Farm, FFA, Life, Uncategorized, Values

Grateful for the Blue and Gold

It was this week 18 years ago that I zipped up my blue corduroy jacket for the first time, as I prepared to participate in our county level FFA Creed Contest. I remember standing in the bathroom of our small high school thinking I was not the least bit comfortable in those black nylons, I wasn’t 100% sure how that waterfall scarf was supposed to lay, and I didn’t know why my brand new jacket, fresh from a cardboard box, was so stiff. Little did I know that over the next six and a half years, that very uniform would become a second skin to me.

As time unfolded, I had many adventures in that FFA jacket. The contests, the conferences, the activities: they helped mold me into the person I am today. I shed many tears, both of joy and of disappointment, as I navigated my teenage years. I learned what it meant to set goals and to work harder than I ever imagined to achieve them, but I also learned what it meant when to no fault of my own, those goals just weren’t in the cards to be attained. I developed a true understanding what it means to be a leader, and I had the privilege of guiding other members to the same comprehension. I realized that personal achievements are fulfilling, but those accolades pale in comparison to the joy of seeing others reach their own ambitions.

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Earlier this week, I set down at my desk to write thank you notes to two important individuals who were mentors during my time as a FFA member, and now, as an adult, who I still hold in the highest of regards. It was challenging to verbalize how much their influence meant to me and how eternally grateful I am still today for my involvement in the FFA. I was disheartened, thinking that “thank you,” just wasn’t enough. How could I ever repay them the time they invested in me as a FFA member?

Then, a lightbulb went off, and suddenly I understood what they knew all along: if FFA is successful, which I believe in my heart of hearts that it is, then the personal development lasts far longer than any blue jacket. How do I pay this forward? By my everyday actions. By serving in leadership roles in my state and community. By putting others above myself. By working tirelessly to promote American agriculture. By raising my own children to be productive members of our society. By never doubting the difference one person can make.

FFA Week is a time to reflect and to be grateful. Even almost two decades later, it’s easy to get caught up in the nostalgia and to feel a little saddened that such an important chapter of my life has closed. However, to quote the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” May your memories of FFA be full laughter and tears, and may you never stop applying the lessons learned in the blue and gold.

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Family, Life, Values

Saying no to say yes

We’ve had a fairly low key Christmas break. Aside from family get-togethers, we’ve hardly left the house. In fact, this morning, I realized the children’s seats I took out of my truck on Sunday were still sitting in the entryway. Instead of bustling about, we’ve spent time baking cookies, playing with new toys, reading stories, and watching a movie or two.

This morning, we received a spur of the moment invitation to meet a friend from college and her kids at a semi-nearby children’s museum. The timeline was tight, and there were 52 reasons I could have said no, but we made it happen.

As the boys played nicely together, I couldn’t help but realize that the opportunity to enjoy something I valued, friendship, was made possible by putting other things aside. Isn’t it funny how saying no can actually make it easier to say yes to the things that matter?

Here’s to less jam packed schedules in 2019 to leave plenty of room for the things that matter. Cheers!

Faith, Family, Life

Merry Christmas

Have you seen this circulating over social media?

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Talk about perspective! This holiday season, as you bustle about, take time to remember the small moments.

The significance of each ornament you hang on the tree and the memories it provokes.

The sound of laughter filling the kitchen as you bake another batch of cookies.

The wonder in a child’s eyes taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday.

The selfless service of troops serving across the globe to keep us safe.

And the child born in a lowly manger who changed the course of history. 

Merry Christmas.

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business plans, Entrepreneurship, Facing Fears, Farm, Livestock, Risk, Women in Agriculture

Risk vs. Reward

I came across a quote this week that resonated with me:

Truth bomb.

A couple of years ago, Greg and I accidentally became sheep farmers. Yes, accidentally. (Heaven knows very few would become sheep farmers on purpose!) Our aging, bachelor neighbor was going to be spending the winter in the nursing home. He needed someone to care for his small flock of sheep while he rehabilitated. I volunteered, knowing it would be a great project for the boys and me. Well, it turns out, the shepherd enjoyed the company of his new friends in the nursing home more than the sheep at home, and he chose to live out his days there. Greg and I were now the owners of a flock of sheep.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that if we were going to care for 10 sheep, we might as well have 80. We began creating a business plan and budget for a larger sheep enterprise, which would require larger and more efficient facilities. As we sorted through numbers and projections, it was easy to see the risks involved in taking on something new. To do the project how we really wanted to do it, a loan would be required, and when there is a repayment requirement on the table, more careful consideration is required. That brings up the question: what is your comfort with risk?

I will say, Greg and I both have a high tolerance for risk… Calculated risk, that is. Luckily, as we worked through our plans, we realized there were also rewards to be attained. The rewards were not just financial but also intangible: things like creating opportunities for our children and creating our own enterprise separate from the family farm.

With any decision, there are hazards you may encounter, but there are also great peaks to reach. Each person’s tolerance for risk is different, but never overlook the rewards you may attain. After all, with the greatest risk comes the greatest rewards.

So, how are those sheep doing? This week, thanks to a great builder and concrete contractor and many long hours by Greg and me, we completed our barn and moved the flock from our elderly neighbor’s house to our farm. No longer accidental, we are fully intentional sheep farmers.

Life

Modeling clay

Last week, Greg, the boys, and I were honored to spend time celebrating a new marriage of one of my past students. Surrounded by so many individuals who were influential in my early career, I couldn’t help but be transported back in time.

I stepped into the classroom right out of college. And, when I say right out of college, I mean, right out of college. I graduated Ohio State a couple of quarters early on a Sunday in December, and I started my position less than 24 hours later. I spent three days in the classroom before taking off the end of the week to get married. If you’re going through some life changes, why not do them all at once? Although my undergraduate education and a variety of internships had done a remarkable job of preparing me to teach, it was obvious I still had a lot to learn.

I walked into a less-than-ideal situation. The previous teacher was one of those larger than life legends in the community and across the state. Tragically, he passed away unexpectedly, leaving a void in many hearts and in a classroom he had served for decades. And, now, fresh out of college, I was going to take his position and attempt to win these teenagers over.

I could write volumes about the struggles I faced as the new kid on the block, yet in all honesty, I’ve set many of those challenges to the back of my mind. Last week, back in the midst of the people who supported me and walked alongside me in that period of my life, I didn’t remember the times I ended the day in tears or the frustrations I felt when I didn’t feel like I’d ever make progress. Instead, I remembered the kind words of encouragement from parents and the feelings of gratitude to students who helped me win over their peers. Above all, I felt blessed, for I was reminded of something incredible: each experience we face in life, good or bad, molds us into a stronger person.

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That’s like the expression I once heard someone say: every seven years, we are essentially a new person. All of the cells in our body are replaced by new ones, and we literally are no longer the same person we were seven years ago. I believe the same thing applies to our hearts and minds. Like modeling clay, we are constantly growing and developing into new people. The trick is to allow ourselves to be molded in a positive direction and to never harden our hearts and minds to the people and events we encounter.

I know some of my former students are reading this, and to you, I say thank you. I am grateful for the time we spent together, and I cherish the memories, both good and bad. Although I’m no longer in the classroom, I truly believe because of that experience, I am a better version of myself. While I was the teacher, it was you who were teaching me the virtues of patience, grace, preparedness, and so many others. I may only pray that I, too, helped mold you into the adults you are today.

Experience… it’s the teacher of all things.

Farm, Life, Women in Agriculture

Juxtaposition

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I added the word juxtaposition to my vocabulary in sixth grade art class. Mrs. Dean introduced the concept of contrasting elements occurring in the same space. I can’t tell you which famous artist she used as an example or even the project we created on our own. All I can tell you is I thought the word was one of the coolest I had learned so far, and I felt super-intelligent when I used it in a sentence.

Vocabulary.com describes juxtaposition like this:

“If a waiter served you a whole fish and a scoop of chocolate ice cream on the same plate, your surprise might be caused by the juxtaposition, or the side-by-side contrast, of the two foods.

Any time unlike things bump up against each other, you can describe it as a juxtaposition. Imagine a funeral mourner telling jokes graveside, and you get the idea — the juxtaposition in this case is between grief and humor. Juxtaposition of two contrasting items is often done deliberately in writing, music, or art — in order to highlight their differences.”

Quite simply, juxtaposition is multiple unlike items coexisting in the same space. It’s been a few years since sixth grade art class, but lately, the concept of juxtaposition has returned to my life. This time, I’m living it.

Rose driving combine.The Loft at Pickwick Place

This fall, I have experienced juxtaposition as different arenas of my life, all with stark contract, have existed at the same time. Take for example the day I drove the combine, only to rush home, take a shower, and head off to our event venue  to meet a prospective bride. Or, the day I helped Greg apply liquid manure, only to volunteer in the boys’ kindergarten classrooms a couple of hours later. I’ve learned to embrace these various experiences and the beautiful picture they paint together. After all, variety is the spice of life.

What about you? Do you love to play in the mud and get dressed up? Do you feel as comfortable as can be in the seat of a tractor or in a seat at the boardroom table? Do you rock out to Van Halen as you’re driving to work but let Bach flow from your fingers when you’re in front of the piano? Enjoy those ebbs and flows. You see, here’s what I’ve learned about juxtaposition: initially, it may be challenging to understand how such dissimilar things can coincide in the same realm. However, just like in art, it is that contrast that adds richness and dimension to our lives and to the lives around us. Be proud to be juxtaposed.

Crops, Facing Fears, Farm, Women in Agriculture

A Healthy Level of Fear

Last week, we planted our soybean test plot.

For most, this isn’t a significant achievement. For me, however, it’s a day I look forward to with equal amounts of worry and thrill. My job is always the same as we set out to accomplish this task: keep the seed from running out of the drill.

If you’re not familiar with test plots, here’s a quick primer. Farmers plant an assortment of corn or soybean varieties in succession, all in the same field. Just like a junior high science experiment, each variety gets the same care. At the end of the growing season, the varieties are harvested and the yields are calculated. A winner is declared, and many farmers will base next year’s planting decisions off of how the varieties stood up to the competition.

As we work to plant the plot, the seed drill or planter is cleaned out between each variety, and the next variety fills it up. The tractor works up and down the field until each variety is planted. In the case of our bean plot, we worked to plant 16 different varieties.

So, about my job: keeping the seed from running out. We fill the drill with a bag of seed, and as it works it way through the seed drill and into the ground, the seed continues flowing down. One side of the drill may empty quicker than the other, but the goal is to reach the end of the field with seed still available, so that particular stand of soybeans has the best potential possible for growth and yield.

Why would I be nervous? Why would I feel a little like I’m stepping I’m about to step on a rollercoaster? Well, this is where I work:

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(Side note: it’s not shown in the picture, but there is a railing behind me that I can hold on, and the platform I’m standing on is similar to a box. While this isn’t recommended for daily riding on the machine; for a short period of time, we do it as safely as possible.)

Pardon the blurry image. Greg took that from inside the tractor, through the dusty window. His job is a little safer; he sits in the tractor seat, buckled in, while GPS auto steer literally drives the machine across the ground at a speed of approximately 8 mph. Meanwhile, I hang on to the drill for dear life, moving seed across the drill as parts start to empty out.

Ok, I admit, I’m being a little dramatic. The task at hand is safe for both of us. Nonetheless, the first couple of times across the field, I do have that small pit in my stomach. It’s a little nerve-wracking and a little exciting, all at the same time. Just like climbing on a rollercoaster.

I realized this year as we worked across the field that there’s such a thing as a healthy level of fear. It’s ok to be slightly scared of doing something new or different, but the trick is to face that fear head on with courage that overshadows whatever you’re scared of at the moment. Fear will always be there, and in manageable doses, it can move you forward.

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So, how did planting the plot go? Everyone survived, and we didn’t run out of seed. We’ve had a nice shower and some sunshine. Soon, we’ll be watching the seeds emerge through the soil, and that anxiety about riding on the back of the drill will be a distant memory until next year.