Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Don't eat yellow snow.

Growing up, each of us learned not to eat yellow snow one way or another. Maybe you listened to your mother when she said, “Don’t eat yellow snow!” in a strict tone of voice. Maybe you learned the hard way and couldn’t resist seeing what the big fuss was all about, so you grabbed a handful to try it out. Either way, we all know that eating yellow snow never leads to anything good, so we choose to avoid it all together. My question for each of us to consider is: if we all know that eating yellow snow will not make us any happier, why do we choose to have a bad attitude and “eat our own yellow snow?” Why not choose to be happy and avoid being upset, angry, annoyed, or stressed?

I learned this lesson in the beginning of January. I said “Bon voyage!” to my teammates as they departed for Washington D.C. and later Johannesburg, South Africa. Before they left, I kept reminding myself how many opportunities I had here at home while they were off traveling the world. I would be able to celebrate my mom’s birthday with her, go to the Brainerd FFA Chapter Lock-in, attend Ag Policy Experience and meet tons of cool FFA members and legislators, and catch up with my buddies from high school at Applebee’s. Once I began receiving texts and snapchats saying, “We’ve landed in Washington D.C.!” filled with big smiles and new friends they met on their adventure, my attitude changed. Rather than being happy for my teammates, I was sad and bitter that only 75 officers were selected to attend ILSSO and that I was not one of them. Every night, I would look through the photos on Facebook and Instagram and stories on Snapchat, feeling my heart break a little more as their memories kept adding up.  Why wasn’t I lucky enough to go to South Africa? How come I had to stay home while they went on a once-in-a-lifetime international experience?

IMG_2325.JPGIt was Day 12 of their trip and I had just gotten home from running errands in Willmar. I woke up sad that morning and had a “Poor Wendy” attitude all day long. When I pulled in my driveway, I glanced at my clock and saw that it was 4 o’clock, which happens to be my absolute least favorite time of day. I slammed my car door shut and began to trudge through the snow towards my house when I turned to look to the west, and boy am I grateful for what I saw. It was a sunset. I am an absolute sucker for a good sunset. So, instead of going inside and moping until my parents got home from work, I put on my snow pants, a hat, gloves, boots, and scarf and zipped up my jacket. I marched through our white-covered yard over to a large drift that had piled up in our tree grove and sat down to watch the sunset. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen in a long time. When the sun had mostly set, I decided I wasn’t ready to go back inside yet, so I did what any self-respecting kid would do. I hiked up my snow pants and started crawling through the snow drifts. I made a snow angel. I ate a chunk of icy white snow, and I had an absolute blast while doing it. All of the memories I had made when I was younger came flooding back to me of countless hours spent playing out in the snow and realized how grateful I was that I was able to be at home rather than in South Africa.

I spent a large portion of my winter break “eating yellow snow,” being sad that I wasn’t having the time of my life with my teammates. While none of us would probably choose to actually eat yellow snow in real life, we easily fall into the trap of “eating our own yellow snow” when we choose to have a bad attitude. How much more fun would we have in our lives, how many more memories would we make with the ones we love, if we simply chose happiness over a bad attitude? After that day, I made the choice to love 4 o’clock rather than despise it. Every day when the clock strikes 4, I drop what I’m doing and begin doing something that I love: read one of my favorite books, begin watching a movie, eat some of my favorite food, go on a walk with a friend, or even watch the sunset. Let’s choose to stop “eating our own yellow snow.” Let’s choose happiness.

Stationed by the ear of corn,


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Cup of Home

 I know this will come as a surprise to many of you, but I have an absolute love for all things coffee. I love black coffee, mochas, coffee cups, coffee t-shirts, lattes and everything else in between. My experience with coffee first started at home. Every morning, I woke up to an aroma of coffee beans and watched as my dad and mom would sit and sip on cups of coffee until the pot was empty. As I got older, I wanted to join in on the craze and since then, I have fallen in love with the cup of black coffee I make each morning. For me, coffee is relaxing, energizing and puts a smile on my face. It is something my taste buds not only love, but my heart loves it, too. My heart is filled because with each cup of coffee I drink, I am reminded of home.
Home is a funny word because it can mean so many things to so many different people. For some it is a place but for others it is a person. Home is the place I feel most content, energized and happy. Our home is a part of each of us: it is our roots. Throughout this past year, I have realized our home is one of the most important pieces of us. It is a part of who we are and drives much of the inspiration within us.

This year I have gotten to travel to places I never imagined. Just a few weeks ago, I was in the beautiful country of South Africa. Before traveling, I thought of South Africa as “foreign:” a place that was so unlike my home. I was excited and nervous to learn a different culture, but I couldn’t help but think about how different this place was going to be than my home. When we landed, I was suddenly amazed as to how normal I felt being there. I quickly assimilated to their culture and loved being able to learn a different way of doing things. I was able to find many similarities as well as many differences during the two weeks I was there.

The biggest difference I noticed while traveling in South Africa was when we got to interact with the people in South Africa. One of our first interactions was when we stayed a camp in the middle of the African Bush. We had completed our game drive that night and sat down for a traditional South African dinner. This night was especially special to our team because it was Clay’s birthday. As we finished up our meals, a group of the cooks and wait staff came out singing with a huge chocolate cake for Clay. This kind gesture turned into a night of complete celebration. We spent the next hour dancing and singing together. We watched as they began to sing traditional songs. Even though we had no idea what to sing or how to dance, they immediately pulled us in. A man, named Paris, grabbed my hands and even began to teach me how to dance to the music. Their complete love for their home and pride for their culture made me see how important their background was to them. They not only were proud to show us, they also wanted to include us. I left that night feeling like family to them. For them, it didn’t matter who were, the college we went to or our dream job: they loved all of us and wanted each of us to feel apart of their home. Throughout the rest of the trip, the people of South Africa continually showed us how to be proud of where you come from.

When I arrived back home after our two-week adventure in South Africa, I was soon flooded again with leaving for college, continuing the search for jobs for this summer and catching up on the school work I had missed. But, as soon as I could, I traveled back home to Worthington, MN to see my family. While in South Africa, it truly hit me.  In America, we so quickly leave home for “bigger and better things.” As high school and college students, we have amazing opportunities that can allow us to see the world, become independent and train to be professionals. There is so much potential FFA members and young adults, and I know so many amazing things can be accomplished by our generation.

What South Africa taught me though was that although adventure and experiences are important, home is important, too. Whether home means spending time with the people who mean the most to you or returning to the place in which you were raised, it is the place in which we can find some of the best inspiration, love and joy around.  The people of South Africa are some of the most joyful people I have ever met. They find so much happiness in life, and I believe it is because of the love they show for their home and family and the eagerness they have to share it with others. One of my best friends, Abby, sent me a quote I have fallen in love with. It goes, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.”

FFA members, teachers, parents and supporters, set your sights on your goals and high achievements but always remember to go home. Whether going home means returning to your hometown or spending some time with someone important to you, make time to remember who inspires you, who loves you and who is your rock. Who or what is your home? How do they make you feel? My home is my family. They make me feel as if I can change the world. They make me want to leave for adventures but always return to share the love and sights I have seen. My mom, dad and brother make me want to share the joy that home gives me with others.

As I sit at my desk in Brookings, SD with a cup of coffee next to me, I can feel the warmth of home. I can feel the love, inspiration and encouragement from miles away. The people of South Africa showed me that to change the world, it takes goals and dreams, but it also takes the people and places who have supported you from the beginning. I love having a little cup of home wherever I go, but I always can’t wait to visit home because then I get to bring my love and passion with me, and I always leave even more inspired.

Stationed by the Plow,

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Happy to be Happy!!

     Nothing can bring a smile to my face faster than being greeted by my favorite dog, Toby. Every time I see him, his tail is in full swing with a big smile on his face. I wish I could say I was the reason Toby was so excited, but the truth is, Toby is thrilled to see everyone and anyone! He is livin' and loven’ life every single day because he finds a reason to be happy day in and day out. There are days I have been down and out, struggling to find a reason to be happy. The unfortunate thing is, unlike Toby, I just end up shutting others out and missing out on opportunities. Looking for a reason to be happy can sometimes be hard, but it's always worth it! When will you choose to look for happiness?

     These past couple of weeks I had the opportunity to visit Africa with 70 other state officers and got to visit a township called Kayamandi. To be completely honest, my friends and I were kind of nervous to visit the township. We had seen all the commercials showing the living condition in Africa and the solemn faces everywhere. The past two weeks had been spent touring Africa and seeing how it is prospering. Then we were asked to visit a foreign community, and we were anxious to see how it would go.
I have to admit, I have never been so wrong. The second we stepped foot into Kayamandi we were given the warmest welcome I have ever seen, shattering the delusion I had in my head. Our local guides welcomed us to their community with open arms, excited to show us their town. Walking, talking and eating in the township was an eye-opening experience I will not soon forget. The anxiety I was feeling before had transformed to happiness and excitement. We got to see school kids sing, eat local food, and share stories. The people of Kayamandi chose to be happy in their township, even in an area other people may find sadness.  

Now many of us, including myself, would be hard pressed to find a reason to be happy in such a place. This was not the case here. But in Kayamandi, happiness radiated from every angle. Everywhere I looked, I saw kids playing, friends talking, and music playing, all with a aura of happiness surrounding themselves. The people there were filled with such genuine happiness it was infectious. They could be sad, but they choose to be happy. They have such a positive outlook on life that it rubbed off on those around them. Each and every day, we are faced with negativity that could keep any of us from seeking happiness and missing out on those around us. So how can you be like the people of Kayamandi? What are can you do to be like a cheerful dog. How are you going to look for the bright side of a situation? How are you going to choose happiness?

Beneath the Rising Sun,

Spencer Wolter

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Northern Comfort Zone

I don’t know about you, but I love listening to music! One of my favorite songs to jam out to is called “Southern Comfort Zone” by Brad Paisley. In case you haven’t heard this great song, I included it below -- give it a listen!

Recently, six Minnesota current and past state officers traveled to South Africa as part of the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers (ILSSO). This post is a little lengthy, but for good reason -- it shares an overview of our trip and what we learned so hear me out! The six of us left Minnesota soil on January 2 and returned yesterday afternoon! When I found out I was going on the trip, I was bursting with excitement, but I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous since the farthest away I had ever been is Florida way back when I was a toddler. Would our plane get delayed or canceled? Would I get sick? Would I lose my passport? Would I not adjust to the culture? As Brad Paisley would say, I had, over time, created my own (northern) comfort zone; I felt was way too comfortable with my surroundings and never truly had the opportunity to branch out and fully experience something outside of Minnesota.

The first couple lines of “Southern Comfort Zone” can really summarize my initial reaction to leaving the U.S. and stepping on South African soil for the first time: “When your wheelhouse is the land of cotton, the first time you leave it can be strange, it can be shocking.” The second after leaving the airport in Johannesburg, and soaking in my surroundings, we knew that we needed to adapt to the culture of South Africa. But the big deal question that plagued me and my fellow travelers was simply how. How are we going to be fully present and immersed into this new, exciting and unfamiliar culture? Essentially, how were we going to delete our comfort zones?

Thinking back on the trip, there is one key takeaway I would like to share with each of you as it relates to comfort zones. Going into South Africa, being the Type A person I am, I tried to gain some knowledge about South Africa before our departure. Let me just say, my predispositioned thoughts of South Africa and the images I had in my mind for what South Africa would look like were completely wrong and irrelevant. I am going to be blunt in saying that there are a lot of stereotypes out there about Africa, and many other developing regions for that matter. For instance, when eating lunch with friends in the cafeteria at school, many of us may hear things like “Dude, why are you throwing that burger away? Someone in Africa could be eating that.” While it might be a good idea to not waste food, saying something this is not entirely valid. Since each culture is different, it should be noted that South Africa natives have different living conditions and expectations.

One afternoon, we got to spend some time in a local town. First, we got to meet some kindergarten students, who sang us songs. When we visited them after they sang for us, their smiles were radiating with happiness -- it made me feel good knowing that these students are the future of South Africa. Later on, we ate lunch at “mama’s” house. The sheer pride, joy and happiness she shared with us, coupled with the incredibly tasty food, made me realize that life in South Africa, while different, is not bad. Yes, there are still improvements that can be done there. Yes, there are some people who are hungry or are economically disadvantaged. But you know what? Life in America isn’t always perfect for everyone either. You don’t need to travel to another country to make a difference. As our theme for the year suggests, our legacy starts NOW. Your impact and legacy doesn’t have to be made halfway across the globe -- it can be crafted right here and right now.

So, what’s next? How are you going to delete your northern comfort zone? While our trip to South Africa was unforgettable and had a major impact on all of our lives, I realize one thing now that I am back on Minnesota soil. So often, we get caught up in the fact that our service (and deletion of our comfort zones) must be done on a global level in order to make a “lasting impact” or “true difference.” Let me fill you in on a little secret -- this is nowhere near true because little did I know, the vast majority of the things I did to delete my northern comfort zone in South Africa could have also been done back home. If you can go to another country and be immersed in their culture, that’s great. But, I want to challenge you to first delete your northern comfort zone here in our land of 10,000 lakes. The service and personal actions we do here in this arctic tundra and home that we call Minnesota can make an impact that surpasses the impact we can have while serving abroad. Here are a few ideas to help get you started as you prepare to delete your comfort zone and leave a legacy:
  • Gather some friends and go volunteer for an afternoon to package meals for those in need in our local area!
  • Next time you’re cooking food or are at a restaurant, try something a little adventurous! You’ll never know if calamari could be one of your favorite foods if you don’t even try it!
  • Send a note or care package to troops overseas.
  • Sit with someone new at lunch and have a genuine conversation with them to find out who they truly are. One conversation can make a huge impact on someone’s day.
I hope we realize that you do not need a passport to make a difference, friends. Delete your northern comfort zone and get ready to make an impact!

Stationed by the Door,

Joe Ramstad