Musings of a First Time Dad

Recently my mom had her three-year-old grandson peeling hard boiled eggs for Kaleb and Kacipotato salad.  He soon told her, “Me no like,” to which mom asked how he does like his eggs.  Without missing a beat, Aiden replied, “With bacon!” This led to a discussion on the need to record what kids say.  Because three-month-old Kaci hasn’t given us much to write down yet, I’ve started recording a few of her dad’s sayings.

Kaleb’s first dad quip came on the way to the hospital.  We had been to Northern Rockies in Cut Bank and received word that yes, a baby was on the way and that now would be the time to head to Great Falls for a delivery.  With bags loaded in the car and PB&J sandwiches made, we were on our way!  We had made it about ten miles down the road when Kaleb looked over at me and asked, “Do you want to stop at the Dash Inn on our way?”  I explained we might have to skip the milkshakes and keep driving this time!

As we left the hospital with brand new baby in tow, I asked Kaleb if anything had surprised him throughout the process.  “Well, I thought there would be more of an inspection or something before we left,” Kaleb said.  It was becoming apparent that we were solely responsible for this tiny baby, despite our minimal parenting credentials.

Six days post new baby, I felt fairly accomplished to have made chicken and rice for dinner.  Kaleb came home, looked at it, and said, “This looks really good and all, but when are we going to eat some of those casseroles out of the freezer?”

As we watched our tiny daughter’s body be consumed with hiccups, we pondered if they hurt and how long they’d last.  “Well, if they’re like human hiccups…” Kaleb mused.  I reminded him that we had indeed brought a human home from the hospital!

By day 18 we were at a loss of how to stop the fussing and crying that seemed to happen every evening from this inconsolable newborn.  Finally, Kaleb looked over and said, “Should I get her some pots and pans to play with?”  I explained that while I didn’t have much for answers, I was pretty sure the pots and pans stage come a little late in life than day 18!

Despite our naivety as parents, the Lord has proven faithful, showered us with grace, and allowed us to keep this tiny human alive for nearly three months now!  There is no one I would rather be on this parenting journey with than Kaleb.  When I was overwhelmed after a day of a crying baby, Kaleb would come home, take Kaci, and send me out for a walk saying, “I got this.”  When the dishes are still piled in the sink, Kaleb washes them without complaint.  When I purchased a Taking Cara Babies sleep course, Kaleb faithfully watched it as well rather than scoffing at the concept.  Many, many nights its Kaleb who grills dinner while I feed Kaci or put her to bed.  Kaleb models sacrificial love daily and is a wonderful partner in this endeavor.  Happy Father’s Day, Kaleb!

Dear Class of 2020…

Dear Class of 2020,

Grad pic

Graduation day, May, 2013, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, following graduate school.

While I’m sure you’ve already heard many words of advice in recent days, I hope you have the humility to listen to those words that are shared with you.  While sometimes the advice can get to be a bit much, just remember it is shared with you out of love and support and you can learn something from everyone.  Not all the suggestions will apply to you, but I hope you’ve learned to be teachable and will consider the words shared with you.  In the 14 years since my high school graduation, I’ve had time to reflect and the following is what I share with you.

  • Build your community – In a 2017 survey of nearly 48,000 college students, nearly 65% said in the past year they’d felt, “very lonely.” It is great to be invited into a group or to do something, but you must seek out and create your own community.  Give that bible study group, volleyball team, or chess club a try.  Ask to sit with someone else at breakfast.  Chances are good that person sitting alone scrolling through their phone isn’t as busy as they look, and deep down would appreciate the human interaction.  Introduce yourself, say hello, and you just might make a friend for life.
  • Get to know yourself – Spend time thinking about who you are and learn what motivates and discourages you. Consider what your passions and gifts are, ask those who know you best what patterns they see in your life that maybe you’re not even aware of yet.
  • Avoid debt – The credit card offers are likely already hitting your mailbox, and no, a credit card does not make you, ‘an adult,’ it makes you in debt. Debt will restrict your long-term opportunities and add stress.  Nearly 70% of Americans do not even have $1,000 to cover a basic emergency.  Don’t be fooled by your peer’s new vehicle, shopping spree, or daily coffee habits.  Chances are, that lifestyle is financed.  Save, save, save, and budget for the future.
  • Show up, every day – It is amazing how far you can get in life by simply showing up, day after day after day. Show up, sit in the front of the class, and ask questions.  Every day, on time.
  • Serve others – Find a place to serve and share your talents and skills. Give back to your community.  Maybe it’s mentoring a kid, donating blood, or coaching Little League, but do something!  Consider all those who helped you reach your goals and seek to share that with others.
  • Learn to problem solve – More and more people seem to just want ‘the answer’ or hope for a cookie cutter approach to daily life where someone simply tells them what to do. Don’t settle for this!  Use the brain the good Lord gave you and ask questions, read, study, and learn to problem solve.  The more you learn (listen to podcasts, read books, ask questions!), the more problems you can solve.
  • Surround yourself with people better than you – Find the people who are skilled in their field, who are more motivated than you, and have bigger goals than you. Those are the people to spend your time with.
  • Know what you stand for –What values will you stand firmly on? Where will you refuse to compromise?  Make those advanced decisions now so that you will not waver when the time comes.
  • Put on pants – If you want to be taken seriously, put pants on. Sweatpants hardly radiate motivation.

With graduation in the rearview mirror, your future has a clean slate.  Know that opportunity continually finds those who show up and work hard.  Work ethic, problem solving, and the ability to communicate can likely set you apart from your peers no matter which path you take.  And lastly, may you seek the Lord in all your do, and allow Him to direct your paths.  Matthew 6:33 says to, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…”  There is truly no better way to live life than seeking Him and allowing the God of the universe to direct your steps, guide your path, and reveal His purpose for your life.

Soar high, class of 2020!Itemized Categories

20 Ways to Use the Whole Cow

Anyone who has ever purchased a half or whole beef carcass has likely been a little perplexed at some of the meat cuts they’ve received back.  Cooking a T-Bone, Rib Steak, or grilling a hamburger is relatively straightforward, but how do you use round steak, stew meat, and all those roasts?!  Even if you don’t purchase your beef by the half or whole, this post contains 20 ideas for using those less expensive cuts of meat.  So, stock up next time your grocer has a sale, here’s some great ways to use those lesser known and valued cuts!

Round Steak

  • Betty Crocker Tex Mex Slow Cooker Round Steak – The slow cooker method is perfect for leaner cuts like the round steak. This recipe makes a large batch so be prepared or perhaps cut the additional ingredients in half for a smaller family.  I added 8 ounces of cream cheese during the last 30 – 45 minutes of cooking for a richer flavor and served over rice.
  • Round Steak Stroganoff – This recipe can easily be made with Cream of Chicken soup (really!) if you don’t have Cream of Mushroom soup on hand. A slow cooker recipe also exists if desired.
  • Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry – This was always our favorite way to use broccoli that came in our Bountiful Baskets. It’s delicious over rice and tasting it you would never guess it comes from a lesser valued cut of beef.

Stew Meat

  • Campbell’s Shortcut Beef Stew – This recipe calls for sirloin steak, but stew meat works just fine. However, I recommend allowing the soup to simmer 20 minutes or longer to ensure the connective tissue in the stew meat has time to tenderize.  I typically use 2 cans of condensed tomato soup (no French Onion soup) and rather than frozen vegetables add chunks of potatoes, onions, and carrots and allow it to boil until the vegetables are tender.  In the final five minutes or so, I like to add frozen peas and to serve, sprinkle parsley on for some color.  The Worcestershire sauce provides some good flavor and a little additional garlic salt and pepper is good as well.

Cubed Steak

Sirloin Steak

  • Grilled Steak Fajitas – This is one of Kaleb’s all-time favorites and is impressive to
    steak fajitas

    Grilled steak fajitas are a favorite of Kaleb’s and his typical birthday meal request.

    serve as well. Spanish rice makes a nice side if desired.

Roast Beef

I typically cook roast beef in the slow cooker (seasoned first with salt and pepper) on low with a small amount of water for 8 hours (4 hours on low, 4 hours on high) and serve with mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots or peas, rolls, and perhaps Apple Pie for the All-American Sunday dinner.  For the roast beef leftovers, here’s a few options:

  • BBQ Beef – Simply slice up the beef and add to a saucepan with your favorite bottled BBQ sauce and heat through for BBQ Beef sandwiches. Chips or potato salad, fruit or carrot sticks, or baked beans on the side makes an easy and complete meal.
  • French Dip – French dip sandwiches are another quick and easy leftover meal.
  • Cowboy Cocktails – My friend Kelsey first introduced me to the Cowboy Cocktail of Big Mouth BBQ at the Montana State Fair food court during our 4-H steer showing days. They can easily be made with layering baked beans in a bowl followed by BBQ beef (or pork) and potato salad or coleslaw on top.  The hot/cold, crunchy/soft, sweet/tangy combination is delicious and a one bowl meal!

Ground Beef

Ground beef or hamburger can easily be stretched to feed multiple mouths with many of these recipes.  When ground beef is on sale, stock up and fry 5 – 10 pounds at a time, drain any grease off, cool, and bag into 1-pound batches in Ziploc bags and freeze.  Then, when short on time you can simply pull a bag of browned ground beef out and still have dinner on the table in short order.  Depending on the recipes you typically use the ground beef for, you may choose to dice up onions with the beef as well.

  • Betty Crocker Meatballs – These are a great staple to have cooked and, in the
    Meatballs

    Meatballs can easily be mixed in a mixing bowl, scooped with a cookie scoop, baked, and frozen for multiple meals.

    freezer, and can then be added to spaghetti for spaghetti and meatballs, to rice for sweet and sour meatballs, or to mashed potatoes and gravy.

  • Chili – Everyone has their favorite recipe, or try a few of these out. Cornbread or cinnamon rolls make a great side and leftover chili can be used for a topping on baked potatoes or in tortillas with cheese on top as well.
  • Lasagna – This lasagna recipe is extremely simple and makes a quick and tasty meal with salad and garlic bread.
  • Cheeseburger soup – When providing snacks after church, I occasionally do nachos and then use the leftover nacho cheese in cheeseburger soup in place of the Velveeta cheese the recipe calls for.
  • Taco Pie – This is a quick and easy recipe, and hard to go wrong with Fritos, sour cream, cheese, and beef!
  • Shepherd’s Pie – In terms of shepherd’s pie recipes, this one is fairly easy. I typically add extra ketchup for more sauce.  Double the mashed potatoes and then use the extras the following day for meatballs (from the freezer), mashed potatoes, and gravy.
  • Sloppy Joes – Sloppy Joes are another quick and easy dish that easily becomes a meal with some carrots sticks or celery and fruit. If you plan to make it the same week as the fajitas, you can buy the green peppers in bulk!
  • Taco soup – Another good soup recipe to top with some cheddar cheese and tortilla chips.
  • Cheesy Hamburger Noodle Bake – This is a great alternative to lasagna and can easily be doubled for a 9 x 13 pan or to freeze some. Great with a salad and bread!
  • Runzas – Nebraska’s ‘Runza’ restaurant serves beef and cabbage sandwiches and this recipe does a great job replicating. I use my favorite bread recipe, Whole Wheat Refrigerator Rolls, and have around 24 sandwiches for the freezer for Kaleb’s lunches.  When cabbage was $0.38/lb. this week, it was time to bake some of these for the freezer!

How about you?  What are your favorite ways to use the whole beef carcass or capitalize on those less expensive cuts of beef?  Leave your recipes in the comments!

 

Chili

Chili with a side of cinnamon rolls, apples, and cheese makes a delicious dinner for a cold winter’s day.

“Just Google It!” Or not?

google search engine on macbook pro

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In my relatively short lifetime, technology has changed by leaps and bounds.  As a 3rd grader, we saved documents to 5 ¼ inch floppy disks which later downsized to 3.5-inch hard disks.  By high school I had learned to email documents to myself ‘just in case’ I lost my flash drive or wanted to work on them from home.  Now, I can save documents to ‘the cloud,’ print wirelessly from my phone, and I essentially carry a small computer/camera/video recorder with me everywhere I go.  Along with these changes, we’ve transitioned to a, ‘Just Google It’ society, which leaves me wondering what we’re missing while we’re Googling.

Once during graduate school my advisor, Dr. Terry Klopfenstein, responded to a question that, “We just don’t know that yet.”  It finally clicked.  We (the Animal Science community, in that case) really did not know the answer to that question.  Until then, I had always felt that if I would just study hard enough, would just read enough books, and would just put forth enough effort, that it would be possible to master the material.  Finally, I realized that not all the answers were in a book or were even obtainable.  Instead, there was still much research to be done in order to continue to discover, “the answers.”

Since then, I’ve wondered how in my education had I developed the notion that all the answers were available, somewhere, somehow?  I realized that I had trained myself to read not necessarily for comprehension but just enough to find ‘the answer.’  I realized that my method of researching a topic often amounted to “Just Googling” until the needed information could be found.  I learned that I need to read for comprehension, so that through understanding a topic there can be questioning, analyzing, and the creation of new information, not just repetition of someone else’s version.

With the touch of a button we can ask Google for facts, figures, and the weather.  But what do we really need from those we work and serve with?  Rarely do we need more facts and figures, but instead we need people who can think critically, and problem solve.  Recently Kaleb sent me to our local Napa to pick up a part.  The parts man explained that while they didn’t have the piece needed, he could pull it out of a different kit and sell it to me for $11 versus $32 for the whole kit with the excess parts.  His problem solving (and saving me money) was refreshing!  We need to encourage people to not just remember information or mindlessly follow a protocol but to instead analyze and evaluate in order to solve problems.

Recently a fellow extension agent and I were discussing the challenges of attracting younger producers to events.  While there’s likely numerous factors at play, I have to think that a generation that has grown up with 24/7 access to nearly unlimited information may not value an educational program like those from other generations.  However, we need to remember that not all answers can be found on the internet.  Most problems in nature, particularly production agriculture, are complex and multi-faceted and much curiosity is needed to tackle these problems.  While its very possible to gain information via YouTube or a Google search, there may be as much information to be gained from visiting with a fellow producer over a coffee break or networking with a speaker.  Similarly, I can listen to numerous podcasts and read multiple books on marriage and parenting, but the wise counsel of a mature and Godly friend who has already walked that road can be even more impactful.  We must not substitute information for conversations and relationships.

The technology available to us today is phenomenal and will only continue to increase.  I certainly wouldn’t trade a Google search for the days of combing encyclopedias and numerous resource books for a quick answer.  However, as we embrace this technology we must continue to read to grow in understanding, train people to problem solve and think critically, and develop relationships with those around us.

A Refreshing Election

This week I had the opportunity to sit in on a local 4-H club’s yearly officer elections.  Each member, from 8 to 18 years old, had the opportunity to participate in the process and cast their vote for the club president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and historian.  After a few minutes of watching the process, I decided our politicians could take a few lessons from our local 4-H youth.

Perhaps one of the most attractive points of the 4-H club election process was the extremely expedited campaign process.  There were no yard signs, TV ads, radio ads, sponsored Facebook ads, billboards, newspaper editorials, or campaign donation requests.  Especially attractive, was that there were no phone calls during dinner from pollsters prior to the election asking 20 leading questions related to the upcoming election.  The entire 4-H officer election process consisted of a nomination and then a speech of one minute or less by each candidate.  The combination of advance preparation and impromptu speaking (by middle schoolers, nonetheless) completed without campaign managers or teleprompters was quite refreshing.

Each candidate’s speech was listened to respectfully by all members.  Most

Election

Each speech was listened to respectfully and met with applause.

members shared their experiences in 4-H or on Student Council, and their desire to become more involved in their club as a reason for running.  There was no booing, no mudslinging of opponents, and no division of who was on what side.  Each candidate’s speech was met with applause by all members.

Perhaps the closest thing to a political promise of the evening was one member’s pledge to use parliamentary procedure to run a quick and efficient meeting!  On the political scene lately though, it seems most political campaigns are a combination of who can promise the most ‘free stuff’.  As I thought about the fact that not a single of the 4-H officer hopefuls had promised anything free to their fellow members, I thought that might be a function that at their age they likely don’t have much for assets to offer.  But then again, politicians aren’t offering their own assets, they are simply offering to redistribute the assets of some taxpayers to other citizens.  I much prefer the promise of quick and efficient meetings over promises of ‘free stuff’ by politicians.

At the end of the night, votes were tallied in a matter of minutes and results announced promptly.  There was no election forecasting done during the process, and no waiting up until the wee hours of the morning checking websites for results.  At the conclusion of the evening, snacks were enjoyed by all, in the company of all.

Regardless of the 4-H club election’s outcome, I’m confident everyone will continue to work together for the coming year.  Yes indeed, there is many a lesson that can be learned from elections of the local 4-H club!

Why I (still) love the county fair

Growing up, the third week of July meant the Marias Fair and the biggest week of the year for me.  Trophies were awarded, friends were made, water fights were had, and it was the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of work.  A decade or two later, the fair may not look the same as it did during my era, but I (still) love the county fair.

In an era of easy Amazon shopping and social media competing for kids’ time, the concept of a youth taking the time to produce a completed project is extraordinary.  chinksWhether it’s a pint of strawberry jam canned with grandma, a leather belt tooled by hand, a handcrafted woodworking project, or a beautifully decorated cake, the fact that an 8 to 19-year-old made something, forever excites me.  That quilt, pie, or paCakerts of the swine poster is typically not the first draft either.  Behind each exhibit was likely a mom, dad, older sibling, or leader asking, “Are you sure that’s blue-ribbon quality?”  With the motto, “Make the Best Better,” I love that we are teaching kids in 4-H to self-evaluate if they are producing their best.

To this day, my best friends are still those from 4-H.  Within a few minutes of being at the fair this year, a 4-Her from another county ran up to me and asked if I had seen her Glacier county 4-H buddy yet.  The relationships and friendships built at the fair are second to none, and I love to see kids connect with other kids who have the same interests as them.  Whether it’s pushing a wheelbarrow cleaning pig pens or washing lambs together, every task is more fun with a friend.

From the relationships built at the fair, community begins to develop.  A community of cheerleaders, encouragers, and friends.  One of our incredibly shy 4-Hers illustrated this in that prior to his first swine show at the fair his mom asked him how thought he was going to do.  “I think awesome, because everyone keeps telling me I’m going to do awesome,” he said as a matter of fact.  This continually reminds me that kids rise to the expectation we put in front of them and the importance of being surrounded with positive community.

The county fair also represents the local community.  The lineup of market steers largely represents the local ranches breeding programs.  Many volunteers have now served through two or even three generations of families and continue to serve because they believe in the program.  The livestock sale packs the barn with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and business owners.  Babies are passed from one friend to another and rocked to sleep by the chant of the auctioneer while nervous nine-year olds seek out their livestock buyer for a handshake and hug.  These are the people that make up our community, present and future.

I love to see hard work rewarded, and the county fair consistently does that.  The fair reflects who has put in the work in the months prior, and to see a showman and their

Coalter and kari

Seeing 4-Hers hard work pay off at fair and getting to celebrate their success is a highlight for me.

animal interact seamlessly in the ring is much like a well-orchestrated dance.  As these kids display their projects, their confidence grows tremendously.  Regardless of whether they leave the ring or Exhibit Hall with the purple rosette, no one can take away their confidence from the work they’ve invested.  I hope these kids at the county fair become addicted to working hard and will carry that over to whatever career path they choose.

With most judging being done on a qualitative basis, youth learn to accept and respect the judge’s opinion.  The fair provides an opportunity to learn humility and to lose graciously as well.  There were many times I thought that I should have placed differently, but that only fueled my desire to work harder the following year.

Lastly, I love that with hard work and drive, anyone can succeed at the county fair.  Maybe the kid that struggles to interact with other kids can find their passion in the poultry project.  Maybe the kid that isn’t athletic can find their niche showing livestock or creating quilts.  Maybe the girl who is struggling through the pre-teen years can pour her heart and soul into her horse project.

To me, the county fair is much more than fried food and entertainment.  It is where character is revealed, confidence is built, and work ethic is rewarded. To me, it represents a snapshot of what is still good in rural America and every year I leave encouraged by the incredible youth we (still) have at the county fair.

 

Summer Camp Realities

As an adult, I’ve attended far more camps and overnight trips as a chaperone than I ever attended as a youth.  My personal camp experiences were limited to falling off the top bunk and immensely missing my bottle calves and barn cats at 4-H camp, to nearly drowning in Flathead Lake when my pool noodle drifted away before I could reach it at church camp.  Growing up on the Kevin flats did not adequately prepare me for summer camp experiences.  Since then though, I’ve been honing my ability to sleep on a cot, keep kids from getting too close to the campfire, and flip hundreds of pancakes.  Mostly though, I’m left in a continual state of admiration for those individuals whose lives are fully devoted to keeping children alive on a daily basis.

The idea of summer camp is to send kids off for a few days to develop some independence away from home, make friends, and develop a few skills as well.  The key, of course, is to keep them busy enough that they fall into their cot exhausted and sleep peacefully until morning.  Reality, however, is instead excessive chatter.  In the girls’ cabins, this chatter typically relates to boys, the dance, the name of the boy they met but can’t remember, what’s for breakfast, what was for dinner, boys, what time they plan to shower in the morning, and boys.

Once the chatter finally ends, I still typically find myself unable to sleep.  Maybe it’s the fear of the parent who on my first trip to camp looked at me and asked if I was the adult in charge, or maybe it’s a byproduct of not being a parent myself.  Regardless, I still lay on my cot with thoughts of, “Are they all still breathing? Was that sniff a homesick cry under the covers, or is it allergies? Or is that normal breathing? Why do these cots creak so much?  Why can’t the kids lay still?”  No Animal Science course prepared me for these questions.

This year, my instruction to rest during afternoon quiet time was met with a dozen nine-year-old girls staring me down from their sleeping bags with beady eyes like racoons in the night.  Except its broad daylight and these kids talk more.  I didn’t crack and the hour of quiet gave me some extra time to identify which cot was repeatedly rocking on the cement floor.  By night two, I had shimmed said cot with some dirty socks.  I would have never made a real engineer, but desperate times at camp call for desperate measures.

As previously stated, the notion of trying to wear out the kids is key.  Thus, an outdoor Janae at campBingo seemed like the perfect plan this year.  We’d send the kids off to find various trees, grasses, plants, and wildlife scat in their quest for a Blackout Bingo.  Great idea, until we considered who would verify their Bingos and how would we would ensure these kids were still on the premises without attaching tracking collars.  So, with each group, Kim, Emma, and I escorted them through the meadows, around the trees and down to the creek while verifying their cards.  By our twelfth Bingo tour we decided our idea of wearing out the kids had backfired and if the 20,000 steps our FitBits had logged was any indication, we were the ones wore out!

The bright side of chaperoning though, is a yearly affirmation that we do have some useful skills in life as an adult. Skills like knowing how to successfully use a mop, navigate the showers, or roll up a sleeping bag are not taken for granted at camp.  Life skills affirmation is great but putting the cot away for the year is even better!

From bedtime stories to wooden spoons, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

I think every mother must question their child rearing at some point, particularly during the early years in the trenches.  Despite all the sagest counsel and books available, it appears child rearing becomes a unique journey of trusting one’s instincts and deciding day by day how to grow a child into a productive adult.  I was blessed to have a mother who prayed for me and led by example in her daily life.

Mom was the bedtime Bible story reader, maker of the ‘Hobo sack lunches’ in the summer, and baker of special birthday treats.  She was the proofreader of hundreds of essays, 4-H record books, and scholarship applications while expecting a standard of excellence.  She has been the maker of thousands of homemade meals and the mixer of hundreds of milk bottles for orphan calves over the years.

Mom taught us priorities as a family.  It was God first, family second, and ranch third.  However, family ranch and ranch family were so intertwined that it would be hard to separate the two.  Mom’s teaching on the ranch consisted of, “Take your coat, you never know what the weather is going to do!”, “Don’t ride the 4-wheeler up that hill!” and “Put your sunscreen on and your boots away!”

‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ meant Mom’s wooden spoon was used for more than just stirring biscuits.  More than once did I get to sit with my nose in the kitchen corner over the years.  I can also still taste the Ivory soap in my mouth, a consequence of getting too sassy as well.

Mom taught by example.   She watched sales flyers and internally tracked produce prices, teaching me a ‘sale’ is not always a sale.  She modeled calling her own mom Sunday evenings after 8 p.m.  At the kitchen table she faithfully wrote out wedding, graduation, baby shower, and sympathy cards to those in the community.

My mom helped create lifelong habits in me – church every Sunday, writing thank you letters, ironing shirts, and pitching in where needed.  I remember as a pouty 10-year-old questioning why we were again cleaning up after the 4-H club meeting and gave a very sound thesis about the inconsistencies in other family’s contributions to clean up.  Mom ignored my analysis of others and instead simply responded that the sooner the job got done, the sooner we could all go home, so I had best start vacuuming.

After leaving home I began to realize all the little things that I took for granted.  Breakfast, every single morning (sometimes with teddy bear or dinosaur pancakes).  A fridge constantly stocked with leftovers.  Her ability to put together a meal for unexpected guests with the ingredients in the cupboard.  Homemade chicken noodle soup when I was sick.  Fresh cinnamon rolls with chili.  Raspberry freezer jam.  Homemade meals were a love language Gary Chapman may have left out, but that Mom showed us daily.

Mom likely didn’t grow up dreaming of being a cow puncher on the Montana

DSCN2847

My mother has exemplified the lifelong commitment of marriage over the last 39 years.

prairie, but she has faithfully filled the ranch wife role for 39 years.  She has demonstrated standing by and supporting a husband throughout droughts, fires, blizzards, and the devastating interest rates of the 80’s.  She has simply done what was needed done.  Whether it was checking calving cows in 40 below weather, baling hay in the 95-degree summer heat, or praying for rain, Mom has exemplified carrying on when things get tough, with seldom a complaint.

Proverbs 22:6 instructs, “Train up a child in the way he should go: even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  I have been blessed by a mother who trained me up in the way I should go, who lived a life that I can model mine after and who is both my biggest critic and my biggest encourager.

Five Years of Learning as an Extension Agent

This past week I hit the five-year mark as a Extension Agent.  Since May of 2014, I have

Kari and Coalter

As an extension agent I’ve come to realize not every kid I teach could possibly have the fair’s Grand Champion, but every kid I teach can have honesty, integrity, responsibility, work ethic, and the ability to interact with their peers and adults.

learned more about my job, the people I serve, and just how much I have to learn.  I spent six plus years learning how to best feed a cow, but then I get asked about rhubarb that frosted or a 4-H pig’s cough.  I’ve learned to add ‘+Extension’ to all things when Googling, that my husband is a Godsend when setting up and tearing down events, and a host of other lessons along the way.

I’m learning to surround myself with agents better than myself.  I wish I would have picked up the phone more often in my first year and sought out mentors.  Being the single agent in the office can be awfully lonely sometimes, but an, “I’m proud of you, kiddo,” from the agent of my 4-H days means a lot.  Research says we’re the summation of the five people we spend the most time with, and I’ve learned to spend time with those who are achieving, who are serving their communities, and who are searching for positive solutions.  Consequently, I try to encourage new agents as well.

I’ve become leery of the “You should…” statements.  I’m learning that one person’s perspective of what I ‘should’ do (either because that was my predecessor’s passion, or they believe someone should do it) should not set the direction of my programming.  Through 20/20 hindsight, I’m learning to give careful consideration to who I partner with and the amount of resources a project or idea will need as well (especially the ‘You Should’ projects).

Rather than focusing on all I don’t know; I’m learning to instead start by sharing what I do know.  I haven’t mastered insect identification, but I can teach a class on using the internet and Facebook!  I am not the one to teach English Horsemanship, but I can teach middle schoolers to make homemade bread or give a proper handshake.  Most of all, I’m learning to create opportunities to teach those things I am passionate about.  Passion cannot be taught through a textbook and Google has not mastered the human component of teaching bull selection or 4-H Parliamentary Procedure.

I’m learning to make my own assessments of people.  Early on I had folks ask how certain groups or individuals treated me, a female extension agent.  As far as I can tell, if you show up, work hard, and put forth your best effort, no one really seems to care if it’s a man or woman answering their questions.  And when Zach slips me a package of homemade summer sausage at Cropping Seminar and says in his thick German accent, “I sure appreciate all you do to help me, Kari,” I can’t help but smile, swallow the lump in my throat, and nod.

As a 4-Her, I thought the livestock project was about producing the highest quality product possible.  As an agent, I do not dismiss the livestock, but I now recognize the livestock are the tool we use to teach the kids.  I’ve become far less concerned with who has the purple ribbon steer and instead if they are a purple ribbon 4-Her.  Not every kid I teach could possibly have the fair’s Grand Champion, but every kid I teach can have honesty, integrity, responsibility, work ethic, and the ability to interact with their peers and adults.

I am continually humbled at how respected 4-H is in the community and folks’ generosity when it comes to 4-H.  I try my utmost to instill an appreciation for that generosity and respect in the kids I work with.  I struggle asking for volunteers but am amazed at the number of times a volunteer will thank me for asking them to judge an event, commenting that they genuinely enjoyed it!

Daily, my list of lessons grows.

Chaperoning teenage boys is really not that bad, they just eat and sleep, eat and sleep, eat and sleep.

The great thing about being an agent is getting to be every kid’s cheerleader.

Not everyone acts rationally or makes logical decisions.

Thank you cards are gold, for there will be days when they need to be pulled out and reread, reread, and reread.

Grant confirmations are the professional equivalency of high school scholarships.

The kids that require the most resources are the ones who have the most to gain from 4-H.

There’s an art to catching pigs.  I don’t yet know what it is.

When the 8-year-old is huddled in the corner at 4-H Project Day afraid to interact or the Cloverbuds are pulling on my sleeve with their perceived problems, I have silently cried, “I wasn’t trained for this!”  But day by day, God reminds me that He specifically arranged for me to be in this position, in this place, and in this time.  He reminds me that I can do all things through He who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).  He reminds me that I am to submit my plans to Him (Proverbs 16:3) and He reminds me that His grace is sufficient in my weaknesses (II Corinthians 12:9).  And that, friends, is more than enough.

 

Why you should leave your hometown

Why you should leave your hometownFresh out of Montana State University in May 2010, I bid my parents and baby niece goodbye and with a lump in my throat pulled out of the ranch.  I wasn’t sure how the ranch was going to make it through AI season without me, but I figured if I didn’t leave then summer would turn into staying for fall cattle work.  Fall cattle work would turn into staying for calving season and the process would repeat itself until I would one day realize I was 30 and had never left Kevin, Montana.

So, I headed for Nebraska.  Partway across Wyoming amidst tornado warnings and a phenomenal thunderstorm, I was sure the rapture was happening.  I nearly missed my exit off Interstate 25 but thanks to the 1980’s Reader’s Digest map my mom insisted on sending with me, I managed to make it to Cornhusker Country.  I arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska where the city driving, the realization that I literally knew no one, and the multiple languages in Wal-Mart hit me like the stifling Midwest humidity.

Six weeks later, I was the newest intern of the Winner Circle Feedyard,

Ben and I

Ben and I both graduated from ‘Class C’ Montana schools, attended MSU together, ended up in Nebraska post-grad, and are now back in our rural Montana areas.

Minatare, Nebraska.  I may have been the employee with the Animal Science degree, but I quickly learned I couldn’t administer an IV to a sick steer like Georgia, pack silage in the payloader like Norman, run the mill like Fred, or sort out a sick calf quite as fast as Juan.  I developed an appreciation and respect for the crew on the ground level.  Even when I backed the feed truck into a gate, the crew was pretty forgiving of my inexperience as long as I kept a good attitude, showed up on time, and kept bringing homemade cookies to work.  (My philosophy that if someone’s mouth is full of cookie they can’t be too upset, is one I still apply to many Extension meetings today.)  I experienced a new sector of the beef industry, I was humbled by the skills of those around me, and I gained a greater appreciation for those I worked with.

Despite my mom’s reminders that I had never wanted to go to Kindergarten or been overly academic, I entered graduate school at UNL.  My confidence grew as I learned what I was capable of through graduate research and courses.  I learned how to think, how to analyze, and how to survive Organic Chemistry thanks to undergraduate tutors.

Summer found me headed to new territory, the Nebraska Sandhills, where I once again had to acknowledge that I knew no one where I was headed.  The cowboys on the UNL

Barta Bro

I had THE BEST intern in grad school, who was far more knowledgeable and experienced than me, but still trusted me to count heifers!  Today, Zach’s a wonderful vet!

research ranch had seen their share of graduate students over the years and I quickly learned that if I wanted to earn their respect then showing up early, putting forth the effort, and more cookies was a good start.

With each move, I found myself in new situations with no connections.  My faith deepened as I depended solely on the Lord for direction and guidance.  My confidence grew as I handled each new challenge.  My circle of friends and family grew with each new stop.

So, why leave your hometown?  For me, it was only when I was away from family, friends, and all things familiar that I truly stepped out of my comfort zone and grew as an individual.  I made mistakes, grew, and matured under other mentors.  For those of us who are the next generation of our communities, we must ask how we can grow the pie of our local businesses and communities, not just look for a slice of the pie.  Leaving the area helped me bring new ideas and perspectives back, along with an appreciation for the people and opportunities here.

Nearly nine years later, I can admit that the ranch continued without me.  That niece who I knew I would miss is now one of my first year Glacier County 4-Hers.  Even though I knew no one where I was headed, I met my husband in a small Nebraska church that I had picked via the yellow pages of the local telephone directory.  And now, there’s two of us to help Dad during A.I.ing back in Kevin, Montana!