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.

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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.

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*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!

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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!

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!

Where I come from

Believe it or not, there are some days I want to throw in the towel to DC life and move back home with my parents. Today was one of those days. I have somehow managed to make the entire senior leadership team at my office mad at me just for doing my job as I’ve done it for six years. Being really frustrated today, I spent a good chunk of time on the newest group I joined on Facebook: “You know you’re from Stanton, Iowa if . . .” It soothed my soul to reminisce about my days growing up in that small town. What’s great is that some of these memories were posted by people graduated years before and after me. Life in Stanton doesn’t change, which is good. I’m glad my sister has the same experiences I did. Even though I’m extremely blessed with the path my life has taken, I do miss the simplicity and goodness of Stanton.

As I went through the 700+ posts in the group, I picked out a few that highlight the best of Stanton. Sorry for those who won’t understand the references; feel free to ask me if you want an explanation. I added a photo gallery at the end to give you small glimpse of life in Stanton.

And Grammy, no, this doesn’t mean I’m moving back anytime soon! ;)

Without further adieu:

  • You can be categorized into more than one “clique”-athlete, nerd, AND band geek, anything you want!
  • During football season your Friday math homework in Mr. Gilliland’s class included your prediction for that nights football game score.
  • You had some of the same teachers you parents did in high school
  • You didn’t turn your Christmas lights on until Santa Lucia night.
  • All Jr &Sr Girls (before the Santa Lucia crown was electric) understood no hairspray meant NO HAIRSPRAY…
  • You still have to eat a cinnamon roll with your chili.
  • You ran “the town mile” during practice, and knew who lived in all the houses along the way.
  • You can still impress your friends by singing Silent Night in Swedish.
  • You know what the phone number 829-9712 is to and what the just call and click it means.
  • “We got the Beat” was the half-time entertainment at EVERY home basketball game.
  • You know a Chili pie supper is not a pie made of chili.
  • All honor roll students were allowed to leave study hall to hang out in the “lounge,” listen to the stereo & play cards.
  • You might have to duck a flying baton or eraser in band.
  • You know the fastest way to get from school to the pancake feed.
  • You know everyone in your classs, plus several grades ahead of you or behind you.
  • If your mother or grandmother has a cutting board you made in woodshop.
  • You mom/dad said to “Charge It.” Of course this could means Shorty’s, Schenck’s, or Bob’s…Just walk in get what you need and say those two magic words “Charge It” and you walked out with what you needed.
  • 8th grade graduation
  • You can honestly say that you grew up in a town without a single traffic light.
  • You were excited about fire drills in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades because you got to slide down the fire escape!
  • You had an opinion on Brownies or Cherry Bars.
  • You knew Don’s bus was the slow one, Marilee’s was the fast one and Harlan’s hit the most mail boxes.
  • You know who Virginia Christine is and why Stanton is home to the “World’s Largest Swedish Coffee Pot.”
  • You know you can’t ride a Dala horse.
  • You were proud to be a “Viking/Viqueen,” but often had to explain what a “Viqueen” was.
  • You know all 7 jumps!
  • You learn your directions by knowing where South Hill and West Hill are located.
  • You didn’t have to turn on your blinker because the car behind you already knew where you were going!
  • You still refer to the two churches in town as “the big church” and “the little church.”
  • You’re worried someone will think your racist because you tell them you’re from the “Little White City.”

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Book Review: The Help

This is probably the first time, and I hope the last, I ever say this: the movie was better than the book.

Phew, glad that is out of the way!

I was really disappointed in the book, The Help. The civil rights era was one of my favorite periods to study back in my college history days; even took a whole class just on the civil rights movement. I think my fascination with the era began in my high school American history class. My teacher, Mr. Hicks, was a big fan of teaching through movies, and we watched an old made-for-tv movie called Murder in Mississippi, which is about three civil rights workers who were murdered during the 1964 Freedom Summer. The movie stuck with me for a long time. By the time I decided to do a minor in history at Iowa State, I knew it would focus on contemporary American history, and that I would take at least one class focusing on civil rights, which I wrote my final paper about the Freedom Summer murders.

So, I should like this book, right? Well, yes and no. As a lover of history, I did love the book. I love how she showed a side of history that you truly didn’t hear much about. I love how she wove in current events into the plot (how could you not with a book like this?). As a writer, the book was also inspirational to me to follow my heart and write about what moves me (still working on that . . .).

However, the fact that I do consider myself a writer is also the reason I didn’t like the book. I read last week that the Author, Kathryn Stockett, was rejected 60 times before the book was published. I think it shows. The book is s l o w. There are so many scenes that do absolutely nothing to really advance the story line. But, I guess if you think about it, Stockett had 60 rejection letters telling her to do better. So she kept rewriting, writing, cutting, writing some more. And what I found was a book that took too long to set up the plot and then let it stall intermittently throughout the story.

Ok, here’s where I admit something I’m not entirely proud of. I saw the movie still having 50 pages left to read. I didn’t really think much else could happen, and I was fairly right on that. I was drawn in completely into the movie. It captured me emotionally. I cried through three quarters of the movie, which I consider to be a good thing! And a movie like this should capture me emotionally. The themes of standing up for yourself, love, friendship, doing right should pull at your heartstrings. And those who know me, know that it doesn’t take much to get the waterworks flowing!

So, this morning, I went back to finish the book realizing I had not teared up once during this book. I read most of the book on the beach, so it wasn’t like I kept having to put it down with distractions – and still nothing. I think my eyes watered once this morning, but I blame that on the fact that everything I was reading was visualized as it happened in the movie. If J.K. Rowling can get me sobbing over a boy wizard, you know it really doesn’t take much. So, I was disappointed that this book didn’t pull me in like that, because I really wanted it to.

Overall, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading this book because it does tell the story of a really important time in our country’s history (although I wouldn’t call it “one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird” as NPR did). Also, I would never discourage anyone from reading anything! And I know it did capture some people – my roommate said she did cry when she read the book.

I do encourage you to go see the move! Is it a faithful take on the book? About as close as any movie adaptation I’ve ever seen, but paced out better than the book (even though they rearrange some plot developments). Go see it! Here’s the preview if you haven’t watched it yet:

Snoverkill

Here’s the view outside my apartment today:

Needless to say, I'm not going anywhere today.

And the snow accumulation on our 6th floor balcony:

Believe it or not, it had started to melt from Saturday's storm. But that's all covered up now.

Ugh

This past weekend was fun. Ah, yes, when 28 inches was fun.  But now we’re adding about 10 more inches to the pile.  Plus, wind gusts are up to 60 mph and the snow plows have been pulled off the roads. I’m on day 3 1/2 of not working, I’m almost caught up with the DVR, and I can’t take much more Facebook and Twitter.  I can’t take much more, but I don’t really see us going to the office tomorrow either as they still have to clean all this up!

This afternoon I’m going to begin some spring cleaning in the hopes that it will bring warmer temps our way.

Starbucks in Stanton!

Starbucks is doing a road trip across the country to introduce VIA, their new instant coffee line.  Of course, that meant they had to make a stop to see the world’s largest Swedish coffee pot and coffee cup, which just so happens to be in my hometown of Stanton, Iowa.  Yep, the first and only time there will be Starbucks sold in Stanton!

Once you get past the University of Nebraska stuff, this video is awesome!  I know everyone in the video.  The first couple shown is my high school principle and the woman at the end was my high school guidance counselor.  The Swedish Heritage Center used to be the elementary school, and I went to 5th grade there.

Enjoy a sneak peak of my hometown!!