Karen Bohnert
The best of 1976. Steve Jobs formed Apple computer. Nadia Comaneci won three Olympic Golds. Rocky premiered in cinema. ABBA had a number one song with “Dancing Queen.” And I made my debut in this world. Yes, you did your math correctly; recently I turned the big 4-0!

Truth be told, my third decade was not my best. I had many hardships and losses in my 30s, including the loss of both my parents and my childhood farm, so while nobody looks forward to aging, I easily thought, “Bring on 40!”

I had one of those days this past summer where I realized that I was putting so much energy into my work and into my family, but little energy was going directly to me. I was not eating very healthy or exercising very frequently and overall just felt tired.

And, mentally, after losing my father, I kind of felt glum. Robotically I was getting through my day, surviving, but definitely not thriving. I know many of you are like me, with the never-ending to-do list: payroll, menu planning, cleaning, helping sort heifers, running kids to ball practice, washing coveralls, and you know all too well, the to-do list never ever really gets completed.

I wanted to feel differently. I needed to feel differently. Small actions day after day, week after week, and now month after month, led to big results in terms of how I felt.

Now, my day begins earlier and ends earlier. I get up earlier to get a jump-start on my work. I wake my oldest by 5:45 a.m. so he can go water calves. With a quiet household, I either write or read. I focus on positive energy this time of day. Praise the Lord and remind myself of what I’m capable of doing. A little pep talk to myself.

As the kids lace up their shoes to head out the door, I lace up my running shoes. They get on the bus, and I go for a run. I used to tell myself that I didn’t have time to exercise or be fooled that the three trips from the house to the barn were enough steps for the day. Now, I go run for 20 to 60 minutes, depending on what work assignments wait. My waist size is smaller and my energy level is higher.

This has little to do with weight and a lot do with mentally feeling better. With loss after loss, this year has been mentally draining. Coupled with focusing on low milk checks and shrinking margins month after month can play havoc on your mindset. Or at least for me it did.

I strongly encourage you all to take time for yourself. Starting today! Drink more water, go for a walk, go to bed early, meditate, and find reasons to smile. Hug your children, call your grandchildren, watch a funny movie. Stop taking life so seriously. And yourself. Once I did, I felt like the weight was lifted off my shoulders.

I had that come to Jesus talk with myself and I realized that everyone is going through stuff. It is so easy to pity ourselves for whatever reason, and even after losing my father and my childhood farm, I needed to learn to shift the focus to the positives in my life. Once I did, I was living in the now. The feeling is amazing!

As most of us have read, the six best doctors in the world are sunlight, rest, exercise, diet, self confidence, and friends. Maintain them in all stages of life and enjoy a healthy and happy life.

One of my favorite books is Tuesdays with Morrie, where Morrie Schwarts says, “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and let it come in.” Now that I’m officially 40, this is now my goal! To let love come in and out. So simple, and I encourage you all to let love come in and out, regardless of your age.

Greet your morning milking shift with a smile and every once in awhile with a hot meal. Slow down during the day and give yourself a real break; not just eating a sandwich in the cab of your truck on the way to pick up parts.

Or, if you cannot get that real break, invite a loved one to ride with you and you two can enjoy one another’s company on that part run. Park the tractor at the bus stop; I guarantee by doing so, you’ll stretch school kids’ smiles.

Praise your family business partners. Sometimes those are the ones we are the hardest on. Call it quits one Sunday afternoon and take the whole family bowling or play a game of cards around a fire. You’ll never regret doing any of this.

And, at the end of the day, give thanks to the good Lord. In the morning, give yourself a little pep talk as you splash water on your face or while lacing up your boots before heading out in the morning. Find ways to make more time for you and focus on the things that bring happiness to your hearts.

Write down three things that you are thankful for and make time for them each and every day. Together let’s make 2017 the best year yet!

Around the Kitchen Table is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman. The author and her husband work in partnership with family on a 450-cow dairy in East Moline, Ill.

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