There’s No Place Like Home

Grandma and Grandpa

This was written at St Martin’s University in 1998.

Growing up in Iowa was more fun than it sounds.  Every summer, my mom and dad would load up us kids and trek us halfway across the state to my grandparents’ farm outside of Ames.  Admittedly, this doesn’t sound like that much fun either, but when you are a kid and you get to spend from the day after school gets out to the day before school starts again, it’s a blast.  Three months of sun, being outside with animals, spending time on rainy days making all sorts of little projects Grandma saw on TV, is a kid’s dream come true.

I spent every summer from when I was born until I started high school at my grandparents’ farm.  I guess I didn’t realize until I was older just how much I appreciated being there for long periods of time.  Not only did I get to spend time with relatives that I only saw every couple of months, but I was exposed to an entirely different atmosphere than at my parents’ house.  Mom and Dad lived in the city, but Mom had grown up on the farm.  At this point in my life, I realize that those moments spent next to my grandparents and great-grandparents are irreplaceable.

The images that I remember are of fields of corn in the summer…actually walking between the rows and pulling weeds and tassels; rows upon rows upon rows of soybeans…again, actually walking between the rows and spraying weeds for hours on end; rows of mown hay being bundled into bales…and more bales…and more bales.  Then there are the fun images – those of a calf first learning how to stand, all wobbly and scared.  A Brown Swiss cow standing in the midst of all the black and white Holsteins chewing her cud.  Getting up early in the morning to go feed the calves and to help Grandma with her chores (and Grandpa too…if you got up early enough).  Walking what seemed to be HUGE herd of cows down the road to the other form…and scared that they would run away and then what would happen?  I remember picking flowers, picking corn, picking beans (green beans, not soybeans), and my favorite — strawberries.

There are certain smells that always will take me back: the smell of a cow lot or pig lot (no one else seems to like that smell), the smell of fresh cut grass; the smell of my grandma’s house on anything she sends me; the smell of cookies and cakes and roast; the smell of corn on the cob just before it’s time to take it out of the pan to eat!  It is funny how something so simple can bring back a wealth of memories and feelings that you had forgotten about.

I was always amazed how Grandma kept up with all the people that were in and out of her house.  The “boys” (aka my uncles) were (and still are) always coming and going.  There is memorabilia all over the house from when they were in 4H. My favorite picture is the large framed picture of Uncle Charles showing the cow.  That picture hangs over the bed in the basement.  There are running jokes about how slow Grandma eats, or how she is always going to clean off the pool table, or how she’s going to get a head start on her Christmas cards.  I think that other things were just more important to her, and she wanted to make sure her cards and letters had her personal touch on them.

I remember when Great-Grandma was still alive and living at the other farm.  I used to walk over there to make cookies with her.  Great-Grandma had the coolest house – it was old and had all sorts of nooks and crannies to hide in.  At the other farm, the cow pasture (a real pasture) had a stream.  I was only allowed to walk along the stream one time.  Great-Grandma also had to get up really early and give the older calves their milk.  That was always scary because we had to go down into the basement (which everyone knew had a snake in it) then mix up the powdered milk with the water and VERY carefully walk up the narrow staircase to go outside.

Even if I went back now, I would still fall back into the same pattern that has been in place since I was born.  I would still get to sleep in the “Big Kid’s” room.  I would still sit at the same place at the kitchen table.  I would still know where everything was, because nothing has been moved in years.  Grandpa would still take a nap before lunch in his recliner, while Uncle Charles would take his nap after lunch either on the living room floor or downstairs.  Grandma would still take forever to eat and would fall asleep in her recliner at night.  Grandma still measures the grandkids (and great-grandkids) on the refrigerator. She still threatens to swat us with a fly swatter or make us sit in the corner if we misbehave.  There is a continuity at the farm that I haven’t found anywhere else.  It’s almost as if the farm exists in its own time warp.

I can remember when things were a little different.  The farm had its own gas station (for lack of a better description).  Uncle Mark lived at home (he’s the youngest), and he drew pictures and portraits.  Grandma drove.  Grandma kept a bigger garden – almost part of field.  I remember when Grandpa still grew sweet corn and we spent a lot of time husking it in the back of a pickup, then carting it into the house for the “womenfolk” to boil it, take it off the ears and freeze it.

Looking back, I realize that even though they weren’t obvious to me at the time, I learned a lot of lessons about life that have stayed with me.  The value of hard work and the benefits you receive from a job well done.  The satisfaction of playing when all the work is done, and even how to make what seems like a tedious job fun.

Note: In the 13 years since this was written, a lot has changed.  Grandma died a few  years ago after being sick with Alzheimer’s.  Grandpa no longer actively farms, although he occasionally raises some pigs for Iowa State.  The other farm is gone, it was used for a controlled burn a number of years ago.  But the feeling of family, of continuity, of love, still remains.  It is, and always will be, the center of our family’s gatherings.

What I am Thankful For – Day 7

Today, I am thankful for my education.  I am thankful for the entire experience – not just the actual learning.  Through my education, I met some very interesting professors, fellow students, and friends.  Some of these friendships will last a lifetime, no matter how long between contacts.

My education has allowed me to have a job that I love that is close to my home.  It has taught me how to keep learning, how to analyze information, and how to use what I have learned (classroom or self-taught) for the betterment of me and my company.

My education is a treasure beyond compare.  Through my professors, I learned a love of the written word, how to wonder at a beautifully turned phrase, and how to read beyond the words on the page to the meaning within the work.

My education has taught me how to write.  Professors taught me the mechanics, taught me the tools, and taught me that it was ok to think differently than others.  They encouraged me to defend my thoughts – in writing and in speech.  They encouraged me to dig deeper and not be satisfied with a first try.

To all my teachers, I say thank you.  A special thanks goes to Dr. Les Bailey, Dr. Stephen Mead, and Mrs. Beth Hetzler.

Coming Soon: My Old Writings

Aside

I was cleaning out some files the other day and found some of my old writings – mostly college and graduate school things. I am going to polish some of them up and post them.  i think they are interesting to see how I have grown and changed as a writer in the last few years.  Expect to see them over the next few weeks.

Creative vs. “Creative”

Here’s the thing….I write (almost) all day, (almost) every day.  How much of my writing is creative?  I don’t really know. 

Here is what I write: policies, procedures, process documentation, manuals, etc.  Some of that is purely changing format because the text either can’t be changed or is actually pretty good.  Those days are good because I like being able to play with format in Word (plus I am pretty picky about how things look – that’s why God created Styles in Word people!).  Is that creative?  Somewhat.

People would argue that writing policies, procedures, etc. just can’t be creative in the sense that writing a novel, a poem, a play, or even a blog post is creative.  Why can’t it be?  Why should business documentation not be held to the same standard?  Sure, there’s no character development or point of view, but there is voice.  I try really hard to keep my voice out of the documents that I write and make them be in the voice of the person for whom I am writing.   I understand that the language in business documentation needs to be clear, concise, and have flow….but doesn’t all writing need to have the same things?

I caught myself today changing the following sentence: “[Company] is located on the banks of the Mississippi in a town that is home to approximately 20,000 people” to “[Company] is located in a community of approximately 20,000 people”.  A little part of me died when I changed that sentence.  (ok, not really, but it sounded good, right?)  Why did I change it?  I changed it because it didn’t fit the document.  Sure, it draws the reader a picture, but it’s not really necessary in the long run (plus, someone would have just taken it out later). 

So how am I creative?  I get to create words every day.  I take things that are difficult and make them easy to understand.  I take nothing and make something out of it.  I take the tiniest kernel of an idea and turn it into a manifesto of beauty.  Does that mean I don’t struggle with the “creative” part of my job?  Nope.  I struggle almost daily to breathe life into documents that may be called  dusty, dry, or boring.  Believe me, it’s not always easy…Those may be the days that I delete almost everything I write because I can’t find just the right word.

So if you see an otherwise serious document with the tiniest bit of “creative writing”, ask yourself if the writer just needed to liven a document…..either that or they wanted to see if you would catch it….

Can You Help Me Get Better?

A few weeks ago, Jon Acuff posted about his experience rehearsing for the Quitter conference he had coming up (http://www.jonacuff.com/blog/who-likes-you-enough-to-help-you-get-better/).  In the post, he discussed how he asked someone to critique his presentation.  He discusses how someone providing you with honest feedback on how to improve your work product is better than the customary pat on the back.

Everyone likes to think they have done a great job on a project.  They want that pat on the back.  They don’t want to hear that something they have spent hours completing is flawed in anyway.  Feedback is tough.  But I think that by opening yourself up to receiving feedback in a constructive manner, and honestly soliciting quality feedback is a great way to improve.

I have a full-time job where I spend a lot of time writing.  It’s something that I love to do.  But I’ll be honest, as much as I love learning different things about my company – things that not a lot of other people learn about – sometimes the writing can be kind of dry.  So I try my best to find ways to take very intense, complicated topics and make them simpler.  I am able to do this because those I work for are patient and able to explain the topics in a way that I can glean information out of them for everyone else.  I also do a lot of research so that I can figure it out on my own.  But I’m not perfect, nor am I the expert.

Sometimes I get it wrong.  Words are tricky things.  It’s so easy to change the meaning of something by changing just a few words.  It’s easy to oversimplify something to the point that it doesn’t make any sense.  Some people who look at my work are really good about offering suggestions to improve the writing.  Others don’t provide any feedback – their silence is the tacit approval of what I have written for them.  I would much rather have someone read my writing and help me to understand how to make it better than to continue to produce work that is sub-par.

Writing this blog is a way for me to improve my writing.  So I am asking for your help.  As you read the postings on my blog, I ask that you provide feedback.  The posts all have ranking buttons at the bottom – feel free to use them.  All posts have a comment feature – feel free to leave feedback.  What do you like about my writing?  What don’t you write about my writing?