A Decade in DC

Today is a fairly big deal for me. Let’s celebrate! It’s been 10 years since I arrived in Washington, DC. Obviously I got lost on my way to my new apartment, missing my exit on 66 and ending up on Constitution Avenue. It seemed a fitting welcome to a city that I have come to call home. DC was never on the radar screen of my life. But sometimes you’ve just got to follow the path God sets before you.


When I think about the last decade, many adjectives run through my head: decent, decadent, disastrous, delightful, discerning, diverting, and distracting. (Maybe you sense my theme here, get ready for more alliteration.)  Even though some of these adjectives are negative, living in DC is downright fun! The years have flown by and I honestly feel like I just got here. But then, it feels like I’ve lived another lifetime since 2005. So, this post is mostly for me to capture what I’ve learned in the last decade; to gather my thoughts on what the last 10 years have meant to me.

Diversity: Coming from one of Iowa’s smaller and predominantly white towns, diversity was fairly foreign to me. And in more ways than just the color of our skin. For the most part, every one has the same background, the same world views, and relatively same ideologies. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown, the people, and all the benefits of growing up in that community. However, the last 10 years have opened my eyes to the differences in society across the nation. DC really is a melting pot of the country, if not the world. Issues I was never forced to acknowledge growing up smack you in the face every day. You can’t walk anywhere in this city without seeing them. I’ve made many friends who, through our differences, have taught me to think about people in new ways. In reflection, DC’s diversity is one of the things I appreciate most about living here.

Divinity: To be honest, when I was offered a job in DC 10 years ago, I was a little annoyed. I had visited the city exactly once before and was not impressed. I had grander plans for my life and thought (hoped) those plans would lead me to San Francisco or New York. Well, so much for the best laid plans. The past decade might have not been my plan, but it was God’s. Has it been easy? Not always. As with most of my life story, there is purpose, even in the chaos and mess. I can clearly see God’s hand on these years, directing my path, drawing me closer to Him. Just as He always has been, he’s been putting people and situations in my path that show me truth and increase my love for such a divine Savior. So no, DC was not my first choice, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Dysfunction: Admittedly, my idea of dysfunction growing up was a bit limited. But, good grief. DC has it in spades! The past decade has seen me staying home from work for a week due to a snowstorm or two, staying home from work for three and a half weeks because Congress wouldn’t fund the government, stuck in traffic for more hours than I care to count, waiting to begin “moving momentarily” on Metro for longer than is really acceptable, freaking out over an earthquake, freaking out about hurricanes – let’s be honest, we freak out about all kinds of weather. Craziness is a fact of life around here. And to be honest, the city does dysfunction very well. I guess if you’re going to do something, you should at least be good at it.

Dulles: Yes, the airport. And no, It didn’t take me 10 years to find it. Rather, through Dulles, I’ve seen the world. I’m fairly sure that no matter where I might have ended up after college, I would have traveled around the globe somehow. But, Dulles has made that relatively easy for me. My first trip out of the country was in 2006 to Hungary and Romania, and now I’m up to 21 countries* (and counting). For as many miles across the globe I’ve traveled, I’ve seen that people around the world are really similar. We may lack in cultural and language understanding, but I am always able to connect on a basic level. Yes, cultures are different and every nation has its own problems, but really, we’re all human. With the same capacity to show kindness, grace, and love. I’ve had people who have few earthly goods, give me comfort, shelter, and food. It definitely gives you perspective on life; showing you just how small and inconsequential your own world is in relation to the billions of people out there. Also, this planet is a work of art. God’s creation is breathtaking and awe-inspiring, and you have to realize that on some basic level that something was behind that. Burma (Myanmar) is by far my favorite place in the world, and I’ve left pieces of my heart there on the shore of Inle Lake. If you’re ever looking for an amazing sunset, I can hook you up.

Distance: You know that saying, distance makes the heart grow fonder? It’s true. The distance, 1,200 miles to be exact, has given me an appreciation for what I left behind. I was the kid in school who always talked about leaving, who thought that somewhere (anywhere) else would be better. While it was really hard to move to a place where I literally knew no one, I’m so glad I did. But for all the opportunities DC has given me, I’ve come to realize just how great home really is. You cannot beat a lovely summer day surrounded by fields of green. My parent’s living room at Christmas, sitting near the fireplace, cuddling with my sister is a comfort to my soul. Catching up with old friends who have known you forever warms my heart. And I’ve come to really appreciate the people I’ve met in DC who are from Iowa because they just “get” where you’re coming from. When I talk about showing pigs in 4-H, they don’t look at me strangely. We apparently all share a fondness for walking tacos. And we come with our own brand of “Iowa Nice.” So, no Grammy, I am not moving back anytime soon, but I do appreciate home all the more for having a day’s drive in between us.

And at the end of the day, I really am just Jenny from the Farm.


*For those curious as to what those 21 countries are: Japan (lived there as a kid), Hungary, Romania, Burma, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, England, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Singapore, Turkey, Ireland, Portugal, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland

100 Years of Cooperative Extension . . . and what that means to me

As the name of this blog implies, I actually did come a farm. So, then it’s really no stretch that you would find me working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s been nearly a decade (what?!!) since I got to DC, but I owe so much of where I am right now to growing up surrounded by the cornfields in Iowa. But really, I came up through the Cooperative Extension Service.

Let me back up a bit. I work for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA, and we partner with the nation’s land-grant universities to solve societal challenges through agricultural science. You may have heard about things like climate change, bioenergy, food security, food safety and childhood obesity. Yeah, we’re involved in all of that, and a whole lot more. Our partnership with these universities is intricate and complex, and I won’t bore you with the legislative details. However, it is a partnership that works in my opinion. We’ve got the money, they’ve got the capacity to use it for good things. But one third of this partnership is with the Cooperative Extension Service.

Each land-grant university in the nation has an Extension component. Extension is the university reaching – or extending – its resources and knowledge to the public. Think very informal education. Think education through real, trusted personal connections. Think experts helping a farmer figure out how to treat a disease on his/her crops. Think an Extension agent teaching families how to make smart food and nutrition choices. Think boots on the ground helping people after a disaster has struck (ummm, hello Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina). Think 4-H. And guess what? As of tomorrow, it’s been around for 100 years!

Let me back up even further. Without really knowing or acknowledging it, most of my life has had a direct tie to Cooperative Extension. When I first moved to the farm in the fifth grade, I joined a little ol’ program called 4-H. Maybe you’ve heard about it? It is one of the largest youth development programs in the nation. Most people tend to think it’s an organization for farm kids, and I used to agree with those people. And if I’m honest, the majority of my 4-H experience represents that thought. I showed hogs at the county fair and did sewing, baking and photography projects. So, yeah, there was that.

My junior year of high school tipped the balance in my views on 4-H though. That year, I decided to pursue some other activities that would broaden my current experiences – something just a little bigger than Stanton Community High School. I applied to join the Iowa 4-H Technology Team, which is about the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done. Considering I am going to the Harry Potter theme park this year, the previous statement says a lot. However, nerdy as it may have been, joining this team led me to make new friends that have lasted to this day, it gave me my first glimpse into applied science, and essentially it got me my current job.

I was a part of the team my junior and senior years of high school and then volunteered with the group throughout college. While giving a presentation at a state 4-H staff meeting my junior year at Iowa State University, I was asked what my summer plans were. Honestly, I had none, which was problematic because I needed an internship to graduate the next year. Sitting in the meeting was a communications specialist for ISU Extension, and she was able to hook me up with a pretty great internship with Extension communications. I worked there for the next year, and it was a great internship experience. I was able to edit a lot of material (I believe this is when my obsession with the red pen began), got to not only write their news releases, but submit articles to outside magazines for publication. I even had an op-ed published in newspapers across the state. All in all, it was a great experience . . . which eventually landed me my current job.

At the time, I had no idea Extension was even affiliated with the USDA. Shows how clueless I really was back then. But, I guess all that experience in agriculture and Extension stuck out on my resume, and I soon found myself working in DC. As they say, the rest is history.

Fast forward back to 2014. USDA and NIFA are celebrating 100 years of Extension. Earlier I said Extension was all about personal connections between a farmer, family, consumer and an Extension agent. These interactions mean something to people. So, to celebrate, I proposed that my office run a social media campaign to get people talking about these stories. What better way to show the impact of this incredible program than to have people share what it has meant to them. So, we’re asking people to tell their story through whatever medium they want – blog, Twitter, instagram, Facebook, etc., and then Tweet it to NIFA at @usda_nifa using the hashtag #Ext100Years. So, yeah, if you’re reading this and have a story to tell. Share it!


In a nutshell, my Extension story is one that broadened my horizons, led me to new experiences and eventually to a meaningful career doing what I love. Really. I get to communicate everyday about how NIFA – and Extension is one part of NIFA – are truly making a difference not only on the individual level, but on some of the greatest challenges this planet will have to face. And because of that, I wouldn’t change my story for anything!

Put on Love

When people think about love, they think of it as a thing they get from others or give to those they are attached to. We all want to have love from others – we crave it actually. Whether it is from our families, our friends or from those we deeply are “in love” with.

And to give or receive love, there must be an action. Maybe words are spoken, a grand gesture is made, kindness is given or affection shown through physical touch. We all want this thing called love, but love requires action.

Love is a verb.

I was teaching English in Burma (Myanmar) last summer. Knowing that the English language can be tricky, I wanted to show how some words can be both nouns and verbs. Immediately, I thought about love. It took a little bit of discussion for them to realize this, but we got there. I used my sister as an example; I love her, therefore, I call and write her, I send her gifts, I spend time with her, I tell her I love her, I hug her, etc. And then we identified all the verbs that represent love (call, write, send, spend, tell, hug). I felt really accomplished that day as not every day garnered such understanding in my classroom. To celebrate, I left them with a song recently released by John Mayer, “Love is a Verb.” Very appropriate.

So, it’s been more than a year from my time in that classroom. And now God is revealing there are people in my life he wants me to love. People who I really don’t know, maybe don’t want to know or even hold some bitterness in my heart toward. As I’ve been praying and studying this more, I’m realizing that this love is two-fold. One: I am showing my love for Christ by acting in obedience to him. Two: in my obedience, I need to forgive these people and love them even when I don’t want to and when it’s really hard.

I keep reading Colossians 3 as God has been using this passage to drive this lesson into my heart. Verses 12-14 have struck a chord with me. Paul is calling us to “put on love.” He prefaces this command by telling us to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. . . . “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you.”


I’ve struggled with the phrase “put on” because love has always seemed to me to be a feeling – a noun, not a verb. To put love on seems as if I just flip a switch and there it is. How do we go about loving those who maybe in our earthly understanding don’t deserve to be loved? What if I just don’t feel it? But, I’m always drawn back to the fact that I don’t deserve Christ’s love, and yet he freely gives it. And he “put it on” through his obedience to God on the cross – dying for my sin. His act of love. Let’s call it his verb of love.

So, I’m a work in progress right now; teetering between the desire to obey God and dwelling in the past and my bitterness. It’s not an easy place to be, but I’m so thankful to have a solid group of Godly women in my corner praying for me, encouraging me, sharing with me . . . putting on love for me.

Just James

Tonight I finished a 7-week bible study on the book of James by Beth Moore. The last time I attempted a Beth Moore study, I was in college and never finished the study and left unimpressed. Let’s just say that God always puts us where we need to be. And for the last 7 Wednesday nights, it was studying James with her.

This is the first time I’m sad to finish up a study. God used this time to shake me and renew my faith. James story left a picture in my mind I doubt I’ll soon leave behind. You see James was the brother of Jesus. And while I can’t count how many times I have read the Book of James, this fact never occurred to me. Nor did I think about the fact that he grew up with Jesus; they played together as children; they truly knew each other. But did they?

It wasn’t until after the resurrection that James came to be saved by his older brother. In fact James and his other brothers mocked Jesus and said he must have been out of his mind for some of the things he did and said. It was this moment, when James realized just who his brother truly is, where we opened and closed our study. And it’s a moment I can’t stop thinking about. It all goes down in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Clue in on verse 7, cause it’s the only mention of Jesus appearing to James. And I can just picture it. James had to be full of regret and sorrow over the death of his brother. Even if I thought my brother was crazy, I’d still be distraught over such a horrible death. But then they meet, and they are alone. What must have been going through James’ mind? I can’t even imagine. He had known Jesus his whole life, but never believed him. But the knowledge that Jesus covered him in love,  forgave him and brought him back to the truth brings me to tears. Maybe it’s because they were brothers and had a different bond than Jesus had with the disciples, but this story got to me.

And while I won’t go into detail, you can see this got to James as well. The entire book is full of it. He committed himself to leading the church in Jerusalem. And any regrets he may have had after meeting Jesus that day, he made sure to never have again. He led the church with a single-minded passion for Christ and he had no qualms of telling it like it is. Beth left us with this quote from John Parry:

Who is this tremendous personality who speaks to the whole Church with a voice that expects no challenge or dispute? Who appeals to no authority but that of God, knows  no superior but the Lord Himself, quotes examples only from the great ones of the Old Dispensation, instructs, chides, encourages, denounces with a depth, an energy, a fire, second to none in the whole range of sacred literature?

You can bet when James entered the gates of Heaven, Jesus was standing there waiting for him with his arms wide open. James was faithful, even in his death.

And that’s where the book shook me. James, who didn’t know the whole story until Jesus’ resurrection, had a (weak if you will) excuse for his unbelief and mockery of Jesus. But I know the whole story, and yet I find myself mocking Jesus, allowing my sin to cloud my belief in God’s promises. James clearly spells out how we are to live a life of faith, and it has convicted me in a way I never thought possible. Read James, he is explicit; you won’t be left wondering what he means.

James knew mercy. He knew it the moment Jesus appeared to him. He knew Christ’s death and resurrection is our saving grace. And that one moment changed him to lead a life of mercy as well, to care for the poor and orphans, to live with humility, to be peace-loving, to love your neighbor as yourself. In the end, James knew that mercy triumphs all.

Hot off the presses

Sooooo, I’ve been a little busy this fall, which might explain the lack of posts on this blog. Ok, I’ll be honest, that’s not why, but it sounds better than the truth.

But, I have been busy you see. I spent a good four months working on a book editing project, and look what showed up in my mailbox yesterday!

fruits of my labor

I get that it’s not the sexiest project I ever hope to work on, but you’ve gotta start somewhere, right? Plus, a good friend gave me the hook up on this one. It really is about who you know. Double plus, someone actually agreed to pay me to edit a book.

So, if you are interested in learning more about how to merge and/or acquire an insurance marketing company, have I got the perfect book for you!

Now onto the next project – my friend’s father wrote his memoirs. While most of the editing is done, they need someone to do publicity on the book. It’s a good thing I have diversified my skill set. You should hear more from me this spring, so get ready!

Learning to cook at 30

It’s true, I’m turning 30 soon. To say I’m not happy about it is an understatement.

But, it’s one of those things you cannot change. Instead, I’ve decided I need to embrace this upcoming year and make it one of my best yet. I need to tackle my fears, learn new skills, and accomplish (or at least work toward) some major life goals.

My first project is going to be learning to cook. I realize I’m jumping the gun here by about 3 months, but I wanted to take advantage when inspiration strikes. So, here I am, almost 30 and I really don’t know how to cook beyond the basics. My mom is a wonderful cook, so are both grandmothers. Yet, I can’t stand the thought of being in the kitchen. Now, baking is a different story. I have no qualms about that, mostly because you mix everything together and you don’t have to touch it while it bakes for 30 minutes or so. Cooking in my mind takes so much effort and time, and I really don’t have patience for that.

But in the interest of being an adult and having good things to eat at mealtimes, I am going to climb this mountain. I’m going to push myself to try new recipes and make things I normally wouldn’t want to eat. Yes, I am a picky eater. While I don’t think I’ll ever not be a picky eater, I can at least try new things.

So far I’ve cooked two new recipes this week. One was ok and I’d make it again with some modifications. The other is delicious and I think I’m going to add it to my list of go-to meals.

Yesterday I made shrimp risotto with sweat peas. For some reason the shrimp did not taste good to me in this recipe. Maybe fresh shrimp would be better than frozen. But, I loved the rest of it. Peas are my favorite vegetable, so this recipe is a no-braienr for me. Take a look:

Shrimp risotto with sweat peas

Tonight I made saucy tomato orecchiette. It is a super easy recipe and I love it because it makes one serving – perfect for me!

Saucy tomato orecchiette

My adventures begin with the Big Girls Small Kitchen cookbook. My friend recommended this cookbook to me, and so far most of the recipes look great. If anyone has any good recipes, I’d love to know about them. Please share. Here’s to a fabulous 30th year filled with lots of good food!

Finding Hope in Hope – Part 2

In my last post, I mentioned how stressed out I had been. A lot of that had to do with feeling distant from God. In essence, this vacation was a break from my job, a chance to work on the book I’m editing, and a spiritual retreat to connect with God.

One thing I had asked God for on this trip was that He show Himself to my in very real and tangible ways. And boy, did he come through!

On my second, maybe third night, at the cottage, I was having trouble lighting the grill. I probably had gone in and out of the back door four times, and then on the fifth time I decided to close the door all the way. I finally lit the grill, turned around to go back inside only to find myself locked out of the cottage!

Now, this is when I went into what I call “Jenny mode.” Whenever I get myself into trouble or a jam, I go through every option I have to get myself out of it – and then I freak out. So, I thought maybe, just maybe, I had left the front door unlocked when I got home that day. But no, my roommate has taught me too well, and I religiously lock the doors behind me. Then I thought to check the basement door; it too was locked. My next option was to interrupt the construction crew next door, but for some reason I was hesitant to go bug them (but, it was a last resort). This is when I started to freak out.

You see, this cottage is really in the middle of no where. Sure, there are some neighbors, but I hadn’t seen any signs of life at any of the other cottages around. And the nearest town is three miles away, which would require walking through the woods. Did I mention it was getting dark out? No thank you!

So, I’m stuck out here alone with nothing to help me – my car keys, cell phone and wallet were all locked safely inside the cottage. Visions of being stranded outside all night start to flash through my head, and I become very worried. But then, it was as if God said, “I am here.” Now this cut through the panic going through my head, and I just knew that God would find a way out of this for me. I decided to walk over to one of the neighbors’ houses to see if anyone was around. The first two were empty, but then, when I hadn’t seen a single car on this road the entire time I’ve been there, one drives by me and pulls into a drive. So, I followed it in and explained my predicament.

Getting locked out of your house is a great way to meet the neighbors! Maria was very helpful. While I just wanted to call for a locksmith, she thought we could probably find a way in. Eventually, we found a window that was unlocked, and I was able to climb though. I would never considered doing this. One would think a girl from the farm would be a little more resourceful . . .

Problem #1 solved, and I got to sleep in my bed that night!

Two days later, I find myself in another jam. I wanted to go up north to view the best fall foliage, which meant a good 2 hour drive or so. About 30 minutes into my journey, I see a message in the car telling me that one of the tires has low pressure. The only thing I know  about this situation is that gas stations have air pumps, but I have no idea how to use them! And besides, I’ve been driving for 30 minutes and haven’t seen one gas station. So, I called my mom (isn’t that what we always do?); she stayed on the phone until I finally found a gas station, and kept me sane. I tend to freak out when I don’t know how to fix problems. :)

At the gas station, all the tires look fine to me, but what do I know! So, I went inside the gas station/grocery store to buy a tire gauge. I must have looked lost, so this nice young guy took pity on me. Apparently they didn’t sell tire gauges, but he knew the air pump outside had one. Luckily, he even knew how to use it! One tire had lost half it’s pressure (yet looked fine to me)! He filled it up and I was on my way north.

God totally provided the right people at the right time all week long. Along with the evidence of His beautiful creation I saw at every turn, He showed me of His love and faithfulness. It was just another way I found Hope in Hope.