First Light

First Light

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ghostwriter

Kathy's post to Facebook: The little sister has to ride in the back seat, just like old times!
Miles: 1,725.
Days: 4.
Siblings: 3.
Nieces: 2
Years since the last family vacation: 42
Time together: Priceless (or so I hear)

This week, Randy went on an adventure with his sister, Kathy, to visit their brother, Lyle, in South Dakota. Kathy's girls - Amanda and Emily - went along for the ride. They wanted to know how long it had been since Randy and Kathy had been on a family vacation. After some difficult math calculations, the siblings figured out it would have been 1973. The summer before Randy's senior year in high school, their family went to Ohio to visit family.

This was a last-minute trip. With rain in the forecast for another week, Randy called Kathy on the way home from Topeka on Saturday (May 23) and they left Monday morning (May 25) for Deadwood, South Dakota. He got home at 11:30 last night (May 28).
For the uninitiated, that's a farmer-style vacation. It's a last-minute excursion based totally on the weather. (The last time Randy and I visited Lyle, we left in a drought-stricken August.) Jill says that's how nearly all our family vacations happened, with the exception of some spring break trips. Since I had meetings every day this week and KFRM reports to do, I couldn't go at the last minute.
So, I will be the ghostwriter for this adventure. There is a marked difference when I actually go on the trip. In October 2010, we went to South Dakota (and Nebraska and Wyoming). I took 437 photos, and it took me seven blog posts to tell the tale.

Randy says he often commented to his traveling companions that "Kim would want to stop to take a picture." He did send me 11 photos from his phone - after he figured out how to do it. (I told him that he had three knowledgeable technology consultants in the car with him and just to ask!)
He sent me this photo of the Platte River at Grand Island, Nebraska. He literally took it standing in the parking lot at Arby's. He was well aware that I would have probably searched for a more scenic angle. 

Kathy was a good travel agent and booked a nice hotel, the Grand Mountain Resort Holiday Inn in Deadwood. Randy called and said that it was where Iowa farmer Chris Soules and his entourage from ABC's "The Bachelor" stayed and filmed an episode.

They got a good price since it was the off-season. One guy told Randy that October and May were the "times for newlyweds and nearly deads." I guess the Fritzemeier travel party didn't fit the parameters.
They toured the Broken Boot Gold Mine in Deadwood. Randy says it was probably more tourist trap than gold mine, but they still had fun. He got a stock certificate "which has no voting power and has a par value of plenty of blue sky when traded on the Deadwood Stock Exchange."
 
They also went to the 76 Museum in Deadwood. (FYI; The shirt and the hat were photo props - thank goodness!)

The museum had a basement full of buggies.
One of their favorite side trips was to Mount Rushmore. It was a must-see for Kathy and the girls.
Randy texted us to say that when he turns 62, he can buy a pass to all the national parks for a mere $10. Jill told him that it wasn't all that long.
Amanda, Kathy & Emily
Thankfully, they were able to get a few snapshots in and explore the monument before it started pouring rain, along with some hail.
 
They went through the Badlands on the way back to Kansas yesterday. This is the one photo I got via text. I took dozens from the same area.
Another difference: I probably would have suggested we not make the drive in one day. How can you get 437 photos otherwise?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Scrapbook Snapshots

Doesn't it look like Brooke is holding onto the sides of the slide because she knows Kinley might chuck her off at any moment?
I have always documented life through photos. But, as I've said before, I'm not good about getting the pictures into beautifully-appointed scrapbooks. I've told my kids, "You'll have to dig through plastic tubs for the story of your life. It's there: You'll just have to work for it."

The blog has given me a vehicle for chronicling our family's life. So, today, here's a scrapbook of snapshots from last weekend. Because of the rain, Randy and I took a quick trip to Topeka to see the granddaughters ... and, of course, Jill and Eric, too. Randy hadn't seen Brooke since she got so mobile. And, even in just a two-week span since I'd seen her, she had more "tricks."
 She's not quite 9 months old, but she was walking behind a push toy at the Discovery Center.
Her Mommy walked early, so Miss Brooke may follow in her footsteps - literally.
She doesn't seem to have any fear either. She is a climber like her Mommy. (I once plucked Jill off the dining room table.) Brooke wants to be a big girl like Kinley.

She isn't the only one with new skills. Kinley is trying to master the art of bike riding. Remembering to steer is the challenge at the moment.
But even with new skills, Kinley's favorite outdoor activity continues to be swinging. We dodged the raindrops and got some swinging time in.
Brooke appears to be a fan of swinging, too. 
Here it looks like she's telling me, "Hey! My turn! Don't forget about me!

We asked Kinley whether she'd rather go to the zoo or the Discovery Center. Since Grandpa hadn't been to the Discovery Center, he was glad she chose that option. 

He helped her paint.
We all took our turn telling a story at the puppet theater.
Only one of us played dress-up though!
What fun!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why Is the Sky Blue (and other unanswerable questions)

A persistent encyclopedia "hawker" at a long-ago Kansas State Fair asked me an important question: "How will you answer your child's question, 'Why is the sky blue?' "

At the time, I was a reporter and editor at The Hutchinson News. I was responsible for state fair coverage, so I was wandering the fair, looking for stories. Besides being a reporter, I was also a mom to a toddler. So the question did make me think - then and throughout the years as both Jill and Brent asked their share of difficult questions.

Thankfully, I resisted the urge to pony up the big bucks for an enormous set of encyclopedias, which would have become an expensive set of paperweights and flower pressers in this day of push-button technology and information.

But I again remembered that salesman's question about the blue sky when riding with our inquisitive 3-year-old granddaughter this weekend. We were on our way to a Topeka cemetery to put flowers on the graves of Randy's maternal grandparents, Laura and Alvin Ritts.
Alvin Ritts was a Methodist pastor. He died when my mother-in-law was in grade school.
Kinley hasn't had a lot of encounters with death - and that's a good thing. But she had plenty of questions:

"Did she die on a cross?" (Jesus' crucifixion is the death she's heard about the most.)
"Where is she?"
"Is she under the ground?"
"Is she under the grass?"
"Why is her soul in heaven?"
"Why? Why? Why? Why? WHY?"

A man who was decorating graves nearby was also the target of questions:

"Is he a grandpa?" (We were looking for a grandma, you know.)

We did the best we could with hard questions, and Jill finally diverted attention to another subject. (Kinley has lots of questions about everything. She reminds me of another little girl I knew long ago. Payback is a wonderful thing.) 

Kinley just couldn't grasp the concept of "visiting" grandparents who weren't actually there to see with her two eyes. It's kind of like trying to "see" the wind.
We probably were as inept at explaining that concept while at the Discovery Center in Topeka Friday afternoon, though there were a couple of experiments that helped.
Our encounters with Kinley and hard questions came back to both Randy and me during Sunday's worship service. We celebrated Pentecost, the "birthday" of the church. In Acts 2, it says:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Acts 2: 1-4
Our historic sanctuary is beautiful anyway, but thanks to Pastor Ben & Britt Bradley for their work in transforming it for Pentecost.
Just like Kinley's search for a grandma she couldn't see, I search for a Holy Spirit described as rushing wind and tongues of fire. Those aren't exactly stagnant images, are they? God's presence and the Holy Spirit should change me. It can happen slowly. Sometimes it's in an instant. But it's moving, not stagnant.

We Kansans know wind. It can be a pleasant breeze on a hot summer day or a howling gale that thunders through trees and brings down heavy branches during a storm.

Pentecost isn't just a "story" that happened long ago. God isn't finished "moving" us and doing new things even today. The Holy Spirit comes to open our eyes and show us how to be more connected, have mercy, offer forgiveness and transform the world with justice and love.

But it requires movement. I have to leave a beautifully appointed sanctuary and go out into a messy, noisy, complicated world. As Pastor Ben says, "We have inherited the work."
***
Sometimes, the work takes us out of our comfort zones. That was aptly illustrated by our choir song Sunday. Mac Knight is in his first year directing our little church choir. When he handed out "Baba Yetu" at a Wednesday night rehearsal several months ago, we had our doubts.

He knew it would take months to teach us the foreign words and help us figure out the rapid-fire rhythms. He had it scheduled for the choir's "swan song" before our summer hiatus. At the time, I don't think he realized the scheduled Sunday happened to coincide with Pentecost.

But how appropriate that the two converged! On a day when we read about the Holy Spirit coming and each person hearing the message in their native language (Acts 2: 5-21), our choir sang "The Lord's Prayer" in Swahili. God is still speaking today - no matter the language!
Photo by Arlene Lickiss
To hear "Baba Yetu," click on this link. (You can also "like" Stafford First United Methodist Church on Facebook to hear the anthem.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

On the Banks of Peace Creek

Laura Ingalls Wilder may have lived on the banks of Plum Creek, but she's not the only prairie girl who finds beauty along a creek bed.

Rains have greened the landscape of our part of the world. We got another 0.40" of rain overnight, bringing our total for the past week or so up to 5.90." At the danger of sounding like the never-satisfied-with-the-weather farmer, we'd really like to start banking a little of that moisture for the dog days of August in Kansas. But that's not the way it works, so I might as well enjoy the beauty all the rain has brought to our little part of the world.
For one, it gave me the opportunity to complete my own version of "The Four Seasons." No, I'm not starting a Motown group or rewriting a classical symphony. I've been trying to capture the four seasons from a bridge over Peace Creek on 4th Street. I've been waiting for a day with beautiful clouds to go along with the green landscape. I found it on the way home from Hutchinson last Thursday evening.

Here's a shot from this winter.
 
Here, the landscape is painted with the goldenrod of fall ...
... and here's a pastoral scene from August.
(I'm never satisfied. I need to broaden the summer view to make it look more similar to the others. But summer is coming, so I'll get another chance.)

Yesterday morning, the sun peeked out from the clouds for a little while, so I drove down to the bridge at the Peace Creek pasture, where we feed cattle during the winter.
The water was up there, too, after all the rains.
This location has been the site for plenty of photos through the years, too, but I don't know that it has ever looked more vibrant.
No matter whether I looked to the west toward our pasture ...
... or to the east, as Peace Creek flowed through a neighbor's pasture, the beauty was undeniable. Yes, all the rain may keep us from completing all the tasks that are on the mental list, but it's hard to complain about moisture after years of drought.
Lyle, Kathy & Randy
Randy took the opportunity to travel yesterday with his sister and her two girls to visit his brother. I got this photo on my phone last night. I stayed home to go to doctor's appointments and meetings that were scheduled long before the last-minute trip. But I wish I was with them to go to Mount Rushmore today. I'll just have to be satisfied with my view from the banks of Peace Creek.

Friday, May 22, 2015

In Honor of Memorial Day

C. Melvin Fritzemeier, 10th Infantry Division, U.S. Army
My father-in-law, C. Melvin Fritzemeier, served in the U.S. Army following the Korean War. He didn't talk about his service with me. But as we approach this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to pay tribute to him and others who have faithfully served our country during wartime and times of peace.

Maybe I just needed to take him on a road trip by Fort Riley. As a kid, Randy remembers hearing "war stories" in the back seat as his Dad drove by the fort, where he had trained before being shipped out to Korea. 
C. Melvin Fritzemeier in uniform; upper right, Camp Casey, Korea, 11-Sept.-54, Saturday night was on the back of this photo; lower left photo was not captioned; lower right, caption says, "Ready to ship out to Korea from Fort Lewis, Washington."

Not long ago, I was digging for photos and came across several from Melvin's military service. After Randy's folks died, we cleaned out their farmhouse. By the end, we were all tired of sorting, so we ended up putting family photos in plastic tubs. We got elected to be the repository for all the tubs. 


Also in the box was this Indianhead insignia, the symbol for the Army's Second Division since October 1917 at Bourmont, Haute-Marne, France, from troops in World War II. The color markings (red, white, and blue) used to identify the division and their equipment in France were chosen  by the commander of the division as the colors for this insignia.  The star and Indian head signify the American origin of the division.

 Melvin was drafted three months after the Korean War officially ended. He served as a truck driver. Randy says he talked about sleeping outside in tents.

Melvin often told a story about Army food. He would never eat dried beef gravy after serving in the Army. He also never touched fruit cocktail. Randy says that he and a buddy each ate a gallon of fruit cocktail that they'd cooled in a nearby stream. He ate so much of it that he never wanted it again. 

As is the case today, servicemen and women leave behind their families as they go to serve their country. I found several little yellow books of photos, which Marie must have sent to Melvin overseas. Marie stayed with her mother in Stafford while Melvin served, and she worked at the Farmers National Bank until he returned and they moved to the farm.
Melvin served two years. By the time he returned to Stafford, he had traded his Private 2nd Class stripes for a Corporal designation.

On this Memorial Day, I'd like to thank all the veterans for their service. Our little community of Stafford has a number of young men and women who serve (or have served) in the Armed Forces. I thank them for keeping America strong, and I thank their families for the sacrifice of being apart from their loved ones, often in dangerous places. 

This nation will remain the land of the free 
only so long as it is the home of the brave.
  ~Elmer Davis
Happy Memorial Day! 

Note:  This was updated from a 2012 Veteran's Day post. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Blueberry Almond Crumble Bread



Everyone needs a little red, white and BLUEberry for their Memorial Day weekend, don't you think? This recipe would be great for a breakfast treat, but, with its crumb topping and almond-flavored glaze, it could also double as a dessert offering for friends and family as they gather for the holiday weekend.

Randy is hoping I don't wait for a special occasion to make this quick bread again. Blueberries are his favorite fruit, and he is always happy when they appear in baked goods, too. Blueberries have been on sale at my local grocery store the past two weeks, but you could also use frozen berries with a slight adjustment to the recipe.

The crumb topping and glaze add additional flavor and pizazz to an already-tasty quick bread recipe. The original recipe said to use three mini loaf pans for this recipe. However, that filled them really full, especially by the time I added the crumb topping. I ended up with crumb topping on the bottom of the oven, so the next time I make this, I'll fill the loaf pans less full. If I don't think I have enough batter for a 4th mini loaf, I'll bake the extra in muffin tins or greased custard cups. That's just a word to the wise:  I wouldn't want you to have to clean your oven, like I did!
Blueberry Almond Crumble Bread
Adapted from Inside BruCrew Life
2/3 cup oil
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup finely-chopped almonds
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

For Crumble Topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1 tbsp. melted butter

For Glaze:
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp. melted butter
1 tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Beat together the oil, sugar, egg and extract until well blended. Stir together the flour, salt, baking soda and almonds. Slowly add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk to the sugar mixture until everything is combined. Stir blueberries gently into the batter. Spoon batter into 3 or 4 greased 5 3/4- by 3-inch loaf pans.

Topping: Stir together topping ingredients. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter in the pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes before turning bread out onto wire racks to continue cooling. Turn the bread back upright so the topping doesn't fall off. Cool completely before glazing.

Glaze: Stir together all the glaze ingredients, adding additional powdered sugar or liquid to make it the right consistency. Use a decorator tube to drizzle the frosting over the cooled bread. Let the glaze set up before putting in sealed containers for storage. Bread freezes well.
 
Recipe notes: 
  •  If you don't have buttermilk (and I usually don't!), put 1 tablespoon of vinegar in the bottom of a 1-cup measure. Fill with milk to the 1 cup line.
  • If fresh blueberries aren't available, you may use frozen blueberries. Combine frozen blueberries with an additional 2 teaspoons of flour before folding into the bread mixture. If you are using fresh berries, you don't need the additional flour.
  • This batter can also be baked as 16 regular-sized muffins. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 22 minutes.
  • I used 3 mini loaf pans for this recipe, as the original recipe called for. However, that filled them really full, especially with the crumb topping. I ended up with crumb topping on the bottom of the oven, so the next time I make this, I'll fill the loaf pans less full. If I don't think I have enough batter for a 4th mini loaf, I'll bake the extra in muffin tins or greased custard cups.
  • I doubled the recipe, which I often do when I'm already making a mess in the kitchen. This freezes well. I know that because I've already pulled some from the freezer to serve.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I Love A Good Mystery - Usually

Kim's County Line photo from April 2012
I love mysteries. In fact, there's one on my bedside table right now. Maybe I should clarify: I love mystery books. However, when it comes to our wheat crop, I find the allure of the mystery less appealing. Maybe I'd opt for a love story: A beautiful seed germinates and then is coddled by perfect growing conditions until the full trucks drive off into the sunset toward the elevator. There's a fantasy for you (another book genre)!

Instead, a whole lot of uncontrollable factors affect the 9-month life cycle of wheat.
Sunrise photos from May 19, 2015. Seeing the sun was short-lived on Tuesday. I think it lasted about 15 minutes at sunrise and then we didn't see it the rest of the day!
After a dry fall and winter, our 2015 wheat crop got another good drink of water this past weekend. Here on the Stafford/Reno County line, we got a total of 1.40" last weekend. We got an additional 1.40" on Tuesday and overnight. More rain is in the forecast for this week. If truth is told, we'd like to bankroll a little of the rain for later in the summer.
The 2015 corn crop
The corn crop could use some sunshine after this nice rain. 
But, back to wheat: The 2015 Wheat Quality Council's Hard Red Winter Wheat tour traveled through Kansas earlier this month. Bushel per acre estimates for the tour were: Day 1, 34.3 bushels per acre; Day 2, 32.8 bu/acre; Day 3, 48.9 bu/acre. The 288.5 million bushel projection for the 2015 crop is higher than last year's tour prediction of 260 million bushels, but it's still below the state average.

Last year's actual production was 246.4 million bushels. The 2014 wheat crop suffered from severe drought stress due to lack of moisture throughout the growth stages and an overabundance of rain during harvest.

Ironically, heavy rains fell during much of the 2015 wheat tour. The 92 participants on the tour were getting their feet wet as they checked fields across the state, while still noting the short stature of the crop in many locations due to little moisture throughout the fall and winter.
Still, the rains did help with filling the wheat heads. And, at least around here, the plants also have grown taller after the spring rains, which should make it easier to combine in June.
There are other challenges to the 2015 crop, including stripe rust, wheat streak mosaic virus, barley yellow dwarf virus, winter kill and pest infestations such as aphids, according to Kansas Wheat. The moisture, at this stage, is a mixed blessing, since moisture increases disease pressure, especially in some wheat varieties.
We also have some wheat lying down in the fields because of the rain. As Randy says, the "upside" of that is that there is grain in the head. It happened last weekend, too, but with some sunshine and drying, it stood back up. We'll hope for the same outcome after this round of rain.

Yes, the 2015 crop is still a mystery. Just like any good "whodunit," we can have our theories about the ending. But, until we finish the last chapter, we won't have the answer.

For more on the Wheat Quality Tour, check out Kansas Wheat.