Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Debatable Politics

Thankfully last Monday I was at a meeting and was not subjected to the presidential debate on television. I did get to see the highlights (or maybe lowlights) of the debate for days following it as the pundits went over ever insult and accusation in minute, excruciating detail. As I watched the debate I had the same thought I have had all election season. Are these candidates really the best we can do?

The answer, sadly enough, is I am not sure, but these are the only two choices at this time. Please understand that if either one of these candidates are the one you chose and backed, good for you. Just because I disapprove of the candidates does not mean they are terrible choices. We live in a democracy and the winner is the one who can draw the majority of the support from those who exercise their right to vote.

However, as I watched the news clips of the debate and as I watch the news coming out of each of the campaigns it is apparent that both candidates are deeply flawed. I know, probably all of our presidential candidates over the years have been deeply flawed individuals, but I have never noticed it to the extent I am noticing it this year. Maybe I am older and more cynical but I think more likely something has happened in our society and our political system to surface candidates willing to say or do anything to get elected.

What has happened to us? I wish I had the answer, then we might be able to work toward fixing the problem. I am sure there is someone out there who does have a better handle on the situation and more of an answer than I do, we need to find that person. This election magnifies the need for a change in the mindset of all of us as United States citizens.

Am I saying there are no good, normal people involved in government. Absolutely not, I have the opportunity and privilege to interact with many elected officials at all levels and there are many, many good people who are there for the right reason and try to do the right thing. However, I am worried that we are making it more difficult for those who are civically minded to become involved.

I do think the tide can be changed but it is going to take an effort from all of us to do it. We do still live in a democracy and I do believe that a majority of the people can affect change. Here is the catch, we actually have to get involved and work to make those changes. We can’t sit back and watch the news and lament about how bad things are, real change takes hard work. We have to roll up our sleeves and dig in.

That is where the problem is. Too many of us (myself included) are too busy in keeping up with our everyday lives to add another thing to the list. We work hard only to come home to evenings of even more activities. In short, most of us suffer from self-induced exhaustion. We do not have time to be involved with government at any level.

I completely understand, I feel the same way myself. It seems easy to ignore what is going on in our government. It is easy to forget until it effects your everyday life and then we wake up. Then we do what we are doing now and wonder out loud how we got to this place. I don’t know about you but this is a place I don’t want to be.

Does this mean that all is lost and we are in a hopeless situation? The answer is a resounding no. We still live in the greatest nation on earth with more freedoms and opportunities than anywhere else in the world. Maintaining those freedoms and opportunities takes work and they cannot be neglected, part of the cost of living in a democracy is being involved at some level.

What do we do for the rest of this election cycle? Take the time to watch the debates, learn more about the candidates and vote for the one that best matches your viewpoints. I know this may be painful and we must also be thinking about the next election cycle and make sure that we surface and support the best candidates. We cannot sit idly by and let it play out on its own.

It is time for all of us to take ownership of our government and exercise the right we have been given to have a say in the direction we are going. I believe that we do have the best form of governance ever created and that we will right the ship. I also believe it is high time that each of us roll our sleeves up and get involved. I know it won’t be easy but it is the right thing to do.

A Watched Crop Never Harvests

There are many ways people describe things happening slowly. We have all heard that waiting for something is like watching paint dry, grass to grow or water to boil. Expressions like; “a watched pot will never boil” describe how hard it is to wait for something. I have a new one to add to that, “it’s like watching the corn get dry enough to harvest” or “a watched field never dries down”.

I admit that I get a little anxious this time of the year as I watch the crops mature. Surely I am not the only one, in fact, I would bet this is a common malady amongst those of us who have a cropping affliction. Probably every road past a maturing corn field has a couple of ruts worn into the road from the farmer driving past once a (or even twice) day.

This time honored ritual of worrying the moisture out of the corn usually starts as soon as the pollination process is done. Soon we start pulling ears to see how they filled out, then we start watching as the kernels dent, the black line starts to appear and finally the leaves start to die. All of this is watched like it would not happen if we were not there to watch it.

The worst part of the wait is the final stretch as we watch the last of the green leaves turn brown. That is when the telltale signs start to appear. Are the ears turned down? Have the tops broken out of the plant? The ruts deepen along the fields as we look for the signs, any signs that harvest is almost here. I am pretty sure farmers this time of the year are worse than a five-year-old at five o’clock Christmas morning.

That brings us to where we are now. Harvest has been delayed by all of the rain we have received the past couple of weeks and that makes the waiting even worse. I stand by my statement that I will never complain about rain because as soon as you do, it will go away. However, a little dry weather right now and for the next 45 days or so would be greatly appreciated.  In any case, the rain and associated humidity have not helped in the drying down of the corn crop.

The combine and trucks sit serviced and ready to pounce, but only when the time is right. Yesterday we took the first of what will be many coffee cans of corn to town. I joke every year that we are going to bring the crop to town, one coffee can at a time. This annual ritual starts the same way every year.

The first sample is hand shelled off of three or four carefully selected ears. As Dad and I shell them, he usually predicts the moisture by how it shells off the ear and how spongy the cob is. Most of the time we would not really have to take the grain in because he has accurately predicted that it is too wet. Next is the sample we cut with the combine and Dad again accurately predicts it is too wet by sticking his hand in the sample.

Finally, several days to a week after the first hand shelled sample, we nervously cut the first full load and take it to town. Often it is right on the border of acceptable and the following loads are nervously filled with a hand on the phone to stop the combine at a moment’s notice. That will be especially true this year with the below sea level prices and the fact that even the smallest of discounts will eat a rather large portion out of the final check.

It’s funny how this happens each year and we know it is going to happen each year and no matter how hard we try to be patient we can’t be. I guess there is too much riding on the crop and it is better than Christmas presents once you get to be an adult. Much like Christmas presents to a five-year-old, some of the fields are like getting that bb gun and some are like getting a package of underwear. It is exciting and you do want to get the work done before anything can happen to the crop. I am not sure whether it is the air coming off of the truck driving by the field or the fact the corn plants know they are being watched that causes it to dry down. Whether you are in grade school or a grizzled veteran farmer, waiting is hard. Now, is you will excuse me, I have some drive by crop watching to do.

Conall Addison, A Life Well Lived

The world lost a great man this past weekend. No, you didn’t hear about it on any of the national news shows or probably any local news casts, but you should have. Conall Addison spent a lifetime mentoring, teaching and encouraging 4-Hers to live up to the motto of making the best better. More importantly he spent his whole life living that very moto. I can’t imagine how many thousands of youth and adults he impacted over his lifetime spent as a public servant.

I was blessed to get to know Conall as a co-worker and mentor. In my early years as an Extension Agent, Conall was one of the more veteran agents that I looked up too and hoped that I could be some day. He was one of those great educators who knew exactly what to do in every situation. He handled everything with an ease and a presence that a rookie like me could only marvel at.

Conall had a bigger than life personality that filled every space he entered. If his infectious smile and hearty laugh didn’t make your day better, well, I am not sure what could have. He had a big, booming voice that matched his personality perfectly and drew you into him. However, the thing I will remember the most is his laugh, you had to experience it to understand. He was someone you wanted to be around and to learn from. Conall Addison was a true leader.

I think what I will remember the most about Conall and what I was the most in awe of was the way he encouraged everyone around him. Many times I saw him greet one of his 4-Hers (and it could have been one from 20 years ago, but once you were one of Conall’s 4-Hers, you were always Conall’s 4-Her) and instantly give them a pep talk that was just right for the situation. You left Conall, inspired, encouraged and ready for life.

Even those of us who were not his 4-Hers could count on a warm handshake and a greeting that would make you feel good. I would hate to think about all of the fairs Conall judged, especially the rabbit shows. Just as in everything else, he would make the 4-Hers he was judging feel as if they were the most important people at that time and in that place. He could do that because they were the most important people too him at that very moment. That is a special talent that not very many people have.

After I saw the news, I wondered just how many lives he had impacted. Thousands I am absolutely sure benefitted from his life’s work. I am equally as sure that he would be overly humble and not want any credit. However, his legacy in the realm of 4-H and youth development speaks much more. We need more Conall Addisons in this world. People who work their entire lives making a positive difference in the world around them.

Conall’s life was the definition of a life well spent, a person who made a difference in everything he did. I am not sure how we will have a sheep show at the Kansas Junior Livestock Show without Conall announcing it. He had such a knack for getting the names of every exhibitor and their hometowns right. And there was that matter of including updates on the K-State football score as the afternoon rolled along.

It had been too long since I had seen Conall. Probably at last year’s KJLS, maybe longer than that. In any case it was much too long especially now as I hear the news of his passing. He was a great man who touched my life and made it better in the relatively short amount of time I spent with him. I must say I have a twinge of jealousy for those who had him as an Extension Agent.

This world is a pretty crazy, mixed up place these days with a lot of bad news around every corner. Too often we do not celebrate all that is right and people that are good. Conall Addison was one of the good guys in this world, one who made a difference and that should be celebrated. Conall Addison was the type of person we should all inspire to be.

I am sure Conall would not want us to be sad at his passing and would encourage us to carry on the things that he started. In his honor we should make those around us feel special, focus on the positive things and pass along a joy for life. Above all else we should honor Conall with a deep, hearty, life affirming laugh and appreciate all that is good around you. Conall Addison might not be with us physically but his legacy will live on forever through the many lives he touched.


Last Saturday I had the privilege of speaking to the Leavenworth County Beef Improvement Association. I love speaking to ag groups, for two reasons. Usually the meal is really, really good, especially with beef groups. However, most importantly, I really enjoy meeting with fellow farmers and ranchers and sharing ideas and stories. This speaking engagement had been on my calendar for months and I was really excited to be a part of their county meeting.

Tom, the president, was tremendously organized and checked with me a couple of times before the meeting. He told me it would be held at Rocky Top Farms and gave me the address. Most importantly he gave me his cell phone number and said if I had any problems I could give him a call at any time. I plugged the address in the navigation system in my phone knowing that I could call him as a safety net.

That morning Tatum was supposed to help with an event for her softball team. It was rainy and the windshield wipers on our good car worked better than her car so she took it instead. About mid-morning she asked if she could go to the high school volleyball tournament with some friends. About mid-afternoon it occurred to me that she was not going to make it home by the time I needed to leave. That meant I would be driving the pickup to the meeting. Not a big problem but not the most economical way to go either. I kicked myself for my lack of planning.

I left home right on time or maybe even a touch early, quite an accomplishment for me. I felt confident, my “smart” phone had the address plugged in and the nice soothing voice was telling me where to go. I ambled my way down the road in the pickup practicing my talk as I drove (I am sure everyone who met me wondered what the crazy guy in the pickup was talking to himself about). The trip was progressing just like I had planned and I would arrive right on time.

I enjoyed the scenery as I drew nearer and nearer. The buttery soft voice of my smart phone interrupting my observation of the countryside. I turned right, then another right with my destination just a couple of miles away. That is when I noticed the gravel road turning into a two track gravel road with grass growing in between the tracks. Suddenly the road turned into a dirt road with an ominous sign reading “Road may be Flooded”. Maybe driving the pickup was the right idea. I never had to put it in four-wheel drive, but it was close. That was when the annoying voice on my phone squawked to me that I had arrived.

It was an open pasture with no houses, barns or people in sight. I phoned Tom and got his voice mail. I very calmly explained my situation and asked that he call me back. Either my “smart” phone was wrong or this was a prank. I calmly told the navigator it was wrong and plugged the address back in. What do you know, this time it gave me a new set of directions that had me backtracking? This time the roads were all respectable blacktop and gravel and the road name was even right but once again I was led to open pasture. I once again called Tom and once again got his voicemail. I was now fifteen minutes late.

I continued to wonder around and call Tom. Soon I was forty-five minutes late, running low on cell phone battery and had almost no signal. Out of desperation I Googled Rocky Top Farms, limousine and got nothing but car services. Then in a flash of brilliance I looked up the Kansas Limousine breeders web page and found Rocky Top Farms listed. On my phone the print was really small and I really wished I had brought my glasses so I jabbed at the screen with my finger and a 913 number suddenly popped up.

The phone rang several times and I had just about given up when the most soothing, calming voice I had ever heard answered the phone. I am sure I sounded like I had been lost in the wilderness for several months. I tried to give landmarks or road names to help. Karen guided me onto the right road and soon I had arrived at the meeting just on time to catch my breath and give my talk. I also found out that the meeting was in a metal building and the cell phone signal was not the strongest, therefore Tom did not get my many, many calls. In the end, all ended up good and once again I learned the lesson that phones are not smart and maybe I ought to carry a map.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ike's Last Fair, 14 years in a Flash

It is the night before the fair and all is calm. OK, all is not calm and we are in the final, furious push to tie up the loose ends (i.e. iron shirts, pack clothes, prepare stalls, etc….). One of the last things we have to do is to trim Isaac’s steer this morning. With all of the rush and excitement we have not had time to think about the fact that this is his last county fair as an exhibitor. The past twelve years seem to have passed just as quickly as the last two days.
Isaac actually has been exhibiting at the fair for fourteen years. He started his showing career with a bucket calf at the age of five. When Dad is the county agent and you spend every hour at the fair, it is only natural to start early. My kids have spent every hour of every fair at the fairgrounds and exhibiting a bucket calf at a tender age was the best way to keep them out of Dad’s hair.
Jethro was Isaac’s first bucket calf. He got the name from the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant. The cowboys were hanging the cattle rustler Jethro (just a dummy) and for some reason Isaac decided to name his bucket calf after the dummy. I really don’t remember how Jethro did and that probably is a good lesson for all of us going into the fair. The ribbon Jethro earned was not nearly as memorable as the calf and the cute little boy with big ears showing him.
I remember thinking during that fair that we would be 4-H parents forever and it was going to be a long time before we were done with that gig. Now I am on the eve of Isaac’s last fair with the realization that Tatum only has this and two more fairs left, wondering where the time has went. Many times I have told newly minted 4-H parents that they will blink and wonder what has happened to all of the time.
I really don’t remember too many of the trophies and ribbons Isaac has won. I do remember the experiences. I remember Vicious, the heifer, who, in the beginning lived up to her name, and ended up being a really calm, tame heifer. Then there was T-Bone, the steer, and Twinkle Toes, the Suffolk ewe, to name just a few of the many, many show animals that comprised Isaac’s show career.  Isaac has been pretty creative with his animal names over the years but this year’s may be the best. His final steer is named, fittingly, Tuition.
This year Isaac decided to stick with just livestock and has put to rest the tradition of last minute finishes to his other projects. I do not miss putting the decals on a rocket the night before the fair (OK in all fairness that was probably more Grandma Drake than me) or wondering if the paint would dry on the woodworking project. There were many late nights trying to get the exhibiter cards filled out and plans printed. Maybe he learned something about waiting until the last minute to finish projects. Sadly I think he learned he could wait that long and still get it done.
I do miss the conference judging and the wonderful judges we have met over the years. Again, I am not sure if I remember any of the ribbons he received on any of his projects but I do remember the conversations and the friendly tips and encouragement from each judge. Often it was not easy being the Extension Agent’s kid.
This year has been so hectic that I am not sure we have really had much time to realize that we were in the final sprint for the finish line (or more accurately staggering across the finish line of a marathon). I am sure it will sink in at some point this fair or in the days following it. Sure there have been some hard times when it wasn’t much fun, but for the most part, the fair has yielded more great memories and even a few life lessons along the way.
Most importantly, I realized something I have always said is true. Over the past fourteen years Isaac has won a few shows and contests at the Pottawatomie County Fair but I can’t name them or remember which years they were. I can remember the animals, the projects, the friends, leaders, judges and the great stories and they are what is truly most important. Ribbons fade, trophies gather dust and buckles tarnish but the memories and life lessons from the county fair live forever.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Calm Before the Fair

Next week the fair starts and we are in uncharted waters for our family. No, the kids are not taking any new projects; in fact, Isaac has downsized his projects a great deal. No new breeds of livestock or new responsibilities either. No, the uncharted waters we are navigating are the sea of tranquility. It seems as though we are ready for the fair.
The livestock are all at acceptable weights and are ready to show. Sure, we still have the clipping and grooming to do, that can only happen a few days before the fair. Even at that, the lambs have all been sheared at least once and the steers have been in the blocking stand several times. For the most part, the kid’s livestock is ready to make the trip to the fair.
Tatum finished her sewing last week and has all of the labels, paperwork and notebook ready for that project too. She does have her cooking to do but that falls into the same category as grooming the animals. It can only happen right before the fair. She has practiced all three of her recipes multiple times and has them down. On a side note, did I mention how much I like the fair and especially the practice baking for foods judging?
We have even had the annual breakdown before the fair (I probably ought to knock on wood right now). A couple of weeks ago the igniter went out of the oven and we had to wait a week for the new one to come in. That kind of thing usually happens the night before the fair and we scramble to come up with plan B.
I know, I have just doomed our family to some kind of unforeseen calamity, it happens each year. One year the well went dry the day before the fair when we were washing and grooming animals. Another year the rear main seal went out of the good pickup that we use to pull the trailer to the fair. It seems that something happens each year to cause grief and heart ache the day before the fair so maybe I am premature in my excitement.
It does feel strange, we have double checked and re-checked our lists and worried that we are missing something. The show boxes have been packed (something that usually happens the night before the fair) and everything seems to be in order. The clippers have been serviced, blades have been sharpened and we even have a new set of blades waiting and ready.  Water containers, feed pans and buckets have been located and counted. They could be loaded and transported at this very moment.
I know some of you are this organized all the time and you are over achievers. I am not sure what got into us except that the calendar fell differently this year and our fair is later, especially when compared to neighboring fairs. The Riley County Fair is usually our trigger for going into hyper speed in our fair preparations. The fair in Riley County is historically the week before ours, this year there is a whole week between the two counties and that contributed to our premature preparation.
I have to admit that this advanced preparedness is nice and does tend to lower the blood pressure of all involved but it does kind of lead to a weird feeling too. We really feel like we ought to be doing more, worrying more and mixing a little panic in too. I am also quite sure we have over packed because it has given us time to remember stuff that we were always going to bring but never got packed.
I am equally sure that something will happen in the next week that will cause widespread fear, panic and mayhem at my house. It just wouldn’t be fair without a good meltdown. I also assure you that it has done nothing to lessen the fair tension and grouchiness of all involved. There is still a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time.
Of course it could be that we have been doing this fair thing for eleven years now and maybe we are starting to get it figured out. Probably not, more than likely we are experiencing a false sense of security and at any moment (most likely the day before the fair) the rug will be yanked out from under us and we will be scrambling to stay above water.
In any case it will provide for a memorable experience and in the end everything will be just fine. However, right now I will enjoy the moment and the feeling of organization all the while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Call it the calm before the storm.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Peace and County Fairs

The other night I was returning home late from a meeting and I was driving down main street of my home town and I noticed a young person (probably late teens maybe early twenties) walking down the street with his phone held up in front of his face. It seemed like kind of an odd thing to be doing so I quizzed the teenagers in my household about it.
It seems as though there is this game called Pokemon Go where you wander around places watching through the camera on your phone waiting for different characters to pop up. I really do not understand this game, nor do I want to understand it. I guess I have reached “old geezer” status. But it did leave me with a couple of thoughts. First, I guess at least they have to be outside and exercise a little bit. Second, how sad it is that the only way to get some kids (and adults) off of the couch is with some game on their phone.
I also think it is another disturbing sign of how our society has become more and more dependent on our cell phones. I have heard the addiction to your cell phone is somewhere close to addiction to drugs and I would believe it. I am example A for this. Often I find the urge to check my phone overpowering and often I allow it to divert too much of my attention.
Recently, we have seen news stories and incidents where cell phone video has sparked protests and created controversy. We are too quick to judge people and their actions based only on a few seconds of video versus waiting for the entire story to be told. All of this rush to judgment (on either side) has serious repercussions. It adds to our stress and allows us to become bogged down with worry.
I don’t know about you but I really crave a break from the current news cycle and I want a reminder of all that is right in this world because I still believe there is a lot that is good and right. Thank goodness it is county fair time. If you want a snap shot of how the world should be go to your local county fair and look around. Often it reminds me of a time before we had all of this technology at our finger tips and maybe the world was a simpler, less stressful place.
Often I like to just sit in the bleachers or on a bench at the county fair and just watch what is going on around me. You will see neighbors and old friends engaging in conversations and catching up on what has happened since the last county fair. It is a place where kids play and meet new friends, many times the old friends catching up nearby started out as those kids playing at that very same county fair.
It is a place that will renew your faith in the next generation. You can see the hard work and skills they have acquired over the past year on display through the projects that line the barns and exhibit buildings. If you want to know more about what they have learned or how passionate they are about their projects, just ask them and you will be amazed at the answers you get in return. This is where our future community leaders are being trained.
I love the sights, smells and sounds of a county fair. Oh sure, the advances in technology have come to the county fair too. I know our fair and many others tout free wifi for those of us sufficiently addicted to our phones. At first I lamented the addition of an on ramp to the internet, but maybe it isn’t all that bad.
Remember, my earlier lament about all of the negative video on the internet. All of that footage of all of the bad things that happen in our world, coming to us in real time. Maybe we could try to reverse this trend of negativity by sharing some of the good things and wholesomeness of our local, small town county fairs. Show the kids playing, old friends talking and the youth displaying what they have learned. Let’s bombard the internet with good things.
No, on second thought, let’s just enjoy the moment without worrying about our phone or recording every second and truly start living. Make it a point to spend time at your county fair, take it all in and remember just how good life can be, I promise it will soothe your soul. And if you need a game to get you there it is OK, I suppose. Just remember to look away from the screen every once in a while and watch where you step.