Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Life Well Lived and Thanksgiving Thoughts

Over the past three weeks I have been profoundly affected by the news of four people who passed on.  On the surface all four people were very different and the situations were very different. However, in many ways they were very similar and they all carried a message that we would all be well served to learn from this Thanksgiving.
Luke Schemm was the All American farm kid we all wanted our sons to be like. He died way too young and his death hit me hard. He was the same age as my son, Isaac and had a lot of the same interests and aspirations for the future. By all accounts he was the type of young man everyone looked up too, young and old. He lived each day to the fullest and accomplished an amazing amount in such a short time. I marveled at the strength, poise and dignity his parents displayed in what had to be their worst nightmare.  Luke reminded me that our time on earth is short; we should make the most of it.
I had the privilege of working with Ann Religa. She was a 4-H Agent with amazing talent and even more energy. She worked hard and spent more time taking care of everyone else than she did worrying about her own needs.  I can only imagine the number of lives she touched and the influence she had in the success of so many. No one worked harder or cared more than Ann and those are rare qualities. I worked alongside of Ann a number of times and admired her greatly. Ann showed me that a job should be more than a paycheck and that the legacy of the lives touched is more important than titles or personal success.
The third passing was that of Dr. Mark Bettencourt. I had the privilege of getting to know Mark a couple of summers ago when our daughters were on the same softball team. We shared many beliefs and ideals but more importantly we both shared the love of family and for our kids. Our daughters are both tough, hardnosed competitors who play for the love of the game. I truly enjoyed the time I spent with Mark but more importantly I marveled at the father and husband he was. Mark’s passing drives home the reality that nothing is more important than family. A man’s greatest accomplishment is his family, nothing is more important. Mark lived that every day and it was evident to all who met him.
Just this morning I received word that Justin Fouts passed on. I consider Justin a neighbor, his son’s land borders mine and we often talked along the road. Justin was one of the most upbeat, positive, fun loving people I have ever known. He lived a long full life and accomplished much during those years. He was always quick with a smile and a joke. I learned to enjoy life and to laugh often from my neighbor.
The news of all four rocked me and affected me profoundly. One I had never met, Luke, but in a way I had. I lived for two and a half years in Wallace County and served as the Extension Agent. I knew Luke’s family, they are good, salt of the earth people and Luke embodied the type of young person I worked with during my time there. I had worked alongside, Ann, and tried to live up to the example she modeled. She truly portrayed the saying, “find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.  Mark, who showed me what it meant to be a man, a father and a husband. He was a good man who put his family in the forefront of his life. Justin showed me how to enjoy each day and find joy in everything.
As we sit down at our tables this Thanksgiving I ask that you keep each of these four and their families in your prayers. Pray for their families to find peace and to know that they have communities of support to fall back on. I cannot imagine how tough these next couple of months will be for these four families and my heart breaks for them.  Holidays are hard after the death of a loved one; I would imagine they are much tougher if the memory is still fresh.
However, I hope they will also take comfort knowing that each one lived a life of purpose and left behind examples that we all can model our lives after. We can all pause to look inward and strive to live our lives in a manner that will honor their memories. No matter what has happened in the previous year we can strive to live life to the fullest and leave behind a lasting legacy through our families and the people we touch every day.

Happy Anniversary

This is a monumental week at our house. Yes, basketball practice starts but that is not it. We should have everything buttoned down and in place for the winter and while that makes me happy that is not it either. This week, Wednesday to be exact, Jennifer and I celebrate twenty years of wedded bliss. OK, so it has been twenty years of wedded bliss farmer style.
The very day of our anniversary is probably a shining example of what is like to be married to me. The morning will be a rush to get chores done before she goes off to work and I take off for the Governor’s Water Conference. I will try to check in that night as I rush on to Session meeting at our church leaving Jennifer in charge of chores for the night. We farmers are incredible romantics.
However, it is not much different than what she has come to expect over the past two decades. Quiet nights at home are often interrupted by a crisis of some sort.  A tough day at work, yes, the very same work that most farm wives must go to. It is mandated that we have health insurance. As I was saying a tough day at work when all she can think of doing is falling back into her chair and relaxing. Only to have me meet her at her car and ask her to help me get the cows back in.
Then there are those mornings during lambing season when the alarm goes off extra early so we can go out and check ewes before she spends eight hours at her other fulltime job. Luckily there are weekends. Yeah right, weekends when you are married to a farmer are far from relaxing.  Chores and projects are never ending around the farm and farmer husbands are always needy when it comes to weekends.
At least she gets vacation days at work. Workers are given vacation days as a time to recharge and get away; that is unless you are married to a farmer.  Then your leave time is spent working calves, hauling cows to pasture and building fence. If you do get away there will be many farm related stops thrown in.
The most difficult part of being a farm wife is knowing that the farm comes first. Everything must wait until the end of the year. Whether or not the kitchen gets remodeled or the car gets traded off is at the whimsy of the weather and the markets. We all know that good years are few and far between. It is not fair, but that is the way farming is. Too often she has heard, “well maybe next year will be better and we can do…..”
There are long hours during lambing, calving, planting, haying and harvest. Often I am out the door early and back late. Projects that need to be done are often tagged with “I will do it on the next rainy day.” It is really funny how often we are in a prolonged drought. At least that is what one would think if those projects were really waiting on the next rainy day.
I am not sure if this is what Jennifer signed up for twenty years ago. I do know that she has went back and looked at the fine print of our wedding vows and found out that picking up rocks was not part of the deal. She also often wonders out loud when the richer part is going to get here too. Lord knows the better and worse parts of those vows have cycled through. Farming is all about the highs and lows.
I think she might be able to get me for false advertisement. I am sure I might have oversold the whole farming is a wonderful lifestyle thing during our courtship. I know this because the subject has been brought up from time to time. Like all farm wives I know Jennifer deserves more and better and I am certain there is a special place in heaven reserved just for farm wives.
To be honest I am not sure why she has put up with me or the farm for the past twenty years. I am not sure which is more frustrating (I think I know but I am afraid to ask; only one of us has increased in value). All I know is that I feel incredibly blessed to have spent the twenty years with her and I cannot imagine this crazy life without her.  I am not sure what the next twenty will bring (I am sure they will be better) but I know they won’t be dull.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

ID for Bacon Purchases

This week I went to the grocery store to get a few of the necessities. You know milk (in a house with teenagers milk is always on the list), orange juice, bread and bacon. I got to the checkout counter and the clerk asked to see my I.D. At first I was puzzled, I had successfully passed by the beer aisle and tobacco is about the only bad habit I had never picked up, so why the need for I.D.? Then I realized I had a similar sinful, bad unhealthy product, bacon.
OK, that never happened but given the recent news release from the World Health Organization, aptly named W.H.O.  It could have and might happen in the future. You know, as in W.H.O. in the right mind would ever do that? W.H. O. do they think they are? Well, you get my point. In case you did not hear, W.H.O. released a statement saying that they were classifying bacon and other processed meats as a group 1 carcinogen along the same line as tobacco and asbestos and all red meat as a group 2A. All of this came with words like probably and may, not real hard and fast, scientific evidence like one would expect with such strong recommendations.
Let’s address the processed meats first. I think we would all agree that processed meats are a sometimes food. I do not think anyone ever confused bacon with a health food. Processed meats have a lot of other health concerns along with the latest allegation and I am sure that we are all aware that we should not consume large quantities of them. I must say that while I am a big fan of bacon (yes, I am a big fan, literally) I fully understand that it must be ingested in a very limited amount.
Then came the biggest kick in the gut (again literally) when red meat was classified as a group 2A carcinogen. This is where the biggest leap between sound science and conjecture was made. The W.H.O. consistently uses language like “may be linked” and “a probable cause of cancer”. W.H.O. admits that the studies are limited and on small sample sizes and maybe influenced by outside factors like bias. I have a masters degree and I conducted research trials of my own and have many hours of statistics and several things caught my eye. First, bias should never come into play in a truly scientific study; there is never room for bias of any kind. Second, small sample size is a problem to make any study statistically significant. To be taken seriously all data must be statistically significant.
It bothers me a great deal that an organization like W.H.O. would make recommendations like this based on flawed or potentially biased research. However, W.H.O. has a track record of doing such things and not always being friendly to animal agriculture. However, I think the biggest problem with all of this is how it was reported in the media. If you read far enough down in the report, you will find that W.H.O. still reports that red meat has nutritional value as long as it is eaten in moderation. That was almost never reported, especially by national news outlets. We can get into what moderation means but that was never reported, at least initially.
I think what this highlights is a bigger problem that our society has, moderation. I am the worst offender when it comes to eating in moderation. Yes, processed meats are probably not the healthiest of foods, but if we eat them on a limited basis, I doubt if they would have an impact on our health. However, I dare you to name a food we have not added bacon too. Yes, it has become hard to find one that does not have bacon added to it in some form.
As far as red meat, I still believe it to be a healthy part of any balanced diet. Again, as long as we consume it in moderation. That moderation thing and consuming the recommended portion size is what trips most of us up. In most cases it is not the food that needs to have a warning but the manner in which we dine. However, we have become a society that would rather blame someone else for our problems than look inward to find the real reasons.
While I would rather see W.H.O. wait until they have solid proof and irrefutable data before they make recommendations that have such an impact on farmers and ranchers, I understand that the modern world does not work like that anymore. I feel confident that red meat is nutritious and safe. I also know that eaten in a balanced diet, red meat is an important source of many nutrients and healthy. I will continue to eat red meat and occasionally processed meat and I don’t care (what) W.H.O. knows.

Kids Are Hazardous To Your Sleep

Isn’t it funny as parents how we wish and hope for the next stage in our kid’s lives? We think if they could just do this, life would be so much easier. We wish time away, when in reality we should be enjoying the moment we are in. I don’t know how many times I have heard parents say, “I can’t wait for my baby to start crawling.” Boy is that a mistake. Soon we all find out as parents that life was a lot less exhausting when junior staid where we put them. We didn’t have to worry about what they might get into or where they might go.
Then we wish they were out of diapers. OK, so that is a valid wish and one that I cannot find any downside too. Car seats are another thing we cannot wait for them to get out of. They are a pain, especially if you have to move them, but quickly we find out that traveling without them is not much easier and leads to more backseat fighting if you have two or more kids. Heaven help you if you are anxious to have them move to the front seat, then you can say goodbye to controlling the radio.
Driving was a huge milestone in our house and having both kids be licensed drivers was an even greater occasion. Sure it meant two more cars, more insurance and an exponential increase in gas usage, but it the benefits would outweigh the costs. Or so I thought. No more rushed early mornings for school activities, late night dashes to pick up from a dance and no early afternoon rushing to a practice on a non-school day. Life would be easier, or so I thought.
Life might be easier in a physical sense, not needing to leave the house but it did get more stressful mentally. Sure, in theory I could get more sleep because I do not have to stay up, leave the house and drive. Yes, I can go to sleep when I want too. However, I find myself watching a lot of late night TV, waiting to see the lights come down the road. Then, and only then, I can breathe a sigh of relief and go to bed. I know I do not need to stay up; rest assured the kids have told me that, I can’t help it.
Last Sunday was a prime example. It was homecoming week at school and they were kicking it off with a bonfire and movie night (no school on Monday).  Both kids drove to the event because a) no one wants to be seen riding with a sibling and b) they both had plans after the event. Ike was coming home and Tatum was going to a friend’s house for the night. Instead of waiting up I decided to try going to bed at a decent hour. Soon I drifted off watching the news.
I was rousted out of a peaceful sleep by the phone ringing. A bleary look at the caller id revealed Ike’s number. Heart pounding I answered. “Dad do I have an insurance card?” I immediately heard on the other end. I explained it was in the glove box and repressed the urge to ask why until the very end. “Because the deputy asked for it, I will call and explain,” was the answer. No worry about falling asleep waiting on that call.
In a couple of minutes I got the return call. He had been pulled over and had gotten a warning. A huge wave of relief rushed over me and I decided to wait up (sleep would not come for a while now anyway) until he made it home. As soon as he pulled into the driveway, the phone rang and it was child number two. It seems as though her car would not start, but she had gotten a ride to her friend’s house. Soon I found myself watching late night TV wishing I could sleep and wondering what it will be like in those few short years when the kids are out of the house.
Experience has taught me that the next stage will bring its own unique set of benefits and worries and I guess it is just human to look forward to it. I am sure that worries about the kids will always cut into my beauty sleep just like earlier worries in earlier stages have taken a toll. One thing I have learned is to enjoy the good things about each stage and not let the challenges get too far under my skin. As I assure many new parents who are stressed over the challenges at hand, blink and it will all pass in a heartbeat.

Anitibiotics Good For Beef, Good For You

Tonight we are going to sit down around the kitchen table and enjoy one of my favorite dinners, pot roast. There is nothing better than a slow-cooked, properly seasoned hunk of beef and the corresponding vegetables. I cannot wait and the best part of all is that I am 100% sure it is absolutely safe to eat and free of antibiotics.
How can I be sure it is free of antibiotics and safe? I raised the animal this particular pot roast came from and I have followed all of the protocols and precautions to make sure it was free of any possible antibiotic residue. So your response is naturally; great, you raised it so you know, but what about the meat in the case at my local grocery store?
Whether it says antibiotic free or not I assure you that the meat in your grocer’s case is also antibiotic free. I know, each day we are all bombarded with information about antibiotic resistant bugs. I also assure you that farmers and ranchers are just like you and we are all worried about our families’ health. Some of the stories are quite frightening and we are alarmed and for good reason.
It was natural for some to make the leap and assume that agriculture has played a part in the increase in resistant bacteria. Farmers and ranchers are some of the largest users of antibiotics. In many cases in modern animal agriculture, antibiotics are included at therapeutic levels in livestock feed to promote growth and prevent infections. This practice has been around for decades and has been studied extensively.
All animal medicine, including antibiotics used in feeds, are closely monitored and approved by the FDA. Antibiotic resistance in humans has never been linked to the use of antibiotics in animals, never.  Why all the scrutiny on antibiotics and particularly those in used in feed?  An increase in the cases of antibiotic resistance in humans has led to greater speculation. However, speculation is all it is.
I speak for my fellow farmers and ranchers when I say that we are cognizant of the value of antibiotics and the dangers of their overuse. We are concerned about resistant bacteria in our livestock but the concern for our animals pales in comparison when it comes to the concern we have for our families. That is why we are diligent in our use of antibiotics and follow label directions and withdrawal dates. It is simply the right thing to do. We are farmers and ranchers and proud to raise the meat on your dinner plates but we are fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts first. The safety of our families is paramount.
I assure you that we are in favor of continued monitoring when it comes to anti-biotic resistance and we will be the first ones to look for solutions if the time ever comes that a problem is found. However, that time has not come and the antibiotics we utilize are critical for the health of our livestock. Just know that the meat on your table is antibiotic free, it will stay that way because of concerned committed farmers and ranchers.
OK, so I am preaching to the choir, we all live this every day and we are concerned about the increased regulations on antibiotics. I am even more concerned about where this might lead. It is very important and even critical that we voice our opinion and educate our consumers about how we use antibiotics and that they are not linked in any way to antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans. We need to tell the story to every consumer and reassure them that their food is safe.
We must also acknowledge our responsibility to use antibiotics in the right way and work closely with our veterinarians to insure that we are. We are under more scrutiny and more people are watching our actions than ever before. I know we are and we will continue to but a good reminder never hurts either. We live in an era of more attention where opinion and speculation often outweigh facts. It is up to us to make sure the facts and scientific proof are interwoven into that public opinion.
Just like my perfectly cooked, properly seasoned pot roast takes time and effort turning the tide of public opinion takes just as much time and preparation.  All of this talk about beef and pot roast has made me hungry so I must turn my attention to the chuck roast slated for supper tonight. You know, the one that is healthy, wholesome and, most of all, antibiotic free.