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

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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.