Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What lies at 32 Feet

Did you know that a rhinoceros can only see approximately 31 feet in front of them? Did you also know that the average rhino can run about 35 miles per hour (mph)? This is why a group of rhinos is appropriately named a crash. Now you might be wondering, why I am spewing out random facts about rhinos, but I assure you they are actually very interesting creatures and we can learn a lot
from them. For example, even though rhinos can only see 31 feet in front of them, they still charge fearless forward at 35 mph. They do this while not knowing what is in front of them. Maybe this is why rhinos have that big horn in front of them to make the impact of running into something less harmful to their bodies. So why do these creatures travel so fast? I know if I could only see 31 feet in front of me, I would never attempt to drive a car going 2 mph, let alone 35. Alass, rhinos stampede on to see what lies at 32 feet in front of them. Maybe it is their next meal or maybe a mud puddle they can bathe in; but one thing this is for certain, they will not find out unless they step into the unknown and see what lies at 32 feet.
 In the book The Baranian Way, the author Erwin Raphael Mcmanus talks about groups of
rhinos like the rhinos described above. While reading this, and learning the many facts about rhinos I now know, it sparked my interest about what opportunities lie out of our sight. I know from experience that FFA provides many opportunities to us as members, especially opportunities we never imagined were possible.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I decided I would put my name into the hat and run for my county's royalty program. I with 7 other girls of Wright County were all running to become one of three ambassadors for our fair. We spent time together preparing our speeches, interviewing, and making memories. I would be lying if I said I didn't think I had a good chance of being one of those three ambassadors. I was confident in my abilities and was looking forward to coronation day. After waiting on stage for what seemed like forever, it was finally crowning time. We stood in a line as the girls danced around us with the crowns. The first girl got crowded, and I was
beyond excited for her. Then the second one, both girls were ones I had become very close with. I thought that even though there was only one crown left, I still had a chance. I waited, and just like that a crown was placed on the head of a girl next to me. And that was it, I didn't get a crown that day. I was sad, but I did not regret the memories I had made with those 7 girls and the fun we had together. Little did I know that even though I did not receive a crown that day, the good Lord had other plans for me, and a few short months later I was elected to serve Minnesota FFA.
          Sometimes when we see an opportunity lying at our feet, we jump at the chance to grab it. For us as FFA members this might be the chance to compete on a CDE team or serve as an officer. Even though these opportunities are available to us, not all of us get the opportunities we pursue. As the old saying goes, “when one door closes, another one opens.” Maybe for you, this door lies at 32 feet, just out of sight. Do not let failure discourage you, and next time you do not get the opportunity that lies within your sight of 31 feet, I implore you to take a couple steps forward and see what lies at 32 feet.  

Stationed by the Emblem of Washington

Spencer Flood 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Live It Well

My mind was racing as I crammed the last box into my already stuffed Subaru. As I looked over my house one final time, I jumped into the seat, mom’s homemade muffins in hand, and headed out of the driveway. After a long two and a half hour drive, my roommate Elysia and I made it to our final destination. We pulled into the parking lot and looked at what would be the next four years of our lives.

IMG_1043.JPGWe started unpacking the car, carrying boxes to and from our room, including our fish Ardawg, laughing and joking as we went, finally getting settled. I sat back at one point, looking at the people surrounding me as we unpacked. My best friends, Tanner, Emma, Taco, and Colton, sat around in my room laughing about something (maybe how much the boys had freaked our roommates out) when I noticed how genuinely happy they were. This made me wonder: What makes a person genuinely happy?  

With this question in mind, like any new college student, I looked towards Google to see what answers I could find. My first search was ‘genuinely happy people,’ wondering if people like my friends would show up. I clicked on the first link to find “20 Secrets Genuinely Happy People Never Told You,” and was caught by the first line of the article.

“Happiness is a choice, and genuinely happy people make the choice to be happy, everyday!”

It was a pretty moving way to start an article, so of course I kept reading. Most secrets included avoiding stress, learning to say no, loving their flaws, dealing with fear head on, taking risks, encouraging others, and most importantly, loving life as it is.

Is this truly what makes people happy? This question stuck in my head as I started to ask myself what truly made me happy and how I happened to love life. As I thought of this, I reflected back to my drive from FarmFest earlier this August. On my quiet drive, I chose a playlist of one of my favorite artists and started listening. A few songs in, an unfamiliar one started playing.  You’ve had it happen too. That one song that’s on the album you download but never actually listen to. However, it quickly became one of my favorite songs. One line in “Live It Well” by Switchfoot caught my attention and became my motivation for the rest of my year.

“Life is short, I wanna live it well. One life, one story to tell.”

On this thought, I started to think about what my story was and how that made me happy. My story is full of horses, FFA members, laughing with my family and best friends, great cups of coffee with my dad, and adventures in the great outdoors, because each piece made me happy in some way. You see, everybody’s story makes them happy in some way, however, we do have a choice to be genuinely happy. We can be happy for a variety of reasons: maybe for ourselves, others, and even the world around us. When we choose to be genuinely happy, we chose to live life well. One choice equals the other and can turn into a series of great memories as we develop our own sense of happiness. As FFA members, we can choose to live it well this year too. When we live well, we live fearlessly. We live life as it is, accepting our flaws, avoiding stress, choosing happiness, and in the end, truly living life the way it should be. When we truly live life well, we can celebrate life and the people around us, whether it be members, advisors, or even our supporters. This year, I choose to be happy and to live it well, and this school year, I challenge you to do the same.

How will you chose to be happy this year?

How will you live life well?

Stationed by the flag,

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Cotton Eye Joe and County Fair

The last week of July, Katie and I were blessed with the opportunity to attend the State Presidents' Conference in Washington, D.C.  From selecting proposals from all around the nation to make our organization better to talking with legislators about the Student Agriculture Protection Act, every moment was phenomenal.
Those five days will last in my mind as one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, but one seemingly insignificant part of it taught me more than I ever would have expected.

On Friday night, 103 representatives of all 52 state FFA associations pooled together everything we had learned and took time to celebrate it.  We danced.  Now, I love swing dancing, but line dancing has always been hard for me to pick up.  It takes lots of instruction and lots of practice for even the simplest moves to stick in my brain.  The members in that room were from all over the country, and what we’d learned back home about dancing varied a ton.  As we started dancing, the first line dance came on.  It was amazing, but one I had never seen.  In the back with another new learner, I mimicked the moves, but at the end of the song, I was woefully behind.  A couple songs later some other officers quickly formed a line, started moving and kicking their feet in unison, and drastically left me in the dust.  I was a little closer to having the right moves this time around, but I still wasn’t there.

Then, a song came on that I knew!

Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?

When I heard these lyrics, I was confident I knew every step.  We line dance to this one back home in Minnesota FFA!  I started with my hands together in the air on the right, moved them to the left, and looked over to see my friends from New York jumping through the air, clapping between their legs, and pulling off moves even a gymnast would struggle with!  Goodness, I think my mouth actually dropped open watching them! Nevertheless, I grabbed my new friend Ethan, mouthed “teach me,” and tried it out.

After the rest of the song (and a little bit of extra practice with Ethan), I was satisfied.  I knew the dance well enough to bring it along to my next adventure: home.  

If we take a look at the only two lines of “Cotton Eye Joe” I really know the words to, we will see the question, “where did you go?”  We also see a question asking where we came from-not just once, but twice.  I think the person who wrote “Cotton Eye Joe” really knew what they were talking about when they decided to ask it this way.  

The places we come from, whichever line dance version they teach, are what send us to the amazing places we go.  And we’ll go to a lot of them in our lifetimes!  The thing is, when we go to those new, amazing places, it is important to remember our roots.  Knowing where we came from is what keeps us in line with our values and what is truly important.

This past week, I was able to get in touch with my beginnings while showing back home at the Goodhue County Fair.  After putting in days at the fair and reconnecting with old friends, we reached show day.  Before stepping into the ring with my goat one of my last times as a 4-H member, I looked up into the stands.  There was my dad, some of my closest friends, the lady whose son taught me what to look for in a goat, and the owner of the first goat I ever showed. Then, I saw Mark, the man who helped me into the ring my very first time.  

For a moment, I flashed back to the summer after my sixth grade year.  I had been helping my dad and his students with the Cannon Falls FFA Kiddi Barnyard by holding chicks and rabbits when one of the member’s parents came in saying they needed a person to show a goat.  Chase, an FFA member a couple years older than me, had two goats entered in the same class.  
I was nervous, but after some encouragement from my dad, I walked over to the show arena to help.  Mark showed me where to set the goats feet, how to hold the show chain, and which way to walk around the ring.  Seeing I was nervous, he confided, “Emily, it’ll be easy.  The worst thing that can happen the goat getting away, and then I’ll be right there to catch it.”

And you know what? The goat got away.  Mark was right there to catch it.

I’ve become a much better showman in the six years since.  Because of the community members and mentors like Mark, who have given me tips, encouraged me, and handed out the opportunity to be an active part of agriculture, I continued to grow.  Knowing the people who invested in me as a shy sixth grader has shown me how much the agriculture community truly cares.  Remembering the common values we share, about loving people and caring and providing for other families and the land we use, motivates me to continue moving forward.  Coming back home reinforces my passion and reminds me who I am.

Whether home looks like certain people, values, or is shaped just like Goodhue county, looking back to our roots allows us to keep pushing forward on the right path. The people back home had been with me the whole time I was at our nation’s capitol. Their encouragement had carried me just as much as the wings of the plane we rode.  The confidence Mark had in me as he put a show chain in my hand six years ago transferred to my voice as I talked with congressmen during State Presidents' Conference.  Thinking of Sophia, a younger goat showman who leads just like I do, gave me the courage to run for chair, and then vice chair of a committee on the national level.  Remembering the time I let go of that goat in the show ring graced me with humility as I shook the hand of the United States' Secretary of Agriculture.

Every time I look back at where I came from, I’m amazed how far I can really go and inspired by all the people who have invested in me.  Keeping home in my heart, I can go even farther.

Let’s look back to those questions in “Cotton Eye Joe.”

Where did you come from?  
Where did you go?
Where did you come from?

Think about what's brought you to where you are. How can you carry your values, the people you've learned from, and home with you every day? Whether you keep in close contact with your community, share about them in conversations with other people, use skills you developed back home, or even reflect on a picture of you showing in shorts, (wait, that's me!) looking back will propel you forward. Decide to start your day focused on your faith, choose to capture and revisit your path in journals or pictures, or call home to thank your mentors tonight. Checking back in on where we come from helps us steer where we go next.

We are already capable of reaching phenomenal heights.  When we remember where we came from and those who invest in us, we can go even greater places.

Stationed by the plow,

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Change: Heads or Tails?

It's already August, which means all of the stores are set up with supplies to get students ready for school, but students are trying to squeeze every available moment out of the remaining summer days. However, August means a few different things for me now than it did last year. Last year August meant putting off school shopping until the week before classes and seeing what schedules my friends had. This year, August means packing up my things and moving 146.5 miles away, hoping I'll be making new friends in the classes at college.

Emily and I went to the zoo with our new friend
Matt after orientation. 
I attended college orientation last month to get to know a little more about what my life would be looking like for the next four years. Emily and I both attended the same orientation session, and we learned a lot about the classes we would need to take and the different requirements we needed to meet for graduation. They covered all of the logistical things like dorm rooms, meal plans, and student IDs. I knew about campus security, transportation, and sporting events by the end of the first day, along with a variety of other things. Our orientation leaders even covered making new friends, which Emily and I managed to do while we were bowling during the social time that evening.

I left orientation the next day with a schedule, a new T-shirt, and a whole lot of pride for the Golden Gophers. However, as excited as I was for all of the opportunities at the University of Minnesota, I kept thinking about some of the words I had heard throughout my time on campus.

New. Different. Exciting. Unique. Transition.

I found these words were used to cover up a word I haven't always liked: change.

Everything is changing and quickly. Since orientation, I've spent a lot of time talking with my high school friends discussing what we'll be doing this coming school year. Friends that used to be ten minutes down the road will be living hours away. I won't be able to visit the ag. classroom (my second home) very often at school. My family will also be downsizing my beloved flock of chickens since I won't be home anymore. For awhile I wasn't really sure I was ready for this change. But there are different ways to handle change: two different sides. Optimism and pessimism. Heads and tails.

On the flip side, I am excited for all of the things I will be able to try in college. I have the chance to make more friends and build those relationships. I have the chance to study the things I'm interested in and create my future. I have a chance to live somewhere different and be a part of a wonderful new community.

That's the thing about change. Just because life is changing doesn't mean it isn't awesome. Our reaction to change has two sides, and we can pick which side we choose to look at. Often we forget about all of the chances that come along with change.  Once we choose to flip the coin and see the new opportunities we have instead of how worried we are, we can find greater value in change.

Change in life is the only constant. We all face it.  Maybe you’re moving to a new town and school, maybe a friendship has changed over the summer, or maybe you broke your arm and are out for the volleyball season. How we react to situations like this can make all the difference. We can emerge from changes as leaders or coaches, find new friendships and opportunities, or even grow closer to those around us in spite of - and sometimes because of - change. We have choices when we face change.  Next time you are faced with a change, I hope that you choose to look to the bright side to find growth and new opportunities. It all comes down to how you choose to look at it. Optimistically or pessimistically. Heads or tails. Except it really isn’t a coin toss at all. It’s all up to you.

Stationed by the rising sun,

Katie Benson

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Wake up Smiling

IMG_6711.JPGEvery morning when I wake up, the very first thing I see is a sign on my wall with a bunch of inspirational phrases in different fonts and sizes. But, being the person I am, I usually focus on the one on top (because more than one is waaay too difficult to remember). It reads: “wake up smiling,” so that is exactly what I strive to do every day when I wake up: smile. But I can’t say I have always had this sign, and I also can’t say I have ALWAYS woken up smiling. In fact, it used to be far from smiling.
When I was a kid, even up until about two years ago when I received this sign from my sister, I had the WORST attitude when I woke up in the morning. Not only did people want to avoid me for over an hour after I woke up, they wanted to be over a mile away from me. My family can vouch for me on that one. I had a case of the crabbys every morning, and it seemed like nothing could stop that from happening.
IMG_1337.JPGOne day, my mom began to realize my attitude was affecting my personality and the events happening around me. Being that she and my dad are both teachers, they are always looking for ways to educate those around them, especially their own children in struggling times. This meant it was time for me to get a talking-to. I’ll never forget that in every situation I was down in the dumps, my mom would tell me (in different tones of voice depending on the situation): “Tomorrow is a new day, and your attitude when you wake up will determine what the rest of your day is like.” Again, being the sassy teenager I was, I would take this frequent comment from my mom as a “typical teacher move” and ignore it, waking up even grumpier than usual and choosing to NOT change my outlook on life. 

However, I didn’t realize that because my mom had this positive attitude she was and continues to be one of the happiest and most grateful people at all times in everything. Not only does she see the good in bad things, but she also sees negative experiences as growing times. This leads her to have a contagiously happier life and make those around her strive to have good attitudes as well.

IMG_2089.JPGRecently, I heard a shocking fact that only 13% of the United States workforce is passionate about their jobs. It makes me think about the attitude people are waking up and going to work with. Are they in the same boat I was in? Work performance is known to raise when we are passionate about our jobs. This is why my mom “hasn’t worked a day in her life,” because she truly loves what she does with her students each and every day through the challenges. Without an attitude like my mom has about life and her passion for students, what is the point in doing what we do?

My mom is willing to have a good attitude when she wakes up, and she continues to have great day after great day, regardless of what happened yesterday or the day before. I realized after about the hundredth time of my mom telling me “tomorrow is a new day” and showing me it is true that I could enact that belief in my life and it made all the difference. I began to love the work I did every morning in school and strive to make an awesome day no matter where I was. What steps can we take to make sure that every morning, we wake up smiling and have a good day?

Stationed by the Door,

Madeline Weninger