Friday, April 29, 2011

Hamming It Up

The beans look prettier uncooked. But didn't your mom tell you looks can be deceiving? Beauty, in this case, really is only skin deep.

As beautiful as the colors are before cooking, nobody wants to eat hard beans. So even though the finished product isn't as visually enticing, this ham and bean soup makes up for it in the taste department.

I love spiral ham, and we've been enjoying the leftovers from our Easter feast. But now that we're down to the scraps and the ham bones, it's time for ham and beans. So, if you're looking for a way to use the last of your Easter ham, give this recipe a try. And endeavor not to burn them like I did last year about this time.

I guarantee it tastes much better than it looks. I serve it over Tippins Corn Bread, a recipe from the Trousdale United Methodist Church cookbook.

Ham and 15 Beans
1 package 15 Bean Soup mix
1 lb. of ham, ham hocks or smoked sausage
1 cup onion, chopped
1 15-oz. can stewed or diced tomatoes
1 tsp. chili powder
Juice of 1 lemon
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

Soaking: Place beans in a large pot; cover with 2 quarts of water. Allow beans to soak overnight or at least 8 hours.

After soaking, drain water; add 2 quarts of fresh water and the meat. Bring beans to boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 1/2 hours. Remove the bone and any other waste. Remove any meat that remains on the ham bone and toss it back into the soup pot. After simmering, add onion, tomatoes, chili powder, lemon and garlic. Simmer another 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: Approximately 3 quarts. Serves 14 to 16.

  • I don't use the ham seasoning packet found inside the bag of beans.
  • It might be less "mushy" if I'd cooked the beans less. I think part of the issue is the different-sized beans. They taste wonderful and provide lots of great fiber. But, individually, they have different cook times. Use your own judgment and find that delicate balance between undercooked, cooked perfectly and overcooked! Good luck and enjoy - no matter what!
An update: I checked the beans sooner when I made this after Easter. Here's a photo that looks more appetizing. Just check the beans often and remove from the heat when they are tender, but not mushy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Job Interview

A bull at the Ninnescah Pasture, June 2010

A job interview is a mighty important piece of getting a job.

A writer might need to bring a portfolio of her work. A potential principal might have to answer questions about how she would discipline little Johnny when he's sent to the office. A secretary might have to compose a letter.

Here on the County Line, it's also important to test bulls for the "job" they need to do. Earlier this month, Dr. Dayul Dick from Prairie Vista Veterinary Hospital and Supply came to test our six bulls through a bull breeding soundness examination.

So, how does this farm wife tell you about this process and keep it PG? Very carefully, I suppose. When Randy "invited" me to attend this doctor's appointment, I told him I wasn't guaranteeing that this would see the light of day in blogland.

This was one job interview I'd never attended before. But Dr. Dick was very matter-of-fact and informative. And he stressed the importance of this annual "job performance" review.

"Quality bulls are a big part of your beef business standard," Dr. Dick said. "It's a good management practice to test bulls before you turn them out into the pasture each spring. Bulls have no value if they can't perform. We also test bulls for cattle operations that plan to sell them in an auction setting or by private treaty."

First, Dr. Dick measured each bull's scrotum and examined it for defects.

He then needed to collect a semen sample using this contraption.

After getting a sample, Dr. Dick had a mobile lab set up in the back of his pickup.

With the first look in the microscope, he was testing the semen for motility, its "swimming" ability to travel to the cow's egg.

Then he smeared the slide with a dye, which killed the sperm. He could then look at morphology, the shape of the sperm. He was looking for abnormalities in the shape, which could indicate a problem with the ability to breed.

After those tests, he gave each bull vaccinations to keep them healthy during their summer in the pasture. It's similar to giving our children vaccinations for their optimal health.

The Novartis Vira Shield protects against at least 10 bacteria and viruses that cause respiratory and reproductive diseases. The Ultrabac 7 helps prevent blackleg, while another vaccine prevents pink eye.

The pour-on product is a dewormer.

All the bulls passed and are ready for action, so to speak. Five of them were put in with the heifers on April 21. On Saturday, one will remain with the heifers, while the other four will go with cows to pasture.

Photo taken June 2010

The verdict: The bulls are hired for yet another year on the County Line.

And this morning, I'm again off to help sort the mamas and the babies for their travels to summer pasture. More on that later ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Those Are the Breaks

Tulips outside the Stafford First United Methodist Church

Nothing could dampen the joy of Easter ... not even a flat tire and a broken toilet.

It's inevitable. There is always some calamity to deal with when 20 people are expected for dinner.

Randy, me Jill & Eric after church on Easter Sunday

I remember a heating element going out of my Mom's oven on a long-ago Thanksgiving. At a Turkey Day at our house, we lit our fireplace for a little ambiance to entertain about 30 of the extended Fritzemeier clan. Instead, we had every door and window open, trying to air out the place.

So I should have expected some sort of curve ball. It arrived Saturday night in the form of a broken toilet. And, of course, the home improvement store was closed. (And, as it turns out, we are still waiting on parts.)

It reminded me of a Memorial Day weekend when we were first married. I invited one of Randy's great aunts to dinner after the annual cemetery tour. She declined because she was sure we didn't have indoor plumbing. What century did she think we were in?

Thankfully, we didn't have to resort to an outhouse for Easter 2011 either.

The other wrinkle in Easter plans came for my niece Abby and her boyfriend Derek. I was pretty impressed that they were planning to make a 3-hour drive from his family's home in Yates Center and arrive in time for a 9 AM Easter worship service at our church.

A flat tire poked a hole in that plan. The upside? They arrived in plenty of time for dinner - minus the church clothes - but safe and sound.

My sister Lisa, niece Abby, Derek & brother-in-law Kyle

It was a day filled with family, food and fellowship.

The guests included my Dad and Mom.

Brian, Madi, Suzanne & Kent

I made my brother's family sing for their supper (or dinner, as the case may be). Madison and Kent joined our choir for the morning's two anthems. (I missed getting photos of Suzanne's folks. I also didn't take one photo during our early morning brunch at church. So much for including that in the church newsletter. Oh well.)

Dave, Amanda, Emily, Kathy, and our dog Ralph, who had to be in the photo

Randy's sister Kathy and family were debating about whether to attend their Wichita church or get to Stafford by 9 AM. Amanda gave the deciding vote, telling her mom that she wanted to go to Kim & Randy's church so she could "get hugged by a bunch of old people I don't know." We guess we are a friendly church.

It was great to have Jill and Eric home for a three-day weekend. We missed Brent who couldn't make the trip from South Carolina since he had three big projects due last week and two this week.

But there was a great church service celebrating our risen Savior.

There was plenty of spiral ham, cheesy potatoes, homemade rolls, salads and dessert to go around.

And the guys had a Sunday afternoon drive to ponder farm life.

Take that Murphy's Law: You couldn't get us down, despite a flat tire and a broken toilet.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whoooo, What, Where, When, Why?

"Whooooo is invading my space?" this owl seemed to question through squinted eyes.

As a journalist, I've been trained to answer the who, what, where, when and why questions. But I don't have a lot of answers for this feathered friend.

Jake saw him a couple of weeks ago in the corral and thought he was injured. But by the time I arrived on the scene, he'd flown into a tree. So much for the injury report, I thought.

Jake got some photos on his cell phone, but, for me, the Kodak moment was long gone. Then I got another chance when Randy called from the silo to say the owl was back.

I pulled on my tennis shoes and grabbed the camera. I figured the owl would have flown the coop long before I got there. And even if he hadn't, my little point and shoot camera isn't designed for bird portraits. So I sure wasn't getting my hopes up.

But I was in luck. I couldn't believe how close he let me come. I was a little wary at first because I didn't want him swooping in with claws extended. But I kept creeping closer and closer. He may have looked at me with disdain, but he didn't fly away.

Randy doesn't know whether he was injured or whether he had eaten so many mice at the silo that he was flight challenged at that moment. (After wintertime, I can relate to that, too ... not that I have trouble resisting mice. Oh, you know what I mean!)

Here's the shot straight out of the camera.

Here's the "tweaked" version.
The colors of the silage and the owl's feathers were awfully similar on a cloudy day. This just helped pop the colors a little more.

True confessions: I may have been grumbling as I drove toward the silo after my husband interrupted me with this bird report and suggested I bring the camera. I'm not grumbling now.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sunrise Roundup

There's nothing like a four-wheeler ride to wake you up in the morning.

We had some escapees last week. Randy turned some of the cow/calf pairs onto small lots to eat wheat. As Randy says, they were kind of like lawnmowers. They razed the tender green plants, then took off for greener pastures, so to speak.

Randy found them in the wheat north of the barn. This was not on the dining plan, so it meant an early morning round-up by the Farmer and the Farm Wife.

Originally, I was just stationed on foot. But when the moms and babies appeared to be trying out for the Olympic track team, I ended up holding on for dear life behind Randy on the four-wheeler. The only photos from that escapade were blurred from bouncing over the terrain.

He left me by the oilfield road just in case they attempted to make a break for it again. But he managed to corral them, while I then picked my way through the shelter belt and stood guard at the electric fence.

Early morning runs can make a little fella hungry. It was time for a milk break.

They went willingly into the corral.

And I took one more early-morning glimpse at the sky before heading back to the house for coffee. It probably would have been healthier if I'd had milk, too.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hymn of Promise

I went to the community Maundy Thursday service last night. As the vestments were stripped from the altar and the dark candlesticks were carried from the sanctuary, it seemed that HOPE went with them.

This evening's Good Friday service will be another somber reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf.

But we know the rest of the story. We know the promise of Easter morning. This month's theme at Lovely Branches Ministries is HOPE. On this Good Friday, I encourage you to head on over to Lovely Branches Ministries to read my April post and those from the other bloggers.

Even though HOPE seems distant today as we read the Biblical account of Jesus' betrayal, suffering and death on a cross, we have the promise of new life.

Hymn of Promise
isn't a traditional Easter hymn, but, for me, it perfectly illustrates the hope that we can find if we place our faith in Jesus Christ and his promises.

Hymn of Promise

In the bulb, there is a flower In the seed, an apple tree. In cocoons a hidden promise Butterflies will soon be free. In the cold and snow of winter There's a spring that waits to be Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There's a song in every silence, seeking word and melody. There's a dawn in every darkness, bringing HOPE to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; In our doubt, there is believing;
in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Happy Easter to you and yours!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chick Magnets

It's not just guys who like cute chicks. If you're a mom and grandma looking for a fun project to do with your kiddos or want an easy way to add a festive touch to your Easter table, try these fun no-bake cookies.

I found the recipe for the bird nests in the current April/May edition of Taste of Home magazine, but I've made a variation of them for years. Usually, I've just decorated the nests with colored candy eggs. But I did like the addition of the Peep chicks.

I used yellow Peeps. I guess I'm a traditionalist. But you could add even more color by using the vibrant pink or purple Peeps.

With these festive treats, it's really OK for the kids to play with their food. Really.

Bird's Nests
2 pkg. white baking chips (10 oz. each)
10 oz. pkg. pretzel sticks
Candy eggs

Melt white chocolate chips. (I use the microwave on 70 percent power, stirring every minute so that it doesn't burn.) Reserve 1/2 cup of melted chocolate. Stir in pretzel sticks until well coated. Scoop 25 nests onto waxed paper. Use two forks to arrange coated pretzels into a 3-inch circle.

Dip a Peep into melted reserved melted chocolate and place onto each nest. Use melted chocolate to attach candy eggs. Makes 25.

Note: I used almond bark because it's less expensive.

Noodle Nests
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 1/2 cups chow mein noodles
Candy eggs

Melt chips in the microwave, taking care not to burn. Stir in chow mein noodles. Using a spoon, make small mounds and drop onto waxed paper to form a nest. While the chocolate is still "wet," attach small egg-shaped candies. Makes 2-3 dozen, depending how big you make each nest.

Need another festive idea for Easter? Use Easter M & Ms with this recipe.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Greensburg: A Lesson in Courage

A quote found on the wall of The Green Bean Coffee Co., Greensburg, Kansas

It's been almost four years since an EF5 tornado swept away 95 percent of the Kiowa County community of Greensburg and took 11 lives.

Until my recent trip, I hadn't been to Greensburg since the tornado May 4, 2007. Neither Randy or I wanted to go. I wanted to remember Greensburg as it used to be. It was the place where I sat on the visitors' side of the football field and watched Brent play football. The track where I'd cheered for Jill as she rounded the curve during the third leg of the 4 X 100 relay may have been there, but I just wasn't interested in seeing it amid collapsed bleachers, uprooted trees and a nearby school in shambles. The United Methodist Church where I'd given a program years before was reduced to a pile of bricks and rubble.

I sent cookies for the workers. We made donations. But we didn't go. **

At first, I didn't want to be among the gawkers in Greesnburg, the people who flock to disasters just to see the destruction. After that initial reluctance, though, I don't really have a good excuse.

It's a good thing the people of Greensburg have more courage than I do. I was among seven of the Stafford Chapter BK PEO members who traveled to Greensburg earlier this month for a road trip.

And it was an inspiration. For me, the theme of the day was faith.

Wind turbine outside Kiowa County Memorial Hospital

It is the faith and courage of the people of Greensburg that is helping them rebuild.

One of our stops was the Silo Eco-Home, which houses Greensburg Greentown's offices.

Ruth Ann Wedel was our tour guide. She showed us all the "green" features, which are mighty impressive.

But I was most impacted by what she said, not what she showed us.

"This town was put back together with faith," Ruth Ann said. "The Bible tells us that you don't see faith. You just believe it. We believed that someday, Greensburg would be as big as it was before the tornado. We believed it could be better."
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1
"The churches were among some of the first buildings to be rebuilt," Ruth Ann said. "It was a way of being normal, coming together as church families. In many cases, the churches were rebuilt before the families were back in their own homes and businesses."

Greensburg rebuilt eight churches. The congregation leaders built them with the faith and hope that the residents would return and again fill the pews and do the work of the church. Before the tornado, there were in the neighborhood of 1,400 residents in the county seat of Kiowa County. Today, four years later, approximately 900 people call Greensburg home.

For a freelance writing project in 2008, I did phone interviews with some Greensburg United Methodist Church members who were rebuilding their church and their lives. On our recent trip to Greensburg, I got to meet one of those people. Mitzi Hesser, a Greensburg PEO member, met us for a few minutes at lunch at The Green Bean.

Back in 2008, she said: "It is important for us to keep the faith because we are going to be such a witness to people throughout the world in how we deal with this, how we grow through this," Mitzi said for the Kansas Area United Methodist Foundation annual report.

Another of the people I interviewed in 2008 was Jan West, who served on the Greensburg UMC stewardship team.
"The tornado has blown a fresh new appreciation into my life of all things beautiful that before, I only gave lip service to. Before the storm, I blindly lived each day, putting one foot in front of the other. My world had narrowed to petty habits and minor issues. The purposes of my life were 'I'-centered. I do not want to go back to that. Today, I have a new purpose. I put myself into the path of my church family on purpose, and I want to continue this journey with purpose."
It's a message we can all heed. Hopefully, it won't take a tornado or some other crisis for us to realize it.


** Though we didn't go to Greensburg to help, we did take a more hands-on approach in response to the May 2007 storms. We helped close friends who lost their Stafford County home in the storm that same night. My brother and I sang at the funeral of a family friend who lost his life during the deadly storm as it continued its track into Pratt County. And we took a Sunday morning breakfast to Trousdale United Methodist parishioners who gathered in a member's home after a May 5 tornado destroyed their church. All of these also showed remarkable courage in rebuilding their lives after the storms.

This isn't to blow my own horn but to say that I do know there is value in getting your hands dirty, so to speak. And there would have been plenty of opportunities to go to Greensburg to help after the gawkers were gone and the real work was just beginning.

So, hats off to those who had the vision for the resurrection of this Kansas town and who helped get the job done.