Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Letter 2014

Greetings from Harrison Farm!  This has been a year full of blessings & challenges, and I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life!  For the first time since my early 20s, I have had some significant neurological struggles this year.  It is a humbling experience to manage this, and I am profoundly grateful for my family who keeps encouraging me, my friends who are extremely patient, and my amazing doctors at the Cleveland Clinic.  I am particularly fortunate to have Matt in my life, as he steadfastly accompanied me to every doctor appointment, developed his own protocol for managing my care, and used his background as a researcher to review every relevant medical study.  I recognize that managing headaches & seizures will likely be a long-term effort, and I am blessed to have an amazing support network of friends & family that empower me to enjoy life despite challenges!

My work at Jorgensen Farms kept me rather busy this year.  We hosted 50 weddings, along with 20 other events with which I assisted.  With as many as 4 or 5 events each week between April 5th and December 5th, my schedule was hectic and averaged 50-60 hours/week (for my part-time job!). In addition, Jorgensen Farms expanded its farm sales to Jeni’s Ice Cream, local restaurants (such as North Star Cafe, Hollywood & Third, and Alanna’s), as well as Whole Foods & other markets.  I am fortunate to have truly amazing co-workers there, and I have developed great friendships through the farm!  It is a pleasure to work with Matt, and I am sincerely appreciative of the opportunities I have had there thanks to my friendship with his mother, Val (who often reminds Matt that she picked me first!)

My own farm is an absolute joy to me, especially now that I have downsized my livestock herd to be more compatible with my off-the-farm commitments.  I only bred 30 does & 15 ewes this fall, and am returning to kidding & lambing in the spring.  After two years of being in the barn during terrible cold spells in January & February, I realized just how wise my grandfather was to plan for babies to arrive in March & April!  I also have Flirt the Horse, Cecilia the Donkey, 26 crazy chickens, barn cats Peppermint & Mask, and my notorious house cat Cash.  I lost both of my dogs this year, and find myself without a dog for the first time in my life.  I enjoy visiting with Grace the Yellow Lab of Jorgensen Farms, and hope to find a new dog in 2015.  I remain very close to my neighbor kids, Joseph (16) & Eliza (8), and they are a great help at my farm!  Joseph is very good with livestock, and he is slowly developing his own herd of goats.  I am blessed to have very good neighbors on Berger Road!

I tremendously enjoy my volunteer work with Ohio Farm Bureau, and I was re-elected to a second 3-year term as a state trustee at their recent annual meeting.  It is very engaging to work on policy issues relative to the farm community, and I have developed great friendships with individuals across the country thanks to the opportunities which I have had through Farm Bureau.  I will be traveling to San Diego in January for the 2015 American Farm Bureau convention.  The 2014 convention was in San Antonio, and I was able to combine that trip with a wonderful stop in Dallas to visit my brother Sean & his girlfriend Nicole.  Sean continues to teach, and he is fortunate to have a fantastic partner in Nicole.

My brother Kevin is still based in Philadelphia, and does quite a bit of travel with his band.  I picked up a “Nemesisters” tee shirt during a tour stop in Ohio, and I am very proud of his dedication to music!  My brother Ian lives just outside of Columbus, and is working for a company that maintains food service scales.  These skills have been a great asset to Blystone Farm Butcher Shop when repairs are needed!  Joe expanded the shop significantly this year, and it offers numerous products from other local farms.  There is a dedicated bakery now, and this keeps my step-mother Jane very busy.  My two younger brothers Mason & Josh both work at the shop full-time, and it is awesome to see their skills develop with the farm business.  I enjoy helping out with the quality assurance paperwork, as well as animal handling documentation.  It is exciting to see how this business has grown since Mother & Joe opened it in December 2004 as a very small on-farm custom slaughterhouse!

My grandmother turned 97 in May, and continues to do well for her age.  She is still very good friends with “The Colonel”, and they eat most of their meals together at the dining room of Sterling House.  Grandmother’s cat Carlotta passed away in early December, at the age of 19.  I am sure she will miss her pet, but a constant stream of visitors keeps her spirits up.  Her address: Ina Marie Harrison at 609 East Water Street #119, Urbana OH 43078.

In October I worked again at Quarter Horse Congress for my friends Carl & Kathy Wilkinson.  It was a busy month with weekdays at Congress & weekends full of weddings, but I enjoy assisting at their Western jewelry booth.  I am very excited to return to Denver in January 2015 to work for them once more at the National Western Stock Show!  They are amazing individuals, and I have learned so much from them about business & about life.  They have become family to me, and I am always in awe of the great people God has sent into my life.

My Thanksgiving was wonderful: lunch with Matt’s family, then dinner with the extended Harrison-Blystone-Link family.  I hosted a dinner that weekend for my “farm family” of kids that have worked for me over the years.  They are all doing fabulous, and their lives are full with school, jobs, spouses, and growing families!  I also got to see my very good friend Amy Bricker who was visiting Columbus from her new home in Florida.  Amy is like a sister to me, and it was awesome to be together for a visit!  I look forward to hosting my family again this year for Christmas brunch, then I will join Matt to travel to Michigan after Christmas to visit with the Jorgensen Family (a lovely group!)  On New Year’s Day, I will fly to New Orleans to meet my brothers Sean & Kevin and my step-mother Debbie for a celebration of Debbie’s birthday!  I am very excited for this!  Debbie has been a positive influence in my life since I was small, and she is an extraordinary mother to my brothers.  My parents were remarkable individuals, and I feel extremely fortunate that they gave me great step-parents!

I am grateful for YOUR presence in my life, and I send best wishes for a happy Christmas and a blessed 2015!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pearl Harbor Day

Last night at Mass, I was pleased to hear my priest reference Pearl Harbor Day in his message.  He spoke on the need to remember those who lost their lives and recognize their sacrifice to preserve freedom.  This morning, I was delighted to find that many of my Facebook friends had posted references to Pearl Harbor.  Growing up, my grandmother often spoke of Pearl Harbor Day.  Since it was a Sunday -- the one day of the week that my grandfather worked a short day as a farmer -- my grandparents were on a date that afternoon.  They had recently started dating, and he took her to see the movie "One Foot in Heaven".  As they left the theatre, they heard the news of the attack.

In January 2012, I had the honor of visiting Pearl Harbor with my good friend Tonja.  It was a beautiful day, and we were both profoundly touched by the experience of seeing Pearl Harbor.  While there, I met the gentleman who is shown in the picture above.  He was a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack, and was signing copies of his memoir.  I enjoyed speaking with him, and had to laugh as he expressed that one of the best parts of signing books was pictures with "pretty girls"!

It seems at times as though the Pearl Harbor attack was long ago, yet it impacted American lives in ways that still resonate today.  My grandmother would lose her beloved cousin Ray in the Battle of the Bulge, and I have the Purple Heart which he was awarded and that his mother gave to my grandmother knowing how close she was to Ray.  My grandfather initially anticipated that he would serve in the military since he had been in ROTC while at OSU.  Instead, the government mandated that farms must stay operating to support the war effort.  As the only child of a handicapped father, my grandfather instead stayed home to manage the farm.

Since Matt & I began dating, I have enjoyed learning about his family heritage.  When we started dating the difference in our ethnic backgrounds was not something which I even really considered . . . Until the first time that someone made a slur against Japanese people in our presence.  I suspect this individual had no idea that Matt's slightly ambiguous ethnic appearance was actually half-Japanese -- and I think the situation discomforted me far more than it did him -- but for the first time I really considered the differences in our background.  One of these differences, was the way that World War II impacted our families as Americans.  While my grandparents worked to support the war effort and lost family members, Matt's grandparents were imprisoned by their own country.

As a young person, I became aware that families of Japanese heritage had been imprisoned during the war, but it never touched me personally as anything more than distant history until I began researching Matt's grandparents.  There is a very useful website maintained by the government that provides records for Americans of Japanese descent who were relocated to camps.  Matt's grandmother and her family were sent to a camp built in Arkansas.  This was the same location where George Takei was imprisoned as a child, and I like to imagine that he & Matt's grandmother played together as children!

Matt's grandfather was a young adult when the war started, and his family was taken from their home in Seattle and sent to the Minidoka camp in the middle of Idaho.  Ted Karikomi had never been to Japan, spoke no Japanese, and was a high school graduate with a job -- yet was still considered enough of a threat that his entire family had to be relocated from their homes and imprisoned.  On archived records of Japanese relocations, it was noted by government officials what potential the individual might have for work.  The mention of being a possible typist or chauffeur does not indicate the future success that Ted Karikomi would find as a decorated enlisted man in the military or as a family doctor in rural Michigan.  It amazes me that this young man chose to join the war effort as soon as he was permitted, fighting for the very nation that had mandated the forced relocation of his family.  That was how much he valued his country.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a tragedy whose impact is still felt.  My grandfather was born in 1919, and Matt's grandfather in 1922.  They were both young Americans who loved their country and served it to the best of their ability during the war and after . . . as citizens, husbands, and fathers.  Yet, their experience during the war was vastly different, primarily because of their heritage.  We are so blessed to live in this great country of freedom, and -- much like my pastor said -- we must never forget those who have helped to protect those freedoms.  There is no other nation on earth like America, no other place where immigrants from any continent can build such free lives.  And these liberties must be protected from all aggressors.  As we live our fortunate first world lives, it behooves us to remember those who suffered to ensure our present blessings.  And we must always be willing to share that burden to protect American liberty for future generations!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Citizens for Stinziano

Last night I got to enjoy one of those great moments when you are able to stop and be amazed by life!  While enjoying cookies and discussing farm policy with some of my favorite people, I was struck by how engaging politics can be when the people involved are really good people.  

Our Franklin County Young Farmer council (aka the Irish Pirates) met last night at Harrison Farm.  We had delicious pizza from the Pump (proper name J&R's Pizza & Pub of Lithopolis, a local institution), and I made my first solo attempt at my Grandmother's chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Per Brother Man Josh, the cookies were a huge success!  I was very excited that Josh and his friend Ben were able to attend our council meeting.  They both work at Blystone Farm Butcher Shop, and it was great to introduce them to Farm Bureau activities.

State Representative Michael Stinziano was our guest speaker last night.  Representative Stinziano's district encompasses much of downtown Columbus, along with Bexley, German Village, Franklinton, and parts of OSU.  While this area might not immediately seem to be one that would offer its representative a direct connection to farming, Representative Stinziano has distinguished himself as someone who cares about farming and who understands the importance of agriculture in our community.  It is an honor to have this dedicated individual as a friend of the farm community, and as a personal friend.

Representative Stinziano shared his thoughts with our council on the upcoming General Assembly.  He discussed what he saw as challenges for the legislature in general, and particularly for farm-related legislation.  The 18th House District is metropolitan, but it does include urban gardens and the Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences. Representative Stinziano has established himself as someone who works with both Republicans & Democrats -- in his District and in the legislature.  I cannot fail to mention that amongst his other accompllishments (devoted husband & father, graduate of OSU's law school, former Director of the Franklin County Board of Elections), Michael Stinziano is a fellow graduate of my alma mater, the University of Richmond!

I originally became acquainted with Representative Stinziano when he was running for his first term and met with representatives from our county Farm Bureau.  He impressed me then with his open nature and with his willingness to learn about farming, and he has continued to demonstrate those qualities.  Yesterday the Ohio House was in session, and thus Representative Stinziano worked late and then drove out to my farm in the dark to talk to a small group of farmers.  This was not a fundraising event and it was well after the 2014 elections.  Representative Stinziano drove all the way out to the farm after a very long day simply to show his support for the farm community and to discuss issues with local farmers.  That speaks volumes to me about this public servant.

Sometimes I forget just how fortunate I am to have met so many political leaders.  It is directly thanks to Farm Bureau that I have had these opportunities.  Last night's discussion reminded me of how fortunate I am to be involved with a bi-partisan organization that works for common sense in government.  Watching Josh & Ben interact with Representative Stinziano (one of the first state politicians they have met), reminded me what great opportunities are provided for political engagement through Farm Bureau.  Josh & Ben worked all day at the butcher shop, and then had chocolate chip cookies with a leader of our great state!  I must also applaud Representative Stinziano for sharing his love of government with others.  His passion for public service and his knowledge of local issues helped to create in these young men a solid appreciation for policy work.

My grandfather was quite active in local politics, and he created in me a love of policy discussions.  I think he would have enjoyed the fact that his granddaughter had the opportunity to host a prominent young politician for a discussion with local farmers . . . And I think Grandmother would be delighted that I am attempting to perfect her Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

I was 37 years old before I conquered my fear of pies.  My mother was an AMAZING pie baker.  Apple, coconut cream, lemon meringue, pecan . . . She made them all with ease.  My very favorite was her annual pear pie, when our small pear tree would have enough fruit to merit the best pie of the year.  I never wanted to compete with her outstanding talent, and always figured that "someday" I would have her teach me to bake a pie.  Unfortunately, I never took advantage of that opportunity.

My dear friend Emma is a gifted pie baker just like my mother was.  When she visited me last year, she took the time to show me how she made a crust.  Eventually -- thanks to a desire to impress my new boyfriend, the continued prodding of my step-dad, and an inherent hope I could live up to my mother -- I began to try pie making.  I hope my mother started out with as rough a skill set as I had before she mastered great pies.  Alas, my greatest limitation is my lack of patience . . . Which has led to regular Katherine Pie Crisis situations!

My favorite pie so far is a Bourbon Chocolate Pecan, adapted from a Southern Living Cookbook.  I use my mother's crust recipe, although I think a pre-made crust would not detract from the robust flavors.  Tonight's Pie Crisis involved my realization that I neglected to purchase light corn syrup.  Fortunately, Matt intervened to avoid catastrophe by creating a "structurally similar compound".  Apparently cooking is an art AND a science!

Whisk together:
4 large eggs (preferably from Harrison Farm!)
1 cup light corn syrup (or other scientist approved sucrose compound)
6 tablespoons melted butter
Half cup sugar
Quarter cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon (I prefer Maker's Mark or Buffalo Trace for cooking)
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon vanilla

Add 1 cup coarse chopped pecans & 1 cup chocolate morsels.  Pour into pie crust, then bake at 350 for one hour.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream (or, in Matt's case, serve with both).

The great thing about this recipe is that it has such robust flavors that the bourbon & chocolate cover up any mistake . . . Even a notorious Pie Crisis!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Great Man

It seems that some of the greatest men in our world live lives of quiet nobility.  They love their spouse, raise their children, provide for their family, and walk humbly with their God.  While it is hard to conceive of a funeral as uplifting, I cannot imagine that a person could have attended my neighbor's funeral without feeling immensely better about the world that it could have created a man such as Eric Howlett.  

Nearly everyone who knows me has either met or heard about my neighbor kids, Joseph & Eliza.  Their family moved into the next door property adjacent to our north pasture several years ago, and initially I just knew them as pleasant neighbors with several kids.  A few years ago, Joseph developed an interest in animals and would often visit when I was working in the barn.  His younger sister Eliza was his constant companion at that point, and I came to enjoy & appreciate the company of these two children.  Joseph is a steady, quiet, hardworking young man.  Eliza has more sass than any child I have ever met.  Most of our visits follow a similar agenda: Joseph quietly helps me feed & care for the animals, while Eliza updates me on the daily adventures of being the youngest of five kids, quizzes me on my life decisions, pontificates on why I am still single, and then suggests flavors of ice cream I should keep in stock for her.  These two young people hold a prime spot in my heart, and I know that they have done more for me than I could ever do for them.

Remarkable young people do not exist without influential parents.  Eliza & Joseph are blessed with a wonderful set of parents.  Their mother Chris is a gracious, hardworking woman -- exactly the kind of woman I hope to be if I ever grow up.  Their father's intelligence & dedication is obvious in Joseph, and his love for others can be seen in Eliza's giving spirit.  Many times Eric would stop by to say hello when he saw me working outside, and he never failed to pitch in and help if he could be of assistance on a job.  As Joseph began to develop his own herd of goats, I often interfaced with his parents to provide support to Joseph on this endeavor.  I was continually amazed that Joseph's parents encouraged his interest in being a farmer -- even if it was not their particular interest and despite the fact that he eventually took over much of their front yard for his goat operation.  What was even more inspiring to me was the way in which these parents showed the same wholehearted support for all five of their children, and never failed to model to them how to live life helping others.

Just as they supported their children's dreams, Eric & Chris supported each other's goals.  Eric recently was hired as a commercial pilot, the culmination of a youthful dream & many years of hard work.  When I heard of his death, it shook me to the core.  I immediately drove down to hug Joseph & Eliza. I eventually learned that their father was flying solo from Chicago and had experienced engine failure.  He was attempting to return to Midway airport when his plane crashed in a residential neighborhood.  It hit a house -- even leaving debris as close as 8 inches from the bed where the couple was sleeping who lived there -- yet no one else was hurt.  The crash was all over the national media, even on the inside cover of my Wall Street Journal.  

Eric's memorial service took place over the weekend.  There was standing room only for the service.  It was truly a testament to the impact which Eric had on people and the love which others have for his family.  Two of Eric's brothers read beautiful eulogies written by his mother and by his wife.  The one which his mother wrote was full of love, and helped me to appreciate the experiences which formed Eric into the generous individual which I knew.  I was absolutely amazed by the strength and grace exhibited by Chris in the words which she wrote about her husband.  They truly had a great love story, and that love was evident in the respect & affection with which she described her husband.  Chris shared that the remarkable nature of the crash -- a pilot goes down in a residential area and yet he is the only one hurt -- brought her the understanding that he was being very specifically called to God.  

Chris is a resilient, beautiful woman, and I have no doubt that she will be a great strength for her children to rely upon.  A fund has been set up to benefit the family, and if you were so moved, donations would be sincerely appreciated.  They can be directed to the Eric Howlett Family Fund, in care of the Canal Banking Center at 6360 Prentiss School Drive, Canal Winchester OH 43110.  

I have been extremely touched by my friends who have reached out to offers prayers & support for my two young friends.  In reflecting how I can help Joseph & Eliza, I want to assist in making sure that they can both continue to carry out their dreams.  I know that there is great support from an amazing extended family and a fantastic church family, but I also know from my experience of losing parents that when funds are limited they are directed to basic necessities.  Knowing the promise that Joseph shows as a farmer, I want to do all I can to ensure that he has the resources needed to carry on with his livestock enterprise.  He has a birthday coming up, and I hope to get him a nice gift certificate to our local feed store.  If you know me personally, and are able to contribute to help this young farmer, I would be very grateful.  

We need more men like Eric Howlett.  We need more people who live in such a way that their life serves as an inspiration to others.  We need more parents who are completely dedicated to their families.  Eliza & Joseph were blessed to have such a man for a father, and I was incredibly fortunate to know him.  Eric took the picture of Eliza and Joseph and me at my farm in 2013, and gave it to me as a Christmas gift last year.  It hangs in my kitchen, and it is a beautiful reminder of a very happy occasion.  Eric was a wonderful neighbor and a good friend, who leaves a remarkable legacy in his five awesome children.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cowgirl Chic v. Wardrobe Fail

Lately, I have had several reminders that what constitutes normal attire for me (Stetson jeans, cowboy boots, Western jewelry), is not normal attire for mainstream society.  This was hit home on the evening of 10/31 when I was complimented on my Halloween cowgirl costume -- which was just me in my standard clothes!

Matt enjoys & tolerates my standard attire.  That being said, we do have different opinions on fashion (he basically owns three summer outfits, and three winter outfits).  A recent conversation between us only highlighted our different thoughts on clothing . . .

Matt: "I was looking at those pictures in the dining room of you on the Wagon Train."

I was surprised by this comment.  Not the wagon train part (my step-sisters and I were forced to participate in an annual wagon train re-enactment in the Dakotas as children -- if you ever want to hear scarring childhood stories about bathing in ponds full of leeches, riding miles in a wagon under the hot prairie sun, and wearing uncomfortable pioneer clothes, you can read Laura Ingalls Wilder books or just have a conversation with me!), what Matt said that made me pause was that there were no pictures from the Wagon Train in the Dining Room.

Matt: "You know, those pictures of you in all your pioneer dresses.  From all the different wagon trains."

I was still baffled.  "No.  There is a picture of me in the kitchen with Heather, and Alison, and Jen.  And there is a picture in my office of me & Mother from the wagon train.  But there are not any in the dining room."

Matt was insistent.  "Yes, there are.  Those pictures all in a row on the wall between the dining room and the kitchen."

Suddenly, I understood what Matt was referencing.  "No, Matt, those are not pictures from the wagon train.  Those are my school pictures."

Lesson learned: the modern American male does not appreciate the Little House on the Prairie-inspired fashions for girls of the late 1970s and early 1980s!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Antibiotics & Farm Animals

This morning there was an article on the cover of the Wall Street Journal (the only newspaper worth reading) that focused on the evolution of antibiotic use in farm animals.  The essential point of the article was that as consumers showed more buying preference for animals raised without the use of antibiotics to promote growth, that this was leading to more farmers choosing to raise animals in this way to tap into this particular market.

I am an advocate for farmers being able to choose the production methods that are best for them, and consumers being able to choose the foods that fit the needs of their family best.  Last night I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel that answered questions on agriculture for claims agents through Nationwide insurance.  The panel followed table discussions on farming, and a delicious meal by the chefs at Northpointe Conference Center.  For each course, information was shared on where each ingredient originated, how far it travelled, and the cost of each item.  The most interesting item for me: a dinner which cost approximately $29 to make and could retail for $85 at a restaurant, brought less than $10 total to all the farmers who helped to raise it.

I always enjoy talking to people about farming, so the opportunity to answer questions on the panel was a great deal of fun for me.  There was questions on such diverse topics as organic versus conventional, the role of the FDA, and how GMOs can assist in feeding a growing world population. Conversations like this always highlight for me that people like to talk about food & farming -- and there is a definite lack of educated, fact-based knowledge on farming.

This was on my mind as I read the article this morning on antibiotic use.  As with most scenarios, perception can be everything.  The statistics shared in the article illustrated that the American public is very concerned about antibiotic use in farm animals -- and yet largely uneducated on facts when reaching this perception.  Just as with antibiotic use in humans, prudent & reasonable amounts can be of huge benefit.  Overuse in any animal (whether human or goat) is unnecessary.  What is necessary is that farmers have the ability to prudently treat animals who do need antibiotics.  I believe that consumers should have the freedom to support a variety of farming practices through their purchasing power.  If an antibiotic-free product can benefit a consumer & a farmer, then I am a definite advocate for this option!  I am also an advocate that farmers should have the ability to treat their animals in the best way possible for their situation.  Doody the Goat received antibiotics when he was little -- and this helped save his life!  He also received a course of medicated feed along with his fellow goats, when this was needed for them to grow in a healthy way.  Freedom of food choice is very good for consumers -- just as the freedom to farm in the best way possible is very good for farmers!