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Pumpkin Parables

pumpkin 2010

Nick’s State Fair Pumpkin, 2010

Little did I know when I took my kids to their first 4-H meeting 11 years ago how it would change our lives.

The leader walked in with a box of small pumpkins. He pulled a pumpkin out of the box and told a story. The pumpkin had a single bad spot on the back. “The pumpkin could spend its time focused on this bad spot and worrying about its flaws. If it does it misses the point that if you see the other side, you see a pumpkin that’s round and fun and makes people smile.” He had raised  the pumpkins in his garden. Then he gave the kids a pumpkin to take home.

Over time, Dan, that 4-H Leader, became one of the closest friends of my family. He took my kids to heart like he did all the kids in his club, cheering their victories and encouraging their talents. When my son decided he wanted to learn to grow pumpkins as a 4-H project, Dan agreed to let him grow them in his pumpkin patch. He taught Nick how to start them from seed transplant them, and then care for them. Their pumpkin plants became an annual tradition. Each year, they tried different varieties. When the harvest was good, like the year they harvested a truckload, Nick shared pumpkins with all his friends. In lean years, they struggled to find one ready to show at the county and state fairs. Each year, they tried again. Several of Nick’s pumpkins won special merits at the State Fair.

Dan encouraged members of his 4-H Club to participate in speech and demonstration contests, both at the county and state levels. Often, when his club members competed at state speech and demonstration contests, Dan went to support them. In the 20 years Dan has been head leader of his 4-H Club, 5 members won State Fair Demonstration Contests and won trips to Washington, D.C.  Yes, I’m biased – my kids were 2 of those 5. With his encouragement, my daughter won a spot as 1 of 2 Indiana delegates to the National 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C., and my son won a spot as 1 of 9 Indiana delegates to the National 4-H Congress in Atlanta. His vision broadened my children’s worlds.

Dan’s influence on our family extended beyond pumpkins. He recruited me to become a 4-H Leader and encouraged me to get more involved with our county’s 4-H Leaders and 4-H Council. When our county needed a new computer project superintendent, Dan encouraged me to take it on, and his mother (also a 4-H Leader) showed me how to do the job.

When my daughter broadened her 4-H experiences to include animals, Dan was there. During high school, she exhibited both chickens and llamas, and Dan was always willing to buy her animals at our fair’s premium auction.

As Nick got involved with robotics contests in our area, Dan encouraged me when I decided to start a county robotics project. That expanded into my starting a new club, and Dan again encouraged me to take the leap that became our 4-H Tech Club. Tech Club opened 4-H opportunities to a whole new audience, and Dan used his experiences to mentor me with my new club. I worked to replicate his standards for excellence and desire for diversity and inclusion. Dan had served 2 terms on the National 4-H Leadership Trust and shared their vision with me to help raise the standards in my own club.

Dan became the older brother I never had – the kind who could be completely trusted. He saw me at my worst but inspired me to be my best. I could count on Dan to give me his honest opinion in each situation, which sometimes meant we disagreed. He had no problem telling me no when he thought it was what I needed to hear.

Nick's Confirmation

Nick’s Confirmation

My kids also knew Dan could be trusted – when Nick went through Confirmation, he chose Dan as his sponsor. At the time, Nick told me Dan would make a good sponsor because he lived his faith and always did the right thing. Dan was more than a 4-H Leader; he worked as a local prosecutor for the past 24 years, as the director of drug law enforcement in Vanderburgh County and then as the Chief Deputy Prosecutor of Warrick County.

Dan gave his time to multiple non-profits, including serving as the President of our diocesan St. Vincent de Paul Conference that works to help the poor. His legal expertise helped multiple nonprofits, including our 4-H program and multiple Catholic organizations. In my own community service leadership, Dan helped me whenever needed.

Dan is among that handful of trusted friends I have who are family. During our challenges the past 11 years, including keeping our business viable during the 2008 downturn, recovering from my heart attack, or helping me with legal situations, he was there when needed.

And now times change. The Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council hired Dan as their drug resource prosecutor. He will be moving to Indianapolis to start his new job and a new chapter in his life. So he’s moving when we’re all decorating with pumpkins.

Smiley Face Pumpkin

Smiley Face Pumpkin

Nick displayed his final pumpkin at this year’s fair. He snagged one of my Sharpies and drew a big smiley face on it. I asked him why, and he said that smiley faces make people smile, and he wanted people to smile when they went through the vegetable exhibits.

Anyone who knows my son knows he shares his humor and always finds ways to make life more fun for those around him.

The take-away? When Dan brought that box of pumpkins to a meeting 11 years ago, he was doing with pumpkins what Johnny Appleseed once did. He planted seeds in the youth of his club, as well as countless other organizations. Those seeds have and will spring forth to bear fruit – good fruit – that already do and will continue to make the world a better place.

Ripples from Gugin’s Bench

A lifetime ago, I sat at Gugin’s Bench – before it was formally dedicated at the University of Evansville this year.

What did that mean? I was a headstrong kid sometimes living on more chutzpah than money, who could do as well in school as I did badly in life. But no matter how I messed up my personal life or made stupid choices, I could go sit at Gugin’s Bench.

Gugin would sit there, ask me penetrating questions, and bark at me. No matter how hard he barked at my choices and me, I trusted Dr. Gugin completely and knew he had my best interests at heart. He saw potential in me and encouraged it.

I was not alone. Lots of other diamonds in the rough – kids with battle wounds and scars – also sat at Gugin’s Bench. Both local and international students flocked to that bench.

Gugin saw our vulnerabilities but built up our strengths – almost like a real life Professor X in the X Men. I learned more sitting on that bench than I did in most classrooms.

Two funny stories about Gugin – when my husband met him, Gugin privately talked to him – “She’s special and if you mess with her, you’ll answer to me.” (For a girl without a Dad, I truly appreciate that.)

The other is when I took time off my career to raise my kids. I drove by that same bench as I took my kids to violin lessons and Gugin would bark at me, “When the hell will you get a job and start your career?”

I barked back at him, “These kids are my job.” He told me he knew that, and we would both laugh.

What life lesson did I learn from him?

Inclusion is powerful. When we seek and work with people from different places, with experiences and cultures different from our own, we all gain in the long run.

One professor, sitting on a bench, on a circular drive in the middle of a college campus became a magnet for many. I took what I learned at that bench and have used it to impact other people in my world.

We will always grow more with different people who challenge us than if we sit comfortably in a rut full of people who live and look just like we do.

Over the years,  I’ve met others who sat at Gugin’s Bench. We then have an instant bond of what we gained while sitting there.

And I wonder, as we have paid what we gained forward, will we create our own benches, and where will they be.




The World Through the Eye of the Needle

I am utterly flabbergasted.

Today, I saw a new exhibit at the Evansville Museum, Through the Eye of the Needle: Fabric of Survival. I knew it was coming and knew it was about World War II but knew nothing else. The exhibit is a collection of tapestries that walk you through a story of loss and survival through the eyes of a young girl in Poland in World War II. I won’t share their story because the exhibit itself tells you.

As I started the exhibit, looking at tapestries, I was drawn in after the first two tapestries. What was going to happen? How would things change? Who would live and how would those who did live survive?

Note – I don’t recommend seeing the video until after you see the exhibit. Let the tapestries tell their own story.

These tapestries combine the beauty of excellent crewel embroidery with a primitive talent better than Grandma Moses with a true story that is unimaginable in its pain and resilience. Her ability to capture the beauty of the surroundings of rural Poland in the midst of catastrophe gives them an incomparable power.

This is hands down the most important exhibit to come to Evansville in decades. I love art museums and have visited exhibits my whole life. I would rank the power of this one with seeing Rodin’s The Kiss at the Tate Gallery in London in 1987, the Monet series at the Art Institute in Chicago in 1990, and the Vatican Collection in St. Louis in 1998.


Some in our world have forgotten that we are all human and we must honor human dignity. This exhibit tells in artistic form the story of a slippery slope down the path of human cruelty. The slope, made slippery with human suffering, ends in concentration camps.

We must not forget what happens when human dignity pushed to the side for any reason.

This exhibit will stay with me for a long time.

If you live near Evansville. go see this exhibit. It’s a must see. It’s here till November 30.


5 Whys and 3 Hows to Help the St. Vincent de Paul Friends of the Poor Walk

The Society St. Vincent de Paul is one of the best kept secrets of the Evansville – Tri-State area with its effort to help those who are needy in our community.  What are the details?

St. Vincent de Paul Friends of the Poor Walk

  • Saturday, September 29, 2012
  • Evansville State Hospital Grounds
  • Registration is at 8 a.m., and the walk begins at 9 a.m.
  • 1 Mile and 5K routes will be available.
  • Financial and food donations are welcome.

Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Help the Friends of the Poor Walk

  1. There will be 160 other Walks for the Poor on the Same Day – you’ll be walking with over 18,000 others across the United States.
  2. All funds raised by the Walk for the Poor will be used in Southwestern Indiana to help the poor and the needy.
  3. In the Evansville district, there are 26 Catholic parishes actively involved in SVdP services. (Posey, Vanderburgh, Gibson, and Warrick Counties) who provide direct emergency assistance to the local poor. Half of the funds raised Saturday will directly help those parishes help the needy in their own back yards.
  4. Lasts year, SVdP helped more than 4,900 families and individuals in the Evansville area.
  5. SVdP must raise its own funds not only to help with parishes but to manage their food pantry (which provides food to low income people who can visit the store once monthly if they qualify) and the thrift store which is open to the public but provides clothing and household items to those in need. SVdP does not receive funding from the Diocese of Evansville or the Daughters of Charity.

Top 3 Ways to Help the Friends of the Poor Walk.

  1. Join the walk. Bring your friends and donations.
  2. Donate money online. If you search for the following walkers and donate to their walks, your money will stay local: Beamer, JillGries, PamelaGries, JanetThe Jackson Family, Cor UnumTorrevillas, WilchelaTorrevillas, Wilchela, or Williams, Cynthia.
  3. Donate food items to the Tri-State Racquet Club. They are accepting donations through September 28.


How to Help Evansville Food Pantries

This morning’s Courier notes that cupboards are almost bare in several area food pantries. As of June 30, the Tri-State Food Bank has received 41% fewer commodities from the USDA, at the same time that donations from the food industry have also declined.  Unfortunately, local donations are also down by 9% this year.  When food pantries purchase food items, they, too are impacted by rising food prices. And demand for their services – from those who are hungry – has increased.

How can we help? Donate. Listed below are local food pantries and places you can donate to. Donations can either be monetary or shelf stable food items.

I am posting this now to help get information out. If you know of collection sites to help food banks or pantries, let me know so I can include them on updates.

Please share this with your friends, your church groups, your business networks, and other organizations you think could help us help one another during a long, hot, dry summer.

Vanderburgh Needs a Fireworks Ban Now

In the midst of a historic drought, where there is at least one field fire every single day in our Tri-State area, I simply do not understand the delaying of a fireworks ban in Vanderburgh County. As a homeowner, I’m thankful I live in the city where we do have a fireworks ban.

The fact that one of 3 commissioners is out of town is not an excuse in the 21st century. The business of government surely has mechanisms such that all 3 do not have to be in town to get anything done. If not, it’s high time we developed them.

Methods by which a decision could be made without an in person meeting of the 3 commissioners:

  • Telephone (ancient technology)
  • Fax machine for signatures on documents (old technology)
  • Emailed documents
  • Skype or other virtual meeting platforms
  • Delivery service. If it needed to have an actual document signed and in place today, then the documents could have been prepped yesterday, signed who knows where, and delivered by way of Federal Express early delivery today.

If there is no way that any decisions can be made in Vanderburgh County without the presence of all 3 commissioners, then we need to vote in a requirement that they must stay within the county limits for the term of their office to ensure the business of the county can continue. (sarcasm intended)

We have farmers struggling to survive the worst drought in 50 years, where thousands of acres of crops are dying. Why would we risk burning subdivisions, farms, and fields while at the same time putting people and animals at risk to let someone light a firecracker or a sparkler?

Now, we have the beginning of a water shortage. Hmmm…let’s see. If a firecracker let off in the county starts a fire that burns 200 acres, it just might strain our limited water resources further.

More efficient uses of that water than fighting fires because the county commissioners haven’t issued a fireworks ban:

  • Factories that employ local people who are taxed and contribute to our area’s tax rolls.
  • Irrigation of farm fields to keep crops from dying.
  • Personal use by families – as in drinking, bathing, and laundry water.
  • Commercial use by restaurants not only in the preparation of food but also in cleaning those commercial facilities so the food is safe to eat.
  • Commercial use by livestock farmers and stables who are working to keep animals alive.

If we can prevent catastrophic damage, and preserve limited water resources, why wouldn’t we?

If a fire happens from a firecracker set off in the county, will the commissioners who chose not to issue a fireworks ban be listed along with those who shot the fireworks in lawsuits? Or will it be our whole county, where we all will pay for their failure to set a ban?

Disclaimer: Eleven years ago, our home and business burned. I know the devastation (personal and economic) that fires cause and simply can make no sense whatsoever of this failure to invoke a ban.

My Martha Kent Moments of Motherhood

Smallville - Amazon Affiliate Link

These days, as a mom, I increasingly feel like Martha Kent. During the richest, most rewarding years of my life, I have poured my energies into the raising of my children. As they begin to leave home, one adventure at a time, I’m that crazy mom back home watching them leave to pursue their own destinies while I stay in the background in Smallhome instead of Smallville.

Except I’m probably more like the going grey Martha Kent of the comic books of my day instead of looks too young to be an older mom Senator Red Queen Martha Kent a la Annette O’Toole in the TV series.

My kids still live here, but each new adventure takes them a little further from home. Sometimes they leave the nest at the same time for their own unique journeys.

On their journeys, they do things their way which can be different from my way. Sometimes when they share their solutions for problems, my first instinct is to ask, “What?” Their approaches can seem alien to me. Over time, I’m learning that instead of pushing them to do everything my way, the outcome is better when they develop their own way. What works best for me will not always work best for them.

That reminds me that my kids aren’t my children given to me to keep. They were given to me to raise and let go.

Most of the lessons I could teach my kids have been taught – talking, the tying of shoes, reading, writing, arithmetic, and a work ethic. As they leave the nest, I wonder at the places they’ll go and the people they’ll be. As they soar on eagle’s wings, I thank God for the chance to know them and raise them. They will venture to places I’ve only dreamed of seeing.

In Superman talk, their adventures will lead them to discover unique ways to honor “truth, justice, and the American way.” As they do so, I’ll play the Ma Kent role back on the family homestead, cheering them on and cherishing them through the victories and loving them through the defeats.

Now, as the back seat cheerleader, I can only repeat the words of St. Catherine of Siena:

Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.


A 4-H Remixed Recipe Challenge

When I say “I have a dream,” my husband cringes because it often means some massive new project. Well, this time, I was in a dream and it inspired a vision of a new 4-H project: Remixed Recipes. The purpose of the project would be to take old family recipes, analyze their nutritional content, and remix them with changes so they are healthier and provide more nutritional value.

Back story? As our 4-H leaders were recently preparing box lunches for a meal (described in my Box Lunch Balancing Challenge blog), I pushed and prodded more nutrition in each lunch. The president of our 4-H leaders told me as we prepped lunches she had a dream about me the night before.

She dreamed that I started a new 4-H project to encourage healthier eating. In her dream, she saw the project rules:

  1. Members would take a family favorite traditional recipe and analyze its nutrition content.
  2. Members would then replace or add 3 ingredients to make it healthier to eat. They would analyze the nutrition content of the new recipe.
  3. Members would prepare a sample of the new recipe for judges to try and would exhibit the old recipe, with the new one.
  4. These recipes would be kept and accumulated each year so as members continued in the project, they would have a collection of healthier alternatives to family favorites.

This has real potential to be a great 4-H project. Since I’m already covered up as superintendent of 2 project areas (creative writing and robotics) and assistant superintendent of a 3rd (computers), I don’t have the time to make this dream a reality.

In order for it to happen, in our county, we would need to find a superintendent and then work through a process of project review to add it.

Since I was “in a dream,” I now “have a dream” to make this a reality and am looking for someone to shepherd it through the 4-H project process for Vanderburgh County, Indiana.

Then, this morning, national 4-H tweeted about a comparable opportunity. The CDC has a new Recipe Remix tool to remix your favorite recipe.  I asked if there were any counties running this as a project. They said no. Challenge accepted.

  • Can we find someone to make this project happen in our county?
  • If you’re in 4-H in a different county, why don’t you try to make it happen in yours?

In 4-H, we are working to foster a revolution of responsibility, where our young members learn responsibility by doing projects and accepting challenges.

Maybe it’s time as 4-H leaders we start another revolution: a Revolution of Responsible Eating.

My Box Lunch Balancing Challenge

Can food providers provide healthier food options that are affordable and that people will eat?

Vanderburgh 4-H Leaders addressed that challenge this weekend as we provided box lunches for Startup Evansville, a weekend activities to encourage business startups. We needed to provide easy to eat box lunches for participants.

In our county, to help cover the cost of project manuals for 700 4-H members, leaders volunteer to cater fundraisers.

As 4-H Leaders, we are fully committed to teaching youth to make healthful choices.  With this box lunch gig, the question presented itself: will we practice what we teach? If so, how? What will people eat?

The USDA may technically identify a pickle spear as a vegetable (no wonder those school burgers included pickles), but they are a nutrient detriment that adds salt to the diet. So we shopped and bargain hunted, still including some traditional options. Our final decisions?

Day 1 lunch:

  • Hoagie turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches
  • Potato chips
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Organic spring mix lettuces
  • Veggie packs with broccoli, grape tomatoes, celery, and organic carrots.
  • Apples or bananas

Day 2 lunch:

  • Turkey and ham wraps with cheese and organic baby spinach on artisan whole wheat tortillas
  • Potato chips
  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Veggie packs with broccoli, grape tomatoes, celery, and organic carrots
  • Apples or bananas
We also included additional trays with extra tomato slices, cucumbers, and green peppers in case anyone wanted to add them to their sandwiches.

After delivering the second day, I stayed to observe participants eating. What foods would they eat? Which would they skip?

They ate the vegetables. (and the chips, cookies, and wraps) Not everyone ate everything, but most of the participants did eat vegetables when offered them as an alternative. Several also chose the fruit.

My challenge to you: if you organize a meal or event, add at least 1 additional fruit or vegetable into the menu.  And add 1 more vegetable a day to your own plate, at each meal.

Comment below to share how you meet the balanced box lunch challenge.

The USDA has ideas on how to incorporate more vegetables into your diet if you need it.

Bottom line: we can balance the traditional box lunch without breaking the bank.


For Those Who Mourn

In a terrible moment, lives change and worlds turn upside down. Tragedy strikes, time stops, and it seems as though the earth under our feet has crumbled.

When we see those tragedies happen to those we love, we struggle to find the words and know what to do. So all we can say is we’re sorry, we’re praying for you, we’ll do whatever whenever we can to help you.

Evansville, Indiana may be bigger than the town of 6,000 where I grew up, but it’s really a bunch of small towns all sewn together by road maps. We have many ties and love our neighbors. At least most of them.

I struggle to find words this morning to comfort those who mourn and just wanted to share the words of my friend Bill, Evansville Watch, that he posted on Facebook:

Life can change in an instant. Tonight’s tragic accident is a reminder to us all of that fact. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the fallen firefighter, to the injured firefighter and to their family and friends. To the McCutchanville Fire Department family, please know we are praying for each of you. We can’t begin to understand your pain but as a community, we mourn with you. So often we lean on your shoulders as you help us through life’s tough moments. Please feel free to lean on us now..we are here for you.

I know that any firefighter across the country that hears of tonight’s tragedy will feel a pain in their heart too. They are part of one big brother and sisterhood and when one hurts, they all hurt. As I said the other day, these guys and gals walk into places you and I run from. They are our everyday heroes and when a tragedy like this strikes, it deeply affects us all.

We pray for the fallen firefighter..we pray for the injured firefighter..we pray for their families and friends..we pray for each and every one of you. 

May God be with you.
May God bless you all.

Bill, Debby, Jaga, Richard, Kristi and
the 16000+ members of EvansvilleWatch

For those who mourn, our tears join yours. You are lifted in prayer.

Please know that those who love you will do whatever we can to help you during this terribly tragic time.

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