May morning after rain

May morning after rain

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Secret Garden

And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed,
and every morning revealed new miracles.
Frances Hodgson Burnett from The Secret Garden

It's a secret garden hiding in plain sight. And it's in bloom yet again.

The Zenith Road is our thoroughfare to Stafford and home again. Early in our marriage, we lived in a house right along the road. But until four years ago, we didn't realize there were irises blooming under a grove of cottonwood trees, less than half a mile from that house. 
It was my sharp-eyed husband who first saw them. Every May since then, we subtly slow down as we approach the canopy of cottonwoods, glancing to the west to see if the blooms are back again.
It's like a surprise party each time they return.
As I parked in an old driveway and got out of the car, a pheasant squawked and flew away when I disturbed his afternoon nap. He startled me as much as I did him. After that, there was only the rustle of cottonwood leaves in the wind, accompanied by a bass line of tires slapping the pavement of U.S. Highway 50 only a half mile away.
Every year, I think about who might have planted this bed of irises. There's no concrete foundation, marking where a farmhouse might have been. The field to the west has long been in CRP, the brown grasses of winter still holding on while springtime blooms in this secret garden.
I stopped again as the sun was setting one day last week. The only other witnesses were swarms of mosquitoes who buzzed in my ears and came in for a landing.
Soon, the irises will fade again like the setting sun. But these blooms offer a lesson in appreciating life in the moment.
Last fall, Randy planted irises around our mailbox and near our front door. He knows that purple irises remind me of my Grandma Neelly's backyard, and, more importantly, evoke memories of my childhood. Not many of the irises bloomed this first spring. But to me, he couldn't have offered a more thoughtful gift.
Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message. 
–Malcolm Muggeridge, journalist

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Every Month is Beef Month: Quick Beef & Salsa Skillet

Every month is beef month at our house. But it's Beef Month with capital letters in May. Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer said so!

I don't need a reason to serve beef. I have a freezer full of it. But I sometimes do need a reason to try a new recipe. Even though I enjoy cooking and baking, it seems I get stuck making the same old, same old when the clock has flown too quickly toward noon and its obligatory meal.

Don't get me wrong: Those old tried-and-true recipes are tasty. They are quick. But sometimes you just need to change it up. This Quick Beef and Salsa Skillet fits those tasty and quick criterion, too. Plus, the ingredients were ones I had on hand in my pantry.

Randy and I are proud to be part of the cattle industry in Kansas. With more than 6.3 million cattle on ranches and in feedyards in the state, Kansas ranks third in the country in beef production. Yes, there are more than twice the number of cattle as people in Kansas!

Kansas has approximately 46 million acres of farm ground. However, not all of this land can be used to grow crops. Grazing cattle utilize grasses and plants growing on more than 15.5 million acres of Kansas pasture and rangeland, which would be wasted if not for ruminants like cattle that can turn those resources into essential protein and nutrients for humans.  Kansas also ranks second in fed cattle marketed, with 4.94 million in 2017. Beef cattle and calves represented 50.8 percent of the 2016 Kansas agricultural cash receipts.  

The product they help bring to market is one that contributes substantially to the human diet. Beef provides 10 essential nutrients, including zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins.

This Quick Beef and Salsa Skillet is just another way to put some of those nutrients on your plate.  Making it all in one skillet saves clean-up time, too -- a bonus in my book!

If you enjoy Mexican flavors, I think you'll like it, too. Team it with a tossed green salad, and you've got dinner. If you try it, let me know what you and your family think!
Quick Beef & Salsa Skillet
1 pound ground beef
1 16-oz. jar thick and chunky salsa - as hot or mild as you wish
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 11-oz. can fiesta corn, undrained
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
2 tsp. chili powder (divided)
1 1/2 cups biscuit mix
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup shredded cheese

Brown beef in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat; drain fat. Stir in salsa, beans, corn, tomato sauce and 1 teaspoon chili powder. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low.

Stir biscuit mix, remaining 1 teaspoon of chili powder and the milk together until a soft dough forms. Drop by 6 spoonfuls onto simmering beef mixture.

Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Cover and cook 8 minutes longer. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and cook about 2 minutes or until cheese is melted.

For more beef recipes, check out the Kansas Beef Council's website.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wowbray: Loving My Library

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No offense to my human email contacts, but Wowbray from the Hutchinson Public Library is probably my favorite Wednesday in-box entry.

Wowbray gives thumbnail glimpses of new books coming to the Hutch library and gives me a chance to put them "on hold." It's a good day when a favorite author has a new book coming to the library.

My first "click" is always "Mysteries and Thrillers." After I've perused and clicked my way through that list, I go to "Literature and Fiction." I usually take a quick glance at "Romance," though unless it's a go-to author in that genre, I usually don't do a lot of reserves.

All is well until I get that dreaded message: "You have reached the maximum number of hold requests." It happens after a patron has 20 books reserved. And I understand the rational. But I have to force myself not to go and get my husband's card to "bypass" the system. (For the record, I do not do that!)

Yes, I am that big of a nerd. And proud of it!

As I wrote earlier this year, I decided to sign up for two book challenges. I've been done for awhile, but just hadn't written the blog post yet. I decided I wouldn't overlap any of the selections, so I read different books for each of the challenges.

I don't need a contest to "make" me read. Books have been part of the daily diet for years.
My sister, Lisa, and I share some reading time
With only five books on the Nora Larabee Memorial Library adult reading program in Stafford, I finished it first. I spent my $5 Stafford Chamber Buck prize long ago, but here's my list:
  • Book about Kansas: What Kansas Means to Me edited by Thomas Fox Averill
  • Mystery: Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda 
  • Western: Come Spring by Charlotte Hinger
  • Biography: Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward by Lana Wirt Myers
  • Other: Any Dream Will Do by Debbie Macomber 
The Wichita Eagle/Wichita Public Library's #ReadICT list had 12 different categories. My final book was one published in my birth year. It was probably the toughest category for me - even harder than the graphic novel I was dreading before I began the journey.
For one thing, I decided I wasn't going to plod my way through anything I didn't like. Life is too short, and there are too many good books to waste my time. I chose Ed McBain's The Con Man published in 1957.  The Hutchinson Public Library had it on its shelves - another plus. OK, they didn't really have the original book from 1957 but a re-published version. It is 60 years old, you know!

I have read McBain before, so I figured I'd like this early entry in his 87th Precinct series. I was struck by how much the world has changed in regards to race and women. Characters called people from phone booths, not cell phones. A secretary had a "good-paying job" at $90 a week. Detective The victims had small heart tattoos, and Detective Steve Carella makes a point that not many women visit tattoo parlors. My, how times have changed!
Times may have changed, but my love of books has not. I try to have a book with me if there's any chance I may have a few minutes to read. If I'm along for the ride at the golf course, so is a book. (I do watch and take photos, too. Really.)
Since January 1, I've read 41 books (besides the Bible). I decided at the outset that I would read my challenge books, but I would also read what I wanted to along the way. If my name came to the top of the reserve list for a new Jeffrey Deaver book, for example, and I'd already read my mystery, that was OK. I read it anyway.
If you like mysteries and thrillers with lots of twists and turns, I recommend this book!
The reading challenge nudged me out of my comfort zone. Until the #ReadICT challenge, I would never have looked at the "graphic novel and comic book" category on Wowbray. My parents weren't fans of comic books when I was young, though they never censored anything I wanted to read. Still, I think I still must have a subconscious bias against comic books. And I'm not a super-hero fan either, which seems to be a prevalent theme for graphic novels.
It took several tries, but I ended up making it through The Flying Couch by Amy Kurzweil. It was about three generations of Jewish women, a young Jewish artist (who wrote and illustrated the book), her psychologist mother and her grandmother, a World War II survivor who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto by disguising herself as a gentile.

Another graphic novel I brought home was How To Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You. Randy read it; I did not, even though I'm convinced that Randy's favorite feline, Big Cat, gives me the evil eye.
I don't read many biographies, but the challenge led me to a book about a Kansas poet who lived in a neighboring county nearly 100 years ago, Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward. I ended up using one of her poems to go with some of my photos for my Kansas Day blog post.
Doing more reading than fishing is not unusual for me!

One fringe benefit of the #ReadICT challenge was joining its Facebook page. Other readers post what they're reading, and I've gotten some ideas to put on my "to-be-read list" from their suggestions.

The Stafford library is starting a summer reading program for adults next month. Sign me up!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Fishing Trip or Business Trip?

I bought fish coating mix before we went fishing. That could have been why we didn't catch a thing.
Or maybe our onlookers were too loud. No, I don't think that was it. 
They were curious and they may have done a little moo-ing, but they were really more interested in eating.
Maybe the fish were scared away by the bathing beauties.
No, I don't think that was it either. Not many of them chose to get their feet wet that day.
Maybe we didn't catch any fish on our trip to the Ninnescah pasture.
But we can't complain.
It was still a beautiful day.
An inch of much-welcomed rain had the water rushing over the dam.
There was a little breeze to keep us cool enough under a bright sun-filled day.
And even though I didn't catch any fish, I caught a little time sitting in a lawn chair, reading a book.
I got to spend some time with this guy.
It was a work trip .... really. We found the bulls.
The calves looked bigger already since their April 24 arrival at the Ninnescah, and their mamas looked in fine form, too.
Yes, it was a work trip. But it might have been a pleasure trip, too.
Just look at that view. 
We've been moving cattle for the past few weeks. On Monday, we moved the final group to the Rattlesnake pasture. 
The Monday move was the final piece of the puzzle, getting all the cows, calves and bulls to pasture for the summer. 
We never move cattle to the Rattlesnake before May 1. Randy now owns it with his cousin, Don, but the gentlemen's agreement has been in the family for years. This year, we didn't move the cattle until May 7 to give the grass more time to grow after little moisture during the winter and a chilly April.
After the move, the guys got the trailers cleaned out. (I opt out of that job.) The feed truck has been put back in the shed. And the cattle are settling in at their summer vacation spots. Let's hope they eat with just as much fervor as humans at a cruise buffet line.
"Paint" treatment from my camera - After you've taken hundreds of cattle photos, you might look for something new.
Au revior to our bovine friends until our next fishing trip or summer 4-wheeler "dates" to the pastures!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

April Showers Bring Fall Corn?

If April showers bring May flowers, we hope May showers bring fall corn. (And those May showers sure don't hurt the wheat crop, alfalfa or pastures either!)
Randy started planting corn on April 24 this year, later than normal. I took these photos the afternoon of May 2, the second day when our part of the state had the chance of severe thunderstorms. Thankfully, we got 1.40" of rain, but missed the hail, tornadoes and high winds that other parts of the state experienced. It rained Randy out before he could finish the field, but he got done yesterday afternoon.

The rain certainly gave the newly-planted corn a boost. So does the nitrogen fertilizer Randy applies  to promote germination and early growth.
This year, we planted 280 acres of corn, a little less than last year. I'm sure that seems like small potatoes - or small sprouts - to anybody who has circles of corn. Since we are an all dryland farm, wheat remains our primary crop.
On a walk last Friday, we checked out the newly-emerged corn coming up in fields where he'd first planted.
Our walk also took us past a wheat field, where it was starting to head. The 2018 Wheat Quality Council's Hard Winter Wheat Tour was last week. And the 95 participants who traversed the state along six different routes found what we already knew: The 2018 wheat crop is behind schedule. Because most of wheat country has been in a severe drought since last October, the crop is shorter than normal and head size is smaller. 
Friday, May 4, 2018
The Wheat Quality Council's estimate for the 2018 Kansas wheat crop is 37 bushels an acre. Kansas Wheat reports that total production of wheat to be harvested in Kansas is 243.3 million bushels. If realized, this would be about 90 million bushels less than last year's crop and the lowest production in Kansas since 1989.
Monday, May 7, 2018
By Monday afternoon, many more heads were unfurled in the wheat fields.
My eternal optimist reports that the rains late in April and early in May should help some,  especially if we don't plunge right into summer temperatures. However, these days with 85-degree-plus temperatures won't do the crop any favors.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Skyline Reunion

If I'm honest, I don't remember that very first day, walking into a brand new school as a fifth grader.

I know what I was wearing because my mom always took a photo on our first day of school. My sister Darci probably remembers without the photo cue, but not me.

Mom had made my olive green print dress, which I'd paired with white bobby socks and loafers. She put my hair in pin curls the night before, but even brushed out, the curls clung tightly to my head since I had a fresh home perm. As I boarded the school bus, I'm sure I had a bag full of new school supplies, including a Big Chief tablet, yellow No. 2 pencils and that coveted extra-large box of Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener.

Our DNA and many of the incumbent personality traits are already set by grade school. So even though I don't remember the actual moment of pulling open those heavy doors and walking through them, I'm sure my stomach was in knots and my heart was in my throat. The anxiety was likely tinged with excitement, but this was a big change in a 10-year-old's life. 

It was 1967 and the first day at Skyline Schools, a rural consolidated school just west of Pratt. I was walking into a classroom of strangers.

3rd and 4th grade class at Byers Grade School - I'm front and center! I was in 3rd grade at the time.
At Byers Grade School, where I'd attended 1st through 4th grades, my class had just 3 to 5 students, depending on the year. There were two classes in each room taught by one teacher, so we worked with other students, too.

Those familiar faces filled the school bus as we traveled toward rural Pratt. Before, I had only 3 1/2 miles to ride from my farm home to Byers. Now, it was closer to 12.
Evidently, my tendency to be taking the photo and not in it was alive and well in 5th grade, too! This was my 5th grade class at Skyline - minus me! Thanks to my mom for labeling it. I wouldn't have known some of them otherwise!
Bottom row: Tom Durall, Robbie Statts, Randy Pinkerton, Steven Campbell, Paul Petrowsky, Eugene Stotts.
2nd Row: LaTricia Pritchard, Cindy Blasi, Trella Konkell, Cheryl Hickey, Margo Bale, Betty Carson.
Back row: Mrs. Opal Hemphill, Judy Lee, Marilyn Lambert, Carol Beberstine, Darci Jones, Cindi Snyder, Tina Maphet, Lindi Snyder, Kay Brown
Once I got off the bus, my classroom at Skyline would be filled with new faces from Cullison, Coats and Sawyer. At least there was one familiar adult face. My 3rd and 4th grade teacher at Byers - Opal Hemphill - was the new 5th grade teacher at Skyline.

It's not that I didn't know the details about how Skyline came to be. My dad, Bob Moore, was president of the consolidated school board. Long before that opening day in 1967, he and his fellow board members had been touring the rural towns of Pratt County talking about the state-mandated consolidation and trying to build consensus on something that was inevitable. It wasn't always an easy "sell." Small towns love their school and look at it as their very life blood. And for good reason.
6th Grade Girls with Mrs. Bales - again, minus me!

But the Byers Hornets and Coats Bulldogs and Cullison Owls and Sawyer Eagles were going to become Skyline Thunderbirds. Their old school colors would be traded in for Columbia blue and white.
My dad and other board members had toured other schools, looking for designs and ideas that would ease the transition and provide the best possible education for students. So, yes, I knew all about Skyline because it had been a conversation around our dinner table for several years. But knowing about something and experiencing a big change are two very different things, especially for a 10-year-old, first-born girl who liked order and routine.

However, as with most other situations in my life when I've dreaded a big change, it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me.
Last Saturday night, April 28, we celebrated Skyline's 50th anniversary. In the gym where I'd sung the National Anthem in my basketball uniform before holding down the far end of the bench during girls' basketball games, 550-plus people came to celebrate the school and its role in making us who we are today.
Some just had to travel a few miles to walk back through the doors of their alma mater.
Others came from across the country. There were farmers and lawyers and doctors and accountants and pastors and the proverbial "butchers and bakers and candlestick makers." (Well, maybe not candlestick makers.)

In my 1975 Class Prophecy, someone predicted I'd become a New York Times reporter. But this  small-town girl was better suited to work at a regional newspaper, rather than a gig in the Big Apple, and that's fine with me.

Probably not a lot of those far-reaching prophecies came true. But we all came together Saturday night as a T-bird family pieced together by common memories and a place we called "home" for so many of our formative years.

I remembered some teachers who left a huge impact.
  • It seemed I spent most math classes parked at Mr. Bisel's desk, where he patiently tried to explain algebra and geometry to me ... yet again. 
  • I only typed 55 words a minute in Mrs. Kennedy's typing class. She'd be amazed at how quick I am on a computer today. And, boy, that job typing and mimeographing the Sawyer CWF's cookbook for a junior class fundraiser would have been so much faster with a word processor, but that newfangled contraption was still a few years away.
  • I thought about Mr. Sittner, our science teacher. He was no pushover, and I was thankful for that when I got to K-State. This girl from a rural consolidated school could help girls from Kansas City with their chemistry.
  • Mrs. Jones was the home ec teacher. Yes, it was called that back then. And she awarded me the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award, probably based on a written test. But, if truth is told and if we could have predicted the future, it should have gone to her daughter, Darci, or to Diana Hemphill, both of whom use their home ec sewing skills a whole lot more than I do these days. 
  • My stint as yearbook editor was my first experience laying out pages and writing copy, something that eventually became my career.
  • The reunion planners had organized an alumni band to play with the current T-bird band during the banquet. But I was afraid I couldn't remember the fingering on the saxophone. I don't think I've played it since walking out the door of the band room that final day. Instead, I joined in the impromptu alumni choir and sang the National Anthem yet again in the Skyline gym.
    Some alumni have children who are also Skyline graduates. Some have grandchildren who are now Thunderbirds, too. Some of us have adopted new mascots as our children have made their own journeys through their school years. But on Saturday night, we were all Thunderbirds again.

    My dad is the only surviving "founding father," or member of the original Skyline board.  He and my mom manned a memorabilia table and visited with former students, faculty members and friends.
    In the crowded gym, I am sure I didn't see everyone. Facebook connects me with several of my Class of 1975 classmates, but it was good to see 14 of them in person and not scrolling down a computer screen. The eyes of those eager 5th graders were still lurking underneath a few more wrinkles as we greeted one another and "remembered when."
    Class of 1975
    My cousin, Dr. Justin Moore, was the emcee for the evening. He said it better than I could with his closing remarks. (It hardly seems fair that he's smart enough to be a doctor AND a talented writer. Read it in its entirety here.)
    So much of life is temporary: what we do, who we love, our friends, our enemies, even our names. But where we come from is permanent. And just like a church isn’t its walls, where we come from isn’t just a dot on the map. For many of us, where we come from doesn’t even warrant a dot, just coordinates.

    Where we come from really is the sum total and interaction of the people and experiences of our youth. Not geographic happenstance. ...
    Once upon a time, people decided that it was worth their time and their money to give the kids of the little towns and farms of this county their own place to be proud of and their own place to be from, and it’s the reassuring knowledge that the voters, some of whom are in this room, but many of whom are no longer with us, approved their plan in a special election by a 3:1 margin. ...  Thanks to all the people who have poured their taxes and their careers and all their good intentions into the futures of the kids who attended school in this building.
    I know I'm thankful, too.

    Thanks so much to the Skyline Schools Foundation board led by President Lisa Befort for their work in organizing the reunion. The current staff and students at Skyline also made our evening a pleasure through their hard work.

    Note: Several of these photos were pulled from Facebook and friends. Uncharacteristically, I took very few photos that night. I'm glad others did a better job than I did!