Sunburst tip from an award-winning photographer

Photographers seldom think about what it’s like to be in front of the camera, so when I asked Katherine Plessner of Verona if she’d be willing to do an interview for our publication Focus, and for NDFB’s YouTube channel, she was a little hesitant.

What would she possibly have to say? Well, turns out there was so much, we couldn’t fit it all into a two-minute video. We talked about photography in general. About her involvement in Pride of Dakota for many years. About the lovely park in Verona that she spearheaded. She even shared a few photography tips! It became clear pretty quickly that this multi-talented lady needed a little more “media” time. So expect to see a couple of video clips from Katherine over the next few months.

Katherine recently won second place in the technology division of the 2015 American Farm Bureau Federation’s Photo Contest, and the story of how she got that photo appeared in NDFB’s newsletter Focus in print and online.

And here’s one of those bonus features: Katherine explains how to create “sunbursts” in your photos. You won’t believe how easy it is.



Smells like…

I grew up on a farm. Usually about this time of year, I start getting wistful. And the older I get, the more intense those feelings seem to get. There is just something about smells on the farm that soothe my soul and YES, I’m even talking about the smell of cow poop!

I remember once my dad said, after we had moved out to our 2.3 acres, “You know, when the wind comes from the south, you might smell the cattle from that farm. I just looked at him and said, “Yeah. Isn’t it great?”

But you know what? There have been plenty of south winds in the last 15 years and I smell our own neighborhood septic systems MUCH more frequently than I ever smell the cattle. Quite frankly, it’s a tad disappointing.

Of all the smells I remember from my childhood, my favorite is the smell of dirt. I smell dirt, and I feel calmer, more at peace. And did you know there is actually a perfume from Demeter called Dirt? I might have to get me some so I can be at peace more regularly ; )

The smell of the milk replacer for the calves also brings back a lot of fond memories. And if you have never experienced the smell of harvest, it’s worth a sniff!

That’s why the field directly west of the development I have called home since 2000 has so much appeal to me. A lot of houses have sprung up around us, but that field remains, for the time being anyway, and it is probably the most photographed, videoed and sniffed field in the state. Well, at least by me.

It was planted to soybeans last year. I must have visited that field 20 times last summer.

I took pictures from under the beans when I wanted to get a unique perspective for an Instagram series. And took a deep breath.























I took pictures when the sun was setting over the soybean field. And took a deep breath.

I took pictures when the storm clouds passed over the field. And took a deep breath.

I took pictures when the field was harvested. And took a deep breath.

soybean harvest

And sometimes I just sat there, watched as the clouds rolled by. And took a deep breath.

I don’t actually understand why someone would move to the country and then expect it to be like being in town just with more distance between you and your neighbors.

Rural living isn’t pristine living. It’s messy. It’s dusty.  Sometimes it’s really noisy. And sometimes it smells.

Take a deep breath. It’s all good.



Like an elephant. Or a single white otter tail?

They say an elephant never forgets. I wasn’t really sure who “they” were.

So I did a little research.

Turns out “they” is a lot of people.

Like Dr. Orville Jenkins. And James Ritchie in an article in Scientific American. There are more too, but at this point you are probably wondering what elephants have to do with My NDFB Life.

Nothing really. Except that’s how my mind works.

I know. Scary.

Why am I thinking about elephants? Because I just finished putting together the April/May issue of Focus, NDFB’s official publication. I haven’t been the editor/writer/layout person for Focus in a long time. But my coworker, Lisa, just had a beautiful baby boy and is on maternity leave, so I said I’d git ‘er done and to the printer.

As I was writing and editing and placing photos, it all came rushing back. Ahhh, the memories!! Deadlines! What should stay? What should go? Did I spell everything right? Did I use it’s instead of its? Do I know what the acronym SWOT stands for?

Well, I sure do now. But back in 1992, I didn’t. So being of  unsound mind, I put in parenthesis (Single White Otter Tail) because of COURSE I would see that and remind myself to find out what it actually meant when I had more time.

Here’s the photographic proof.

My greatest gaffe

From the September 1992 issue of NDFB’s official publication. In the Summary of the State Board Minutes article, for cryin’ out loud! That went to about 25,000 Farm Bureau members.

I even remember WHY it happened. I had recently watched the movie Single White Female. Notice the “West Side. SWF seeks female to share apartment.”

SWOT reminded me of SWF.


But why “Otter Tail?” That I don’t remember.

I just remember the moment John McGauvran, who was the Executive Vice President at the time, told me about the error. He laughed. I thought I was going to get fired.

Still, to this day, I can’t believe I actually did that.

And for those of you who don’t know what SWOT stands for, it’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

It’s something I will never — like an elephant — forget!


If you give a Farm Bureau staffer a webcam…

They will realize that, when they open their video editing software, that suddenly, the Stop Motion feature works.

Then they find out tomorrow is National Pig Day.

And they just happen to have a squishy, stress pig sitting on the desk.

So they surmise that knowing how and  if this really works would be advantageous for future projects.

They do a video using the squishy pig.

Then they will think about the bendable cow figures in a drawer and think about making another video with the bendable cows.

They pull out the bendable cows and start thinking about the funny things they could do with the cows.

But then they look at the time and realize there are many other tasks yet to accomplish on this spare day at the end February.

So the cows get put on a green screen and the whole series gets entitled: Ma! The cows got out again!

If you give a Farm Bureau staffer a ladder…

You know that kid’s book,  “If you give a mouse a cookie.” It spawned a bunch of other books like “If you give a moose a muffin.” And “If you give a dog a donut.”

Well, I’m here to tell you, those critters have nothing on Farm Bureau’s creative staff.

If a Farm Bureau staffer, (namely Val Gordon, who has a wonderfully creative decorating side to her) sees a ladder in a second-hand store) she might think it would make a great coat rack for the Bismarck office.

But the ladder needs hardware on which to hang said coats. And a trip to a nearby hobby store produces no definitive results. So the ladder leans against a wall in the “media” room for a couple of months until another Farm Bureau staffer (namely Pete Hanebutt) takes it upon himself to move the project forward and purchase various hooks and knobs  to hang the coats on the ladder that needs to be hung on the wall.

He then brings his sons in on a weekend and assembles the hardware on the ladder and hangs the ladder on the wall.

(To the delight of the other two staffers in the Bismarck office, Lisa Hauf, and me, and everyone who stops in our office.)


It is as much a conversation piece as a highly functional coat/hat rack.

I dare not imagine what they could do with a piece of machinery!!!

See what each member of the NDFB staff does for the organization at this link: Meet the NDFB Staff.

Let’s get social

I started working for Farm Bureau before the Internet became ubiquitous. Heck, before there even WAS an Internet. I remember a Nodak agent telling me back in the early ’90s how one day this thing called the Internet was gonna be big.

Man, was he right! And NDFB has jumped in with both feet. We have our website, and are on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, PinterestInstagram and YouTube.

It’s a lot of “social” to keep up on and try to keep everything fresh and different. And depending on the rest of the work load, I tend to be a little hit-and-miss in social media posting. But it’s an enjoyable part of the job, and provides a little “instant gratification” when someone likes or favorites one of our posts.

One of my fun projects this past fall was working with Val Wagner, of Wag’n Tales fame, not to mention her role as North Dakota Farm Bureau’s Promotion and Education chair (and a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s P&E Committee).

We did the video below as an example for her to take to the AFBF P&E Committee, but I thought she did such a good job, I wanted to share it with our folks in the state who may have been thinking about jumping into the social media world, but just haven’t taken that step out of fear or uncertainty.

If you are reading this, you may not need an ag-related social media primer, but feel free to share it with friends or relatives who want to start conversations about why farmers do what they do with others but just aren’t sure how.

Route 1000

After years of promoting the Route 1000 program on the NDFB website, I finally had an opportunity to sit in on a class with my son.

The class was held in Bismarck and was well-attended. A North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper was on hand to talk about driving defensively, what to do when you see flashing lights, the point system for young people, and the fact that he had more than 30 citations when he was young. ; )

It took me back to my high school driving days. Oh, I didn’t get 30 citations, but I definitely related when he was talking about what happens in a rollover.

It was Saturday, April 1, 1978. We had to go to school on a Saturday because we missed so many days dues to snowstorms. I picked up my cousin and was driving on a gravel road I hadn’t traveled all winter. I came over a hill and hit washboards. The car started bouncing around and being inexperienced, I panicked, slammed on the brakes and next thing you know, I’m seeing stuff flying in front of me as we roll into the ditch.

The first thing I did when we came to a rest, driver’s side on the ground, was holler for my cousin. She thankfully responded and we were able to crawl out of the back of the hatch of my Ford Pinto relatively unharmed. (I did cut the bridge of my nose and was bleeding, but it was pretty minor.) That was before the mandatory seatbelt laws and we were NOT wearing seatbelts. I still shudder when I think about how bad it could have been.

Here is the scariest part. I had just finished a defensive driving course not more than two weeks before the accident.

And here I was, at a safe driving course, with my son. All I can think as I’m listening to the trooper talk about some of the things he has seen is how dumb I was and how I hope my son is smarter (I know he is) about driving than I was. And, even more to the point, if someone is driving dumb around him he has a better understanding of what to do.

And, hey, the $500 after 1,000 days of safe driving isn’t a bad perk, either!

If you want to provide your teen driver an additional incentive to drive safely, consider enrolling them in a Route 1000 class. There are still two fall classes left, one in Minot, one in Rugby. Spring classes will be posted on the NDFB Route 1000 page soon.

Not just another day

I think one of the reasons I enjoy working for farmers is because they not only love what they do, but they feel compelled to service; to put in long hours to keep people here and abroad fed and clothed. I understand that level of service, because I came from it.

But for the 23 million American veterans who we will honor on Veterans Day, I can only imagine the courage and strength of their service to this country. It’s incredibly humbling.

My dad never spoke about his service in Korea. Not to me, anyway. So I can’t even pretend to know what he was feeling as enemy gunfire snuffed out the lives of those around him. It’s a chilling thought; one that I think would be very hard to forget when trying to come back to the “regular” work-day world.

Maybe that’s why he was such a devoted farmer.

Which is why I think American Farm Bureau’s Patriot Project is so awesome. It’s an opportunity for those who have devoted their lives to service to their country to continue serving in a noble and honorable way – farming and ranching.

And thank you to all the veterans out there who have given of yourselves to keep this country great. You are appreciated and loved by many.

All in a day’s emails

I guess when you are the person on staff whose email is linked to inquiries about the website, you have to expect all kinds of interesting emails.

From Mr. Wang and his highly legitimate bequest, to Anton wondering if he can get a job if he is from Belarus, the process of reading through and determining the validity of what I get in my inbox can be a daunting task some days.

And how I get on some lists is beyond me. But it makes for lively deleting!

Here is just a small sampling of email subject lines I received last week:

Top ACA questions

ALE play or pay

Outstanding Product for Accumulation and Liquidity

Say whaaaaaa’? I don’t even know what ACA or ALE stand for. And accumulation and liquidity of what?

I don’t keep them in my inbox long enough to find out.

Oh, and someone wants to donate $2 million to me.

Oops. I guess it was actually just $2. Turns out, that 2 followed by a bunch of zeroes was actually written as such: $ Periods, instead of commas.


Yes, my inbox is typically overflowing with messages. Some of it is my fault, because I have subscribed to several public relations newsletters to keep myself up-to-date on the latest trends. I have also signed up for emailed news releases from many government and association entities.

But it’s the Wangs and liquidity emails of the world that bring a smile to my face. As I delete them.


I’m a sucker for the sky. So it’s a good thing I live in North Dakota, where I get to see a lot of it! It seems I’m always looking up. Maybe I have my head in the clouds or something. I don’t know. I’m just in frequent awe of how majestic it all is, and have a phone full of photos to prove it. Since I take so many photos of the sky (and stuff in front of the sky), I figure I better share a few.

We had some "weather" on October 1 and this photo was taken after the storm headed to the east.
We had some “weather” on October 1 and this photo was taken after the storm headed to the east.
the little cloud that could
And after I photographed the passing cloud bank, I looked to the north and saw this….a tiny cloud releasing a bucketful of moisture!
morning palette
October sunrises are always so incredibly beautiful! Probably because I’m up in time to see them!!!!
foggy morning
Ok, this isn’t technically a sky picture, but it has fog in it, which CAME from the sky! And birds. Which fly in the sky! This is another on-my-way-to-work shot. Made me a little late, but I just couldn’t resist the shot. The birds were the bonus of walking into the grass.
soybean harvest
The soybean field near our house was harvested last Saturday. Loved the wispy clouds behind the combine.
26th Street
I picked up my daughter from a sleepover party on Sunday morning, and couldn’t resist driving down to the end of the maintained road for this 9 a.m. shot.