Dust In My Coffee

Dust In My Coffee

Monday, November 7, 2016


As we enter the final days of the 2016 Presidential Election campaign we continue to see discussions take place on major news channels, social media, at the supper table and wherever two are gathered to dialogue about the candidates.   One concern I have is how the dialogue between candidates, the news channels and folks wanting to express their perspective has become more tense and personal than ever before.  Even though political campaigns use a strategy of putting the opponent down, I don't believe we have to do that in our conversations about divisive topics.   As a farmer I have had many opportunities to engage in divisive conversations about how food is grown. There are some techniques I have learned through CommonGround that I believe would be very helpful in discussions we have with one another.  These four tools can be the basis for a conversation that leaves room for respect and another person's point of view.

Be Positive.    When we are positive we allow room for other opinions, other ideas, other thoughts.  We can seek to find common ground by first focusing on just that.  As a mom I can often find common ground with other moms when I talk about how much I care about my children and grandchildren.   I can talk about how my family drinks the water on our farm and we eat food produced not only on our farm but we buy it in grocery stores just like they do.  When we seek to find something in common with another person we can separate the problem from the relationship.  We can share our ideas about a problem and even if we disagree on the solution at least we can keep a level of respect for one another.

My husband and I have five children.  This picture was taken in
around 1990.  Two of my children and a niece are sitting on my
lap.  Our children are all adults now but I will forever be their
mom and will always care about their welfare.

Be Inclusive.  In agriculture we are often pitted against one another by outside forces.  Big farms are often portrayed as impersonal while small farms are put on a pedestal as the only way to produce food.  As a farmer I choose to join the both/and crowd in recognizing the need for both.  We need modern tools that allow us to develop seed technology that will survive the threats of drought, floods, insects and other natural attacks a seed faces.  We also need farmers that will produce food in a way that allow consumers to have the choice to buy food right from the farmer.  When we build on the initial respect for one another we can find ways to be inclusive to more than one way of doing things.  Most of the time we can find a both/and solution versus either/or.  There are times when we will not reach an agreement and when that happens we can agree to disagree.

Be Credible.   We are able to look for information so quickly now.  Sometimes an infographic or blog can influence people to believe an idea that has no basis in science or fact.   One example is of a discussion I had with a radio host about sugar.  She saw a picture on Facebook of a liver wrapped in netting and the writing below it said that if you eat high fructose corn syrup your liver would look like that.  I went through the steps of explaining how an Iowa State researcher had proof that the body does not recognize sugar by the source it came from.  If she had sugar from beets, cane or corn it would all act similarly in the body and none of them result in netting around the liver.  Even though I had credible information this person had trouble getting that visual out of her head and still struggled with believing me.  Finding the right sources to get credible information can be a struggle for many people and that is why we have many farmers reaching out to consumers to talk about how we produce food.  We base our decisions on science and research so that we can build trust with consumers.  .

One way for me to visit with consumers about how food is
grown is through an invitation to have a conversation by
spending time in supermarkets for CommonGround.

Be Real.  You are who you are because of your lived experiences, education, beliefs and choices.  As a farmer that works with our cattle I can share the experiences I have of caring for cattle in a feedlot setting because I live it each day.  My values from my faith flow over into the way I care for our land and our animals.  My education gives me the foundation of how and when to administer antibiotics.  I admit I do not have all the answers and so I depend on other professionals like our veterinarians, nutritionist, nutrient manager and crop consultant to help us make the best decisions we can to be responsible, sustainable and successful.  When I travel I utilize photos from our farm to help in conversations that happen in places like the airport.  Once, I was sitting next to a gentleman from Miami on a flight from Chicago to Omaha.  He was telling me about his condo and the beautiful view he had.  I shared some information about my farm and the beauty I see.  He got his phone out and started showing me pictures of that beautiful view he had.  I asked him if he would like to see photos of my farm.  The first picture I pulled up included grain bins, cattle, fields, etc…   He burst out “you have a REAL farm” with such enthusiasm that I nearly fell out of my chair!  I don’t know what fake farms are but I do know that there are a variety of ways to show people our real side.

When I share this photo of our feedlot many people are
surprised at how much room the cattle have to move around.

Using the CommonGround approach to being positive, inclusive, credible and real in our conversations with one another can help us keep our relationships strong and provide room for the exchange of ideas.  I would like to share with you this quote from Pope Francis about dialogue.

“Dialogue is born from an attitude of respect for the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say.  It assumes that there is room in the heart for the person’s point of view, opinion and proposal.  To dialogue entails a cordial reception, not a prior condemnation.  In order to dialogue, it is necessary to know how to lower the defenses, open the doors of the house, and offer human warmth.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

When it Rains it Pours

The old adage, “When it rains, it pours,” often applies more to life experiences than the weather. In our area, it’s both.  Rain has almost become one of the forbidden “four-letter-words.”  Normally we are praying for rain this time of year to finish filling out the corn kernels and soybean pods. Rarely, though, does rain fall in the exact amount that the soil can handle. Tillage methods and terracing can help, but don’t stop all the water flow. So what happens to the extra rain?

On our farm we control water flow with narrow based terraces and two ponds.  Our west pond is a freshwater pond that pond keeps water from entering the feedlot.  We’ve made the fresh water pond a benefit to man and nature by stocking it with fish, building a dock, a bridge and an island, planting trees and creating a space to BBQ.  

Our fresh waster pond reached an all time high during the spring
of 2010 when the water nearly covered the dock.  The high level
didn't stop family members from enjoying time to fish. 
Our east pond is a holding pond for our feedlot.  The pond is about six acres in size which is close to the size of six football fields.  That pond was built with a clay liner to prevent any leakage.  We inspect the pond to make sure no trees or shrubs are growing along the sides.  We have monitoring wells above and below the pond that are tested twice a year for nutrient levels to make sure we are protecting the quality of water to the best of our ability.

This is our farm with the fresh water pond on the bottom of the photo or west
side of our farm.  The feedlot is in the middle and the holding pond is at the
top of the photo on the east end of our feedlot and farm.  We hold water that
falls on our farm and water that runs into our farm from the north and west.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issue regulations for us to follow.  Thorough records have to be kept that include daily rainfall and how we use the water in the holding pond.   We have consultants that keep up with regulation changes and help us manage the nutrients in the pond for use on crop ground as fertilizer.   
It is often a challenge for farmers to make sure that common sense prevails in the development of these regulations, as regulations made with good intentions don’t always turn out to be so. Many farmers do not end up holding the EPA in positive regard.  Farmers are often held to standards that municipalities as recently seen in Baltimore.    I will share some of our experience with regulations to give you a better understanding of the farmer perspective.
In the early 1990’s we built a sediment basin to keep soil and manure from leaving our farm.  A large perforated thick plastic tube allowed water to slowly trickle out, leaving us the sediment to use on crop ground.  The regulations about holding all the water were going through continual changes and by the early 2000’s they were getting closer to being finalized.  We hired a consultant to help us design of what we would need to hold our water and trusted that the design had been completed and submitted to the Nebraska DEQ by the deadline. 
A few days before Christmas that same year we received two letters.  The first letter was to let us know of attorney help if needed.  The second letter was from the EPA telling us we had an illegal discharge and were being fined.  Our hearts were not as joy-filled as they normally are for Christmas knowing we had quite a situation on our hands.
We slowly learned what exactly had gone wrong. The design was submitted without the stamp of an engineer, was sent to an engineer for that stamp and was lost on the desk of the engineer.  A deadline was missed and we were considered the responsible party.  Hard to believe, since we thought we had done everything we were supposed to.   One comparison would be that of hiring an accountant to do your taxes.  Let’s say you turned everything in, signed what needed to be signed, paid your bill and then received a notice from the IRS saying your tax return was never filed and you owed a huge fine because of it.
Our discussions with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and Region 7 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed us to meet people with and without an understanding of agriculture.  We were told we needed to immediately stop the flow of water from the sediment basin, so my husband and an employee wrapped the tube with thick black plastic.  It was winter so they were able to work on the mostly frozen sediment to get that plastic around the tube and down as low as they could.
As spring came with rains the sediment basin started to fill up with water.  During the last week of June something happened to the plastic causing it to allow water to leave the sediment basin.  Calls were made to the NDEQ and the EPA.  Engineers came out with their suggestions and a variety of ideas were tried.  Eventually, my husband had to crawl out above the water on 2 x 4’s bolted together to drop sandbags down the middle of the tube and the outside of the tube to stop the water.  The danger he put himself in was at that time irrelevant to those telling us we needed to stop the flow of water.   
This photo was taken after a recent rain that dumped 3.5" in a very short time.  The amount of water that goes into the holding pond variesWhen we receive large amounts of rain in a short time the ratio is 8:1 of
inches added/inch of rainfall.  If the ground is dry in the fields that will ratio will drop due to less runoff entering our farm.
   We will remove the sediment when it dries and apply it to area crop ground.

The holding pond was built later in the summer with as much regard to public notice, zoning laws and regulations as we knew of and what we trusted our paid consultant to make sure was done correctly.  In the end we did have to pay a fine and were asked to share our story with the Region 7 EPA employees.  The EPA paid our expenses to make a trip to Kansas City for that presentation.  Ironically, months later while still waiting for reimbursement we learned that the check issued for our expenses had gotten lost on someone’s desk at the EPA.
It is important to us that we do what is right for the environment and our neighbors.  We are able to protect the rivers and streams from receiving any unwanted nutrients.  We are able to control water and sediment from wreaking havoc on fields and homes downstream.   We strive to be responsible stewards and considerate neighbors by minimizing the smell of the pond and working with consultants to apply the nutrients to our crops using best management practices.  We rely on our consulting service to give us that extra layer of expertise to make sure we are complying with changing regulations.

When we use the holding pond water to irrigate  we are required to keep
records that show the start and stop times, the high and low temperatures of the
day before, day of and day after we apply as well as the wind speed and direction.

Normally we have our holding pond at three- to five-foot levels this time of year.  We have used the pond for irrigating corn throughout the summer and came very close to a five feet level about three weeks ago.  Since then we have had small rains and two large rain events that have added at least five feet to our holding pond. We are obligated by regulation to have our pond under five feet by winter and that is not going to be an easy task.
When it rains my husband gets uneasy now.  The forecast for a quarter inch has often been turned into three to six inches and even nine inches in nearby areas. Sometimes when it rains, it pours!  Do you think we are ready for a dry spell?  Ouch, a dry spell is not something any farmer dares to pray for as it often leads to prayers for more rain!

Steve always dreamed of having his own fish pond near his
home and now he does!  Here is showing a Catfish he caught
in the pond while our dog hopes he will drop it right in her mouth!

It would be insensitive of me not to acknowledge the suffering many people go through each year due to flooding from stormsNothing compares to the loss of life and property people have endured over the centuries due to acts of nature.  Even with the weather forecast capabilities we have now we know the amount of rainfall in any given storm can vary greatly.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to those suffering from the recent flooding in Louisiana and those going through Hurricane Matthew. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fit Happens

What does it mean to you to be fit?  Is it an exercise program or a combination of diet and exercise? The focus on fitness began in the early 1980's for me.  Fitness for me was more about exercising and looking good versus improving overall health.   After college I joined a YMCA to take a Jazzercise class that sounded like much more fun than running.  I was sold quickly on the music with exercise routines and advanced to the more rigorous aerobic dance classes.  When I moved to Dodge my husband encouraged me to start classes in the area.   I became a certified instructor and taught aerobic dance classes in Snyder, Dodge and Howells.  I have many fond memories of the fit that was happening in those exercise classes.

After our fifth child, Kim, was born I used a step exercise
program.  The step was collapsable so I could use it anywhere.
As you can see here the kids also enjoyed using the step!

Fast forward forty years and I am no longer dancing my way to fitness by telling students to kick that leg higher, pull in the stomach or to keep breathing.  I am still concerned about the exercise portion of being fit and have found a variety of ways to make that happen.  While some of my exercise is planned, the majority of my exercise is related to my daily work on our feedlot where more than just fit happens.  I am privileged to have a job that allows me to move throughout the day.  I have also learned, though, that a bit of time on the treadmill early in the morning gives me more energy for the day.  Yes, it's an odd sort of consequence that exercising will give you more energy, but it's true!

Did you know household cleaning can burn 170 calories per
hour?  There was a time when our son, Jeff, loved to ride
the vacuum adding a increased weight training.

While exercise has been the majority of my focus on fitness over the years my overall well-being has taught me that exercise alone is not enough.   I can no longer freely nibble on M&M's (my favorite stress food) or eat as much as I want whenever I want.  Another bad habit I had-skipping breakfast- was a major culprit to eating snacks later in the day.  To keep fit happening I needed to address my eating habits.

I have found my cravings for snacks start to disappear when I eat 20-30 grams of protein for breakfast. I know that protein has power when it comes to weight management.  Several studies show the importance of eating enough protein throughout the day, not just at one meal.  Consuming 30 grams three times a day is recommended.  There are a variety of ways to have protein for breakfast including eggs, beef and protein bars that use soy-based protein.  I can get the same amount of protein from this easy recipe for a beef and egg breakfast mug as I can in 5 protein bars--and with fewer calories--as seen in this video.

Some of you might be using devices like the FitBit to track your physical activity.  There is a great program that can help you track the protein you eat called 30 Day Protein Challenge.  If you have a handle on your exercise routine then this protein challenge could be the next step to increasing your overall well-being. 

I love to promote beef as a source of protein.  Here is a photo
from an in-store demo of rib eye steak.  I had one customer so
unsure of what the cut was that she had me to over to the meat
counter and point exactly to the rib eye steaks.  You can learn
all about beef cuts and preparation methods here.

Making fit happen has been an ongoing learning experience.  There is not a one size fits all when it comes to incorporating exercise, diet and rest to obtain optimal health.  If you are looking for increased energy and/or weight loss I would encourage you to first find an exercise program that is flexible to your schedule and incorporate more protein in your diet.

I would love to know what you do to make fit happen in your own life.  If you have suggestions, tips or ideas that have worked for you please share them in the comments below.  Now, go make fit happen in your life!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Don't You Know Who You Are: Alzheimer's

A couple of months ago I was sitting across the kitchen table from my dad on his last night in the home he has known for almost 50 years.  Dad was going to be placed the following day in a memory care home for adults with Alzheimer's.  This was not a sudden decision but rather the agony of many months of discussion that culminated when my mom was diagnosed with cancer and started her chemo treatments.

I was working on getting some photos developed at Walmart for the room he would have.  As I finished up I heard my mom say something to Dad about Joan.

I looked up from my laptop and asked Dad "Who is Joan?"

He looked at me and said matter-of-factly, "Don't you know who you are?"

Oh, the heartache of Alzheimer's!  As dad posed the question to me, I melted inside, wondering if we were doing the right thing.  Was Dad really sick?  He seems so normal at times.

I looked at Mom with her scarf on, hiding her now bald head due to the affects of chemo.  Yes, we had to move Dad, so Mom could heal.  I shut my laptop and went to Walmart to get the photos, some frames and other supplies dad would need.

 My dad's family.  Front Row:  Verna,  Michael and Mary, Stella. 
Back Row:  Melvin, Clem, Helen, Leo, Joe

When I returned Mom and I moved Dad into the living room to pray a rosary.  The rosary has been a great source of strength for my parents and for Steve and I.  I'm not sure how well dad can reflect on the mysteries of Jesus' life, but I do know it is one activity his brain continues to know how to do.

One activity my dad still remembers very well is
praying his rosary.  This was a nightly routine and now
we pray it with him when we visit. Even though Dad
doesn't always hold a rosary, his hands act like one is there.

I then encouraged mom to get ready for bed so we could hopefully transition my now drowsy dad into bed as well.  Bedtime has been the most challenging time of the day for my mom in getting my dad to go to bed.  That night I was feeling very grateful because Dad was in his bed by eleven.

My bedroom was just down the hall and adjoined the bedroom he was in.  About 2 a.m. I heard the sound of a power tool.  I got up and walked down the hall to peek into his bedroom.  Dad was kneeling on the floor next to his bed with a power tool in one hand and his other hand just laying nearby like he was trying to figure out what to do next.  I felt so sad that this man who had modeled hard work by repairing cars, tractors, trucks and drywall tools could no longer figure how what he was suppose to do with the tool.

I turned and went back to my room.  I didn't know what else Dad had hidden under his bed, so I just laid down in my bed just listening to him.   At some point I dozed off and was awakened by noise coming from the kitchen.   I got up and went to the kitchen to find Dad in a kitchen chair with a cookie jar lid on the floor.  I spoke to Dad about going back to bed and decided to try pulling him to his room while he sat on the rolling chair.  I did get dad back to his room and back in his bed.  It was about 4 a.m.

The morning came quickly with much to do to make sure the transition would go as smoothly as possible.  My dad could walk with two canes but spent most of his time sitting in his wheel chair.  When he was in bed it took a lot of time and patience to get him going and he was known for resisting efforts to get him up and moving.  We had extra help that morning to take care of Mom and keep Dad occupied outside, so I could transfer his bed and a desk to his new home without him seeing what was going on.

My mom and dad have a deck on the south side of their house.  During the fall
of 2010 my siblings and I worked together with dad to build this deck.  It was
  during those work sessions that we first noticed dad was having memory issues. 

My uncle helped me get Dad's bed and desk unloaded and put together.  We put on the newly washed bedding, put the pictures around the room, and I put his Bible, the Diary of St. Faustina and some of his prayer cards on his desk with a crucifix nearby.

The home Dad would be living in was only about five minutes from where he and Mom raised six children.  We felt the proximity would be very helpful to Mom and the daily visits she would make.  Our original intent was to hope a place would be available in the Veterans Home.  Dad was on a waiting list that could take up to a year for a spot to be available for him.

Back at home we only had to get dad in my car and load up his wheel chair.  His clothes and personal items were all waiting for him at his new home.  My aunt and uncle were going to meet us there to help get dad inside.  He was not one to be tricked.

We stopped at the Dairy Queen, my dad's favorite place to stop, and proceeded with ice cream to the new home.  Dad was feeling drowsy and wasn't able to eat all of his ice cream before we arrived.  My uncle greeted us at the car as I unloaded the wheel chair.   My aunt was inside and opened the door for us and greeted dad with a hearty hello.  Dad responded with his own hearty reply and we went inside.

Family is so very important during times of trial.  Here is my dad, mom,
Aunt Stella, Aunt Juanita and Uncle Paul.  Juanita and Paul have been
great friends as well as family support for me, my parents and my family.

My heart was feeling relief and a heavy sadness at the same time.  Dad would never go home again.  This was his new home.  This was where he would spend the rest of his days.  I looked at mom with her scarf wrapped around her head and remembered the many questions dad had recently asked me like "Where is my wife?" and "Where is everybody?"  He had been saying each night "I want to go home."   I knew this was not the home he was looking for and I hoped the photos of his parents and the one of his siblings would bring him some comfort.

My siblings helped me put together a book for dad for his
80th birthday that included photos from his youth to the
present day.  He is looking at it with his sister, Stella.

We were told not to spend much time with dad so the staff could start interacting with him and start to settle him in.  As my mom gave him a kiss I again felt the stab of sadness that one feels during many life moments--dropping a child off at camp, leaving a child at college, giving a hug to a child that is going overseas and now saying good-bye to the life dad had with my mom.

Mom comforts my dad with a warm blanket.

Alzheimer's is a cruel disease.  During my visits to see dad I met other Alzheimer patients that were funny, angry, silent or at moments very sane.  Dad seems to maintain some of his sense of humor with the help of medication to keep him calm.  "Don't you know who you are?" has come back to me many times since that last night of his at home and I can only hope that even though he may not know who he is I will never forget that he is my dad and he deserves all my love and the best possible care until he goes to his final home.

Dad has always loved playing with the little kids and his
face lit up when he saw the two great-granddaughters.  Jeff
also had a chance to visit his grandpa while home from Peru.