Sunrise over a wheat field

Sunrise over a wheat field

Friday, June 24, 2016

Star-Spangled White Chocolate Blondies

Hooray for the red, white and blue! And hooray for festive and easy bar cookies!

With the 4th of July weekend fast approaching, I decided to substitute patriotic sprinkles in a blondies recipe. The original recipe called for rainbow sprinkles. But this recipe can be adapted to any celebration by substituting seasonal sprinkles.
I first tried the recipe for Memorial Day. Since I was taking some for our annual "cemetery tour" afternoon, I dressed them up even more by zig-zagging candy coating on top of cut bars and then adding additional sprinkles. I left part of the bars plain and put them in the freezer for harvest.

The white chocolate chips inside the bars are tasty with - or without - the extra drizzle. They've been a hit either way. Want to add a little fireworks to your 4th of July party? Try these easy bars!
Star-Spangled White Chocolate Blondies
Adapted from the blog, Cookies and Cups
1 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pkg. white chocolate chips
1/2 cup sprinkles (rainbow or holiday), plus 1/4 cup for garnish
Almond bark (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use cooking spray to coat a sheet cake pan, 10- by 15-inches.

Using a mixer, mix butter and sugars until well creamed. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Combine dry ingredients. Add to creamed mixture, scraping bowl to combine. Add white chocolate chips and 1/2 cup sprinkles until well incorporated.

Press dough into the prepared pan. Top with the additional sprinkles, pressing lightly into the dough. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges are light golden brown.

Allow to cool on wire rack. Cut into bars. You may serve them plain. If you'd like to "dress them up," melt almond bark in a glass measuring cup, using the microwave. Heat for 1 minute at 70 percent power. Continue until almond bark is melted. Use a decorator's tube to create zigzags on cut blondies. Sprinkle with additional sprinkles, if desired.

You could use rainbow sprinkles. Or use sprinkles to fit any holiday theme.

***

Today, I'm linked to Weekend Potluck, hosted by these bloggers. Check out the tried-and-true recipes from them and other foodies!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall


Perhaps you have noticed that even
in the very lightest breeze,
you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree.
--Black Elk

The big old cottonwood tree has had a supporting role in many a photo on the County Line.
As we've taken cattle in and out of the pasture we call "Palmer's," it has stood as a sentinel to our comings and goings just beyond the southwest gate. Its stance at the bottom of a cottonwood-tree-lined hill made it the focal point for photos as Randy would go back to close the gate and I'd step out of the pickup to document its fall or summer "outfit."
But a mighty wind felled the mighty cottonwood Friday night.
The weather ticker at the bottom of the TV screen Friday night said there were 58 mph winds at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. That gave a definition to the howling I could hear outside my living room windows. I'm always a little concerned when the wind screams ferociously. Our house is nestled among many old trees. Someday, I envision one of them crashing into the roof. This time, our homestead trees survived. But one of my favorite cottonwoods did not.
 
The cottonwood stood just across the dirt road from this Quivira National Wildlife Refuge sign, "Headquarters, Visitors Center, 1 mile." (You can see the old cottonwood's leaves in the upper righthand corner of this photo from 2010.)

But it will no longer stand at attention as visitors drive to the refuge or as we make trips to the pasture. Look closely at the photo below and you'll see Randy in the center.
 That gives a better gauge of the massive size of the old cottonwood tree.
The tree snapped apart and completely blocked the road.
 
Randy didn't think our loader tractor could do the job of moving the massive trunk, so he called the township board. They already had it taken care of by Sunday evening.
We can't believe it didn't squash the fence when it crashed to the ground.
You can see how massive it is. Randy is in the lower right of this photo, hidden among the leaves.
More cottonwood trees line the road to the east. They survived this round of storms. As I stepped through the fallen branches, I realized that the cottonwood leaves that I'd used to frame many photos on the lefthand side were now framing the righthand side of the shot. .

Here the old cottonwood was decked out in its fall finery during one of our trips to take cattle to the pasture.
I have a lifetime love of cottonwoods. At my childhood home, an old cottonwood stands near the south driveway. The cottonwood tree has been one of the first things visitors see as they approach the farmstead and one of the last things you see silhouetted by a sunset sky at night.

Mighty cottonwoods form a canopy down many a country road in rural Kansas. Early Kansas settlers found the native trees as they arrived from the eastern U.S. When the Kansas Legislature chose the cottonwood (Populus deltoides) are the state tree in 1937, the proclamation read:
"Whereas, if the full truth were known, it might honestly be said that the successful growth of the cottonwood grove on the homestead was often the determining factor in the decision of the homesteader to 'stick it out until he could prove up on his claim'; and Whereas, The cottonwood tree can rightfully be called 'the pioneer tree of Kansas.' "
They are like the old family patriarch - tall, stately, but maybe a little rough around the edges after years of standing through the changing seasons. Just like the road to the Palmer pasture, many a country road is lined with these big old trees, which seem to wave a friendly greeting in the Kansas breeze. On early morning or late evening trips to check cattle, the cottonwood's leaves rustle and birds serenade from their branches. Their attire changes with the seasons - whether clothed in green for summer or in yellow finery for fall or stark and drab in winter's solemnity.

In 2011, the Kansas Cattle Drive herded longhorns down the road and past the cottonwood as they traveled to Quivira for an overnight stay.
The old cottonwood had towered over the longhorns and the riders as they traversed the dusty road.
You know that old saying, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."  Yes, and the bigger they are, the harder to watch them fall, too.

Goodbye, old friend. It's been good to know you.

Monday, June 20, 2016

For Good Measure

Taken June 8, 2016
I may have my pay docked. As recorder of the goings-on at the County Line, I usually try to document the growth of crops through photos and words. In early June, as I returned home after nearly a week at a church conference in Topeka, I realized that I hadn't yet used my handsome human measuring stick to show our 2016 corn crop's progress.  After generous May rains and June sunshine, the corn was about knee-high on June 8.
June 18, 2016
Since I didn't get that photo shared in a timely manner, I took another one 10 days later -  Saturday, June 18. Even with our extreme 100-plus-degree days, the corn had grown some more and was almost to Randy's waist.
However, some of it will have to straighten itself back up after 58-mph winds Friday night. The storm also brought 1.80" of rain. The big drink of water definitely helped the corn crop, which was stressed after all the high temperatures from last week. It will give a boost to the milo and forage sorghum that Randy planted as well.
A storm that rolled through late Friday night made parts of the field look like the Leaning Tower of Piza, especially along the edges of the field, where it caught the brunt of the wind. I'm told that much of it will recover. We shall see!
April 23, 2016
Here's the journey thus far:  We planted the corn crop in late April. It was the crop that "almost wasn't." A dry spring had Randy considering not planting any corn. But some timely rain changed his mind, and we started planting corn, amid plenty of planter breakdowns. (It's good it's not a major crop because it seemed we were interrupted frequently by repeated trips to the parts counter in Hutchinson.)
May 7, 2016
In fact, Randy had to do some reseeding because the planter wasn't working properly. But some of the corn was already off to a good start at that time.
May 25, 2016
By late May, the corn we'd had to replant was growing next to its "big brothers."
May 25, 2016
And, now, according to my human measuring stick, it's waist high ... and growing. 

***
Before the storm
The 1.80" of rain temporarily halted Wheat Harvest 2016. We hope to be able to get back to cutting later today.

Friday, June 17, 2016

It Takes A Real Man To Be A Daddy

Brent's first harvest - 1988
 
The Dads in my life likely won't sit in their recliners on Father's Day unless there's a surprise rain storm. Their favorite way to spend their special day is in a Kansas wheat field, cutting a crop that's taken 9 months to grow.

In a way, it's like raising kids, I suppose.
Good, honest, hardheaded character is a function of the home. If the proper seed is sown there and properly nourished for a few years, it will not be easy for that plant to be uprooted.
~George A. Dorsey
Jill & Randy, Harvest 1987
Just as in farming, there are plenty of variables in parenting. Fortunately, the weather isn't one of them (unless you're the Father of the Bride worried about the weather ruining your princess' big day).
Gina Dreher Photography, Wichita, KS, 2009
It's Dad's special weekend. But, I'm thankful every day for the "Daddys" in my life.
Happy Father's Day to my Daddy.

We are thankful for our son-in-law, Eric, who is a great Daddy to his two girls.
And on this Father's Day weekend, we also celebrate the memory of my father-in-law. I owe a debt of gratitude to Melvin and Marie for raising the fine man I married. He couldn't have been a better Daddy to our kids.


Any fool can be a father,
but it takes a real man to be a Daddy.
Philip Whitmore, Sr.

Happy Daddy's Day!
Daddys make pretty great Grandpas, too!
 
This is a shorter version of a blog post from 2010. To read the whole thing, click HERE.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Gold at the End of the Rainbow: Wheat Harvest 2016

Taken at sunrise, June 14, 2016
Do you remember when you were a little kid and you were waiting for Christmas? At my childhood home, the Christmas tree was in the living room, the room without the television. But as Christmas approached, I might even give up Major Astro to sit in the quiet and contemplate what might be in the colorfully-wrapped presents under the tree. This near-sighted girl would take off her glasses and the lights seemed to shimmer even more in the blur and glow of multi-colored illumination.

That's kind of what it's been like around here this week. Early this week, the moisture reader on the combine showed 16 one day and 15 the next. As a neighbor started cutting, the underlying song of life seemed to be "Anticipation, anticipation is making me wait."

But the wait was finally over yesterday afternoon as Wheat Harvest 2016 began on the County Line. Yes, I capitalize Wheat Harvest intentionally because it's that important to us. It's our primary crop.

Randy made it a whole round before the first breakdown. But it only required a trip to Stafford before he was up and running again.

Tuesday morning, I could tell it was going to be a pretty sunrise, so I went out to take photos. As the sun came up, I noticed a partial rainbow in the west. I drove to a wheat field to get a photo. (It's never as pretty in the photo as it was in person. Rainbows aren't easy to capture in a photo. The colors are often too subtle.)

But I couldn't help but wonder,  "Will there be gold at the end of the rainbow?"
Time will tell. So far, yields are good.  Though it seemed like it took forever to get here, this year's start to harvest is pretty consistent with the past seven years. (I have good records of the past seven years because I've been blogging that long):

2010:  June 18
2011:  June 10
2012:  May 26 (an anomaly and the earliest harvest, by far, we've ever had)
2013:  June 21
2014:  June 17
2015:  June 20
2016:  June 15

Randy has been anxious to try out our new-to-us combine. At a farm auction this spring, he purchased a 2010 7120 Case combine, along with a 2011 35-foot flex head header and a trailer to pull the header.
This combine is 16 years newer than the combine we'd been using for 14 years. (We bought that one at a farm auction is 2002.)  This combine had 1,500 engine hours before harvest started, compared to 3,800 on our old combine.It's definitely like Christmas for him, once we got past the short-lived breakdown. Harvest is always his favorite part of the year.
Yesterday afternoon, storm clouds and some sprinkles also had us thinking that we were going to have another delay. Some friends north of Stafford got hail, so we'll need to check to see if our fields in that area got hit.
In our location, though, we were able to keep cutting, with only a little bump in the wheat's moisture content as Ricky delivered the truckload to Zenith.
Combine shadow and trucks through the combine windshield
 
It did make for some dramatic blue skies as Randy unloaded another binload into the semi.
Near sundown, the back draft from the storms to the east brought winds that kicked up dirt from fields and mingled with wheat chaff in the air, creating an odd-colored sunset and sky. (Naturally, the combine wasn't down at my end at the time, but it probably would have been too dusty anyway for a decent photo.)
We've already had some drama and that was just Day One! We're ready for Day Two: Wish us luck!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Music in a Pasture: Symphony in the Flint Hills

I'm used to playing a horn in the pasture. I pride myself on my rhythmic beep-beep-beeping of the pickup horn to attract our cattle to the corral during a round-up from summer pasture.

But my lonely solo pales in comparison to hearing 80 professional musicians play horns and strings and percussion in the middle of the Kansas prairie. Saturday, I went to my first Symphony in the Flint Hills. Brent, Jill, Eric and the girls got me tickets for a combination Mother's Day and birthday present.
I had always wanted to go, but I never bought them for myself because of the uncertainty of wheat harvest timing. But when others had put down their hard-earned money on my behalf, I was going to make it work, no matter what. Randy was baling hay, so Brent graciously agreed to accompany me.
Photo by Brent with Instagram filter
As I listened to the swell of symphonic music float on the hot breeze of a Kansas evening and drank in the vibrant green rolling landscape under a hazy, humid sky, I pretended I was sopping up sweat instead of tears. It was just so beautiful, but I didn't figure my date would appreciate my emotional response.



It was the 11th annual Symphony of the Flint Hills. This year, it was in the South Clements pasture owned by cattleman Edward Bass in Chase County, but the venue changes each year. After turning off of Highway 177 south of Strong City, a  narrow, curving dirt road was the only way in and out of the venue. I wondered what the city folk thought as the fine dust swirled around cars in a very different form of traffic jam.
Because of the hot forecast, we timed our arrival for later afternoon.
But it still gave me time to wander around the pasture, taking photos of wildflowers and the rolling hills so different from our flat pastures only 2 hours to the west.
The Flint Hills are part of the tallgrass prairie. In Kansas, they stretch from Marshall County in the north down through Riley, Geary, Pottawatomie, Wabaunsee, Morris, Lyon, Chase, Greenwood, Butler, Elk, Cowley and Chautauqua Counties and then into Oklahoma, where they are called the Osage Hills. These 5 million acres comprise the largest expanse of tallgrass prairie in the world.

The Flint Hills began as a vast inland sea 270 million years ago, which left scattered limestone and shallow soil behind. With the rocks less than a foot down, this part of the prairie was spared the plow and left in native grass. It’s the prairie mosaic that author William Least Heat-Moon called “360 degrees of sky.”

While it certainly isn't the mountains of Colorado, it's also very different from the stereotypical flat lands of Kansas.
The light and shadows played hide-and-seek in the gentle nooks and crannies of the rolling Plains covered in lush grass after plentiful spring rains.
Kansas City Symphony Conductor Aram Demirjian directed a program that led off with “Celebration Overture” by Peter Boyer. As the orchestra's notes rose and fell, it certainly seemed like a celebration of music and nature's beauty.
As the orchestra transitioned to "The Magnificent Seven," cowboys herded cattle as a backdrop.
 
I am used to seeing cattle on pasture, but watching the cowboys ride across the landscape while an orchestra played was a little different from our 4-wheeler round-ups.
Other symphony selections were by quintessential American composer Aaron Copland; the folk song, "Shenandoah"; and the theme music from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Dances with Wolves," among others.
Photo by Brent, which he edited on Instagram
"America the Beautiful" was certainly truth in advertising as the sun was setting in the hazy sky. As the concert came to an end, the 7,000 or so spectators, donors and volunteers stood and sang "Home on the Range," a tradition of Symphony in the Flint Hills.
As I packed up my collapsible chair and my cooler now less full of bottled water and walked out of the "Welcome" gate sign, I thought about the words to a less-familiar verse of Kansas' state song, "Home on the Range," words that we'd just sung in unison:

How often at night when the heavens are bright
With the light from the glittering stars
Have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours.

Yes ... indeed.

The Kansas City Star has a short video clip from Saturday's night's concert. I was a good girl and didn't record any video of the concert, so click on the link to get just a small taste of the symphony's music. And, if you get a chance, go to Symphony of the Flint Hills yourself. Next year, it's June 10, 2017, at the Deer Horn Ranch in Geary County. For more information, go to their website, www.symphonyintheflinthills.org.