Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scotty -- The All-American Country Boy

I'll have to admit I've been a big watcher of American Idol this year, at least when it came to the selection of the top 24.  And from the get-go, I loved watching the 17-year-old, Scotty McCreery, from Garner, NC.

I've made several trips through Garner since I've lived in North Carolina.  It is a town adjacent to Raleigh and has seen a lot of growth and transitions over the years.  Scotty sure has done a lot in the past several months to put Garner on the map.

I was tickled to death when Scotty won the 10th season of American Idol last night.  So was North Carolina!  Nearly 10,000 people packed into the RBC Center in Raleigh to watch the night's finale festivities, including a few of my daughter's high school friends. (Click here to see the fans' reaction at the RBC Center when Scotty won.) 

What is it about this young man that everyone loves?  Yes, he can definitely sing using those deep tones.  But I believe it is his wholesome, kind, not-embarrassed-to-show-his-Christian-faith attitude, and his all-American boy character that made me want to pull for this young man.

My family and I thought it was funny that there was this push on the show last night to show the pop singers.  But when a Raleigh t.v. news reporter interviewed the youngsters at the RBC Center, they all said they "love country music."  Hey Hollywood, did you hear that?  They LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC!

Now, I like some of the pop songs that are out there, but it always seems there is this push to try and get people away from country music.  Why?

My hope is that Scotty -- and Lauren -- will draw folks to country music and prove to the music industry that country really is cool!  Just look at all of the country singers that have come out of North Carolina, especially from the American Idol competitions.  I have to give credit where credit is surely due -- the churches!  Look at how many of those kids got their start in a church.

Kudos goes out to all the dedicated school and church music directors out there!  North Carolina has many terrific ones.  If it wasn't for my high school band instructor in Ohio and church choir director in North Carolina, I would never have dreamed to get up in front of hundreds of people to perform and actually enjoy it like I do today. 

Congratulations Scotty!  You represent Garner, the state of North Carolina and the country music industry well!   I look forward to seeing you in concert soon!     

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What sound takes you back in time?

I am a big country music fan, but in my growing up years I listened to a lot of pop music.  Two of my favorite groups to this day are Journey and Foreigner.  If I hear one of their songs now, I immediately drift back to a place as a kid that I vividly remember -- like a high school dance, a school bus ride home from elementary school, a drive to the livestock market with my dad, a stroll through the grocery aisle with mom, or when I would just chill out in my bedroom. 

But there is one sound that still is my favorite.  The fan.  There is something about its cool soothing nature that takes me back to several places, like my Grandma Hines' kitchen.  In the summer, I would often walk into her kitchen on a Saturday afternoon right when the west side of the house was getting its strongest rays from the sun.  There'd be grandma peeling an apple at the sink and standing right in the path of the breeze.  The powerful fan would be humming its tune in the front hall doorway, which led into the kitchen.  And this wasn't just any fan.  It was one of those high-powered machines that could blow you over!  I'd sit on the chair next to the fan to cool off.  It was almost hypnotizing.  Our family enjoyed grandma's fan so much, we soon started sporting the same model in our farm house living room.  And like in grandma's kitchen, I began enjoying the soothing sounds while watching t.v., which pretty much always led to a quick summer time nap before the next round of farm chores.

Photo from Dover Projects.
Then there was the metal box fan that was in the hallway window upstairs in our farm house.  This fan scared me.  While it definitely served a purpose to cool down the upstairs bedrooms, little did my parents know that this particular fan brought fears to me when I was nine years old.  For one thing, I hated storms.  After all, we lived in the eastern-most section of Tornado Alley (see map below at red arrow).  Whenever the fan would start pulling hard in the opposite direction due to an incoming weather front,  I knew we'd be in for a bad one.  I started to believe that because I was getting so good at figuring out the fan's reactions, I had physic powers!  The hall fan was never wrong.

Early one night while in my bedroom, I noticed the hall fan started pulling direction.  I rushed to turn it off, took it out of the window, shut the window and then headed downstairs to be with the rest of my family in the living room to watch t.v.  Sure enough, the fan was telling me something.  A tornado warning had just come across the t.v. screen for the county located just west of us.  We were in the path of the storm. I can remember going outside with my family to watch the pea-soup colored sky just over the line of trees opposite from our house -- a definite sign that bad weather was coming.  The calm before the storm was eery.  No animals or birds could be heard.  It was if they knew the fan was telling them "to take cover now," too!  Everything was so still UNTIL the front arrived.

I remember my family rushing to their places when the storm got closer.  Dad starting yelling to my brother to go with him to shut the barn doors.  I ran inside our house to shut every window to keep the wind and rain out, and then I went back outside with mom on the front porch to anxiously wait for my dad and brother to return.  Just about this time, a state highway patrolman whizzed by our house to take post on the overpass bridge located up the hill so he could watch for funnel clouds.  As the winds started to howl and huge rain drops began beating down, pea-sized hail began to fall and trees limbs started breaking off.  Deep in the background, we could hear the faint sound of the tornado siren from the nearby town, along with an emergency alert on the local country music radio station (WNCO) to let us know we needed to take cover. 

All night long we listened and watched as storms hammered our area.  As for me, I shook in panic.  Luckily, we received little damage from this particular storm.  But it was during this same summer that we had to dodge several tornado-potential storms.  I believe the thing that helped prepare me for them was that ol' 20-inch box fan in the hallway window.  Would you believe I now own two of them and have used them in the upstairs bedroom windows even though we have central heating and air?  Of course, I only use them when the temperatures aren't too hot and I long to hear the humming sound again that takes me back to my childhood on the farm.  However, I do keep a small fan by my desk in my office at work that helps me cool off in the heat of the South and to get that special "sound fix" I enjoy from time to time.   

So, what is the one sound above all others that takes you back in time?  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Teenage ag students make excellent help on the farm

If there is one thing I've learned in middle age, it is that I don't move like I used to.  Now, I am not saying I've completed my "bucket list" and am on my way out.  I am far from it (hopefully).  However, when it comes to farm work, weekends are brutal.  But Monday's....well, they are the worst! 

You see, my husband and I work full-time, agricultural-related jobs off of the farm and we stay very busy with agricultural organizations.  During the week it is hard to do major farm tasks because in most cases we are too mentally exhausted at the end of the day to even think about picking up a hammer or chainsaw at 7 p.m.  Plus, daytime hours have diminished by the time we stroll in.  I have an hour commute to and from my job, and this doesn't help much either.   

Daddyman (my husband) and my daughter usually hold down the fort during the week.  A typical weekday involves feeding animals, making supper, watching a bit of t.v. and going to bed!  And when the next day rolls around, we do it all over again.  Honestly, sometimes the schedule can be a total drag.

Saturday means "go" on the farm
When Saturday rolls around, there is no down time at our house.  We are up and at it early to get things done on the farm.  First, there are things to go pick up like feed, farm supplies, groceries and dry cleaning.  Then there is the mowing, which requires the use of two riding lawn mowers going at the same time.  After two hours of mowing, there is weed-eating, followed by fixing things -- and I mean anything you can imagine!  This could include fixing a piece of equipment, removing old trees around fence lines or repairing holes in the barn.  It NEVER ends!  Why does it seem you can never get ahead on a farm?

We go so hard on a Saturday, it is pretty much a regimen for us to pop a couple of ibuprofen before we go to bed in the evening in anticipation of the next day's pain.  Sunday includes church in the morning, and then house chores in the afternoon that didn't get done on Saturday because of farm work.  It can be a busy cycle...and one that wears you slam out!

Monday is the worst.  It seems like the pains from physical farm activity on Saturday skips a day and hits us on Monday.  When you've gone at it all weekend with no down time and then Monday comes back around...oh is tough.   

Young farm hands
The one thing that has helped our family both mentally and physically is hiring good young help.  However, we have been fortunate for many years to get some excellent help from a retired extension agent friend.  But ever since my daughter started high school two years ago and joined FFA, we have made several connections with area country kids that know how to work -- and I mean work without us even telling them to!  Now, no offense to the urban boys and girls out there, but there is nothing like country kids for working on the farm.  They know how to get it done and they require little direction.  Plus they love working on the farm!  There is something about the work ethic of country boys and girls that makes us adults smile from ear to ear.   

Last weekend my daughter and two of her ag buddies went to work on her show cattle pen, which needed some serious spring cleaning.  They did an awesome job and they didn't require any direction.  Now, I ask you, would I have gotten the same work ethic out of a non-ag girl or fellow?  Maybe.  But would they have griped the whole time about how the pen had a smell to it or that they got manure on themselves?  Maybe or maybe not.  We don't take that chance.  The country kids get first dibs on the jobs every time.  We don't have time or patience for whining.

To show our appreciation for hard work,  we always treat help to lunch at the local hamburger dive.  It gives them a chance to socialize and get energized for the second half of the day.  I try to throw in a treat in the afternoon, too.  And, of course, they get paid for their hard work.

Country Kids vs. City Kids
Don't get me wrong.  I know of many hard working, terrific non-ag kids, but when it comes to farm work, I can almost bet every time (from experience) that non-ag kids will be the first to ask if you if they are done with a project even when they are far from it.  You just have to sit back and chuckle at em' and hope that your effort to get them to appreciate the value of hard work will pay off with them later in life.

Photo courtesy of Proyecto Asis.
This reminds me of the time when a girl in my dorm in college was telling me she wanted to be a veterinarian.  She was a pre-vet student from a northeastern U.S. city.  She always dressed to the max and had those long pretty fingernails.  She wanted to be a small animal veterinarian because she loved pets.  I said to her one day, "You know that you are going to also have to get some large animal experience as part of vet school training even though you don't want to be a large animal vet, right?"  She looked at me in horror.  I went on to say, "Oh, you will love it, because you will get to do cool stuff like preg check cattle and everything...but you'll have to trim those pretty fingernails."  She looked at me and said, "Why?"  I said, "Because I don't think a mama cow will appreciate you scratching their hiney with them!  Besides, your fingernails will bust through the extra-long OB gloves." 

With a bewildered look, she went on to ask me more questions about raising farm animals.  Halfway through the discussion I replied, "Are you sure you are ready to be a vet?"  She said, "Not after what you've told me."  I said, "Did you not think poop, blood and afterbirth were not going to part of your veterinarian profession?"  She finally fessed up and said, "I have no idea what I am getting myself into."

As we finished our conversation and after witnessing her green facial expression, I told her that she might want to consider another profession.  She piped up and said that she loved fashion, which was very obvious by her obsession to look her best every day.   

Later in the quarter, she dropped by my dorm room to say hello and said, "Hey Jules, I decided to change my major to Fashion Merchandising!"

I just smiled and said, "I think that is a wise decision!"  And it was.  She would have been miserable as a vet student, but she makes one heck of a clothes buyer for a major department store!



Sunday, May 1, 2011

Learning from the kids: Where do they get this stuff?

NC A&T University provided animals from the college's farm.
On Friday I set up a booth on behalf of the company I work for at an "FFA Day" sponsored by the FFA chapter at Southern Guilford High School near Greensboro, NC.  FFA Day was held for the entire student body (approximately 1,200 students), and I have to give the chapter members and advisers credit for their efforts to help educate non-ag students about agriculture. 

Since my daughter, Kaylyn, was out of school for Spring Break, and since she is the NC Jr. Beef Ambassador, I told her she should come along to help educate the students about beef.  So, she grabbed her box of educational materials, and I packed the truck with what I needed, and off we went. 

A real eye-opener
Kaylyn with beef educational materials.
Let's just say it was a real eye-opener for Kaylyn to participate in a school event in a fairly urban area.  It was very opposite of the rural-based high school she attends.  When students came by the booth, they asked us both questions.  I got a lot of the typical "What does your company do?" questions and Kaylyn got a few unanticipated "I don't eat meat!" comments.  One boy asked Kaylyn with all seriousness:  "Doesn't beef get stuck in your stomach easily?"  I guess you could say we were stunned at some of myths that have been thrown at these young people.  Stuck in your stomach?  Seriously!?

I have to give credit to Kaylyn for her ability to think quick on her feet.  She asked the boy who thought beef would get stuck in his stomach where he got the information from.  He said, "The t.v.!"

NC Department of Agriculture food shopping cart...always a hit!
Ah yes, the television.  Let me guess.  I would bet they've been listening to some well-known talk show hosts who tend to never have farmers on their programs, but rather only self-proclaimed food experts who spend very little time on a farm or who aren't involved in the production aspect at all.

Something to Crow about...
I had to laugh recently when a popular national morning news show featured Sheryl Crow and her personal chef Chuck White to promote Crow's new recipe book.  They were actually making a beef recipe from the book.  As a beef producer, this was an encouraging sign.  The chef went on to say that he prefers grass-fed beef because of its leanness and flavor.  Okay.  No problem there.  The beauty of the beef industry is that it provides different options to consumers.  But then Crow piped in and said that she likes to buy her meat locally and looks for organic.  I raised an eyebrow a bit wondering where this was about to go.  Okay, again not a big deal if she is looking for organically grown meat; HOWEVER, did she mean that just because the beef being used in the recipe was grass fed beef that is was organic?  If she did, then she may be a bit misinformed and is doing what a lot of people do by taking current food "buzz words" and confuse them with the true meanings.  Just because a cut of beef is grass fed doesn't mean it is organic.  This is a common misconception.  My advice to Crow and other consumers who like to buy locally is to make sure they ask local beef producers how they actually grow their beef.  This way they know exactly what they are getting and they'll be more educated about their food production.     

Folks, the bottom line is this.  If you don't understand something regarding how your food is produced or raised, ask a farmer or call your local cooperative extension representative.  Like your teachers always said, "There are no stupid questions!"   It is better to be informed with the facts.