Thursday, February 19, 2015

Grandma Taught Me How to Sew - Revised

I wrote this piece about 4 years ago.  Upon Grandma’s passing yesterday, it was time for a revision…

My grandma taught me how to sew...nearly twenty-five years ago, in the July heat, in her non-air-conditioned farm house.

For several days, summer after summer, I would stay at Grandma's house until we had completed an outfit. Her house seemed to bake in the July, muggy, Missouri heat. I remember just hoping for a breeze to come through the bedroom window where I slept at night.

I would make my way to the kitchen each morning to find her reading the paper, drinking her coffee, and smoking a cigarette. She would make me a bowl of a yummy, sugary cereal – just not Uncle Rod’s special kind of yummy, sugary cereal.  And we would have breakfast and chat about what we needed to accomplish on my outfit for the day.

She taught me how to read a pattern; how to lay out the pattern pieces properly on the fabric; to pay close attention to every detail on each pattern piece; to measure and pin and snip and stitch so carefully. And if I didn't do things just right, she would move me out of the way and finish it herself. She was particular, to say the least.

She passed down her craft in same, old-fashioned way she learned how to sew.  With a simple pattern, pins, scissors and a measuring tape.  No fancy machines; no fancy tools.  Just the basics.  And it worked. 

So, I suppose it only seems appropriate that Grandma left us for her Heavenly home on Ash Wednesday.  The day the church is stripped down, un-adorned, simple, and humble.  No frills; just church.  And the simple, raw reminder: dust you are, and to dust you shall return.

Those weren’t words Grandma heard at church once each year.  She lived them.  She knew life didn’t have to be fancy and expensive to be rich in love and family.

Greater than the sewing lessons; were the lessons about family.  She showed every one of her six children, seventeen grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren how to stitch together a family.

She knew that making the right choice about pattern and fabric paled in comparison to how you execute the directions. 

She showed us that choosing who to love is important, but carrying out that love day after day matters even more.

She knew that every detail mattered.

She understood that attending junior high girls basketball games and pee-wee soccer games mattered.

She knew that those extra pains-taking finishing details would be rewarded with a blue ribbon.

She knew that seven different types of pie was not too many to make for those she loved.

She knew that taking short-cuts would never pay-off.

          Her love for all of us never took a short-cut.

I’d like to think I got some of the best of my Grandma in that hot, stuffy sewing room.  And while a small part of her legacy will live on the boxes of fabrics and notions that have found their way to my home; the biggest part of her legacy will live on in the way we give of ourselves to our families…

…in a no-frills, give-it-your-all, “don’t be a dummy,” pay attention to the smallest of details, humble, ashes to ashes sort of way.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Time to Adjust the Ag Playbook

(As published on Drovers Cattle Network)

In a rush to put dinner on the table one evening, I asked for help from my oldest daughter, nine-year-old Noah Grace.  It was spaghetti night, and I was cutting it close on getting the garlic bread in the oven by dinner time.

Ten minutes later, we pull the bread from the oven, dish up plates, call the crew to the kitchen, and count our blessings.  Another pleasant dinner of pleading to eat vegetables and asking for basic manners commences. 
That’s when Noah Grace says to her family, “I made the garlic bread.  You should tell me thank you.”
Silence.  Puzzled looks from her middle siblings.  A quizzical glance from her father and me.  The two-year-old is too busy with her noodles to sense the awkward moment.
I quickly organize my thoughts and attempt to respond in a way that’ll make her want to help make garlic bread again.
“Noah, I cook for you every night, and I don’t sit down at the table and demand a thank you.  Sure, they’re nice from time to time, and they make me feel good, but I don’t expect you to say thank you.  I love serving and nourishing you.  Knowing I’ve done that is thanks enough.”
It wasn’t until a few days ago, when I took a break from cooking for my crew to attend the CommonGround 2015 Conference that I connected what was happening at my own dinner table to what has been happening in agriculture for almost 100 years.  CommonGround is the collaboration of the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association. It is a farmer volunteer-driven effort to “lead important conversations about food among the women who grow it and the women who buy it.”
Michael Turley, CEO of Osborn Barr, the public relations firm that oversees CommonGround, challenged his audience of farm women to “adjust how we communicate the noble cause of agriculture.”  His challenge was made perfectly clear when he displayed a 1918 advertisement from a farm tools manufacturer: “Farmers Feed the World” was the focus of the one page ad.
How many times have we seen that line?  How many dozens of times have you said it or wrote it?  I’m guilty, 100 times over.  What about the phrase, “Thank a farmer”?  Again, guilty.  Or, “God made a famer”?  Beautiful words, but are they the right words?
“Self-proclamation is really hard for people to process.  It’s off-putting,” continued Turley.  “We in the industry feel the value of our product is obvious.  Why do we have to market ourselves?”
Marketing is imperative in today’s economy because the thank you’s just aren’t coming anymore.  The consumer voice has never been more powerful.  You have to look no further than your local grocery store to see countless examples: non-GMO cereals, cage-free eggs, organic produce, hormone-free dairy, antibiotic-free beef.  Right, wrong or misleading, the labels in the grocery store prove consumers have power – and they use that power with the purchases they make every day. 
If you pause to consider every person in the food processing chain, from the farmer to the processor, from the wholesaler to the retailer, the farmer is the most authentic voice.  A voice of integrity.  The only hands-in-the-dirt, boots-on-the-ground voice in the entire chain.  Food Babe and Chipotle do not have their hands in the dirt, nor boots on the ground.
You do.  Your stories.  Your integrity.  Your every-day, honest, sometimes dirty, even ordinary stories – from fixing fence to spraying for cedar trees, from filling the water tank to making garlic bread – will slowly, but surely sway public opinion. 
Stephen Fairbanks is a writer at Osborn Barr. During his creative writing workshop he said, “Ag critics have dominated for the past 20 years, and it’s our turn to talk now.  Consumers want to read what you have to say.  The stuff you take for granted, or think is boring, most consumers find fascinating.”
I have a hunch he’s right.  The folks at Osborn Barr make pay-day when they connect agriculture to the consumer.  And they’re coaching the 130 farmer volunteers of CommonGround to be an inclusive, positive, credible and realvoice for agriculture.  They are asking women to step off the farm and meet consumers on their turf – in the cities, on college campuses, in the grocery stores – and engage in conversations that ultimately make pay-day for every American farmer and rancher.
It’s time the ag sector adjusts our play book.  We can offer authentic voices that are inclusive of all food choices and farming practices; voices that keep the conversation positive; and credible, real voices of personal stories supported by third-party science that will shift public opinion.
Farming and ranching are noble causes.  We know that.  And it’s time we respond to consumers in a way that make will make them want to buy our products again and again: “I love serving and nourishing you.  Knowing I’ve done that is thanks enough.”

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Clean Eating is a Dirty Word

I dusted off the suitcase for a trip to warm and sunny Austin, Texas.  Leaving the farm and the kids behind to spend two days learning about how to better engage consumers about the food coming from farms.  The chance to get-away and learn something new has a narrow lead on my feelings of guilt and anxiety about leaving the crew behind.

Speaking of consumers, the latest buzz word among food-savvy folks is clean eating.  It’s the trendy way to say you’re choosing less processed, reduced salt and sugar, and lower fat meals that boast plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

It’s the way I’ve been trying to cook for years.  Now it has a name.  And a hashtag.  It’s trending.

Follow me.  I’m going somewhere with this.

In a push to cook a few extra meals and leave plenty of leftovers for the crew while I’m gone, I made a Chicken Broccoli Quinoa recipe.  Clean eating?  Absolutely.  Right down to the home-made, low-fat milk cheese sauce.  Kid pleasing and husband pleasing?  It was a 66% success.  Right on track with my new recipe average.

What’s a farm girl like me doing with a trendy food like quinoa in the house?  Well, I have a cookie problem.  A 2 o’clock in the afternoon cookie problem.  Love to bake ‘em almost as much as I love to eat ‘em.  So, I’m trying a homemade chocolate chip granola bar.  It’s working.  So far.  But I had oodles of quinoa left over.  When Chicken Broccoli Quinoa appeared in my Pinterest feed, I clicked.

As I pulled a few (home grown, home butchered) broilers from the freezer to roast for the quinoa casserole, it occurred to me – clean eating is not very clean.

We raised those broilers from baby chicks.  Cleaned their pens.  Fed and watered them.  Cleaned the chicken poo from their feeder and waterer.  (That’s a legit farm girl word; emphasis on the second "er.")  Killed them, gutted them, plucked their feathers and froze them. 


I roasted those chickens.  Skinned and deboned them.


I cooked quinoa.  Made a cheese sauce.  Satueed panko bread crumbs for the topping.

Three dirty pans.  (Not counting the roaster and the cutting board where I chopped the freshly roasted chicken.)

Had I actually retrieved the broccoli from our own garden, washed it and chopped it, instead of buying a $1 bag of frozen chopped broccoli, then we’re talking a major kitchen mess.

Clean eating – among other foodie phrases – is misleading. 

Sure, you’re putting clean, wholesome meals on the dinner table, but it took a lot of getting dirty along the way to get it there.

The business of growing and producing food so that you can choose clean, colorful produce at the grocery store, clean shiny eggs, and neatly packaged fresh meats is full of folks willing to get their hands dirty.

And the responsibility of providing clean, healthy meals on the tables for our families means we’ve got to be willing to dirty more dishes and more countertops.  And spend a little more time at the proverbial kitchen sink.

It’s my hope that after two days in sunny, southern Texas, that I return home better able to reach Common Ground with consumers - to reach an understanding that clean eating means getting dirty.  And getting dirty means 66% of your family is happy.  100% healthy; but 66% happy.  That's trend-worthy.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Party Girl 2015

It’s unlike me to be unprepared. 

Sure, it happens from time to time.  I forget to return papers to school here, key ingredients forgot at the store there.  I’m a list-maker; day planner; set an extra reminder on the iPhone kinda’ gal.  These lapses in preparedness leave me utterly frustrated.

So when I arrived at my parent’s house for a three day stay over Thanksgiving without a toothbrush, a clean bra, pajamas, or underwear – yet remembering absolutely every stinkin’ thing for every other member of my family, not to mention an extra batch of dinner rolls and a gallon of soup and dozens of eggs – you can only imagine my utter frustration.

Arriving on the eve of Thanksgiving, there wasn’t time to drive to the big city for my forgotten essentials.  I scavenged for an extra toothbrush, slept in some of Brent’s extra clothes, and washed my undies each morning. 

On Black Friday afternoon, my sister and I made a quick trip to the big city.  I had an errand to run at the mall; she said she had coupons for Victoria’s Secret.  Praise the Lord.

I headed straight to the back of the store, where they keep the plain, cotton panties.  I reached for the bottom drawer, way in the back, and pulled out five pair (because it’s always a better deal when you buy five; every girl knows that): two greys, a navy blue, a white and a beige.  I paused for a moment and thought about a red pair, challenging my inner Sarah Plain & Tall, but noticed there was some writing on the back side and quickly put down the red panties. 

We stopped at HyVee on the way home for Mucinex, a bottle of wine and peppermint mocha coffee creamer.  That’ll cure what ails ya.

Fast forward to early, dark early, Saturday morning.  I’m digging clothes out of my bag and getting dressed for a fun day in the even bigger city with my mom and sisters.  By the light of my iPhone, I pull out my clothes for the day.  The light of my phone caught something that shimmered.  Strange, I didn’t bring anything that’s shimmery.  I don’t even own anything that shimmers.

I tip toe downstairs to the bathroom to get dressed.  I reach for a clean, new pair of plain grey undies, and that something shimmery is staring right back at me.  In large, shimmery script letters across the rear-end side of the plain grey undies, is the phrase…

party girl 2015.

I can’t believe what I’m seeing.  I’m without words.  Wholly embarrassed.  Sensing the self-deprecating humor.

I tip toe to the kitchen to show Brent and Mom my shimmery undies.  They spewed coffee and peppermint mocha creamer across the kitchen table.  I tip toe back upstairs to find the actual plain grey undies.

I still have the party girl panties.  They’re in the back of my drawer, and serve as my emergency pair for the day the washing machine breaks down.  Which will inevitably happen on the same day I end up in the emergency room wearing the party girl panties much to the surprise of the local doctors.

You can bet I’ll never forget to pack my undies again.

So whether or nor we're prepared for what 2015 has to offer, when we find ourselves surprised by something shimmery and unexpected, just remember, it’ll make a great story.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dried Basil Gift Set

My herb garden overflowed with basil this summer.  And somewhere in the middle of harvesting all those fragrant leaves, a savory little idea struck.

I should dry all this basil, sew up some simple little muslin pouches, attach a pretty and tasty recipe, and sell these for Christmas.

And so I did.

The first product of the Potted Goose is now available to you.

Each pouch contains 1 tablespoon of basil straight from our garden - enough to make two batches of my favorite spaghetti sauce.  And once you make your own spaghetti sauce, you'll never buy a jar from the grocery store again.

Nothing against store bought spaghetti sauce.  But when your house fills with the savory aromas of tomatoes and herbs, you'll completely understand.

The recipes and attached basil pouches will make simple gifts for teachers, neighbors and friends.  Or, they'll stuff nicely in the stocking of your favorite mom, grandma, or anyone who has loved ones to feed.

Ready for delivery or shipping this week.  $5 each.  (Shipping available, and charges will vary.)

Contact me soon - only a limited quantity available.

Have a savory and saucy Christmas, my friends.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

To everything there is a season

We were 200 miles into the 219 mile trip to our Thanksgiving destination.  I had seen a handful of Christmas lights strung on houses, far too many blow up snow-men in front yards, and listened to countless Black Friday ads on the radio. 

By the look and sound of things, we had skipped right over autumn and Thanksgiving and moved into Christmas.

And here I am, early on Thanksgiving morning, the coffee’s brewing and the turkey’s on its way to the oven, wondering why we hurry so much to the next season, while the joy of the current season is right under our nose.

I spent the better part of 10 years helping with a leadership program for college student called Changing Seasons.  I was blessed to work with a team of creative and talented people who developed the concepts behind this conference.

The essence of the leadership event was that each season of the year evokes an element of personal growth.  Rooted in the seasons of agriculture, these concepts easily play out in the lives of every one of us.

Winter is a season of preparation; spring a season of emergence; summer of growth; and fall of harvest.

Maybe it’s the season of life I’m in right now, maybe it’s the holidays; maybe it’s the cold that just won’t quit pestering me, but whatever it is, I feel myself holding fast to the current season, while change is coming at me faster than a Black Friday blow-out sale.

My little family is in an intense and extended season of growth.  The kids are outgrowing shoes and clothes daily.  They’re losing teeth; gaining vocabulary and social awareness; dribbling basketballs; writing in cursive; reading chapter books; Britta’s even insistent on putting on her own shoes and brushing her own teeth.  It’s a summer-time kinda fun - watching our little garden bloom and grow.

But on the horizon, the seasons are changing.  A time of preparation is nearing for this momma Goose.  Our extended season of growth will march on, blooming and surprising me every day.  But the day that all of my children spend all-day, every-day in school is coming at me just as fast as those Black Friday sales.  My mind wanders into a season of preparation often. 

I try my best not to hurry this current season along.  Even in the hurried, hectic moments when I’m rushing to prepare the next meal, helping with multiplication homework, consoling #3 who was just whopped by #2, and wiping up spilled milk, while Brent walks through the room, muttering, “16 more years, 16 more years.”

And so, for the balance of this Thanksgiving Day, my heart will be on savoring the season under my nose.  The kids are up now, the coffee pot is empty, it’s time to put together some breakfast, begin the final holiday meal preparations, get everyone dressed and keep 10 kids outta the kitchen so my mom, sisters and I can get this meal to the table in time.

My mind will surely wander to Christmas lists, decorations, party preparations, shopping the sales, and the next set of holiday travel plans.  Even while the most joyful moments are right under my nose.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, my friends.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A little longer...

Nell was so eager to start Kindergarten that the mere mention of the word school made her entire little body shake.

She bounced out the door that first day, eager and fearless.

So when the call came around lunch time on the fourth day of school that Nell had fallen from the playground equipment and likely broken her arm, I knew the time away from school would hurt her almost as much as the pain itself.

And while I was sad for her; frustrated at risky playground equipment; and unsure of how to care for her; I see those days now as a small gift of time to hold my baby girl a little longer.

Nell was the kind of toddler and preschooler that was fun to have around the house.

Another trip to the grocery store?  Smiling Nell preferred to sit in the back surrounded by the groceries.

Bathroom cleaning day?  She loved to scrub the toilets.

Dishes, dishes and more dishes?  It was her job to rinse.  And provide the musical entertainment.

Of course, there was cookie baking, sand-box playing, coloring and reading.  Her zest for life wasn't just for the fun stuff; she made the mundane a little brighter.

When she left for that first day of Kindergarten, I wasn't sad.  I was happy for that bouncy little girl. And thankful I had the chance to spend every day with her in preparation for life as a school-aged girl.

A broken arm just may have been God's way of giving my bouncy little girl and I a few more special days together.

A few days to cuddle, to paint her nails, to wash her hair in the kitchen sink, to carry her from room to room.  A few more days as a little girl close to her momma; one final reassurance that my bouncy little girl is ready to take flight as a school girl.

Broken arms are sometimes so much more than broken arms.  They're a chance to hold our babies just a little longer.