Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Dime A Dozen

In case you haven't noticed, I went to a blogging conference.

What? You HAVE??

Sorry about blowing up your Facebook newsreels with giddy pictures of me with new friends, famous people, and funny statuses...I don't get out much.

Before I went to BlogHer, I thought I had this whole blogging thing figured out. I thought I had a nice little following, a good grasp on technology, and was pretty darn confident that I was a pretty good writer, and lots of people wanted to read what I had to say.

Enter BlogHer.


From the first lunch with the "Ag Girls" (as we were referred to by BlogHer's CEO) where I didn't know how to eat with chopsticks, and there was NO FORK TO BE FOUND, to my fumbling introduction about how I really didn't know anything about agriculture as I sat with executive directors, women who made their livelihoods and had college degrees in agriculture, and even were actually...gasp...the FARMER in their operation, I realized I didn't have a CLUE with this group. And these were supposed to be my peeps! Yikes!

So I decided to shut up and listen, interjecting humor when needed, and glean from their expertise in ag-vocacy.

It was like my Psych 100 class in 1996 all over again. Everyone who went to college has a story like this: crying to the Teaching Assistant about getting yet another D on yet another quiz, and having aforementioned TA say, "Too bad. Study harder."

The women I was grouped with via Illinois Farm Families are good at what they do, and although I deem myself a confident person generally, in this situation, I was just a dime a dozen. Just another blogger with just another story to tell.

But that's okay, because we all need a gut check now and then. We all need to be challenged to up our game, see who's out there doing what we think we do well, better. It's healthy for a person's confidence to be knocked down a notch here and there. Plus, these ladies were really nice and kind and gracious, offering me help with everything from chopsticks and marketing for my blog, so that helps.

I'm not saying this to get "Oh Emily, you're great at what you do" compliments. I am reflecting on my previous over-confidence and am going to learn from this.

I do have a story to tell, and generally, I do tell it well. However, in a situation such as BlogHer, it's best to be just one of those "dime a dozen" bloggers, and listen to the amazing stories and good advice from the gals around the table. I mean, some of these people had just returned from livestock management trips in Europe, trips to Japan (where chopsticks are the norm...thanks Janice for teaching me!), and have worked at the state level of government in the agriculture sector.

I think I stared in awe most of the time.

And that was just lunch.

On the first day.

I could have spent the rest of the time at the conference following these women around like a Freshman follows a Senior during high school. I also could have sulked back to my room, lamenting on my little number of readers/followers, embarrassed by my lack of tweets in the past year.

However, I did not.

I have a story to tell. I have a voice. I know my audience.

Enter in the BlogHer Voices of the Year writers. It's like the Oscars for blogging. Queen Latifa (which was pretty cool) was the MC for the night, and with each blogger, I realized what was the common thread between them all.

They weren't cramming their agendas down my throat like a Pilsbury doughnut (which I did enjoy at the expo, and gladly had crammed down my throat a few times, or more).

They weren't trying to necessarily change my viewpoint on gun control or being gay or the welfare system.

They were just telling their story, from their point of view. And what I took away from just that two hour time frame as woman after woman took to the stage is that just as I have no idea what it's like to be a single mom on welfare, conversely, that woman has no idea what it's like to be a mom of four on a cattle farm. So who am I to tell her what's right or what's wrong?

As I sat at this event, I realized why I loved Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, and it wasn't just her onion string recipe or her cinnamon rolls. She is real. She is just one of us, telling her story, and being accessible. After she spoke, I was not intimidated at all to ask her for a picture, to gush over the fact that she had changed my life as a cook, and that's because she was real. Just a mom, in Chicago, hoping to cut out and hit the Magnificent Mile, just like we did.

At the Voices of the Year event, I realized that even though I disagreed with a lot of the bloggers when it came to the social issues they wrote about, I didn't feel ill will towards them because they were doing what I am trying to do with this blog.

They're just trying to get their story out. They're writing about their life, and while "Life" blogs are a dime a dozen (BlogHer did a poll, and that's what like 95% of us were writing about), no one's life is a dime a dozen.

We all have a story to tell, and I need to do a better job not only telling mine, but just to listen.

Conversely, I would hope that she would listen to me, too. I hope that the women who I came in contact with from the vegan animal rights activist to the blogger from San Francisco who held a sign against GMOs, but really has no idea why they are supposedly bad, will associate me with a positive view on agriculture. I am hopeful that even if I don't change a vegetarian into someone who enjoys a ribeye as much as I do, that woman would at least respect my lifestyle enough to maybe ask a question about how we care for our animals before speaking out against American agriculture.

It is not my job to change someone's mind. I can't do that. We're all human and have brains and lifestyles and choices and experiences that have defined us and helped make our decisions.

However, I would hope that through an experience such as BlogHer or any of my other interactions as an advocate for agriculture that I could at least be less than a dime a dozen blogger, and more of a face for who is producing food and fuel for our country.

Although I sat with eight other ag bloggers, my story is completely different from Leah, and Katie, and Janice, and Stacy, and Emily, and Jenny and Nancy and Aimee. Our stories together can tell a great tale of American agriculture, but it is lofty to think that we can change the world, one blog at a time. Instead, I took away from BlogHer that if I continue to try to just meet people where they are and keep telling my story in an accessible, readable, and funny way, I can walk into BlogHer next year feeling less like a Freshman, and maybe more like a second semester Sophomore.

I have so much to learn when it comes to this blogging gig. I have so much to spruce up, and figure out and for the love of Pete would someone tell me why I also need to tweet and Facebook and Instagram???

However, I am proud of the fact that I am true to my original voice. I am happy to tell my story and not cram it down your throat. Our life is our life, and while I may get snarky here and there in regards to folks telling us what to do and think, when they have little to no understanding of our life as livestock farmers, I want to be one of those meet in the middle, under the umbrella of peace advocates. Not the scary, don't cross me, I hate everyone but those who think like me advocates.

Telling your story is important. That's what I learned at BlogHer, and I hope to keep plugging away, telling our story, to keep reminding the American public that we are the face of American Agriculture.

So my take away from BlogHer was more of a personal epiphany, not a set of notes taken on how to monetize my blog or how to do this or that for the blog itself. Maybe it's because I was essentially alone and able to complete a thought without the distractions of diapers and laundry and work comittments.

My hope is that I'll remember that even though I'm one of thousands of "Life" blogs, I am not a dime a dozen. I have a story to tell, and if I continue to tell it well and listen and respond correctly and respectfully, I will have more people listen.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Highlight Reel

Oh. My. Goodness.

Although I am up to my ears in laundry, have a big meeting this week to ready myself for, and still haven't showered, here I sit, blogging.

Why, you ask?

Why am I ignoring my motherly, work, and personal care duties?



Here's the great thing. What made it amazing is what's making my head swim with blog topics. I am not going to give you the daily play-by-play of where I was, who I met (ahem, The PIONEER WOMAN), etc., etc., instead, I need some time to wrap my head around what just happened this weekend.

Inspiration is amazing. Inspiration is overwhelming. Inspiration takes time to digest.

So, I'm digesting.

This group of amazing women I got to spend time with, from the other ag-bloggers from literally across the country to the bloggers with whom I never thought I would have anything in common with, but have learned to respect because even though they are completely on the other side of the "moral coin," they're amazing writers and people, takes time to sort through how to represent them in writing.

This was like camp for grown women.

And I want to GO BACK!!!

So, until I get through digesting, and make my way through the piles of laundry, dentist appointments, and clouds of dust forming on my tabletops, here's the highlight reel:

Corn fields in the morning, city view by lunch time!
So, is this what you think a farm wife looks like? Who's the cattle rancher, the dairy farmer, the tractor driver in this picture?????

At the expo, with my bud from HGTV...trying to win a La-Z-Boy room makeover. Aren't we fabulously color-coordinated??

I hit the JACKPOT at Eggland's Best!! I won the grand prize of 6 months of free eggs! The dude had to turn the music off because it was so eggs, however, are not annoying!!

My new bud from the Windex's hoping for a $10,000 kitchen and bath makeover! Is that a braid in my hair?
My good friend, Lauren, working her advertising/PR magic at Windex, and making me put a stupid braid in my hair for a YouTube Video. That's friendship, folks, wearing a pretty in your hair at age 35 for YouTube!

Nightime in the city! We're deliriously tired...

Day Two: The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond!
My new friend...well, sort of.

All of us Ag Girls got a shout out during Ree's talk, and were able to meet her!

BlogHer "Oscars," Voices of the Year.

Ag girls at the Voices of the Year...sorry it's blurry.

Our MC for the night, Queen Latifa!
Big girl dinner at Harvest. Ironic name of the restaurant, huh?

Day Three: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the best selling book, Lean In

Adding to the Facebook family, Randi Zuckerberg, brother of Facebook's Founding Father

My view on the ride home...happy to have gone, happy to be home.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prepping with Peach Pie

I'm getting ready to head out to BlogHer '13.

Like, there's not a kid in sight, thanks to aunts and cousins.

There's a bag packed with a--gasp--COCKTAIL DRESS in it.

There's train tickets printed for boarding tomorrow morning, early, and I COULDN'T BE MORE EXCITED!!!!

Did I mention ever that Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, aka a woman who I scoffed at initially (see here...and I apologize, Ree) and now cook out of her cookbook daily (to which my husband is eternally grateful), is the KEYNOTE SPEAKER? I have her cookbook tucked in my suitcase to be autographed, but I sincerely believe we're going to hang out.

Just Ree and Me.

I mean, seriously, we have A LOT in common: cows, four kids, a blog. I'm certain I'll buddy up to her some time.


I think we'll talk about her delicious pie crust recipe over shopping at Anthropologie and Nordstrom, right?

Probably not, but thanks to Mrs. Drummond and the good folks at Illinois Farm Families, I'm off to BlogHer '13. I haven't forgotten those at home, however. Besides list making and laundry folding and shoe stuffing into an overflowing suitcase, I am also being cognizant of my husband's needs while I'm gone.

Like the necessity of a peach pie.

I'm sweetening him up a bit, because I am going to be gone, and because he always worries about me when I'm away, especially in Chicago (he can rattle off the latest numbers of deaths, attacks, and other muggings in Chicago, but that's beside the point), which is sweet, but kind of weird, too. My point is, the dude needs to eat, and since his sweet little darling wife is out being wined and dined by Verizon, Coca-Cola, rubbing elbows with Ree (we're friends now) and Queen Latifa (who's another speaker...and although I'm not a big fan, who cares) and even running a 5K on the lakefront, the least I could do is whip up a peach pie for my number one fan.

So there you go. I'm off for some awesomeness, and if you want to drop by and see Joe, he may need some company.

And he might even offer you some peach pie, with Pioneer Woman's crust.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hey, Farmer Fancypants

Oh what a beautiful morning!


We had a little rain, and I mean a little, which is frustrating, but whatever weather moved through our area last night may have knocked over my deck chairs, but it cooled off the air and got the sticky humidity out enough to make our morning run in the countryside enjoyable.


As my running partner and I ventured out of town, we were greeted by all the sights and sounds that are associated with agriculture: a crop duster (luckily, he was simply turning around and not dusting us as we ran down the road...not that it would really hurt us, but who wants to be dusted in the early morning hours, right?), crops, and farmsteads. However, today, I really drank in the beauty of the countryside.

This is a new thing for me.

I know, I know...natural beauty is everywhere. I usually associate nature's splendor with Maui or somewhere with a breathtaking set of mountains. Not corn.

But what a change of heart!

As we ran down a corn alley, the green of the grass of the freshly mowed roadside, the way the leaves of the corn plant were reaching toward the new tassels and the bushy bean plants in their perfect rows were so amazing. Set against a backdrop of early summer sun, a red barn and a well kept farmhouse, this sight was something to behold. And this is coming from someone who usually thinks a newly unveiled leather couch and a sweet pair of heels is beautiful.

But this is not accidental.

This roadside was not mowed by itself. The rows were not planted straight by happenstance, and the farmstead has obviously been cared for by loving owners.

Farmers are actually pretty fancy, if you really look past the stereotype of dirty faces and floppy straw hats.

I'd like to refer to them as Fancypants, if you don't mind. Farmer Fancypants.

I know it's not every farmer or farmstead in the world, but around here, it seems to be the way that as a farmer you not only do right with the land in a stewardship sense, but you do right by keeping your land, your piece of the world, your "stead," nice. A Farmer Fancypants isn't arrogant about keeping up with the Joneses, but he or she will note if a neighbor has mowed and he/she has not, and will possibly get out there soon to get their roadsides looking nice. Never mind the fact that mowing roadsides has a functional purpose on the farm to keep down weeds, and sometimes not mowing roadsides helps keep pests at bay, but I like to think of it in a more cosmetic sense...

because I'm weird like that.

A Farmer Fancypants may be a little bit of a brand snob when it comes to equipment. I like to think of it more as color coordination. Around us, farmers tend to have run either all red or all green equipment. I know there's blue, yellow, etc., but around here, it's mainly a battle between the Christmas colors. To me, this keeps the homestead in balance from a color sense. It's nice to have it all match...and my husband, as he rolls his eyes while reading this, will tell you that there's more to it. It's easier to do all your business with one dealer, one group of mechanics, not just for color's sake.

I like to think that it's because we all want to look nice.

The farm homestead is the final entity of my Farmer Fancypants theory. This morning, as we ran through our alleyway of foliage, the homestead at the top of the hill with its red barns, and potted plants, and weeded beds, and even a little sign with the family's name on it (not one of those logs...and I'm sorry if you have one, because I detest those and would gladly use it for firewood should anyone ever give me one...and I ever get a fireplace. End rant.) stood out as such a welcoming, homey place. The red barn in the background was so picturesque, it was a stereotype I would gladly accept. A farm needs a barn, and a well kept one at that. It makes you want to have kittens and horses...even though we don't have either. The homestead farm should look well cared for, as it is a direct reflection on how the rest of the farm is perceived. My dad was so thankful that we decided to move here and spruce up the "home place," as it is where all the action truly is. Thus the pressure to keep my flowers alive (on round #2, thanks to a stop at the sale rack at the local garden shop) and the yard mowed and the toys out of the way of the salesman's truck coming into the driveway.

I'd like to think that we're striving to be a Fancypants Farmer. I'd like to think that some day, some runner will pass our homestead and reflect on Americana and the beauty that is American Agriculture.

Until then, I'll keep striving, replacing one dead geranium at a time.

Friday, July 19, 2013

With a Little Help from My Friends

So when I first started this blog, one of my best buds, Kara, was starting her photography business. She has since become THE wedding photographer in our area. Honestly, check her website's gorgeous. And her wedding anniversary happens to be today, so here's to Kara, too! Anyway, Kara, before she became a big deal, she helped me spruce up my blog by taking pictures of us, and helping me do all the techy stuff to get a cute background etc.

So, I left it alone, because it looked great.

I left it alone for three years.

Which really means: I neglected it.

I guess a better way to put this neglect is that I was more interested in the meat of the post rather than the fluff around the edges. Translation: I had another kid, got a job, and since have forgotten how to format things, thanks to the new interface.

Those who are techy are rolling your eyes, but you try editing photos and choosing a background format that also follows the BlogHer ad guidelines all while Jack is spraying water on the bathroom mirror, two girls are fighting over which song to play on the iPad, and then realizing you're late to take the oldest to piano lessons.


Anyway, I did my best. I'm headed to the BlogHer conference next week, and I figured I had better get my act together and at least document that I have four children on the blog's masthead, and appear to be a little more 2013, and a little less 2010.

So, I did, and then by the grace of God, the magic of Facebook, and my dear friend Holly...we have text that you can actually SEE as a title on my masthead!! Oh happy day!

You see, Holly took these pictures for us last fall (I know, still using them, still don't have most of them framed...I'm slow, forgive me), as we were on the cover ( big deal) of Prairie Farmer. We then cranked them out as Christmas Cards (which my other talented photographer friend Amy helped me make look awesome...I'm surrounded by greatness!). I have thrown out these pictures to Illinois Farm Families, put them on my desk at work, used them as my profile picture on get the picture. We've gotten a lot of mileage out of them. So I figured, what the heck? I'll use them on my blog, too. But I couldn't make the text stand out. I couldn't make it work without having to do another three steps, and having lost my patience with my children, had to leave the desk to race to piano, and then return to play outside with my boy, even though it is over 100 degrees today...but who doesn't want to chase a Power Wheels tractor around? So, I got an email. From Holly. And she had already done it for me.

I love you, dear friend!

And this is what's awesome: It's not just the pictures, friends. It's the friends, friends. Honestly. I love my friends. They are helpful and creative and smart and talented, and I have only mentioned three of them. They help me with silly things like text on a blog, and then will listen to me as I woe-is-me on things that vary from frizzy hair to financial decisions. Life is good when you're surrounded by good people.

So, take a gander...enjoy my new pictures. They'll be up for at least a few YEARS.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Vacation from Everything

I now realize why people take vacations.

Did you know I took a whole week off of making a bed? Somebody made it for me.

Did you know that I didn't cook, unless you consider making coffee in the room once, "cooking."

Did you know that I didn't do a single stitch of laundry last week? I do, and now those who have come to my house in the last 24 hours do, thanks to the piles and baskets and drying racks (i.e., backs of chairs) littering my house.

Now, for those of you who "travel," those of you who have "vacation spots," and those of you who are rolling your eyes at my naive excitement and vacation high, you can read on, smugly, and go enjoy your Mai-Tai in your bed made by a maid.

I'm home now, back to reality, and planning my next trip!

Not really, but I am taking a break at work because of my vacation hangover. I can't focus. Mainly because of the time change...shouldn't I still be in bed? However, I am also just marveling at the fact that all of us, not just me, took a vacation from everything.

We are not folks who travel (please say that in a snooty tone...only because I'm jealous). We have livestock, a livelihood without a lot of disposable income, and are pretty landlocked thanks to four small children. However, by the grace of God, thanks to my parents, the Pacific Ocean, and the magic of Disney, we were able to get away.

And, boy did we need it.

Was the hay done perfectly?

Was the mowing complete on the roadsides?

Were the cattle completely moved to where they should have been?

However, when you're thousands of miles away...WHO CARES?

And now I truly understand the phrase, ignorance is bliss, because it was. While we were still in contact with our lovely neighbors who looked after not only the cattle, but our dog and our fish (but not our plants...please excuse the completely withering foliage otherwise known as geraniums on my porch), it was only a few times. And by a few, I mean twice. Joe didn't even watch but one Cardinals baseball game in the seven days we were gone, and that's HUGE.

We were basically unplugged, as unplugged as one can get when you're needing to document moments like meeting Cinderella for the first time, digging chubby toes into the sand, and enjoying ride after ride after ride, all the while still trying to meet up with the rest of the family in time for dinner via texting. So, unplugged, maybe not so much, but apart from the rest of our world, yes, very much.

From an agricultural perspective, our trip was necessary. A hard summer last year, a challenging fall, and now a wet spring has caused nerves to be fried and distance needed to be placed between ourselves and the farm. It can be trying when one is forced to stare at one's work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Honestly, imagine, those of you with a desk job or even one that you work via the computer. Imagine that screen, that chair, that office, that car, in front of you as you eat dinner, out your window as you watch your kids play, on your way to church. While it is amazing and interesting and fulfilling, it can also SUCK THE LIFE OUT OF YOU.

So, let there be vacations!!! And now that Joe and I have tasted the sweet vacation nectar, I'm going to fight for them a lot harder.

However, for now, I'll just get back to it, make my own bed, eat my crackers and Nutella for lunch, and get back to work, with visions of the beach and Disneyland dancing in my head...