Tag Archives: life lessons

Pick Your Battles…

Last week while I was moving cattle, I had a calf try to crawl through the feed bunk into a neighboring pen.  I adjusted my angle to the calf and encouraged him back to the rest of his herd mates.  Part way through the interaction, my cowboy became aware of the situation and starting barking orders at me and “loving Pete”.  I chose to ignore him as I had the situation completely under control.

AnneMeg.jpgMy favorite blonde cowgirl happened to be along that day and later asked me why I just quietly continued to move the calf instead of responding to my cowboy’s criticism.  I summed it up in three words, “Pick your battles”.

She looked pretty perplexed with my response so I decided that it was a good time to share a well learned life lesson.  I asked her, “Megan, did the calf respond appropriately and do what I asked him to do?”  As she nodded her head affirmatively, I pointed out that the goal was accomplished so there was no point in creating drama with my crew.

There are many kinds of leadership – passive, active, verbal, and non-verbal.  In regards to cattle handling, I choose to lead by example.  Cattle move best in situations where the handler maintains mental composure.  As the lead handler in this situation, it was in the calf’s best interest for me to continue to interact calmly.  I know my cowboy well (we have worked closely together for 20 years), so I also recognized that ignoring him while completing the task correctly was the best choice.

Sometimes it isn’t about who is right –

It is about completing the job well and doing the best thing for the animal.    

Over the last two decades, the words pick your battles have circled through my head tens of thousands of times.  Whether it is interacting with my own crew or sitting in a meeting with other folks involved in raising beef, I think that one of the most important lessons is learning when to speak up and when to bite my tongue.    I discovered a long time ago that life isn’t about pride and personal affirmation; it’s about doing the right thing to create positive improvement.

  • I am anal about cattle care.
  • I am passionate about always trying to be better tomorrow than I am today.
  • I stubbornly stick to my values even when the right thing isn’t the easy thing.

But, I have come to understand that meaningful change occurs when my idea becomes someone else’s idea.  Sometimes the best way to make that happen is to let my actions speak and keep my words where they belong – inside of my mouth…

Megan got awfully quiet at the end of our conversation, and I could tell that she was looking at the situation with my cowboy from a different perspective.  Perhaps the next time someone “yanks her chain” and she starts to fight back, she will stop and remember the art of picking your battles🙂

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The Rainbow Ends At the Pot Of Gold…

megfeedyardcollageAfter 14 years living, working, and growing up under the magnificent Nebraska sky I learned a lot from the people who were kind enough to share it with me. Now I want to share it with you. My experiences in our little town are not ones that many people get to have. There are lessons hidden in each memory and each story — lessons that most people in our country may miss or look over. These are my 15 favorite lessons that I have learned growing up on a farm — Megan🙂

  1. Home is where the heart is… When I first went to kindergarten I cried every day because I did not understand why I had to sit in a classroom and count whatever was on my piece of paper instead of counting cattle at the feedyard. I did not want to leave my comfort zone where I loved to be.
  2. Two wrongs don’t make a right… I first learned this when perched on the arm of the chair in the inner cubical of the office, staring blankly at the computer screen full of numbers – never leave a mistake without correcting it. Always fix what went wrong even if it means admitting that you are human and you made a mistake. If you do not correct a mistake, the problem just grows.
  3. For the love of Pete… Whenever our cowboy is agitated but not quite angry enough to start cussing, he starts loving Pete. Usually he says this under his breath, but after a while you can understand the mumbling language. We have never figured out who Pete is but wherever he is, he is much loved.
  4. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life… People come to stay with us every once and a while and right before they leave Doug, our beloved foreman, always tells them that he has never worked a day in his life. They get very confused because they have just watched him working hard. He explains to them that he loves the job that he has; consequently, he has never worked a day in his life.
  5. Work smarter, not harder… My mom always says that you should work smarter so therefore your work is easier. Do not get me wrong, hard work is essential to any job, especially those on a farm, but if you work hard and smart then you will be more efficient and do a better job.
  6. Sarcasm… It is not just the words that come out of your mouth; it is a lifestyle. Sarcasm can lighten any day if put in the correct context. Doug is especially good at adding a little to our day, and I have learned from the best. He always told me when I was little that he never called the bunk a C when the cattle did not clean up all of their feed. The bunk was always a D because he skipped C. He told me that was because he could actually spell the words that started with D – I think perhaps it is because his name starts with a “D” but I humor him🙂
  7. Count in your head… When the cattle come off the truck and into the feedyard we always count them to make sure we have the correct number. When my sisters and I were little, this was one of our first jobs. We would climb up so that we were tall enough to see into the unloading chute and then “count” the cattle that came off the truck. My mom had to start counting using her hands because we would say the wrong numbers aloud. To this day she still counts cattle with her fingers. Doug used to try to teach us to count ears instead of tails. Or sometimes he tried to have us count feet…
  8. Leave it how you found it… When cooperating with members of a “team” you should always: leave things how you found them, replace tools to their proper “home”, and, when in doubt, shut the gate. When working with farmers, mechanics, or welders always put their tools back where they belong. They get very angry very quickly if they cannot find the tool they are looking for. Always shut the gate behind you. A feedyard manager’s worst nightmare is leaving a gate open. My mom has nightmares about accidentally letting loose a pen of cattle on the county road.
  9. Think like a calf… It is important for any cattle handler to step into the calf’s hooves. Looking through a calf’s eyes can be tricky. In order to do that you have to have empathy and think like a prey animal. I learned this when I was little so it comes like second nature to me but some people struggle changing their perspective.
  10. Give it to God… Some things you cannot control. Mother Nature likes to throw everything she can at us farmers. We cannot hope to control it; we can only try to manage what comes our way. Rain is a good thing for dad but not for mom. When it rains no one in our house sleeps very well. Snow is even worse. Before I was actually put to work, I thought snow was the best part of winter. I was wrong, snow means work.
  11. Gnats are extra protein… In the summers there are a lot of bugs. There are an especially large number of them this year because we had a wet spring. When you walk through the feedyard you cannot help but get a gnat somewhere you really probably did not want a gnat to be. That is not at a total loss because gnats are extra protein (not that a beef farmer needs that)…
  12. Cowgirls don’t cry… When you are working with animals, they depend on you. They need fed on Easter and Christmas and Sundays. This does not give you time to sit down and feel sorry for yourself. If you fall, you get back up again because there is always more work to be done. When your finger gets caught in a gate you do not have time to watch it turn purple and swell, there are still cattle that need tending to.
  13. Help will always come to those who ask for it… No one can give you a helping hand if they do not know you need it. It is not a bad thing to request help. Needing help does not make you weak or incompetent.
  14. Build character… There are many ways on a farm to build character. Scooping bunks is one of the most common ways. Another good one is throwing small square hay bales. I can also tell you that touching the hot electric fence does not build as much character as you would think…
  15. A little dirt never hurt anyone… Sometimes it is okay to get a little dirt on your hands. The work that results in that dirt is worth something to someone.ResizedImage951374766405614

The pot of gold in Nebraska that sits under all the morning rainbows is the hay carefully stacked by loving hands that feeds the animals which give us food.

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Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Performance…

The Haymaker Swim Team took 46 athletes in 170 individual events and 23 relays to the Plains Tsunami North Qualifying meet last Saturday.  All 46 of those athletes earned the opportunity to compete next weekend at the Championship Meet.

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The kids would likely report that the fun of competition and the excitement of getting to the next level provided the highlight of their day.  Mine was the fact that although I only get to coach and mentor these kids for 8 weeks each summer, our team completed the meet with no disqualifications and a large number of excellent athletic performances.

Each swim season we create a mantra which appears on the back of our team shirts.  This year our shirts carry the statement Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Performance.  As the coach of a recreation league summer sport, I try to focus on fitness and the development of strength and work ethic.  I know that learning to do it right at practice sets the kids up not just for success in the pool but also in life.

While the glory of competitive victory glows brightly, a true winner shines just as radiantly during the hours of practice.  It is during those hours of preparation that true character is revealed.  Convincing my swimmers of the necessity of passionate effort creates one of my greatest challenges.  Settling clearly provides the enemy of greatness, and is spurred by unfocused practice.  Each year I create Pitchfork Challenges to help the kids find focused goals to strive for during practice sessions.

For the 2016 season, Pitchfork Challenges included long Individual Medley swims requiring correct stroke technique, sprint freestyle swims with no breathing, and a blend of core “on land” strength challenges.  I always enjoy watching the kids accomplish far more than they envisioned possible, and I know that these challenges play an important role in creating a successful season.

This week provides the culmination of the 2016 season.  The kids look forward to competing at Championships with a blend of nerves and excitement, and dreams of coming home with medals.  I spend the week trying to prepare them knowing that perfect practice makes perfect performance.

Go Haymakers!

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Raising Food Builds Character…

I remember as a child when my parents would tell me that certain tasks “build character”.  It generally applied to things that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do, and I recall mentally rolling my eyes every time that I heard the expression as a teenager.  As often occurs, the cycle continues over generations and I find myself telling my own girls the same thing.  There are many things that happen on a farm that build character, and one of the best parts of being a mom/farmer is using those tasks to help my girls learn both good work ethic and a humble empathy.

My favorite blonde cowgirl announced after the blizzard last February, “I have enough character, I don’t need to scoop any more bunks!”  I replied, “Yes, you do because the cattle need for you to clean the snow off their plates so that they can have fresh breakfast.”  We scooped bunks for two days during the storm, and I may have to admit that Megan’s Mama also thought at some point on the second day that her “character cup” was full.  However, we persevered through the task because it was important to the livelihood of our animals.

Earlier this week, I talked about information that cattlemen need to know to properly care for cattle during the heat of the summer.  If you recall, one of the major mitigators of heat stress is a constant supply of cool and clean water.  In Nebraska, we are blessed to live above the deepest part of the Ogallala Aquifer and it provides us with fresh 58 degree water despite hot air temperatures.  My cowboy has the responsibility of cleaning all home pen water tanks weekly, and the water tanks in our hospital pens 2X per week.  When he goes on vacation, someone else must do the job.megwatertank5a

I decided that Megan was the perfect girl for the task!

There are life lessons to be learned everywhere that we look.  In fact, Megan’s weekly quote on the crew board in the office this week reads “Everyone can teach you something.”  Physically washing the water tanks at the feed yard reinforces the critical animal care lesson of always providing the basics of life.  Our cattle deserve fresh feed and clean water each and every day, and there is no better way to understand that then to be a part of the process.  Washing water tanks is one of the most menial and yet the most important tasks that happen every day at the feed yard.  The person who cleans tanks is undeniably the unsung hero.

Growing food is a naturally dirty job.  You never truly realize that until you go to work as a farmer.  Megan may choose a life path outside of agriculture, but she will never fail to appreciate the food on her plate or the hard work of the person who put forth the effort to grow it.  She will never forget because she lived it.  The character that she steadily builds with the scoop shovel and the tank cleaning brush permanently changes the way that she looks at the world.  She intrinsically knows that each effort that she puts forth each day creates sustainability — no matter how menial the task may be.

There are two words that provide one of my favorite mantras:  Life Matters.  Learning to respect life, to positively contribute to its sustainability, and to give of yourself to help those in need are all consequences of building character.  It isn’t usually romantic, often it involves dirt and sweat, and it is rarely easy; however, having the humility to recognize what it takes and the work ethic to take on the challenge creates a successful contributor.

MegCattleMarch16.jpgNo matter what I accomplish in my professional life, my true report card is the character of my children.  It is awesome when instilling those values in my girls fits seamlessly with the work of growing food.

 

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Dear Beautiful Woman…

Megan is my sunshine — a stubborn pragmatist steeped with compassionate empathy…

My favorite blonde cowgirl celebrates her 14th  birthday today.  In honor of her special day, I would like to share a letter that she wrote to a friend in need last fall.  All of us who are parents can recognize how important it is to teach a balance of confidence and compassion to our kids. This letter demonstrates the struggles of teenage girls while also highlighting the importance of loyal friends who share love and compassion to support each other on the journey.

 Dear Beautiful Woman,

You can be anything you want to be. Aspire to be your greatest form. Take the tools that you are given and make something of yourself. You are so amazing at being you. If the people who are around you actually care, they will stick around no matter how stupid you make yourself look.

Study hard and work for what you want. If I could give you any piece of advice it would be to work your hardest. Nothing has meaning unless it is earned. Good grades are earned through studying hard and learning. If you want that spot on the varsity team, work your butt off to get better. Go to every open gym or practice you can. That’s how you get better. Push yourself to be better than the “you” you were yesterday.

And to that jerk who dumped you last week; that’s his loss. If he doesn’t have the intelligence to see what a great person you are, then let him go. It’s okay to cry but don’t let him leaving change who you are. You are you; boyfriend or not! Your true friends will be there for you (sometimes a little more than you want!). Let them help. Help them. They know how it feels. But most of all: move on!

Stand up for yourself. Tell that brat at the lunch table off. Make your voice heard. Your opinions matter. So let others know that you think for yourself. Words are sometimes more effective than a punch. And tell that boy that starts strange rumors about you that you are not afraid of him. People will respect you for that. Just let your conscience lead you, and don’t go too far.

I believe in you. Believe in yourself. Have confidence in who you are. And please, please, please, do not EVER look to any one else for approval. If you are comfortable in your own skin, roll with it. Be you! Be intelligent, be strong, be humble, be kind.  Relative to the people who are “on your hate list” — What a stupid waste of time. Don’t focus on the negative in people, focus on the positive. You have negatives too. We are all human; we are ALL imperfect.

Put all of these things together and what do you get? A leader. Be one. These things make you an intelligent, compassionate, beautiful person. Encourage others to be one too.

Think about these things. They will make you a better you.

Love,

Megan

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A Lesson In Perspective…

Grandma made the trip from Florida to Nebraska to watch :)

Grandma made the trip from Florida to Nebraska to watch🙂

My favorite 16 year old brunette traded her basketball shoes for high heels this winter when she became a member of the 2016 Haymaker Speech Team. Her long-time dream of attending an Ivy League college combined with the intellectual nature that she inherited from her mildly nerdy parents led her to the path of public speaking. She began the season as a novice participator and ended it as a varsity competitor at the Nebraska Class B State Meet on Wednesday.

Ashley Grace qualified for state in the Extemporaneous Speaking category. An incredibly unique event, Extemporaneous Speaking involves drawing a topic from a large pool of both global and domestic current events to create a 5-7 minute speech citing specific news resources to support the oratory content. Each competitor has 1 hour to write and prepare the speech before presenting it to a judge/judges. Every meet involves the entrants competing in 2-3 rounds (2 preliminary, 1 final) drawing different topics for each round.

I have to admit that I nudged my favorite brunette toward this topic because I recognized the invaluable life skills that it would help her to develop. Learning to intelligently convey your thoughts in an effective, organized, and interesting manner ranks at the top of Anne’s list of life skills. Being able to do it publically in front of a judge, under the pressure of time constraints, is nothing short of awesome. I watched my daughter evolve from a nervous and unconfident competitor to a poised, thought provoking, and eloquent speaker over the span of four months.

While the season far surpassed any expectation that I had as a parent, it ended in a sea of frustration for my daughter. After winning the first round at the state meet, she delivered what I believed to be the best speech of her career in the 2nd round. Her seven minute oratory on necessary changes within the Republican Party leadership in order to rein in fringe candidates was clever, organized, and beautifully presented. Unfortunately, the judge did not agree with her interpretation of the topic question and, as a result, scored her so harshly that she fell short of qualifying for finals.

The experience provided an interesting lesson in perspective…

One could argue that a differing personal interpretation of an open ended question should not result in such a punitive score reduction. This action ultimately denied her an opportunity to compete in the finals, but I think that perhaps the lesson is much larger than placing at the Nebraska State Speech meet. The lesson did not appear in the lost medal; rather, it originated in the season long acquisition of a valuable public speaking skill and culminated in the realization that the same words on a paper can mean different things to different people.

It is hard for many of us to recognize that perspective colors interpretation; but that is a reality. Neither the judge nor my daughter were wrong on Wednesday, they simply interpreted words differently as a result of having unique perspectives. I cannot begin to count the times in my ag-vocating journey where this has occurred. Perhaps one of my most valuable acquired life skills came from the realization that the blending of eclectic perspectives leads to learning and personal growth. The first step in this process is accepting that words and views can be meaningfully interpreted from multiple angles.

I am incredibly proud of Ashley Grace – the poise that she displayed this week as well as the hard work that went into her public speaking transformation warms my heart. While it may take a few days for her to let go of the disappointment of the lost medal, I am confident that she will ultimately realize that that the true prize exists in a broadened perspective and the maturity that comes from being able to look at the world from a variety of angles.

My favorite farmer fervently wishes that the leaders of our National Republican Party could have listened to the words of her speech – perhaps then our country would be able to climb out of its current political quagmire😉

 

 

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Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., Family, General

The Privilege of Diversity…

DSC03744Six weeks before matriculating at Dartmouth College I was mugged at gunpoint. A seemingly normal weekend night turned into a nightmare as a friend and I were assaulted a mere two miles from my house in Florida. My life changed that night as a stranger threw me on the concrete and placed a gun to my head. My guardian angel sat firmly on my shoulder that evening as the assailant and his accomplice stole my purse, but not my life.

I tell my girls to “always take God with you”. While the lesson wrapped up in those words holds many meanings, one of them dates back to that August evening in 1993.

My years at Dartmouth were a time of both healing and personal growth. Rural New Hampshire slowly brought back a sense of physical safety and ultimately l conquered the fear of walking across campus in the dark. I remained cautious, but the culture on campus helped me to find a healthy perspective and renewed my confidence.

Surrounded by intelligent and motivated students who held a great diversity of opinions, I was able to determine just “who Anne was”.   This concurrently sharpened my intellect as well as broadened my perspective. I started my time at Dartmouth a “jock with emotional baggage”, but I ended it as a confident intellectual who held a strong sense of purpose.

This is the beauty of a liberal arts education on a well-structured college campus.

  • A place where diversity is embraced allowing for the creation of mature thinkers with compassionate natures.
  • A place where a blanket of respect protects each student’s Freedom of Speech and personal rights in the midst of intellectually stimulating debates.
  • A place where students learn to recognize that life’s challenges do not define the individual, rather they are stepping stones for personal growth. This growth will, at times, bring discomfort but it also teaches perseverance.

Sometime during my tenure in Hanover, NH I figured out that I did not want to live my life as a victim — focusing on the past and allowing my heart to fill with discontent. Rather, I wanted to live my life as a humanitarian – seeking out the good in others and looking to the future with the desire to play a positive role on the ever important journey that we call life.

My alma mater found itself in the midst of controversy last week as a passionate student protest escalated to threaten the boundaries of respectful debate. My heart was saddened for a variety of reasons but perhaps the greatest was the apparent lack of inter-student respect on campus. Basic decency becomes lost when hatred toward a single ideology overtakes the value of compassion among individual classmates. Sadly, the second is sacrificed in the name of the first.

  • I dream of a world where people are valued for what they hold in their hearts rather than the image that they see in the mirror.
  • I dream of a world where people are lauded for the humanitarian work that their hearts empower their bodies to accomplish.
  • I dream of a world where diversity of thought is celebrated — Where our young people relish eclectic virtues and use them to make the world a better place.

Life is both a privilege and a responsibility. We must always move forward mixing our passions with compassion so that what I dream of today will be a reality tomorrow. Unfortunately, there will always be unexplained acts of violence like that which occurred to me so many years ago. However, we can lessen the impact of those acts by recognizing one act of hatred does not rationalize another.

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In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle…

A college friend introduced me to the book, In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle, by Madeleine Blais more than twenty years ago. Based on an Amherst Lady Hurricanes high school basketball team in the mid-1990’s, the book is a tribute to hope, respect, and dedication to team. My friend was a member of that team, and her story influenced me greatly as I began my adult life.

Prior to this fall, I had not thought about the book in many years, but the 2015 Lady Haymaker Cross Country team brought those memories back full circle. A small team, led by an awesome coaching staff, defied the polls and walked away with numerous titles. Their accomplishments included bringing home the Nebraska Class C State Runner-up trophy last Friday.

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In Nebraska, Cross Country teams run 6 and score 4. Due to injuries, the Lady Haymakers ran 5 and scored 4. Demonstrating an impressive display of “pack running”, the top four girls finished the 5k race within 15 seconds of each other. Despite the fact that none of the girls received individual medals, their accomplishments garnered them the Runner-Up team trophy.

While there are many things about the state race that I will forever take with me, it is the look of determination on each girl’s face that warmed my heart the most. They had a goal. They believed. They trained. They built the muscle of hope just as they built physical fitness.

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And they persevered with greatness…

My oldest daughter led the team as each member competed with character, love for one another, and a deep respect for the sport. While the trophy that brought tears as well as smiles will now live in a cabinet in the Cozad High School, the joy that comes from building the team will travel in all of their hearts for the rest of their lives.

Haymaker Cross Country personifies a culture of excellence. The positive mental development of the athletes provides the true beauty of the program. Somewhere in the thousands of training miles under the leadership of head Coach Dustin Favinger, a bond is forged among the runners that transcends the physical.

It is truly a joy to witness…

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Throughout the season, I watched the girls “fill in” for each other during the races. They packed up tightly, running together and feeding of off the muscle of hope that beat deeply in their hearts. The girls tenaciously battled challenges, always determined to accomplish the prized end goal: a state team trophy.

As a parent, I cherish the life lessons that Ashley Grace learns pounding the running trail in search of excellence. Comraderie, self-discipline, and confidence all tie together creating the realization that true success occurs when selfless individual efforts forge together to create a team.

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I will never forget the smile on her face as she proudly held the trophy. It is the smile that results when hard work, determination, and hope provide the promise of victory.

That is the recipe for excellence – That is Haymaker Cross Country.

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