Lessons from a Life Well-Lived


I first met Dick Coon at a graduation open house nearly 10 years ago. I was 20. He was 77. It was his granddaughter who was graduating, and we were sitting at the bar in his son’s basement, making small talk, while people milled around – family, friends, young and old.

As Dick and I chatted, he suddenly said, “Do you want to see something?”

Not really knowing him that well but noticing the sparkle in his eye when he asked the question, I said sure. Dick asked his son, who was helping mix drinks by that point, to hand him a beer stein that was up on a shelf.

This beer stein was one of those ornate, German-style ones, where you press a lever in the handle and the lid opens. I remember it being blue and white, but that may be my imagination filling in the gaps in memory. Regardless, Dick’s son handed it to him and then he handed it to me. He told me a story about how he’d gotten this stein when he was abroad during his time in the military – the Navy, to be specific – and how it was one of his favorite souvenirs.

Dick said his favorite part of this stein was a message that was etched in the bottom, only to be discovered when the drinker finished their beer. He encouraged me to open it up and tip it back, like I was taking a drink, to see what he was talking about. So, like a good person, I did…

…to find an illustration of a 1950s pin-up style naked lady illustrated in the bottom of the stein.

As my cheeks flushed with embarrassment, unsure if I should be shocked or not, Dick – and his sons and grandsons who had been watching me at this point – started rolling with laughter! Clearly, this was one of Dick’s favorite jokes to play on new friends and everyone but me was in on it. I started laughing along with the crowd, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

You see, Dick Coon was my husband’s grandfather. He was a man who loved and laughed fiercely – and who welcomed his grandson’s new girlfriend to the family by showing her a naked lady in a beer stein and thinking that was hilarious.

Last week, Dick Coon passed away.

I shared this story with my mother-in-law last night at the visitation and, once again, we rolled with laughter. We imagined Dick’s anticipation of my reaction to the risqué illustration, how he held in his laughter until the exact right moment when he knew I was finally in on the joke. We missed him dearly as we reminisced but found ourselves thankful for numerous stories like that one – rooted in love, laughter, and joy.

It’s Not About the Years in Your Life

Dick lived to the ripe old age of 87, so I’m pretty sure no one would claim that he didn’t have enough years in his life. After all, lots of folks don’t get that many. But what I have learned over the last decade of being a part of his family is the importance of making sure those years are filled with everything you want them to be and more.

Christmases and summers at the lake.

Golf cart rides.

Trips down south to see kids and grandkids.

Cheering on the Spartans and the Wolverines and the Tigers (oh, my!).

Pontoon rides for days.

Sipping margaritas.

Retirement and graduation and wedding celebrations.

There have been a lot of good times in the Coon family, and I’m sure these don’t even scratch the surface. Even as a relative newbie to this crew, though, I’ve noticed a few themes emerge in Dick’s life.

Dick had a sense of humor that was second to none. In his family, we call this “Coon Shit” – a sarcastic, witty, perfectly timed sense of snark that no one was immune to. The beer stein incident was a perfect example of this. “Was Dick picking on you? Oh, he’s just giving you Coon Shit – don’t take it personal!). I’ve come to love Coon Shit and I especially love that he’s passed it on to all of us who have come to know him – his kids, his grandkids (including my husband, no doubt!) and their spouses, his great grandkids. Life is nothing without laughter and Dick made sure his house was full of it.

Dick was so proud of his family. Whether it was his son Jack getting into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, his grandson Bill becoming a lawyer, or watching his southern-raised great grandkids Winston, Emma Grace and Ashlyn playing in the snow, Dick had an immense amount of pride in his family. That pride was unconditional – not based on accomplishments but rather on loving the wonderful people they inherently are. The Coon family is filled with people who work hard, love others, give of themselves relentlessly – and much of that can be contributed back to Dick.

Dick had one love to last a lifetime – his wife Sally. I’ve always told my husband that he was incredibly lucky to have reached his late 20s with all four of his grandparents, all of them still happily married. “Dick and Sal,” as they’re known among the family – a single unit, always connected in reference – modeled what a great marriage can be. Unwavering support for one another. Love that radiates when they’re together (especially when they dance together, which they loved to do). And a little sass to keep each other on their toes! I seek to demonstrate that love in my own marriage and I’m so thankful to have a reference of what that looks like in action.

A Good Person – Who Raised Good People

To be honest, I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write this. Maybe it’s to process my own sadness. Maybe it’s to have something to come back to later – most likely on a warm summer day on Lake George as we cruise around on the pontoon – when we miss Dick’s laughter. Maybe it’s to remind myself of the lessons of Dick’s life when I’m forgetting to incorporate them into my own.

I am thankful for the ten years I got to have with this man. I’m even more thankful for the years still to come that I get to have with the good men and women and children – including my husband – that Dick raised.

Regardless of whether or not you knew Dick Coon, I hope you can take some lessons from his life. Love those around you fiercely. Enjoy every moment. Welcome everyone with a hug.

And don’t forget to give those around you a little bit of Coon Shit – for laughter is one of the greatest gifts of all.

What a Grumpy Old Farmer Taught Me About Empathy


“Hurt people hurt people.” – Lizzie Velasquez

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Michigan Farm Bureau state annual conference and serve as a delegate representative for my county. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Farm Bureau or organizations like it, members from across the state come together every year to discuss what type of policy they support or oppose. This helps lobbyists at the state and local level prioritize which issues to focus on. It really is a cool experience to be a part of and demonstrates how you can have a greater level of influence in government when lots of individuals come together.

Anyways, I was a delegate for my county and I decided to stand up and propose policy supporting the continuation of Net Neutrality. Now, it’s my personal belief that Net Neutrality should not be a partisan issue – through my view of the world, it’s a consumer protection issue – but I also know that everything is a partisan issue in today’s political landscape.

And farmers tend to be pretty conservative – not super conducive to a proposal supporting regulations.

It was probably going to be fighting an uphill battle, but I proceeded to step up to the microphone and state my desired policy language. I had researched the topic and wrote it out ahead of time so that I said it in an informed, coherent manner. Having put my idea forward, I stepped back from the microphone and took a deep breath – pretty proud of myself for working up the guts to speak out.

And then the debate began.

As expected, there were several people who disagreed with me. They cited past regulation and beliefs about whether or not the internet is a utility that everyone should have access to and the ideal of just letting the free market sort itself out. Not surprisingly, I didn’t agree with many of their counterpoints – but everyone was respectful and their arguments made sense.

Until this one man spoke up.

Young people just don’t think things through all the way, he said. ‘Free’ and ‘open’ and ‘fair’ are all well and good, but they just don’t understand how it really works.

And then I was mad.

Initial Reactions

I can deal with people disagreeing with me. In many cases, I actually enjoy it! Many of my favorite discussions in the past year have been with people I disagree with, where we debate our viewpoints. In all of those interactions, though, the people I debated with were respectful and kept our discussion focused on the ideas at hand – never making it about personal attacks. Not this guy though.

Young people just don’t think things through.

See, what made me so mad about this man was the fact that he wasn’t debating the merits of the argument like so many who had stepped up to the microphone before him. He was attacking me and my intelligence. And, if there’s one thing most people who know me would tell you, it’s never belittle my intellect. It’s the thing I value most about myself and it’s the thing I will take most personally if you doubt it. Sure, we may have disagreeing viewpoints – but don’t ever question that I haven’t done my homework. (I’m a perfectionist with a string of self-doubt – I always do my homework to avoid looking stupid!)

And so, once the delegate session finished, I proceeded to bitch and moan to everyone I could find.

Fine – go ahead and disagree with me, but don’t say I don’t understand the issue! Debate ideas, not people. We can look at the exact same situation and have different opinions – that doesn’t make me less intelligent.

And, yes, I was so offended that I even stooped to the low point of hurling personal attacks back (when talking to my friends, of course – not directly to the man in question).

Young people don’t understand things about the INTERNET? I can be pretty sure we know better than the 70-year-old dude with the flip phone! I know I lost on that policy – no surprise – but I got the votes of the young people in the room who really get it.

Yeah, I don’t claim to be proud of that rant.

In the moment, though, I was hurt. And, as the quote up above said, hurt people want to hurt people. So I bitched and moaned and complained to those I knew would back me up. Anything to make myself feel better.

Practicing Empathy

In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about that Lizzie Velasquez quote – which I heard in a recent interview she did on Marie Forleo’s podcast – a lot. And, it dawned on me:

In that situation on the delegate floor, I probably wasn’t the only hurt person hurling insults to make myself feel better.

With that quote floating around in my brain – “hurt people hurt people” – I’ve been attempting to put on my empathy glasses and look at it from the man’s point of view. Yes, the man who shortchanged my knowledge by chalking it up to being a simplistic, idealistic young person. What could he have been thinking and feeling at the time?

Maybe he feels as though he’s becoming irrelevant as more and more young people step forward to take the place of influence that used to be his.

Maybe he’s uncomfortable with his level of understanding around technology, and attacking young people is easier than admitting he’s not sure what Net Neutrality is.

Maybe he’s been burned by government regulations so many times that he can’t see a world in which regulations might protect him, instead of hurt him.

Maybe he’s worked with young people in the past who haven’t valued his experience or knowledge, so assumes we’re all like that.

Maybe he’s just forgotten what it’s like to be young and idealistic, after too many hard years of tough times and untrustworthy people.

Sure, he could just be a jerk. But maybe, like me, he feels as though the world doesn’t value what he brings to the table and was looking for any opportunity to gain the higher ground – to feel important and to feel heard.

Letting Go

I stewed on that man’s words for a very long time. Longer than I should have. And the only person that stewing hurt?


By attempting to empathize with his experience, though – whether I’m making it all up to make myself feel better or not – I’ve begun to feel a willingness to forgive. His words don’t feel so offensive. It doesn’t hurt my feelings near as much.

Do I like what he said? Not at all. But it doesn’t have the resonance it had when I was under the notion that I was the only one feeling hurt.

Hurt people hurt people.

Ironically, by seeing the hurt in others, it minimizes the hurt we feel ourselves. I can’t guarantee that I won’t have to learn that lesson over and over again. But, for right now, I feel better.

And I’m letting it go.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

The power of a name

the power of a name

One of the many lessons I learned early on from my father was the importance of learning and pronouncing people’s names correctly. My dad, who was also my FFA advisor, made sure to teach the lesson every year as we prepared for our annual FFA chapter banquet. See, during our banquet, we awarded every student in the program at least once and the awards were presented by fellow members of the chapter. For many students, this was the first time they’d ever been recognized for anything. And, for most, their parents would be in the audience.

It was a moment to be proud of.

Now, think how hard it would be to have your name mispronounced in front of a crowd of people as you’re getting an award (maybe your first one ever). Tough, right?

Now, I won’t say that names weren’t ever mispronounced. After all, we were high schoolers and because of how our program was structured – students from seven different schools came to my dad’s agriscience class for half of their day; some in the morning, some in the afternoon – there was always the possibility that the student giving an award had never met the person receiving the award. It wasn’t a perfect system.

But the lesson was taught to each student, year in and year out, that we should all do our best to learn everyone’s name and how to pronounce it. The parents in the room worked hard to pick that name. As we’re honoring their child, they should be proud to hear that child’s name announced – and announced correctly.

I’m currently reading the famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, and I recently finished the chapter on this same idea. As he says “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” To remember someone’s name is to show them respect; it demonstrates that you care and understand the important part they play in the world.

Here’s some tips we can all use to better remember and pronounce names. Do you have any others to add to the list?

How a Jeep taught me to loosen up

The last couple of months have revolved around an ongoing debate at my house. My fiance Mitch wanted to trade in his truck (which he had just purchased in November) and get a Jeep. My list of arguments as to why this was a bad idea was long:

  • You just bought this truck. If you didn’t want it, you shouldn’t have bought it.
  • We are saving up for a wedding. You don’t need to be spending money on toys.
  • How are you going to haul things without a truck?
  • Yes, I know it seems fun, but do we really need it?
  • I don’t know why you have to change vehicles so often; this is the fifth vehicle you’ve owned in the seven years we’ve been together.

And so on and so forth. I was dead set against this purchase. But, as I thought about it more, my arguments really it didn’t have to do with any of the above points. It had everything to do with a difference in two philosophies:

Philosophy #1: Lifetime of a vehicle

Amanda: A vehicle should be driven until it dies, paid off so you can save money for something new.

Mitch: A vehicle should be driven until I find something better (and not lose any money).

Philosophy #2: Large purchases

Amanda: High dollar purchases give me anxiety.

Mitch: Can I afford it? Awesome. Moving on.

It’s not uncommon to have differing philosophies in a relationship, especially about money. But, at the end of the day, we have one overriding policy between the two of us: if it doesn’t affect our joint finances, I don’t tell him how to spend his money and vice versa. We’re too independent to like being told what we can and can’t do with our respective incomes and so we’re good with this compromise. Which is why, last Tuesday night, Mitch became the owner of a 2008 Jeep Rubicon.

And I couldn’t be happier.

As we’ve been having this argument, all of my points centered around fear. Fear of spending too much money. Fear of not having enough money for the wedding. Fear of getting into the habit of frivolous spending. But those are my fears, not Mitch’s. He knows he can afford it and he’s better than me at looking at the bigger picture. He saw how driving a Jeep could allow us to have better experiences than his former vehicle. Not just for him, but for us as a family.

And he was right.

We spent the 4th of July weekend in northern Michigan, and here’s just a glimpse of the blast we had thanks to the Jeep:

Jeep ride with Mitch and my dog

Our first family ride in the Jeep with the top off, feeling the wind in our hair (or fur).

Dog eating ice cream

Nothing like taking the Jeep to get some ice cream – even Leo got his “pup cup”!

My sister and her boyfriend joined us to do a little off-roading in the Jeep. When you're flying at 60 mph down bumpy 2-lane seasonal roads, your hair's going to get a bit crazy!

My sister and her boyfriend joined us to do a little off-roading in the Jeep. When you’re flying at 60 mph down bumpy 2-lane seasonal roads, your hair’s going to get a bit crazy!


I have a bad habit of getting a little too uptight, and not enjoying the moment for what it is. But Mitch’s “frivolous” purchase was one more example of how he consistently shows me how to loosen up a little, chill out and have fun.

So here’s to many more off-roading, wind in our hair, singing to the music moments in the Jeep!


My new favorite thing about Wednesdays

My new

When I joined Twitter in college, one of the first communities I joined was #agchat. Here was an online group of people in agriculture, coming together once a week to talk about different topics related to food and farming. Out of that experience, I made some amazing friends, got to travel to new places, and had one of my first event planning gigs.

After I graduated, I became less and less involved with #agchat – mostly because, when I moved to Minneapolis for work, I felt less and less connected to the agricultural world that I grew up in. It was a community I was familiar with, but really no longer felt a part of. When I stopped participating, though, my Twitter activity overall became almost non-existent.

About six months ago, I found myself wanting to find that bond of community online again. I started posting on Twitter. I started following people. I started reading and sharing interesting articles. But I was still flying solo in a world that thrives on making connections.

Then, I found #bufferchat.

#bufferchat is run by (not surprisingly) Buffer — a start-up company that creates software for scheduling social media posts. I stumbled upon them in a Fast Company article and was intrigued by what they are trying to do as a transparent company with no managers and positions like “Happiness Heroes.” I set up an account and gave them a follow on Twitter. I figured that’s where it would end. However, #bufferchat turned a random follow into full-fledged engagement.

Similar to #agchat, #bufferchat is a weekly discussion on Twitter where thousands of people from around the world come together to talk about the week’s topic. Last week it was about building your reputation online. The week before that it was about using digital tools to stay organized. It’s always facilitated by the Buffer team (and sometimes there’s a special guest), but it’s not marketing spin. It’s a true discussion. It’s fast-paced. It’s engaging.

And it’s my favorite part of Wednesdays.

Just like I’d felt with #agchat, #bufferchat has helped me re-discovered the purpose of a social media tool like Twitter. It’s there to facilitate conversations, to help make connections with others, and – just maybe – create a community where you can build true relationships.

Hope you stop by for #bufferchat some time. There’s a great group just waiting to say ‘hi’.

Top 5 holiday weekend highlights!

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a vacation, but this past weekend I disconnected and headed to northern Michigan to spend 4th of July with my fiance Mitch’s family at their lake cottage. While I didn’t get all the things I had planned to do accomplished, it was amazing to stop worrying and just enjoying being with great people having fun.

Here’s some of my highlights from the long weekend:

Off-roading in our new Jeep

Last week, Mitch bought a Jeep (more on that in the future) and this weekend we really got to see what it could do. Northern Michigan has some great two-track seasonal roads that we went and played on, and we were lucky enough to have my sister and her boyfriend come and join us!

My sister and her boyfriend joined us to do a little off-roading in the Jeep. When you're flying at 60 mph down bumpy 2-lane seasonal roads, your hair's going to get a bit crazy!

My sister and her boyfriend joined us to do a little off-roading in the Jeep. When you’re flying at 60 mph down bumpy 2-lane seasonal roads, your hair’s going to get a bit crazy!


Cruising into town for some ice cream

Most of these northern Michigan towns are pretty small, but we took some time to cruise into Harrison in the Jeep (top off!) to get some ice cream. My dog, Leo, even got to get in on the fun!

Jeep ride with Mitch and my dog

Our first family ride in the Jeep with the top off, feeling the wind in our hair (or fur).

Dog eating ice cream

Nothing like taking the Jeep to get some ice cream – even Leo got his “pup cup”!

Celebrating the marriage of one of my oldest and best friends

On Saturday, Mitch and I drove over to Holland to watch one of my best friends, Robyn, get married. Robyn and I have been friends for about 18 years, starting with doing gymnastics together. It was great to see her take her next step in life with a wonderful man and see the love they share for each other.

High school friends at Robyn's wedding

Robyn was a beautiful bride! It was so great to celebrate with her and our two other best high school friends, Holly and Nicole.

Mitch and Amanda at Robyn's wedding

Mitch and I clean up pretty well!

Tooling around on the lake

It’s not 4th of July in Michigan without a little time on the water. Between getting the pups on board, getting a good sunburn tan, and watching fireworks from the pontoon while they went off from all directions around us, there’s nothing like a little boat time to boost your spirits.

Dog on pontoon boat

Leo absolutely loved the boat – this is his “happy face”!

Hanging out with family

Over the past seven years, it’s been awesome to get to know Mitch’s family and hang out with them on weekends like this. In the next two months, their current cottage will be demolished to make room for a newer one that will fit the growing number of people who come to the lake and enjoy each others’ company. This last weekend at the current cottage was a great time to reflect on lots of good stories and make a few more. Plus, I was especially glad that my sister and her boyfriend could join us for a day of boating, off-roading, swimming with the dogs and playing games. This is what a holiday weekend is supposed to be about and we did it in epic style.

Can’t wait for the next lake weekend and a chance to make even more memories. Hope you had an equally awesome 4th of July with your friends and family!


Kicking off the new month right

Today’s July 1st. A new month. A brand new beginning.

What to do with it?

I personally love that the start of July kicks off with built in vacation. Since 4th of July falls on a Saturday this year, my office is closed on Friday. That means I’m heading to my family’s cottage Thursday night to get my relaxation started right – ka-ching! It’ll be a weekend of family, celebration (one of my best friends is getting married!), hanging by the water, a little boating and lots of decompressing.

One of the things I’m really looking forward to doing while at the lake is spending some personal time on reflection and growth. I’m planning to do some reading and writing, which I haven’t been very good at making time for. I want to do some goal-setting. I want to spend some time just…being – soaking in the peace and quiet that comes with an early morning on the deck while the only people on the water are the fishermen.

This weekend will kick off what is sure to be another busy month of travel and work. But, for three short days, I plan to slow it down, take a step back and soak it all in.