May Flowers

May Flowers

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Bloom Where You're Planted

My secret garden isn't so secret anymore. And that's all right with me.

For the past few years, I've written about and shared photos of irises that bloom along the Zenith Road. That's the blacktop road that takes us part of the way home, so it's as familiar as the back of my hand.
They are just a hop, skip and a jump away from the co-op elevator at Zenith, where we haul our grain. (You can see the elevator on the horizon in the photo below.)
This year, one of my friends asked me in late April, "Are the irises blooming yet?" At the time, they weren't. But they are now. She grew up in the neighborhood, so she can claim them, too.
Since we discovered them blooming under the shadows of old cottonwoods, we've wondered who planted them. There's not a stone foundation there.
But Randy noticed some old pipe sticking out of the ground this year. So these purple blooms may have bordered a gate or walkway toward a long-forgotten farmstead.
The ground where they bloom is for sale. I hope the new buyer keeps them around.
These days, the irises are flanked by a CRP field, the dry, brown grasses of winter a sharp contrast to the brilliant colors and soft petals that form the old-fashioned spring flowers.
As we examined them more closely, we noticed several of the stems devoid of their blooms. They were likely food for the deer that flash in and out of the same trees and have been the source of more than one close call on our Zenith Road travels. 
Irises remind me of my Grandma Neelly, who had them in her backyard. You could see them from her kitchen window, where she cleaned up the dishes after poaching eggs for breakfast or serving Sunday's homemade chicken and noodles after church, followed by her light and sweet angel food cake. Seeing irises stirs up those memories as deftly as Grandma stirred up her rhubarb pies each spring.
There's another hidden patch of irises near the Ninnescah Pasture. With some poison oak and weeds camouflaging them, they aren't as pretty. And, just like with the Zenith irises, you have to know where to look.
As we left the pasture after our fishing trip last week, we drove by the small patch and found them blooming again.
They weren't the only "secret garden" we found on our way home. A field of canola bloomed vibrant yellow against an overcast blue sky.
The field is nestled at the end of a dead-end road where we had to turn left or right. Instead, we parked the pickup and trailer and walked up an old field road to get a close-up look. Beauty is all around us, there for the taking.
Nature gives us lots of reminders to bloom where you're planted. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Something Important: Advice from Winnie the Pooh

A friend posted this snippet from a Winnie the Pooh story on Facebook last weekend. It was the perfect description of a Friday morning fishing trip to our pasture on the Ninnescah River.

I suppose I could have been "busy" doing something else ... something that the world might deem more Important (with a Capital I, of course)!

But as dusk fell that evening, and my husband declared, "This was a great day!" a morning spent fishing seemed pretty IMPORTANT after all.
I did, indeed, listen to the birds. I wish I could have photographed a yellow bird that darted in a fast-moving Crayola-bright stripe against the Van Gogh-blue sky ... but I'll just have to remember the image in my mind.
I didn't see any squirrels ... but I saw some cows and calves, and I listened to them call to one another as they curiously watched the pasture interlopers along the river banks.
I heard the crashing of water against rocks as the water spilled over the dam.
I looked for spring blooms among the green pasture grasses. The milkweed will feed the butterflies as they migrate through our region. The pink blooms on the salt cedar waved in the breeze. And the tiny yellow flowers that hid in verdant green reminded me of play-yard days at Byers Grade School, where we sucked on the slightly sour stems as we played Red Rover, Red Rover and other games.
And we actually caught some fish.
A 4-pound catfish was the biggest catch of the day, but we had several that were close to that size.
We caught them early in our fishing excursion, which always makes me more motivated to keep dangling the fishing line in the murky waters.
The river is swollen with this spring's abundant rains.
Sitting in a lawn chair along the green river bank is not a bad way to spend a spring morning.
As anyone who knows me could predict, I also brought a book, though I didn't crack open the pages quite as quickly as usual since the fish were biting.
And then I realized that the book was titled "Runaway." It seemed appropriate that we had "run away" from our daily duties to a quiet pasture for a morning of solitude ...
I'm thankful for this hidden treasure, down a dirt road, through a gate under a towering cottonwood tree and a short ride via 4-wheeler.
We had sunshine part of the day on Friday and on Sunday. However, on Monday, we received another 2.10 inches of rain. That brought our total (as of 5 PM Monday) for the past two weeks to 8.10 inches, and there are raindrops on the weather map all week long. I guess it's another lesson in taking time for Important things when you can.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Banana Caramel Coffee Cake

It could be argued that I buy too many bananas.

I am picky about the bananas I consume "as is." They need to have the perfect tinge of green. And if they start showing their age spots, they are no longer in the eat-as-is category. (I know I should be more tolerant of age spots these days. I certainly have my share.)

Randy is less picky than I am and will eat some of what I deem too far gone. Invariably, though, I end up with bananas languishing on my kitchen counter.

There is an upside: There's no shortage of ripe banana recipes in this world. And I tried a new one last weekend - Banana Caramel Coffee Cake. It was Mother's Day weekend, so a special breakfast treat only made sense, right? This one has several parts, which may seem daunting when looking at the recipe, but the combination of tender cake, tangy cream cheese caramel swirl, buttery crumb topping and glaze made for a yummy combination and was worth the extra steps to produce the finished coffee cake.

The swirl is made by canned dulce de leche, which can be found in many grocery stores near the sweetened condensed milk or in the Mexican food aisle.
With graduation ceremonies on the calendar for many this coming weekend, this recipe would be a perfect addition to a breakfast or brunch buffet to celebrate a graduate ... or the end of school ... or a lazy weekend morning ... or just any old day. Enjoy!
Banana Caramel Coffee Cake
For the Cake:
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

For the Caramel Filling
1 14-ounce can dulce de leche
4 ounces cream cheese, softened

For the Crumb Topping
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
6 tbsp. butter, softened

For the glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
5 teaspoons butter
Milk, as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Set aside.

For cake: Beat the butter, cream cheese and sugars until creamy. Add the eggs, banana and vanilla and beat again. Mix together dry ingredients and add slowly to the creamed mixture. Spread in the prepared pan. The batter is fairly thick. Set aside.

For filling: Put dulce de leche into a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 15 to 20 seconds or until slightly softened. Mix the cream cheese in until it is incorporated and creamy. Place big spoonfuls of the caramel mixture on top of the batter. Use a knife to swirl into batter evenly.

For crumb topping: Mix together all ingredients until big crumbs form. Sprinkle on top of cake. Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour or until the cake tests done with a toothpick inserted in the center. Cool completely.

For glaze: Mix together powdered sugar and melted butter. Add milk, if necessary, to make glaze consistency. Drizzle over top of the cake and serve. Note: You can pour on the glaze while the cake is still hot or warm. It will provide a glaze, rather than the "ribbons" of frosting.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Chronicles of the Fridge

There are a lot of converts to the latest trend promoted by Marie Kondo in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

My daughter is an advocate of this minimalist approach at her house. And I definitely admire the crisp, clean look it yields.

And then I look at my refrigerator. It is symptomatic of my being the very antithesis of the "declutter" mentality.

I keep putting "deep cleaning" on my to-do list. Really, I do. But, invariably ... I don't.

I am getting a new refrigerator. My old one is giving out. And I've been debating about whether or not the new appliance will become a photo and magnet gallery.

I admit that I probably don't really "see" the photos on the fridge all the time. They are kind of like reciting The Lord's Prayer every week at church: If I don't really think about what I'm saying, it's an exercise in rote regurgitation. (Not saying it should be, but that's what often happens with the familiar.)

So, as I take off the old photos from the fridge, do I keep them? Some of them? Vow to keep the fridge clean and free from memorabilia? What's a girl to do?
If I take my cue from current home style magazines, I will keep my refrigerator free from any sort of mementos, memorabilia or magnets. Family photo Christmas cards and granddaughter-produced artwork would be banished to the trash can or rubber-banded together and stuck in an overflowing closet. (Wait! That doesn't work among the Kondo converts either.)
And a few of those tchotchkes from my old fridge are reminders of cherished people and places. A photo of Brent helping in the church basement at a long-ago bazaar work day was originally on my late mother-in-law's fridge. I "inherited" it after she died.
A magnet of an angel playing a cello was on my Grandma Leonard's fridge at their western Kansas farm house. Only the back of my fridge is exempt from the "stuff" on its surfaces, and, if truth is told, it's probably only because I can't reach it. 
The magnets holding up those snapshots of life were often collected from trips. Magnets from San Francisco and Churchill Downs and Nashville and Chicago and beyond are inexpensive souvenirs from our infrequent travels.
A magnet I got at the art museum in Chicago holds up an American Gothic-like photo we had taken at a long-ago Stafford Oktoberfest.
What do design-minded homeowners have against ye old refrigerator decoration? Have we Kondo'd away any signs of real life from our homes? took a survey of 150 people: 36 percent said they have minimal pics, event invitations, and other knickknacks around, while 29 percent reported having nothing on their refrigerators. I'm not entirely alone: 24 percent said their refrigerators are “drowning” in photographs and more.
“The refrigerator has become a primary display space in many U.S. homes. It functions as a kind of built-in bulletin board. Like any collage, fridge door displays involve the selection and arrangement of found objects. That is, few items are created specifically for refrigerator doors except for advertising magnets, which overtly recognize the centrality of the space and the practice of attaching things to it.”
Danielle Elise Christensen, teacher of American Studies at Ohio State University and whose study topics include everyday forms of collage
Some of these photos are like dear friends. They form a crazy quilt of memories. So, if I opt to keep the refrigerator clean or start my collection anew, I've been debating scanning the old photos and assorted minutia and making a book. (Again, I'm hopeless on the Kondo convert front. This book - along with all my blog books - will likely get tossed into a trash bin when my kids are forced to clean out the house because I never got around to it on my running to-do list. Sorry, kids! Or sorry - not sorry - as the advertisement goes.)
Will Miller of Lafayette, Ind., a therapist and comic who co-wrote the book Refrigerator Rights, explores how moving and media have pared how many close friends and relations can help themselves to what's in our fridges. Miller says the fridge is where a household's public face meets its inner sanctum.
 “The refrigerator is a signature appliance – it’s sort of public and sort of private. You’re allowed to see what’s posted on the door, but to go inside, you’d better be a Facebook friend at least.”
Will Miller, author of Refrigerator Rights

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Morning Drive Time: Country Style

The big-town radio stations talk about morning drive time. They'll play a mix of music to get commuters from suburbia to their downtown office jobs. It's where the stations sell their best advertising space, since it's when the drivers are held captive by bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or so I've been told.

I don't know about that kind of morning drive time. Even when I was commuting back and forth from our farm to Hutchinson to work every day, the traffic was never bumper to bumper.

But our current kind of "drive time" has less to do with traffic and more to do with "driving" cattle. And it involves a 4-wheeler. There are potholes, to be sure. But they are more likely old buffalo wallows than asphalt broken down by winter de-icing.
Randy says we use "Japanese horses" for our drive time. In other words, we don't have horses. But a neighbor used the real thing on a Saturday morning cattle drive a couple of weeks ago.
We got a front-row seat from our porch.
One little calf was lagging behind. He got roped and then got a chauffeured ride in the trailer.

All our cows and calves are transported by trailer, since there's too much distance between the corrals and our summer pastures.

Our morning drive time isn't without headaches though. Big-city commutes may be marred by accidents, timing and weather. Our country version is at the mercy of the weather, too. Rain slowed our annual drive from our cattle's wintertime accommodations to their summer vacation spots.

Thankfully, Monday was the final day for this annual exodus, which we usually try to accomplish by May 1. We missed the rains on Sunday night, which allowed the road to the Big Pasture to dry out enough from the 1.70 inches of rain we got last week. We had to have the vehicles in four-wheel drive and gun them a bit to get through one low-lying place.

But we've since had an additional 3.40 inches of rain. If we hadn't gotten the final group moved on Monday, there would be no hope of doing it the rest of this week. The corn we planted where it was too wet to plant wheat last fall is definitely getting its "feet" wet. We'll see how much replanting we need to do.
Wednesday, May 8, 2019, a corn field after 5.20" of rain 
Corn is planted on both sides of the road ... under the "lake"
Because we couldn't move the pairs to the Big Pasture because of wet roads, we moved the bulls to their pasture last week. They had been romancing the heifers, but some of them now needed to turn their attention to the cows that would end up at the Big Pasture
After a little sorting, a couple of them made the ladies' acquaintance late last week, so they were also part of our Monday round-up.  
Randy points the way to the ladies: "Go east, young men!"
Back to the morning drive time: Monday was a beautiful day for our final cattle round-up. Randy and I were on 4-wheelers to get the cattle from the pasture south of our house into the lot where we could sort and load them. 

Driving cattle is a little like working with junior high girls. It's easier to get them to do what you want them to do if they are among friends. It's kind of like a trip to the girls' bathroom at a junior high dance. It's best accomplished en masse.
We herded them up toward the corrals.
It took a bit of encouraging to get them to go through the big mud puddle, but they eventually made it into the corrals where we sort. Separating mamas and babies is always part of the process. We haul the babies separately so they don't get stepped on in the trailers.

There are usually a few pairs in each group that we need to sort off as well. They may be older cows and their calves, since Randy plans to sell them at the end of the summer. Or they may be going to a different location because Randy wants an optimal number on each pasture.
Randy makes a handy-dandy written list that I can hold in my hand for that process. That always works better than me trying to remember numbers. Happy helpers make the process go more smoothly.

I may be happy, but the mamas aren't. We have our share of protesters, loudly lamenting their withdrawal from their offspring. I can relate. I remember that first day of kindergarten when the big yellow bus swallowed up my precious cargo. And I knew they were coming back!
The calves seemed to suffer less separation anxiety. Of course, they likely weren't hungry at the time.
 But they eventually got to reunite and took off to explore their summer time vacation home.
This group arrived at the Big Pasture, which has been in Randy's family for more than 100 years.

In the big cities, road construction may slow the morning commute. Thankfully, a little road construction in the last month or so helped our commute immensely.

Last fall, we did our form of mud-wrestling as we brought pairs home from the Ninnescah. After 14-plus inches of rain, our normal route was not passable, so we ended up driving an extra 12 miles each trip. We also wiped out a corner post because of muddy conditions.
Thankfully, the county repaired the road. And the guys repaired the entrance to the pasture. They added a new corner post and made the entrance much wider, which should help avoid problems in the future, even if we have to turn in from a different direction.
Randy came up with a farmer solution to hold the new gate open. It only took him a little while to find a sturdy stick with a helpful "y."
The cattle making the move to the Ninnescah arrived in late April, thanks to the repaired road.

The ladies who'll become mamas for the first time next January arrived at the Palmer Pasture last week.
Even though it was a cloudy, overcast day, I always think the setting with the old cottonwoods is picturesque.
Now, unless we get phone calls about escapees (fingers crossed that doesn't happen), everyone is in place and ready to spend the summer. When do I get a vacation?