Friday, April 30, 2010


Spring brings fire to the plains of Kansas. Yes, there are the vibrant yellows, reds and oranges of spring flowers and budding trees, the colors that remind us of flames.

But we also see the smoke signals that drift into the Kansas skies from controlled burns on Kansas pasture lands.

We think of fire as a destructive thing, and it certainly can be. But it can also be a vehicle of rebirth.

On my recent stop at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve south of Council Grove, I could see the remnants of a prairie fire in the charred grasses and scorched branches.

But from the charred earth was green regrowth lifting toward a vibrant blue sky.

It seems counter intuitive. Why would fire - which seems such a destructive force - bring this new life?

Yet as ranchers light fires to clear the dead grass and small brush, it makes way for a new carpet of green just weeks later.

And the cycle of life begins again. The Flint Hills are part of the tallgrass prairie, which stretches from Canada to Texas. Ranchers have a saying: Take care of the grass and it will take care of you. Burning pastures has been part of caring for the prairie even back to the days of the Indians. It's an age-old partnership with cattle, birds, wildflowers and the grasslands.

The prescribed burning mimics the seasonal fires that have shaped the tallgrass prairie for hundreds of years. Burning also reduces the chances of destructive wildfires such as those in California and other states. The practice helps ranchers control invasive species, such as eastern red cedars, that squeeze out native grasses.

As I drove home on that Saturday afternoon two weeks ago, there was a haze in the air as ranchers burned. That haze can be controversial. Congressman Jerry Moran introduced legislation this month that would protect the ability of Flint Hills landowners to use prescribed fire as a tool to maintain the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.

The Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to regulate how and when landowners can burn in the Flint Hills by asking Kansas to develop a smoke management plan. During recent years, a narrow window for grassland burning caused heightened air quality readings in Wichita and Kansas City. HR 5118 would recognize the multiple benefits of prescribed fires by exempting landowners and local governments from EPA's enforcement of Clean Air Act standards if it involves smoke from pasture burning in the Flint Hills.

And it's not just a rite of spring in the Flint Hills. Though it's not on as grand a scale, there is prairie burning in other parts of Kansas, including here on the County Line. We don't do a lot of burning, but we did burn a couple of pastures this spring.

Unfortunately, I wasn't around to capture the images. So, I'm sharing something I found on Youtube. This is just a short video that shows scenery from the Flint Hill and some burning. If you want a longer version about the history of the practice of burning - even back to the Indians - go to and type in Meditation 3 - Prairie Fire (Warning: It's over 7 minutes long but it's more comprehensive.)

I've given you a few glimpses of still photography of the Flint Hills. But if you can find a National Geographic issue featuring the photography of Jim Richardson, I would recommend it. Richardson, who has a photography studio in Lindsborg, has traveled all over the world taking photos for National Geographic. His images of the region are breathtaking.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Land of Ahhs!

When I'm in the prairie ... when the wind blows a soft kind of sound almost like music, I think I hear big orchestras with lots and lots of people playin' all kinds of horns and violins, drums and things and it goes on and one for a long time - comin' and goin' with the wind ...

Gordon Parks
Kansas Poet and Novelist

Kansas has an inferiority complex. The powers that be at the Kansas Travel and Tourism division are always trying to come up with clever ways to market the state.

The current motto is "Kansas: As big as you think."

I'm pondering that one. Many people THINK that Kansas is a flyover state, a bit of boring while you make your way to the Rocky Mountains. These misinformed folks may not THINK much of Kansas at all.

And the slogan just perpetuates the thought for those naysayers. If they are driving through Kansas on their way to somewhere else, then I suppose it's mighty big, all right.

In my humble opinion (and that's what I get to have in this space), Kansas is so much more. I prefer an old slogan: Kansas, the Land of Ahhs.

While we may not have the Rocky Mountains in our backyard, there is plenty of scenic diversity in Kansas.

A couple of weekends ago, I attended a Kansas Professional Communicators conference in Council Grove. I ducked out of the last session so I would have time to stop at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. (The session was Grammar Slam, so I probably should have stuck around, but I played hooky instead.)

On occasion, we've taken an alternate route from the County Line to Manhattan. Instead of taking I-35 and I-70, we have meandered through smaller towns along U.S. Highway 50 to look at grain bins or farm machinery. So I've seen the big stone barn, limestone home and outbuildings just off K-177 that are the headquarters for the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

But this was my opportunity to stop. I was too late to tour the buildings, but I could still wander the grounds and take in the scenery.

I was even more enthused about my stop because I'd just heard Emily Hunter talk to the KPC group about the Symphony of the Flint Hills. She is the executive director of the event, which brings the Kansas City Orchestra to the Flint Hills for an outdoor concert.

As a side note, if those tickets weren't sold out only 1 hour and 42 minutes after being released this year, I would be campaigning for Randy to take me. This June 12 will be the 5th anniversary of the Symphony of the Flint Hills.

For one day in June, 5,000 people venture into a private pasture along the Flint Hills Scenic Byway of Kansas. Each year, it's been a different venue and pasture. The visitors have spent the day exploring the beauty of the tallgrass prairie and learning a little about it - past and present. And in the early evening, they are treated to a concert under the Kansas skies by the Kansas City Symphony.

Even though I didn't get a concert during my recent visit, I was treated to blooming wildflowers and beautiful vistas. If you listen carefully, you can hear and even see the symphony that Gordon Parks talks about in the quote at the top of this post.

It just confirmed for me that there is plenty of diversity in Kansas. The rolling Flint Hills are different from my home in south central Kansas, which is dominated by cropland.

And just an hour or so south of the County Line, a drive through the Gypsum Hills of Barber and Comanche Counties will stir up red dust.

How can anyone think Kansas is boring? This spring, the Kansas landscape has been painted with budding trees, blooming wildflowers and majestic skies.

I think the folks in the Flint Hills have the right idea. After this year's fifth-anniversary concert is complete, they will have shared the beauty of their area with more than 40,000 people. More than $3 million will have been spent, with 74 percent going directly to Flint Hills rural enterprises and services.

Maybe I'll try for tickets to the Symphony of the Flint Hills next year. But for now, this video clip will have to hold me. Hope you enjoy it, too!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What's Up with Wheat?

What's up with wheat? Well, it's certainly not the price. Wheat prices have plunged 23 percent in the past year. The price has been hovering around the $4 mark. Monday it was down another 15 cents. (It rallied a couple of cents on Tuesday.)

So what IS up with wheat? Well, it seems to grow overnight these days as we creep closer to the June harvest.

In May, the Wheat Quality Council will host a three-day trek across Kansas with multiple stops in wheat fields throughout the state from Manhattan to Colby to Wichita to Kansas City. (For more on that tour, you can check out

But I had my own personal wheat tour here on the County Line with my own personal tour guide. And I didn't even have to pay the $250 tour fee!

Rain came to the County Line last week. With the moisture and warmer temperatures, the wheat is starting to mature.

Randy checked the stem to find the location of the wheat head. His analysis? As of the end of last week, our wheat was in preboot stage.

He split open the wheat stalk and exposed the head. This is how the head looks right now.

As good as my tour was, there was something missing. The Wheat Quality Council tour advertises that it's not just about assessing the size, condition and quality of the Kansas wheat crop. But the Wheat Quality Tour provides an opportunity to meet, interact and network with 40 to 50 other wheat industry participants, including USDA and University personnel, price analysts, grain merchandisers, millers, importers of U.S. wheat and other wheat producers.

Well, the only person I saw on my tour was Randy. However, he wears a lot of hats for me: He's my wheat producer, Kansas Association of Wheat Grower board member, my price analyst and my grain merchandiser.

See, I really did get a good deal with my free tour.

And I did see other creatures along the way. This little rascal wanted a wheat tour of his own. He escaped from the pasture and took off for the adjacent wheat field. You know that adage that the grass is always greener. He wanted to test the theory that the wheat was greener than the pasture grass.

Later this week he won't have that option. More on moving cattle to grass later!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Late Arrival

We welcomed a new arrival to the County Line last week.

Most of our calf crop arrives in late February through March. This little guy took his own sweet time in increasing the calf population at Fritzemeier Farms.

"Dr." Fritz was called into service after we arrived home from Manhattan. Randy gave the new baby a vaccination to prevent blackleg.

As usual, it would be good if my camera had video capacity. Then I could treat you all to images of the track meet required for Randy to capture the baby.

I could also have the sound effects from a mama cow who wasn't thrilled to have her baby undergoing a medical procedure. She was definitely a nervous mom, pacing the "waiting room" while baby got a needed shot.

You always have to watch the mama out of the corner of your eye. A 1,100-pound mama can definitely throw her weight around if she doesn't like what she's seeing.

But, all's well that ends well. The mama gave the baby a nudge ...

And, with the medical procedure over, mama and baby joined the rest of the herd.

It's been a mini population boom. We've had two more heifer calves in the past couple of days. But their medical appointments will wait until the weekend, when we have a move to the big pasture scheduled.

More on the this rite of spring later in the week!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dinner with Purpose

My usual dinner date is Randy. Come to think of it, he's also my breakfast and supper date.

Our dinner is usually at noon. That drives my kids nuts. Once they went off to the big city of Manhattan, they somehow became sophisticated and think that "dinner" is "lunch."

But last Thursday night, Randy & I visited the big city of Manhattan (aka the Little Apple), and we had "dinner" with some new friends.

Randy serves on the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers board. KAWG and the Kansas Wheat Commission board were invited to Manhattan to meet a trade team from Nigeria. The Nigerian mill executives started their U.S. trip in Washington, D.C., where they met with trade officials and emphasized the importance of trade in generating jobs and income here in the U.S.

The Nigerians who traveled to the U.S. are the ultimate decision makers with regards to Nigerian wheat imports. They are crucial to United States Wheat Associates maintaining a majority market share in Nigeria.

My dinner companions were Folarinmi Babatunde "Tunde" Odunayo, vice-chair/CEO of Honeywell Flour Mills, (above left) and Solomon Ubaka Obichukwa, representing the Flour Mills of Nigeria.

Maybe they wished they had ended up at the table with Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty.

But I think they were OK with sitting at a table with a Kansas farm wife. The Nigerians and the Kansas Wheat guys had all traded their business cards like little boys swapping baseball cards. So I decided I'd join in the fun.

I handed over my card, which features a photo I took during the 2007 ice storm. Randy & I told them we were without electricity for 12 days during that storm.

(Sorry the quality isn't great on this, but you get the idea)

These guys live in a sub-Saharan desert area, so the concept of ice like we had in 2007 is a foreign one to them.

But in many ways, they were much the same as we are. I visited with them about their families. Solomon has seven children. Tunde has four. They say Nigeria is a very social country. Solomon says that people don't talk about being lonely in Nigeria. They visit their neighbors or their families or their friends.

Both visited easily in English. When Solomon saw the very German "Fritzemeier" name, he wanted to know if we spoke German. He was disappointed to learn that the last Stafford County Fritzemeier who spoke German was several generations back - Randy's great-grandfather. Solomon speaks fluent German after studying milling science in that country.

His children all studied abroad as well. But there is never any question about them returning to Nigeria and using their education to make their homeland better.

Why should it be important to me to have a dozen or so Nigerians visit the U.S., and specifically, Kansas? Why should I care?

It's vitally important to U.S. farmers, especially those of us smack-dab in the middle of wheat country. Nigeria buys more U.S. hard red winter wheat every year than any other country. As much as 90 percent of the wheat milled in Nigeria is imported from the U.S. Since 2001, when U.S. Wheat Associates opened a technical service office in Lagos, Nigeria, average annual wheat sales to Nigeria have doubled from about 1.5 million metric tons (55 million bushels) to almost 3 million metric tons (110 million bushels), returning billions of dollars back to the U.S. economy.

According to U.S Wheat Associates, the story of success in the Nigerian flour milling industry is one example of how the public-private investment of export promotion helps stimulate economic development here in the U.S. A new economic analysis recently released by USW indicates that U.S. wheat producers received $23 back in increased net revenue for every $1 they invested to promote their products overseas between 2000 and 2007. The study estimated that the overall average gross revenue benefit to the entire wheat industry from the combined producer and federal investment was about $115 for each dollar spent.

Nigeria's climate doesn't allow them to raise wheat. But these Nigerian milling leaders are continuing to increase their imports of U.S. wheat as they introduce new products to their own country, including pasta, instant noodles, cookies and breads.

K-State is telling us that we need to get $5 a bushel for our wheat crop to break even. Right now, the price is hovering around $4 a bushel. Wheat prices are 23 percent lower than they were a year ago. That's discouraging.

Wheat is kind of like a baby. It takes 9 months to grow it, so you hope and pray for a good outcome.

So, yes, I care about the Nigeria milling industry. And I hope that a visit with a Kansas farm wife left a good impression, even if I wasn't one of the bigwigs they met on their journey from Washington, D.C. to Kansas to Texas and then back to Nigeria.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The photos don't do it justice.

But I still had to share just a glimpse of the "treasure" from last night at the County Line.

I really needed a panoramic camera or setting, but you'll just have to take my word for it: We had a full rainbow decorating the sky last evening.

I'll show you both ends ...

and the middle ...

Just use your imagination to put all the pieces together.

It was one of the most vibrant rainbows I'd witnessed for quite some time. I jumped into the pickup and raced down the road to try to get the best location.

Rainbows don't wait.

So I guess I'll just have to keep watching the skies for another opportunity. In the meantime, if anyone has an idea about how to get the whole thing captured in one frame, I'd love to hear it!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Recipe Box

Do any of the rest of you ever get in recipe ruts? I do.

I have several go-to recipes I can throw together quickly with minimum thought. I am always trying to get "just one more thing" done before I start dinner preparations, so I tend to go with tried and true recipes.

However, this recipe is a fairly new one here on the County Line. It came from Jill's Longitude and Ladditude blog. Randy is a big fan (maybe because it ISN'T one of those old reliables on my regular rotation!)

I have modified it a bit. For some reason, both Jill and Brent have a tendency to like things a bit spicier than their Dad and me. It must be a generational thing.

I like things a bit spicier than my Dad. His idea of spicy is barbecue sauce. Well, it's probably not quite that bad, but you get the idea.

Randy and I are usually content with mild salsa, which the kids think is mighty wimpy on our part. So, you can adjust spices according to your preferences.

Here's the recipe for Chuckwagon Tortilla Stack, just in time for weekend cooking.

Chuckwagon Tortilla Stack
1 lb. hamburger
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Minced onion to taste
1 can (16 oz.) baked beans
1 can (14.5 oz.) stewed tomatoes
1 can (4 oz.) green chilies (opt.)
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
3 tsp. chili powder (adjust to taste)
4 flour tortillas
1 1/3 cups shredded cheese (I use a Mexican blend)

In a skillet, brown beef, garlic powder and onion until meat is no longer pink; drain well. Add beans, tomatoes, chilies and chili powder. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until liquid is reduced.

Coat a 9-inch-square baking dish with cooking spray. Put a small amount of the meat mixture on the bottom of the pan, just to coat the pan. Top with one tortilla. Spread with about 1 1/2 cups meat mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. (I usually don't measure the meat and the cheese. I just "eyeball" it and try to divide into four equal parts, but this gives you a rough idea of how much to use.) Repeat the layers 3 times.

Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted, tortillas are heated through and cheese is bubbly. I have also used the microwave to cook the casserole, and that works great, too.

You can top the "stack" with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, sour cream or other toppings as desired. I usually just serve a tossed green side salad with lots of veggies and some feta cheese.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring Blooms

If you've never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul
by a flower in spring bloom,
maybe your soul has never been in bloom.

Terri Guillemets

Me? At a loss for words?

Honestly that could never happen. As any reader of this blog could attest, I have a tendency to go on ... and on ... and on.

But for today, a photo or two will just have to suffice. And I add this wish: I hope you truly see the beauty around you and are thrilled to the very edges of your soul.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beauty Will Rise

(The flag at Stafford High School has flown at half mast this week in Melody's honor.)

Today is Melody's memorial service.

Last night, I was in the kitchen working and listening to music.

I'm helping with food and with serving the church's dinner to the family at noon. And then I'm providing a couple of salads as my Beta Sigma Phi group shares supper with the family.

It's a practical way to deal with grief.

When there are no words, you "do."

You look through recipe books. You stir together ingredients.

And then you realize it's not really about the food.

It's about loving the family and serving them.

While I worked, I listened to Steve Curtis Chapman's "Beauty Will Rise." It is a powerful CD. He wrote it after his daughter, Maria, died in an accident. She died only 10 days after her 5th birthday. The Chapman family was only hours away from hosting a high school graduation party for their son Caleb when the accident occurred.

There are so many correlations. Melody had celebrated her 17th birthday only two days before her death. She was looking forward to going to a prom at another high school, only a week after Stafford High School's prom. They were both taken from this world too soon by our human standards.

The whole album,"Beauty Will Rise," is raw emotion. I got shivers as I listened to the words and music sung by this faithful father who suffered such a loss. He put together this album to work through his own grief. And, in the process, he speaks for others who are mourning and searching for answers.

In his album notes, Chapman says: "Beauty Will Rise is one of the declaration songs that I wrote on one of those days when I desperately needed to say/sing again what God has promised ... that as our Redeemer, He will bring beauty and 'good' out of what appears so terribly wrong at the moment."

I also love the song, "See" from the album. What a beautiful message of hope! (I recommend the whole album. I've bought two of them already, one to give as a gift.)

Music tells the story of our lives. It reflects the joy and pain, the triumphs and tragedies, the times of peace and the storms of turmoil.

It speaks to us on days like today when the rain showers that are forecast almost seem appropriate - the tears of a community saying goodbye.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fragrant Walk

A flower's appeal is in its contradictions -
so delicate in form
yet strong in fragrance,
so small in size yet big in beauty,
so short in life
yet long on effect.
~Terri Guillemets

Last week's wind gusting to 45 MPH for three days straight sent me back inside to the basement treadmill. That was followed by a welcome rain, but, again, it kept me cooped up inside for another day.

But maybe it makes me appreciate all the more another walk outside. The blossoms on the redbud tree were tightly closed and guarded just a week ago.

Once like a shy girl at a junior high dance,
they are now gussied up and blossoming ...

in all their springtime finery.

These white blossoms line the ditches and are particularly prolific this year.

I have no idea what these little white beauties are called, but they have certainly dressed up the drive or walk along country roads. Their best feature is their delicate perfume, and a more manageable breeze lifts the sweet fragrance skyward.

The winds of last week scattered the petals from the early bloomers and carried them away. But the latecomers continue to provide a makeshift arbor for travelers down the country roads.

Pluck not the wayside flower;
It is the traveler's dower.
~William Allingham

I'm thankful to be traveling for my daily jaunt on the County Line once again and taking time to smell the roses. OK, they might not be roses, but they rival the queen of flowers in their simple beauty.

Here's hoping you find little glimpses of joy, gladness and beauty today. Enjoy!

(Photo at the top was taken Saturday at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve south of Council Grove. More on that later. All other photos taken along the County Line.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Remembering Moments

We do not remember days, we remember moments.
Cesare Pavese

When I first found this quote a couple of days ago, I was thinking about springtime flowers. Springtime in Kansas this year has been a riot of color and fragrance.

I'm no botanist, so I don't know the "whys" of this phenomenon.

Maybe we missed a freeze at some critical stage of the plants' lives.

Or maybe it's just the end of a long, drawn-out winter, a season in which I covered hundreds of miles and didn't see anything other than a television screen. While I'm thankful for a treadmill, I miss the days of walking along my dirt roads, enjoying the sounds of the birds, the colors of the season and the time to think and pray.

But then a tragedy happened in our little town. And the quote's meaning evolved for me.

Before the tragedy, I was thinking about the daffodils outside my front door. For a few days, they were colorful and beautiful, lifting their yellow heads and stretching toward the sun. A few days ago, I noticed their beauty had faded. The beauty was still there under the surface, but their days in the Kansas sun and wind had given them the "wrinkles" of an older lady, still grand but somewhat faded.

The forsythia bush that provided a beautiful backdrop for our Easter photos has faded like a vibrant yellow shirt that's been washed too many times.

It's the season of life, I guess.

But some seasons are way too short. Such was the case of a beautiful girl named Melody. She was killed in a car accident on Saturday, just two days after celebrating her 17th birthday.

Melody spent all those 17 years living in Stafford. She was a junior at Stafford High School and like most students at a small school, she dabbled in lots of things. She was a good student, and she was involved in everything from sports to music to drama activities. She worked part-time at the local Duckwall's, where she always flashed her trademark smile as she rang up my purchases.

She was also an active member of our church's youth group. Each February, the UMYF hosts an Italian dinner and Sweet Tooth Auction on the Sunday nearest Valentine's Day.

I'm the newsletter editor for our little church, and I try to take photos of the activities. So I knew I had photos of Melody from past years' events.

(Lauren, Shawna, Jo & Melody at the 2008 event)

(Jo & Melody in 2009)

It's not that I can't remember Melody in my mind's eye. But photos provide a picture of a "moment" in time. I know her family is going through this process, remembering the many moments that made Melody the unique and special person she was. Her friends have posted memories and photos on a Facebook page that has grown to 379 followers since Saturday. It's a new way to grieve in this new age of social media like Facebook.

My words are so small for such a big loss.

Words - some of my very favorite things - fail miserably when I try to express my sadness and empathy for Mel's parents, her siblings, extended family and her friends.

This death is like a ripple on a smooth pond. It radiates outward to envelop a whole community.

My Sunday School class talked about it yesterday. The Bible tells us that "to everything there is a season," but we cry out that Melody's season was much too short. In our humanness, we want to understand the "why" of this death that came too soon for us.

The song that was Melody's life has ended long before all the verses were complete.

After the church service yesterday, we gathered and linked hands, forming an unbroken circle in our sanctuary. We joined as one in offering our thanks for Melody's life and our prayers for comfort and peace for her family.

And my mind returned to the words of the anthem the choir had sung earlier in the service:

"We are standing on holy ground,
And I know there are angels all around.
Let us praise Jesus now,
For we are standing in His presence on holy ground.

In His presence I know there is joy
Beyond all measure.
And at His feet sweet peace of mind
Can still be found.
For when we have a need,
He is still the answer,
Oh, reach out and claim it.
For we are standing on holy ground.

Copyright © 1983 Meadowngreen Music

I have to believe that Melody is now one of those angels we sang about.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Girl Who Cried Wolf

I can hardly believe it. I feel a little like the boy who cried wolf.

The 2010 U.S. Census arrived in my mailbox yesterday.

Granted, it was April 16, the deadline for returning the form to Uncle Sam. But I actually got it.

At the track meet on Thursday, I asked a friend whether she'd gotten her census form. Yes, she said, she got TWO! I told her she must have gotten mine.

I just found out my sister in Chicago got 6 forms. Yes, 6! Come on now! Chicago doesn't need any extra help with its count.

Ironically, our daughter and son-in-law in Omaha didn't get a census form either. It must be a conspiracy. They just didn't want to count Fritzemeiers.

But then, on Friday, there was my census form.

Since it was less than a week after I "talked" to the nice, automated census lady, I am left to ponder:
  • Was she really that efficient? (And I do use the word "she" loosely. But it was a feminine voice attached and that seems more personable than "automated system"!)
  • Was my telephone voice especially gruff?
  • After reading my blog post, was Uncle Sam scared to arrive on the County Line?
  • Was the process just slow in my neck of the woods?
  • Why must I ponder every little thing?
Like any true blue American, I tore open the census and started to do my patriotic duty. I was not supposed to count anyone who:
  • ... is at college (Sorry, Brent! I guess you don't count around here any more. Actually our college kid was the only one of us who initially did receive a census form on time.)
  • ... is at the nursing home (at least not yet)
  • ... is at jail, prison or a detention facility (check, check and check).
With only two people at home, it took less than the advertised 10 minutes to complete. I was amazed there were spots for 12 people!

If there were 12 people living in this house, I would not have been counted. I would be at the nearest mental treatment center - which, by the way, was not included in the list of people not to be counted.

And another thing to ponder: What do Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar do? I think they are at 19 Kids and Counting on their TLC television show. Once they were done with the 12 spots on the census, what did they do with the other 9 kids?!

Well, enough pondering. I am headed out to put the completed census form in my mailbox.

Because, unlike the federal government, I know all about making deadlines.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Semi Homemade II

Here's another easy, semi homemade recipe just in time for weekend cooking.

I modified it from a Taste of Home's Quick Cooking magazine several years ago. The original recipe called for a can of sloppy joe sauce, but my kiddos don't like sloppy joes (I know, I know! Where did I go wrong that my kids don't like such an easy-to-throw-together meal?)

So if your family likes sloppy joes, you can re-modify it back to the original recipe. Confused yet? I hope you won't be confused after reading the recipe.

BBQ Under a Bun
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
Minced onion
1 1/2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce (We like Curly's)
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese (I usually use fiesta cheese - a blend of cheeses)
2 cups biscuit/baking mix
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 tbsp. sesame seeds

In a skillet, cook ground beef and minced onion together until it's no longer pink; drain. Stir in BBQ sauce. Mix well and reheat until bubbly. Spray a 13- by 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Transfer meat to prepared pan. Sprinkle with cheese. In a bowl, combine biscuit mix, eggs and milk until just blended. Pour over cheese. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serves 8.

NOTES: Now that the kids are gone from home, I have made half of this recipe and put it in a smaller casserole. It still works great. You can modify this recipe back to Sloppy Joe Under a Bun, which was what the recipe was originally called, by using a 15.5-ounce can of sloppy joe sauce instead of the BBQ sauce. However, it would be more difficult to "half" that recipe.

This time, I served the meal with a fresh green salad and creamy crock pot corn. It's a recipe from another Stafford farm wife, Julie, that she shared through the Stafford Oktoberfest cookbook several years ago.

I'll give you the recipe for the corn, which is great for taking to potluck dinners at church. However, with only two of us at home, I just used a small amount of the ingredients and threw it in the microwave.

It is definitely not on the menu very often. My dietitian daughter would identify it as a "seldom food." Man, those seldom foods sure taste good, though ... on occasion, Jill, only on occasion. Usually I wait until a church dinner to fix it because it's so easy to leave it plugged in during Sunday School and the church service.

Easy Creamy Crock Pot Corn
2 10-ounce pkg. frozen corn
2 tbsp. sugar
1 8-ounce pkg. cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
3 tbsp. water
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a Crock Pot. Cook on low setting for approximately 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stand Up and Be Counted

(Disclaimer: Icy photo was taken December 2007; thankfully, not today!)

The website proclaims:

The 2010 Census: It's in our hands.

Actually, Uncle Sam, it is not in my hands.

I'd like to stand up and be counted. I'd even sit down and be counted.

Heck, I just want to be counted.

So far, the County Line has not received a 2010 Census form. I've seen the repeated commercials. I am supposed to mail back my census form before April 16. That's tomorrow, just in case you haven't checked your calendar yet today.

Well folks, I'd love to mail back my census and avoid a visit from a census worker. But it's a bit difficult to mail back something you never received.

The website also reminds me how important it is to be counted.

"An accurate census will reflect changes in our communities and is crucial in apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and deciding how more than $400 billion per year is allocated for projects like new hospitals and schools."

I definitely want my little part of the the world to get its fair share of the pie, whether we're talking schools, hospitals, bridges, roads or emergency services. And, yes, I suppose even if we're talking about Congress.

I know counting can be a complicated thing. On occasion, one of my jobs is to help count baby calves that happen to be on my side of the pickup cab. That's all well and good, but baby calves don't know they are supposed to remain in one location until you get them counted. They have a tendency to romp and frolic through the pasture. And sometimes a calf that started out on Randy's side darts into my line of sight.

So I know it's tough when the target you're counting is moving. However, I have not moved for the past 24.5 years.

So it shouldn't be THAT hard to count me.

The website says that if you didn't receive a form by April 12, you are to call a toll-free phone line. That is exactly what I did this week.

And I will tell you the "hundreds of thousands of workers" the U.S. government says it needed to hire as census workers are not answering the phones.

I talked to a nice automated lady about them overlooking me.

So we'll see if the problem is corrected. But I'm pretty sure it's not going to be by April 16. I definitely don't want the government spending more of my money to drive to the County Line (and two miles north to our hired man's house where they also didn't get a census form).

So, on this April 15 - known to all as Tax Day in America - I am wondering if they are going to have to spend more of my tax money to personally come and visit me on the County Line.

(By the way, my tax day - like many farmers and other self-employed business people - was back on February 28. The government has already been using my tax money for a month and a half, thank you very much!)

Sigh ... Big, BIG sigh ...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sunrise, Sunset

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laiden with happiness and tears.

The song in "The Fiddler on the Roof" is really about your kids growing up. And while I can certainly relate to those sentiments with my baby's 22nd birthday fast approaching next month, today the song is just about sunrise and sunset.

The sun was sneaky this morning. The newspaper said sunrise would be at 6:58. I was out at the silo right on time.

And I waited. And I waited some more. The clouds knew the sun was up, but the horizon was a little slow getting the memo.

In the meantime, Randy came out and wanted some help moving mamas and babies from the corral to a small field of wheat. As they chewed the tender green wheat, it sounded like the bovine version of the snap, crackle and pop of a popular breakfast cereal.

And the sun finally made an appearance.

It lit up the silo like a solid rocket booster.

Another beautiful Kansas sunrise: Mission accomplished!

I was out trying to capture the day because I'd experienced the sunset last night. As I arrived home from a track meet in Stafford, I hurried across the road to record the ending of the day.

It wasn't really a day to be celebrated. The theme for the day was wind, wind and more wind.

With eyes filled with the grit and grime of the day, I bid adieu as the sun slipped lower ...

And lower ....

And lower ...

You gotta love life on the County Line.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Semi Homemade

I wouldn't say I hold a grudge.

OK. I will say it. Sometimes I hold a grudge.

I will say I have forgiven this person, but I haven't forgotten.

Once upon a time, after I "retired" from full-time status at The Hutchinson News to raise my children, I used to judge The News' annual recipe contest. I always chose to judge Main Dishes because that's something I had to make every day anyway.

In 1989, I crowned Quick Crescent Taco Pie as the winner.

When I was shopping at my local grocery store, an older acquaintance commented on the contest and said, "That is something YOU would choose."

I read between the lines and determined she disagreed with my choice.

And even 21 years later, every time I make this dish, I wonder what she meant. Then again, maybe I read way too much into an innocent comment. It could happen.

I still contend the recipe is a winner. I have made it repeatedly since the contest results were released. It's a favorite with Randy & Brent (Jill, not so much, but 3 out of 4 isn't bad).

I have come to a new conclusion recently. I was a woman before my time. Anyone who watches the Food Network knows Sandra Lee. She does this show, Semi Homemade Cooking. She uses convenience products and puts her own spin on them.

Man, if only I'd thought of it first. Of course, it would have also helped to have flawless skin and flowing blond hair and live in New York City (Say it like the Pace commercial - New Yawrk City?! You know you want to!) And it would help to be able to design "tablescapes" for every meal. OK, on second thought, I probably wasn't a good candidate.

Here's the recipe in case you want to stoop so low as to use convenience products in preparing your supper. (As I have testified prior to this, a gourmet chef I am not!)

Quick Crescent Taco Pie
(This is my version:
I've tweaked it over the years)

1 8-oz. pkg. refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1/2 cup crushed Doritos (or other corn chips)
1 lb. hamburger, browned with minced onion
Taco seasoning mix
1/2 cup dairy sour cream
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I usually use a fiesta blend)
Shredded lettuce
Diced tomatoes
Sliced black olives (opt.)

Recipe note: You can use a seasoning package of taco seasoning mix and add the water it calls for. I usually buy taco seasoning mix at a bulk food store and add a little water.)

Brown meat and minced onion in skillet; drain. Add taco seasoning mix (and water, if it's called for). Simmer for 5 minutes.

Spread the crescent roll dough on pizza pan, pressing the dough together to form a crust.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup crushed corn chips on the crust.

Spoon on meat mixture. Dollop sour cream on top and spread over meat mixture.

Top with shredded cheese. Sprinkle additional 1/4 cup of crushed corn chips on top.

Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes until the cheese is browned and the pizza is bubbly.

Serve with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, etc. (As it shows in the photo at the very top.)

Serves 6. Enjoy!