Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Little Dishrag

Hebrews 13:2 
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, 
for by so doing some people have 
shown hospitality to angels with out knowing it. 

I was on a late flight from Ft. Worth to Oklahoma City last Friday night. We sat on the dark runway awaiting some maintenance on our plane - never a good feeling. I looked across the aisle and saw a woman, maybe 55, knitting feverishly. I've never seen hands move so quickly. She looked up from her work and gave me a gentle smile, catching me watch her. 

"What are you knitting?" I asked.
"Shrags," she responded softly, never looking away from her work.
"Shrags?" I asked for clarification.
"Rags," she said again. "Like a dishrag you use to do dishes."
"Ohhhh, gotcha," I responded, feeling a little better about the conversation. I had no idea what a shrag was. 

While still waiting on maintenance I dozed in a out of sleep for an hour before our plane even moved. In between tiger snoozes the lady got my attention. 

"Because you asked what I was making, I want you to have one," she said as she passed me a plastic bag full of hand-knitted dishrags, every color imaginable. I did notice there were a lot of red ones. I wasn't about to stash one of those away in my suitcase - I've learned my lesson there. 

I chose a brown and white rag and handed the bag back to her. In turn, she handed me a piece of paper and gave me a smile. Before I could even ask her what it was, the woman was back to work. 

I decided against bothering the stranger again. I unfolded the half-sheet and turned on my reading light. It was a poem.

I'm a little dishrag all pretty and new, 
created in love to be used by you.

Don't put me on a shelf just to be viewed,
Or under a glass to sop up the dew.
Or even on a hot pot to protect from the heat, 
I'm a little dishrag - and at that - I can't be beat. 

On the shelf, I'll just gather dust, 
Under a glass I'll make a spot, 
On the hot pot, I'll hurt you a lot, 
But as a dish rag I'll clean with the best. 

I'm cotton and small and really quite bumpy,
My cotton absorbs and I squeeze quite easily, 
My bumps help me scour and scrub so completely, 
I'm made for just one job, and one job only. 

I will get stained and torn and ragged, 
But that is the plan, it's what is intended, 
When I get dirty just wash me and dry me, 
How water and spin cycle will do the job nicely. 

If I am not perfect or just the right hue, 
That doens't mean I'm worthless or just will not do. 
When we're working together those things won't matter, 
We'll get the the job done, along with some laughter. 

So, if you're not perfect - and none of are, 
Remember me (dishrag) and what we accomplished. 
God can use all things in Heaven and Earth, 
If you're open to hear Him and put His will first.

I was created with love and with care, 
to do one great thing that we both can share, 
As we do your dishes and general cleaning, 
Remember this prayer to the Father I'm sending. 

I pray that our Father will show you your purpose, 
To show you how lovingly, carefully He formed you, 
To show you the work He intended for you, 
And for you to find joy in all that you do. 

And if you get stained, or ragged or torn,
He is there with you to wash you all clean, 
He'll heal up your hurts and mend your heart, 
He'll be there with you from morning to dark. 

Look deep inside you and see how you're made, 
What are you here for? What is your trade?
What brings you joy? Where is your heart?
Rest in His mercy and let His work start. 

I'm a little dishrag all pretty and new, 
Created in love to be used by you. 

Lilly's sugar and cream or peaches and cream cotton yarn
Number 10 needles
Cast on and knit 4 stitches
Knit 4
Knit 2, yarn over, knit 2
Knit 2, yarn over, knit to end
Continue until 40 stitches are on the needle
Knit 1, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit 2 together, knit to end
Continue until 4 stitches remain
Knit 4
Bind off

"What a kind note to give a complete stranger," I thought to myself. I looked over and the woman, knitting project in her lap, was asleep. I didn't have the opportunity to thank her. I shut of my light and followed her lead and tried to get some rest on the late flight. 

I thought her note was one worth passing on. I don't know the woman's name, or why she was flying to Oklahoma in the dark or even where she was from. But I do know I appreciate the soft rag that now rests in my linen closet and the half sheet of paper that hangs on my inspiration board. 

My way of thanking her is paying it forward to you. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Someone I Wish I Knew

I think Josh Johnson was the first person to give me the feeling. 
He didn't know he gave it to me; it was never Josh's intention. 
It is fair to say nothing that happened on July 14, 2002 was. 
His untimely death riveted our small Indiana town. 
Nevermore would we see his smile or experience his kind heart. 
After his funeral I remember driving back to our county fair thinking, "I wish I knew Josh better..."

I suppose while Josh was the first person that I recognized the feeling with, as I matured - and life happened - others have died and planted the same, dreadful thought in my mind:

I wish I would have known them better. 

Lost opportunity. Lost conversations. Lost lessons. Lost life. 

Last evening Cody called and told me that Ray Sims, said to be the greatest livestock auctioneer in history, passed away in Kansas City. He is the latest addition the exclusive list of people lost whom I wish I knew. I was supposed to interview Ray for this blog in less than a month: Friday, October 5th. 

Before we go on, watch a bit of Ray's incredible story:

We just enjoyed visiting with Ray in July at the National Junior Angus Show.

When I met Ray I knew little about his life's story. This only filled my head with 1,000 questions I wanted to ask - about the things he had seen after traveling North America for decades, the livestock he witnessed move through the ring as an auctioneer for 46 years and the United States Presidents he called friends over the duration of his 90-year life. 

 Ray auctioneering as President John F. Kennedy evaluates to the left

Ray reminded me a lot of my Granddad Shafer. 
If it involved cattle, neither thought twice about cruising across the country, logging hundreds of miles in one day. 
They both had the same age spots on their hands the last time I saw them. 

While I wasn't around Ray nearly as much as my soul desired, I was still able to ask him a bit about his life's journey. 

Ray grew up on a stock farm in Missouri but went to autioneer school in Indiana. While a college degree was his intention, his unique ability to auctioneer was quickly noticed and Ray's schedule soon filled with chanting obligations, rather than college courses. 

Ray was known as a game changer in the livestock marketing industry. His approach to selling stock was simple: develop a quick paced chant that encouraged bidders to make decisions. These exciting, quicker auctions brought more buyers to the sale, more money to the table and moved more cattle than ever before. No longer were the days of long, sermon-like sale experiences. 

Ray went on sell cattle from coast to coast, border to border. 

In 1967 the movie "What Am I Bid" featured Leroy Van Dyke's hit single, "Auctioneer."
Said auctioneer, whom the song was about, was Ray Sims. 

Watch him chant here in the white hat -  

Ray was inducted into the Angus Heritage Foundation in 1989 and the National Auctioneers Association Hall of Fame in 1990. 
At the 2010 North American International Livestock Exposition Ray was inducted into Saddle and Sirloin Club - the first auctioneer to ever receive that life honor. Induction into the Saddle and Sirloin Club is the highest honor given in the American livestock industry. 

Finally, just two months ago at the 2012 National Junior Angus Show Ray was finally able to see his Saddle and Sirloin Portrait hanging amongst other legends. Founded in 1903, the Saddle and Sirloin Portrait Collection is an incredible collection of oil paintings that honor outstanding leaders in the livestock world over the past 300 years. The oil portraits hang in the West Wing of the exposition hall in Louisville. Check them out this November. 

I think about Ray and get that knot in my stomach, realizing the missed opportunity to know him - his story - better. What an incredible resource of production agriculture history. 

Image from 1965 Angus Journal

I've always believed that when an old man dies, 
it is as if a library burns to the ground. 
Well, as of last night a whole lot of Angus Journals rest in ash. 

So long, Mr. Sims - Enjoy that auction block in the sky 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


At a previous adventure, a professional mentor wrote the following to me in a fair-well email:
You possess the control over your life and success. Don't depend on anyone else to help you get there. If, along the road a mentor or some other helpful individual crosses your path, then consider yourself more fortunate than most, and try to pass the benefit on to someone else when you are able.

Well, I'm more fortunate than most. 

I met Christine in Denver. 
Cattle were involved.  
My brother introduced us knowing we'd hit it off. He was right. 

Christine and I learned quickly that our passions for family, Shorthorn cattle and a creative view at life through a camera lens had us completely aligned to be long lost sisters. 

Sisters that look nothing alike. 


Also, we both enjoy wearing black. 
It is slimming. 

More than once Christine has asked me to fly to Canada and help her with photography assignments. More than once she has taught me a million times over anything I've learned by reading photography books. 

Additionally, she has taught me much about life. 
And taking time for it. 
And staying true to self. 
And reflecting on past experiences to bring value to the present. 
And a whole lot about fulfilling personal goals - no matter where you are in your life. 

In July I went to visit Christine and my Alta Cedar family. She introduced me to her new adventure, Country Sampler

One step inside the store and I knew I was in heaven. 
Two steps inside the store and I had wished I had more room in my suitcase. 

I invite you to come in, look around and take in everything that the quaint store has to offer. 

I just know you'll love it!

You can find the Country Sampler on Facebook, too. Click here!

This was perhaps my favorite things in the store. 
And it now hangs in my Indiana home.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"That" Friend

You know that friend?

No, not the one who looks better now after two kids than she did in high school.
Or the one who can work on the farm all day then prepare a 4-course meal for an ailing neighbor within 45 minutes. 
Or even the strikingly beautiful one who has no self-esteem because of a series of broken homes and relationships. 

I'm talking about the "friend" who always knows just what to say to put things into perspective, sometimes without ever speaking a single word.

I love my alone time. I suppose that is the route the third child is forced to take when older siblings go to school, or Grandma's, or a friend's house and you're left to entertain yourself.

In college, between classes I would go to the top of Lilly Library and find the oldest editions of Shorthorn Country (previously Shorthorn World) I could dig up. I'd sit and study pedigrees, people in the photos and how beef animals looked like box cars rather functional cattle. 

Occasionally I would go to the Ag Administration building and study the agriculture publications on hand: Progressive Farmer, Successful Farming, Farm World, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Nebraska Farmer and more. I'd study the way the authors wrote and the photos, knowing - hoping - one day I'd put my agriculture communication degree to use. 

November, 2006 I stumbled upon a piece written in Indiana Prairie Farmer. I think the image of the young writer caught my eye before the headline did, but the simple, striking headline reeled me in. 

I threw my AXO bag on the floor, sat down in a chair outside my advisor's office and began to read, "‘Urgent’ jeopardizes ‘important’" by Holly Spangler. 

‘Urgent’ jeopardizes ‘important’
By Holly Spangler
November 2006
As I sit here writing this column just a few moments before midnight, my to-do list for the week looms darkly ahead of me. An impending work deadline. A preschool class to organize by Wednesday. An all-day play date on Thursday. Another work day on Friday. A fundraising effort to coordinate by Friday night. Houseguests on the weekend. A house to clean, a wall to paint, a yard to mow. Laundry. And I think that I’m playing for church on Sunday. 

Oh yeah, and we’re in the thick of harvest, too. 
It’s classic busyness, just like so many of you experience. Too much to do and not enough time to do it. And don’t forget children to nurture, meals to lovingly prepare and swings to be swung “higher this time, Mom!” 

Besides all the work to be done, what’s troubling me lately is the confrontation between the urgent and the important. The urgent being those things that are in your face demanding that you accomplish the task, while the important sit quietly (or sometimes not so quietly, as in the case of small children). Particularly this week, citing the  above list, the urgent is threatening to overtake us.
And so it is for farm families everywhere. Many of us are coming off of harvest this month, looking forward to a slowing of pace by the end of the month. The urgent is winding down, and the important has been waiting. Harvest widows are about to be widowed no more (at least until next spring, anyway). 
Lonely season
Yet for some families, Dad doesn’t just disappear during busy times. One reader recently shared that she and her kids feel like orphans because her husband doesn’t make time for them, adding, “not just during the busy time of year, but always.” 
It’s hard to imagine what has led this husband to make the choices his wife describes. However, farmers and other self-employed folks tend to have a lot of characteristics in common. A drive to  succeed and a good work ethic do make for successful entrepreneurs. 
Yet we all know plenty of self-employed people who have personalities that are, let’s say, not conducive to working with others. That’s why they’ve never worked for anyone else. And their poor people skills extend to their families, as well.
So it becomes easier to make the farm the scapegoat. They use work as an excuse not to spend time with family. And ultimately, that easy scapegoat becomes your family’s biggest resentment. 
Wives who resent the farm don’t want to be involved. The gulf between husband and wife widens. 
Kids who resent the farm don’t tend to stick around — emotionally or geographically. And the gulf between parents and adult kids widens.
It’s not hard to see how the consequences of choosing work over family can last for generations. 
So what’s the answer? 
Balance is never a quick fix, but a practice. A conscious choice of the important over the urgent.
The German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” 
And it’s never easy to keep your eye on that ball. 
I recall one night in college, a friend implored me to join a group of girls in a late-night road trip. “What will you remember in 10 years: this quiz you’re studying for or this road trip?” she asked. 
Well, exactly. I don’t have any idea now what I was studying for back then (and apparently my grades didn’t suffer for it, because I’d remember that). But boy, did we have fun on that road trip. 
So tomorrow I’ll get up, make breakfast for my little importants. Then we’ll go see if we can get that swing to go any higher. And somewhere along the way, the wall will get painted and the house will get cleaned. And if it doesn’t, it probably didn’t matter that much anyway.

- Spangler is a Farm Progress field editor

She spoke to me. 
Big time. 
I made 15 copies of the article and sent it to influential folks in my own life at that time. It was something anyone could stand to hear. 

I also made a copy for myself and hung it in my sorority room. 
When I lived in Washington, DC it hung next to my vanity and I looked at it while I got ready in the morning. 
Today it hangs on my inspiration board, filled with letters and photos that serve as a constant reminder to make time for the important. 

Fast forward 6 years later....

I received a message from my Facebook friend (whom I've never had the opportunity to meet) and agriculture communication colleague, Holly Spangler. 

That gal spoke to me in the hallway of the Ag Administration building five years ago without ever saying a single word.

She had stumbled across Jean's Boots Are Made For Talking and read the post about my Dad and his start in the Shorthorn business. She introduced herself and asked if she could share it on her blog, "My Generation - A closer look at life on a young farmer's operation" on the Prairie Farmer website.

I was flattered. 
I was also amazed that the gal who's motivation - and headshot - was plastered on my bathroom wall, watching me brush my teeth for years, had any interest in sharing our story. 

She did, nonetheless. 

I began my response to Holly like this, "As strange as this sounds, I know very well who you are......"

More than a year later...

Over Labor Day weekend I rushed around trying to get the terribly important things done.
I searched darn near every website known to mankind to find a new vehicle to replace the one recently totaled. 
I worked on a powerpoint for work. 
I edited photos for a customer. 
I browsed a cookbook for a Sunday night appetizer.
I emailed customers of Bowman Superior Genetics who are interested in certain bred heifers.
I tried - desperately - to get my house in order. 
I was completely overwhelmed on a holiday weekend. 

Finally, I sat down to sort through a stack of mail: insurance paperwork, an ambulance bill, expired birthday coupons and junk.
I found a birthday card that really made me smile. I took it to my office to pin in on my inspiration board. 

Cluttered. I had trouble finding justifiable space.

I removed one tack and a dusty old magazine clipping fell on to the un-vacuumed carpet. 

‘Urgent’ jeopardizes ‘important’ by Holly Spangler.

Some friends know just what to say to put things into perspective, often without ever speaking a single word.

The urgent can wait.
The important can't.