Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Let's Play Offense

"The moment a person becomes defensive, learning ceases." -Carlton Munson

I saw this quote in my Facebook newsfeed today and it seemed extremely fitting for what I am doing this week.

As I type this I am sitting in Washington D.C. at an American Farm Bureau Advocacy Conference. It is the first one they have put on and I must say, they've done an amazing job. I am extremely thankful and lucky for my state to have allowed me to attend. #FBAdvocacy

I have sat in many social media, "tell your story" style workshops in the last few years. If you are in agriculture, you know all about telling your story. I can quote almost anyone that has put on one of these workshops:
"We need to tell our story." 
"Only you can tell your story." 
"If you want your story told correctly, you have to tell it yourself."

This is all good advice. It is exactly what we, as farmers and ranchers, should be doing. And after you attend these workshops you leave all fired up. We gonna tell our story! Then you get home and the cows, your family, and your household knows your story already. And they don't wanna hear it again. So you're left wondering...to who and where do I tell my story?!

And you're stuck.

Then you get someone on your Facebook or Twitter or in town that says something that just blows your agricultural mind. It might even be one of your best friends. You wonder how and why they don't know your story...they don't know the science....they don't know the facts. You're thinking, "Wow...where was I on that one?" 

When you feel like you haven't done a very good job of telling your story and you get blindsided by a friend's Facebook post or a comment from someone you don't even know, the initial reaction is defensive. You immediately want to tackle whoever has the ball. Run them down and take them out. Here's the thing...this isn't football.

"The moment a person becomes defensive, learning ceases."

We cannot tell our story or make our point by being defensive. 

If we want to effectively communicate with consumers, friends, family members, strangers, we have to learn to take a step back. Take a breath. Use these great brains that God gave us to tell our stories. Not constantly spouting facts. Not using talking points. Not regurgitating information we have been given. Ain't nobody got time for that.  

Let me say, however, that facts and talking points are useful. They are amazing tools to use. They are truths. But they are the sterile operating room. They are cold things. People don't want the operating room....they want the warm and fuzzy miracle story that has people in it. They want to grasp your story and feel it. Tears, goosebumps, fear, happiness, accomplishment, love, all those things come across when you live your story. Use the facts. Follow the talking points. But make them feel it. 

Nobody wants to hear that you have a 1% mortality rate. Nobody wants to hear that you grew 171.7 bushels per acre of corn. You don't get attention with those facts unless you are talking to another ag person. Because the average person doesn't immediately know what a mortality rate is on a farm. The closest thing to a bushel anyone gets is "a bushel, a peck, and a hug around the neck" from Aunt Helen. 

The average person wants to hear about the night in January during the snowstorm when your daughters show heifer was calving. And she wouldn't get up or push and you had to pull her calf. And it was too cold so you got momma up and took baby into the house and dried her off and blanketed her next to the fireplace. How you stayed up making sure they both recovered and made it through the night. They want pictures of your 3 year old bottle feeding her. 

The average person wants to hear about how last year wasn't a very productive time, but you knew that between your faith and your family you could overcome the hardships because you have each other. That you all worked together to plant and harvest and ended up with record crops this year. 

They want to know you. Because if they can put your face with that gallon of milk, or that sweet corn, they are able to second guess what they might see on the nightly news. We have to face the fact that there are people and organizations out to get farmers and ranchers. They are strategically placing their very edited and cherry picked propaganda in front of consumers. It works. 

The reason it works is because we haven't become adept at telling our story. We are very good at jumping on the defense. We can argue facts and science. We can keep consumers at arm's length. We try to keep to ourselves the emotion and the heart. We are afraid of what someone might twist our words into, so we say nothing and we lose that round.

I am guilty. Guilty of keeping my story to myself. Guilty of being the best linebacker ever. Put me in coach...I can be defensive. And after 2 days of drilling advocacy into my head and seeing this quote, I realize we have to tell OUR stories. To everyone. 

"The moment a person becomes defensive, learning ceases."

If you are telling your story....something you are an expert in....something you are passionate about...something you own, you will not be defensive. You will be personable. You will be effective. You will be heard and understood. This story, your story, is relevant. Farmers are proud of what they do. We have a lot to be proud of. We provide (at least) one of the basic needs of human beings. We shouldn't be hiding ourselves. Come out, come out wherever you are!

I am learning to tell my story. To step back when I feel the anger and frustrations bubbling up. I take a deep breath and try to find some way to relate my story to the issue. And if I don't have a personal story, I find someone that does...and I use facts and science. But I try, and it isn't easy, to keep my frustration in check and keep it out of my conversation. 

There are many days I feel like a failure. Sometimes it slaps me in the face that my people, the ones I spend time with, don't know the truth or the facts. Take the time to poll your friends. Ask them about organic, GMO, egg production, dairy products and practices. See if you are telling agriculture's story effectively. Practice telling your story with those close to you. Tell me your story. Tell snippets of your story on Facebook, Twitter, on a Pinterest board, with pictures and quotes. Whatever method you use...tell YOUR story and tell it well. 

I share my story with y'all when I write a post. I share on my Facebook and other social media outlets. I tell my story to friends and strangers. But my voice is only one. It is (mostly) quiet. But if we are telling agriculture's story in unison consumers can't help but hear it. They can't drown it out. 

"The moment a person becomes defensive, learning ceases."

Let's stop letting it get the best of us. Stop defending and start telling honest, emotional truths. Be the person teaching not the person shutting the conversation down.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ice Toes

Winter. It is winter again. I am not a fan.

It is cold. And dark a lot. And brown. And gloomy. And I just cannot Let It Go, Let It Go.

The Milkmaids...they like the snow. They like the prospect of snow days. They like the jackets and boots. They wanna build a snowman. (Did you just mentally sing "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" because I did) And no...I do not. Because I don't like it. It isn't even one of those green eggs and ham things where maybe if I tried it. Nope, Sam-I-Am...I am out on winter. Not with a mouse not in a house. Not here or there. I do not like it anywhere. Well, actually, I like it anywhere but here. You can have your winter, but leave me out of it.

You think winter cares if I like it? Probably not. It still comes around once a year. Stealing the leaves off the trees. Bringing the blackbirds in like a plague. I think there is a past blog post about those nasty feathered beasts. Gross. Winter takes out the green and gives us brown. Brown is good for eyes and hair. Brown grass and trees don't do it for this farmer's wife.

I like it warm and sunny. Don't worry...not too warm. But green and bright. The blackbirds move on to torture someone else. I can build a sand castle instead of a snowman. Spring, Summer, Fall, I will take them all, Sam...yes I will. I do so like those other seasons.

The smell of hay. Fresh silage is good. Happy cows sunning in a green pasture. Blue skies with puffy white clouds. No need for piles of clothes and puddles at the door. The puddles of water in my house are from swimming or the sprinkler not from melted smud. You know what smud is, dontcha? I'm going to assume you can figure it out. I have that much faith in y'all!

Unfortunately winter comes and goes as it pleases around here. If it is January and 65 today, tomorrow it will be January and -437 with a windchill of the Arctic Circle. Which is a place I wouldn't visit for all the rice in China.

Yesterday The Milkmaids were playing in the .25 inches of icy torture that fell from the sky. And the youngest Milkmaid starts screaming "It hurts! It hurts!" And I open the door to see what the commotion is about. I had already excused myself from the torture of winter and come in to make hot chocolate. (It's the only way they'd let me come in...hot chocolate all around if I can go into the sweet warmth of the house.) And my littlest milkmaid had removed one boot and one sock and was standing in the yard with one bare foot in the snow. She informed me that there was ice in her boot and she had to get it out. Well the obvious answer is to remove said boot AND sock and stand on the ice.

Momma panicked a bit...how long have I been inside? Is she gonna lose toes?!? What do I do? Because when you are facing an emergency like ice toes you immediately forget how to warm them back up....right? Well, Milkmaid #1 to the rescue. There's really no telling how long she listened to her sister scream before I came to the door, but in an instant she picked her sister up and brought her to Momma. We somehow got her 75 layers off and got her dry and socked back up. Through the tears all she could ask for was some hot chocolate. So, like a good mom, I got her some hot chocolate. Now...in all the panic of hypothermia and frost bite and toe loss Momma had a slight lapse. I handed her a small cup of hot chocolate. I said, "Here is your hot chocolate. Go sit at your table and drink it." And on her way to the table, my 3 year old, frozen toed milkmaid took a big ole swig of HOT chocolate. Momma forgot to say, "Be careful. It's hot!" Because for the love of pete, it is HOT CHOCOLATE.

That Mom of the Year Award. It's mine. Got it in the bag.

We had yet another emergency. I handled frozen feet. What the heck do I do for a burnt tongue?! Lord help us. I did what any good mom would do. I asked Dr. Google. Luckily there was no intelligent website telling me to immediately contact poison control or head to the ER. Nothing to hint at cancer or heart attack. Which there wouldn't be, but that never fails, right? You get online with slight shoulder pain and you are having a heart attack, cancer, and an ulcer by the time you shut that bad boy down. It said yogurt would do the trick or some sugar on her tongue. Doable, right? We had some banana chocolate Chobani (yum) and all was right with the world. She wouldn't, however, have any sugar put on her tongue. That would have been my first option...

Yesterday was a snow day. That in of itself is stressful for me. But I mostly felt like a complete failure as a mother.

Some days it feels like everything is wrong and nothing is going your way. You freeze your toes off, your coffee burnt your tongue (and there's no yogurt to fix it), or you are the one feeling responsible for someone else's frozen toes and burnt tongue. Sometimes life is like a big, long, miserable winter that you just can't get out of. It is dark and brown and you long for sun and color. Maybe you go from 65 degrees to -437 in a day. It is easy to get depressed and feel responsible that the world is falling apart. But if you look...you will find lessons in it all. You will find how winter, as much as I hate to admit it, is what makes you appreciate all the other seasons.

When we sat down last night and were winding down, my milkmaids sat by me on the couch, and they told me something that made the whole day just a memory...they said, "You are the greatest mommy in the world."

Really? Me? After all this crazy stuff that went on?

And they meant it.

When you feel like the biggest failure, like you've messed up beyond forgiveness...someone thinks you are the greatest in the world. I promise.

Winter is just for a time...then we get 3 seasons, winter's redemption. God says...sorry it was so stinking cold and miserable...let me give you something to be happy about. Of course in those other 3 seasons there are periods of misery...storms, exhausting heat, allergies, and fall, well it's pretty much okay. There's a lesson to be learned every day. And yesterday I learned a few lessons.

1. Sometimes trying to get away from the ice in your boot makes for a far worse set of consequences than just letting it melt and going inside to sit by the fire.

2. Always tell a 3 year old that Hot chocolate is...well...HOT.

3. Yogurt helps burnt tongues.

4. I am the BEST mommy in the world.

5. Sometimes it feels sad and cold and brown, but it won't last.

6. Bad things happen...sometimes by our own choices, but if you ask for help someone will be there. Even if they listen to you scream for a few minutes.

7. Snow days teach you lots of lessons.

I'm counting down the days until winter is over. I know there will (eventually) be an end to it. Because this too shall pass. I'm sure spring will teach me a lesson or two. Don't worry. I'll share.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Diary of a Dairy Wife: If You Want Something Done Right....

If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.

Or teach someone else how to do it exactly the way you want it done, hover, critique, micromanage, all the while driving yourself and everyone else crazy.

Control freaks (like myself) tend to like things done a certain way. In a certain order. Usually in a certain amount of time. And it's hard to let go, even a little, and watch someone else *try* to do it the "right way."

But then there are those times where I'm so tired of running that I just want someone to help out. So I delegate. And I've learned that even if it isn't exactly like I like it...we are all much happier if I don't go redo whatever someone else has done. It may take every fiber of my being and semi-physical restraint to keep from "fixing" whatever it is, but I'm learning.

We all have those quirks. We all want the things that are important to us done a particular way.


You know what I'm talking about...making the beds, cleaning the bathroom, changing the baby's diaper, milking the cows, cleaning the guns, changing the oil, greasing the machinery. Those things that we get anal about. The process. You and I may do it differently, but we get the same result. Does the process really matter?

Not on most things.

But then there are the things we don't really think about.

This one might get a little controversial. It might not make everyone happy. But I'm gonna preach..er...say it anyway.

In 1962 we saw a drastic change. Does anyone know what it is?

Prayer was taken out of schools. Engel v. Vitale (thanks google) was the case that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to set precedence on the matter. It said that prayer in schools violated the First Amendment by constituting an establishment of religion.

There is much debate about our beloved country being founded by Christian morals. That is kind of loaded. Our country was started because a group of people wanted to flee religious persecution. Were they of Christian morals? Yes they were. Did they write the original legislation and start our country based on Christian values? Yes they did. But the very basic reason this country was founded was because they wanted freedom from religious persecution.

We don't really like to acknowledge that part.

Before you get your panties in a twist...I'm not saying open the borders and flood the terrorists in. (Not that it isn't already happening....but that's another soapbox for another day and time) I'm saying that while our country was founded on Christian morals it was also started by people wanting religious freedom.

If you've read any of my blogs you know I am a Christian. I have strong faith and I am sturdy in my beliefs. Basically, you can't change my mind. I am blessed with amazing parents that instilled great morals and showed me Jesus. Everyone should be so lucky as my brother and I, to have parents that teach faith and love. I would certainly not be the person that I am today without their support and teaching. I believe that we have a savior that gave His life for mine and for anyone else that believes and asks for forgiveness. Anyone willing to accept His free gift of salvation is welcome into Heaven. I don't care what you have done or who you were or who you have become, God loves you and is willing to forgive. And as a Christian, it is my job to teach that to my kids.

Wait....who's job?

Oh yes...MINE. It. Is. My. Job.

I think the world we live in is a sad one. There is so much hate and violence.

Why do I think there is so much hate and violence?

Let me tell you. And you might not like it.....

Because we are failing as parents.

We are worried about everything under the sun. We are worried about having a big house with a fancy car and the kids having everything their little hearts desire. We are worried about the lawn and the groceries and the manicure and the meetings and the parties and the everything going on in the world. Not that most of those things aren't important. And if you are worried about those things I'm not saying you are wrong...I worry about most of those things. But we are so wrapped up in getting to where we want to be that we forget to teach our kids love and kindness and respect and salvation.

It is my job to teach my kids to pray.
It is my job to teach my kids to love.
It is my job to teach my kids to respect others.
It is my job to teach my kids salvation and faith.
It is my job to teach my kids.

Repeat that with me....

It is MY job to teach my kids.

Hold up...I cannot in any way, shape, or form teach my kids science, math, reading, writing, or any of the things I send them to school for.

On that note: Parents....teachers have a hard job. They take care of your kids 5 days a week. They have gone to school to learn how to teach your kids. They give your kids knowledge and the ability to go out into the world and get a job. They are not responsible for your kids prayers or faith. Stop getting all up in the teacher's grill if your kid can't behave at school....that's on you. Got it? Because as a parent, who's job is it to teach your kids respect?
That's right...lemme hear it....

There are exceptions to every rule. Some teachers probably shouldn't be teachers, but for the most part, cut them some slack.

I am not very good at stopping my schedule and sitting down with the Milkmaids to have a devotion or talk about God. We aren't that family that has a devotional before supper. We are doing good to get everyone to eat supper. So this is not me condemning anyone. We do get in the car every morning, turn down the radio, and pray together. Milkmaid #1 gives thanks for our blessings and asks God to watch over us as we go thru our day. Then I say a prayer, mostly going over the same things, and begging God for all of us to stay healthy. Because y'all all know about having sickness in your house. Oh Dear Jesus keep away the germs!! And then sometimes Milkmaid #2 says the "God is great, God is good" prayer and thanks him for the food we aren't currently eating, but we don't stop her.

It is important to pray with your kids. For your kids, also, but out loud. So they can hear you talking to God. I do a lot of silent, mental praying. Usually asking for something. Trying to remember to thank Him for the things He's blessed us with. Let your kids hear you pray. Teach them to pray at home.

Engle v. Vitale did not take away your kids right to pray at school.

That verdict said that prayer couldn't be required and couldn't be led by school staff. That does not take away your kids right to pray at school. Or tell others about God. And you know where they should be learning about praying and God? At home. That's right....it is MY job to teach MY kids to pray.

I'm going to be really honest here (shocking, right? Me? Honest?). I DO NOT want prayer in my kids school. I do not want them to reinstate that freedom. Do you know why? Because I want to teach my kids about my faith. I do not want them on a mat praying to Allah. And I do not want them in a pentagram drawn on the floor chanting. I realize that many people that aren't necessarily Christian think it's best to just let your kids choose what they believe. And my kids will. But they will know all about my faith and my God and my beliefs. If they want to believe something different I will have to cross that bridge when I get there. But come on parents...if you have faith, do you really want it taught at school? How would that fit into common core? It certainly wouldn't just talk about one religion of your choosing.

On the farm, The Milkman teaches our employees how to run our equipment and milk in our barn. He takes time to show the Milkmaids how we do things and why. He wouldn't expect someone else to teach the people working here or our girls how to run this particular farm. He wouldn't send them to a school to learn how our particular barn works. He takes responsibility. He will teach our people himself. Because this farm is our livelihood. It is what we love and where we make our money. And if he can take the time and the responsibility to teach about how we operate, I don't think its too much to ask that parents take responsibility for teaching their own kids certain things.

Teach your kids to pray.
Teach your kids to love.
Teach your kids about respect.
Teach your kids about salvation and faith.

It is our job, as parents, to stop worrying about how everything is going to get done, and make sure we are taking time to teach our kids the values that are important to us.

If we don't teach our kids what is important to us, someone else will teach our kids what is important to them.  And when I look around the world today, what is important to so many, has nothing to do with anyone but themselves. We live in a selfish world. Teach your kids that it doesn't have to be a selfish place.

It is my job to teach my kids about life. And I am up for the challenge? Are you?