Dust In My Coffee

Loving my life as a woman in agriculture one sip at a time

My dad had large hands.  He told me they were good for milking cows.  Every time my dad talked about his childhood he spoke with fondness about life on the farm and how his big hands were good for milking cows.  Perhaps my own love for farming grew through those stories or maybe it’s just in my DNA.  I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot this week as I recall his passing nearly two years ago and how his hands and heart shaped my life.

babyJoan dad

My dad carried this photo of me in his wallet for many years.

Dad was a hard worker.  He was always working with his hands from his early days as a mechanic to running a business repairing drywall tools.  From overhauling diesel motors to putting tiny screws in repaired tapers, rollers and finishers, dad’s rough and calloused hands worked diligently to get the job done.


We often teased dad about his office.  He told us he knew where everything was.  Notice the Rolodex of contacts he had!

There were eight of us in our family.  I am the oldest of six kids and we were a very active bunch.  One of my favorite family activities was going to the annual Father’s Day picnic held every summer by my mom’s side of the family.  We traveled to parks at different locations all over Nebraska.  Our drive home often added more excitement when one of us six kids would holler out about the steam rolling out from under the hood of the station wagon.   Fortunately, dad could repair broken hoses and once used some scrap barbed wire to tie up an exhaust pipe.  Dad’s hands were known to fix about anything to the point of being a type of MacGyver with duct tape for every household emergencies.


This is a typical Father’s Day picnic with dad carrying a plate and tables covered with food.

I remember my dad’s hands on the steering wheel when he taught me to drive.  One afternoon I was driving the family car and the brakes went out.  I looked quickly to the right and to the left as I approached a busy intersection.  Seeing no traffic I allowed myself to coast right through.   Dad must have been daydreaming as he suddenly put his hand on the wheel, looked quickly both directions and allowed me to continue driving.  If I wouldn’t have known what to do I am certain dad would have cranked the steering wheel whatever way would have helped us.  The brakes were repaired.

Dad did very little cooking when I was growing up and I never heard him complain about any of mom’s cooking.  One job dad had was carving the turkey and I can picture him standing in the corner of the kitchen with the electric knife trimming away all the white meat and saving the bones for my husband, Steve, to clean up later.  Dad also helped to peel large amounts of potatoes for holiday gatherings.  I can see him standing at the sink with his large hands holding the peeler in one hand and a potato in the other.


Sometimes my dad would order a hamburger late at night from a bar/lounge not far from where we lived.  The burgers were very large, wrapped in a wax paper covering and always included a dill pickle spear.   I can see my dad sitting at the end of the table with that hamburger still looking big in his large hands.  I can still smell those burgers.

My dad was a prayer warrior.  I remember seeing him kneeling by his bed with his arms stretched out and hands folded as he said his prayers.  Dad had very arthritic hips but it never stopped him from kneeling by his bed or during mass.  Dad would hold the rosary in his hand teasing my mom and I that he had already rounded the bend (started the first mystery) while we were still in the first few beads of prayers.

clem rosary

Alzheimer’s did not take away my dads ability to pray.  We also noticed he would also make the sign of the cross before he would eat while living in skilled care.

There are numerous memories of watching my dad draw pictures of items he was going to build.  Dad had lots of ideas and dreams.  A pencil always looked so small in his hands yet he could draw the finest details of a bus converted into a motor home.   I’m not sure if my siblings were excited about seeing those dreams come true.  The motor home didn’t happen but we did have a really cool blue conversion van that took us on a vacation to Montana one summer.

Dad loved kids.  I don’t remember getting coddled as much as our children, nieces and nephews did.  At about 5 months of age each of the grandchildren became the focus of my dad’s entertainment.  He would hold them in his big hands and make faces, roll them up into a ball and even place them into boxes, baskets or whatever object he could find to get them to giggle or squeal.


Dad is holding two of his granddaughters, Emily and Amy.

When our children became old enough to value money he would give them .75 for every fifty cent piece they brought him.  Our son, Scott, learned he could get quite a few from the bank and really make a haul.  Dad would continually find ways to interact with the kids eventually moving into playing Phase 10 into the wee hours of the night.


We made dad a book for his birthday with pictures from his childhood and all of our family members to help him remember us.  His sister, Stella, reminisces with him.

Dad found it much easier to show affection to the grandchildren than to my siblings and I.  Somehow I always knew he loved me even though he didn’t say it.  Perhaps it was the ease we had talking about the farm, religion and the kids that gave me the sense he loved me.  The conversation that continues to stick in my throat occurred on the last night he had in his home.  I was at one end of the table getting some photos downloaded to a photo center for his new room at an Alzheimer care center.  Dad was at the other end of the table eating supper.  My mom brushed past him and he mentioned something about Joan.  I looked up and asked “Who is Joan?”  Dad looked across the table at me and simply replied “Don’t you know who you are?”  It still brings tears to my eyes knowing how Alzheimer’s likes to toy with the emotions of a caregiver.  I was taking him from his home the next day without his knowledge and he still had some idea of who I was.



Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease.  What disease isn’t?  There is suffering that comes with each disease and our family did the best we could to help our parents and one another through the phases.  We were not prepared for the final phase.

The last trips to visit my dad found him confined to a wheelchair, not eating much and usually looking down at his hands.  I would bend down and peer up at him to get him to smile and look up at me while encouraging him to eat his supper.  Mom was still getting her strength back after fighting breast cancer when she made what would be her last visit to see my dad.

mom dad wood river

My mom gives dad some extra comfort with a warm blanket as he adjusts to his new home.

It was the middle of the day.  Dad was in bed which was very odd for him and he was not responsive.  Mom asked the staff without much success for help.  Three of us live within 150 miles of my folks and two of us were out of state.  My aunt and sister-in-law assisted mom with calling the doctor who then directed a rescue unit to get my dad and bring him to the hospital.

All of my siblings, family and extended family members were caught off guard.  The phone call that night sent us all into a tail spin as we were told dad was nearly gone and most likely wouldn’t make it through the night.   One sister was able to be with my mom as they sat with dad through the night.  Another sister and I made emergency travel plans to get back while three other siblings were working on their travel plans, too.

Our family including siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles spent several days around the clock with my dad as doctors continued to anticipate his passing at any moment.  Dad spent his final days on the hospice floor of the VA Hospital in Grand Island receiving five star care from the staff.  The staff kept dad comfortable and clean while we sang, prayed, told stories, read scripture, cried and laughed.  Dad gifted us one last time with some very special moments together.  As we said our good-byes we held our daddy’s hands one last time.

joan dad hands

I will love you forever, I will love you always.

by Holly Dunn
I remember daddy’s hands folded silently in prayer
And reachin’ out to hold me, when I had a nightmare
You could read quite a story in the callous’ and lines
Years of work and worry had left their mark behind
I remember daddy’s hands how they held my mama tight
And patted my back for something done right
There are things that I’d forgotten that I loved about the man
But I’ll always remember the love in daddy’s hands
Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle but I’ve come to understand
There was always love in daddy’s hands
I remember daddy’s hands workin’ ’til they bled
Sacrificed unselfishly just to keep us all fed
If I could do things over, I’d live my life again
And never take for granted the love in daddy’s hands
Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle but I’ve come to understand
There was always love in daddy’s hands
Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin’
Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle but I’ve come to understand
There was always love in daddy’s hands




Connecting.  Something I hope to be a little better at with you throughout 2019!   I chose the word connecting as my one word for 2019.  If you are not familiar with the one word concept I will share some background and the three steps to choosing one word.  I would also like to share with you why connecting has become my one word for this new year.

The one word idea is built on personal transformation by focusing on one word throughout the year.  “My One Word” is a book written by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen.  I initially learned about choosing one word through a Facebook friend.  Then I started seeing more people I follow on twitter talking about choosing one word.  My curiosity grew as I saw more people I respect utilizing this method of self-improvement. As I explored the meaning behind choosing one word I wanted to share with you what I have learned so you, too, have the opportunity to use this interesting technique.

There is a process to picking one word and it starts with thinking about a word that “represents what you most hope God will do in you and focus on it for an entire year.”

Step 1: Think about what kind of person you want to be at the end of this year in a virtue building sort of way.  This is not as much about fitness and health as it is about growing in holiness.

Step 2: When you have an idea of what type of person you’d like to be then identify the characteristics needed to be that person.

Step 3: You might have a long list of characteristics but it’s important to commit to one word.

I chose connecting for my one word because it kept jumping out at me in books I was reading, conversations I was having and relationships I am working to strengthen.  I’ve been thinking about the importance connecting is when building community life, listening to my husband, communicating in a way that transcends language and lifting people up.

As I go through each day my hope is to be aware of how I can grow in connecting with others.  This is not meant to be an easy exercise but rather an opportunity to go out of my comfort zone, to soften my heart all the more to hear the voice of God.

Please stay connected with me as we journey together through 2019.  I would love to hear about your one word for 2019 as well as any experiences, challenges or insights you’d like to share.

“I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  John 13:34


Sometimes connecting is enhanced with technology!



“It’s a good thing you guys are doing here” said the bus driver for a third grade class visiting our farm.  We have a pen pal class from an Omaha school through the Nebraska Farm Bureau Ag Pen Pal Program.  Throughout the year we have been sending letters back and forth learning about one another.   The visit to the farm involves all the senses as the students taste, see, hear, smell and touch farm life.


One of the stations taught the students about the different ingredients used to feed cattle and how each ingredient is carefully weighed and mixed.  They loved taking turns mixing the corn, hay, vitamins, ground ear corn and distiller’s grain.

Steve and I have been ag pen pals for many years.  This is a great program to connect urban kids with farm families.  We have two schools, one in Omaha and one in Newman Grove, we correspond with throughout the year.   The students tell us a little bit about themselves, what they like and questions about our farm.  The questions over the years have ranged from “Do you ever go to the city?” to “Do the cattle live outside?”.  One student from a Lincoln, NE school asked us if we had a CB radio name what would it be.  The student thought it was quite funny when Steve replied “T-bone!”.

Most of the students we correspond with have no direct connection to a farm.  Through the correspondence we are able to provide answers to their questions and tell the story about how cattle are cared for on our feedlot.  We have also provided our current pen pal classes with a picture book to help them see the farm throughout the seasons and what kinds of jobs we do.

penpal bookpage

This is an excerpt from the book showing how we unload ground ear corn and put it on a pile.  The visiting students were able to see how we cut the plastic cover in straight lines across the front as we take payloader bucket fulls to load on the feedtruck.  They could see how we store the ingredients as well as touch, see and smell the feed.

The farm visit takes a lot of time to prepare for.  We line up small animals for a petting zoo from 4-H families in our area.  The students are also served a beef lunch.  This year we ordered t-shirts for them to wear.   Our “Beef gives you ZIP” slogan is a great reminder of the nutritional benefits of eating beef.  Zinc, iron and protein are just a few of ten essential nutrients beef provides!


Steve is serving up the hamburgers with chips, water and ice cream for dessert.  Many of the students came back for seconds on the hamburgers.  We receive comments like “These are the best hamburgers I’ve ever had!” from every class.

The comments from the bus driver reassured me about the value of hosting all ages to visit our farm.  He mentioned the good memory he had of visiting a farm when he was in grade school.  The pen pal program is more than sharing facts and information.  The program helps us build relationships between farmers and our urban friends.  These students will forever have a special place in our hearts and we hope they will have the same for us.


Cleaning the shop, families bringing in small animals and getting food ready are all worth the look of this little girl loving on this rabbit!  The t-shirts say “BEEF, Gives you ZIP, Good 4 me, Good 4 you”.  Many thanks to Nebraska Corn Board, Nebraska Beef Council, Nebraska Soybean Board, Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation and my 4-H families for helping us share the story of agriculture through donations and support!




Dear God,
You make all things new.  Thank you for the victory and power over sin and death we have through the name of Jesus.  Thank you that by your might, Jesus was raised from the grave, paving the way for us to have new life with you. Thank you for calling each one of us into existence.  Thank you for your eternal love and mercy calling each of us back to you when we stray.  Thank you for placing your spirit in our hearts so we may be the hands and feet of Jesus for one another.

We ask for your grace to see with eyes of faith,  We ask that you renew our hearts, minds, and lives, for the days ahead. We pray for your refreshing over us.

Keep your words of truth planted firm within us, help us to keep focused on what is pure and right, give us the power to be obedient to your word. And when the enemy reminds us where we have been, hissing his lies and attacks our way, we trust that your voice speaks louder and stronger, reminding us we are safe with you and that your purposes and plans will not fail. We ask that you will be our defense and rear guard, keeping our way clear, removing the obstacles, and covering the pitfalls. Lord, lead us with the gift of your most Holy Spirit to pick ourselves back up when we stumble to seek your mercy.  Allow the mercy we seek from you flow out into our family, friends, community and world to strengthen relationships and build peace.

Shine your light in us, through us, over us. May we make a difference in this world, for your glory and purposes. Set you way before us. May all your plans succeed. We may reflect your peace and hope to a world that so desperately needs your presence and healing.  Bring your healing love to those in the darkest moments of despair, to those in the greatest agony of pain and to each soul who cries out to you for help.

Thanks be to you God, for your indescribable gift! To you be all the glory, all the praise and all the worship on this Resurrection Day, and forever.  He is risen!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen Alleluia!



Cattle are amazing creatures with the ability to live all over the world including arid climates, humid climates, mountainous regions and the plains.  Cattle are designed to convert forages into protein in large part because they have a ruminant digestive system.  Cattle help farmers and ranchers maintain a healthy ecosystem of plants with animals while providing needed dietary nutrients for people.  With many protein sources for people to choose from, the cow continues to wow us with more than beef.


The nutrient density of one serving of beef for only 150 calories continues to be a great reason many people choose to include beef in their diet.  Taste and convenience are two more reasons beef has been center of the plate in our family.


This soup is a family favorite.  You can find the recipe here

The beef community recognizes the importance of offering information to consumers about beef cuts, nutrition, recipes and how beef is raised.  You can learn what cuts of beef are great for grilling and those needing longer cooking time.  You can get recipes for family meals and large gatherings.  You can also meet farmers and ranchers like us to understand how beef gets to the plate.  All of that information can be found on one website you can go to by clicking here


Steve has been the grill master here for many years.  He likes to try new seasonings, different types of grills and loves to serve beef to family and friends.

In addition to great tasting beef, cattle provide numerous by-products we often take for granted.  You might find some of these products in your closet, pantry, medicine chest and in the tires of your car!  The three categories of by-products are: Edible, Inedible and Medicinal.   Here is a sample of each category

Edible: 640 Pounds of beef products like roasts, steaks and hamburgers

Inedible: 1 Cow Hide can make 12 basketballs or 18 volleyballs or 20 footballs

Medicinal: 100 Individual drugs for humans like insulin from the pancreas

You can read more about by-products we get from beef by clicking here.

wow that cow 2

Wow!  Cattle truly are amazing! We all benefit from a beef community dedicated to reducing waste, increasing quality and continually improving animal care.  Cattle reduce waste by keeping products like beet tops, soybean hulls and potato skins out of the landfill because they can eat them.  A nutritionist helps farmers and ranchers make sure cattle are getting a balanced diet with whatever ingredients the cattle are getting fed.   Our cattle are fed a diet including an ethanol by-product from corn.  I think I would enjoy living near a chocolate candy factory if some of that by-product ended up here!

cattle feed in hand

This is a sample of a ration cattle are fed.  You can see there is a mix of corn, supplement and roughage.  Ruminant animals need a certain percent of roughage throughout their lives.  Can you see the steer licking his mouth in the background?

From the tongue to the tail cattle are truly a wonder of nature.  Can you get through one day without one of the many products cattle can give us?   When you enjoy that next bite of savory roast beef remember the leather shoes you walk around in, the paintbrush bristles used by your child to create a masterpiece hanging on the refrigerator, the chewiness of the Rice Krispie Bar for dessert and the local game of basketball are all benefits we enjoy when cattle are part of our lives.


We all win when we work as a team!