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Lori Nitschke

Lori Nitschke grew up on a farm between Ashley and Ellendale, N.D., but has lived on the East Coast — in Washington, DC, and New York City — for two decades. Her blog will explore the dichotomy of being a rural urbanite. Lori has a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota and a master's degree in journalism and an MBA from Columbia University in New York. She worked for the Grand Forks Herald from 1992 to 1994, followed by reporting stints with the Congressional Quarterly (six years) and the Omaha (Neb.) World Herald (2004-05) in Washington, D.C. She left journalism is 2005 for the world of corporate marketing, where she found her passion for digital and marketing. She lives in New York City with her son, Christian.

LORI NITSCHKE: The Rural Urbanite — Really, Canada? Can You Stop Showing Off Already?

First, it was the fact that he existed. Then, it was the full-body plank off a committee room desk.

And now — an accurate description of quantum computing that the average person could understand. Canada, I love you, but when are you going to stop rubbing your prime minister’s ridiculously handsome face in our face?

You’re like a new fiancee sporting a two-carat diamond. “My prime minister is so smart.” “Oh, look at Justin. Do you know he was once a yoga instructor? I just love saying his name, by the way …” “Did you know that he wanted to give every loonie to the poor as a child? What a sweetie!”

Justin. Justin. Justin! 

Enough already. It’s not like we’re totally without options down here. We have some suitors.  Yes, we do. … Sure, they don’t have six-pack abs or normal hair or an ability to relate to other humans, but you know, there’s a chance they’d be good providers. They’re interesting. There’s never a dull moment around here — we are definitely not bored, I can tell you that!

That’s right — we have choices, we’re not without choices. (Sniff.)

And it’s obvious you have problems. I mean everyone wants a chief executive like that. You have to really watch out that Sweden or Norway or some perfect country doesn’t come over and sweep him off his feet. And I’m sure you have some kind of issues with your national health system, or the political ridings, or not being able to find enough refugees to help.  You know, I actually feel sorry for you — it must be hard to keep up appearances with all that going on.

(Pause.)

Now, there, there, don’t cry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. You really are doing well — and looking great. You look just great. It’s times like these when I am so glad to have such a nice neighbor. Maybe we should visit the International Peace Garden soon and hang out. 

I can tell you about Donald …

LORI NITSCHKE: The Rural Urbanite — Cold Enough For Ya? How Northeast And Upper Midwest Blizzards Differ

Few things point out the differences between Northeasterners (below Rhode Island) and Upper Midwesterners (above Iowa and Nebraska) more than the winter storm, such as the #snowzilla or #jonasblizzard that has just occurred.

For those of us who live in one but grew up in the other, the differences can be perplexing. In general, the conclusion is that the Northeast storm has no true comparison to the Upper Midwest blizzard (witness the photo above from the North Dakota in 1966 ― extreme by any standard yet so fascinating in its Mad Men-era beauty that it must be shared).

Central Park West, Manhattan, New York.
Central Park West, Manhattan, New York.

However, I must note that Blizzard Jonas was a certified blizzard ― confirmed by this North Dakota native. I walked in it and froze in it and had to come home to binge eat and take a hot bath. We would have considered it a blizzard in the Upper Midwest.

But that aside, pondering how Northeasterns approach a winter storm versus how Upper Midwesterners approach one is an interesting exercise. Consider how the Northeastern blizzard differs:

It’s an event. In the Upper Midwest, it’s such a regular occurrence that no one pays much attention. It’s just another reason to joke about becoming a snowbird.  But it’s important to point out that in the Northeast, it’s often a media event — and there are just a lot more people who will watch media focused on the Northeast than on the Upper Midwest.

Central Park West, Manhattan, New York.
Central Park West, Manhattan, New York.

Dangerously cold means something different.  Even in the current storm, the lowest temperature has been 16 degrees Fahrenheit in New York City. That is not a bad winter day in the Upper Midwest — blizzard or no. One of the hardest things I have had to get used to in the Northeast is that when the weatherperson says “dangerously cold,” that does not mean to wear your thermal underwear under your wool pants and cashmere sweater and top off with another sweater plus down coat and infinity scarf and hat with ear flaps and fur-lined mittens. Because if you do, you will be late for work; you will have returned home to take another shower.

Stocking up. This is one of the more annoying things about a Northeast blizzard — the crazy rush on “essential” items — you know, Greek yogurt, hummus, kale chips, Starbucks cold brew. In Northeasterners’ defense, there are space and cultural reasons they do not stockpile food normally. I know for Upper Midwesterners this comes as a shock — to think that people do not have a chest-type freezer filled with a side of beef and half of Uncle Jerry’s deer is unthinkable. Much less pantries lined with 500 cans of vegetables and cream of mushroom soup and evaporated milk and beer. But really, they do not. And, as a result of this and their proclivity for things like kale chips, they do not often have as much of what I will call a “personal stockpile” either. As a result, there is a real possibility they will starve to death if they do not eat for a day or two. This is not a likely cause of death for most Upper Midwesterners (including us expats).

Driving. This one is so frustrating I can’t write much about it. Leave it at this: Winter storms are the only times I’d recommend the mayors of New York City and Washington, D.C., ban all citizens from driving and import North Dakotans to man taxis, buses, garbage trucks and all other essential motor vehicles. We would all be happier.

I have interrupted this severe weather warning to give you a little fodder for thought when you hear about the Big Snow out East.  It is real but, as with everything, it’s all relative. And nothing tops that North Dakota blizzard of ’66.

LORI NITSCHKE: The Rural Urbanite —Three Reasons I Love Both New York City And North Dakota

I live in New York City, and have for 10 years. I lived in North Dakota, my home state, for 25. To me, these are mundane facts. But given the stunned reaction when I tell North Dakotans that I now live in NYC or when I tell New Yorkers that I am from N.D., most of you find me just slightly less perplexing than a Martian.

If you have only lived in populous coastal cities, you wonder how I got to New York, what made me want to come, how I made it there. (Answer: Lots of work; lots of luck; p.s. I’m not stupid.) If you live in a rural area, you wonder how I can live on top of people, how I deal with the noise, the smells, the prices, why I would want to live there. (Answer: I got used to it; I find the engagement of the city worth the costs.)

What I have learned is that, at their hearts, the two places are not that different.

These three commonalities are what draws me to each:

  • They cherish their history. In NYC, we pride ourselves in the immigrant story, the Great White Way, the power of Wall Street, the talent we draw from around the world. In N.D., we pride ourselves in the homesteaders and the natives, the reach of our agriculture and energy, our strong society, the upstanding young people we raise. History remains so important in both places because to make it in either place — especially during a time with fewer creature comforts — you had to be pretty darn tough. Most of us are descended from those tough characters or are pretty tough ourselves. Our families made it, and we made it. To celebrate that, we have to remember the past.
  • They take care of their own. Being generous to neighbors is part of being a North Dakotan. Every farm child has witnessed her father, brother or grandfather leaving the comforts of a warm home to pull a stranger’s car from a snowbank on a blustery night. However, it may come as a surprise to those of you who have not lived in New York, that very much the same happens here. In times of trouble, New Yorkers pull together. Anyone who lived here after 9/11 will recall total strangers holding each other in the middle of the street. Strangers jump onto subway tracks to pull up a disoriented fellow traveler. Passers-by wait for an ambulance with an ill person they’ve never met before.
  • They put you in your place. As mentioned earlier, you have to be tough to make it in either place. If you are not quite up to snuff, expect to be spit out. In North Dakota, it’s the climate that lets you know who’s boss. With temperatures that range 150 degrees from dead of winter to heat of summer, North Dakota is not for the faint of heart. It will kick your butt if you show any signs of stupidity, such as a casual January drive without a winter survival kit. While no weather slouch itself, New York’s toughness comes mostly from the masses of people who come through it — and the fact that there’s always someone more talented than you around the corner. There is no downtime in NYC if you want to be on top. But you just might find that you’re comfortable being yourself even if you’re not king of the heap, A-No.-1.

In short, I love both places. I don’t find that odd.

I recognize in the city the same generosity that exists in my rural roots — flowers and food left on one’s doorstep in times of illness, offers to help with a new baby, small gifts to welcome new neighbors to their apartment. I have been the fortunate recipient of all of these, and it’s part of why the big city that is now my home doesn’t seem so far from my rural roots.

LORI NITSCHKE: The Rural Urbanite — Three Important Things Working At The Herald Taught Me About Life

When I got my fateful call to work at the Grand Forks Herald, I was a cub reporter down U.S. Highway 2 a bit, in the Magic City of Minot, N.D.

If you counted my internship the previous summer, I had been at the Daily News a year. I had covered tornadoes, fires, strikes and the perplexing issue of Western water rights. I had also learned — from our well-tended “paper” library — that there were two Ingeborg Moens in Minot, and I had been writing the obituary of the wrong one (discovered pre-publication, praise Jesus).

But, I also yearned to go East (a theme in my life); I had lofty career ambitions and lots of drive. When I was offered a job at the Herald, I accepted with glee. And now, many years later, I have come to realize that my time at the Herald was more than just the fulfillment of my earliest career goals. It was a time in which I learned at least three valuable life lessons:

— No place is too small, too understaffed, too remote, too anything to be truly excellent. Never once did anyone at the Herald say — well, we’re in a remote and very cold corner of a remote and very cold state and some people here don’t like us, so we’re just going to play it safe. Yup, we’re not going to try anything new. Never.

We tried everything — we recruited graphic artists and data specialists before anyone knew what Big Data was, we embraced diversity in the newsroom as a way of seeing the bigger picture in what we covered, we did and redid every process conceivable for crafting a better feature article or a more compelling front page. We even stayed up for 24 hours covering the city’s day and night rhythms like we were at the New Yorker.

And the paper won the Pulitzer. The GF Herald deserved it, hell and high water or no. (See references to The Flood below.) I wasn’t at the Herald when it won the award, but I wish I had been.

— Good things, people, places don’t always last. Don’t take them for granted. When I packed up the U-Haul in 1994 and continued my habit of moving East (this time to chase my dream of covering Congress), I assumed that Grand Forks and the Herald would remain entirely as they were, as if preserved in amber, just waiting for me should I decide to return.

Well … we all know about The Flood and the loss of the Herald building and the collapse of owner Knight-Ridder and the changes to the publication itself. Time doesn’t wait for us. It doesn’t care. Make the most of what you have when you have it, and savor the memories. But don’t expect anyone or anything to wait for you.

— You can accomplish more than you think you can. Sometimes, you have to be pushed. One of the reasons that the Herald was such a special place — and an overachiever of a newspaper in its prime — was because of Mike Jacobs. Mike was exacting, intimidating and a genius.

Like most geniuses, he was extremely effective at the “vision thing.” He was always striving, always coming up with a new way to look at things or a bigger idea and that drove all of us to do the same. The secret, which I have adopted as a manager of 20 people now, is to give your team something to strive for, even if it seems impossible. It’s good if they think you’re a cock-eyed optimist or even a little crazy. It means you believe in them and the organization and what you’re all doing. And isn’t that what we all want? To feel part of something bigger? I certainly do.

After I left the Herald, I went on to many other wonderful places — I was a congressional reporter for Congressional Quarterly and later the Omaha World-Herald Washington Bureau; I’m now a marketing executive for a large corporation; I’m also a mom and a doting pet owner. I live in New York City. (More about that in my upcoming posts.) All of those experiences have taught me much and I’ve been fortunate to witness far more good than bad.

But my time at the Herald has stuck with me. Perhaps it’s because it was so central to my being in those pivotal early career years. Or, maybe, it’s just because it was a special place — filled with talented and fun people producing a great product and retiring for a salty dog or a Grain Belt after putting the newspaper “to bed.” That is also one of my cherished memories from the Herald. And it’s fascinating that something we considered routine — going out for a drink after doing our best for yet another day — is now one of the things that I miss the most. Another life lesson …