The Recovering Farmer

Thursday, December 23, 2010

“Its Christmas Time Again”

Well, here we are. Just like that we have been swept into the season. What has not been readied to this point probably won’t be. And will it really matter? My challenge to my clients this week has been to try as best possible to set aside life’s worries and just for awhile enjoy the festive season. Enjoy the fellowship with friends, family and neighbors. Stop for awhile and enjoy the moment.

Perhaps this is easier said then done. Particularly for those who have experienced heartbreak in these days leading up to Christmas. Whether it’s the death of a baby a few short weeks before she was to be born. Or whether it’s a reoccurrence of sickness which we thought had been beat. Whether its financial challenges that don’t take a break. Perhaps it is loneliness because of a loved one lost. Perhaps its anxious thoughts for the future.

My wish for you is that in some way you may experience some peace and happiness in this season. May the words of the following poem help as you take the time to reflect on the past and look forward to the new. Make it a good one.

Put your problems on probation
Run your troubles off the track,
Throw your worries out the window
Get the monkeys off your back.
Silence all your inner critics
With your conscience make amends,
And allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!

Call a truce with those who bother you
Let all the fighting cease,
Give your differences a breather
And declare a time of peace,
Don't let angry feelings taint
The precious time you have to spend,
And allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!

Like some cool refreshing water
Or a gentle summer breeze,
Like a fresh bouquet of flowers
Or the smell of autumn leaves,
It's a banquet for the spirit
Filled with family, food and friends,
So allow yourself some happiness
It's Christmas time again!
Bob Lazzar-Atwood

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

“It’s a Wonderful Life”

Do you ever wonder why you were born? Do you wonder what purpose you serve here on earth? Are there times you just don’t see how you can carry on? Do you wonder why things happen? Rest assured you are not alone. For those of you who follow my blogs you will understand when I say that I have had many of those questions and continue to have those questions far too often. This time of year brings out many of those questions for a lot of people. Well, let me tell you a little story. (If you have not read last week’s edition of my blog, read it first before you continue)

For quite some time now one of my brothers has challenged me to watch the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. He was quite adamant about it to the point where, two weeks ago when I told him I had seen the movie on sale, he was quite upset that I had not purchased it. Ironically enough the movie happened to be on TV last weekend so I took the time to watch it. It’s a movie that was filmed in 1946 and tells the story of a man who has various roadblocks thrown in his way as he pursues goals in his life. Towards the end of the movie financial ruin comes his way and the effect of that convinces him that suicide is the only way out. Long story short an angel appears and in a really poignant way reveals to this man the positive impact he has had on many different people in his life. Impacts that were virtual and positive life changers for many. At the end of the story many of this man’s friends come forward and provide the resources required to save his business. Interesting story, could probably have been told in less than three hours, but a good change from the action movies I prefer watching.

Now look back at the story I posted last week. It has been interesting to hear from many of you how random acts of kindness have had an impact on your lives. Well, early this morning I found out through a friend and colleague that the woman who I had paid groceries for had written a letter to the editor in the local paper expressing her feelings about the incident. In her words “without knowing it, a complete stranger has made this Christmas one that I will never forget”.

Why am I writing this? Certainly not to pat myself on the back. Rather it is sharing with you how I am finding more clarity and purpose in my life. There are two points that jump out at me from these two stories. One is, and HEAR ME when I say that each one of us has positive impacts on people around us. Never could I have imagined the impact my actions would have on someone else. It was not a great deal of money and I was quite content and pleasantly surprised with the warmth I felt for having done something that I felt somewhat insignificant. Secondly, finding out what impact my actions had on someone else just put the icing on the cake. The challenge being to ensure that I take the time to appreciate others, and show that appreciation, for all those who do so much for me.

I now know that I have discovered the real meaning of Christmas. Make it a good one.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

So it happens that one of my sisters is in charge of the annual family Christmas get together this year. That means she plans the food, a program and, of course, any type of gift giving. Now, I have to tell you that having grown up in a Mennonite home a program was always integral to a successful gathering. That program would consist of singing carols, reciting poems and reading the Christmas story directly from the Bible. In fact, now don’t quote me on this, it had to be from the King James version because that was considered the authoritative version of all things scriptural. So whether one could sing or not we all lent our voices to hearty renditions of every carol ever written. After that, and don’t forget we had already spent well over an hour in church that morning, we could open presents. Sounds torturous, right? I suspect it probably was not as bad as it sounds. However, with my sister in charge, the program part will likely be a condensed version. Leaves more time for food.

Now, what I really wanted to share was an idea that she put forward that could be done instead of gifts. In her words she suggested that “in lieu of a gift exchange we ask that each individual initiate and/or perform a specific and random charitable act of kindness’. What a novel idea. So let me tell you of my random act of kindness.

Happens that Rose and I were in Sobeys picking up some groceries after an afternoon of meeting some family in Brandon. The line ups were long and patience was running thin. As the customer in front of us was having her groceries wrung up I suggested to Rose that we offer to pay for that woman’s groceries. She stepped aside and let me walk through first so I could make the offer. I stepped forward bravely but then lost my nerve. It would create a scene. It could be embarrassing. She would probably think I was some sort of freak. But then courage overruled and I made the offer. Well, to be sure, the reaction was interesting. The cashier started laughing and the customer gave me a very weird look. I assured them both that I was quite serious. The woman was flustered and wanted to know why. I suggested that we wanted to do this for her and wished her a Merry Christmas. She made the comment that it was good to see that there were still nice people around. And as she left she wished us a Merry Christmas as well.

That random act of kindness gave a pleasant surprise to some stranger that evening. What was even more fulfilling was the warm sense of community I felt. It was interesting how long that feeling stayed with me. It helped, at least temporarily, in removing that dark cloud that had been hanging over my head for far too long. And for some strange reason, I think I rediscovered what Christmas was meant to be. Make it a good one.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Run My Life. . . . Or is My Life Running Me?

Do you find yourself running in every direction and really not getting anywhere? Your mind going in umpteen different directions as you juggle work, getting ready for Christmas, taking care of the farm, getting ready to start a new year? Gets tiring just thinking about it. And yet, through all the rush and busyness of the season we find time to take some moments and enjoy them with friends and family. That is the beauty of this time of year.

I had someone ask me this week what my goals were for five years down the road. I gave it some careful thought and realized I probably did not have any goals past the next twenty four hours. So it made me think. Is this really a bad thing? Why get caught up in the future when it is difficult to live in the moment? But I also got to thinking about how I could gain better control of my life so that I could focus on enjoying life, enjoying family and friends and grow as an individual in my own community. A community that includes many of the people I spend time with, work with and deal with on a regular basis.

So here I go. I am making a New Years Resolution. Just to hear those words upset me. I do not have a good track record when it comes to resolutions made this time of year. Actually, truth be known, this will be the second one. Oh no. May have to actually list them so I don’t forget. Actually might be easier just not making any resolutions. That way I won’t fail, right? I feel better already. But wait. The resolution I was going to make was going to help me feel better. Don’t you just hate arguing with yourself?

Here goes. I resolve that beginning January 1, 2011 I will “. . . run my life . . . and not let it run me”. There, that part was easy. Now to figure out how to do that. For starters I need to finish that book on mindfulness because first things first. Get control of my thinking. Then take an inventory of my life and prioritize. Look after the important things in life. Relationships, health and happiness. Doing that should bring more clarity and control, right? I really think that after I take the first step the rest will start falling into place. Hey, this might be fun. Perhaps you want to try this with me. Think about it. Make it a good one.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tis the Season to be Jolly . . . . .

Remember how I mentioned last week that my mood was not how I would like it to be? In talking to other people I realize there are many out there that find this time of year to be stressful, discouraging, depressing and lonely. Why is that? Every where we go we are bombarded by subtle and not so subtle messages about this joyous and festive season we are approaching. Christmas parties have begun. Christmas shopping is well under way. Christmas music is being played everywhere and all the time. Christmas gatherings are being planned. Shopping lists are being put together. Some people are planning and booking holidays. Sounds like fun, right? It probably should be, but for some reason it is not for many of us.

I have come to the conclusion that I need to change my focus this Christmas season. I recall when I was still farming that this time of year brought with it all kinds of pressures that left me feeling anxious, discouraged and lonely. December brings with it the shortest day of the year. Often it can be the coldest time of year. Having farm year end the same as the calendar year left me dealing with farm financial issues when I should be focusing on the festive time of year. I often felt inadequate as I saw others spend lavish money on gifts and holidays. Having livestock meant that there was no break from the daily grind of farm work. And so it went. Now, I find, that this time of year can still bring with it many of the same feelings I always had, leaving me just not feeling right.

“I wonder if gratefulness is the bridge from sorrow to joy, spanning the
chasm of our anxious striving. Freed from the burden of unbridled
desires, we can enjoy what we have, celebrate what we've attained, and
appreciate the familiar. For if we can't be happy now, we'll likely not be
happy when.”

Seems to me that the author of that quote is on to something. Gratefulness. How novel. For years I have ruminated about all things that I was not and could not be thankful for. This time of year seemed to bring that out even more. I know that I have many things to be grateful for. Now it is time to focus in on those things, remembering that much of the negative “stuff” in our lives is completely out of our control. May you all have the strength and courage to let go of the old and embrace the new. May this time of year bring joy and peace never before experienced. Make it a good one.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Winter, Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Well, here it is again. Were we not just here? Where did the summer go? And to think. It is not even cold yet. Hey, just think. Only five more months of shivering. Never knowing whether you will ever warm up again. Leaving home while it is dark and not getting home till after dark. Who really knows what the outside of our home looks like. Then again, who cares. It’s white and it’s cold. The good news is that in just over a month the days start getting longer. What an event to look forward to.

As with the seasons my mood seems to have changed as well. Happiness seems to be eluding me. I have difficulties concentrating on work. I have a lack of motivation. My emotional tank is empty. More darkness than light. Somewhat like the days during this time of year.

But why? I thought I had this licked. Things were looking up. So what does this mean? Meds again? Hope not. For awhile I thought I could work my way out of this. But that is not happening. Seems to be getting worse. I feel irritable. I am easily angered. My wife says I am always aggravated. Felt like I have a vice slowly squeezing the life out of my brain. The more I think about it the worse it gets. I knew I would have to be proactive about it. Practice what I preach. After all, I know what resources are available.

Finally, with encouragement from a friend and colleague, I called a professional and set up an appointment. The strangest thing. I began to feel better right away. Almost tempted to cancel the appointment. However, I am curious what kind of advice I can get for future reference. Also bought a book on Mindfulness. Not finished it yet but based on what I have read seems they are writing about me. Hmmmm. That tells me there are others feeling the same way. That means I am not alone. That means there is help.

I tell people that talking helps. Understanding yourself also helps. Hopefully I can get this beast turned around so that time with family and friends at Christmas will be a happy time. Reinforces my message. There is help and there is hope. Check out for helpful tips on mindfulness. Make it a good one.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Understanding Others

When I look around I am frequently reminded of how our world has become so much bigger than it used to be. Now, I realize this may age me just a wee bit, but remember when your circle of friends was made up of local kids. Now with ever changing ways of communicating we have friends from all over the world. I need to note here that many forms of communication do not enhance relationships but we will leave that for another day. As we spend more and more time communicating we need to also become more aware of our communication methods. Even something as simple as buying a new product can become an exercise in futility if something goes wrong.

I am trying to help my daughter deal with a situation that requires time and a whole lot of patience. It would seem to be a no-brainer that when you buy a phone and it does not work that you would get a new phone. Not so. Buyer beware. Inventories are low. Here is a refurbished replacement. Excuse me. I bought a new phone and now have to settle for a slightly used, refurbished one? So guess what? Father can fix this. Well, after numerous phone calls I am becoming quite frustrated myself. My mediation skills have left me. Anger and frustration have set in. What now?

Take a deep breath. Think about the quote you saw last week. Remind me. Okay, here it is. “We should always assume that each person is doing the best they can do at the moment. Regardless how stupidly, inadequately, ineptly, stubbornly, and defensively the other person is behaving. They may be lacking skill or defending themselves.” All right. I need to refocus. Change my tactics. Move from judgment to curiosity. I need to remember that the best communicators listen more than they talk. I will change my approach. Hopefully I can get something done about this because I need to move on and deal with another crisis. Again, something that seems so simple to me. This situation involves a lawyer. Hmmmm. This could be fun. I will end this with the same prayer I finished off with last week.“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and Wisdom to know the difference.” Make it a good one.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Know Thyself ?????

I have had the opportunity to present to a couple of groups lately on the topic of conflict management. Part of the presentation focused on how we, as individuals, need to be mindful, first and foremost, of how we manage conflict. It is always so easy to blame deteriorating conversations on the other person. Each time I prepare and present I am reminded, again and again, on how I fall short in my abilities to manage conflict in my own life. I would like to think that by the time you reach the half century point in your life that there might be less and less need to manage conflict. But, unfortunately, that is not the case. I suppose conflict will be part of any relationship we have, so how we manage conflict becomes so much more important.

Met a close friend this week and was, again, amazed at the kind and gentle spirit he has. Made me envious. In spite of being bombarded by topics of religion, politics and taxes his emotions stayed on an even keel. Me, on the other hand, jumped in with both feet. To what end? Nothing was gained and nothing was won.

When I am approached by others my defenses always seem to be at the forefront. When I try to communicate effectively I have a tough time trying to express my feelings in such a way that others are not hurt by my words. When I disagree with someone I have a difficult time with the tone in my voice.I become agitated. And as most people that know me can attest to, I can become quite animated and vocal when I communicate, particularly when the topic is religion, politics or taxes. An interesting fact. Communication consists of 7% verbal, 35% tone and 58% body language. Trust me. I am very transparent in my communication. Sometimes to a fault.

What is it in us that wants to win at all costs, go for the throat, land the last blow. I know that for me I need to constantly be retooling my conflict management style. If only it came a little easier. If only I could present in such away that other people would engage and not become defensive. Effective communication is key to maintaining and building relationships. I need to be more mindful of the saying “effective communicators listen more than they talk”. And most of all I need to be more mindful of the serenity prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and Wisdom to know the difference.” Make it a good one.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What a Relief????

I heard an interesting talk show on radio this week. The host was talking about tests that had been done on people to establish the participants’ level of fear. The test involved electrical shocks. (glad I was not involved with that one) One group new what to expect while the other group new something painful would happen, during the test, but were not sure of when it would happen. Overwhelmingly the participants who were unsure of when the pain would hit were more nervous and apprehensive than the other group.

Reminds me of a neighbor who, one late, but warm, autumn day was doing some yard work. I suggested to him that it was a good thing that it was not -40. His response was interesting. He said he kind of wished it was because then he would not dread it any more.

A friend dropped into my office this week. She was happy, she was relieved and in a better mood then I had seen for awhile. Seems that for some time she had been concerned that she might have Attention Deficit Disorder. This was based on a certain amount of self diagnosis but worrisome none the less. Through a referral from her doctor she was able to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist confirmed what she had been thinking. But, he also told her that it was not something to be overly concerned with and suggested to her that she should continue with the coping skills she already used and gave her a few other tips. Bottom line. When she had confirmation of what she had been concerned about she felt a lot of relief.

Reminds me of when I would not open mail because I was afraid of what I might find. Of particular concern were the monthly onslaught of bills. And yet, when I did finally open them I felt relief because I knew for sure what the bad news was. Sounds bizarre.

There is a lesson here. Often times we try to hide from the realities of life. It may be a health concern, a financial concern, worried about the future, or others. We work ourselves into a real dither. The lesson is simple. There is help. There is hope. There are resources available for most any problem you might think you have. The key is to avail yourself of those resources. And remember. You are not alone. Make it a good one.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ouch, that hurt. . . .

I have always been known to be somewhat accident prone. As a matter of fact my drivers license was once put on probation because I was accident prone. Still don’t think they were being fair. If people would get out of my way I wouldn’t hit them. Quite simple really. There I go again. Ranting. I suppose there is always something to rant about.

Let me get back to the subject at hand. When I was working on the farm I had a myriad of accidents. Many, if not most, were minor. But they still hurt. During the days of intense stress there was a significant increase in these mishaps. My mind would be churning with all the different stressors in life. Hogs would not have grown as much as I expected, or had hoped for. Finances were tight. Creditors were phoning. Kids were having issues at school. I was having breakdowns. Always had a difficult time with breakdowns because I felt so helpless and unsure of my “fix it” abilities. Lots of stress. And the more stress I had the more I bumped into things. Not concentrating on the job at hand. Made for lots of pain and, quite frankly, really messed with my ability to get things done.

The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association is having a conference to deal with safety in agriculture. I am preparing a presentation that delves into the whole issue of the link between stress and safety. I have been surprised at the lack of research and information available, dealing with this topic. An American study shows that 80% of workplace accidents are as a result of unsafe behaviors. I think it is safe to say that the same would apply to agriculture. In my experience, unsafe behaviors were a direct result of to much stress. With what I have learned over the last year, in regards to stress, I think I am very fortunate not to have operated large equipment. Would seem to me that my “ouches” would have been a lot worse.

So, what is the point you ask? Take the time to recognize when stress is having a negative impact on your life. Find ways to de-stress. Although it is obvious that stress will always be part of life there are ways of eliminating some stress and finding new ways to deal with stress that sticks around. It is well worth your while to find ways dealing with stress. Try it. It may well save your life. Make it a good one.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Farmer’s Share

Okay, I am back on a subject that has been a sore point with me ever since I became involved in agricultural “politics”. I had a reminder of this as I was enjoying my morning coffee on Monday. As per usual, although a tad later than normal, after all it was Thanksgiving, I watched news on CTV. Story that caught my interest mentioned increased meat prices to consumers for next year. Why? Because there has been a significant decrease in livestock inventories. Although the newscaster did not mention the reason for the decrease I knew what the reason was. Livestock producers have been losing gobs of money for years. Simple economics dictates that inventories will drop. The business reporter went on to say, rather shyly that “we kinda need farmers”. No $%@#%*% kidding we “kinda” need farmers. Do they need a reminder, AGAIN, that “farming feeds us all”?

Then again, as per usual, I switched to some American news. Guess what. Same story. Meat prices expected to rise. Of course, the second part to the story was the fact that there have also been significant increases in feed prices. Corn futures higher than they have been in over two years. So, what does this mean for farmers? Good question. Noticed hog prices dropped significantly over the last two weeks. Wait a minute. I thought there was a decrease in livestock inventories. Simple economics dictates that a decrease in animal numbers should mean an increase in prices. Apparently not.

So, really, the reason for my rant is wondering how much of the increase in meat prices will actually make it back to the farm gate. I recall seeing graphs showing a gradual decrease in the farmer’s share of the consumer dollar. Retailers have all kinds of justifications for the share they take. Where does that leave farmers? Keystone Agricultural Producers did a survey, earlier this year, showing that the farmer’s share of the consumer dollar had actually increased marginally. If memory serves me right it was somewhere around 1%. Me thinks that is not enough to keep farmers farming. So, decrease in inventory, increase in feed prices and higher meat prices. Again, any increase in price to farmers will be needed to cover higher input costs. Sound familiar?

Sorry for the rant. I think I feel better. Make it a good one.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Common Cold

What an absolutely beautiful week we have had, weather wise. Just about when we thought summer had come and gone, just about when we had started thinking it might never stop raining and just about when grain farmers had given up on getting the crop off, we get a week of abnormally warm weather. Hopefully this weather will see the grain harvest begin wrapping up. And to think, the forecast for next week is predicting more of the same. Perhaps we can all find something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend. Might actually consider dusting off the old clubs again. Although two weeks ago, when I last golfed, I swore high and low that was it for this year.

Although weather wise it’s been a good week, I am battling the mother of all colds. I have hacked, sneezed, coughed and sniffled my way through the week. The kind of cold where muscles ached. Just walking felt like a chore. In fact, because of my fever, I felt like I could feel every molecule in the air when I walked. And just about when I thought things were getting better I was told that the cold going around this year is one that comes back. Great. Is it my age or why does it seem that fighting a cold is becoming more difficult? Not only that, we can send people into space, we have technology that allows us to communicate instantaneously with anyone, at anytime, anywhere in the world, but we cannot find a cure for the common cold? Something is wrong with that picture.

Enough of that whining. A woman in my eye doctor’s office suggested that I was a man and I had a cold so everyone should treat me well. I detected some sarcasm in that comment. When I told my wife about it she agreed with that woman. I am reminded of the commercial where the guy is lying in bed suffering from a cold. His wife walks by the door and in a stuffed up, nasally, whining voice asks her to call his mother. Go figure. Why is it that mothers would be sympathetic?

So, okay, I will suffer in silence, get over this cold and carry on. Just wait till they catch this cold. Let’s see how they feel. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

P.S. Bring on the turkey. If memory serves me right there is a saying that goes “feed a cold and starve a fever”. Or wait. Is it the other way around. Who cares? I’ll just eat. And, perhaps, a game of golf might help too. Make it a good one.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Better Half, REALLY

Remember the quote from last week about relationships? Let me remind you. Relationships provide us with identity, purpose and direction. In essence, relationships and therefore community is a life giving, life defining, life nurturing process. Just this morning, watching news, while enjoying my first cup of coffee for the day, heard about research that was done showing that having solid relationships can increase your life by 50%. Quite astounding actually.

I was reminded again, this week, of the important role women have in a man’s life. If you recall, I mentioned in my last blog that women often hold down three jobs. If you forgot let me remind you. First and foremost many women are mothers and the energy and wisdom it takes to raise kids is incredible. Secondly, many hold down an off farm job. And then, after all is said and done, they cook and clean and do laundry. After that they head out and help their partners with farm work. Wait a minute. That is four jobs and I have probably missed some. Each year, during harvest, I see my neighbor’s wife bring supper to the field. Always, and I mean always, it’s a full course supper. Good for him. Good for them. I recall when my mother would bring meals to the field. Those meals usually consisted of soggy tomato sandwiches. Scarred me for life. Just in the last few years I have been able to again appreciate tomato sandwiches.

Read an interesting article today about research that was done in western Canada dealing with women on the farm. The researcher suggested that early in her research she had come to the realization that women were holding the farms together. Far too often I found myself getting immersed in farm work and did not appreciate enough the work that my wife was doing in “keeping the family together”. Far too often it was taken for granted. I am very thankful when I now observe my kids and see how they have grown and developed into responsible adults that someone was there for them when I was to busy doing what I was doing. Not going to get into what I was doing because that would be enough material for a book.

So guys, I know you are all busy now but when things slow down for you this fall and early winter take the time to show your appreciation to your better half. Work on those relationships. Remember, it could increase your life expectancy. Make it a good one.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Relationships R Us

When I take a look around I am reminded, on a daily basis, of the amount of work farm women do. Read an article this week that suggested that farm women generally have three jobs. They are the primary care givers to their kids. Many have off farm jobs to help pay the bills. And at this time of year many hurry home from their day jobs, throw together a six course supper, do some laundry, help kids with their homework and rush out to the field to help bring in this years crop. Wow. I get tired just thinking of the amount of work they can accomplish.

That is just one of many relationships that we have. Relationships can prove to be difficult at times and, quite honestly, a lot of work. In spite of anything and everything else happening in our lives relationships must be maintained and enhanced otherwise they fall by the wayside.

During this busy time of year for farmers, the struggle and stress of getting the crop off, getting ready for winter and worrying about bills that will not be paid, wreaks havoc with relationships. The challenge is how to find that balance that keeps things intact till life slows down just a bit. Communication is helpful. In fact, read an article by one psychologist who suggested that even complaining helps. Accomplishes a couple of things. Number one gets it out of your system and secondly when you complain to someone else they generally normalize and validate your complaints, making you feel better about your situation.

As many of you assess and reassess your life take the time to build on relationships. My wife and I had the opportunity to have our kids, along with their significant others, home for the weekend. Spent some time cycling and hiking. Cheap entertainment but good for relationship building. Aside from the fact that my butt is still sore (not used to a bicycle seat) and my muscles still ache (seems to go on forever) the weekend turned out good. What a great way to renew and refresh relationships. I refer back to something I have said before. Relationships provide us with identity, purpose and direction. In essence, relationships and therefore community is a life giving, life defining, life nurturing process. Make it a good one.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Knowing My Limitations

What are a person’s limitations? Probably something that is tough to answer. How do I know what my limitations are without testing the limits? And most important, how do I test my limits?

I am talking about living within our mental capacity to handle stress. Seems that I have been on the line between living within my limitations and going overboard for some time now. So I have to step back and rethink “me”. Sounds weird. The question that I often have, when I assess or reassess, is how my capacity has changed over time. Having gone through significant challenges with stress and depression seems to have left me more vulnerable to stress and depression. So my limitations have changed.

Farmers this year, again, are experiencing circumstances that have the ability to destroy any sort of expectations that they might have had. This has the potential to greatly diminish one’s ability to handle stress in the future which can push one over the edge into depression. Each “event” reduces the capacity to handle stress.

How often have we seen people around us who appear to be “off” of what we normally expect from those people? I have even heard people say that if so and so would get off their butt they would be more successful. As a community and neighbor we need to be mindful of what others are experiencing. Perhaps they are overwhelmed and have lost the ability or capacity to carry on as per usual. Make it a point to talk to your neighbors. It will benefit both them and you. I know, I have been there. Make it a good one.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rain, Rain Go AWAY. . . . . .

This was part of a headline in a paper I was reading this week. How true it is. This growing season opened with so much promise. I remember golf courses opening in March. Areas of the province that had experienced excessive moisture were poised to see a better year. Producers were relaxed as they began the arduous task of putting in their crop. Then the rains began. And once they began they couldn’t seem to stop. Some crops were never put in. Some crops never survived. Some crops survived only to be out in the fields now, waiting to be harvested. Who knows how they will turn out. Cattle producers in many areas have been left without sufficient feed supplies for the winter.

I know I am retelling a story that has become old for so many. And yet I am concerned as I talk to many producers through out the province who, again, have to rethink their farming businesses. Many of you are spending countless hours on machinery as you try your utmost to harvest the crop. As you sit on your tractors you have far too much time to think. And think we do. Far too often the theme of our thoughts is “what could have been”. Many times those thoughts are on the future. As resilient farmers we often say “well, there is always next year”. However, each year that becomes less and less of a sure thing.

Someone said to me today that he was getting tired “thinking about his thinking”. It becomes tiring. The challenge is to focus our thoughts on positives. Remember the blog where I mentioned living one day at a time? The idea is to think positive and avoid those negative thoughts that so easily take over. Mindfulness is a great tool to adjust our thinking. Taking the time each day to sit back and breath will payoff in dividends.

The other challenge is safety. As the days get shorter and as we hurry more and as stress mounts we lose focus of what is happening around us. When we are overwhelmed with stress our expectations become unrealistic. We lose our way. We are an accident waiting to happen. As we wait for the rain to pass and the sun to return, it’s important to remember the saying “there’s a lot to do, so we’d better go slow”.

Make it good one. Make a safe one.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Take Your Jack and . . . . . . . .

I alluded to the fact, last week, that I seemed to be in a negative mind set. I was reminded of darker days when my zest for life just wasn’t there. I didn’t like that feeling. Through the day my attitude would become better but in the mornings I just did not have the motivation to do anything. What happens to me at times like that is that I become resentful. I make mountains out of mole hills. I assume, jump to conclusions, and always make the worst out of a situation, even before it happens.

I am reminded of the story of a gentleman who was driving down a country road late at night. It so happens that he has a flat tire. He rummages through the trunk of the car and realizes that he has no jack. Being out in the middle of no where he was overcome with anxiety. As he ponders his situation he notices a light in the distance. He begins to walk. As he is walking he commiserates about the missing jack. He becomes more and more agitated wondering who is to blame. As he walks he also begins to imagine what type of reception he will get when he gets to the yard he is headed towards. As he nears the farmyard the lights in the downstairs of the house go off. He knows it is late so the people are obviously off to bed. He begins to imagine what will happen when he knocks at the door and how upset the people will be to be disturbed. He can also picture the angst of these people when a stranger asks to borrow a jack. As he walks up the lane the lights in the upstairs go off as well. Now he knows he is in real trouble. The people have gone to sleep. Now, not only is he interrupting their life, asking to borrow a jack, he is also going to be waking them. He knows that when they answer the door they will be very upset. And to think, it wasn’t even his fault that the jack is missing. He has worked himself into a real state by all the assumptions he has made. He knocks on the door. A person opens an upstairs window and lets the man know he will be right down. The man in turn shouts up; “don’t bother, you can take your @#$%& jack and stick it up your &*^%$#”.

Wow. Sounds just the way I react when I get into one of my negative mind sets. I have found that I must really focus on positive thinking. I know there is always some positive event that has happened or will happen. When all of that didn’t work for me this week, I listened to some music. Helped me in finding some balance again. What ever works. Make it a good one.

P.S. Mental note. Make sure the jack is in my trunk.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Forgetterer is Getting Better

I seem to have been in a bad head space for the last week and it has resulted in some real harebrained results. Left Wednesday morning to spend some time in Winnipeg, doing business and, yes, you guessed it, play some golf. When I got to my kids’ house Wednesday evening I realized my laptop was not in my brief case. Panic hit. My first inclination was that it had been stolen. Then I realized I just might have left it home, although the power chord and the mouse were in my briefcase. I phoned home and sure enough, my wife said it was sitting on my desk, ready to go. Anxiety hit. I needed it. How could I spend the next days with out the laptop. Long story short, that is why this blog is being posted a few days late. As it turns out, life does go on without a computer. In fact sometimes I think of how good our parents had it without cell phones, laptops, tvs and other forms of technology. The world must have been so much smaller in those days. Perhaps if we could shrink our world our worries could be so much less. When I see what goes on outside my little world I can’t help but feel depressed. The flip side is that a lot of the stuff happening in the World, to other people, brings back some perspective to my own world.

Had lunch with a friend this week who shared some of his own struggles with addictions. Had my world not expanded I would never have had the opportunity to meet this gentleman. Although my heart ached when he shared some of his journey, I was also able to take home some lessons for myself as I try to make sense of the world I live in. Changes one’s perspective when you take the time to listen to others, while at the same time working on your own issues. My hope is that in some way I was able to be an encouragement to him as he was to me.

Played golf with some government muckety mucks (I say that with all due respect) this week. It was interesting to hear their perspective on agriculture. They expressed frustration at their inability to address many of the issues that need addressing. One in particular expressed frustrations at agriculture being one crisis after another. He would so much like to be able to implement policies that would see agriculture succeed in the long term. I thought, wait a minute. These are the same frustrations that many farmers have as well. Perhaps, just perhaps the goals of farmers and government are the same. But, I suppose, as long as we can barely keep up with crisis management, other long term goals seem to get lost.

Perhaps that is the same issues I have in my life. Crisis management. Never being able to address long term goals, in fact, sometimes wondering what my long term goals actually are. It seems that my emotional compass has become demagnetized. My emotional gas tank is empty. I need to retool. I need to refocus. Spending time with others helps in regaining a solid footing. As I have mentioned before, relationships give us identity, direction and purpose. Call someone you know who is struggling and take the time to listen to their story. I know it will help you as you continue your own journey. Make it a good one.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Will I Never Learn?

So I messed up. It was my wife’s birthday this week and, again, I came up way short. Not that she complained but others around me made sure they pointed out the errors of my ways. I would think that at my age I would have learnt. Not so. (Speaking of age, she is actually older than me now. Happens 4 months of the year and I make sure she never forgets.) So how do we treat the relationships we have. Take them for granted? Abuse them? Take advantage of them? Perhaps all of the above.

It has been said that “relationships provide us with identity, purpose and direction. In essence, relationships and therefore community is a life giving, life defining, life nurturing process”. In other words, relationships keep order in our lives. They keep us centered. So what is the best way to cultivate old and new relationships?

Communication is huge. Naturally, when you do not communicate the person or people, you are in a relationship with, have no idea what is going on. I am reminded of the couple who were not on speaking terms. When he went to bed at night he realized he would need to get his wife to wake him as he had an early flight to catch. So he put a note by her side of the bed asking her to wake him. When he woke up in the morning he realized that he had slept in and missed his flight. He was about to fly off the handle when he saw a note on his side of the bed which simply said, “it’s time to get up”. Not very effective.

Communication is a two way street. When people we love do not have honest and forth right communication with us we feel hurt and rejected. Always second guessing and never being sure of what really is going on in their lives. When that happens relationships suffer.

Other times it takes an effort to understand what the other person is saying. We all view the world in a unique way and often when we see what people close to us are doing or saying, we fail to understand. We jump to conclusions and assume the worst. (do I need to remind you what happens when we assume?) We need to be curious, open minded and prepared to explore, when people close to us talk or act in ways that we don’t understand. It may sound difficult. You will be surprised at the warm feeling you get when you are able to share what you are thinking. The feeling you get when both of you seek to understand.

Getting back to my wife’s birthday. I am trying to redeem myself. Have invited some neighbors for a bbq on Saturday. Note to self. Have to pick up a cake. Now I wonder, will my wife cook the meal? Make it a good one.

Friday, August 13, 2010

One Person's Journey

Anxiety is an interesting emotion that all of us will experience, some more than others. Anxious thoughts usually end in some sort of disaster. Someone walked into my office yesterday, (first walk in I had in my new digs) and accused me of backing into her car. I suppose being the owner of a maroon car has its liabilities. Needless to say I felt violated by being accused of something I had not done. One thought led to another and in no time I had visions of the police showing up at the door. One scenario even had me being led out of the office in hand cuffs. Sounds funny to some of you but that is a simple example of the way anxiety can grab hold of and control a person, if not reigned in.

The following words were written by someone very close to me. It was painful to watch this person battle the onslaught of anxiety. It caused anxiety in me to watch and yet I knew that words alone could not help this individual. It required a combination of medication, close friends and a pile of self therapy. It encourages me on my journey to watch and learn from others.

“A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with an anxiety problem. I have been fighting for my personal autonomy ever since. These are my thoughts:
Never has taking baby steps felt so much like taking giant leaps.
After trudging for days I can still see my starting footprints lying right behind me.
Yet every mile I push, that’s another two inches of bullshit I can leave behind forever.
Sure life can keep throwing left hooks at me,
but every time life knocks me down, that means I can get back up.
There aint no better feeling than that.
Bring it on life, I will not let my scars remain wounds!”

Similar to the words above someone once said that “scars remind us of where we have been but do not have to dictate where we are going”. If you are someone that is suffering from stress, anxiety or are debilitated by depression I would challenge you to take that first step to a brighter future. Lean on your supports, whoever they may be. Talking about it does help and if you are lacking a confidant in your life call the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line or the Manitoba Crisis Line. There are always counselors on hand that can help you on the road to recovery. Make it a good one.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How Much is Enough????

Some good friends, a couple, came by for a visit last week. What a wonderful time we had visiting and catching up. We spent some time in reminiscing about the good old days. Exploring, hiking, swimming, even getting into trouble. Getting into trouble was the easy part. Seems that being a preacher’s kid, expectations were always higher, leaving me some what vulnerable to punishment, some of which I am sure would be considered illegal in today’s society. In fact, I was always guilty until proven innocent. Feeling sorry for me yet?

Back to the subject at hand. My friend has had his own challenges with stress and depression over the years. What impresses me is that he is able to recognize the triggers that have the potential to push him into that dark abyss. I asked him what he felt caused his depression. He answered with words that have stuck with me. “I get depressed when I feel obligated to give when I have nothing left to give.” When I replayed that conversation later, I thought how true that is in my own world. I am sure many of you will be able to relate as well.

We live in a society that is fast paced and ever changing. We hear more and more about “burn out”. We give till we have nothing left to give. Our emotional gas tanks are empty. And yet the demands on us keep coming. How can we cope? How do we avoid slipping into that dark abyss? How do we get out from the dark cloud hanging over us? How do we find balance in a topsy turvy world? Let me give you some ideas.

Klinic Community Health has some good ideas on a website at . They refer to music, nature, humor and others, as tools to help one deal with the anxieties of life. Take the time to play, to laugh, and most of all to talk. Something as simple as chatting with the person filling you gas tank (yeah, yeah I know, most stations are self serve) or the person bagging your groceries, will help in lifting your spirits. Chatting with a professional can help you get on the path to recovery. I am again reminded of the wall hanging in my office which says: “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon but that we wait so long to begin it”. Taking it step by step, we can move towards a life with brighter mornings, days filled with music and laughter, and sunsets that will confirm inner peace and the promise of another good day. Make it a good one.

Friday, July 30, 2010

At What Cost

In January of this year I attended the annual general meeting of the Keystone Agricultural Producers. One of the speakers featured the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Just over 20 years ago I heard the same speaker speak at a hog producer meeting at the same hotel. I could not help but think back to 1987 and compare topics of concern then compared to 2010. In 1987 the main topics for hog producers centered on Tripartite Stabilization and countervail duties, an American trade action. The hog price at the time hovered around $135 per hog. At the KAP meeting discussion was around Agristability and COOL. Same issues, different names. The hog price at the time was $135 per hog. In the spring of 1987 barley was around $140 per tonne, very similar to 2010. I have never been one to do price comparisons in a grocery store. But when I reflect on the price of raw product being the same now, as it was in 1987, I am curious what the difference would be in the cost of meat at your local grocer. I suspect those prices are very different. It hit me that as much as things change they stay the same.

Input costs, whether for producing livestock or grain, have steadily increased over the years. The only costs lower today, than in 1987, are borrowing costs or interest rates. So as farmers we continue to adapt and change in an effort to produce our commodity in such a way as to eek out a living. As farmers we are proud to be the producers of a low cost food basket. As farmers we remain resilient and keep plugging along. Far too often we are on a treadmill, running but not getting anywhere.

Someone suggested to me, earlier this year, that farming is a good way of life but a poor way to make a living. As farmers we produce the food to feed a small city but find it difficult to feed ourselves. Eventually one has to sit back and wonder at what cost this life style comes. Are we jeopardizing relationships, how is our health, both physically and mentally, what will we retire on. These and many more questions haunt us during the day and keep us awake at nights. Perhaps you need to make changes to become more viable. Perhaps it is time to move on. Perhaps there is something better out there. Perhaps there is life after farming. Think about it. And remember there is hope.

Take the time to evaluate your life. Do an inventory. Often times when I deal with farmers facing uncertain futures we talk about this. Who are we really working for? Who are we really benefiting? Is it worth it? And when we think we are being successful, what is the cost? Make it a good one.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Love Golf

I love golf. Okay, let me rephrase that. Most days I like golf. Today was not a good golf day. My putter has gone wonky. Mind you, someone told me not to blame it on the club. All right then, what do I need? A therapist or golf lessons? Perhaps both. Forgive me while I vent. Seems since I was young I have enjoyed a game that many people cannot relate to. During the World Cup (soccer) I suggested to someone that soccer was a boring, mundane sport. They, in turn, suggested as a golfer I had no right to call soccer boring. Oh well. I recall back in an earlier life a bureaucrat say, at the end of a phone call, that he was going to a driving range that night and he was going to pretend my face was on every ball. Made me realize that the conversation had probably become “passionate”. Becoming passionate about certain issues is me. When I get hold of something I firmly believe in I cannot let go and, yes, my passion can get me in trouble.

Passion is something we as farmers experience on a daily basis. We are passionate about the jobs we do. We are connected to the soil. We care about the animals we raise. But it is easy to lose that passion when year in and year out we struggle to make ends meet. I recall going to the barn thinking, there is enough production here to feed a small city and yet I was having a tough time feeding myself. Some passion is good and helps us survive while other times passion can get us in a lot of trouble. At times we need to self examine our emotions to ensure that are passions are channeled in the right direction.

Getting back to golf. In a presentation I did some time ago I compared farming to golf. Hear me out here. Golf is not a game of great shots. It is a game of the most accurate misses. The people who win make the smallest mistakes. We hope for something great. Is that not like farming? We also hope for a bumper crop and good prices. Or for good livestock prices and cheap feed prices. Wait a minute. How can we have good grain prices and cheap feed prices at the same time? So to survive we have to ensure that when we “miss” we don’t miss by too much. Ensure that our mistakes are as minimal as possible. And just like golf, farming is a “compromise between what your ego wants you to do, what experience tells you to do and what your nerves let you do”. Adds a different perspective, doesn’t it?

P.S. A golfing friend gave me a tip on how to putt better. Tried it, practiced it and improved my score. That often happens with life experiences as well. Talk to someone, listen to others and who knows, you might just get some help in improving life. It’s worth a try. Make it a good one.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Modern Technology and You

The request was simple and straight forward. I had left for a few days and had inadvertently taken some cheques with me that needed to be deposited. My wife suggested I simply deposit them in an ATM. No problem you say but I care to differ. Always having shied away from the use of modern technology, I was not convinced that I could carry out the task. For twenty years I have used a debit card to make purchases and to withdraw cash. Never ever have I used a machine to deposit money.

I called my son and said I would be by to pick him up so he could help me with this major task. Needless to say he laughed at me. However, he humored me, and came along for the ride. As payback for mocking me I made him give me a haircut. Probably not the smartest move on my part, but then again it’s tough to sabotage a haircut as I am follicley challenged. However, I digress. Turns out depositing money using an ATM is rather quick, efficient and, best of all, easy for a technologically impaired guy like me.

How often as farmers do we go through the same fear and frustrations? Each year we are bombarded by offers of new technology. I once chatted with a farmer who traded in his combine every 2 years because he was convinced that the new technology paid for itself by harvesting a better crop. Hmmmm. Not sure of that logic. But sometimes new technology does pay. The key is for all of us to try and decide what will pay and what will not. It used to be said that “anyone could farm, that all that was necessary was a weak mind and a strong back, but nowadays to be a successful farmer a person must have a good head and a wide education in order to handle all the advice ladled out by city folk, government people and others and to select for use that which will do them the least damage.” A lot of truth in that one.

Years ago we could quietly go about our business. Do what we thought was best. Purchase only if we could afford it. Today, with modern technology, particularly as it concerns communication, we are aware of all that is available. We are more aware of what our neighbors have. We see more proof of how something new could work so well. We are constantly being driven to upgrade. The decisions are endless. The ramifications could affect us for a lifetime.

As economic challenges come our way we are left to make decisions that are difficult at best. Always second guessing, always wondering. It is downright stressful. Often it helps talking these decisions through with someone. At times I found myself talking about it and when the person I was talking to would respond I would tell them I didn’t need their advice, just needed to think out loud. Sometimes I even talked it through with myself. Just hoped nobody would notice that because it invariably turned into an argument. Whatever works. Make it a good one.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

I read some time ago that a person should never use these words (not even with a proper English spelling). The author went on to say that these words or terms are very negative and do nothing to help a person move forward. I thought about it for awhile and realized how true that is. Whether at work or at play, dealing with kids or partners, or self examining any decisions we have made we so often end up saying “would have” or “could have” or “should have”.

Let me refer to my favorite sport of golf. After each and every round, yes, that’s what it’s called, I sit back and examine every shot I made that day. Eventually my line of thinking goes to “I should have used a different club on that hole”, I would have sunk that putt if I had just hit it harder”, “I could have beat my opponent if only . . .”. You know, if I had accomplished all of that I could have been a professional golfer. Oops. I did it again.

As a recovering farmer I often look back and wonder “what if”. Things might have been different. But, you know, we can not turn back the clock. There were positives. Being a farmer provided me with many opportunities. I met many different people. We were able to raise our kids on the farm. There was certain flexibility in being my own boss. In spite of being a tough way to make a living it was a good way of life.

There is a saying that goes “scars remind us of where we have been but do not have to dictate where we are going”. It takes time, it takes courage and it takes initiative but we can all do it. Try for one day to be positive, thinking about the future and how you can begin to control your own destiny. I have a picture hanging on my office wall that says “the tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon but that we wait so long to begin it”. How true. Make it a good one.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Recovering Farmer

Hi, may name is Gerry and I am a recovering hog producer. This is an introduction usually reserved for one’s involvement in a support group. (You know the one that has the 12 steps) And perhaps a group like that could benefit us all. Those 12 steps can be beneficial in many areas of life. Particularly if you are “recovering” from something. I call myself a recovering farmer. I have sometimes referred to myself as a recovering Mennonite. Truth be told, I have found myself trying to recover from many things in life. Some I don’t even want to admit to.

But before we go there, let’s take a look at what is needed to recover from what has been a long and protracted downturn in the livestock industry. In Poker terms many, if not all of you, have gone “all in”. In doing this we have put everything on the line including but not limited to finances, relationships, family, friends and community. Now it is time to take a sober second look at what is left and how to proactively deal with that. This will include conversations with creditors, secured and unsecured, discussions with partners and family members. Farm debt mediation can have significant benefits as you examine your financial status and decide your future, whether that is exiting the industry or restructuring your operation. Additionally this may mean for each one of you to have a look in the mirror and address the person looking back at you. Anxiety and depression may well have become part of your life and, if left untouched, may become a major problem.

I wrote these words at a time when cattle producers were still suffering the consequences of the BSE debacle and hog producers had been faced with excruciating losses for over 3 years. As I write these words grain farmers are seeing devastating rains that are leaving fields flooded, crops drowning and, in some cases, not being able to put in their crops. They too, are now facing losses from which some will not be able to recover while others use up further equity.

Very often, in times like these, people are left feeling paralyzed, not knowing what their next step should be. As mentioned earlier, they have given their all. Finances are depleted, relationships are strained and the future looks bleak. Options appear few and far between. In times like these it is important for you to deal with the problems up front rather than to let them build and escalate. There are resources available. Whether you need assistance in dealing with creditors. Perhaps a counselor. Maybe just a chat with a neighbor or friend. Talking to a confidant can help in releasing many of your unwanted feelings. Phoning the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line can put you in touch with a counselor and can be your first step in finding options to address the issues you may be facing. There is hope. There is relief. Make it a good one.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Here it was, time for my annual, or perhaps bi-annual, visit to the doctor. You see, I got my class 1 drivers back many years ago and, truth be known, have not driven a semi for close to 30 years. I seem to keep my class 1 license simply because it forces me to get a complete physical at least once every 5 years. On my way to the doctor’s office I was commiserating about a conversation I had that morning with my wife. Seems both of us are experiencing certain stressors and, of course, with my history of depression I was thinking about how we could better cope with our stress so as to avoid some of those dark days I experienced a few years ago. Enroute I also saw some of the crop damage from huge amounts of rain on the weekend. I knew this excessive rainfall was experienced over much of Manitoba and realized that there would be numerous farmers also wondering what their future held for them.

As I was sitting and letting the lab tech withdraw blood, talk about stress, I noticed an interesting article hanging on the wall. It challenged the reader to live one day at a time. Easier said than done, right? I read the entire article and asked the lab tech to copy it for me. It made some interesting points that I could not argue with. It suggests that there are 2 days every week that we should not worry about. One of those being yesterday and the other is tomorrow. Pretty much covers everyday except today. It went on to say that what had happened yesterday could not be undone and we could not erase a single thing that had been said. Reminds me of the times I write emails out of frustration and then an hour later wish I could pull them back. The article also stated tomorrow is outside of our control. We can only assume what may happen and based on my experience I always assume the worst rather than the best. The only sure thing about tomorrow is that the sun will rise and set. The article suggested that “it is not the experiences of today that drive people mad – it is the remorse or bitterness for something which happened yesterday and the dread of what tomorrow will bring”.

So that leaves today. As I ventured home from the doctor’s office, minus a few vials of blood, craving the coffee I did not have that morning, I actually felt my spirits rising as I realized that the only thing I needed to be concerned about was the rest of the day. I again found it refreshing how a simple change in thought process could lighten the mood. When I got home I showed my wife a copy of the article and saw a smile cross her face and knew, for at least another day, things would be okay.

The challenge becomes a matter of managing our thoughts. It becomes so easy to slip into those ruts of regrets. Those thoughts of “what if”. These negative toxic thoughts then lead to fears for tomorrow. And before we know it today is gone. Today is wasted. Be mindful. Keep your thoughts in the present. Today is what counts. Today is what matters. Make it a good one.