Friday, November 30, 2012

My Real Christmas Wish

The Christmas Season is upon us. Yes, the real Christmas Season not the after Labor Day, commercial Christmas Season that many of our large retail stores have turned it into. Personally, I refuse to talk about Christmas or consider anything Christmas until after Thanksgiving. That goes for Christmas shopping also, so no, I do not have any Christmas shopping done yet.
I love the Christmas Season and almost everything about it. I especially find meaning and love what Christmas really stands for. I am not ashamed to say that Christ’s birth is at the forefront and center of everything Christmas means to me. Without a celebration of Christ’s birth and an advent season with a deeper meaning, Christmas would become X-mas. Then it would become just a commercial holiday about material things and that would make it pretty hollow.
I really think my farm upbringing led me to this deeper appreciation of the meaning of Christmas. The Christmas Season was a truly special time in our house growing up. It began shortly after Thanksgiving with the cutting of a real, live cedar tree (OK so it involved the cutting of several cedar trees to find the right one). I can still remember the smell of evergreen all around our house and that along with freshly baked sugar cookies are the smells of Christmas.
Decorating the tree was a family affair. We each had our own ornaments that we put on the tree. My main ornament was an elf. I still revel in just sitting in the glow of the Christmas tree lights later in the evening and early in the morning during the Christmas Season. Often this quiet time, when I am the only one awake is when I do my best reflecting on the very things that give Christmas its meaning.
We also had certain Christmas TV shows we watched every year. Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the Peanuts Christmas cartoons were annual visitors at our house. I still look forward to watching each of these shows every year. My favorite is Linus telling the Christmas story and it gives me goose bumps to this day. I am not a big fan of sappy movies with one big exception, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, is something we should all see every year.
Then came Christmas Eve, it was the best day of the year. Much of my childhood we milked cows. Christmas to the kids of a dairy farmer is a little different than the Christmas of other kids. Everything centered around milking those cows. I remember getting ready for Christmas Eve services and being told I needed to be ready and out of Dad’s way when he got in. We sat, anxiously awaiting church and what was to come afterward, while Dad got ready.
Then we would pile into the car and leave for Christmas Eve candlelight services. For some reason my Mom always forgot something and had to go back into the house and she took forever. Christmas Eve service is, without a doubt my favorite part of Christmas. Nothing is more meaningful to me than to sing Christmas Carols and end the service with a candlelight singing of “Silent Night”.
We would then pile back into the car and head home. The funny thing about being a dairy farmer’s kid is that Santa comes while you are gone to Christmas Eve service. You see he knows that we could not get up early enough to open presents with Dad in the morning and that he couldn’t sneak past Mom after Dad left to milk and he always knew when Christmas Eve services were. That meant we got to open presents on Christmas Eve.
Up until now you will notice that none of my memories have to do with presents. Growing up the son of farmers taught me to appreciate any and all gifts I was given. We learned to value the idea that our parents loved us enough to give us gifts. If it was a good farm year, maybe the gifts were a little bigger, but they were always something we cherished and appreciated. We never worried about whether someone else got more or better gifts, we were excited about what we were given.
I fear some of that is lost in this day of a more commercialized Christmas. It seems each year the expectations are bigger and the tugs at our time are greater. We do not seem to have the time to appreciate the build up to Christmas or to really value each gift and the thought behind that gift. More importantly, we don’t seem to have time to stop and think about what Christmas is all about.
My wish for you this Christmas Season is to have a Christmas more like the one I had as a child. Take time to enjoy each sight, sound, taste and smell of Christmas. Make sure to have some quiet time to reflect on the real meaning of the Season. Most of all take the time to spend as a family and just appreciate each other and take that time to pass an enjoyment of the simpler things on to your kids. Now pardon me as I plug in the tree and sit down in my easy chair.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Thoughts from a Farmer

I must admit it; I like to eat poultry from time to time. Fried chicken is one of my favorite meals and I don’t mind other chicken dishes occasionally. Most of the time I prefer beef and pork, but there is one time of the year that poultry is the required main dish. Thanksgiving is just not the same without a big ol’ turkey. Of course we can’t forget the dressing, cranberries, rolls and pumpkin pie. All important ingredients in a Thanksgiving feast.
While food and overeating seem to be the focus of Thanksgiving, I think we sometime miss the point. Well, maybe we don’t miss the point but the idea of Thanksgiving takes a back seat. This is the one day of the year that we are to take time to give thanks for the things that are most important to us. We all have much to be thankful for.
I truly believe that we should all take a little time each day to reflect and give thanks for all we have. Each of us is blessed with so much, giving thanks once a year is not enough. I don’t care what your situation is or what is going on in your life, each of us have blessings that we can give thanks for. However, with our busy lives we do not often take time to think about all we have, that is why Thanksgiving is so important.
First and foremost, I am thankful to live in a nation of unprecedented freedom and individual rights. I know that many of the headlines and many of the talk shows focus on what is wrong with our great nation. I am here to tell you that we still live in the greatest nation ever; we are freer than any people have ever been and those rights are more protected than any human rights have been ever in any nation. We often take the rights and freedoms we are born with for granted.
We also live in a nation where our quality of life has the greatest potential to be comfortable and happy. Notice I did not say wealthy and easy. Some are privileged enough to live a life of wealth and ease, most of us are not. However, we enjoy a better quality of life than most of the rest of our fellow human inhabitants of the world. We are relatively safe, free of worry about being harmed each day. That is a rare thing in this world. Most of us have enough money to purchase the necessities we need like shelter and food and many of us have enough to purchase “things” to make us happy. That is a rare luxury in this world.
Along with that comfort and quality of life we are so blessed to live in a nation where food is often an after-thought, at least when it comes to availability. We will go shopping for our Thanksgiving feast and have to decide between many different brands of turkey, prepared in many different ways and in many different sizes. Then we will wander the long aisles of the supermarket looking at the massive displays of all the different ingredients for the many side dishes we will prepare. What a blessing to live in a nation with all the different choices of food, the abundance of food and the quality of food, we all enjoy.
Where else are whole TV channels dedicated to food. Nowhere else in this world could you have the choice of eating establishments or the diversity of places to purchase food. It seems everywhere we go we are faced with the availability of food. Most of us have more problems with too much food than too little. I am quite sure this is a blessing that we all take for granted.
I know that Thanksgiving is also a time that I am thankful to be part of the tremendous network of farmers and ranchers who help provide this abundance. Think about the fact that fewer than 2% of our population work to grow all the food we consume. That leaves the other 98% to pursue other paths and make our nation even greater. I am so proud to be part of this occupation so revered that it is considered a way of life rather than a job.
I am also proud to be a part of a larger system of food and fiber production. This includes the researchers and entrepreneurs’ who provide us with the cutting edge technology to steadily increase the amount and quality of food we produce. I am also thankful for the educators, mechanics, technicians, and others who help us on a day to day basis. And I am thankful for the men and women who handle the raw materials we grow and bring the finished products to your table. We are all part of the greatest agricultural system the world has ever known.
This is just a small, small sampling of our blessings and the things we should all be thankful for. All I am asking is for each of you to take a moment on Thanksgiving to reflect on all that we have. Then take that moment and bring it into each day. I think if we all take time to remember what is important each and every day; we will appreciate all we have. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Election Results, What To Do?

I am writing this column late in the evening on Election Day. I can’t sleep or quit watching the election results. I am not sure why, but watching the results coming in on Election Day is one of those things I can’t get enough of. I am equally as sure that the first thing I will do in the morning will be to fire up my computer and turn the news on for even more results. Call me a glutton for punishment.
While I was watching the results it occurred to me that many of us will be very disappointed with the results of this election. Now, don’t read too much into that statement, I am not talking about any one race but the collection of all local and national. Our wonderful democracy serves us very well but leaves almost as many disappointed voters in every race as it does happy victors.
It is easy to get discouraged when a candidate you supported does not win. The dawn on the day after the election can be pretty gloomy if your side did not win. But in a day or two, maybe a month, you will realize that the sun will continue to come up and our great nation will continue to lead the world. However, what you do in a time of disappointment defines your character.
I am always reminded of something my parents burned into my brain. If you don’t like the way something is done, work to change it. It does no one any good to sit around and complain about the way things are going. If you don’t like the people in charge, roll up your sleeves and get involved.
This advice goes for everything from civic clubs, churches, school boards, and city councils to congressional seats and even the President. If you don’t like the direction we are going in, work to change that direction. One of the essential rights we all have in this great nation is the right to help determine our government. That is a right that many of us have become apathetic to and chosen not to exercise. It is also one of our most important rights.
OK, so I am asking you to get involved, but let me also give you a whisper of caution. Please become informed before you become involved. I tell you this as someone who was at the mercy of elected officials for many years. It is easy to run on a platform of reform and change, but it is much harder to implement said change and reform. You may find out that the way things are done really is the best way. That is why you should be informed first, understand the issues, and then formulate the plan.
Having said that, I believe that everything, every system, and every budget should be reviewed every year and nothing should ever be static. New input, fresh ideas and a different perspective are always a good thing. That is why more of us should become involved in our governance at some level. This nation was designed to be governed at a grass roots level. That is something I think we are getting away from.
Each of us should take pride in the community around us and we should want to make it better. Many of us have become too apathetic and too wrapped up in our daily lives to get involved. We need to take back that control and get involved. Maybe you think getting involved is too hard; you might be surprised at how easy it is. Offer to help out at the most basic level; PTA, a committee at church, your homeowners group, the local farm organization, Extension Council, the opportunities are endless and easy to find. All you have to do is make yourself available.
So if you are disappointed by this election, the good news is that you have time to work on a solution. It’s time we all get involved in our communities, counties, state and nation. We are incredibly blessed to live in the greatest nation in the world with all of the freedoms and rights we enjoy. However, all of this does not come without a cost and that cost is our involvement.
So I challenge each of us (myself included) to roll up our sleeves and get to work on a little “community improvement”. If we each become involved in our own little corner and strive to make it better, I think we will be shocked at the differences we will see. Now just like I said, the sun will come up tomorrow but if I don’t turn off the computer that dawn will be too soon.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Life is Good!

Did you ever have one of those days? OK, I know many of you are expecting me to tell you about a day when everything went wrong, the cows were out and the pickup broke down. Well, I could write one of those, I have had a couple of those days in the last week. Instead I am going to tell you about something far more rare, a day when everything went right.
Friday, dawned cold and crisp. I woke the kids up at the usual time. I expected to hear a lot of groaning and moaning about getting up early on a day off of school. Instead they bounced right out of bed (well, OK saying they bounced right out of bed might be a stretch, but they did get up relatively easily). Breakfast was eaten together with everyone joining in a conversation about what we were doing that day.
Next on the agenda were the chores.  They were a piece of cake, even though everything needed watered and hayed that morning. We made quick work of them and did some extra so the weekend would be easier. We drove over West and checked the wayward bull, banished to a pasture all by his lonesome. We found him munching on green brome grass and enjoying his solitude, but more importantly, right where he was supposed to be.
Now we were on to the main event, building a catch pen to bring a bunch of cows and their calves back home for the winter. It was a daunting task that involved gathering up every spare portable panel we could scrounge up. Again, the kids did not whine or complain about being asked to help. Funny how loading and unloading panels seems to be half as much work when both kids are around. An added bonus was that I did not need to get out of the pickup to open gates all day. Now I am starting to remember why I wanted to have children.
We soon had the pen constructed and the only bump in the road was a blown hydraulic hose on the bale bed. Even this was fortunate because it happened when we were unloading panels instead of loading. If it had happened while we were loading we would have had to unload all the panels and load them on another truck. All of this good fortune allowed us to finish the catch pen mid afternoon.
We had planned on taking the cows from this pasture and the cows from another pasture home on Saturday. That was a daunting task and probably was going to lead to a really hectic, if not impossible day. As we finished the pen, Dad mentioned that he was going to get a couple bales of alfalfa and coax the cows toward the pen. He finished his thought by saying, “do you suppose we could haul them home tonight if they all come in.” My response was something along the line of that would never happen and the probability of pigs taking to flight.
We came back with hay and started calling the cows and calves into the pen. Soon we had about 85% of the herd securely in the pen. However, the other 15% were strung out over a couple hundred yards and two or three cows were on the wrong side of the pen.  We decided to start quietly hazing the stragglers into the pen, but agreed that if they ran, the mission would be postponed until tomorrow.
Slowly but surely (so slow it was really quite agonizing) we hazed the stragglers toward the catch pen. Amazingly, the cows and calves already in the pen stood patiently. Just as we were about to have them caught, cow 506 decided to be contrary. Just then, as all looked lost, the Calvary, I mean Jennifer appeared. She was just getting off of work and was picking child #2 up for a church retreat. Her timing was perfect and as the five of us hazed the cattle the last fifty yards into the pen, we all knew victory was in our grasp.
Dad, child #1 and I hauled the cows home with little problem and finished right before dark. I must admit that for the most part we were still stunned and in disbelief that we had actually pulled it all off. I must also admit that the next day went just as well and we got the cows in the other pasture hauled home and we dismantled the catch pen. I couldn’t have asked for two more productive days.
I guess I don’t really have a point in all of this, other than it feels really good when a plan comes together. I enjoy what I do, even on the worst of afternoons. Days like this are even more affirming, making me realize that I do love my chosen profession. However, for those of you who are disappointed that this column was not about misguided bovine, flat tires and breeched fences, stay tune. We still have several more days of gather cows and sorting calves, plenty of time for my luck to change.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Really Scary Halloween Thoughts

Halloween is this week and around our house it is not nearly the holiday it was three or four years ago. In some ways I kind of miss the kids not having a school Halloween party, costumes to dream up and of course trick-or-treating. I especially miss the trick-or-treating. OK, so I miss the digging through the kids loot and picking out my favorites. First all the chocolate is picked out, then the other candy and then about Thanksgiving you are down to the Smarties and Dum Dums.
Halloween in a household of teenagers is an entirely different thing. Gone are the cute costumes, candy and fun and in its place are the horror movies, Halloween parties and being scared out of your mind. Of course we adults have even outgrown the being scared part of Halloween. Monsters, aliens, zombies and paranormal activity may scare youngsters on Halloween but we adults know that horror is constant year round. Let me give you some horrifying examples of what is truly scary.
I get really scared when my mechanic tells me to sit down before he hands me the bill. I was scared out of my mind at the sight of the orthodontist handing me the payment book. I find my hand shakes uncontrollably when I make out the property tax in May. Each August I am overcome by a feeling of dread as I open the mailbox on the day the electric bill comes. A feeling of panic comes as I watch the numbers change at the gas pump almost daily.
If daily life wasn’t scary enough there is the horror that comes with being a parent. Not just Hollywood fear, but the true shock of gazing upon your teenage son’s room. No natural disaster horror flick can hold a candle to the destruction you are witnessing. No sound will cause you to lose sleep like the giggles of a gaggle of girls on an overnight sleep-over. And of course, nothing, I mean nothing is scarier than teaching your child to drive. Just the thought of it causes me to break out in a cold sweat and my heart to palpitate (It really isn’t what you think, Ike is a pretty good driver, I am thinking about my insurance rates).
Speaking of cars they have their own, unique terrifying moments. Scary sounds, like the sound of a clicking ignition signaling a dead battery or the air hissing out of your tire. Bad feelings like the sickening bump, bump, bump of a flat tire and the horrifying realization that you left the spare at home. Then there is the sudden frightening appearance of the deer you couldn’t find during hunting season suddenly materializing right in front of your hood. Paying my $500 deductable, now that is scary.
Fear follows me to work too. I have experienced the eerie silence of the tractor that dies two miles from home and out of cell phone reception. Then there is the silence of the lambs a sound that often greets me telling me that the sheep have once again escaped the confines of their pen. The sudden disappearance of all the cattle in a pasture is terrifying and the sudden appearance of manure in the road is spooky. I recoil in fear each time I check the commodity markets, the radar during harvest or my bank account at any time.
Yes, Mr. Hitchcock you may have found those birds scary but try carrying a bucket of feed into my ewe pen and then you will know real fear. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre terrifies most people but the Kansas Chainsaw Not Running causes my hair to stand on end. And the Nightmare on Elm Street is nothing when compared to the Weaning in the Corrals.
I don’t know if you are as scared as I am, but I find everyday life chilling. I guess the everyday fears are why most people go to horror movies; it is an escape from life’s pressures. However, I for one, don’t like to be scared, that is why I prefer my Halloweens to be about costumes and trick-or-treating. So if you will excuse me I have a whole bag of Halloween candy to eat and the results of that could be real scary.