Over the years, it feels like I am always saying no to this and no to that because of farm responsibilities. We can’t go out for an evening summer drive because we’re too exhausted from putting hay up all day. We don’t drop a line in a nearby lake because there are too many unfinished jobs. We stay home from a party because a cow is calving. It seems we’re sitting on just one side of the farm life teeter-totter. So, I am trying to find a new balance and have started to say yes. Yes to new adventures and new discoveries involving the farm. I am even dragging Mark along on this new ride.
The Crow Wing County Dairy Days has asked almost everyone in our family to judge their show. All three boys have judged it when they were done with college. They even asked me to judge one year. When I finally quit laughing at the thought, I asked them why. They said I would be good with the kids. I agreed I would love to work with the kids, but the cattle side of the event would be a total bust. I suggested they ask Mark; he is the best judge in our family and knows how to talk with young exhibitors. After many years of finding different excuses, he finally said yes.  
Mark has a natural eye for judging cattle. He can envision their potential and notice the faults which could hamper their production. He had never given a set of reasons but has heard many styles and types while our kids were in the ring. He did take a dairy evaluation class under Ev Stransky at the University of Minnesota-Waseca and learned a few things from her. We have even hosted dairy judging workouts for 4-H, FFA and college judging teams so something had to sink in over the years.
The week of the show everything was going bust on the farm and judging seemed to be out of the question. The irrigation system kept breaking down. The silo unloader motor was blowing fuses. To top it off, second crop hay was ready to cut. Austin and I assured Mark he needed a fun day off to talk cows with excited young kids. We weren’t going to let him use the farm as an excuse to say no. Besides, we had an extra set of hands on the farm because I had said yes to a new family adventure.
  In late May, I saw a posting asking for International Farm Youth Exchange host families in Minnesota. IFYE is operated through the 4-H program when I was growing up. I had always wanted to travel and live with families in a different country through IFYE but never said yes to the opportunity. I wasn’t going to let this chance pass me by again.
I applied for us to host an exchangee for three weeks. They would live in our home and become a part of the family. There wasn’t much time between when I volunteered and when the IFYE would arrive. There was an application to fill out, background checks to run and a home visit to complete before Julia arrived from Germany.
The application was easy until I reached the bottom of the page where I was asked to provide three references. At my age, who do I use as a reference that is relevant? I am generally the one writing a reference for 4-H’ers or neighbor kids as they apply for scholarships or first jobs. Who would the IFYE program trust as an expert on our ability to host an exchangee?
This sounds like the start of a bad joke where three people walk into a bar, but I asked a former boss, a lifelong mom friend and a current dairy farmer who is an extension youth agent. I wasn’t too worried about what they would write. They are all articulate and could provide testimony to our family life.
It was interesting to hear their observations about our family. Most of what they wrote was how I would describe us. But, there was one question that left me feeling a bit exposed. “What distractions or limitations would there be for us as a host family?” All three said work on the farm would be our limiting factor. This observation just reaffirmed my decision of why we needed to start saying yes.
I may have gone a bit overboard on saying yes, but I can blame it all on Julia, our IFYE family member. I wanted to provide her with a broad view of life not just in central Minnesota but in the Midwest. I picked her up on a Monday morning, and our first stop was a thrift store to buy some farm clothes and shoes. She wasn’t quite sure why, but at the end of three weeks, she completely understood.
To be a member of this family means we all work together on the farm. Everyone has their jobs. Julia quickly learned how to feed and bed calves with me. I didn’t realize how nice an extra set of hands could lighten a workload. She willingly pulled the wagon filled with bottles around to each of the domes. She even weeded the whole sweet corn patch while I did other jobs before we started off on an adventure.
Wednesday we jumped in the car and started our journey celebrating life in the Midwest. Sherry Newell traveled with us as her family dairy farm is on the way to my family beef farm. With two former farm broadcasters traveling together, Julia just had to sit back, listen and take in the scenery.
 We were heading to Illinois for a weekend of family events. There was the cousin’s lunch complete with blue plate specials, a family reunion with Midwest cooking including lots of desserts and a baby shower with the games people play. On Monday, we jumped back in the car, picked up Sherry and started traveling westward across Iowa. We were heading to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the National Holstein Convention. Sherry and I were two of the public speaking judges for the youth contest. By the time we returned home on Tuesday evening, we had traveled 1,550 miles through four states. This was just Julia’s first week as a member of our family.
Her next experience was a dairy show. With her help, we were able to complete our morning chores and get Mark to the show on time. As we sat in the stands, I explained what he was doing and why. I don’t know who was having more fun in the ring, Mark or the kids.
I think my farm life teeter-totter may be shifting as I start to say yes to new opportunities and adventures.
As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.