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


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 back in Kevin, Montana!

5 Golden Rules for Tidying – Applying Marie Kondo to the Corral

Golden Rules for Tidying

While burning a few hours in the airport last month I picked up a copy of Good Housekeeping and read an article on the ‘Five Golden Rules for Tidying.’  It highlighted Marie Kondo who is an ‘organizing guru’ and shared some of her ‘genius tips.’  Given that spring is in the air, I thought I’d take the tips from ‘Declutter Queen’ to the corral as we sorted heifers today.

There were some nice pictures in the magazine of Marie siting on a chair in white linen pants and a kimono cardigan.  I didn’t feel white pants would be appropriate for cattle work in the corral after ¾” of rain this week, so I skipped that part of the outfit.  However, I did have a sorting stick, clipboard, and 8 pages of data for my decision making that Marie was missing, so I figured we’d just have to go from there and start with Marie’s tidying rules.

Apparently, my mother is an organizing student well before her time as right away she pointed out that we had heifers in heat on one side of the fence and enthusiastic yearling bulls strutting and bellaring just across the fence of the sort pen.  Marie’s first rule is to to sort things by category and it seemed that after 39 years on the ranch, mom was concerned that if the facilities didn’t hold true, we might have more than one category to sort during afternoon heifer sorting.

Next, Marie says to make this a onetime event.  “If you tidy just a little every day, you’ll be tidying forever,” Marie says.  Apparently, we like to tidy on the Rimrock Cattle Company.  Either that, or we just need more pen space this time of year.  Sort 1 is the registered heifers from the commercial heifers.  Sort 2 is the commercial heifers to ship from the commercial heifers to sell later.  Sort 3 will be the half dozen heifers who lost their ear tags and are unable to be tidied at this point.

The third rule for decluttering is to keep only items that, “Spark joy.”  That fence crawling heifer certainly does not spark joy, so she was easily decluttered.  Next, I tried to relate this concept to rancher terms by asking Dad if he really loved all the heifers in his keeper pen.  Dad gave me a look and said, “It’s not like we’re married to them, they’ve just got to hang around here a few years!”

Next, Marie recommends to, “Apply Gratitude,” and thank giveaway items for their service before you let them go.  So far, these heifers service to the ranch has been pretty limited to eating expensive hay and testing the fence for green grass.  We decided to instead apply gratitude to the idea that someone else can feed and breed these girls and the haystack might make it till green grass.

The last decluttering rule of Marie’s is to, “Use what you already own.”  Now this rule seems doable given that every heifer we’ll be keeping has been bred, raised, and developed on the ranch.  Maybe we’re more fashionable than we realized?  Or do we still need white pants in order to be fashionable?

I wish you knew

I wish you knew how good a hard day’s work feels, of dirt and mud and muck even when there’s not much luck.  I wish you knew the privilege of working with your family to care for livestock and land.

I wish you knew the daily fight to preserve livestock’s life.  How whenever we see one die, we look to the sky and say, “Lord, why did they die?”

I wish you knew the pride that comes from seeing a fat calf buck and play, who nearly DSCN1906died that cold March day.  I wish you knew the synchronization of sorting cattle and knowing just what to do, after a few decades of doing that too.

I wish you knew that colds and influenza warrant a rancher’s sick day not.  I wish you knew the sleepless nights of calving and the long summer days of haying and harvest.

I wish you knew how a producer’s costs change every year.  How they never know if diesel will be up, corn or cattle will be down, or what the Feds will do to interest rates in town.

I wish you knew how we pray that the Lord brings sunshine and rain.  I wish you knew the drought’s lasting pain.

I wish you knew the blessed smell of rain on a cool June night, knowing this will do the grass just right.  I wish you knew the sight of a harvest moon and the hustle of family and equipment to bring the crop in.

I wish you knew the deer that crowd our stock tanks when summer is dry.  Or that feed on our hay when spring is still a far cry.

I wish you knew the land taxes these farmers pay.  I wish you knew the startup cost and the risk.

I wish you knew 97% of us are family run, and most days that makes it more fun.

Grad picI wish you knew the biology, chemistry, and economics we do.  That we’re college educated with even a degree or two.

I wish you knew the number of parents who told their kids, ‘Get a job in town, it’ll be a better life.  Find one with insurance and retirement for the wife.’

I wish you knew the number of kids who still silently prayed that with enough hard work they might still get a chance on the farm or ranch.

So why don’t you know?  Well, I suppose it happened when we got too busy to call the cousin living off the farm.  Maybe we figured as long as milk’s $1.88 and eggs 99 a dozen there would be no harm.    

But we truly do want you to know of this life we love, and the blessings we count from the Lord above.

We want you to know the families behind your meal.  We want you to know our love of land and livestock.  We want you to know.

Bills, Receipts, and Paperwork – ‘Adulting’ more efficiently

Certain areas of my life I’ve managed to keep fairly well organized. However, paper and receipts have not been one of them.  There have typically been 43 things I would rather do than deal with them.  Consequently, it has gotten shuffled from the table to the desk to the office and back with an occasional, “How was that bill late!?  I had to pay an extra $1.17 in interest for that!?  Why can’t I get it together!!?”  The frustration only mounts at tax time as well.

Gradually, I have been improving.  Improving in a day by day, month by month fashion of, “I don’t like this inefficiency and continual frustration.  I don’t want to continue like this.”  I have determined that if I truly don’t like dealing with paperwork this much, then I need to figure out what I can do to reduce it and make it the most efficient possible.  Between paying bills, keeping receipts and records for our ranch business, and being an adult, paperwork is a given but I’m finding it doesn’t have to be an Act of Congress to manage.  Here’s what’s been working for me lately.

I am a visual person and seeing something written down certainly helps me.  Many of our bills are due the same date each month, so at the beginning of each year I go through the calendar and on the 10th of each month write down which bills are due that day, which are due on the 20th, etc.  I typically pick a calendar due date a few days ahead of the real due date to give myself a little flexibility if I forget which week it is (a realistic problem during calving,, or fair seasons).  The calendar is on the side of the fridge and since I tend to eat every day, it’s clearly visible.  Bills that I know are the same every month (internet, for example) are paid electronically to reduce paper, labor, and the chance of missing the due date.

The quickest way to reduce the amount of paper to deal with, is to first reduce the amount that enters the house.  I’ve requested that ministries we donate to monthly only send one year-end tax receipt (saving them postage and administrative fees as well).  I throw sales flyers and promotions immediately.  Any remaining mail is sorted into a bin in the office labeled ‘Bills’ (also includes checks to deposit), ‘To Do’ (items that need attention), and ‘Coupons.’  As coupons expire, they are tossed, but in the meantime it’s a neat place for them to stay until we potentially use them.  They have a much greater chance of being used if they are visible and easy to grab while heading out the door.

Receipts go into a ‘Receipts to Enter’ file folder on the desk.  As time allows, they

The baskets on the right are for Bills, To Do, and Coupons.  The file folders are ‘Receipts to Enter’ and ‘Receipts to File’ and the binders contains bank statements, etc.  Keeping a three hole punch, pens, envelopes, stamps, etc. in one desk helps increase efficiency as well.

are reconciled with Quicken, and then put into a second folder ‘Receipts to File.’  They are then filed in the filing cabinet in an appropriate folder.  This has helped corral the clutter and provided a system until they are managed.  Bank and retirement statements that come monthly with multiple pages easily go into binders and by keeping a three-hole punch on my desk, it literally takes seconds to place them in the appropriate folder.  By changing my settings with Edward Jones, for example, I can receive only pertinent monthly statements versus records of every transaction made which created additional paperwork.  If I so desire to see such transactions, I can login online to see them.

Not stressing over categories within the filing cabinet has helped streamline the filing process.  At the end of the day, as long as paper has a place to go in the file and can be referenced in the future, it works.  Some folders are broad (Cattle Supplies or Cattle Income) while others might be specific to a vehicle or business.

Lastly, my goal this year is to take off at least one morning or day a month to take care of bookwork at home.  After spending the day looking at a computer at work, my desire to come home and stare at Quicken on my home computer is even less.  We occasionally hear this ‘work-life balance’ phrase tossed around, and I’ve decided a few hours monthly to stay on top of bookwork will be well worth it and can easily be traded for the evenings and weekends I log as an extension agent.  Between a full-time job, ranch work on Saturdays and some evenings, and church on Sunday, I’ve come to the point of acknowledging my previous ‘system’ hasn’t been working and this deserves some prioritization.

Hebrews 12:11 tells me that, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  I’m gradually learning that the discipline of setting aside time to do that which needs done and of having a system makes the process doable, efficient, and worth it.  As I’ve gradually changed my mindset from, “I hate bookwork!  What do I do with all this stuff?” to, “I like to be organized!” I’m discovering that its actually not that bad.  Focusing on the end result versus the process keep me motivated, and that $15 label maker from the Office Max clearance bin is just pure icing on the cake!



Does Rural America have anything for women?

Recently I’ve heard numerous discussions on attracting women to rural America.  The distance to Wal-Mart, the scarcity of shopping and restaurants, and the lack of entertainment all seem to be concerns.  A quick Google search and rural America seems awfully dismal, which has left me to mull over the question, ‘Does rural America have anything for women?’  I might be biased, and I might be optimistic, but I can say there’s no place I would rather be than rural America.

In rural America, the people are genuine, the people care, and we wave hello.  It doesn’t take very long before there’s half a dozen people to say hello to in the rural grocery store.  The number of folks who show up for bridal showers, baby showers, and funerals illustrate that we take our community and the people in it seriously.  We might not always be the best at expressing our feelings, but we hope you’ll understand when we drop a casserole by that a 9 x 13 pan is how we show we care.

Huckleberries 2017

Huckleberry picking is our local sport!

And yes, it might take a bit of time to crack the shell into our tight knit community.  Rural America is a place where you prove yourself by showing up, rolling up your sleeves, and pitching in.  It might be bringing brownies to a bake sale, serving on the School Board, PTA or Chamber of Commerce.  It might be leading youth group, 4-H, Scouts, or anything else that needs done.  And we’ll need you, we will absolutely need your talents and skills and time.  But the great thing is, when you serve with your community you become the community.  It will be in the kitchen washing dishes after a potluck that you’ll learn so-and-so moved here 35 years ago and only planned to stay three years but never left, and you will be encouraged.

When it comes to raising a family, it’s hard to beat a partner like rural America.  Folks look out for one another and cheer one another on.  If you miss a game or science fair, there will be someone in the stands cheering just as hard for your kid as you would.  Coaches, teachers, and parents all invest in these kids.  And our schools are top notch with small class sizes and teachers that wholeheartedly invest in these kids.

Wal-Mart might be 100 miles away or so, but most of us like to shop locally anyhow.  It’s

Apple picking

Hard to beat fall apple picking!

our local businesses who support our schools, local sports teams, and every community cause there is.  We plan ahead, we improvise if needed, and nearly every day there’s posts on Facebook of, “Headed to Great Falls, anyone need anything?”  No, we might not have the latest in modern entertainment here, but we do have Netflix, Hulu, hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, and tubing at the lake.  Add in every small town’s summer festival, Harvest dinner, local sporting events, and the bowling league, and you can stay just as busy here as you want.  In fact, we often say we don’t have enough time to do all that we want!

But are there jobs?  Yes.  Rural America certainly needs nurses and teachers, but we also need bankers and accountants, businesswomen, crop scouts, lawyers, and insurance agents.  Respect is earned here, and if you show up on time, work hard, and have a good attitude, you’ll flourish.  We have high speed internet, telephones, and even a few fax machines still, so the opportunities available for working remotely are greater than they’ve ever been.


Tanking is definitely a rural America sport!  Cowboy hats not required. 

And lastly, the men of rural America deserve some appreciation.  They’re hard working, creative, problem solvers, and generous with their time and skills.  Chances are they might take a few weekends off during hunting season, but they’ll be a good dance partner during wedding season to more than make up for it.

In Philippians 4:11, Paul says, “I have learned to be content in all circumstances.”  Perhaps in rural America we have learned to appreciate the open skies while we travel, the natural resources we have access to, and the community who is our family.  Rural America might not be for everyone, but I can contentedly say its home for me.

Fighting my way out of a wet paper bag

The auctioneer struck fear into my 4th grade heart when I realized I had the winning bid on 5 heifers but the bank account for just one heifer.  With John Goggins as my negotiating ringman, the auctioneer had mercy on me, and I went home with one heifer, a relatively intact bank account, and a newfound knowledge of the livestock auction lingo, ‘Roll ‘em together!’


I’ve made a fair number of mistakes over the years, but Kaleb isn’t one of them.  Although, he does say ‘irregardless’ every now and then, just to test me!

I spelled obstetrician wrong as a 6th grader in the county spelling bee.  I’ve never forgotten the correct spelling since.  I used ‘irregardless’ in a graduate seminar presentation and Dr. Galen Erickson knocked me down a point with the comment, “Irregardless is not a word.”  I haven’t made that mistake again.  I tried baking cocoa as a kid straight from the can, and quickly learned why mom said I wouldn’t like it.  I hit Dad’s parked semi on the way to the school bus one frosty morning in junior high when I neglected to scrape the windshield (still working on that skill).

Then there was the e-mail response to a gentleman who had been on my job interview committee and suggested via a follow-up e-mail that I join Toastsmasters to reduce my “Umms.”  I found the idea hilarious.  But it turns out my e-mail response of, “Oh my gosh, this guy thinks I need to go to Toastmasters, haha!” went not to my intended friend but instead back to the interview panelist.  Needless to say, I didn’t get that job, but I haven’t mixed up the FWD and REPLY e-mail buttons since.

For some reason, it seems my mistakes have a longer lasting impression that my successes.  And yet, I continue to make mistakes.  Hopefully I don’t make the same mistakes twice and that I’m wise enough to not make the same mistakes I’ve seen of others.  But as I blunder through life, I am reminded that, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28).  And even though some days I can’t hardly fight my way out of a wet paper bag (Rose Malisani’s words, not mine), I am reminded that because of the Lord’s grace and mercy those failures and mistakes can still be used for good.  The Lord never gives up on us and will continue to refine us in His image until the day of His return.

When that day of Christ’s return comes, it won’t be our spelling or vocabulary or career that counts, but if we are trusting in Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  I am grateful for the eternal promise of salvation and the continual working of Christ in me that I am a work in progress!

Do you have all the free stuff yet?

I remember in graduate school there was a fantastic seminar we had the opportunity to attend free as graduate students.  During a discussion of who was planning to attend, one PhD student remarked he wasn’t planning to go and clarified that with, “I’ve already got all their free stuff anyway.”

dscn6703Today I had the opportunity to help host Cavin’ Fever – Ladies Day Out, an event that covered calving difficulty, management, and newborn calf care.  There were self-described ‘green hand’ ladies there, gals that have been immersed in ranching for decades, some women that had half a dozen cows and some that have hundreds of cows.  Some grew up in ranching, some married into ranching, and some add a calving night check to their day job.  And yet, each person shared what they learned throughout the day and multiple ladies commented on how they appreciated the camaraderie of the group.

A couple years back I gave one of my local farmers a ride to a conference.  On the trip to Great Falls she reviewed her notes from the previous day’s workshops and commented a couple times, “Oh, I need to look that word up, I hadn’t heard that one before!”  I silently marveled that someone would take the time to look up a word they didn’t know, rather than just gloss over it.

It is said that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with.  To become a lifelong learner, we need to surround ourselves with other learners.  We need to take advantage of the opportunities available to us to learn, even if it involves stepping out of our comfort zone or prioritizing an opportunity.  As someone who has been blessed by an immense amount of learning opportunities and education through the years, I feel increasingly challenged to retain information in an era of ‘just Googling it.’  I feel challenged to read for content and to not just skim for what I’m looking for.  I feel challenged to block out the distractions.

Personally, I hope that I never reach the point where I miss a learning opportunity because I already have all the free stuff!  I want to desire knowledge and wisdom and be that lady taking notes and looking up unfamiliar terms.  As an extension agent, I hope you take advantage of all the opportunities available.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  May you surround yourself with those will sharpen and encourage you, just as I observed today.

My Top 3 Investments of 2018

As I looked at my last 2018 retirement savings statement, the negative growth was certainly 078 cowdiscouraging.  As a I hope for an upturn in 2019, I paused to consider my investments in 2018 and their successes or lack thereof.  The following are my top three investments for 2018.

We started the year off buying a few 8-year-old bred cows from my folks.  With buying middle aged registered cows, I had the benefit of analyzing six years of performance data and their pregnancy ultrasound records in making my selections.  (I continue to maintain that using, not just collecting, data is key to progress in the cattle industry!)

Of that group, cow 032 raised two stout twin bull calves.  The timing never worked out to adopt one of the calves onto another cow, so she ended up raising them both on Mama’s milk and native grass, weaning 1,298 pounds of calf this October!  Another purchase, 078, weaned an 840-pound Big River bull calf, the heaviest of the herd.  Those cows may not have been as ‘fancy’ as a group of bred heifers, but they were proven cows adapted to the environment who all bred back this fall.

Kaleb and I wrapped up the ‘Moments with You’ couples devotional by Dennis and Barbara Rainey this year.  This $15 book has prompted us to take five to 10 minutes each day to read, discuss, and pray together over the topic at hand.  I’ve noticed there are many topics that we would probably have never discussed on our own, but with a little prompting it has led to some fruitful conversations.  I’ll be the first to admit I don’t want to do them every night, and I become resentful if a disagreement is soon followed by, “Time to do devotions!” but it has been certainly worth it.  I am continually reminded that the marriage we hope to have requires intentionality.  Whether that intentionality is devotions, asking what the spouse needs prayer for, or turning on a Focus on the Family radio program instead of Pandora, intentional marriage is a worthwhile investment.

And while the return on investment for calves weaned or a retirement portfolio is relatively easy to interpret, no such number comes with ministry.  However, investment in the lives of others is our greatest investment.  If being truly transparent, I drag my feet most Wednesday evenings knowing the masses of 3 to 12-year olds waiting at AWANA.  However, when the chaos fades away and it’s just a half dozen girls in a classroom learning bible verses, I am encouraged and refreshed.  God promises that His word will not return void, but that it will accomplish what He pleases, and that it shall prosper in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:11), and that is enough.  Our Financial Peace University class was equally as encouraging as we saw students cut up their credit cards, pay off debt, accrue an emergency fund, and begin to realize their financial dreams are within reach!

The Lord reminds us to ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…’ (Matthew 6:33).  As you prioritize 2019, may you invest in that which is eternal and that which is wise!  God promises, “That if anyone lacks wisdom, we should ask Him, and He will give us wisdom generously.”  (James 1:5).  May we seek Him for wise investments in 2019!