuing other activities.

It’s that interest in the outdoors, and in learning new things, that drew him to this position at the NRD. While earning a degree in wildlife and fisheries, he thought he would pursue research as a career. A summer job at Fontenelle Forest showed him his true calling of education.

Now, Hill is the education assistant at Papio NRD. His school-year job is coordinating programs for students. He helped to produce 250 programs in 2016, working with schools four out of every five days during the academic year. Some schools come out for field trips to the NRD, while many other days Hill travels to schools.

“We’ve worked in a lot of inner-city classrooms,” Hill says. “Not every school can be outside … at least I can bring the environment to them.”

One of his favorite parts about working with kids is teaching them about animals. His menagerie at Papio NRD includes nearly 30 reptiles, an owl, and amphibians. It is one of the kids’ favorite parts as well.

“A lot of people talk about keeping kids’ attention,” Hill says. “I never have that problem.”

Kristen Holzer, a zoology and biology teacher at Millard West High School who has worked with Hill at camps and at her school, concurs.

“It’s amazing how much kids get excited,” she says. “They love hearing about the animals. He’ll let them handle them, so he passes around the snakes and things. Of course, the kids all get out their phones and take photos with them.”

At least, they take photos during school visits. The camps involve a lot of old-fashioned fun … spending time and energy hiking, kayaking, learning archery, and many other activities away from the often-ubiquitous screens.

“They can’t have cell phones,” Hill says. “We take those away first thing so the kids aren’t tempted to look at their phones while we’re doing other activities.”

While many parents want their kids to be connected, Hill says he finds the parents of his campers often embrace the idea of unobstructed time in the woods. The kids are always supervised, and the exposure to the environment gives them a chance to learn and grow.

Hill himself is part of the reason why NRD camps and programs are fun.

“I think what makes it so cool is that he has the ability to relate to young kids and high school kids,” Holzer says. “He has a really good skill set for his job. I enjoy working with him too.”

That ability to relate allows him to help kids confront their fears, and learn new things themselves.

“Kids are fearful of everything,” Hill says. “I’ll have kids who are scared of a tiny bug that can’t even fly. Then I’ll show it to them, and they get first-hand experience, and they learn this is not something to be afraid of.”

He also teaches environment classes, from tree planting to an annual Water Works field day for fifth-grade students. Papio-NRD also hosts the metro’s Envirothon Competition, an annual environment-themed quiz competition by the National Conservation Foundation aimed at high school students.

Conversely, his perspective becomes refreshed thanks to the kids.

“We get dull to things,” Hill says. “We step right over earthworms. Sometimes it takes a four-year-old to get awed by earthworms. That’s a good feeling.”

Visit papionrd.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Artist Erin Blayney

October 2, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For visual artist Erin Blayney, who grew up in the great outdoors, it’s all about light and space. She has plenty of both at her Old Market apartment that doubles as her studio.

Natural light from six large, south-facing windows cascades over her easel and houseplants. “Not only is that perfect for the type of lighting I need to do my best work, it’s healthy for my overall well-being,” says Blayney.

erinblayney2Exposed brickwork, high ceilings, and an open floor plan contribute to a sense of spaciousness. Extra-wide windowsills provide great perches for her collection of succulents.

“I love nature and the outdoors,” she says. “This apartment allows me to integrate that love into my living quarters, and not feel cramped or experience cabin fever.”

Her spot above Urban Abbey in the historic Windsor Hotel building puts her right in the thick of things. “The Old Market for me is very welcoming, unique, and nourishes a diverse group of people of all ages and backgrounds,” she says. “It’s urban yet has some aspect of a small neighborhood as well.”

A Florida transplant and Art Institute of Chicago graduate, Blayney creates figurative drawings and paintings. She previously worked as an art preparator for California museums.

Her mother preceded her to Omaha to be near a sister, and Erin followed. “My mom lives three blocks away from me, so it’s wonderful to conveniently meet for coffee or go for a bike ride together,” she says.

This self-described “people person” is drawn to the human form. She variously works from live models or photographs.

“Drawing and painting people, mostly gestural, seems to be pretty consistent for me,” she says. “It’s capturing the physicality of a person expressed through facial expression or movement. I love capturing the realness of their character, even if it’s subtle.”

Recently, Omaha restaurant mogul Willy Theisen commissioned her portrait of his granddaughter for his new Paragon eatery in Dundee.

When approaching a new work, she says, “I never know how it’s going to look, so it’s a little adventurous. If I stop thinking about what I’m doing and just let it flow, it comes out naturally. That ‘diving into it’ mindset is what I have to be in for the work to really evolve. It’s mysterious.”

erinblayney3

Blayney’s work is not all figurative. “Occasionally, I’ll do still life,” she says, gesturing to an in-progress oyster shell rendered in a swirl of pastels. She is contemplating an oceanic-themed series motivated by her love of the water, marine life, and nature.

“I was brought up on water. I swam in the Gulf of Mexico. So that’s in my bones.”

In Omaha, she has twice worked at Jun Kaneko’s studio (most recently in 2006 as a painting assistant). Of the celebrated artist, she says, “We had a good connection. He’s very quiet, polite, observant, receptive. He was very trusting of me. Like when I did some mixing of colors, pigments—he trusted my instincts. I’m not a ceramicist, but I felt in my natural element.”

She feels at home in Omaha, where she says, “The connections I’ve made are so important.” The same for her day job at Alley Poyner Macchietto, where she curates art shows. She admires the local art-culture scene.

“I feel the creative community in Omaha is very supportive rather than super competitive. The friends I’ve made here are very authentic, genuine, and loyal.”

She enjoys what the Bemis and Joslyn offer as well as how “smaller, contemporary, progressive galleries like Project Project and Darger HQ are pushing the envelope. I’m a huge fan of Garden of the Zodiac. 1516 Gallery is just gorgeous.”

In the spring of 2016, Petshop Gallery in Benson exhibited her portraiture work. She regularly shows in the Bemis Benefit Art Auction and had a piece in the October 28 show (she described the colorful abstract portrait as “a little mysterious looking”).

Blayney also contributed to the Old Market Art Project; hers was one of 37 banners selected (from nearly 300 submissions) to be displayed outside the Mercer Building as renovations followed the M’s Pub fire.

“It’s an abstract painting that took forever,” she says. “There’s a lot going on in it. Finally, it just came together. I collaborated with another artist in the process of painting it, and then I finished it.”

She sees many opportunities for local artists in Omaha, but there is room for improvement, too. “There’s definitely room to grow—I’d like to see even more galleries because there’s so much talent here,” she says.

Going into the fall, several commission projects were “consuming” Blayney’s time. Her projects come from anywhere and everywhere. “Lately, it’s been more people coming to me and asking either for a portrait of themselves or of a family member. I can be surprised. I’ve given my card to someone and then a year later gotten a commission. It’s unpredictable.”

Visit erinblayney.com for more information.

Encounter

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Wood & Pipe Table

October 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sometimes you can find a solution to a problem just by taking a long walk. Dagmar and Jeff Benson, who live in a lakeside property at scenic Hawaiian Village, needed more table space for entertaining in their basement. Dagmar searched the usual places, but never found anything large enough for their needs.

Jeff spied a pile of long-abandoned boards near the dock while taking a stroll through his neighborhood. He suspected the boards would be the perfect material to construct the tables that Dagmar saw on Pinterest.

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“I think we can power wash this and clean it up and see how it looks,” he says.

The couple have four grown children and anticipate that their family will grow in size. “Living on a lake, we entertain a lot, so we wanted something that we could use for a buffet table for when we have parties,” Dagmar says.

They love hosting Huskers parties. “Jeff wanted to put a big red N right in the middle, but I nixed that idea right away,” she says.

The couple’s love of creating comes from spending a lot of time on computers for their professions.

“I work mostly with a computer and spreadsheets and numbers,” says Dagmar, a program control analyst. “What I like to do in my spare time is anything that has to do with design, art, and decorating.”

After power washing, they set the pieces of wood outside to dry in the sun. Next, Jeff cut them with a chainsaw so they measured four-and-a-half feet long. “We had a total of four pieces. Two for each table,” she says. Dagmar didn’t sand them much because she liked their natural color. She finished them with a coat of polyurethane.

Next, Jeff attached metal straps to the underside of the table to secure the wood pieces together. Their son, Chris, painted the ¾-inch, galvanized piping legs with two coats of flat black Rust-Oleum.

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“We just bought sections of those that fit together for the length we wanted,” Jeff says. The legs are made of an 18-inch section joined with a T-connector, and then a 10-inch section topped off with a ¾-inch floor flange that connects to the underneath of the table. The feet are covered with a ¾-inch cap that screws onto the piping. Dagmar estimates it took them 10 hours and $100 in materials for each table.

The tables are a perfect addition to an inviting basement that has been a work-in-progress for the couple since they moved in more than 10 years ago. “We did a stained concrete floor. We put in a spiral staircase. We had French doors put in,” Dagmar says. And so it continues.

 

 

Next DIY project on the agenda for the Bensons? They plan to use some of the leftover wood to build shelves for a hip, new bar area. Cheers to that!

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The Sport of Rebranding

December 3, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sometime in January, a new sign will go up on the outside of the Canfields building near 84th Street and West Center Road. It will signal that the final touch has been placed on remodeling the venerable sporting goods store.

“When we moved here from 24th and Cuming Streets in 1994,” says new owner Scott Marble, “it was basically a white box. For the recent remodeling, the first thing we did was to bring color into the store.”

He also brought back the popular “Tent City.” Displayed in the middle of the 48,000-square-foot space along with trees, animals, and fun for kids, it’s something of an outdoorsman’s paradise.

More importantly, rebranding also is underway.

“We are Omaha’s only locally owned outdoor store and wanted to bring that uniqueness into the logo,” Marble says. “A font was created for us that is rough around the edges, just like us.”

One of Marble’s most ambitious developments is the addition of home delivery and special orders to compete with online sales. “If customers want it delivered to their home, we do that. They get personal and fast service, and the purchase income stays in the community.”

“As an independent, locally owned store, 72 cents of every dollar stays in the community,” he says. “Only 42 cents stays in the community from purchases not made locally.”

Marble has also launched a new Canfield’s credit card that allows customers a zero-percent financing option along with a loyalty program.

A program for single mothers to take their children camping and fishing, with the help of a grant from the outdoor retailers’ organization Outdoor Nation, is a new and innovative community outreach program at Canfields.

“Ninety percent of kids are introduced to camping and fishing through their dads,” he explains. “Many may not have that opportunity,” he says of single-mom homes.

Canfield’s Sporting Goods store opened in 1946 with a focus on military surplus. When Marble began working there in 1993, customers were looking for inexpensive camping gear and fishing equipment. Merchandise selection has increased since he took over ownership of Canfield’s a year ago.

“We still carry products that made Canfield’s so popular with Omaha,” says Marble, “but the emphasis now is moderate to high-end fishing and camping equipment, premium work wear, kayaks, paddle boats, running, and yoga wear.”

Military items are still available at Canfield‘s as they have been for generations, but, with one change.

“For the first time,” Marble explains, “we are buying surplus from retired service people. The government has less surplus.”

Marble returned to Omaha from Seattle in April 2013 to become president of Canfield’s Inc., where he had worked until 2003. He bought the store from second-generation owner Rick Canfield as Canfield prepared to retire. Marble’s wife, Denise, and his three children, Elisha (19), Laura (17), and Alex (15), all work at the store.

“Studies show that when people take part in recreation,” he adds, “the quality of life is better. We can make that happen. When we make customer experience our main goal, then profitability comes along for the ride. Because we make good experiences for customers, we hope we will be in business the next 68 years.”

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