Friday, June 26, 2009

Triumph in a Deadline

When I was a kid, our tradition on New Year’s Eve was to write down our new year’s resolutions and store them in a “time capsule” that we wouldn’t open until the following year. Each year, I would anxiously return to the capsule to find out what goals I had set the year before, and how many of them I had achieved. Year after year, I was let down. I began to experience feelings of defeat, derived from a combination of things: Looking through past resolutions, I came to the realization that I had been setting precise goals too high for myself. Because they were set so high, I often felt that they were unattainable. Overwhelmed by the attempted feat, I lacked the determination to turn my failures into success. Finally, tucking that sheet of paper away throughout the year didn’t lend me any reminders that I was not achieving what I had put my mind to early in the year.

Though, we don’t get together as a family on New Year’s Eve anymore, I have individually continued this tradition on my own, and plan to pass it on to a family of my own, someday. This year, I intentionally left my list of goals out on my dresser where I would see them every day, and where they would serve as a reminder to me, to improve in those areas of my life. I also set goals for myself that I was likely to achieve with a little determination. As a result, I have already accomplished over half of my goals, and we are just approaching the second half of the year.

JoAnn and I have been intently working on gathering material to include in Pork Business Journal, the magazine. I completed the article I will be contributing for today’s deadline, just hours ago. After being immersed in research, brainstorming, writing, and editing all week, I am about to enter into the weekend with a sigh of relief, and satisfaction.

One of the goals I had set for myself at the start of the year was to have either some of my writings or my photographs published. Today, I will submit my article to JoAnn that will be sent off and put into print in the days to come.

Before I begin celebrating the much anticipated weekend ahead, I am going to go home, and check off the most recent goal that I have accomplished!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Nights, Summer Days

There is an abundance of fireflies out in the yard tonight. They are a beautiful sight, and are something I will extremely miss when I return home. I am sitting on the porch, listening to soft music, and enjoying a cold drink. It’s 9:30, the air is still, humid, and warm. Crickets are singing their tunes of serenity. There really is nothing like enjoying a mid-summer night on the porch in a small Midwestern town. It is everything I expected it to be and I have adjusted well to my new Iowa home.

I am very fortunate to have been paired with JoAnn for the summer. I don’t think it would have worked out any better if I had hand-picked her myself. We get along extremely well, and share a lot in common with each other. When I returned from the race, I sat and told her all about it. Then, together, we went to her back yard and picked a bowl full of blackberries. I sat at my computer, working on some research for a magazine deadline we are quickly approaching. As I clicked away at the keyboard, the smell of blackberry cobbler filled the air. We shared a midday dessert, cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. JoAnn frequently teases that it is her goal to corrupt me this summer. I suspect she will succeed in corrupting my strictly non-dessert diet.

I have been politely informed that my vocabulary won’t fly around here. Evidently I am sitting on the “veranda” watching “lightning bugs.” Other words I have added to my Midwestern dictionary: “supper,” “pop,” “brat” (pronounced “brought” as in the sandwich, not the rug rat) and “yup.” During conversation, I am used to people commonly using “yeah” as a filler word. Here, they’ve got a handle on “yup,” which really is pronounced, "yip." It cracks me up! And apparently I have broken an Iowa state law a few times. You aren’t allowed to make u-turns out here. Granted, there isn’t much use for them on the two-lane highways that run north, south, east and west.

My first encounter with the “noon whistle” nearly made a town fool out of me. I was sitting on the “veranda” with my neighbor, Shannon, when the whistle went off to inform the town of the noon hour. I however, was under the impression that it was informing the town to take cover, and would have done so had Shannon not been there to let me know otherwise. I am extremely fearful of tornadoes, and the weather we’ve been experiencing during my stay here has not calmed my fears. The storms are frequent and many.

There have been a few things that took me a while to get used to, but the food is not one of them. Staying in one of the top pork producing states, I have encountered some of the most amazing pork since I’ve been here. I am afraid I will leave just short of corn harvest, though.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Racing Around

Sweat soaked through my t-shirt as I stood in the humid, 86 degree weather at the Iowa Speedway, photographing the 2009 Iowa Corn Indy 250 winner. It was my first time representing the media at an event. I was trying to take it all in and simultaneously capture time-sensitive photographs. The crowd grew wild when Dario Franchitti entered the winner’s circle, stood up in his car and removed his helmet throwing both hands in the air to celebrate his victory. Shutters went off all around me as fans yelled out, requesting autographs.

Prior to lap 250, I spent a good portion of the day running between the media center, hospitality tent, and the Pioneer suite, where I met Chet Culver, the Governor of Iowa. We briefly discussed the detriment of California’s economy and the production of ethanol in the Midwest. I went on a pit tour with the directors of Iowa Corn, attended a press conference with Helio Castroneves, and stood inside the announcer’s box, listening to the latest stats on the competitors.

Before the race began, the Corn Growers gave away a brand new Chevy truck. I was assigned to sit in the back seat of the truck during the giveaway and push balloons out of the door when the winner, who possessed the key to the truck, unlocked it. I sat in the passenger seat as an Indy employee drove the truck onto the track and positioned it in front of the stage. Driving on the track the day of the race was a thrill, even if it was just a Chevy, and not an Indy car. Once we parked, I sat and watched Shawn Johnson, sitting in a cart, waiting for her big introduction to the stage. She flashed a rehearsed smile each time somebody stepped in front of her with a camera, constantly disrupting her privacy.

With all of the rain we have seen, water was bubbling to the surface of the track, threatening a cancellation, the day before the race. But the weather permitted the race to go on, and I walked away with memories that will last a lifetime.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Speedway Thrills and Regrets

Driving up to the Iowa Speedway stirs feelings in me similar to those of a young boy attending his first professional sports event. Visiting Candlestick Park, and Safeco Field, provoke a similar surge of energy, but arriving at the Speedway is a unique experience.

People gathering outside the track smile from ear to ear, chatty and eager, as those inside busily prepare for the main event. My assumption is that those smiles reflect their inner child. As we make our way down a dark tunnel, we approach the large opening at the other end that opens wide to the center of the track where Indy cars steadily circle around us. The roar of the engine is exhilarating, growing with intensity as they approach, and then return to a subtle buzz at the opposite end of the track. We are surrounded by lighting and sound systems that don’t compare to any I’ve seen before. Large screens are set up alongside the stage and meticulous trailers are lined up on the tracks core. The grandstands sit empty as I ponder the energy that will fill them on Sunday. Amongst all of this, I am offered the chance of a lifetime:

I was assigned to take pictures of certain folks affiliated with the Iowa Corn Growers Association, who got to take a ride in one of the Indy cars. Mindy, who I have the privilege of working alongside this weekend, offered her spot to me…and I didn’t accept. My own brother has disowned me for this reason, and it’s a decision I deeply regret. However, grown men were stepping out of the cars, their entire bodies trembling. I am only more convinced that I would not have been able to handle the 3.5 g’s the cars reach around the turns. Still, you are right, concluding that I am crazy for passing that chance by.

The Iowa Corn Growers staff was welcoming and friendly on this first day. Before my arrival, they were confused by the addition of my name on their schedule and questioned, “Who’s Leah?” I quickly became known as “Leah the Intern,” and was referred to as such on many introductions.

After the two-seater rides ended for our guys, I accompanied Edith and Craig to a nearby gas station where staff members were holding a “Pump Promotion.” They handed out t-shirts to customers, educating them on the efficiency of ethanol gas, as they filled their tanks with it at a discounted price. CEO, Craig Floss, awarded one random customer with a $250.00 voucher for ethanol fuel. Pioneer staff members helped out, adding a fun energy at the station. The guys quickly dubbed me “Fresno,” and I took to them like older brothers.

Before we left, Mindy and I made an appearance at the Pioneer Suite. When we opened the door, the guys hollered almost unanimously “Fresno!” We shared a drink before preparing to leave, when an announcer came on the loudspeaker. “Please exit the grandstands.” Weather had taken a turn for the worst, leaving us all wondering if the race would be postponed.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Weather Permitting

We have had a significant amount of rainfall since the first of the month. Brewing storms overhead keep me awake, I will admit, out of fear that a tornado will develop. Mighty winds, crashing thunder, and pounding rains don’t exactly make for a peaceful night’s sleep for someone who has just been exposed to their first “TORNADO WATCH” on their television screen.

Though the majority of the days have been cloudy and gloomy, the sun does make an appearance, usually in the afternoon. It did so last night, inviting me to go for a jog. However, running through humid “air you can wear,” as my neighbor puts it, is nothing like running in the extreme dry heat that I am used to. I found myself gasping for air much sooner than usual, and ended the jog in a similar fashion. After the sun went down, I watched from the neighbor’s deck as the clouds began to gather, and lightning started flashing. I am hopeful the weathermen are right about their clear predictions for the next few days, as a big weekend lies ahead.

I met with Mindy, Ann Marie, and Edith from the Iowa Corn Growers Association again this morning, to tie up a few loose ends and review our detailed schedule for the next three days. Tomorrow kicks off Sunday’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 race. Two hundred journalists from around the world are expected to cover the event, and I have my very own set of media credentials! Though my main objective is to obtain photographs for the event, I am there to assist the members of the Association in making sure the event runs smoothly, and as planned. I am looking forward to another eventful weekend which you can be sure will be updated here in the days to come, so long as the weather permits.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cinnamon Rolls, Race Cars and Rural Iowa

After catching up on some well-needed sleep, I was thrust right back into a jam-packed schedule. Last Monday, JoAnn and I met some ladies from the Iowa Corn Growers Association to discuss the Iowa Corn 250 race that I will be helping with next weekend. We ate at The Iowa Machine Shed, which is, from what I understand, a regular stop for native Iowans. Five of us shared a cinnamon roll that words truly cannot describe. My portion alone spoiled a perfectly fine order of biscuits and gravy. I honestly didn't think they could get any better than the famous cinnamon rolls at the Big Fresno Fair. But I was disproved.

We then made our way to the next meeting with Rita Ann Venner and Marilyn Poppen, a couple members of the Iowa Master Farm Homemakers Guild, to finalize plans for a meeting and tour they will be hosting this September for the Country Women's Council. I rode along to the different stops planned for the tour.

Howell's Dried Florals & Greenhouses was the first stop. The upper floor of the barn has been converted into an area designated for drying decorative plants and flowers. The sweet aroma that permeates the air as you ascend the stairs is unparalleled, and the sight breathtaking. The gift shop below is packed tightly with beautiful arrangements and gifts for sale.

We strolled through the greenhouses at both Howell's and Groth's. Having just completed an ornamental horticulture class last semester, words like "parallel venation," "pinnacle" and "succulent" raced through my mind as I observed the different species of plants. I am sure Dr. Bushoven would be proud having that kind of influence on a student with a greater animal science background!

Our next stop was at one of the famous Madison County Bridges. Cedar Bridge is the only one you can drive over. It is surrounded by lush greenery lining both sides of the river. You access it by a gravel road that when disrupted, sends gusts of dirt trailing vehicles. A cattle pasture lies at one end where the cattle roam freely and graze quietly. The sight was incredible.

The town sqaure in Winterset completed the tour. We talked to the women running the Fons and Porter quilt shop, one of which was quilting when we paid our visit. It was the first time I had seen a modern piece of machinery that is used to incorporate such detail into a multi-purpose, story-telling piece of material we call a quilt.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

2009 World Pork Expo

My first day on the job, I was submerged in media madness. The World Pork Expo was being held at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, where I shadowed JoAnn, attending press conferences and seminars about the latest and not-so-greatest in the pork industry. My first day at the office, I got to upload my first press release on the updates to the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence website, developed from notes I took at one of the conferences. We obtained videos for the website, spoke to many industry folks and I spent some time at the booth, handing out copies of the Benchmark magazine, which contains an annual report of pig production and performance numbers. Lunchtime was no doubt the highlight of each day. I could easily get used to having ribs, tenderloin and pulled pork on a daily basis. And so it went for three days, then I finally got a weekend to catch some sleep and get settled into my apartment.

Though I wasn't surprised at the somber mood of producers and industry leaders, it was disheartening to see first-hand the effects of the downward plunge in the market. Though great advances are being made in production practices, economic strain has dented morale. Times are tough, but positive prospects for the future are not surrendered. Leaders are fighting to emerge out of the darkness into a day where production will not only be efficient, but profitable again.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Corn Fields and New Beginnings

I have been in Iowa for a little over a week now. Driving down the rural roads, I am captivated by the rows and rows of corn that sprouted just before my arrival here. With all of the rain we have received, I am daily perplexed by the amount of growth that takes place right before my eyes. As I embark on this journey in the Midwest, I can't help but make the connection between my new beginning and the sprouting corn fields. It is as if I am being exposed, for the first time, to an abundant sunlight that contains the essential components that will shape me into a productive young woman, who will be ready for harvest at the end of my voyage. I am eager for this opportunity ahead of me. I am confident I will face numerous experiences that will make lasting impressions on me, develop lifelong memories, as well as endless open doors. I am extremely grateful, and eager to see what lies ahead.