The Recovering Farmer

Friday, April 29, 2011

Work/Life Balance

Wow, what a week. Seems it has flown by rather quickly. That may be a good thing, depending of course, on what I have accomplished. I was somewhat overwhelmed at the beginning of the week when I realized what my workload was. Of particular concern was the preparation I needed to do for a workshop. The irony being that the workshop topic was work/life balance and I could feel my life slowly, but surely, spiralling out of balance. Perhaps the weekend did not help. A weekend I had looked forward to for some rest, relaxation and time with family seemed to be filled with sadness, conflict and a host of other emotions that did not allow for rejuvenation. Left me feeling empty, confused, off balance. Not a good start to the week.

Tuesday I had the privilege of being on Feedback, a call in show on CKLQ, speaking about the Farmer to Farmer project and more specifically about work/life balance. After having been on the show and having had some significant response by phone calls, I felt somewhat better. One of the people I work with asked me, somewhat tongue in cheek, whether I practised what I preached. The answer was simple. Not as a rule.
As I headed back to my office to prepare for the workshop I took note of the absolutely fantastic weather we were experiencing. And you know me, I have ranted often enough on how the winter seemed to go on forever. Golf came to mind. I imagined what it would be like to simply pack up and go swing my clubs. If only I did not have so much work. If only I had done more work last week. If only the weather had been nicer over the last month. If only the golf course would be open. Oh well, the thought was good. After lunch I decided to take a quick look at the Brandon Sun. Wanted to get an update on the flood. As luck would have it the first little blurb I read was that the Shilo golf course was open for business. Well, you can imagine.

It did not take long and I was headed out the door. I snuck away. I convinced myself that work could wait. Had some fleeting moments of guilt. Felt a little anxious. Thought, perhaps, I was being less than responsible. And, quite frankly, I was being irresponsible with work but taking some initiative about getting my life closer to an even keel. Sounds like I am still trying to justify my actions. Turned out to be a good time. Played golf with some total strangers. And for a fleeting moment I felt more in control.

Check out some simple tests to see whether you are achieving balance in your life. The Canadian Mental Health Association website( has a work/life balance quiz as well as a mental health meter. Might be interesting what you learn about yourself. Make sure you avail yourself of some good tips on bringing more balance to your life. You will benefit from it. Make it a good one.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Life After Farming

I had a stark reminder last week that I am merely a statistic as it pertains to agriculture and, more specifically, the hog industry. At the annual meeting of Manitoba Pork Council they provided an update of the number of hog producers in Manitoba. The province now has 377 producers, down from 848 in 2006. I was still a producer in 2006. So that means that I, along with 471 others, exited the industry over the last 5 years. Truly unbelievable. In the mid-nineties there were close to 3000 producers in the province. How things have changed. I had the opportunity to meet many of these producers, whether at meetings, delivering hogs to market or just simply on the street. Hog producers were everywhere. I wonder what many of them are doing today.

There was an interesting article in a recent issue of the Manitoba Cooperator in which the columnist looked back at his own life as a hog producer. What was particularly interesting was his reference to a “quiet barn”. I recall spending time in my barn after all the pigs were gone. Quiet is right. Haunting, in a way. There are many of these grim reminders on the Manitoba landscape. What was once a significant part of the family farm is no more. Things have changed. Even today there are many producers reassessing their lives as farmers. Whether dictated by age, financial issues, health reasons, or just simply tired of trying to make ends meet, farmers are moving on. And when you look at income numbers it’s really not surprising that farm families are leaving the farm.

Stats Canada has some interesting numbers on their website. From 2004 to 2008 Manitoba lost 2000 farmers. Although total income increased each year that increase was derived from off farm income. If you average the numbers the results show that average farm income for the years 2004 – 2008 was just under $5000. The rest of total farm income came from off farm work and program payments. That is reality. And in this case reality sucks.

So many farmers are wondering, more and more, about life after farming. Wondering what they could do to make a living. After all, farmers are a “jack of all trades”. There was a Free Press article some time ago that profiled a cattle producer who had finally said enough is enough. He sold the herd and went and worked in a mine in northern Manitoba. He shared, somewhat facetiously, that he had made more money in one day at the mine than he had in the last seven years of cattle farming. Sad but true.

So, difficult decisions have to be made. I have heard from many people that there is life after farming. Some have said they wish that they would have made that decision sooner. But when you have a passion to farm, when you are connected to the land, when farming has been your life, it is very difficult to see anything beyond that. Talk it through with someone. Keep an open mind as you seek out options. It works and it helps. There is life after farming. I know. Make it a good one.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Men are Like Waffles. . .

Ah hah. That got your attention. This is actually part of a book title. The full title is Men Are Like Waffles Women Are Like Spaghetti. A book written by Bill Farrel, exploring the intricacies of the human brain as it pertains to men and women. I have actually never read the book. The title says it all for me. My wife has read the book and we will sometimes joke (really not funny at all) about how the title perfectly explains the way she and I function. If you are not `getting` it just picture a waffle and a plate of spaghetti. A waffle is made up of many little squares. The point being that a man`s brain is like those squares. We are very compartmentalized. Whether by choice or by design, we prefer to think about one thing at a time. Do not want to complicate things. Why bother thinking ahead. We prefer the KISS (keep it simple stupid) way of operating. A woman`s brain, on the other hand, is designed like a pile of spaghetti. Completely incapable of focusing in on one thought only. They have this way of inter-linking thoughts, ideas, plans and conversation. Becomes complex. Tough for a guy to follow as he is only capable of thinking about one thing at a time. No wonder relations can become difficult.

I was part of a workshop this week entitled `Around the Kitchen Table`, dealing with communication and conflict management. Becomes quite interesting when you start analyzing different conflict management and communication styles. I brought up the waffle/spaghetti theory and enjoyed the ensuing discussion. Related to the group an experience that Rose and I had that very morning. I needed to drop my car off at the garage, have her pick me up, drop her off at work and then get to Brandon to facilitate the workshop. This journey started quite early in the morning, which I am confident, contributed to my thoughts. My wife began pointing out numerous things that I needed to be mindful of. The gas tank was only three eights full (as if I never check), the seat belt on the passenger side did not work so I would not be able to take any passengers with me(since when do I have passengers on a typical work day). I looked at her and as politely as I could, which was not easy considering the circumstances, suggested to her that my brain was only allowing me to think about driving from her workplace to my office and that was quite enough, thank you very much. Obviously I had picked my square on my waffle and that was good enough for me. She, on the other hand, had the spaghetti thing going full bore. Rationalizing everything that was and might be happening that day. Both for herself and for me. And then I wonder why she gets tired.

The day following the workshop I received an email from one of the participants that included a link to a YouTube video. The video features a comedian making similar points about the difference in the male and female brain, Check out . It should make you laugh. And, perhaps, help you understand, just a little better, one of the mysteries of life. Make it a good one.

The Masters. . . Postscript

For those of you who enjoy golf and, at a minimum, watch the occasional PGA tournament read on. For the rest of you (particularly RJF) I will post a second blog right after this one. But, in light of what happened at the Masters last Sunday, I feel compelled to make a few more comments. As you well know Rory Mcilroy led the tournament for three days. He was in the final pairing on Sunday. Looked somewhat shaky at the outset but it appeared that he might keep it together for a win. After all he did hold a four shot lead at twelve under par. He played the front nine one over. Still had the lead although it had shrunk and there were other players now nipping at his heels. Then tragedy struck. Rory triple bogeyed the tenth. He bogeyed the eleventh and double bogeyed the twelfth. In less time than it takes most of us to get a snack together during a commercial Rory had fallen right off the leader board. Keep in mind this is the Masters. The rewards of winning are huge. The fame, the glory, the green jacket, never mind the million dollar cheque and the endless endorsements that come with winning this particular major often define a golf career. But he buckled. He snapped. He folded. The pressure got to him.

Only those that golf can feel just a little of what he experienced that day. I cannot even begin to imagine the pressures he felt. I know the pressure I feel when I am in a competitive game. When I play for two bits a hole. Golf is all about mind over matter. It is truly amazing how something that comes natural, most times, can become totally unnatural when there is a little pressure on you. I can have all the confidence in my swing but put a dollar or two on the line and without warning the swing can become an exercise in futility. The mechanics break down. Doubt takes over and before you know it you see your ball disappear into a hazard. Like Lee Trevino once said, “You don’t know what pressure is until you have played for five dollars a hole with only two in your pocket”. (It goes without saying that I am again reminded of farming.)

Sometimes you just need to laugh. Kevin Na, another professional golfer, shot twelve over par yesterday. ON ONE HOLE. Seriously. If you want a chuckle go to Golf Channel’s website and watch the video. Often when I watch golf I find myself saying, “boy, I wish I could do that”. Guess what. Watching the video of Na trying to get out of the trees, as it were, finally gave me the opportunity to say, “hey, I can do that”. The problem is, that is something I would like to avoid. It’s like they say, “Just when you think you’ve got the game conquered, the game conquers you”. Make it a good one.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Masters

As all golf addicts know, it’s the Masters weekend. The first major of the year. The only major that is played on the same course every year. And a classic it is. Absolute beautiful course. A course that all golfers of all calibers would like to play. I suspect even some non-golfers would enjoy a walk around the lush, green vista of Augusta, Georgia. A time of year when flowers begin to bloom, the azaleas looking spectacular. An annual event that golfers, particularly in our part of the country, watch. We dream of playing in the big leagues. We anticipate our own games as we wait, with baited breath, for courses to open after a long, dreary winter. A long drawn out spring. Waiting for the feel of a warm sun. Dreaming of that elusive score. Always wanting to improve. Wanting to win. The million dollar pay check for a professional becomes secondary to the stomach churning, mind boggling desire to golf. So the only thing better for this weekend would be if I could golf. Obviously not going to happen so watching the Masters is the next best thing.

I suspect many farmers have similar feelings as they watch snow melt and anticipate what’s to come. Curious what the year will bring. A desire to improve. In many cases, wishing for improvement over the “last round”. Prices are good. Now if only the crop can be put in in a timely way. Hoping mother nature will cooperate. Dreaming of times when things were good. Hoping for that ultimate year when the stars line up. The year when production is better than ever. When prices peak. When all things work out so that dreams can be realized.

In all my whining, over the last month or so, about weather, about snow not melting fast enough, of temperatures not warming up, people have often reminded me of the flooding threat in many areas. Media is beginning to report of ice jams, of areas declaring state of emergencies. Many people are anxiously waiting to see how bad it will be. Many people worry of what will happen.

Talked to one Red River farmer who has already adjusted his plans for the year. Already knows that the crop will probably not go in till June. A time when deadlines loom. And, of course, that means there is a concern for early frost in the fall. Means a change of cropping plans. Means a change for the bottom line. Too much uncertainty.

So as much as things change, they stay the same. Here is hoping that things work out. Hoping that mother nature is kind. Hoping that all of us can “shoot” par. Hoping no one needs any mulligans. And if we don’t shoot par I hope for all of us to be able to try again. I know I will. Make it a good one.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Won’t Get Fooled Again

All week as I thought of the fact that Friday was April 1, or April Fool’s day, I had it in my mind that I was not going to fall for any tricks. Kept thinking of the song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Remember, the one by The Who? A song that became a hit back in the seventies. Love the song. Good beat. Good rhythm. Whether the lyrics make sense or not has never been an issue for me. Although when I read them now they do make some sense, particularly for the era they were written in. Ages me, doesn’t it. I have the song on a CD and often times when I need to de-stress I will listen to the song with the volume cranked. Actually the song helps whether I am really upset, euphoric or just content with life.

So at 5:30 this morning, as I was enjoying my first cup of coffee, I switched the TV on just in time to hear Jeff, on Canada AM, report on new technology that would allow people to send emails without the need of a keyboard or monitor. All you needed was a web cam. Even showed a video clip of how this would work. I marvelled at how technology was progressing. And then I heard him say that this report was being done in the context of today’s date. &%$$**%, I did get fooled again.
On the flip side, I played a trick on my colleagues at Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services. I could not wait for Friday so I did this on Wednesday. Two days early, but who is really counting. It was the day that I was facilitating a workshop on farm financial stress. I phoned my boss and told her that I was not feeling well. She asked whether I wanted to cancel the workshop to which I responded with the sound of vomiting. I hung up the phone, waited a few minutes and then walked through the office door with a cheerful good morning. One of them suggested that I needed a swift kick in the butt. Love it. Mission accomplished.

Speaking of being fooled again, what`s up with needing an election. One week in and I am already sick of the rhetoric I am seeing and hearing. It boggles my mind when I see the sheer disrespect that is being shown by politicians to each other and to the public. All I keep hearing is “contempt” and “coalition”. I always thought that contempt was part of a politician`s job description. And, correct me if I am wrong, but is the Conservative party not a coalition of the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party? There, now that I have explained that, can we please start talking about "real" issues? But, then again, as the song goes, `new boss same as the old boss`.

I would be remiss not to mention the weather. So I wrote about March coming in like a lion. I will concede that March left like a lamb but will argue it was somewhat of a grumpy lamb. I was always told that the creeks and rivers around our place flow by the 25th of March. Not so this year. The ground hog was wrong, the creeks are not flowing. I won`t get fooled again. Now I am waiting to see whether the next `myth` will hold true. Apparently it rains 100 days after a fog. Well, we had lots of fog. If this one disappoints me too, I don`t know what I can count on for future weather predictions.

There you have it. My two cents worth for April 1, 2011. The sun is shining. Temperatures are feeling reasonable (you know that last year, during this week, temperatures were in the upper teens, on the plus side). Need the snow to melt. Looking forward to getting out on the links (golf course). I will survive. And, I am sure, I will get fooled again. Make it a good one.