Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Thoughts

This week is Thanksgiving. On the surface Thanksgiving is when, we Americans, gather together on a Thursday in November, eat turkey, watch football and start the Christmas season. Somehow this time to stop and give thanks for all we have been given has devolved into gluttony, commercialism and a day off. At least most of us have not given up on it being a day spent with our families, but I do fear we have gotten away from the true meaning of the day.

It is meant as a symbol and a day to be thankful for being a citizen of the greatest nation on earth, a place where most of us have more than the average citizen of almost every other nation could dream of. It is a day when we should be remembering that the Pilgrims who started this whole ball rolling by simply celebrating their very survival.

Think about what most of us have in a global context. I would guess that everyone reading this has a roof over their head and shelter. Many do not have that very common necessity. They might not have shelter because of a natural disaster or simply because they are too poor to have even the most basic of things we all require. Factor in that most of us live in houses that are luxurious based on the standards of the rest of the world and we have a great deal to be thankful about.

While you are being thankful, walk over to the sink and pour a glass of water. The faucet came on when you wanted it too and clean, safe water came out. That is a blessing that many in this world can only dream about. Imagine depending on a poor well, or worse yet, a dirty, polluted river for all your drinking water. Imagine carrying that water a great distance back to your house. To have clean, safe water at any moment, without thought is something we should be thankful for.

Walk to your refrigerator and look in, check out your pantry and open your freezer. I bet they are all full of food, even if this is grocery shopping day. Each day, one of our biggest dilemmas is what to have for supper. We have choices and more astonishingly leftovers. I would guess each of us waste more food than many in this world consume. Without a doubt we take food for granted. I am proud to be one who produces the safest, most abundant food supplies in the world and I take this for granted. Who wants to eat leftovers when we can get in our car drive a short distance and have someone else prepare our meal or even have them deliver that meal to us. We take our food supply, safety and choices for granted. Most in this world are simply happy to have a meal let alone three and they would never even dream of choices. We are without a doubt blessed to be well nourished,

Did you wake up feeling safe this morning? Are you worried about your family’s safety? Most of us don’t even give it a second thought. We know our homes and persons are protected by the local law enforcement and our freedom is guarded by our armed forces. That is a privilege, a basic necessity that we take for granted that many are not afforded around the globe. Did you voice your opinion today, go to church this week or vote earlier this month? These things we assume as part of our birthright and never take a moment to be thankful for.

Did you drive your car today? How many do you have? Watch television, play on the computer? Is there boat in your shed? We Americans have so much stuff because the necessities of life, shelter, food, water and safety are so easily and cheaply taken care of. We spend very little of our incomes on things we must have and a great deal on things we want. We should be thankful that we have so much and live in a land of great abundance.

Do I mean to make you feel guilty for all you have? No, not really, although maybe we should feel a twinge of something. Rather I want you to take stock in all that you have and all the blessings in your life. I don’t want any of us to sleep walk through this day. It is easy to do with all the distractions. I simply want each of us to take a moment and reflect on all we have been given and how fortunate each of us are, no matter our situation or station in life. If you are a citizen of the United States, reading this column, you probably have a great amount to be thankful for. I know I certainly do.

Not On My Schedule

We are moved into the new place and well settled in. OK, the humans, dogs and horses are moved in and settled but the sheep are still spread out among our other three sets of pens and that is where the cows ultimately must go. That means I must get busy constructing sheep pens at the new place and it must happen rapidly. If you have followed me for very long you know that construction and rapid are not two words you would use to describe me.

I am, however, good at contemplation (or maybe that is procrastination), I think I work rather well with a looming deadline. In any case, I need to build enough pens to house all the ewes. We won’t worry about the lambing facilities, after all I have until late December to take care of that part. No reason to get in a rush.

Construction is not my thing, I just do not have the eye for laying things out and making them work right. I do have a definite idea of how I want them, more importantly I have a definite idea of how I don’t want the pens to look and that is like they did at the old place. The sheep just happened at our old place, I have always said they are an overgrown 4-H project and because of that the pens sprung up haphazardly and with no real plan. The new place gives me a chance to start with a clean slate but with an idea of how I want things to work.

I have spent the last three months since the move contemplating and thinking about how the pens should be built (again, I have heard the word procrastinate thrown out too) and it is now time for action. I may not like building pens but when I am ready to do it, I want to get started and keep at it until the job is done. That is why the past couple of days have been so agonizing.

It all started with moving some of the ewes around, so I could bring the cows home off the rented pasture. Loading the ewes is not usually a problem, a bucket of feed strategically placed on the front of the trailer and stand back. However, Twinkle Toes, Isaac’s prized Suffolk ewe, had been through this all before and would have none of it. We played a game of cat and mouse for what seemed like an hour before she finally gave in and loaded up. No real big deal but it put me behind and I didn’t get panels moved and set up to catch the cows.

The next morning, I needed to take a couple of rams to the sheep sale. I got around as early as I could, in fact, I got around earlier than I had planned because Jennifer had both rams caught by the time I got done with chores. When I asked why she had not waited for me, she said something about being married 22 years and knowing how long things took. I am not sure what happened on the drive to Clay Center, everything seemed to go fine but instead of a couple of hours the trip ate up the whole morning. After a quick lunch we moved the panels and set up the catch pen that had been planned for the day before.

The next day was Sunday and of course we started the morning by going to church. That afternoon it was decided to try to catch the last pasture of cows and bring them home. All went smoothly until the last three pairs. They decided that they did not want to be caught and would prefer to stay through the winter. After much cussing, discussing and out right hatred I was inclined to let them have their way. Jennifer was not so understanding and soon the cows came to see things her way. In the end the cows came home but another full day was lost.

Monday dawned and with it the need to get the combine to the dealership for its winter check-up and the grain trucks needed to be put away too. Again, for reasons I don’t fully understand this all took far more time and, yet another day was lost. Yesterday was a day of more progress, the skid loader was roaded home, posts were bought, and the posthole digger was borrowed. Everything was laid out and the project would start today. Today dawned cold and clear. Why the weather report? The water hydrant was frozen, the cows needed fed and the tractor would not start. All of this translated into another half day lost.

This all gave me time to again contemplate and rethink my plans. Maybe I did not need such good pens. Maybe I didn’t need pens after all. Suddenly free range, pasture sheep seemed like a good idea. Then common sense and reality took over, the pens must be built. Wish me luck and stay tuned, this could get good.

Bob Evans, My John Wayne

I really like watching John Wayne movies. In fact, there are only a handful of movies I will watch over and over and most of them are movies the Duke stars in. However, there are two of his most classic movies I simply cannot watch. “The Cowboys” and “The Shootist” are two of his best, but I have a hard time watching them and the reason is simple. He dies in both movies and John Wayne is not supposed to die. He is supposed to beat the bad guy and ride off into the sunset. In my world good guys are not supposed to die.

That is what made this week so hard. I was sitting in line at the elevator, reading Facebook when one of my best friend’s daughter posted that her grandfather had passed away suddenly. The news stunned me, and I think I was numb for about a half an hour. The reality didn’t hit me until the drive home and I felt the full weight of the loss. Remember what I said about good guys do not die in my world, Bob Evans was one of those good guys.

In a lot of ways Bob kind of reminded me of John Wayne. He was gruff and tough and didn’t take guff off anyone. He truly was a man’s man and didn’t seem afraid of anything. Bob told it like he saw it, no sugar coating, just the unvarnished truth. I like people like that. I am not ashamed to admit that Bob intimidated me when I first met him. He was this big bear of a man and we were teenagers who need a little fear in our lives to keep us from doing stupid things.

As I got older and I got to know Bob better that fear melted away and I came to know him as one of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met. I also came to understand that if Bob liked you and considered you a friend, you were family. I never had to, but I am certain that if I had ever really needed help, anywhere, anytime and for anything, I could have called Bob and help would have been on the way, no questions asked.

I believe that our lives and who we are is shaped by all the people we meet. Most of that shaping is done by our parents but there is also a good portion of that molding that comes from other adults we encounter during our growing up. Without a doubt Bob Evans was one of those people in my life.

During high school I spent a good deal of time at Bob and Sandy’s, I am not sure I fully appreciated my circle of friends and their parents. I can truly say that when we were at the Evan’s house we were treated like family. To this day I still remember Bob holding court for us boys with a lot of the advice, wisdom and philosophy. Things that I am just starting to understand and appreciate.

Then came life, jobs and kids and we all drifted apart. It is funny how life does that to you and how you don’t even notice the drift. In any case I went on about my life and every once in a while, I would run into Bob. I could always count on a “Hi Bud, how are you doing?” That greeting was genuine and he truly cared about what I was doing and more importantly how I was doing. The last time I saw Bob was just a few weeks ago. He was walking down main street and gave me a big wave and smile as I passed by.

That night, shortly after I learned of his passing I drove down main street and as I passed by the place I had last saw Bob I wondered why I had not taken the time to pull over and talk to him. Oh, I am sure I was in a hurry to get somewhere for something I thought was very important at the time, if I had only known then what I knew at that moment. I am sure Bob would not have wanted me to stew about that and I am equally sure he would have given me a good ribbing for the lump in my throat and the tears in my eye.

Life is too short and we all should live each day remembering what is important. We need to let people know how they have helped us and how much we appreciate it. I guess real life is kind of like a John Wayne movie. One way or another the good guy does ride off into the sunset. If anyone ever deserved to ride off into the sunset it is Bob Evans. Thanks for everything, I am a better person for knowing you.


Halloween, Harvest Style

This is the harvest from, well I am not sure I am supposed to say where it is from, I don’t want to get censored. But let’s just say that as the weather gets colder and colder the place I am thinking of is warm. In fact, people talk about the fires of, yeah right, I can’t use the word. Let’s just say this is the harvest that seems to have no end in sight and I am relatively sure we will be still going during Halloween and that gave me some ideas of fun things I can do to lighten up the mood.

First, I am going to go in costume. I thought about dressing up as a farmer. After all it is the same costume I have used for a lot of years now. But that is too boring. A scarecrow might be fun. I could stand by the edge of the field and look mad. While that might be kind of fun, it is the best costume idea I had. I decided to dress up like a skeleton. Just imagine the look on the faces of the people passing the slow-moving grain truck and they see a skeleton driving it. My second choice was the Grim Reaper, I thought that would be fitting and maybe effective for all the people who pass me in no passing zones and going over the top of the hills to see. Imagine passing a slow-moving grain truck on the top of a hill and as you draw even with it you see the Grim Reaper smiling and waving. It might work.

I am going to give haunted truck rides too. My trucks are old and kind of creepy looking. One of them used to be a truck for the rendering works. I bet there are a few ghosts of past passengers. The trucks make weird unexplained noises, they creak and groan and make you wonder if they will make it up the hill. Then on the way down you are never quite sure if the brakes will work and that makes for a scary ride. If you are lucky one of the mice that make the truck their home will run out and make an appearance. No haunted house can hold a candle to a mouse running up your leg as you free wheel down a hill in a truck making odd sounds.

I can even decorate the old trucks up with cobwebs and dust. Come to think of it, they are decorated for Halloween year-round. To top it all off, we have plenty of corn stalks still around to add to the ambiance. Between loads I could make hot apple cider on the engine block, if you don’t mind the hot oil smell and we could roast marshmallows on the fire under the dash (that is another good story for later).

Then I think I will take my little pumpkin shaped pail and trick or treat the usual stops. You know the elevator, parts store and implement dealership. I can’t wait to see the faces of everyone when I burst through the door in my skeleton or Grim Reaper costume and yell “trick or treat”. I probably ought to skip going to the bank though, they seem to be a little jumpy when grown men dress up and wear masks.

All of this should lighten up the mood and make the long drudgery of harvest a little more fun. Although that fun will be tempered just a little bit since most of the fun of Halloween is the unknown of the night and the old grain trucks just can’t be out at night. I am pretty sure, even on Halloween, local law enforcement will insist that I have lights even though at this point in harvest I am sure I can navigate the roads in the dark.

Maybe this harvesting during the holidays isn’t so bad after all, this all sounds kind of fun. Though with the markets I am pretty sure we are getting the trick instead of the treat. But life is what you make it and why not make it a little more fun. In a year when I pick which truck to drive by which one has the best heater, sometimes you just must laugh. My only fear is that I will have to start planning for other holidays and they are a little trickier. I am afraid of falling asleep after eating Thanksgiving dinner and I can’t watch football in the truck. However, Christmas might work, the Santa suit is warm, and we can put reindeer antlers on the hood. All of this is well and good, and I am sure harvest will wrap up soon. Let’s just hope and pray we are wrapped up before February, the cupid outfit might be a little chilly.

Rights Vs, Right

I am going to do something I said I would not do, but it is something I cannot get out of my head. You would have to live under a rock not to have heard about the controversy with NFL athletes and their actions when the National Anthem is played. I have chosen not to get involved publicly because the one thing that is being sought is attention. If you do not agree with what they are doing, not acknowledging it is probably the worst thing you can do to them.

Why are the players kneeling during the Anthem? I am not sure I understand and I am not entirely sure most of them really understand why. Until I understand their cause I am not going to comment about my feelings and what they are doing. I only hope that they truly know and understand what it is that they are making a statement for and not blindly following.

No, I do not know their motivation for kneeling during the National Anthem. However, I completely know and understand why I stand for the Anthem and cover my heart. First, I stand because I do think this nation is the best place on this planet and I am proud to be a citizen of the United States of America. I know that the rights and privileges afforded me by simply being a citizen are fragile and can disappear in a very short amount of time.

I stand because I hold this country very near and dear to my heart. I stand because I value the freedom to practice my religion and to honor my God. I stand because I have the right to speak whatever is on my mind. I stand because we have the fairest judicial system in the world and I challenge you to provide proof otherwise. Is it perfect? No, but it is the best in the world. Can it be made better? Absolutely, and that is another reason I stand. We have the power to make a difference in our government and make changes.

Any of the reasons I have mentioned are more than enough reasons to stand and pay tribute to this great nation. We are blessed to live here and that is something most of us take for granted. We have no idea how good we have it. Yes, those are all good reasons to stand and reasons that play into my choice, but they are not the main reason I stand for the National Anthem.

I was reminded of the reason I stand for the National Anthem just today. Dad and I were talking to a friend about the situation surrounding the NFL. My friend’s father served in World War II, fought on the front lines and made it home. I remember him marching in parades with the color guard and flying the flag out in front of his house. He was proud of his flag and of his nation, so proud that he did his duty and put his life on the line for each of us. He saw things so horrible that he never wanted to speak about them again, things that we could not imagine.

My wife’s grandfather had a similar experience and was wounded so badly he spent months in the hospital and carried the scars his entire life. They didn’t do this for the glory but rather because it was their duty and it was something that had to be done. They were brave beyond my comprehension. Then they came home, built lives, families and farms and they held the flag and the Anthem in the highest place of reverence and I promise you they stood each time the flag passed and the anthem was played. I stand in their honor.

Finally, I stand for the Anthem because I knew SFC Forrest Robertson. Sargent Robertson was a hero we should all honor, one who paid the highest price for our freedom. His family, wife and daughters live in my community and I witness their sacrifice and it is for him and them that I stand with my hand over my heart. I have seen their pain and witnessed their pride. What we owe them is a debt none of us can ever pay and but one I acknowledge through my rising for the National Anthem and for our flag.

The beauty of this great nation is that you can chose to do what you think is right. I cannot attest to know what is in the heart and the minds of those who do not stand for the National Anthem. It is their choice I would not make and certainly don’t agree with. I can only speak to my intentions and my actions. I am proud citizen of the United States of America, but just as importantly I am humbled by and understand the sacrifices of men like Lyle Carr, Allen Drake and Forrest Robertson. Those reasons and those heroes are why I will always stand for the Anthem and the Flag with my hand over my heart and that will never change.

First World Food Problems

We Americans are a funny bunch. The things we worry about and the decisions we make can only be explained by saying, that they are first world problems that most of the rest of the world can only dream about. This is especially true when it comes to our food.

We live in a land of so much that we waste a tremendous amount of food we buy. I feel ashamed each time I clean out the refrigerator and throw away even the smallest amount of produce. We try hard to plan, use what we have on hand and not let anything go to waste. Inevitably plans change and we eat fewer meals at home and the great meal ideas we had become mush at the bottom of the crisper drawer.

I know it is a sign of our busy lifestyles and that, itself, is a first world problem. We are so busy that preparing what we eat has become a hassle and we no longer have time for it. It is so much easier to run through the drive through at some fast food joint than it is to come home and chop, dice and prepare the food already in our fridge. There are few other people in this world that don’t have time to cook their own meals and even more importantly, even fewer people in this world with the means to pay someone else to cook their meals.

Because we don’t have time, we trade meals we would have cooked at home for highly processed foods. I am not a nutritionist but I do know enough to know that foods prepared from fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are better for you than processed food we get from those quick, easy drive through meals. For that matter, nutritionists telling us not to eat so many processed meals is a first world problem. In many countries the problem is not too many calories but rather too few.

Then when we do take time to prepare our food, we often over do it. Only in a first world nation would you have not one but several tv channels devoted to food. I would guess many of us subscribe to magazines about food and spend time on our electronic devices looking at web sights and blogs also dedicated to what we eat. We can’t prepare a simple meal anymore, we must create a masterpiece and those recipes are never small.

That means in the end we have something everyone dreads, left overs. You know the dishes that linger on the shelves above the mushy produce. No one wants to eat left overs, we make jokes about them and teenagers would rather starve than eat left overs. That brings up another point. We often talk about starving or that we would rather starve. Very few, if any of us really know what that means and I assure you it would take most of us a long, long time to starve.

In any case, those left overs languish on our shelves for a long time until we can’t remember how long they have been there and who wants to take a chance on them going bad so we throw them out. Dare I say that in most places food going bad is not a function of how long it has been around because no one wanted to eat it. Turning our noses up at perfectly good food because we do not want to heat it up again is a first world problem. Like much of the things in our refrigerator we have become spoiled.

In the middle of all this food waste and poor choices about what we eat, we have the nerve to worry about how the food is raised. Only in America would we demand that our food be grown in the least efficient, least productive method. Nearly everywhere else in the world they are worried about how much food is grown, not how the food is grown. We chose to ignore sound science and breakthroughs in technology so food can be grown in a less efficient system that does not make good use of limited resources. Then we take the food grown in less efficient systems and we prepare it in a way that is not healthy and after a day or two we throw much of it away. That is the definition of a first world problem.

OK, enough of my rant because I don’t know how we can fix this. Other than we wake up and use common sense and we all know there is nothing more uncommon than common sense. I guess the silver lining in all of this is that maybe if we would focus on three things we could make a difference. First to try to use all the food we buy, second to choose our calories more wisely and third to trust the hands that raise our food. Seems like a simple fix to me, but then again, maybe that is a first world view too.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

4-H Week and College

Well, once again my unerring sense of timing and attention to the calendar rose up to bite me in the posterior. I blew it because I missed National 4-H Week. How could I miss writing a column about something that has impacted my life and more importantly, the life of my kids? I would like to blame it on a busy schedule or maybe harvest, but in the end, I just blew it.

These thoughts came to mind this past week as my daughter and I made a college visit and on the way home I started thinking about how we got to this point. Much of that pointed right back to her involvement in 4-H and FFA. She is considering going to college on a livestock judging scholarship and that is a direct connection to her involvement in 4-H and FFA.

Sometimes life is just funny. I spent a lifetime of coaching 4-H livestock judging teams and trying to convince my 4-Hers that livestock judging was a better and more sure way to earn a scholarship than athletics. I told them that every member of my judging teams came out with a scholarship offer and asked them to quiz their coaches about how that compared to sports. However, when it came to my own daughter I was blinded by the lure of sports too.

Don’t get me wrong, she was and still is a pretty good softball player. I love to watch her play and for a long time we thought she would play college softball. Then life happened. Between disappointing seasons and mounting injuries softball lost some of its glitz. More importantly, during this time period she was on some pretty good judging teams and had more success than either one of us could have imagined including a state championship.

However, I kept pushing softball going against everything I had done as a coach. I ignored the benefits I had gotten from judging in college and those benefits went well beyond the scholarships that paid for my college. Finally, it was my daughter who, admittedly, is much smarter than me and suggested that judging should probably be her path. As we talked I could not have been happier or prouder of her for being more astute and pursuing this path.

All of this was made possible by her involvement in 4-H. Again, in reflection, we spent many hours over many summers at softball fields and I must wonder just how many of those girls were going to college on a softball scholarship. I would not have traded those summers for anything and that time was valuable but it pales in comparison to her 4-H experience.

The skills she gained as a 4-Her go well beyond livestock judging also. I am quite confident that she will earn a number of other scholarships that will help greatly in paying for college. The skills and the experience that will help her in those applications are a direct result of her involvement and leadership in 4-H.

We have already seen the benefits of 4-H involvement with our son. He is currently in college pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine. This academic pursuit is a direct result of his involvement in the veterinary science project in 4-H and the guidance of some awesome volunteers who helped him along the way.

I know all of this sounds like bragging from a proud parent and I will not make any apologies for that but that is not my point. We are now a year away from ending our run as 4-H parents and the view in retrospect is awesome. I guess I always knew that 4-H had played a huge role in my life and that the experiences and skills I gained were invaluable, but I am not sure I valued it as much as I do now.

We live in such a sports crazed society that often we miss the most obvious, important things right in front of us. I am speaking for myself, I really like sports and I know I placed far too much importance on them but maybe others can learn from my experience. Fortunately, my kids are a lot smarter than I am.

Unlike sports, 4-H offers something for every kid, something in which they can find their passion, hone their skills and gain valuable experience. 4-H opens doors that might otherwise might be hidden and paves the way for one’s life work. There are many youth organizations that are equally as great but 4-H is the one I know and the one I have seen make huge impacts on the life of those involved.

I must admit that there is a great deal of satisfaction that my daughter is following the same path I did, despite my shortsightedness. A path made possible by the opportunities provided through 4-H. I guess in the end maybe I didn’t miss 4-H Week. Because, every week is 4-H Week for us because of the impact it has had on our lives and for that I am grateful.