Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Great Cattle Drive

Hop onto your horse and come along for the Great Cattle Drive.

Oh, wait. We don't have horses on the County Line. You'll have to hop onto your Japanese quarterhorse instead, as Randy calls the 4-wheeler.

This time of year brings more than blooming flowers, budding trees and warmer temperatures. It also involves the annual ritual of working baby calves here on the County Line.

Most of our babies are born during the last week of January, February and March. Before we move the babies and mamas to pasture in a month or so, we "work" the baby calves.

This involves castrating the boys, giving all of them growth implants, vaccinating them for black leg and adding ear tags for identification.

To accomplish this, we have to separate the babies and the mamas while the babies have their "doctor's appointment." Since we have cow-calf pairs at multiple locations, it usually takes several days to get the job done.

The mamas are not wild about this turn of events. They - like most human moms - are pretty protective of their babies. They protest quite loudly when their babies are sorted and escorted to a different pen. The bellows are deafening. They mill around the fence. They pace. They jostle each other to see if they can get a closer view of their little one.

And as the babies depart in a trailer, maybe they feel a little like I did when I watched my babies climb the steps of the school bus to ride toward kindergarten. I may not have bellowed as the dust settled and the bus' taillights disappeared down the road. But I did feel like a part of me was leaving.

The babies do their share of bawling, but they aren't at the audio level of a jet aircraft taking off like their moms. When I came back from accompanying at school, I could hear the moms, who were 200 yards away, from inside the house.

But all's well that ends well. The babies and moms are reunited after the work is done.

I'm always amazed by the scene in the pasture when the trailer arrives. The moms come running. They continue their vocal calls to their young. They sniff the little ones. And, one by one, they figure out who belongs to whom.

In all the confusion, they recognize each other. It's just another miracle on the County Line.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Farm Wife 101

Farm Wife 101: As a new bride, clearly establish one cardinal rule:

Thou shalt not yell at your lovely bride as she attempts to help you out (with cattle or harvest or any other task that might come her way).

I was smart enough to lay this groundwork 29 years ago. I had spent my time as a farmer's daughter. I decided that a farmer's wife should be more in line with having a new partner.

Going against this cardinal rule could result in said "partner" vacating the area. And then the job would need to be accomplished without the extra set of hands, feet and eyes.

Randy wasted no time in sharing that edict with his dad. I didn't know until several years later than Melvin had also been told of the "no yelling" mandate.

However, Randy is a smart man. He would often preface the start of any "challenging" job with this statement: "Honey, if we're yelling, it's at the cattle (or the machinery or fill in the blank). We're not yelling at you."

I don't want to give you the wrong idea. Randy is truly one of the most patient people I have ever met (Hence, for 29 years, he has been married to one of the least patient people I know - me!)

But it's been a really good rule. I have never walked out on a job. (And, honestly, I'm not much of a quitter anyway, but still ...)

And now here's a tip for those of you who haven't been in the biz for 29 years already:

Farm Wife 101: Rule 2: Establish a pay scale.

I failed miserably in this area. And today I deserve combat pay.

I helped Randy and Jake (our hired man) round up baby calves and their mamas at the creek. Because of all the recent rain, we had to drive them to corrals about a third of a mile away. The great cattle drive went well.

Then we had to sort - or separate - the babies from the mama cows. It was going along just fine. My job was trying to keep the babies in the pen while we sent the cows into another pen.

In my haste to keep a baby from escaping, I banged my knee on a gate. Owwwww! After a slight pause in the action, I went back to work (like I said, I'm not a quitter).

Finally, mission accomplished and I could look at the damage. I managed to break open the skin on top of my treadmill scar (which is still quite lovely after 3 months). And I can feel the bruise forming and the goose egg forming through the throbbing of my right knee.

I told Randy I needed combat pay. He told me that he would pay me double today. Woohoo!

But wait: 0 X 2 is ... drum roll please ... 0!

Some payments are less tangible than others.

Farm Wife 101, Rule 3: Don't forget to appreciate your life.

It may sound sappy, but I'm truly blessed. My payments come in the form of having a beautiful place to live and work on the County Line. They come in having a front-row seat for the changing of the seasons and the splendor of God's handiwork - spring, summer, winter and fall.

Granted, that's easier to do on days when your knee isn't throbbing. But that's life as a farm wife.

Tune in tomorrow for more on the Great Cattle Drive - this springtime ritual for farmers and ranchers (and, often, their wives!)

(Sorry for the quality of this photo: I had to shoot quickly while still attempting to do my assigned job!
And you can thank me. I didn't subject you to a photo of my poor knee!)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Weather ... or Not

Our wedding might not have happened if it had been scheduled for 2009.

No, I wouldn't have changed my mind.

But the weather might have.

Last year, we woke up to almost 2 feet of snow on March 28.

Randy grew up 2 miles north of our house on the County Line. He wouldn't have gotten out of his driveway.

(That's our car buried underneath all the snow!)

I grew up on a farm in northern Pratt County. My folks had just as much snow as we did. I wouldn't have made it the 15 miles to town either.

We had contemplated getting married on March 14, but some friends chose that day. Back in 1981, my mom said that was probably for the best. Having the wedding two weeks earlier might increase the chances for snow.

Thankfully, it didn't snow on March 28, 1981. Just for the record, it didn't snow on March 14, 1981, either.

But it certainly did on March 28, 2009.

Our wedding was not without weather drama. It rained. It rained so hard that my mom pulled the car over on our way to the church in Pratt. It rained so hard that a few of the guests slipped into the church after I walked down the aisle.

But I always thought that the rain was kind of a good omen for a couple of country kids. Farmers hardly ever turn down a spring rain.

Snow, on the other hand, would not have been good. I think the only person who might have made it to the church was the minister. And that's because he lived across the street from the sanctuary.

I don't remember worrying much about the weather. I guess I was just a naive 23-year-old kid.

I can tell you I worried a whole lot more about the weather before our daughter's wedding this past August. However, I will tell you that snow never crossed my mind, though it might have felt kind of good on a day with 100-degree-plus temperatures.

By the time we were ready to leave the church on our wedding day, the sun had come out. It was like God was smiling right along with us.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

To Have and To Hold

Today is our 29th wedding anniversary. Today is the anniversary of a day I made one of the best decisions of my life.

I am blessed. I couldn't ask for a better husband, a better father to my children, a better friend, a better partner.

Today is the anniversary of the day I became not only a farmer's daughter, but a farmer's wife.

Today is the day I married a man who shares many of the same values and character traits with which I was raised.

Today is the anniversary of the day I traded my simple five-letter last name for a mammoth 11-letter moniker.

Today I look back and am thankful for the smiles and laughter, the help and encouragement, the trust and understanding. I am thankful for the comfort and caring when things were hard.

Today I am amazed that I've lived more years with this man than I have without him - and that's a good thing.

Today is the anniversary of the day I walked down the aisle of the Pratt First United Methodist Church and began a new journey. Today I celebrate the memories of yesterday, the happiness of today and the promise of our tomorrows. I pray there are many more miles and many more years on this journey.

Love you, Randy ...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Oh! The Places You'll Go!

Oh! The Places I'll Go ... or not.

Hidden among the bills, newspapers and magazines that arrived on the County Line this week was a special envelope. It contained my first-ever passport.

The accompanying pamphlet declared: With your U.S. Passport, the World is Yours!

Wow, the world is mine!! So where am I off to, you might ask?

Nowhere is the answer.

But I'll be prepared if ever the opportunity arises sometime before March 2020.

As Dr. Seuss reminded us in his last book:

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away! ...

Oh! The Places You’ll Go!
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights. ...

So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!"

Even if your name is Fritzemeier. And even if you don't have a plan to leave the country anytime soon. And even if there is no way in the world that all those pages in that little passport book have any hope at all of ever being filled.

So why apply? Randy is on the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers board. At one of their meetings, someone suggested that board members apply for a U.S. passport.

You never know when there might be a trade mission to China or a chance to tour a wheat farm in Australia. ... Well, it might happen.

For the moment, the passport is going into the safety deposit box.

But I have it. And the possibilities are fun to ponder.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


We have a new traveler with us on road trips these days. And I think she's contributed to marital harmony.

She helps us get where we're going without me looking at a map and attempting to navigate.

She is our GPS unit.

"Drive the highlighted route," she intones in that telephone operator female voice.

If she's wrong, it's neither my fault or Randy's.

If there's a miscalculation (whether human or machine-inspired), she simply tells us, "Recalculating" in that calm, even tone.

However, sometimes I hear a little scorn in her "Recalculating." Is she thinking, "I TOLD them to take that turn and they missed it?"

Is it frustration? Is the tone incredulous? (Just how could they mess up my crystal clear directions?)

I'm not a very proficient map reader, unlike my husband who studies maps like I study cookbooks.

And before we invited this extra lady along for the ride, there might have been moments of marital discord when driving in the big city.

She's now helped us through Nashville, Omaha and Oklahoma City.

During our first trip to Nashville, Jill & I think she might have been in cahoots with Randy. She sent us off through the countryside of Missouri instead of sticking to the interstate.

We found a "Bridge Out" sign and backtracked through even more farm country. We were much more equipped to make a farm report that day than the days we were flying down the interstate at 70 miles an hour.

But even if our helpful friend steers us in the wrong direction on occasion, I still like having her share the front seat. She gets this country duo through the maze of city highway interchanges with much less frustration.

Well, less frustration for us. I can't speak for GPS Lady.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


We visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum a week ago today.

We were greeted by the words on the Gates of Time:

We come here to remember those who were killed.
Those who survived and those changed forever.
May all who leave here know the impact of violence.

May this memorial offer

Comfort, Strength, Peace, Hope and Serenity.

The memorial does offer all those things.

But it's not without some other emotions too:
Frustration ... Despair ... Confusion.

This was our second trip to the memorial. Randy & I had stopped at the outside portion of the memorial last June. We were on our way to Nashville to move Jill after her year at Vanderbilt and only had time to stretch our legs by walking around the outer grounds.

I wanted to go back to see the museum. I knew it would impact me. And it did.

The Oklahoma City bombing is one of those pivotal points in U.S. history.

I was a first grader when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. As a 6-year-old, I knew something had happened. But teachers didn't tell us. This was before the days of the 24/7 news cycle. It was before the Internet and televisions in schools. For first graders, the difficult task of explaining the unexplainable fell to our parents.

I was working in The Hutchinson News newsroom when the Challenger exploded. And I had to telephone a Kansas teacher who had wanted the spot that Christa McAuliffe had eventually earned. He had met McAuliffe during the interview process. He lost a friend that day.

I was working in the Stafford Middle/High School office on April 19, 1995, when the Oklahoma City bombing happened. I remember one of the students rushing to the office in a panic, saying that her mother and sister lived and worked in Oklahoma City.

Anyone at the age of reason will remember where they were on 9-11.

So, yes, we people on the periphery remember these moments.

The Gates of Time illustrate how quickly life can change. At 9:01 on April 19, 1995, it was a sunny, spring morning in Oklahoma City. People were at work at the Murrah Building, the Journal-Record building, and at nearby churches. Children were at the second floor day care center. People were applying for Social Security cards. There was a hearing at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. It was just a regular day for regular people.

And then it was 9:03. And the world changed. It changed most dramatically for 168 victims, 19 of whom were children. It changed for the people who loved them.

And it changed for all of us.

For me, the most painful reminders were found in a room devoted to the victims. Each had a cubicle with a small memento that helped give a glimpse of their life stories.

One held a pacifier (and I remembered how Jill had been so attached to her "saa-soo," as she called it.)

One held a letter from a little boy, written painstakingly in neat pencil penmanship, saying how much he missed his mom.

Others held photos ... or angels ... or teddy bears.

These were children, moms, dads, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, grandparents, grandchildren, friends.

But even in the midst of the sadness, there were glimpses of hope. It was in the faces of survivors ... in the hands of rescuers ... in the prayers of a nation.

I saw it in the cross from a nearby church whose image was captured in the Reflecting Pool.

I saw it in the Survivor Tree. During most of our trip to Oklahoma City, the day was overcast. The sun came out just as we arrived. And it shone through the branches of the Survivor Tree. It gave just a hint of the green that will dominate the tree in June.

The Survivor Tree is a 90-year-old American elm that survived the bomb blast. The message around its perimeter reads: "The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us."

I even saw hope in the sea of empty chairs, one for each of the victims.

On our recent trip, the grass remained its winter brown.

But I had been there in the early summer, when a green blanket of grass represented new life and resurrection. And the evergreen framing the scene was present, no matter the season.

I saw hope in the American flag flying in the breeze.

I experienced Gratitude for the many who came to help

Yes, there are bad people in the world. Yes, there are situations that bring tears to our eyes. Yes, bad things happen to good people.

We come to remember. And we find Comfort, Strength, Peace, Hope and Serenity.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

It's not every day that this Kansas farm wife's daily walk is illustrated with scenes like this.

Even walking outside has been the road less traveled this winter. The four knotty-pine-covered walls of my basement have been the backdrop for hundreds of miles traversed via treadmill during this cold and wet winter.

When Randy decided to golf at Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City during our stay for the NCAA tournament, I opted for the walking trails surrounding it.

It was a brisk day, one of those days when you knew what the song was talking about: "O .... klahoma! Where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain!"

There were literally miles of asphalt trails mapped out in this oasis in the middle of a busy city. I greeted fellow walkers with a pleasant "Good morning!" or a wave of my hand to those who flew by on bicycles. (My city-wise daughter says my hearty greetings probably identify me as a County Mouse come to call in the City. But it's quite an occasion to see other people on my walk. Normally, Ralph the dog and the occasional pickup passerby are the only souls I see on my walks.)

But even with all my walking companions, the lake beckoned this landlocked Kansas farm girl. It called me to leave the level, 2-lane-marked walking surface to reach the water's edge.

So I gravitated off the beaten path to the road less traveled.

It's there I saw the sunlight dancing in starbursts across the water's waves while geese glided carefree across its surface.

It's there I saw rows of sailboats sitting like sentinels, a much different view from the prairie's windmills and silos. The clanging of the boats' rigging created a jingle-jangle similar to the music of windmills blowing in the breeze.

Nothing but the geese were sailing on Lake Hefner on that Friday morning. I suppose the sailors were off working jobs that give them the money to pay for their weekend pleasures.

Now that I'm back home and spring has finally arrived (at least for a day or two), I'll be back treading more familiar ground. And I'll enjoy God's beauty on the County Line, this place I call home.

But I will remember fondly my walk in Oklahoma City. In Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken, he talks about such a walk and says, in part:

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Wishing you a day of actually seeing the beauty of God's creation - in the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Monday, March 22, 2010


It was a SWEET weekend to be a Kansas State Wildcat. Sweet SIXTEEN, that is! Randy & I spent our spring break cheering on the 'Cats at the regional NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City.

We arrived in OKC on Wednesday, and I'll be sharing more about our mini-vacation later in the week. But the main attraction was definitely the NCAA tournament.

Our perch for Thursday's game against North Texas was in the rafters of the Ford Center. Before we arrived, I told Randy we probably would see the game better watching on the television in our motel room (and pay considerably less money!) However, I might have had noise complaints from other motel guests. And we wouldn't have experienced the thrill of BEING there, singing the K-State Fight Song with other purple-and-white-clad fans and trying to do the Wabash Cannonball with my rhythmically-challenged husband!

I was raised to be a sports fan. Even back in the days when there were only three or four channels to surf, the Moore family TV was tuned to whatever sports happened to be on. If my childhood favorite, Lost in Space, was up against a basketball game, there was no question that Will Robinson would have to survive outer space without me that week.

I have been following the K-State Wildcats for as long as I can remember. My Grandpa Neelly was a K-State football letterman back in the 1920s and 1930s. (Not that I was around for that, but it did begin a long legacy of Purple Pride!)

My parent were students at K-State, and my dad was on K-State's 1953 varsity football team. Let's put it this way: I have known the words to K-State's Alma Mater for a very long time.

This photo is from my Dad's high school days, but it's a better photo than I have of him in a K-State uniform.

I have been going to NJCAA tournaments in Hutchinson my whole life. But this was my first NCAA tournament.

Randy & Brent went to an NCAA regional in Denver during spring break 2004. It was Brent's introduction to ticket scalpers. Who says spring break can't be educational? K-State wasn't playing, but they went to avoid shopping with Jill and me (not really).

This was us at the Ford Center on Thursday.

This was the Ford Center on Saturday during snow and gale-force winds!

It may have been cold outside, but my K-State Wildcats were hot, hot, HOT (after an initial opening when they were cold, cold, COLD, and we were behind 0 to 10! That was a fingernail-biting time, especially after the KU Jayhawks had just lost against a team they expected to dominate.)

But the 'Cats were victorious over BYU, thanks to the fabulous shooting of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente.

And a little help from the fans - like this little guy. I didn't know him, but I couldn't resist the photo op.

K-State hasn't been to the Sweet Sixteen since 1988, when our own youngest Wildcat fan, Brent, was born.

He and his fraternity brothers moved to the lower level of the Ford Center after the KU-UNI game on Saturday. Brent texted me that we should come on down to the lower level, too. This rule-following mom decided it was really in the best interest of the Ford Center for me and other fans to move to the lower level. It made the venue look fuller on national television. Always glad to help someone out, you know!

This is a photo of our happy family following the game. And we were all thrilled to be part of the victory. You know Frank and the guys needed all of us cheering them on. They couldn't have done it without us, right?

I will have to watch Thursday's game vs. Xavier from my living room. Little things like working baby calves and getting ready for the middle school music festival next week are getting in the way of a plane trip to Salt Lake City.

But if you hear cheering from the County Line, it will be me! GO 'CATS!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Man's Heart, Part II

It would have been hard to curl up in the recliner and read the first cookbook. First off, they didn't have recliners. Secondly, the first cookbook was recorded on a clay tablet back in Babylon 1500 BC. I guess when it's on stone you aren't in danger of it catching on fire as you stir the pot.

Until the 18th century, cookbooks were used by the wealthy only. Their servants weren't supposed to know how to read, so the mistress of the household would read the directions and the servant would get her hands dirty. What a deal, huh?

But I've been getting my hands dirty in the kitchen since I was a kid.

My first cookbook was given to me on my 10th birthday by my Grandma and Grandpa Leonard (The cover is pictured above; the inscription is below). I really did use the cookbook, though I have probably used it just as much as a 4-H foods and nutrition project leader.

I also had a Betty Crocker Children's Cookbook. I couldn't find my copy or the one that we brought home from my mother-in-law's kitchen. Randy says he remembers using that one, too.

When I was researching for my cookbook history program, I re-discovered a cookbook that my Grandma Neelly had in her cabinet: The Household Searchlight Recipe Book published by Household Magazine in 1931.

In the foreword, it says:

"The Household Searchlight is a service station conducted for the readers of The Household Magazine. In this seven-room house lives a family of specialists whose entire time is spent working out the problems of homemaking common to every woman who finds herself responsible for the management of a home and the care of children.

Preparation of food is a major project in every home. Planning meals is simplified when dependable recipes are available. A recipe is dependable only when it has been tested for its balance of ingredients and palatability. ...

In order to publish a book that would meet the needs of the homemaker, one thousand questionnaires were sent to readers who were known to be especially interested in food preparation. ... The book is designed to be helpful to the young as well as the experienced homemakers who live in towns of 10,000 population and under."

I also re-discovered my mother-in-law's The Joy of Cooking book by Irma S. Rombauer. The cookbook was presented to "Marie Ritts, Christmas 1949" by an aunt and uncle. She would have been 17 years old.

The cookbook was originally published in 1931, and, according to the research I did, The Joy of Cooking is one of the landmark American cookbooks. It is still published today.

Its foreword reads, in part:

"This books is the result of a long practical experience, a lively curiosity and a real love for cookery. In it I have made an attempt to meet the needs of the average household, to make palatable dishes with simple means and to lift everyday cooking out of the commonplace.

"Written in a method so clear that a child can follow it, its instructions cannot fail to help and inspire the novice. The experienced cook will find in it innumberable practical and novel suggestions to spur her on to new efforts."

I'm sure you'll want to add Asparagus Timbales to your recipe repertoire. Or how about sweetbreads (and I'm not talking muffins here!) You can have them creamed, sauteed, broiled, braised or larded with wine sauce. Or maybe not.

It was one of the cookbooks which inspired Julia Child. If you love cooking and cookbooks, I would recommend the movie, Julie & Julia.

When I was a Pratt County 4-Her, our foods leader had us begin a recipe box. The poor thing is rusted on top and is packed so full the lid won't go down.

But I still use it today.

Here's a recipe from the box, written in my careful cursive, on March 31, 1968, at the ripe old age of 10.

It's still a good recipe.

Tom Thumbs
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup coconut

Cream together butter and powdered sugar. Add 1 cup flour; mix well. Spread in the bottom of a prepared 13- by 9- by 2-inch pan.

Beat 2 eggs well. Add brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour, baking powder, pecans and coconut. Mix well. Spread evenly over first mixture. Bake 30 minutes at 325 degrees. Cut while still warm.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Way to a Man's Heart

I read cookbooks like I read novels. When I made that declaration to my PEO sisters on Tuesday, there were several heads nodding in agreement.

I chose the History of Cookbooks for my program topic, and I encouraged members to bring a favorite cookbook to share.

The one at the top of this post is classic: "The way to a man's heart," it declares. Evidently in the case of this cookbook shared by Doris, the way was through recipes prepared on your gas range. And you should wear your high heels, dress and fancy apron while securing his heart. Ah, the days of June Cleaver!

Cookbook manufacturers would certainly not put that adage on a recipe collection today. (Even though it is still probably true: Most men I know like to eat. Come to think of it, most women I know like to eat, too!)

Doris got the cookbook as a newlywed back in 1947 when the Welcome Wagon came to call. Though she didn't have to pay for it, the purchase price was $2.00. The cookbook was first published in 1938. Her version had been revised in 1946.

"They must have thought I needed some help," Doris declared with her typical dry wit.

She got some help from it and another thoroughly used cookbook. We all have them: Those cookbooks that are literally in pieces. Doris' cookbook that fills that criterion is her Gold Medal Flour cookbook (pictured below).

It had recipes organized by decade, complete with full-color illustrations.

Judy also brought an old recipe book, this one belonging to her mom. It was not a cookbook, but rather a personal recipe collection gathered from newspaper and magazine clippings (see below).

There was a recipe written on the back of a hair net package (below). It was the Depression after all, and people used what they had.

She also pointed out this recipe for Victory Chocolate Cake (below) that was secured to the book with a straight pin. She assumes the straight pins were more readily available than tape or glue. And, as it turned out, the ones pinned to the notebook are the ones that remained in place.

Check back tomorrow for more on cookbooks and their history. Until then, happy cooking!