Wake up, Illinois! Ag, the State, and Peotone Airport

Foreword: this post is half-rant and may have some inaccuracies. Please let me know of any and I will do my best to research and correct the information.

I’m on my spring break right now. I’m sitting in Kansas City, enjoying the sights and sounds of a fairly large city. The town I grew up in is nothing like Kansas City, though. The town I grew up in, Momence, Illinois, has a population somewhere between three and four thousand. The high school graduating classes are right around 100, and that’s including kids that are bused in from outlying neighborhoods and villages. In warm spring and summer, the town is framed by a lush carpet of pastures, and fields. Corn, soybeans, wheat. On a warm summer day, when the wind blows just right, you can smell the herb fields west of town where basil and oregano help stimulate the local economy. The Kankakee River, which runs right through historic downtown Momence, has a great reputation for big pike and large populations of bluegill.

We all know each other. We all take care of each other. It’s a pretty magical place to have grown up. While my mailing address is no longer in Momence, it’s still in a way home. The memories, the people, the places…they’re all near and dear to my heart. Nowadays, though, the State of Illinois isn’t helping rural community. Continue reading

Life is Fragile.

This blog has cows on it. It’s an ag blog, and to anyone who comes here hoping to read about agriculture, I apologize; life has dealt me several cards lately that make me focus a bit more on the part of this blog that is devoted to life lessons and growing up. After all, KellyMRivard.com is a consolidation of two blogs: one about ag, and the other about my journey from young, inexperienced student to well-rounded adult.

2011 and what we’ve seen of 2012 thus far have been rich with life lessons. Some were because of ag. Many went hand-in-hang with it. Others…well, they’re lessons that we all will learn sometime, whether we work in agriculture or not.

Recently, I was reminded of a lesson that I’ve learned far too many times: the fragility of life. Not just the act of living; it’s understood that we all will die at some point, although we never know when or how. And as shocking as an unexpected death can be, there’s also a metaphorical death of “life as we know it” for those left behind.

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Introducing “The Leap List”

So, it’s no secret that in a few months my life will change forever. My decade-and-a-half run as a student of formal education will end, and the next stage of my existence as a student of life with commence. I’ll be a college graduate, and hopefully a full-time working professional. Every time I consider this, I have a very confusing blend of emotions. Fear and uncertainty, pride and confidence, excitement and exhilaration, sadness and nostalgia. It’s bittersweet, but I’m hoping to make the most of what’s left of my life as an “irresponsible college student.”

Let’s face it, there’s a lot less wiggle room when you suddenly have a nine-to-five and consistent responsibilities. So, I’m writing up a “Leap List,” as my psychology-savvy roommate told me it was called. I’m making a to-do list of things to do while I have the freedom to now, as a college student, before I take that big leap into the next stage of life.

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Social Media has caused some interesting “first experiences…”

2011 has been a year of firsts for me. When I think about those firsts, I realize that most of them happened because of social media. Before Twitter, I was a pretty sheltered little country girl. So here’s a list of “firsts” I had this year because of social media (italic text is added after publication, due to things I’ve forgotten and have been reminded of by friends):

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Life Lessons Learned as a Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs Fan

Much like the admirable groups of 4-H and FFA, playing sports can teach important life-long lessons to young people. I know countless people who developed virtuous qualities on the playing field, such as self-discipline, perseverance, and overcoming difficult. The experiences learned on a court can incredibly important to a young person’s development. Similarly, important lessons can be learned on the sidelines, or from the living room couch.

You see, I’m a Chicago sports fan. Primarily, the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Bears. And a quick look at their recent seasons shows that they haven’t exactly had game-changing results.

I wear this, proudly. Daaaa Bears.

So, all of those memories I have of settling down onto a couch and hanging my head in shame at the most recent loss by my hometown teams…they’ve added up into some great moral fiber! I am a stronger person because of it!

Just to name a few:

  • Optimism. As Cubs fans say, “There’s always next year!”
  • Loyalty. If you can stick beside a losing team year after year, you can probably dole out loyalty where it really matters…like, with family, friends, and partners.
  • Hope. All of those losses and dead-end seasons make the wins and milestones so much better! It is through darkness that we learn to truly appreciate the light.
  • Perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
  • Realism. Almost converse of optimism, this quality is the understanding that you probably won’t win against the best teams, but it’s fun to dream.
  • Acceptance. Sometimes accepting what is outside of our hands can be a major turning point in our experiences as humans. Just like we must learn to hand our fate to God despite knowing things may not go our way, we must also be willing to let our dignity rest in the sometimes-incapable hands of the teams we support. And when things don’t go as well, we continue the learn the lessons listed here.
  • Appreciation. It isn’t always the wins that make us love our teams. While I never go to Wrigley Field expecting a massive season-altering win, I do go expecting a great time. I go expecting to have a fantastic experience in the most beautiful baseball field in the U.S. with a crowd that’s unlike any other. I appreciate the Cubs and the Bears for many reasons, and it isn’t because of their ability (or lack thereof) to rack up the wins.
  • Empathy. When another friend’s team loses, I’m more apt to say, “I understand how you feel,” than I am to say, “Nah nah nah boo boo!” Unless, of course, the team is one of the following: The Chicago White Sox, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Green Bay Packers, or the Indianapolis Colts. (The baseball and football teams are listed respectively by decreasing amounts of hatred, if anyone was curious.)
  • Toughness. My team may have lost, but I sure at heck ain’t going to let the haters make me feel inferior!

So, you see, being a sports fan has some benefits. It has other benefits, for different folks, too. I know a lot of people whose mathematical skills have developed simply because of tracking stats! That isn’t the case for me, however.

Wrigley's man-operated scoreboard is the best way to follow game stats in Major League Baseball! Ain't she a beaut?

I joke and laugh about how cheering for losing teams is a character-building activity, but, at the same time, it reaffirms many of the valuable lessons I learned while conducting FFA meetings, doing volunteer work with 4-H, or running drills on a soccer field. I joked a lot recently on Twitter about being a sore losers when the Broncos beat Da Bears in sudden death overtime, but I rolled with the teasing with a good nature and smile. Life doesn’t always go according to plan, and sometimes we’re playing a losing game. If that’s the case, take a page out of Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears fans’ book: smile, move on, and prepare to meet the next challenge head-on with all of the speed of Marlon Byrd and all the force of Brian Urlacher!

Talking Agriculture with City Slickers

Because of my newfound place in the urban corporate world (while working in the rural agriculture industry) and my three-years-and-counting stint as a resident of Chicago’s ritzy west suburbs, I have spent a lot of time around people I fondly call “city slickers.” I’ve written about feelings of apprehension regarding my adjustment to suburban life, but I’ve come to love the different lifestyles I’ve had, in a separate-but-equal sort of way. There are pros and cons to living in the country, the burbs, or the city. The people you surround yourself with can make a big difference.

Sometimes the conversations you have with people in a different setting and lifestyle are priceless.

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Take the Girl Out of the Country…

In the face of recent identity crises regarding my rural roots and suburban situation, I found myself stuck. You see, the country is the land I love. I’m a rural girl. However, my current educational situation has me plopped right in the middle of the most affluential suburb in the state of Illinois: Naperville. It’s been voted onto Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live” list not once or twice, but three times. It’s a nice place. It’s a picture-perfect example of what suburban utopia ought to look like.

It’s a great place to live and go to college. Do not get me wrong about that. However, given my background of country living and my interest in agriculture, I’m a little bit…misplaced.

You see, you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.

Let’s face it. Naperville isn’t exactly the flourishing grounds for someone who prefers to wear cowgirl boots. It’s not where you’d expect to hear someone use words like “britches” and “y’all.” You’re much more likely to see Jimmy Choo’s than Ariats here. Yet…I use those words and I wear my cowgirl boots with pride. I buy my clothes at the farm supply store. Most of my college peers buy their clothes at boutiques.  There’s days I feel like a fish out of water, but I always know I can go home to rural America and soak it up.

My worn in, stained, ridiculously-comfortable bomber boots. I took this picture as I sat in band rehearsal in my college's state-of-the-art fine arts center.

In fact, I’ve got plans for this weekend to go do just that. I’m going back to my hometown of 400 people. I’m going to head back out to the boonies and walk in the woods. I’m going to go for a tractor ride with an old friend. I’m going to enjoy the simple, rural way of life. The slower pace, the welcoming atmosphere.

Recently, I went to a farm just outside of the suburbs; the farmer I was with assumed I was just another suburban girl. When I asked him if they were doing a corn-on-corn rotation for a specific field, he seemed shocked. I continued to surprise him throughout the duration of the visit. Apparently, he hadn’t expected this little lady from Naperville to know what a moldboard plow was, or to understand the necessity for refuge. I surprised the heck out of that guy! And it’s all because I have one foot in each world. I may be living the suburban lifestyle at school, enjoying all the resources of the city…but my head and my heart belong to the agricultural world.

With that said, I’m going to go kick off my boots, stretch out on the couch, and do some studying. As long as I’m here attending North Central College in the suburbs, I should at least try to be a good student.