Monday, November 29, 2010

The Season of Hope

It seemed fitting to return to the Holy Family Shrine near Gretna, Nebraska, on the first Sunday of Advent.

Earlier in the day, we'd watched a family light the first Advent candle at Jill & Eric's church, The Water's Edge, in Omaha.

It was the candle of HOPE. Their pastor, Dr. Craig Finnestad, began his Advent series by preaching on hope. He admits that the story of Mary and Joseph is pretty familiar to people of the church. But he added:

"It may be familiar, but nothing about this story is ordinary. It is a prophetic and powerful story that applies to all of our lives. It is a story about hope. We learn from this story how to get along with others in difficult situations. And we learn to trust God and His ways.

"One day, God looked at the world and knew a better way existed. So He became human and lived as one of us. The world hasn't been the same since. For the optimist, the sad, the exhausted, the young, the old, the sinner, the saint, the poet and the athlete - the only things God really gives us are rest, peace, joy, hope, love, grace, forgiveness, healing and salvation - which is just as well because those are the things the world really needs."

We stopped as we were on our way home, after spending the weekend with Jill & Eric.

On a cold, blustery day in late November, the scenery wasn't as vibrant and colorful as it had been on our first visit in June. But, in some ways, it was more timely as I kept thinking about the message of HOPE as we entered the Advent season.

The symbolism of the mother and child is prevalent at the shrine.

This statue was titled, "Root of Jesse." As a blossom is the glory of a flower, so is Jesus the glory and fulfillment of the line of King David. In the sculpture, Mary and the infant Jesus appear as parts of an abstract flower. The metal folds represent roots, stem and blossom. The roots are planted in the earth, shown as a hemisphere.

The sculpture was inspired by a poem:

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming.
From tender root hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming.
As men of old hath sung.
It came as a flow'ret bright
Amid the cold of a winter
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah was foretold it
The rose I have in mind.
With Mary we behold it.
The Virgin Mother kind.
To show God's love a'right
She bore to men a Savior
When half spent was the night.

It was the perfect way to spend an Advent afternoon before a long ride home. There, with my family, the season of Advent truly began anew for me.

And I felt that glimmer of anticipation, separate from the huge to-do list of gifts to buy and goodies to make.

Bring on the season of HOPE!

The Mother of Invention

Braden & his mom, Tamara

Necessity is the mother of invention.

It wasn't truly necessary to weigh Braden on Thanksgiving Day. He wasn't the one who had overdosed on turkey and Great Grandma's dressing and Aunt Abby's pecan pie.

But, during a lull in the board games and the ballgames, we found new entertainment: Weigh the baby.

I don't know what happened to the old baby scale. My mom had a scale for the four of us. It looked similar to this one I found by searching "old baby scale" on Google. (Yes, if it weighed her babies it is old. In fact, it now qualifies as an antique ... or at least a collectible.)

My sister, Lisa, and I then passed the scale back and forth as our babies were born.

But I guess it didn't survive to begin weighing my mother's great-grandbabies.

So poor Braden was plopped like a sack of sugar on an old kitchen scale.

And, after testing the scale for accuracy with a 4-pound sack of sugar ...

... it was determined that Braden, who was born August 20, now weighs 12.75 pounds.

He looks surprised by that, doesn't he?

Alas, I don't think the rest of us are as surprised by our holiday weekend weight gain.

Friday, November 26, 2010


My walks along our country roads this time of year are punctuated with the call of geese as they fly overhead. Our home just south of the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge puts us in the flight pattern for the birds.

Most times, the geese form the familiar "V" pattern as they fly through the air. There have been lots of people who have cashed in on analyzing the birds' behavior. They think we humans can learn a lesson from the geese, who use teamwork and cooperation to get where they're going.

I think we humans are pretty good at teamwork, too. And that was again confirmed when our church recently had its annual bazaar. Since 1923, the women of the church have organized some kind of fundraiser to support church missions. The first fundraisers were banquets, since the church basement was one of the larger places in town. Nobody seems to know when the annual bazaar started, but it's been more than 30 years (since I've been around that long)!

It's pretty amazing when you think about it: For nearly 90 years, United Methodist Women (and some men these days) have worked together to accomplish a common goal.

When my mother-in-law was alive, she organized craft days. The women of the church got together and made Christmas angels or Thanksgiving turkeys or whatever Marie dreamed up.

Though those craft days are no longer, we still get together for food workdays. The UMW Apple Butter is on the agenda for one fall morning.

We have some people who grew up in Stafford who send their relatives to pick up pint jars of the stuff. It's a distinctive red color because of the red hots that give it the cinnamon-apple taste. We had 100 pint jars prepared.

By the end of the bazaar, all of them were snatched up. (For a great recipe using apple butter, click on this link for Apple Butter Coffee Cake. Even though I use UMW apple butter for it, commercial apple butter would be good, too.)

We also make apple pies in a variation of the old quilting bees. Instead of stitching together quilts, we spend a morning putting together apple pies. We freeze them and then offer them just in time for holiday baking. Those were a sell-out, too, disappointing a few people who didn't make it in time to get one.

When the apple pie making day rolls around, the organizers are good at recruitment.

"You don't have to know how to make a pie," they tell the newbies. "Everybody just does their own job."

And it's true. There are the apple peelers and corers.

There are people who slice them.

(Erica, who just graduated from K-State was our youngest helper. Our age range went from 22 years old to several octogenarians. Her Dad, Boyd, fell somewhere in the middle!)

Others add sugar and spices to the apples.

Still others roll out pie crust: One may do the bottom crust and another the top crust.

Somebody else dots the pie with bits of butter. Still another crimps the edges. The final person puts it in a plastic bag and sends it to the freezer.

Usually there aren't too many Lucille Ball assembly line moments!

It's the perfect illustration of teamwork - everyone doing a little part and accomplishing a bigger purpose. Those geese have nothing on us, do they?

The world has changed. Eighty years ago, women didn't work outside the home. Church activities were their "get-away," a time during the week to come and visit with their friends. Sure, they were also working on a project, but it was undoubtedly a social outlet as well.

Today, many women work 8 to 5 jobs (and beyond). Our UMW has tried to involve the younger generations by scheduling some of the work on weekends. For the second year, our bazaar was on a Saturday, instead of on Election Day as it had been for decades.

But we "younger" ones don't spend a lot of time hanging up clothes in the used clothing room or sorting and marking donated items in the "treasure" room (AKA junque room!). Those tasks are primarily accomplished by ladies in their 70s and 80s. (And, a sidenote, I'm always amused by being one of the younger ones when I'm past the half-century mark!)

Several of us contribute by providing goodies for a packaged food area. And, yes, I was alone in my own kitchen as I made 27 dozen cookies, 6 dozen cinnamon rolls, several dozen crescent rolls, 11 mini loaves of quick breads and buckets of snack mix to sell. But I still feel like I was part of that "V" formation, a contributing member of the team, working toward accomplishing a common goal.

I heard rumblings again this year that the UMW 2010 Bazaar might be the last. We'll see. I've heard the rumors before, so I'm not ready to sound the death knell. Like Mark Twain once said, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Maybe 2010 will be the end of the bazaar. Only time will tell. If it is, we went out on a high note. We raised more than $3,800 for missions and ministries efforts at our church.

Even if it's the end of the bazaar, I know it won't be the end of cooperation - in our church or in the community.

We humans do our best work when we fly in the "V" formation, too. If it's not the bazaar, we'll find new ways to come together.

I truly believe it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

For Good

I'll be a guest at the party today, rather than hosting it. Our family gathering is at my sister and brother-in-law's in Clay Center.

But, like many families, we all bring part of the meal. My contributions are homemade crescent rolls and pies, so I spent a lot of the day yesterday working in the kitchen.

As I was mixing and kneading, I was listening to the soundtrack from the musical, "Wicked." If you haven't seen it, you might think that listening to such an "album" on the eve of Thanksgiving might be sacrilege.

But the story is about looking beyond the outside "package" and seeing people's hearts. I love the song, "For Good."

I was making Grandma Leonard's pumpkin pie. I was making dinner rolls, a task my Grandma Neelly often did before a family dinner.

And, as I listened to the lyrics, I thought it was the perfect song for remembering my Grandmas and others who have passed on from this earth (including my grandpas and my in-laws).

Even though they are no longer here to celebrate Thanksgiving, I was continuing traditions they put in place long ago.

The words to "For Good" are, in part:

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives

For a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led to those who help us most to grow

If we let them

And we help them in return

Now I don't know if I believe that's true

But I know I'm who I am today because I knew you

... It well may be that we will never meet again

In this lifetime

So let me say before we part

So much of me is what I learned from you

You'll be with me, like a handprint on my heart

... Who can say if I've been changed for the better

But because I knew you,

I have been changed for good.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I pray you have been blessed with many family members and friends who came into your life and changed you For Good. I know I am giving thanks for every single one of those people today ... the ones in Heaven and the ones still here on Earth.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving!

*** *** ***
By Ralph Waldo Emerson

For each new morning with its light,

For rest and shelter of the night.

For health and food,

For love and friends

For everything Thy goodness sends.

Father in heaven, We thank You.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snack Attack

After a turkey and dressing meal, nobody needs snacks. But it's Thanksgiving, right? So if you're looking for a couple of snack mixes to set out for people to munch on either before or after the Turkey Day meal, here are a couple of contenders.

Both of them are from my sister, Lisa. She had the Pumpkin Pie Crunch mix at our family Thanksgiving last year. She doesn't like pumpkin, but this mix has the spices of the season without the orange fruit. Or is it a vegetable? Either way, she doesn't like it, which can be a problem at this time of year.

She brought the other mix to our Christmas Eve celebration. It didn't have a name, so I made one up when I packaged some of the mix to sell at our church bazaar. Maybe you can think of something more clever. No matter the name, it's pretty tasty.

Use them for your Thanksgiving gatherings or set them out for Christmas get-togethers. They would also make a great gift from your kitchen. Package in a decorative tin, and there you have it: A pretty and tasty holiday gift. It can be your secret that they didn't take long to make!


Pumpkin Pie Crunch Mix
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup butter (no substitutes)
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups Cinnamon Chex cereal
2 cup Honey Nut Chex cereal
2 cups Wheat Chex cereal
8 oz. pecan halves

In a bowl, combine brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice; set aside. In a small, microwave-safe dish, microwave butter on High about 30 seconds or until melted. Stir in vanilla.

In large microwavable bowl, mix all cereals and pecans. Pour butter mixture over cereal mixture, stirring until evenly coated. Add sugar and spice mixture and toss until coated.

Microwave, uncovered, on High for 5 minutes or until mixture starts to brown, stirring ever minute. Spread on waxed paper or parchment paper to cool. Store in airtight container.

*** *** ***

Peanutty Snack Mix
1/2 cup butter (no substitutes)
1 cup white sugar
2 tbsp. vanilla
1 tsp. soda
1 to 2 cups peanuts
14 oz. (2 7-oz. boxes) Ritz Bits with peanut butter
1 bag (12 oz.) pretzels
1 bag M & Ms with peanuts

Combine peanuts, Ritz Bits and pretzels; set aside. Combine butter and sugar. Boil liquid for 5 minutes. Add vanilla and soda; stir. Pour boiled mixture over peanut/pretzel mixture; stir. Bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool; break apart. Add peanut M & Ms and stir. Store in airtight container.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Jack Frost

Wheat crop on November 18, 2010, after a heavy frost

The leaves fall
The wind blows
And farm country slowly changes
From summer cottons
Into its winter wools
Henry Beston, Northern Farm

There was no frost on the pumpkin, a condition some poet once eloquently wrote about. (I did look at the pumpkin I had near the front steps, but truly - and surprisingly - there was no frost.)

However, last Thursday, there was frost on plenty of other things here on the County Line. I did need my "winter wools" - or at least a heavy sweatshirt - when I went on my walk.

But the nippy air was worth it for the beauty of the heavy frost. Like icing on a birthday cake, the frost decorated weeds and gave them a festive gleam.

It transformed them from boring brown to crystals glimmering in the faded light of the sun, which was shy to arise on the crisp November morning.

Summer or fall ... fog or frost ... There's beauty to be found among the weeds.

I think there's a lesson there.

August 18, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Saying Grace

Today, head on over to my Food for Thought blog on the Lovely Branches Ministries website and check out my post on table graces ... the prayers we say before mealtime.

When I was growing up, we said this prayer:

For all we eat
For all we wear
For all we have, everywhere.
Father, we thank Thee.

What table grace did you say as a child? What table grace did you teach your own children? I'd love to hear about your traditions: Leave a comment here or on the Lovely Branches site.

While you're there, check out the other blog writers at Lovely Branches.

As we enter this Thanksgiving week, take time to count your blessings. Happy Thanksgiving week!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And when you think about the flavors of Thanksgiving, pumpkin and cranberries probably top the list for traditional fare.

Both of these perennial holiday favorites - along with pumpkin pie spice - are central ingredients in this recipe.

I baked this for the first time before our church's annual bazaar. I used mini loaf pans, so I had more loaves to sell - and one to leave home at home, of course. You wouldn't want me to sell it without trying it, would you?

This one will definitely find a place in my recipe file. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups sugar
1 15-oz. can pumpkin
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup fresh, frozen or dried cranberries

Note: I used frozen. I always buy extra cranberries when they are on sale during the holiday season.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour loaf pans (I used cooking spray.) Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil and juice in another large mixer bowl. Beat until just blended. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, stirring just until moistened. Fold in cranberries. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pans and bake until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove from pans and allow to cool completely on wire racks.

For two 9- by 5-inch loaves, bake for 60 to 65 minutes.

For three 8- by 4-inch loaf pans, bake for 55 to 60 minutes.

For five or six 5- by 3-inch loaf pans, bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Boys Will Be Boys

Last week, we had an extra helper with one day of the great cattle round-up. We had weaned their calves the week before, but now it was time to haul the cows home to be preg-checked and then released onto milo stalks.

Jake's little boy, Trevor, didn't have school. When the day care plan fell through, Trevor got to help with cattle duties.

Just because Trevor wasn't in school doesn't mean he didn't get an education that day.

Trevor's favorite job was throwing out hay to entice the cows to come from the north pasture into the smaller pen.

The ploy worked.

In the beginning, he just tossed the hay over the side of the pickup.

By the end, he was heaving the hay like he'd thrown the ball in t-ball earlier in the summer.

It was like a trip down memory lane for Randy, who remembered the days when Jill and Brent were curious about everything. The first grader had question after question.

How come you have to put them in the pen? (So we can move them.)

Why do you need the truck in there? (So we can haul the hay and get the cattle to follow us into the next pen.)

They sure are big. Will they run over me? (Not as long as you stay in the pickup where you are supposed to.)

Why do we have to move them? (Because it's fall and the grass in the pasture is just about gone.)

Why do they like that hay? It's scratchy. (I guess it tastes good to cows.)

Do they have names? (No, the only ones that have ever had names are the kids' 4-H bucket calves or 4-H market steers.)

How many are there? 74 mama cows.

Why does Randy get to ride the 4-wheeler? (Yeah, why does Randy get to ride the 4-wheeler ... uh, I mean ... Randy gets to ride the 4-wheeler so he can round up any stragglers.)

Why are those bulls fighting?

Because boys will be boys ... whether they are bulls jockeying for position or little boys curious about life.

Of course, there was the inevitable question before we were through with the task.

"Are we done yet?"

Yes, boys will be boys.

And farm wives will be farm wives. Are we done yet?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leaving the "Nest"

Some cow mamas at the County Line are discovering what it's like to have an empty nest.

As a mama who's been there, I can relate. I can't help but feel just a little sorry for the moms, who do a little pacing when first separated from their offspring.

We human moms watch our "babies" drive away with their school cars packed full of clothing and towels and life's "essentials." The bovine moms watch as their babies are toted away in the back of a cattle trailer.

But, just like with we human mothers, it's part of a cycle of life. And so it continues on the County Line.

November is weaning time around here. At the Ninnescah pasture, we rounded up the babies and mama cows. We separated them and then hauled the calves, while the moms stayed behind for a few days.

Kind of like a well-baby check for humans, we stopped by the co-op and weighed the trailers. Randy used that information to estimate how much weight the calves had gained since their January/February births.

After a short ride, they disembarked at the farmstead.

We keep the weaned calves in the corrals for a couple weeks to get used to being separated from their moms. It also gets them acclimated to eating hay and silage instead of nursing their mothers. They are less likely to be "spooked" by deer or other animals when they are in the corrals, which reduces the chance of them breaking through a fence.

Monday, we had the veterinarian come and "work" the weaned calves. They received the same shots as the older cattle in the herd.

Dr. David Harder and his assistant for the day, Devin Dick (interestingly enough a Wichita State decathlete), gave it the tag team approach, each giving some of the shots.

Some of the heifer calves may eventually become part of the cow-calf herd. So Dr. Harder also gave those heifers a calfhood vaccination to prevent brucellosis, also known as "bangs." This disease causes abortion or premature calving. The vaccination must be performed by an accredited veterinarian, in compliance with state and national regulations.

Dr. Harder used a device to "tattoo" the animal to show it had received the brucellosis vaccination.

Then he used green ink to mark the tattoo.

He added a numbered orange band, but those can fall out. The tattooing provides a more permanent mark.

Here's a close-up of calf 008's orange tag.

Dr. Harder will turn the numbers in to state and federal regulators.

He also treated a few of the calves for the cattle version of "pink eye," an ailment that human moms can definitely relate to.

They worked 107 calves on Monday. Besides the shots and vaccinations, the doctor also gave growth implants to the calves we plan to sell next spring.

On Monday, they didn't bring an assistant to record numbers on the computer laptop. Randy resorted to our "low-tech" method. He wrote down the numbers of the calves that received calfhood vaccinations in his little black book. He also wrote down numbers of some that might become 4-H steers for a neighbor family.

The calves will spend a few more days in the corral, before Randy lets them out into a small pasture just south of the house.

And just like we human mamas, the bovine mothers settle into life with an empty nest. However, unlike me, these moms will be back in the thick of motherhood next January and February when their next baby is born. ... Stay tuned!