Friday, May 23, 2014

PULLIN' UP THEM BIG GIRL PANTIES

This post isn't about me so don't get your panties in a wad. Also, if I caused you to have bad visions in your head or nightmares with the title...that's your fault. Hey society today doesn't believe in self accountability.

I didn't know how prophetic the image on the right would be when I posted it on Rhonda's Facebook wall yesterday. With the challenges she is going through I thought it would brighten her day and it did. 

We parted ways as usual in the morning but we were excited for a special day. I would pick her up from the Juliaetta Elementary school and proceed to the Quality Inn at Clarkston, Washington for a luncheon to honor area Valedictorians/Salutatorians. It was SUPPOSED to be Dillon's day.

We had a stop to make before the event and that was to look at different landscaping rock. I have this bright idea that I can start and complete a project on the farm before Dillon's graduation party while doing farm work, helping Rhonda, and having a meeting thrown in. I love pressure.

Then Rhonda's phone rang on the way to look a the rock. It was a call from a doctor. The good news is that surgery dates can be set, the bad news is one of them is May 30th which is Dillon's graduation party and the other is July 3rd. As she ended the call (you don't hang up a cell phone) the tears began.

I'm thinking to myself "OK Robert, let her get some of it out and don't screw things up and make it worse." We were almost there and she pulled them puppies up with a look of determination.


I drove through the lot to find the rock piles and we saw what we wanted...fractured rainbow rock. We both loved the colors and thought it would go well in the area we wanted it in. 

Onward and forward to the luncheon.

Rhonda needed to talk. The more she thought about it the farther she leaned towards the 30th. She joked that I would have to place a faux Rhonda in the chair at graduation. I said that would be  easy, I would just get a blowup doll. Great, I got her laughing and the tears were from that instead of sorrow. 
Pulling them up even tighter now.

It was a great event and it was good to see people there that we knew. The four Kendrick kids were sitting together and we hurried to get a table (in the back so I can people watch and take pictures).

Afterwards, we congratulated kids and parents then headed to Home Depot and URM to shop for project supplies and party supplies.Stop for petrol and on to work and home. On the way we made another joke about the blowup doll being a replacement...it stuck. It will be the R n R...Rhonda Replacement.

Rhonda stayed at the school to catch up on work and wait for Logan while Dillon and I received the load of rock. Mission: Finish before Rhonda comes home! Five yard of rock doesn't seem like much but when you are trying to sling it around it's like a never ending gobstopper. Baby scoop to the rescue. I used it to do the major spreading and then it was shovel and rake. Mission accomplished.

I was mowing the windbreak and Dillon was raking grass when Rhonda came home. I finished my pass and drove to meet her by the pump house. 
She definitely had a sparkle in her eye and a smile on her face.It looked awesome and Dillon, Logan and I reveled in her happiness.

Then it was time to pull them panties up a little more.

We broke the news to Dillon and Logan that Rhonda will have surgery on May 30th...the day planned for Dillon's graduation party. We will have to cancel it for that day, but we will have one. Probably on July 4th, multiple celebrations.

Pull them up even higher and tighter...Rhonda will miss Dillon's graduation.

When we put things into perspective, it is more important to have Rhonda around longer than just one party or event...even if that is a big day for her first born. As parents, our focus has always been on our boys with no equivocation. They are the center of our life.

While this does break our hearts we know that God has a plan and it is not always for us to see or understand at times. We are both sure that the understanding will come. For now we need to focus on Rhonda and her being successful.

That was Thursday, May 22nd exactly one month to the day when we learned of the news about Rhonda having cancer. Today we head to Spokane for an MRI to help the doctors make sure that the proposed surgery is what is needed and nothing more.

So grab a cup of coffee, put on them big girl panties and face life with a sparkle in your eye and a smile on your face. There are always people with more and bigger problems out there and we are very fortunate to have caught this early and for the tremendous support Rhonda and our family has received.

Besides, I might just have a replacement sitting next to me at graduation with an amazed look on her face wearing nothing but panties. Probably not, but maybe that's an image you can work up in your mind and have a laugh at today.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

BREAST SUPPORTERS

It's amazing how one simple word can change your life and perspective. Cancer is one of those words.

Life just can't stop in mid stream. Since Rhonda was diagnosed with breast cancer in April many things have taken place. All of the seed is in the ground which is a great feeling. Dillon and I traveled back to Hartford, CT for a scholarship interview that he was successful on, and of course Rhonda had more tests.

The mental toll that takes places is indescribable. Not only for Rhonda, but for the whole family. Is there more cancer? What procedure should I do? Lumpectomy or Mastectomy? Am I letting everyone down? What about financial issues? The list goes on and on.

There is good news and hope...BREAST SUPPORTERS! Yeah, this is tongue in cheek but you can either laugh or cry. Rhonda and I are both ones that find sadistic humor in many situations. I've tried to make up words to go with BRA but I haven't had any luck. Maybe - Blair, Rhonda Activists! It just seems a little limp and danglely.

While Hillary Clinton said "It takes a village," we are finding out "IT TAKES A COMMUNITY and/or FAMILY." What we discovered is how large that community/family really is. It is global! The support from friends, co-workers, and even strangers has just been too amazing to describe at times. Overwhelming is a good word.

Back Row L to R: Emily Fredenburg, Jackie Kohler, Vickie Witt, Rose Norris
Middle Row: Heather Anderson, Rob Hoffman, Connie Reid, Dr. Park, Angie Tweit, Dawn Quigley, Suzanne Brammer,
Tracy Cooper, Shannon Heath, Morgan Heier, Chelsea Henson, Denise Silflow
Front Row: Melissa Eichner, Kandy Mccleese, Kim Cirka, Jan Patterson, Angie Cannon, Connie Hedler, Jessica Clemenhagen. Front & Center: Rhonda Blair
My last blog was about "Pink Tractors" which was done right after Rhonda's initial visit with two cancer specialists. We picked up a T-shirt with a pink tractor on it for breast cancer support. After I posted, the comments and support that came in was mind blowing.

Rhonda and I joked the day she wore it to work that there needs to be a special day for that...like Ta Ta Tuesday. Well, it stuck and with her telling that story to the staff at the grade school which led to the main reason for this blog.

Without Rhonda's knowledge they designed and ordered T-shirts. Now I like wearing pink. So does Logan and to some extent Dillon. But Rhonda....loathes the color. Being an athlete she associated pink with things over the top feminine. I get it, it's kind of like Chevy or Ford, you have your favorite.

So last Tuesday May 13th the BREAST SUPPORTERS sprung their surprise on her. Pink T-shirts with black ribbons on the front...and they know she doesn't like pink which makes it funny. The special part was on the back...TEAM RHONDA!

Rhonda called me to tell the story and it brought tears to my eyes. A small community is like a family. Most of the time life goes normal but there are times of arguments, jealousy, etc. Kind of like the petty stuff that takes place with siblings that makes parents go crazy. But like a family, when the chips are down, the wagons are circled, and they stick together. Rhonda's co-workers at the Juliaetta Grade school have been the BEST BREAST SUPPORTERS ever.

Rhonda is a "newbie" in the community. Now that I think about it, it's been over 20 years. However, I grew up here and know many of the staff from years gone past. My sixth grade teacher, Emily Fredenburg is still there. A classmate from the class of 1987, Angie (Hoisington) Cannon is a teacher and was the only one who signed my yearbook when I changed schools. A member from church who had kids a few years younger than me, Vickie Witt works there. Connie (Groseclose) Hedler was a cheerleader when I was in grade school and a mother when I was an AAU basketball coach to her son and my brother. My high school English teacher Suzanne Brammer. Dawn Quigley who's first year teaching second grade was when I was in third. Watching Chelsea Henson, Tracy Cooper and Jessica (Silflow) Clemenhagen grow up. Melissa Eichner whose husband farms and I coached her son in AAU. Kim Cirka who's son and Dillon were close high school friends. Denise Silflow who I like to tease when I go to The Dubliner in Washington, D.C. Angie Tweit who we have spent many a year together toting our sons back and forth from kindergarten to state basketball. There is a long, intertwined history with most people in a small community. GREAT BREAST SUPPORTERS!

Like I stated earlier we found out we have a large family/community. Support rolled in from around the world. Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, England, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Canada, Romania, Ireland, and all around the U.S. Many have been to our farm or we have visited them. These folks are also GREAT BREAST SUPPORTERS!

Then yesterday Rhonda received a card signed by people (I should use the word friends) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. My life has been intertwined with many of them through different capacities. What made this special to both Rhonda and I was the word "FAMILY" on the return address.

Yes, we are a family. Small communities, the CALS family, The Eisenhower Fellowship network, Idaho Grain Producers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, and the Nuffield Scholars network are more than ever a part of our life and family.

I am reminded of a joke my father told me many, many years ago (he wasn't the most PC or diplomatic person mind you). "What is the strongest thing in the world? A brassiere, it holds up two milk factories." Now you understand my tongue in cheek title BREAST SUPPORTERS, THEY DEFINITELY ARE STRONG!

We call them Ta Tas, melons, knockers, headlights, gazingas, etc. Many jokes have been made about Dolly Parton's "endowed figure." Whatever we call them and no matter what jokes are made, it has definitely provided a different perspective of "the girls." But one things is certain, no matter what procedure Rhonda decides on "TEAM RHONDA" WILL WIN! Why??? She has amazing BREAST SUPPORTERS in her life!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

PINK TRACTORS


April 7th, 2014 is a day that Rhonda and I will never forget. It was a Sunday and I was busy getting clothes ready to head to Washington, D.C. for the National Wheat Improvement Committee/National Association of Wheat Growers Research Fly-in.

Rhonda and I were sitting on the couch in the office (we have a separate building that serves as office, man cave, dog house for the times I'm in trouble, In-law storage, visitor retreat, etc.) where I stay the night so I don't wake the family up at 2-2:30 am to catch my flight.

"Robert, could you feel my breast? I think I have a lump" Rhonda said. Now as a guy I would normally be excited and happy to oblige to such a request...but this was definitely different. My heart rate increased, I was getting sweaty, and I was nervous...similar to younger days but in a completely different way.

I felt the "LUMP."

"Rhonda, you need to get that looked at. It might be nothing but it should be checked out." The timing couldn't have been worse for either of us, we were parting at a time of need for each other.

I left for DC Monday and didn't get back home until Thursday while Rhonda visited the doctor. We were both continuing on with what we needed to do professionally, but our minds had other things on them definitely that week.

The second week, things moved fast as well. On the 15th she had an appointment for a mammogram and her friend Dianne went with her. After that visit she went back on that Thursday the 17th for a biopsy with support from Dianne and her friend Jaime. That started the long wait.

I know my blog handle is "The Unmanned Farmer" and should deal mainly with UAVs and this story does have a UAV portion to it.

Tuesday, April 22nd is another date I won't forget. I had a reporter up from the Lewiston Morning Tribune doing a story on my use of UAVs. It was raining so we couldn't actually fly which was a bummer. However, standing around in the shop with the UAVs set up and doing the interview the phone rang.

I looked at the caller ID and it was the grade school. Oh, Rhonda is calling for something............

My heart dropped and my breath was completely taken away, she was crying uncontrollably and I knew she was hurt. The frightening part was I knew why. After getting her to calm down a little she told me she had to go to the doctor that day at 2 pm and would I go? Farming, UAVs, or anything else in the world didn't matter and I was not going to let her down.

I hung up the phone and still had an interview to do. Stay professional, carry on as if nothing happened, get through this with all costs and as normally as possible.

During our reminiscing about this quick journey I would equate my reactions that day to President George W. Bush being informed of the Twin Towers being attacked. I'm sure the shocked showed initially, but you needed to get through the current job as quickly and professionally as possible to not alarm others so that you can deal with the situation.

Farmers deal with tough situations every year, especially if they raise animals. Farmers pull on their years of knowledge and experience to identify the problem, quickly analyze it, and then take a course of action. This all happens in the blink of an eye usually. I could not use my skills as a farmer to solve the problem of someone I truly love hurting over the phone. I could not reach out to provide a comforting touch or reassuring embrace. And I still had the interview to do.

That day we met with the doctor and received the news that Rhonda has Breast Cancer confirming our fears.

Since then we had a visitor from Australia who took our mind off of things for a couple of days. Simon Mattsson is a sugarcane farmer from Australia and a Nuffield Scholar. Also, our church had a service dedicated to the seniors of the high school.

Monday and Tuesday Rhonda met with two great doctors to (As Paul Harvey would say) get the rest of the story and plan a course of action.

Things have moved very fast in less than a month, even to the amazement of the doctors. Support has been great and having some answers to the unknowns has been a relief. There are still tests to be done and more unknowns, but there is HOPE! God's hand has definitely been there in many different ways but that is a different story and should and probably told by Rhonda.

Now to the Pink Tractor. As Rhonda was checking in to her first appointment Monday, I saw a young nurse in the facility with a black shirt with a pink tractor...I NEED TO GET ONE FOR RHONDA is all I could think. I called a couple of people that I know and there was one waiting for us at Farm Credit Services Northwest in Spokane https://www.northwestfcs.com/Stewardship/The-Pink-Tractor .

If there is one color Rhonda loathes it is pink! However, since it is on a tractor she could handle it and wear the shirt.

Our spirits are up and our family is dealing with it well. Rhonda and I cannot say thank you enough to all of the support that has been there from friends and strangers. It truly is amazing and has turned this crisis into more of a mission of hope and determination.

I am certain that this will not be the last post I will write on this journey or subject and there are definitely better stories that can be told from this month of shock and discovery but I will leave that up to best friend, partner, soul mate, and wife Rhonda. Maybe for Mother's Day I will give her a pink tractor to drive.

As a note of recognition and thanks we want to thank Northwest Farm Credit Services for their recognition and support for Breast Cancer! Rhonda and I both hope that you and your friends will take time and be more aware of this cause.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

AGRICULTURE: THE RODNEY DANGERFIELD OF INDUSTRIES


The year of 2013 had a very interesting conclusion for me. There was an Associated Press story I was in that went around the world. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/14/agriculture-market-for-drones/4025559/ It was pretty exciting to follow how far this went and where. The changes in the headlines were just as interesting. As of today this story is still running and the pictures that Rhonda and I offered to the AP are being used as well.

Because of that story I was asked to be on Fox Business News. Not only yes, but heck yeah! Another forum to tell the amazing story of a promising technology for agriculture. What a way to kick off a new year. http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/3028213979001/the-next-step-in-drone-technology/#sp=show-clips

Unfortunately the story I really wanted to tell did not happen. Agriculture is being neglected by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is supposed to have rules for commercial UAV use out by 2015 as mandated by Congress, however production agriculture doesn't have a seat at the table.

In 2008 I filed a petition to the FAA to have agriculture obtain a seat at the table. I was also able to have a bi-partisan/bi-cameral letter from Congress to try to have agriculture representation for UAVs. None of that happened. These efforts were to have ag representation on the original ARC (Aviation Rulemaking Committee).

What did happen was a slap in the face to me and agriculture. I had scheduled an appointment a couple months in advance to meet with the top officials at the FAA. I was working on agriculture representation for the ARC. The day I had the meeting to discuss this I was informed that the invitations were sent out....that day to be a member. A true slap in the face.

I did learn a couple of interesting things. First I was told by someone in D.C. that "Politicians come and go, those that work in departments are there for a lifetime." From the time I started this to present I have had three different Congressmen from my district. That means I had to start the process over every two years.

A second thing I learned is that the FAA  is made up of mainly aviators. That is fine and I understand why. I wouldn't want the Department of Agriculture to be made up of construction workers or the Department of Education to made up of Realtors. However, I do believe that if rules will effect an industry there should be representation.

Maybe there are USDA officials or researchers involved in the process from agriculture, however they are not the industry. The needs of the agriculture industry are different than the needs of researchers in many instances. There is overlap and I love working with the University of Idaho and it's extension personnel but research and reality sometimes are different.

Finally I also learned that agriculture is not respected...in many circles. The whole process of learning about UAVs, speaking about them, and trying to create sensible regulations showed me how farmers and agriculture are looked down upon.

I don't know why that is, but I have my hunches. One reason is reality shows and how they portray us. American Gothic is a great painting, but that is how agriculture is perceived. Like Rodney Dangerfield, rural people and agriculture get "No Respect" in many circles.

But the FAA is not only disrespecting agriculture, they are disrespecting the public. UAVs are a transformative technology that can help agriculture do things more responsibly. The message from the media, NGOs, and the public say they want less erosion, less water used, less fertilizer, and less pesticides. This technology can those wants into realities.

What needs to happen is better recognition of the importance of UAVs and agriculture to our elected officials. We need organizations like AUVSI (Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) to partner with our agriculture organizations to help create the rules necessary for successful UAV integration into agriculture.

While AUVSI showed the same respect in 2008 as the FAA did, they are now committed to promoting UAV use in agriculture. A powerful message can be sent if, and only if, there is mutual respect.

What is in the past is the past and we need to move forward. I am truly excited about the prospects and interest in UAVs, especially in the last couple of months. Regarding UAVs in agriculture, the media is showing respect, politicians are showing respect, and the business community is showing respect.

It's time for the FAA to follow the example of others instead of bowing their backs. We need each other for this to be successful. Agriculture has and is reaching out to the FAA to help successfully bring UAVs into the commercial airspace. It is now the FAA's turn to show the same amount of respect.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

GROWING PAINS


John Wayne said in his character role of Sergeant Stryker "Life is tough, it's tougher if you're stupid." As a matter of fact, I have that character's picture and saying on the shop wall. Life is tough even if you aren't stupid...very tough some times.

There are moments in our lives when things don't go quite the way we would like and as we grow older the level of tough times changes. As a kid, a tough time might be parents not buying the toy or cereal you want or getting told no when asking someone for a date.

As we mature tough times become a bad grade in a class or losing a very important game. While these things seem like tough times at that moment and stage in our life we usually get over them and then forget them completely.

Looking back on my life I've had a few tough times, the biggest was losing my father. He was too young to die, but my faith in God helped me through that tough time. That first year saw me having to stop work and just cry. One of those times was doing spring work, our favorite time of the year. I missed having him there.

My tough time now is being a parent. I wrestle with things like handing out responsibility to Dillon and Logan while trying to make sure they still get to experience what kids should. With Dillon being a senior the tough time is Rhonda and I making sure that we do are part to make sure he is ready for the next step in his life, most likely college.

However, my tough times are nothing compared to what my oldest son Dillon has gone through. 

As we go through grade school and high school there is a certain amount of growing pains that have to take place and those growing pains help to make us the people we are. They shape us and form us into, hopefully, a good person.

Dillon has had more than his share of growing pains. It almost seems that he hasn't had a good high school experience. Last night's experience has compelled me to write this. Dillon broke his wrist playing football.

 Maybe Dillon isn't the most gifted person in athletics, but he hasn't really had the chance to grow in that area. In Jr. High he was dog-piled on by upper class-men which separated his shoulder. He played two games at QB and on defense and did well, but that injury required surgery during his sophomore year, missing a big share of hoops. He also missed playing football his junior year.

During basketball last year he played a game and not even a quarter when his ankle was broken. He was in position to take a charge and it was a freak accident. I equate it to the Lawrence Taylor/Joe Theismann incident...just a freak accident. He missed almost all of basketball. He did do track, but his ankle was stiff and he started doing it towards the end of the season.

Last night Dillon broke his wrist and we are still up in the air as to the extent of damage. This was another freak accident where he went out for a pass, landed, and the defender came down on his arm wrong.

I can't imagine the growing pains he has and is experiencing. Both Dillon and Logan would get up in the morning, service the combine, work all day, and then go to conditioning getting home around 9 pm. Once, they didn't have time to change so they did running in jeans and boots. They both have a great work ethic.

Here it is, his senior year and he can't finish football and we don't know about the hoops season yet. He has put in the work to be a good student athlete, both in the classroom, weight room, and in practices but he won't see the fruition of his dedication. He has stood on the sidelines cheering on his teammates. All of this work and dedication and he won't probably receive a letter in football. BIG GROWING PAINS.

This is what gets me as a parent...he is always positive and has a smile on his face.

While these are more severe growing pains for Dillon, as a parent I am dealing with my own growing pains. As a parent I wish that is was me that could be hurt so that he could experience the fun of sports and a great senior year. These are times as a believer in God that I question the "why."

When my father passed away at a youngish age I questioned the "why." When things happen in the world I question the "why." Now, I am facing my growing pains not only with Dillon's ordeals but God. 

I know things will turn out alright and Dillon will be a good person. I know God is there looking out for us doing our jobs in a dangerous profession. I know He is there when we leave the farm to go to town or to travel. And God does have a plan.

I am proud of Dillon's work ethic and especially his moral ethic. Watching him as an assistant coach for Jr. High basketball and working with a player who has Downs Syndrome is something I can be proud of. Maybe I'm having the growing pains instead of Dillon?

However, I'm a parent who is so saddened by his son missing out on sooo much. Maybe the things I am hoping for him are not the lessons or things he is supposed to experience.

With that said, I will still pray to God for support. I will still pray to God to look after my family and others. I will still pray to God to help us do the right things.

I will pray to God to help protect Dillon. And when I look back, He did in a big way. Dillon is here. Dillon was born during the flooding of 1996 and Rhonda had to have labor induced. Dillon had the cord wrapped twice around his neck and I remember trying to reassure Rhonda that everything was fine when she asked how it was going (I need to work on my poker face).

God has been there because we have Dillon with us. Dillon, who is a great big brother and role model for me and others. Thinking about that helps to make MY growing pains hurt a little less. I hope that God and others can help Dillon get through his.


















Sunday, February 3, 2013

FARM RAISED CARROTS & LETTUCE

Again, it's been awhile since I have written in the blog and I need to do better. Life gets in the way, I have other things to do, and a million other excuses that I can think of. However I believe I have found inspiration.

Don't get me wrong, there have  been many things that I could have written about such as continuing to talk about my McCloy Fellowship in Germany, my hired man being diagnosed with cancer (he is doing well btw), Dillon breaking his ankle in hoops, or ag group meetings and life on the farm.

However my inspiration has come from spending a week away from home at the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) winter meeting in D.C. and catching up with an Eisenhower Fellow and friend in the North Carolina Research Triangle area.

The week started out by going through WOLF (Wheat Organization Leaders of the Future) training. This start to my time in D.C. was great, especially being at the dinner table with Jay Byrne of V-fluence. Listening to his stories and facts about environmental activists was fabulous, eye opening, and shocking. Horror stories on the battle front of agriculture.

Jay also was one of the presenters at our meeting talking about crisis management. He had worked in the Clinton administration and did communications work for a few Democrats previously. He talked about how agriculture needs to change and embrace questions about our industry, who better to answer them than us.

What really hit home was the amount of money spent world wide on environmental advocacy, both sides of the issue included. Can you believe that $2.2 trillion is spent annually? Yes that number is correct making it the 5th largest economic sector worldwide. While pro agriculture and industry money is included, they don't hold a candle to the deep pockets of the other side. How can we compete? My conclusion is we can't outspend them, but we can speak up; we need to speak up!

Next was committee meetings, I am on three. I am on the U.S. Wheat/NAWG Joint Biotech Committee, Vice Chair of the Research & Technology Committee which puts me on the Operations & Planning Committee. The future of agriculture and wheat was discussed in all of these and biotech was center stage. Simply put, we need biotech.

After my meetings in D.C. and trying to identify issues, find solutions, and develop policy I flew into the Raleigh-Durham area to meet my friend and Eisenhower Fellow Rob Burns. I hadn't seen him since the opening session for the 2011 EF program in Philadelphia.

Rob  and I spent the day talking about the world's problems, how being an Eisenhower Fellow benefited us, and just life in general. After a day of seeing the area, a couple of meetings, and meeting his family we went to dinner...and then the fun started.
 
A quick background before proceeding. When Rob and I partook in the opening session of the 2011 Eisenhower Fellows, all the 2011 Fellows did a personality profile. A couple of things came out of it: We are energetic, we want to learn, we don't care for big social gatherings unless we really want to be there, and we look at things differently than most people.

So here we are at a five start restaurant for dinner...and that uncomfortable feeling sets in when someone else pushes my chair in for me. The very formal antics by the staff, while good for the elites who want that pampering, was a subject of conversation for us. But that is not why we went there. 

We learned that we could have our meal paired with a wine, but both of us are beer kind of guys. We are not uncouth (well that might be questioned in my circle of friends) but being pretentious is not in our being. Then comes time to order and I missed my first opportunity (will explain later). I ordered the Farm Lettuce Salad to start the meal and the Meyers Beef Two Ways (see the menu and try to guess where this is going).

We grabbed our beers and went outside on the deck to chat and to see the facilities. Impressive to say the least. It's always fun to see how the other people live that are in the upper echelon of the income brackets. So we return and ordered another beer (I had the local  hefeweizen) and I was asked if I wanted a different glass and I said "I can't see dirtying another glass, especially when I would be happy to just drink straight from the bottle." I bit my tongue from saying "I care for the environment and don't want to waste the water" but I wasn't feeling "That" confrontational. Too much time in D.C. with discussions about environmental activism made me hyper sensitive.

Our salads came and it was good, not that I could make one like it at home to feed an army for the price, but in the setting is was good and the price really wasn't out of line. The pears were good, the blue cheese not overpowering, and the bacon vinaigrette was delicious.

Then came our main course...and the fun is about to begin. As the waiter places the dish in front of me he goes into the explanation of what's on my plate (I am feeling like a judge on Chopped, Iron Chef, or Top Chef). When he said "Farm Carrots" my head came up, eyes popped out, and my ears became tuned on every word he said.

When I did that I looked at Rob out of the corner of my eyes and a smile came to his face. He KNEW what was coming next. Not exactly what I was going to say, but where I was going to go. I am still chuckling about our "man" communication without saying words, the "Oceans" movies had that part correct.

If you have guessed, it had to do with "Farm Carrots." I asked the waiter with a straight face, lined with concern, and puppy dog eyes "What is a Farm Carrot?" The waiter obviously had never been asked that question and bumbled around trying to answer it. I don't remember any of the words or descriptions he said but I started to feel sorry for him and told him I was a farmer.

I gave him a pass because I found out what I wanted with that simple question, there is no difference from any other carrot or what was on my plate at all, they were all raised on a farm to get there. I really could have been cynical, and I am sure that you are amazed at my restraint, by not saying something like "were they space raised carrots" or "government raised carrots."

This gave Rob and I something more to talk about over dinner. Rob is not a farmer or even a country boy in the sense most of us would use the term, he grew up in New York and in a more urban area. However, his view of reality is there and he understands why I asked the question I did to the waiter, he has done similar in other settings. We do this for our own satisfaction and to hopefully educate someone by asking them a question that they have no answer for. Most people take the drivel our media continually spouts as truth without thinking for themselves.

After a week of talking about biotech, the challenge agriculture has to feed the world responsibly, and the work of environmental activists I had hit the tipping point of being too serious for too long and had to get it out of my system. What I am really upset about though is missing the Farm Lettuce Salad when I ordered it.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 1 & 1/2 in Berlin

Had a good nacht sleep after walking a few miles last night and started the day at 5am. By 5:30 I was out the door to take some pictures and see some sights before the other three McCloy Fellows showed up.

The sky was clear and a full moon was beautiful as I hit the avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate. It was nice not have crowds of people there (a marathon is going on this weekend) and the moon was directly over the gate.

After that I followed the map from an app called EveryTrail. It had a pre-programmed map of sights to see and my next stop was the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. It is between the U.S. Embassy and the sight of the Fuhrerbunker. 

I walked into the middle of the memorial and the path I was on was leading down. With the time of day (early morning and little light) it was eiree, like walking into one of the ditches that were used for body disposal.

My next stop was a watchtower left over from the Berlin Wall. It was very humbling to be underneath it. I was trying to imagine what it would have been like to live in East Berlin with towers everywhere looking down at you and guards waiting to shoot people if need be.

From there I walked to a remaining section of the Berlin Wall. I just can't imagine how the people on either side of it felt, knowing that you couldn't move freely about. 

Next stop was Checkpoint Charlie. Need I say more?

That was were I ended my journey following my app map. I headed back to the hotel to grab breakfast and get ready to meet my other Fellows. Also, I needed to repack my things to change rooms so I had internet. What a slave I am to all this technology stuff.

I made it back to the hotel and met up with my first Fellow, Garrick Hall from Utah. His room wasn't ready so we went up to my room and I worked on getting picts off of the camera and ready for posting.

After doing that and me repacking my bags we headed downstairs to get onto the internet. Just as we were getting ready my new room was made available. We headed to that and I was able to post my pictures from yesterday and this morning while he took a nap.

We headed downstairs around 1:45 to meet our host and hopefully or next Fellow. Udo from the DBV (sister organization of American Farm Bureau) met us and him and I had a beir. As we were tossing that back Raquel from Louisiana showed up and joined.

We headed out to take a tour of the area killing time until our official tour. We headed up river and then met our official guide. She took us on a tour of the Jewish area of Berlin (ghetto). We went off the beaten track through openings in buildings for carriages to nice courtyards (and some not so nice but very interesting).

It was very sobering to see buildings that had not been renovated with bullet marks from WWII (67 years) or patched up from bomb damage. The Socialist/Communist system didn't do a good job of trying to build up the economy. It makes me wonder where our country is heading?

During our walk-about we had a good discussion with our guide (who is atheist) about religion. Imagine me being the one to ask the question that is controversial and combative. I really wanted to know because religion was one of the things that I identified during my Eisenhower Fellowship.

In Germany they are taxed at 9% just for belonging to a religion and it is tied to the government because of medical and educational reasons. Another reason for the decline of religion was due to the communist side of Germany (and eastern Europe). If a person belonged to a religion they  or their children could not attend university.

The last reason was family lifestyle. If the parents didn't belong to a religion and brought up their children that way their kids wouldn't be religious. It is amazing how government policy and bias brought that about, especially since it was started under the Nazis.

I don't care what our media or activists say, religion is a major component to the success of the United States. We were founded by people who did not want a governmental religion (Church of England).

Because of this ideal, religious tolerance was a key building block. Each colony had its own religion. From that the people that formed the Constitution realized religious freedom was a key component for a successful nation. Boy were they correct.

We did a little more touring and then parted ways. We covered quite a bit of territory (not as much as I did on my own), but we had a great insight into the history of Germany, yesterday and today!

The time schedule we were on (imagine Germans trying to be punctual) led us catching the train to the station close to our hotel. We arrived there and met the final Fellow, Paul from Arizona.

After we put a few things away in our rooms and freshened up we headed out to do a boat tour on the Spree river. It was only an hour long ride but it showed many of the beautiful building, new and old that I want to know more about and take pictures of .

When we docked at the end of our tour our host suggested a restaurant that we should try. It was started after unification (after the Berlin Wall came down) as a way of making the West German officials feel at home in the new/old capitol.

Our host recommended that we try a local cuisine, currywurst. During my jaunts through Berlin I saw restaurants and small food vendors offering it. It was good but the calf liver our host had looked even better. Next time.

We ended the meal with some awesome schnapps. This made me feel at home because the area I live in is German and I grew up with this. However, that tradition ended with my Great Aunt passing away last year.

All things have to end and we headed to the hotel to give our host gifts and head to bed for a big day tomorrow. I don't know if I will have time to reflect and post tomorrow, but I will definitely get my travels into this blog.

Prost and Gott Nacht!