Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's a Kid's Game

Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with us adults. We can take any fun, innocent kid’s game and mess it up really good. Don’t believe me; well, then just go to any event where kids are competing for anything and watch the “responsible adults” and how they act. Please, don’t think I am exempting myself from my own disdain; I have over-reacted and felt the hangover of self-disappointment the next morning.
There is nothing that says summer in the heartland more than a good baseball or softball game in the summer. The cheering, smell of popcorn in the air, freshly mowed grass and cooling of the air about dusk, it doesn’t get any better on a summer’s night. I love baseball and softball, they are both great games.
They are just games. Nothing about a game of baseball, softball, football, volleyball or soccer is really all that important. Yes, this is a big step for me, I am a huge sport junky, but in the scheme of life, they just aren’t all that important. No matter how important it might seem to us adults at that particular moment in time. More than once I have asked my kids and the kids I have coached over the years the following series of questions.
What are softball/baseball/ football (you get the point, insert said sport here)? The correct answer is a game. Why do we play games? The correct answer would be because they are fun. What should you do when something you do for fun isn’t fun anymore? The final correct answer would be to find something else that is fun. When a game is not fun anymore, it probably shouldn’t be played. That is where we adults come in. We tend to not make games fun for our kids.
This axiom also applies to other kids events such as livestock shows, dance recitals and peddle pulls. Over the years it seems as though we adults have evolved into hyper-critical, over-achieving, over analytical ogres. If you don’t believe me, try going to a competitive event sometime as a non-biased spectator and watch the adults.
I have had the pleasure of judging many livestock shows over the years. I judge county fairs because I love working with the kids and at every show something happens to remind me of why I love working with kids. However, most of the time something also happens to remind me that parents and adults have lost sight of what is important. I have often thought, to gain perspective, everyone should have to officiate, referee or judge a youth competitive event. Believe me when I say, the judge can see you directing from the side of the arena, they see you snatch the lead rope out of your child’s hands and they see you throw your hat with disgust and it is not very flattering.
I know how easy it is to get caught up in the moment. It happens to me more often than I would like to admit. Between being highly competitive myself and a big fan of my own kids, I have let myself get carried away. I am fortunate to have a good circle of friends who let me blow off steam, patiently listen and then kindly remind me of what is important.
Am I against competition? Absolutely not, the real world is about competition. Am I against learning to play the game right? Again absolutely not, anything you do is worth doing it right and doing things right is more fun. But in the end we need to learn the art of good, clean competition and being able to take pride in doing your best.
One of my favorite pictures is of my daughter and one of her friends from another town. The picture is of both of them, each with a different uniform, arms around the other’s shoulders, holding their medals. Honestly, I don’t remember which one of them got first and which one has the second place medal, you can’t tell from the picture. All I remember is that the game was well-played and both teams left the field feeling good about their effort. That afternoon was a lot of fun and serves as a great reminder of why we play games.
As we go about this summer, we all need to take a deep breath, relax and remember why we spend time taking our kids to events. We are there because (hopefully) it is something that is important to our kids, something that teaches them worthwhile life lessons, gives them good healthy physical activity and most importantly is fun. So pour another ice tea, sit back in that lawn chair, cheer positively to your heart’s content, and enjoy the game for what it is, fun. After all, it is just a game.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lessons from Wheat Harvest

This past week we successfully completed wheat harvest. Dad and I have well-defined roles during harvest. He runs the combine and I am the truck driver. I like driving the truck, it is peaceful, with just a little bit of human inter-action and it gives me time to think. So I thought I would share some of my random thoughts of the past week.
OK, go ahead and make that left turn in front of me at the stop light because it takes a long time for my truck to start moving. Just remember one thing. It takes just as long for me to stop as it does to start. My truck is big and heavy, your car is not, and I will win. So, do you feel lucky?
Yes, my truck moves slow. But do you really think it is a good idea to glare at me over that bagel? My truck is full of wheat, wheat makes flour and flour makes bagels. Do you really know where little bagels come from? I do.
You really notice a lot of things driving 45 miles per hour with the windows down that you miss at 70 miles per hour with the air conditioner on and the windows up. We might all be better off if we drove a little slower and noticed a few more things.
Ice road truckers or Most Dangerous Roads, all of them are child’s play compared to driving down main-street on a Saturday morning. Cracks in the ice and blizzards are nothing compared to unpredictable stop lights and jaywalkers.
It’s hard to remember to put the new license plates on when you only drive the truck twice a year and the tags are renewed in February. However, it is not hard to remember that you forgot said license plates when the sheriff’s deputy is following you. Fortunately there must be some mercy rule when it comes to pulling over forgetful farmers.
It’s not good to drain the battery on your smart phone while waiting in the field or in the line at the elevator. Your car charger will do you no good. Who would have thought that trucks built pre- 1990 do not have power outlets? It’s like they never thought about cell phones in 1983.
You have to appreciate break downs that can be fixed with either duct tape or JB Weld. You also have to appreciate the mechanic savvy enough to realize duct tape is the answer. It is also nice that duct tape now comes in colors that match combines other than Gleaners.
There is no place on this earth hotter than the line waiting to unload wheat. It might have something to do with the grain elevators and storage bins blocking the wind. Then again it might just be because it is 90 degrees outside. Personally, think wheat dust and chaff must be great insulators.
The wheat will always be too wet the first time you take a sample into the Coop. This rule also applies to soybean, corn and milo harvests. We all know this rule but we just can’t help ourselves.
Always under-estimate the yield of the wheat and the price you will get for it. If the wheat is better than you think and the price is higher, you will feel much better. On a related note, it is a good idea to not look at the markets for about six months after you sell your wheat.
Wheat harvest in Eastern Kansas and Western Kansas is much like Columbus Day and Christmas. Both are holidays but one is a lot bigger holiday than the other. One is a three day weekend and the other has twelve days. I could go on but you get the point.
While I had many random thoughts during my time hauling wheat, one thought kept coming back to me. That thought was how lucky I am to be involved in an occupation I truly enjoy, one that my family has done for many generations and a job where I know I make a difference in this world. Yes, I think I am a very lucky man.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Recognizing Their Sacrifices

Memorial Day Weekend, a three day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, all things that I heard this past weekend. Is that what Memorial Day Weekend is about? Camping, resting and relaxing, and barbeques with family, these are all important things and events. However, often I think we get so caught up in our lives that we miss the real meaning of holidays like Memorial Day.
Memorial Day was set aside as a time for us to remember those who protected the freedoms that we often take for granted. I am not sure I really understood the meaning of the holiday until recently and even now I am not sure I still completely grasp the sacrifice made for me. My Memorial Day experience helped bring the message home, let me share that with you.
We went to the Attica cemetery to decorate the graves of Jennifer’s family. Call me morbid but one of the things I do is to walk through the cemetery and read the grave stones. I walked up and down the rows of stones reading each one. I especially paused at those marked by American flags. Each had a marker displaying the unit each person served in and many stated which war. Some with ending dates before the end of the war, many with indicators of a life lived after the war.
For some reason a thought hit me, one that should have occurred to me long ago. Each of these veterans left their life and families at home. They felt the calling to protect our country, and dropped what they were doing to go to a foreign land, put themselves in harm’s way to insure our ability to live freely. They left businesses, school and farms to enlist in one of the armed forces.
Those of us who are in agriculture know that it is no small task to our farms and ranches for a weekend, these brave men and women left for years at a time. They felt a since of duty that led them to do the most difficult thing any farmer and rancher could do, leave their farm, ranches and families. They left with crops to be planted or harvested, hay to be baled, sheep, pigs and cows to be tended to, all because there was another, more pressing job to be done. They left not knowing if they would return.
We should also not forget the parents, children and younger siblings left behind to make sure the crops were harvested and food was available. They stepped up and shouldered the yoke, pulling more weight than they would have been asked to normally. They kept things running back home while the most able bodied protected us in faraway lands.
I was humbled as I watched the memorial service. The flags and honor guard silhouetted by the golden wheat fields in the distance, the red, white and blue of our flag framed by the brilliant blue of the sky. I could only imagine a soldier taking one last look at the ripe wheat on a hot day, perfect for harvest as he left for war. I am sure he was assured by his family that they would make sure the work was done, all they while hoping he would be back before the next harvest.
I listened to the speeches and watched the veterans as they talked about the sacrifice of their comrades. I am sure the meaning of the day hits closer to home when you stood beside someone who did not come back, when you personally know what sacrifice means. Knowing that those you knew never made it home for harvest. It is for their sake that we need to remember that Memorial Day is more than just a three day weekend.
I am not saying we should devote the entire holiday to remembrance (although I am also not saying it would be a bad thing), rather I hope that next year each of us will take time to attend one of the ceremonies. I hope you will stop to think about the sacrifice made on our behalf, a sacrifice that insured that our great nation would stand strong and that the freedoms we take for granted would remain. I know we all have family members who served and most of us have family members who sacrificed. Take time to remember them next year.
That afternoon as we drove by the golden wheat fields and green pastures, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and a numbing feeling of gratitude for those brave men and women who served and continue to serve our armed forces. They sacrificed and continue to sacrifice well-being and many times their lives to give us the benefits and luxuries we all enjoy. The least we can do is give them a couple of hours.