Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Attitude of Gratitude

Emerging from the airplane after a 17-hour flight, 74 State FFA Officers entered a nation halfway across the world as a part of the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers. South Africa would become our home for the next ten days while we explored and learned from the culture, history, nature, and agriculture of the country. We visited farms, toured historic areas, spotted African wildlife, and enjoyed stories from the amazing people we met. I know that I enjoyed learning about all of the things that were different from Minnesota - driving on the left side of the road, having eleven official languages, farming ostriches, and eating continental style. However, there was one difference I really struggled to wrap my head around.

Using empty water bottles, this display
showed the water remaining in the dam.
When we arrived in the coastal city of Cape Town, we were told to do our best to conserve the water we used. Turn off the faucets. Take short showers. Reuse towels. The city dam was at 30% (now 27%) capacity, and due to the severe drought in the area. The city and suburbs were at level 6 water restrictions which impact the 3.75 million people that live there. The water levels were critically low, so low in fact that there is a “day zero” when the city is projected to run out of water completely. The date was set for April 22nd but has since been moved up to April 12th. On April 12th, unless they receive more rain, the taps will run dry and Cape Town will have no water.

 I was blown away to hear this during our visit.  Everywhere we went, we saw signs and posters encouraging water conservation. The farmers we met talked about their irrigation limits. Our hotel had closed the pool until further notice, and they encouraged us to turn off the shower while we put shampoo in our hair. Until I experienced Cape Town, I had never fully considered how grateful I was for the fresh, clean, abundant water here in Minnesota. Now every time I turn on a faucet, I remember to be grateful for this simple resource.

Image result for attitude of gratitudeThough Cape Town is struggling in terms of water, they are not struggling in terms of gratitude. Even on the brink of a crisis, the people of Cape Town smile and appreciate the other things that they have. This was one of the most amazing aspects of my time in South Africa. Those that were struggling with the drought still found the things in their life worth being happy about. Often we have many things in our lives we don’t take the time to be grateful for. From the bigger things in our lives like families, friends, education, opportunities, health, water, and food, to the smaller things like a warm winter coat or the technology you are using to read this right now, we have so much to be grateful for. The next time we use water, whether to wash our hands or take a shower, we can think about those in Cape Town and take a moment to remember all the things that we are grateful for in our lives. When we are grateful for what we do have, we are usually happier, more satisfied with our lives, and less in want of what we don’t have. No matter our situation, we can go out of our way to have an attitude of gratitude each day.

 Stationed beneath the rising sun,

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Regulating Our"cell"ves

Earlier this year I started college at South Dakota State University where I began taking Biology 101 and Crop Production with labs. I knew that biology might be difficult, considering science isn’t really my strong suit. However, I figured it was better to get this class done, so I didn’t put it off to the last minute. On the other hand, I have loved plants for years and knew Crop Production Lab would be the class for me!

For the first few weeks, it seemed as if these classes were going hand in hand as far as content goes. We began learning about meristems in Crop Production Lab, which I had learned about in a class in high school, so I was very confident with the concept. For those of you who are unfamiliar with meristems, they are cells that:

“Divide rapidly and are considered to be indeterminate, which means that they do not possess any defined end fate.”

Places we would find meristems would be at the tip top of the plant, at the tip of roots, and in the axil of the plant (where branches would grow). Do you ever notice that plants grow a whole lot faster than we do? It’s because of those meristems! Plants need them to get really big, really fast and the growth potential is limitless!

On the other hand, while we were learning about meristems in Crop Production Lab, we were learning about cancer and tumors in biology. I thought the content seemed to be splitting, but found out that the concepts of meristems and tumors really aren’t that different. Tumors are:

a swelling of a part of the body, generally without inflammation, caused by an abnormal growth of tissue, whether benign or malignant.”

Seeing these two similarities, a question popped into my head: Why is it so desirable to see plant cells divide rapidly, but in humans, this growth can be deadly? Animal cells don’t mind what plant cells do, because their ability to function is not dependent on those other cells. However, humans are completely different. How many times in our lives do we look at other people and want something they have? Whether it be their characteristics, strengths, family life, money, possessions, or something else, we are so quick to want. Sometimes those things aren’t necessarily good for us or meant to be for us, just like the cells for plants versus animals.

I will never forget that while growing up, I wanted whatever my sister had. I remember one specific time when I was in 8th grade that my sister, as a 10th grader, was asked to be a part of the Agricultural Communications team competing at National FFA Convention. I was jealous to say the least. I remember being angry that she was asked to be a part of that team. I thought to myself: 'What did my sister have over me that she got to be a part of it and I didn’t?'

For a long time I didn’t understand why I wasn’t a part of the team. Are my skills not good enough? Am I too young? Do they think I can’t handle it? Then, when the results came for the Agricultural Communications team after they competed, we found out that Abbey received 4th place individually! In the nation! I was astounded! I couldn’t believe she could accomplish something so amazing!

As I look back and remember those jealous feelings, I see that I was looking only at what Abbey was good at and not the strengths I had that made me unique. (Also, I recently found out that online websites, flyers, and other creative media designs are not my forte.)

We need to be more like those cells that regulate themselves in different ways based on our abilities and talents instead of comparing ourselves to others. Plant and animal cells both have huge strengths that make them unique, just like Abbey and I do. Animal cells are much more flexible and a better fit for living things that move. Plant cells are rigid to keep plants rooted and perform photosynthesis to produce food for the plants.

Knowing what is good for us is a challenge, but taking time to focus on our own strengths instead of those of others is the first step that will take us to success. This week, I challenge you to take some time out of your schedule to look at the aspects of your life and focus on what YOU are good at. What can you do to find activities that will make you thrive in this New Year? How can you use your unique strengths?

Stationed by the Door,

Maddie Weninger

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"This is Me"

Going back to visit my high school over Christmas break, feelings and memories came rushing back. Let me take you back with me…

Freshman year was filled with nervousness and new opportunities while I tried to maintain what I enjoyed most. My time after school was spent in the barn in the fall helping family prepare for our annual sale, the gym in the winter playing basketball, and in the shotput and discus rings in the spring. School remained pretty easy for me and I started to discover what FFA truly had to offer me as I competed in the Creed event. I considered myself to be pretty normal, doing normal “freshman student” things and staying busy. I loved school, the friends I had, and the activities I was involved in.  Mentors told me I should check into attending a Minnesota FFA summer conference, so I signed up for the State Leadership Conference for Chapter Leaders (not knowing at the time I was probably supposed to be at the State Greenhand Leadership Conference(SGLC)). At this conference, I met some of my closest friends to this day. Here, I was inspired by Valerie Earley’s words and actions and decided there and then, some day I was going to be just like Valerie.

Cross-dressing as a male in Litchfield High School Theatre’s fall production of “Singin’ in the Rain” was my first (and only) experience on the stage and start of my sophomore year. Theatre was something I always wanted to try, and I am glad I did when I did. I began to become more aware of the other opportunities FFA had for me and started doing more with FFA; meanwhile, I saw myself pulling away from my athletics and certain friends. Fast forward to mid-sophomore year when I made the decision to run for Region V office, thanks to the advice of some FFA advisors and mentors. Blessed with the opportunity to serve Region V, I knew my high school experience was about to become much different than my classmates - especially because at the time, many students didn’t even know we had an FFA chapter in our school.

Junior year brought challenging classes as half of my schedule were CIS (College in the School) classes and a balancing act as I started to become active with Minnesota FFA on the state level with experiences like APEx (which I highly recommend!), Region V leadership conferences, and creating an Ag in the Classroom program in Litchfield. While my friends were hanging out on the weekends and starting to be in “relationships,” I felt a bit lost. I found myself struggling to keep up with the schedule I had created for myself - including a social life, which was practically non-existent at this point. I started questioning my decision of committing myself to FFA. While I LOVED who I was and what I was doing at FFA events, as soon as I got back to school, I struggled. I started asking myself, Why did you decide to do this to yourself? You are about the furthest from a normal student ever. You have few close friends at school. All you do is study and go to FFA events. Suddenly, I didn’t love school anymore and wished I lived in about six different towns around the state of Minnesota to be closer to my FFA friends. When it came time to decide if I wanted to re-run for Region office, I knew this was my opportunity to spread my wings even more in FFA around the state and even around the country, or I could drop everything I knew. I ran for Region President, and with the support of many family, friends, mentors, and advisors was blessed to serve Region V and immersed myself even deeper into FFA.

The summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I spent almost four straight weeks with FFA for region officer trainings (ROLO and POWER), Washington Leadership Conference, and SGLC. I then spent five days with Minnesota FFA in the Miracle of Birth Center’s Chapter House and Leadership Center during the State Fair - and I loved every second of it. I knew I made the right decision and felt as though I was officially in the right place at the right time with the right people. I was finally excited for my future in agriculture. I mended some of the friendships I had broken during sophomore year and started senior year re-energized.

Senior year brought many absences from school (I think I could count the number of full weeks I went to school on two hands), a passion, and a purpose. My involvement increased in FFA even more and my schedule again began to pile up. Between Ag in the Classroom, serving as a National Convention delegate, going to Alabama through a chapter exchange program, and losing a close FFA friend from Texas, by Christmas break, I was so overwhelmed with school work, scholarship applications, and my FFA responsibilities, I was once again feeling the slump. (Maybe like you are feeling now…) After attending Delaware's State FFA Convention, I was refocused and re-energized. My spring only got busier with speech competitions, scholarship and awards nights, graduation prep, and then State Office responsibilities.  

FFA was not a popular thing to be a part of in my high school. In fact, my best friend Emma always told me, “There’s all those ‘ag’ kids that meet in the ag room each morning, and then there’s you. Why do you do it?” I would always tell her I was just an ag kid too, who happened to be in choir, tried out the musical, worked at home on the farm, showed livestock, played basketball for years, and was an honor roll student. I was no different than any of them; we all  had many rings in the fire, just like you.   

Oftentimes we get caught in the seemingly, never-ending cycle of school, sports, jobs, other activities like FFA or Student Council, and homework - and the mid-school year slump catches up with us. We might feel lost and out of place or simply overwhelmed with the amount of responsibility we have put upon ourselves (or feel others have put on us).

While FFA wasn’t the popular thing for me to do, I know I made the right decision for me. Each of us has to find what makes us happiest and makes us feel the most like us. It might not be the popular thing, but you will be happy - and that is what is most important. Going against the grain in high school was something I became very good at; I went from athlete to FFA and Speech nerd in less than two years. In the words of Andrea from RTR FFA, “No matter what anyone says or does, be you! You are perfectly imperfect and that’s what makes you unique in your own way. It can be hard to go against the crowd, but it’s so worth it! Honestly, if I didn’t start doing things I loved, I wouldn’t have pursued further into my FFA career and I wouldn’t have met the amazing people I now call my best friends. I also wouldn’t have been able to do the amazing things I have done. Everything good so far that has happened to me was because I chose to be my own person and pursue the things I loved! So just be you!”

Recently I went to the movie “The Greatest Showman” (if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it!) and one of my favorite songs is titled, “This is Me.” My favorite part of the song is the chorus, so I’ll leave you with some lyrics that have recently hit me hard:

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ‘cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
**(you can listen to the full song here:

This year we have the opportunity to embrace our true selves and do what makes us happiest. Don’t let baggage and responsibilities weigh you down - no matter what, there is always tomorrow. Cling to the hope of a new day and enjoy life surrounded by those you love and love you.

Stationed by the ear of corn,

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Year in Pixels

As a state officer, one of our responsibilities is to write a blog every six weeks. At the beginning of the year when we talked about writing blogs, I thought “every six weeks wouldn't be that bad; something exciting is bound to happen within six weeks of my life that I could blog about it.” Well, for the past week and a half I have had a blank document open on my laptop, just waiting for my blog to be written. I thought of a few topics that I could maybe write something worthwhile for people to read, but the document still sat there, blank.

            Every year, one of my friends sits down and makes a bucket list for that year; it’s like her own little new year tradition. I always admired her for this. She knew exactly what her new year would bring and what she would accomplish, where I on the other hand would stay up until midnight wondering and hoping the new year would be as good as the last. There is one major difference between my friend and I: she is making the decision to make her year great, while I am letting the environment and people around me decide for me.

            This new year tradition reminded me of my blank document. Each year we get to start new.  We are given a blank document we can write on all year long. It is completely up to us to make this year count.  It is also completely up to us the decide if 2018 is a good year, a bad year, or (I hope for all of us) the best year yet. We might get a new start every year, but we also get a new start every day. I believe we have a decision every day: make that day great or allow ourselves to get caught up in daily tasks and a negative attitude making our day go downhill fast.

              Going into 2018, I wanted to find a way to track my days. I truly want to make 2018 a great
year, a positive year, the best year. So, I researched some ways to do this. A classic way for tracking your year is journaling, meaning I would challenge myself to write everyday of the year. Take a minute and read that again. Writing words, on a page, every day. Anyone who knows me, knows I am not good writing things. Even go back to my very first blog: I talk about how I noticed immediately the differences between my teammates and I when it comes to taking notes or writing important things down. I don't do that; it's just not me and I am totally okay with that. While completing my research, I came across this picture captioned “A year in pixels” that intrigued me. The idea behind this is that you can visualize your year on one sheet of paper. You start off by making a grid, 12 rows across (one for each month of the year), and 30/31 rows down (every day of the month). You then assign colors to moods (like the one in the picture), or label them great day, good day, average day, bad day, or even a terrible day. At the end of the day, you color in that square. As time progresses you can see how your attitude is affecting your days and see how good your year is going.  This year I am going to complete this challenge. I want to make sure that during my 2018, I spend all of my days happy, energetic, and positive (plus there is no writing involved). By laying out my year in pixels, I can hold myself accountable to this goal.  

            The quote at the bottom of this picture says, “just remember, even your worst day only last 24 hours.” This is a great reminder to us; however, I believe our attitude determines our destination. So as much as I think that this quote is a good reminder, I believe it is even better to remember your worst day only lasts as long as you let it.  So, let’s start this new year making the decision to make it the best year yet instead of just sitting back and letting the year play out only hoping this year will be as good as the last. Our time is now. Make the decision. Decide to make 2018 a great year!    

Stationed by the Emblem of Washington, 

Spencer Flood