Road trip to Minnesota

My colleague and I drove from Nebraska to Minnesota for our last National Extension Leadership Development (NELD) session. I have blogged about our other sessions here, here, and here.

We were told about which is a fun website that let’s you choose how far off your road you would like to travel to see a variety of things. On this trip I selected no more than 5 miles, and for us to see tourist attractions and other odd ball things.

Below are some of the fun things we saw through Iowa which included the site of a Bonnie and Clyde bank robbery, the largest concrete gnome in the world, the oldest Dutch windmill in Iowa, and a spider made from a Volkswagen beetle!

Timing food, bathroom, and fuel breaks around these stops helped to make this an efficient adventure!

What adventures do you look forward to?
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My story: 10 Immigration Tips when Marrying a non-American

My husband is from London, England – born and raised. We met in 2006, were engaged in 2009, and married in 2010.

I had really never thought much about immigration before marrying a non-American. Growing up in agriculture, migrant workers from all over the world were needed to help with annual ranch work, harvest, tending to livestock, and other duties that occur in day-to-day work.

Do I think the U.S. has an immigration problem? Absolutely! However, I believe immigration is necessary and important. At the same time it is not easy, is time-consuming, and it is expensive.

My first-hand experience with immigration has led me to have some unique and personal experiences and thoughts on immigration. There are several ways to become a U.S. citizen through immigration, I am only familiar with the ins-and-outs of marriage immigration.

Last Friday, the hubs and I finally hit a milestone, he received permanent resident status! It has nearly taken five years to get to this point, but now he can take the U.S. citizenship test!

As we prepared for our final interview, and reflected on the past several years preparing for this day to come we thought we would put together a “top 10 list” of things we wish we would have known when we started this journey. Our list is two-fold, we hope that these tips can help others going through the immigration process. We also hope you have a better understanding of  what people going through the immigration process endure. We hope you will ask questions about the process instead of assuming what you hear or see through the media is the truth.

flags_final10 Immigration Tips when Marrying a non-American (in no particular order)

1. Get an immigration specific lawyer. Our first lawyer was a general practice lawyer who had little to no experience in immigration law, we wasted time and money…

2. Do not try to complete this process yourself – get a lawyer. When you start down the immigration road it seems fairly straightforward, and you believe you can do it yourselves – you can’t. Just hire a lawyer! Having someone to keep all of the forms, rules, and regulations straight is worth it. Additionally, this person will file all of the forms on your behalf and represent you if/when needed.

3. Not sure where to find a good lawyer? Contact your place of employment (for me, that was the University of Nebraska-Lincoln). While they were not able to directly help us since I was not the immigrant, they did provide recommendations for several lawyers, which was tremendously helpful.

4. Do your research. We read everything we could find online about the immigration process. There are many online forums and people who share information about “their experience” which is helpful in understanding what you may experience.

5. The process is going to be expensive! No way to get around it. I am not just talking about the lawyer, you will pay Homeland Security and other entities as you go. You will also have travel expenses to see your lawyer and to get to your nearest immigration center.  At one point we took out a small loan from the bank, and at other points we have asked our lawyer to put us on a payment plan.

6. Be sure you completely understand any travel restrictions, time limits, rules, and regulations. A failure to understand these could result in delays or a deferral of your case. For us, there was a time period that we could not travel out of the U.S. until a form had been processed. Every time we moved to a new residence, a new form had to be submitted with the new addresses. There are lots of little caveats that a good lawyer will clearly outline for you.

7. Save everything! At several intervals during the immigration process we were asked to gather evidence of our relationship. It is important to have both names on any financial documents (bank accounts, retirement funds, life insurance policies, etc.), housing/apartment leases, utility bills, tax forms, etc. – anything that shows you coexist together. Also, if friends or family send cards or other life announcements with both of your names, save these. You will need proof of a life together!

8. Take pictures together and with family and friends at every chance you get – document your life. Photos are also a great supplement to the items mentioned above in documenting your life together.

9. When/if you get called for an interview, don’t sweat the small stuff (easier said than done). If your relationship is legit you have nothing to worry about. When we were notified of our interview we were very nervous. We were told sometimes it is random, they may have a question, or they may need a little bit more proof. Even though we are “perfect citizens” there is the fear of the unknown. Our interview was only about 15 minutes, it was straightforward and easy.

10. Be patient. This is not an easy or quick process. Immigration in real-life is not the romantic comedy Hollywood makes it! While each immigration story is different, I hope our insights will either help someone you know going through the process or help you better understand what the process is like.

Wedding day
The hubs and I on our wedding day.


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Farm Tours: Another perspective

I can’t believe it is already the middle of August! Where has the summer gone?! I feel like mine was spent dragging a suitcase through an airport, where I got more sleep on an airplane than I did in my own bed. The good news, I have a ton of posts in my head, I just need to get them down here!

One of my job responsibilities is to provide the Saunders County Livestock Association members with an annual agricultural tour. This was their 56th annual! Pretty amazing that there is that much history and tradition within this county based association. It is also tradition for the Extension Educator who does the tour to take them to their “home” area, for me that is Western Nevada and Northern California.

The annual cap is nearly as important as the annual tour! And the red was a great color choice to find persons in our group when we were in busy public spaces.

I had 43 men sign up for the tour (the women stay home and supposedly have their own vacations while the men are away); good thing I am tough and can handle that much testosterone! Since we were flying, I had planned a six day, five night adventure out into the Wild West. We traveled via planes, boats, and buses 🙂 Below are photos from our recent trip. This was only my second tour to plan, but oh what a learning experience these have been!

You would think that since these guys see and deal with agriculture everyday, they would not want to see more of it when on vacation. But that is further from the truth – they love to see what other farmers and ranchers are doing across the county. I hope you enjoy this recap as much as the guys and I enjoyed participating in the 56th annual trip!

travel fun
We flew from Omaha, NE into Reno, NV. In route we saw Lake Mead near Las Vegas. And we saw a great bear mount in Reno.
Day 1_final
Day 1 included a trip to Seven Troughs Whiskey Distillery where we had a great catered lunch consisting of brisket and tri-tip (a west coast meat treat). We also got to see the open air fermentation process they use for their spirits. We toured a beautiful ranch where we saw some great Hereford bulls. And finally, we ended the day with a relaxing dinner cruise on Lake Tahoe. As an extra bonus, two representatives with the Nevada Department of Agriculture joined us. It was a great addition as the tour participants could ask them about all things concerning Nevada agriculture.
day 2-final
Day 2 included a trip to Jacobs Family Berry Farm where they are growing 27 different varieties of berries to determine which ones grow best in Western Nevada. We also went to Bently Ranch were they are growing their own crops for a whiskey distillery they are building. Additionally, they raise a lot of cattle and have a large human waste composting program. This stop was fun, because the Nebraska corn farmers were thrilled to see and talk corn with the Nevada cowboys. We had the chance to tour the “behind the scenes” of Topaz Lodge Casino (no photos due to sensitivity of the tour). Our last stop was a garlic farm which was in the middle of harvest. It smelled great, and accompanied dinner nicely…
My parents hosted the group for a Lamb BBQ Dinner. Some in the group were not terribly thrilled about this, as they had experienced mutton before (which is old sheep, and very different than lamb). David, the garlic tour host gave our group an entire burlap bag of garlic, so we cleaned some of it up and threw it on the grill too. I think by time the night was over the group had developed an appreciation for lamb and roasted garlic!
day 3-final
Day 3 meant heading over the Sierra Nevada Mountain range – which was hard on a few of the guys. Personally, I enjoyed being back in the mountains and enjoyed the scenic beauty. On this day the Sacramento County Farm Bureau hosted us and provided a turkey farm stop, a cutting edge dairy that has an automated calf feeding machine (which provided milk, hay, and grain every couple of hours) and a huge methane digester that we could walk on! We also went to a sturgeon caviar farm and saw the fish in various life stages. The fish also enjoyed our visit and splashed us as they showed off. We topped off the night with barrel smoked steaks at Giusti’s (locally recommended and enjoyed too). On this day my Mom also hopped on the bus with us!
Day 4 -final
Day 4 was spent in the Delta, just south of Sacramento, CA. It was a great day to see the diversity of crops grown. It was also pear harvesting season, so we enjoyed fresh pears and pear ice cream! Our Delta tour guide also made the day extra special by finding some fellow Nebraskans (i.e. Huskers) living in the area that hosted us for lunch. Come to find out one of the hosts and one of the tour participants were kin! We finished out the day at an olive tree and oil processing farm, where my tour participants were thrilled to talk wheat farming on California hills with the family! This was an eye opening day to the diversity of agriculture in the area. We also saw first hand and heard about the effects of the drought as well as the fight for water for agriculture. It will be a tough battle for California agriculture, one that we are now more sympathetic too.
day 5 final
The interesting thing about planning a tour like this is how it changes over the months (I start planning in January, and we leave in August). My original day 5 was much different than the day 5 we got, but it was an excellent day. Day 5 was a day to do and/or see the things in San Fransisco that interested you most. For some that included trolleys over the infamous hills of San Fransisco, the seals, mass at a Catholic church, and more. For me it was taking in a variety of things (and time with my Mom). I was not able to get our group tickets to tour Alcatraz (as I should have booked those in January!), so we did the next best thing – a boat ride around Alcatraz and Angel Islands and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Next a group of us took a tour up to Muir Redwoods. While it was busy, it was beautiful and peaceful. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or scenery that day.
day 6 - final
Day 6 was just a travel delay. We left San Fransisco and headed back to Omaha. The entire experience was great, there was only one bag that got lost coming back to Nebraska. Not too bad for 44 people traveling for six days!!

This tour was especially important to me, as I took everyone “home” to see the area I was born and raised in. It was very interesting to see things through 43 other sets of eyes. These tours are a lot of work, but they are also a lot of reward to see them come together.

I have heard many of the Livestock Association members reference how great the trips were when the other Educators prior to me took the group “home” – so I had big shoes to fill! I think all of the guys really enjoyed it, and it will be one they talk about for years to come. P.S. – my Mom was already invited to hop on the bus again next year!

If you would like more information about any of our tour stops, tips for planning a large tour, or are interested in participating on a farm/ranch tour – please let me know.


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Alabama Delights…Wordless Wednesday

I have been in Alabama this week, from Huntsville to Mobile, and several places in between. Alabama is hosting the 99th annual National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) meeting.
The food in the south is always fun, interesting, and delicious. For this land-locked Nebraskan it is an excuse to eat a variety of foods (especially seafood!). Below are just a few of the things I have enjoyed this week!


What are your favorite southern foods?

Leadership Advice from Washington DC

As previously mentioned (here and here), I am fortunate to be part of the National Extension Leadership Development (NELD) NorthCentral 2014 cohort. This is a year-long professional development training for my colleagues and I from land-grant Universities from the Mid-West.

In front of the Capital!

We just wrapped up our third session in Washington DC where we focused on the effects of power, influence, ethics, and environmental situations on leadership. We had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of various corporations, institutions, non-profit organizations, as well as our respective elected state officials, their staffers, and many others.

Nebraska NELD members with Senator Deb Fischer

Over the course of the past five days our group asked the various leaders we met to share their journey to get where they are today, as well as their leadership skills and attributes with us. They also shared what leadership looks like in others. This list has made me evaluate myself and consider which characteristics I think I possess and which characteristics are still a work in progress for me.

Leadership Advice from Washington DC (in no special order)
1. Listen and process what you hear.
2. Be inquisitive – don’t accept the status quo.
3. Establish a healthy work/life balance.
4. Understand yourself (What drives you? What are you passionate about? etc.).
5. Be a mentor.
6. Be aware of the world around you – watch trends, behaviors, and research.
7. Engage and empower people.
8. Be a workhorse, not a show horse.
9. Collaboration, partnerships, and teamwork can be powerful.
10. Be creative and innovative.
11. Take calculated risks.
12. Do what you say you will do.
13. Everyone is valuable.
14. Make a difference.
15. Good communication skills.
16. Have fun and laugh.

Are there other skills or attributes that an effective leader should have? What ones do you think you excel at?


The Washington Monument

Some of DC’s best

I have been in Washington DC for the last four days with colleagues from other land grant universities in the mid-west working on leadership development (focused on influence, power, and more to come soon on that). In our daily assignments we have also had a chance to see some of the sights. I haven’t been here since high school, so it has been great to see some of the newer monuments. Below are just a few of my favorites so far!
What are your favorite things to see in Washington DC?

Happy Birthday America!

Happy 4th of July or Independence Day to you and yours. I hope you enjoy all the festivities the long weekend offers. This is a collection of flag pictures I have taken in Chicago, IL (left and top middle); Kearney, NE (top right); Topaz, CA (bottom right, this one was actually taken by my cousin), and Kansas City, MO (bottom center). Cheers!!



The hubs and I will relax, BBQ, and catch some fireworks. What do you have planned?

The view from 30,000 feet

I enjoy sitting by the window on an airplane, it is fun to see the landscape and get a sneak preview of where you are going. Today’s Wordless Wednesday is a photo I took over Iowa somewhere. I love seeing the farmed soil ready for planting, how everything is geening up, and the effect the clouds have. It is amazing how different it looks from 30,000 feet.

Iowa in the spring

What does your view from 30,000 feet look like?

Mom and Me

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Moms out there. And Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Dads and other family members that had to step into the role of Moms when/if needed.

Today I celebrate my Mom – Terri. My Mom and I recently traveled around Costa Rica and Panama together. We had a fabulous time and started discussing where we want to go next! I dedicate this blog to my Mom, and these photos highlight some of the fun we had in Central America. Please refer to the Costa Rica blog for reference to things in these photos (Panama blog coming soon).

Yep, the church in Grecia is all metal!
My Mom in Sarchi in front of the Biggest Ox Cart in the World.
Enjoying the Irazu Volcano National Park.
Mom showing off her new Mola purse in Panama Viejo (Old Panama).
The Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks.

My Mom and I enjoy traveling together. What do/did you enjoy doing with your Mom?


Costa Rica must do’s

I have been a blogging slacker this last month. I was in Costa Rica (and only made one blog post) for nine days with Extension colleagues from other Universities in the North Central Region, where we focused on leadership and cultural immersion. After completing this opportunity, my Mom met me in Costa Rica where we spent a few more days before heading to Panama City! Now that I am back and getting settled back into a routine, I want to share some of my Costa Rica experiences, observations, and recommendations with you (I will do another post on Panama).

First, Costa Rica is awesome. If you have ever thought about going there, I would highly recommend it. While this was not my first international trip, it was my first trip to Central America. Naturally, I had done some research about the country, the people, and the sites to see. I try to not have many expectations when I go to a new place or country, and try to be a sponge and just take it all in. I will say that I was very pleasantly surprised with how friendly and hospitable the Ticos (Costa Rican people) are, they also tried to speak English when possible and tolerated my terrible Spanish when needed. After coming back and getting settled back into a routine, I am realizing how much I miss the laid-back, easy going atmosphere.

While we did not get to see the entire country (I will have to return someday to do the things I did not have a chance to do this time), I do want to share some of my favorite places (so far) with you.

1. Take a farm visit! I had a chance to visit both a dairy farm and a coffee plantation – and both were excellent. I visited Finca La Florita, a dairy farm in Santa Cruz, Turrialba, (yes, the infamous Turrialba cheese if you are a cheese connoisseur), with my colleagues. The hospitality was amazing, and we had an excellent time. The hosts were prepared to answer a battery of questions from us about their livestock, their family run cheese making business, their marketing and promotion plan, and more. And I had a chance to make cheese by hand! It was so relaxing, and I may have found a new hobby! (I will share more about this in another blog post). As part of another tour, my Mom and I visited Doka Coffee plantation. Our tour guide was great and went through the entire process of growing and harvesting the beans, to roasting them. Of course we got to sample the various coffees. (PS – Costa Rica is known for its coffee, and chocolate, so these people know their coffee). In addition to the dairy tour, some of my colleagues had opportunities to visit coffee, chocolate, sugar cane, and agritourism farms – and all of the farm visits came back with rave reviews, I really don’t think you can go wrong. It seems the Ticos have this agri/eco-tourism thing down and they do it well!

Turrialba cheese (unpasteurized) – two kinds: regular with salt and the other had peppers and celery in it. Both were excellent!
Learning more about coffee roasting at Doka Coffee Plantation.

2. Go to the volcanoes! My Mom and I had a chance to take two 1-day tours and we saw two of Costa Rica’s five active volcanoes: Irazu Volcano National Park and Poas Volcano National Park. We were VERY lucky on both days and had great visibility of the craters, we have been told by several that they were not so lucky, and never saw the craters. Of the two, we preferred Poas Volcano National Park, it was a very green and lush area (hard to believe since the last eruptions occurred in October 2012!). It was a short walk to the initial crater, which is very sulfuric, but offers a great view. Next a more intensive walk, at an altitude of 8,900 feet, took us to Botos Lake which occupies an extinct crater, it was eerily beautiful. Irazu Volcano National Park was very different from Poas. Irazu also has a look out point of the crater; there was no water pooled in the crater on our visit and the sulfur was much less intense. We were told that when there is water pooled in the crater it can go from pepto-pink to lime green in color. The area surrounding Irazu looked like it could be a setting for a sci-fi movie with a large desolate area, with a ton of ash and very little plant life. There was another look out point much higher up, but we didn’t have a chance to hike up there on our visit, I am sure the view would have been great. We were very glad to have seen two very different volcanoes. My Costa Rican bucketlist includes visiting the other three volcanoes.

Poas Volcano National Park.
Botos Lake at Poas Volcano National Park.
Irazu Volcano National Park.

3. Ziplining! If you are in Costa Rica you need to go ziplining. It is an amazing experience in a cloud forest. We went to Volcan Barva for our experience. I hear there are more intensive and exhilarating ziplines; but for newbies, this was a great start. There were 14 in our group that day, with four guides, so I always felt safe and in good hands. The guides were all very experienced, knowledgeable, and humorous. We had a chance to do eight different lines that day, each building on the others as the confidence was built. The experience culminated with the biggest and fastest zipline speeding past a waterfall! There were definitely more peels of laughter than screams of fright. One of the guides also acted as the photographer, it was fun to look back at the photos of the experience. I would definitely do this again!


4. Visit the churches and cathedrals. Even if you do not consider yourself to be a religious person, the history is amazing. Apparently, earthquakes are very hard on churches, and it won’t take long in Costa Rica to hear how churches have been destroyed and rebuilt after a devastating earthquake (or fire). Grecia is home to entirely metal church, which upon reading more of the history I have discovered it came from Belgium!  The Basilica of Los Angeles has a very interesting story in that a religious image was repeatedly seen on a rock, it was believed to be a miracle, and the church was built on that miraculous site. Today there are still many miracles performed there and an entire section has been dedicated to displaying those miracles through shrines and tokens of the miracle (can be in the healing of a body part, a home, the blessing of a child, etc. – the list is endless). We also got to see the oldest church in Orosi – Iglesia de San Jose de Orosi (built in 1743). Traditionally, churches faced east so they could face Jerusalem and the rising sun. This church faces west, we were told because they believed in the power of the setting sun.

Metal church in Grecia.
Basilica of Los Angeles.
Costa Rica’s oldest church in Orosi.

5. Go to a botanical garden. I am not a horticulturalist by any means, but I do appreciate the beauty of it. In Costa Rica we had a chance to visit two botanical gardens, one on CATIE and another called the Lankester Botanical Gardens. Both were amazing and offered many species of ferns, orchids, as well as many other plants, trees, and flowers I have already forgotten. We had a chance to see leaf-cutter ants working too, and heard that they are nocturnal, so if they are working during the day a rain is coming. At both places we had a bilingual guide, which was awesome because then we could learn more about the gardens and the fun facts or potential healing properties the plants possessed.

Jorge, our guide at CATIE, showing us the Cannonball Tree.
Just one of the thousands of the orchids at Lankester Botanical Gardens.
A Japanese themed area at the Lankester Botanical Gardens – very beautiful area!

6. National Parks. My colleagues and I had a chance to visit both Guayabo National Monument and Tapanti National Park. Guayabo National Park and Monument is on the slopes of Turrialba Volcano. It is considered to be Costa Rica’s most significant and only true archaeological site. Records of the ruins go back to the mid 1800s. Interestingly, the ruins remained hidden until 1968 when a local landowner out on a walk with her dogs discovered what she thought was a tomb. As archaeologists later discovered it was the site of a chief’s house within a community. It is estimated this community included 10,000 people and covers 49 acres (only 10 have been excavated due to lack of funding). The city was abandoned, due to either disease or war. We had a great guided tour with a very knowledgeable, passionate, and bilingual tour guide. Tapanti National Park offers great trails for all levels of ability and distance. We visited the day after a rain, so it was a little muddy on some of the hikes. If you have a chance, visit the main building where you can park (and use restrooms), as there is some great and detailed artwork of local wildlife and well as some taxidermy animals on display. At National Parks and other educational venues in Costa Rica, be prepared to see two different prices. The Ticos are charged a much lower entrance fee than non-locals. We were told that this was because they want to encourage locals to visit and learn about their country’s history. Regardless, all of the fees were reasonable and a great time was had at everything.

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Some of the archaeological sites at Guayabo National Park and Monument.
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A great artifact uncovered at Guayabo National Park and Monument.
Posing with a three-toed sloth at Tapanti National Park.

7. Try all of the local foods. I had heard a lot about the amount of rice and beans (gallo pinto) we would be eating. And to be honest I was a little nervous about the effect beans can have on people, and when you are traveling with 40 people, it could be interesting. But it was great! It was black beans (most of the time) and rice, flavored with cilantro, maybe peppers, and spices. It was actually very good, and was enjoyable for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! I was also told that arroz con pollo (rice and chicken) is a native dish, so I had it for dinner one evening. While it was more similar to chicken stir-fried rice, and much different than the arroz con pollo I grew up eating, it was not bad, just different. Be prepared for copious amounts of fresh fruit juice. It was great to be able to choose a nice glass of juice from all of the local fruits (pineapple, mango, cuss, guanabana, etc.) and it was very thirst quenching after being out and hiking around.  And finally, when in Costa Rica abandon your restrictions on dieting, as they have some amazing milk desserts. We had Dulce de Leche (in many forms), fruit over ice cream, delicious ice cream by itself (I recommend Pops as the place to get ice cream), rice pudding, flan, coffee flan, fried plantain, and many others – all of which were awesome.

Costa Rican breakfast: gallo pinto (rice and beans), eggs with ham, fried plantains and fresh fruit. Yum!
Costa Rican arroz con pollo (chicken and rice).
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Delicious rice pudding!

8. The local artisans! We had a chance to meet several vendors that made and sold jewelry. The jewelry was made of local “natural” elements – seeds, shells, nuts, woods, etc. The artisans are so creative in how they combine something so simple into something beautiful and unique. I had a chance to visit Sarchi (home to the World’s Largest Ox Cart). Sarchi is also known for their elaborate and detailed painting (which adorns the cart and many other items throughout the town). At one of the souvenir shops, local artisans were actually making trays, wheels, and other wooden items which were in turn being painted on the spot! It was amazing to be able to watch their talented work, and it was very motivating to buy a piece of this art to take home to display in your home.

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Ox-eye bean (also called Deer-eye beans or hamburger seeds) – adorns locally made jewelry. Note the prickly exterior of the pod!
The World’s Largest Ox Cart in Sarchi.
Local artisans painting Sarchi platters and other wooden goods.

As I mentioned, these were just a few of my favorite things about Costa Rica. The longer you are there the more you want to see and do. I already have a Costa Rica bucket list started for someday when I return. I was so amazed as the hospitality, generosity, and kindness of the Ticos. Pura Vida! I will make several more posts about my experiences in Costa Rica – stay tuned!

Not my photo – but it sums up Costa Rica nicely!

*Note: I am not promoting one brand/location/company over another, the examples provided here were from my personal experiences. Do research and see what will work best for you on your adventure.