Saturday, October 11, 2014

Clearing the air

Let's clear the air about a few things.

Phenomenal Fashion was not an attack on high school girls.

If you read my piece and believe that to be true, then I'm sorry.  No harm intended.

Yet...

Did my piece say these girls lacked in accomplishments, athletic talent, musical abilities, character or compassion?  Absolutely not.

Did my piece say that today's clothing choices detract from all the good that young people represent?  Absolutely.

I used my experience as a mom of young girls in watching fashion trends to be analogous to what's happening across the country.  And across the country, teenage fashion blurs the line between stunning and sexy.  My preference is for teenage girls to look stunning.  Sexy (albeit unfortunate) belongs elsewhere.

I believe in challenging young people.  To study harder.  To stand in front of a room and exude confidence.  To practice harder for the next game.

I find it hard to believe I'm the first person to challenge young ladies to employ some modesty.

My approach is that of tough-love.  I expect much from my children.  And, in return, I strive to give them my best.  I'm just not into fostering a false sense of self-confidence.

And so, I'm just not into lauding young people when I know they're capable of more.

Back in "the day," my mom would have told me I had a good game no matter how lousy I played.  My dad wouldn't let me go to bed until we practiced how to seal a more effective box-out.

Young people need a dose of both: unconditional praise and a challenge to do even better the next time.

Every smart, beautiful, talented, compassionate teenage girl has the ability to stand-up to culturally accepted fashion standards and choose better.

And I'll remain steadfast in my challenge to be phenomenally fashionable.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Phenomenal Fashion

I've been taking my girls to our community's promenade since they were little. The girls put on dresses and necklaces and clip-on earrings and faux feather boas, and we go see the fancy dresses. 

At the end of the night, we pick our favorites.  Pink dresses and full skirts always score well with the girls.  The blue and grey shades always catch my eye.

Lately, it seems, the hem lines have been getting shorter.  The backs more open.  The neck lines plunging deeper.  The high heels taller and taller.

And each year, we've noticed.  Since about Kindergarten, Noah has expertly used the word "inappropriate."  Nell fumbles over the syllables, but it will soon be part of her vocabulary, too.

We return each year, the girls hoping for something poufy and sparkly, and I, quietly watching in the back for that young lady who’s willing to take a stand against teenage fashion trends and don something elegant, classy, and sophisticated.  The girl who’s ahead of her time; who’s fearless in the face of pop culture.  The girl I want my little girls to grow up to become.

So when this year’s Homecoming candidates rode past us in the back of pick-up trucks during the parade, I was once again watching for that girl.

And I was disappointed.

When I see Homecoming candidates, I see girls on the verge of becoming young women.  I see girls who represent years of hard work and achievements.  Girls standing up for our school; our community; our churches. 

But when their arms reach longer than their hem lines; when their back is fully exposed on a chilly October evening; when their skirt inches higher as they walk, it’s so very hard to see those accomplishments; so hard to see a role model for my little girls when they’re wrapped in barely enough fabric.

Fashion isn’t the absolute definition of a person.  But that old saying…

…what you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say…

…seems to apply here.

What you choose to wear can convey messages that are positive and driven and accomplished.  The right dress has the power to say, “I’m proud of who I am.  I’m proud of my school and my community.   I’ve worked hard to be standing here today.  And I will represent you well going forward.” 

Finding that dress is not so easy.  And especially not easy on a week’s notice in the midst of a busy senior girl’s schedule.  And even worse when you’re a tall girl with an athletic build searching for a dress in the juniors department.  (I am that tall girl with an athletic build.)

But it’s possible.

Thanks to my much more fashionable mom and sisters (and to watching dozens of What Not to Wear episodes while taking care of my baby girls), I know how to find clothes that fit, that are fashionable, and that express who I am.  I have learned how to choose clothes that flatter the good parts, and to hide the not so good parts.  And thanks to the internet, I don’t have to go far to find them.

Loft, Anthropologie, J Crew, Old Navy, Gap, Boden---are some of my favorite places to shop.  I look for sales.  Or, I find inspiration and recreate with pieces I can find at Target or Wal-Mart that suit my budget.

These clothing lines offer classic pieces that have staying power in my wardrobe, and offer plenty of modern fashion for even the most stylish among us.

I have warned Brent since the girls were little: we will drive farther and spend more money to find clothes that the girls and I can agree on in terms of fashion and sensibility.

He gets it.

But our influence will wane as the girls grow up.  They’ll be looking to pop culture, to the girls at promenade, to the Homecoming candidates for their influence.

So I’m asking you now: be a fashion leader, not a fashion follower.  Let your fashion sense show us the smart, independent, driven, compassionate girl you are.  Choose elegance.  Sophistication.  Stand up to the lesser standards and be something phenomenal.

Because my little girls are watching…and they wanna be just like you. 

(Here's a few homecoming alternatives I adore...)






Thursday, July 24, 2014

A good thing

I was a first generation 4-H’er.

My parents grew up in the north-end of working-town St. Joseph, Missouri.  My dad was a jock.  He played competitive sports year-round, and spent his free time rounding up the neighborhood boys for a few innings on the sandlot.  Weekends were spent on his grandparent’s farm in Kansas.  4-H simply wasn’t on his radar. 

My mom, eager to escape a childhood riddled with painful memories, found security and stability in my dad.  She wanted her own family, her own home.  She wanted her turn at building a lifetime of happy memories.  4-H wasn’t on her radar, either.

They married at 19.  My dad finished up college, wrapped up a college sports career, and five short years later, bought a farm and moved his wife and three – soon to be four – babes to an 80 acre paradise in northeast Kansas.

4-H was suddenly on their radar.  A wholesome, fun, family-oriented experience perfect for a new-to-the-farm family.

I joined the Circle B 4-H Club.  We bought a pen full of market hogs and picked up a Hereford bucket calf at the Atchison Sale Barn.  I sewed a calico-print skirt with help from my Grandma, and made cookies and a craft project with my momma. 

The summer of 1988 marked our first Doniphan County Fair. 

This summer, while standing in the barn of the Ellsworth County Fair – looking over Noah and Tucker’s bucket calves – my Dad reminded me of why 4-H was just the right fit for our family.

On a sweltering evening at the market hog show, late July 1988, the competition was heating up in the swine showmanship class.  At eight-years-old, I was oblivious to it all, trying to keep track of a fast-moving hog and wiping the sweat from my brow with a bristle brush intended for my pig.  (Actually, I think my brother did that, but it adds a nice touch, doesn’t it?)  The oldest daughter of a more-seasoned 4-H family and member of our club, was a show-woman to be reckoned with.  She was in the running for Grand Champion, but when the judge passed her up and gave the nod to another showman, her mom threw a camera across the bleachers in disgust at the judge’s decision.

While the crowd looked on in disbelief, my dad stood under the eaves of the hog barn, smiled and thought to himself, “This 4-H thing is gonna be good.”

We went on to enjoy about 15 more summers of wholesome, fun, family-oriented county fairs.  And 15 summers of heated competition in the show ring.  There are boxes of trophies and ribbons filling closets at my parent’s house.  And enough wonderful memories and treasured friendships for us to cherish forever. 

The Circle B 4-H club boasted 40-plus members at its peak in the mid 90’s.  We had solid exhibitors and competitors in nearly every project.  We vied for the herdsmanship award every summer under the watchful eye of our club leaders.  By the time my youngest sister, Molly, was in high school, there just weren’t enough kids left to keep the club going.  Last fall – ten years later – my brother, and a number of the kids who were a part of the better days of Circle B, reinstated the club.

Our kids are now 4th generation Kansas 4-H’ers; thanks to a long 4-H legacy in the Goss and Dechant families participating in the Finney County 4-H Fair.  As members of the Elkhorn 4-H Club – they're part of a group of hard-working, no frills kids who can have as much fun at a big city water park as they can in a barn.  And a group of kids who pay attention to the youngest among them – this momma of young un’s loves that.

This 4-H thing is good for our family for reasons no different than the reasons my dad discovered many summers ago in that hog barn.  It brings our family together through meaningful work.  It allows our children to channel their interests and passions.  It provides opportunities to lead; and to work as a team.  And it puts our children into a nurturing, yet competitive, environment.  Because after all, the world doesn’t give everyone a ribbon for just showing up.

I sometimes wonder if we’ve pushed our family into a 4-H and farm lifestyle because that’s where Brent and I are most comfortable.  But when I see Noah blossoming in the show ring, Tucker tackling chores with a very grown-up sense of responsibility, Nell whispering to the chickens, and Britta hungry to just keep up with her siblings, my mind rests.  The Goss and 4-H just go together.

Brent's dad, Larry, in 1964.  Obviously.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bridging the Gap

Every year in early summer, upwards of 10,000 women descend upon the Overland Park Convention Center to attend the Just for Her Expo.  They come with their moms, sisters, daughters, aunts, neighbors, and best gal pals for a few hours of girl time.

They come to shop for purses, boutique clothing, house cleaning gadgets and luxurious bathrooms renovations.  They come to sample chocolates and wine.  They come to listen to live music.  They come for mini spa treatments.

It’s everything a girl could ask for.  It’s everything this farm girl loves to escape to the big city for.

This year marked my first trip to Just for Her.  And instead of shopping and massages, I was parked behind a booth, alongside another Central Kansas farm gal, volunteering for a farm women’s advocacy group called Common Ground.  And we were charged with the task of doing just that – striking common ground between farm girls and our suburban counterparts.

The goal was to engage in conversations about food.  The draw was bold questions printed across the booth’s backdrop: Have questions about where your food comes from?  Concerned about hormones in your food?  What’s all the worry about GMO’s?  The giveaways included a flexible cutting board and a notepad for grocery lists.  The results were, err, well, interesting.

I thought GMO’s were a bug.

I buy raw goat’s milk for my family from a farmer near Kansas City.

I’m worried about losing the family farm.

I just started juicing.

There aren’t hormones in poultry?  Really?

I remember visiting my grandparent’s farm, but I don’t think my teenage son has ever seen a farm.

I don’t like that they give all the animals antibiotics.

So, you’re saying organic production uses products to control weeds and pests, too?

I don’t have a vegetable garden.

Do you work for Monsanto? (Followed by an over-exaggerated wink.)

I began each conversation the same way: “I’m volunteering on behalf of Kansas farm women, and we’re here to provide information about your food from its source.”  Where the conversations went from there was not always what I expected.

Beyond cute purses and wine tasting, there simply wasn’t much common ground.  The gap between Central Kansas farm women and Johnson County women is much greater than the 208 miles between us. 

Sure, there were some positive conversations.  I made contact with an eager young gal who writes a newsletter for KC Metro moms.  She said she’d love to have articles about food contributed from Common Ground.  Another go-getter ran a women’s executive club, and we chatted about exchanging business leadership training for education about food production.

But the vast majority of conversations were riddled with misinformation and rampant with fear.  Some wanted to listen and were eager to learn more; others ruffled their feathers and moved on.

In each short encounter, I did my best to leave the conversation with this, “No matter where you fall on the food purchasing spectrum – from local and organic to modern and conventional – it’s important you get the information about your food from the farmer.”  Then, I handed them a flexible cutting board and flashed my most sincere, Kansas farm girl smile.

Bridging the information gap between producers and consumers is a marathon – not a sprint.  It doesn’t happen quickly.  And the road to the finish will take us to places farmers have never been before – the halls of an Overland Park Convention Center, the pages of an urban mom publication, the offices of suburban executive women. 


Common Ground and it’s supporters – the Kansas Soybean Commission and the Kansas Corn Commission – get it.  They understand that one conversation at a time, we can reconnect consumers with the faces behind their food.   And if that means meeting suburban consumers on their turf – in the shopping and dining mecca of our state – twist my arm, I’ll be there.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On repeat

It was 8:11am on Holy Saturday.  We were headed southwest in Brent's farm truck.  A 13 year old, ruddy-orange, extended cab Chevy pick-up with rusty fenders and 128,753 miles of memories.

The extended cab was full.  Six family members equals two booster seats, a toddler chair, an eight-year-old squeezed between mom and dad and their coffee mugs and smart phones, and a homemade livestock crate strapped down in the back.


Our destination was Garden City - birthplace and hometown of my true love. 165 miles to get there.  And home again.   (384 miles from my own hometown, by the way.  Love knows no boundaries.)

Our goal was to return with a 4H pig in that crate.  And, to make the most of a quick trip, have an Easter lunch with Brent's family - pork burgers, baked beans and all the fixins at the farm, arrange an Easter egg hunt for the kids and their cousins, and swing thru Target for a pair of nice sandals for the next day's Mass.

About 30 miles down the road, Brent inquired about the goings-on of my Dad and his farm.

"I'm not sure what he's up to today.  Let's call him and see."

My smart phone tracked him down 249 miles in the opposite direction.  He was headed out the door to check cows and work on his planter.  I gave him a full update on our adventure.  He laughed out loud as he envisioned the sight of us heading down the highway.

"All you really need to complete the look," he said, "are a few old tires and an opened bag of feed in the back and a round of slur-pees for all the kids."  He could barely get the word slur-pee out before the hilarity of his creativity consumed him. 

It's only so hilarious because he's been there.  The only difference - I was the eight-year-old riding shotgun, my seven-year-old brother beside me, stock-racks in the back of a '79 Chevy pick-up hauling our 4H pigs to town for the county fair.  My mom and younger sisters had to stay behind.  No extended cab pick-up.  And no smart phones to text them we'd stopped for an ice cream cone and would be home a little late.

So many moments of my adult life are repeating the days of my childhood.

Finishing up chores with just enough daylight to get in some batting practice.  Been there.

Getting by on used equipment and hand-me-down supplies.  Done that.

Taking a small farm in need of lots of attention and slowly working into something to be proud of.  Doin' it tomorrow.  (And the next day, and the next day...)

These deja-vu moments are frequent.

When I set out to make my own path, I certainly didn't expect to end up on the same road as my parents.  Sure, I shared my dad's love for the farm and my mom's passion for family.  Yet, the merger of two has yielded more nostalgia than I ever expected.

I read once that the goal of Generation X (Brent and I) is to reach the same standard of living as achieved by their Baby Boomer parents.  I'd say we're slowly, but surely, on our way.

By early evening on Holy Saturday, we were headed Northeast.  Two - not just one - pigs in the homemade crate.  Four tired and dirty kids with bags of Easter goodies stashed beneath the seats.  A pair of sandals for church.  About a dozen bags of groceries crammed in front of the pig crate for the next day's Easter dinner.  And two parents who, on most days, feel like staying one step ahead of this crazy life is all they'll ever accomplish.

And we'll be doin' it again tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sweet corn and sweet Ruthie

My brother called yesterday afternoon.  He was outside.  Working on his planter.  And his spirits were good.

He said he had some sweet corn seed he was sending our way.  He said Ruthie was doing far better than he had expected.  He said he'd be in his tractor seat, planting corn in the next few days.

How 'bout an amen?

The week of Ruthie's diagnosis was like a tail spin.  (And I'm just the Aunt.  I still can't comprehend the pain Nathan and Adrienne felt.)  There was a mass.  It's cancer.  It's stage 3.  It's inoperable.  Chemo starts right away.

But then there was some good news.  The cancer was contained in one area - it had not spread anywhere else.  They called her diagnosis Intermediate Risk - which gives her an excellent chance at surviving this thing.  And she's been a fighter through her first round of chemo.

Ruthie was able to come home from the hospital last week.  She goes back and forth frequently to keep a close eye on everything.  They are fortunate to live just an hour away from Children's Mercy Hospital.  Yet, in the ten days they have been home, they have made a trip almost every day to see Ruthie's doctors and monitor her condition.  All of this has forced Adrienne to take a leave from her job as a first grade teacher at Troy Elementary School.

There are so many of you praying for Ruthie.  So many of you offering your help and support to Nathan and Adrienne.  For all of that, we are so grateful.  While it can be hard to accept help, we all know Nathan would be among the first to offer his help should it be any of us that fall on hard times.

The road ahead is long for sweet Ruthie.  Three more rounds of chemo with the hope to operate in the summer to remove the tumor. 

Please keep praying for Ruthie.  And her Daddy and Mommy.  (And her big brother, Henry, and her big sister, Elliette.)

Let's lift them up and walk beside them.  Let's hope next spring is just another dusty, dirty, stressful, eighteen-hours-a-day-in-the-tractor-seat, normal planting season.

Ruthie during a height check - wearing her Super Girl cape and her very own stethoscope.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In the tractor seat

My brother, Nathan, is one of my favorite farmers.  Always has been.

I helped him haul in letter-block hay bales in our preschool days.  I saddled up beside him on the arms of the couch as we rode over the prairie, checking our herd.

He was born to be a farmer and rancher.  The hat, the jeans, the pliers pouch, the dirty boots - they suit him.  He's smart, savvy with machinery, gentle with his cattle.

Yesterday was National Ag Day.  Nathan should have been in his tractor seat, having a working celebration as he prepared fields and put on fertilizer getting ready for planting season.

Instead, he spent the day in a living hell at Children's Mercy Hospital.  His baby girl, 14-month-old Ruthie Jane, was diagnosed with cancer.

What was thought to be a tummy-ache or appendicitis, turned out to be a mass near her bladder.  As of right now, it's inoperable, and plans are being made to treat it with chemotherapy.

Four days earlier, Ruthie, and my Britta, were running laps through Grandma's house and giggling as Grandpa gave them a bath.

I've always heard about the horrors of cancer.  But until you've been jerked from your tractor seat on a Monday morning and thrown face down in the dirt of God's uncertainty, you don't really get it.

We have more questions than answers about sweet Ruthie Jane.  But we have faith, we have each other, and we have you, dear friends, to lean on. 

It may be awhile before Nathan gets back in the tractor seat.  Yet just like long ago, I, and so many of you, will saddle up beside him and offer our grit, our faith, and our muscle to see Ruthie Jane through this.