Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Amber Waves of Grain

In one way, it was an America the Beautiful kind of day yesterday. It included the very definition of the "amber waves of grain" Katharine Lee Bates wrote about in her hymn, "America the Beautiful."

In those 50- to 60-mph wind gusts, you could practically get seasick looking out across the rippling waves of wheat. Those "waves" were definitely tidal wave strength as they danced across the fields. I need a video camera instead of a still camera to do it justice.

But the blowing dirt was not so beautiful across Central America yesterday. Farmers were hoping for calmer "seas" to help the newly planted spring crops grow. Those newly established fields of corn, soybeans and milo were fighting the battle to hold on for dear life in the face of gale force winds.

Randy got our milo and silage planted last week. We were thankful to get about 0.30 inches of moisture last week, some of which was coming down as I took this photo last Wednesday.

We got another 0.30 inches overnight last night when a quick-moving thunderstorm moved through Central Kansas. Thankfully, we didn't get the hail to go along with it, though I know others weren't as fortunate.

Farmers weren't the only ones struggling yesterday. We drove to Wichita to say goodbye to Brent and put him on a plane back to South Carolina for summer classes. The semi drivers yesterday couldn't have been out for a leisurely drive. Even with a car, it was a white-knuckle trip, struggling against the wind.

Let's hope for calmer conditions today.

Need more info about milo planting? Check out this earlier post.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Victory Cookbook

Memorial Day should be about more than firing up the grill or lounging around the lake. For our family, it always means a trip to cemeteries to place flowers on loved ones' graves. On the Moore side we make the trek from Greenlawn Cemetery in Pratt, to the Iuka Cemetery to Pleasant Plains and then to Macksville.

Our excursion for Randy's family includes stops at the Stafford Cemetery and the Peace Creek Cemetery just north of where we live. This year, it also included a stop at Elroy's Pizza in downtown Stafford. Good timing, Kathy!

Memorial Day is also a time to remember those who fought in our country's wars and served during peace time to keep our country free and safe.

When we were cleaning out my grandparents' house, I found an old cookbook. It was dated 1942 and was compiled by the Ladies of the W.S.C.S. of the Byers Methodist Church. (Women's Society of Christian Service was the precursor to today's United Methodist Women.) As I looked through the cookbook, I found recipes from both my grandmothers, as well as childhood neighbors.

The cookbook was produced during World War II. Children collected scrap metal. Families did without sugar and other staples. Women in some parts of the country had to go to work in factories and other jobs outside the home to fill the void left by men who were serving overseas.

In Victory Hints, found at the front of the cookbook, it says, in part:
Victory is more than just another word. It is a challenge to the ingenuity of womanhood. Victory means taking care of and making the most of what we have. It means saving time and strength as well as material things.
(I love the divider pages in the cookbook.)

Those are valuable ideas, even today.

A friend shared another cookbook published in 1943, also during World War II. In the preface of The Connecticut Cookbook, the writer included a section called Cooking in War Time:
Today, when sacrifice is demanded of us, we have learned the true value of each and every comfort. ... Meat and bread, vegetables and fruits, coffee and milk have become symbols. They are no longer merely the sustenance of physical being, but the strength of the will to win. It has been said many times and cannot be said too often, that this is a war to maintain spiritual ideals. It is a war of progress against savagery, of the power of right over the rule of evil.
During World War II, Americans were called upon to sacrifice.
Food used to be an accepted necessity instead of a luxury. We gave little or no thought to our good fortune in having enough to eat, just as we thought not at all of giving thanks for warm blankets on cold nights or enough fuel to keep from freezing.
Makes you think, doesn't it? Today, military personnel and their families are making a sacrifice, but the rest of us go on our merry way. We give little or no thought to our good fortune in having enough to eat, a roof over our heads and gasoline in our cars (albeit more expensive than we'd like!)

Today, take time to say a prayer for our active duty military men and women and a big thank you to the veterans who served us so well.

For more on this topic, head on over to Lovely Branches Ministries and check out my May Food for Thought blog. And while you're there, check out the other blogs on the Vine Press.

Happy Memorial Day to you and yours!


Want to make a patriotic treat to celebrate Memorial Day? Try these bar cookie recipes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Picnic Potluck Salad

Memorial Day weekend just isn't the same as it was back when I was a kid. We still do the annual cemetery tour with my parents, putting flowers on loved ones' graves. We also try to meet Randy's sister and family to decorate graves for their family.

But back when I was grade school age, we sometimes had a picnic in Lemon Park in Pratt with Grandma and Grandpa Leonard and often with my Great Aunt Helen and Great Uncle Mike Stauth before we'd make the cemetery rounds.

As a kid, I didn't think about the preparation that went into toting a meal to the picnic shelter. I just looked forward to playing on the playground equipment and the novelty of eating a meal outdoors.

These days, we usually eat at a restaurant. And, as the chief cook around here, that's fine with me.

But if your holiday gatherings include a picnic meal, here's a recipe to try. My sister Lisa brought it to our Easter dinner, and I've made it once since then. Since it doesn't have a mayonnaise-based dressing, there aren't as many potential food safety issues with choosing this salad for an outdoor meal.

So whether you're having a picnic at a park or are heating up the grill at home, this recipe would add a tasty side dish to your celebration ... or just an everyday meal.

And don't let Memorial Day be simply about a three-day weekend or a time to party. Remember your loved ones. And remember the military men and women who sacrificed to provide protection for you and me.

Marinated Vegetable Salad
2 cans French-cut green beans, drained
1 can LeSeuer peas, drained
1 can shoepeg corn, drained
1 cup celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped (I used green onion instead)
1 green pepper, chopped (I used a combination of tri-color peppers)
1 small jar pimento
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup oil

Combine all vegetables and set aside. Bring salt, sugar and vinegar to a boil. Add oil. Pour over vegetables and marinate about 18 hours before serving.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Good Stuff? I Beg to Differ

Every day, I feel blessed to live where I can see God's creation evolving with the shifting seasons. Too often, people see Kansas as a flat, uninteresting place that just provides miles to go before you get to the mountains of Colorado or the lakes of Missouri.

I'm all for tourism in Kansas and helping others see the beauty and complexity of the beautiful place we call home.

But I just can't understand one popular form of tourism in Kansas these days. I suppose that storm chasing brings an infusion of some cash to gas stations, restaurants and motels in the Central Plains. But, to me, storm chasing just capitalizes on the pain and tragedy of others.

I don't want some adventure-seeking tourist hoping for that big storm that will give him a thrill for a few minutes.

Those storms take people's lives and property. I was heartbroken to learn that Tuesday night's storms took the lives of two members of a fellow Stafford County 4-H family and seriously injured another. Linda Gleason and her son, Jeffrey, were killed when a cottonwood tree, 4 feet in diameter, was toppled onto their vehicle by a tornado. The St. John family had pulled into a driveway to try to weather the storm. Kristin, who just graduated from K-State, was seriously hurt. I keep praying for her and for her dad, Jim, who now have to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The Stafford County Fair just won't be the same. The Gleasons and I had a contest for whose face could get the hottest and reddest first in the unairconditioned confines of the fair's 4-H building. They were superintendents of the 4-H arts and crafts department. I am across the way in the foods department.

Jeff (just like his sister Kristin before him) was a consummate baker and always had multiple entries in the 4-H foods division. With a mom who was a former county extension agent, they were always meticulously prepared. Jeff also had a gorgeous voice. The judge at the Stafford County 4-H Club Days this spring told him that he could do anything he wanted with that voice. I guess he's using it to sing with heaven's angels today.

I realize that some of the storm chasers are meteorologists collecting data to try and keep us safer. That's different than the people who are leading tours and charging folks anywhere from $2,000 to $6,500 to catch a glimpse of a tornado.

I know that the tourists aren't to blame for the storms. But it still infuriates me to read things like this on an msnbc.com website:
"Well, it's a rush," explains tornado tourist Mark Reese, from England, who was interviewed in Pratt. "In the UK, we don't get the big storms or the severe weather you get over here. This was the place to come to get the good stuff."
The good stuff, huh? I beg to differ. Let's ask Jim & Kristin Gleason ... or the residents of Joplin, Mo. ... or the people of Reading, Kansas ... or people still rebuilding their lives in Greensburg ... or the people of Chapman ... Unfortunately, the list goes on and on and continues to grow this spring.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less

This is what you get for reading the back of the rice box ... dinner in about 30 minutes.

Don't you remember reading the back of the cereal box as you sat at the breakfast table as a kid? Given the opportunity and a few minutes, I'll find something to read. I'd prefer a book, but a box will do in a pinch.

In this case, it lead to a tasty meal.

Southwest Beef & Bell Pepper Skillet
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 can (14.5 oz.) beef broth
1 can (10 oz.) diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained
1 large red or green pepper, thinly sliced then halved
1 large yellow pepper, thinly sliced then halved
2 cups instant brown rice, uncooked
1 1/2 cups finely shredded Colby and Monterey Jack cheese

Brown meat in large ovenproof skillet; drain fat. Stir in broth and tomatoes. Bring to boil.

Add peppers and rice; stir. Cover; simmer on low heat 5 minutes or until rice is tender. (When I checked it at 5 minutes, it wasn't tender yet.)

Top with cheese. Broil, uncovered, 2 to 3 minutes or until melted. Makes 6, 1 1/3 cup servings.

Serve with a green salad.

Nutrition information per serving: 350 calories, 13 g total fat, 7 g saturated fat, 650 mg sodium, 32 g carbohydrate, 25 g protein.

Recipe Notes:
  • If you aren't a fan of spicy foods, substitute a can of stewed or diced tomatoes.
  • I had beef broth that I had refrigerated after cooking a roast. I just added 14.5 ounces of that instead of the canned broth.
  • The original recipe called for white instant rice. I substituted brown rice.
  • The recipe leaves the peppers in fairly large pieces. I really liked how that looked and tasted, but if you need to do a better job of "hiding" the veggies, you could chop them finer.
  • I don't have an ovenproof skillet, so after the rice and pepper mixture was cooked, I put it into a glass 12- by 8-inch pan and topped with cheese, then stuck it under the broiler. If you have the skillet, it dirties one less dish, but this worked fine.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Through Rose-Colored Glasses

Randy often looks at the world through rose-colored glasses. It's a great quality to have in a husband.

This time, I think his idyllic glasses are tinted green.

We got 0.90 of rain early Friday morning. Lying in bed, listening to it rain, it sounded like more. It had a long time since we had heard the patter of rain on the roof, so we were thankful for the moisture.

As we were driving to church on Sunday, Randy said he thought the wheat looked better. Honestly I can't see much difference. Maybe it did halt its downward spiral.

The rain may boost wheat production by a few bushels an acre, and it could help increase test weights. By mid-May, the maximum number of tillers and kernels per head has already been established, according to Jim Shroyer, a K-State wheat specialist. The 100-degree days in early May certainly didn't do the wheat yield potential any favors.

What we do know is that the rain should help green up pastures and help the alfalfa to grow a little more. And it's provided enough moisture to start planting silage today. Milo planting is also the agenda this week.

There are farmers in western Kansas who have already "harvested" their wheat by baling it for cattle feed or working it up. At least we'll get to pull the combine out of the shed and see what happens.

So I guess I'll get out my green-colored glasses, too.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too!

The humble cupcake isn't so humble anymore. The staple of bake sales of the past has become a fashionable and profitable food.

Our trip to Omaha included a stop at Jones Bros. Cupcakes. The owner competed on last season's Cupcake Wars on the Food Network. I don't know why I love that show. Having to make a thousand cupcakes in 90 minutes would give me an anxiety attack, even if there was the chance for a $10,000 prize in the end ... maybe especially if there was a $10,000 at stake in the end. That's pressure!

The Jones Bros. Cupcakes guy didn't win, but Jill and I still wanted to check it out.

The ones we bought were (clockwise from upper left): red velvet, caramel apple, strawberries and cream, sweet and salty, maple bacon and tiramisu.

I won't tell you how ridiculously expensive they were (especially for someone who is perfectly capable of baking her own cupcakes.)

But it was still fun to check out the interesting flavors and peruse their bakery case.

Back to reality, though. Even though their Strawberries and Cream cupcake was light and tasty, I am also known for Strawberry Cake. My fame hasn't spread to Cupcake Wars or anything, but I'm the go-to girl for strawberry cake at our church.

Though I usually make it in a sheet cake pan, the batter could definitely be used for cupcakes.

Even better than the cake is the strawberry icing that goes on top. Strawberry Cake was the flavor I was assigned for our minister's baby shower last weekend.

So, whether you use it for cupcakes or for sheet cake, it's a great one to add to your recipe box.

Strawberry Cake
1 box white cake mix (I always buy a good-quality cake mix to start with)
1 box strawberry gelatin
3 tbsp. flour
4 eggs
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup frozen strawberries in syrup (thawed)

Mix all ingredients together until well blended. Pour batter into a prepared sheet cake pan. Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes or until cake tests done.

Strawberry Icing
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup frozen strawberries in syrup (thawed)

Mix all ingredients together until well blended (you can add a touch of milk if it's too thick or more powdered sugar if it's too runny: Use your own judgement). Ice the cake after it's thoroughly cooled. (If you're in a hurry, you can ice it when it's still warm. The frosting is just a different texture.)


Looking for a chocolate cupcake recipe? Try this!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Singing for Supper

You've heard the expression, "Sing for your supper?"

Well, I didn't have to sing for my supper. But I did have to cut onions.

Jill can't cut onions without crying. Eric is usually elected for the job. But I took the task off his hands during our recent visit to Omaha. If someone else is planning and executing the bulk of the meal, cutting onions is a small price to pay.

Jill and Eric made an Oriental Beef and Noodle dish as a Mother's Day meal for me and Eric's mom, Christy. The dads got to eat, too, even if it wasn't for their special day.

Jill used the modern-day cookbook equivalent ... a link to the internet. I'm a dinosaur who still likes my old-fashioned cookbooks, but she had her laptop by her side.

She used several ingredients that aren't readily available in my kitchen, telling me I'd better take a photo for my readers (See ... she was thinking of you guys!)

(Ground fresh chile paste and squeezable garlic)

Though I can't find them in my hometown grocery store (Jim at Paul's would probably order if I asked), you can find the ingredients in the Oriental section of a larger supermarket.

Here's how it turned out. It was yummy, especially since I didn't have to cook ...except for that whole cutting onions thing.

Oriental Beef with Peppers

1½ pound flank steak, sliced very thin against the grain
½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons cooking sherry
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (or sprinkle in a little ground ginger, if you don't have fresh, but don't use as much!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red chile paste (or a few dashes of red chile oil)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 whole medium yellow onion, sliced
2 whole red or green bell peppers, cored and sliced into rings (Jill just had me slice them)
1 tablespoon diced fresh jalapeno or 1 teaspoon diced hot pepper, opt. (Jill didn't use this)
Red pepper flakes, for sprinkling, opt.
Cilantro leaves, opt.
A box of rice noodles

Preparation Instructions

Put water on stove and bring to a boil while you prepare other ingredients.

Mix together soy sauce, sherry, brown sugar, cornstarch, ginger, garlic, and chili paste (or chili oil.)

Place sliced beef in the mixture and toss to coat. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high to high heat. When it is very hot, throw in the onions and cook for less than a minute. Remove to a separate plate. Return skillet to flame, allow to reheat, and add bell peppers (and hot pepper/jalapeno if using.) Cook for a minute, tossing, until peppers have brown/black bits but are still firm. Remove to a plate.

Return skillet to heat and allow to get hot. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add 1/3 of the meat mixture, evenly distributing over the surface of the skillet. Allow to sit for 20 to 30 seconds, then turn with tongs.

Cook for another 30 seconds, then remove to a separate plate. Repeat with remaining meat until all brown.

Reduce heat to low. Add all meat, onions, and peppers to the skillet and toss to combine. Pour in remaining sauce (the sauce the meat marinated in) and stir. Allow to simmer on low for a few minutes. Sauce will slowly thicken. Turn off heat.

Turn off boiling water, then throw in noodles. Stir, then allow noodles to sit in hot water for 8 minutes or so (check package directions to be sure.) Drain, then add 1/2 the noodles to stir fry. Toss together, then add more noodles to taste. Add very hot water if needed to thin.

Top with cilantro leaves. Serve immediately. Jill made another batch of the sauce and served it on the side for drizzling on the completed meal (Because of food safety, don't use any of the remaining sauce from the marinating process without it being cooked).


If you want to see gorgeous, step-by-step photos to go along with this recipe, it's found on The Pioneer Woman website. Click here. But, they don't have my gorgeous model. Just sayin'.


By the way, May is Beef Month. So if you needed a reason to try this recipe out, celebrate! More than 30,000 farmers and ranchers manage and care for a grand total of 6.3 million head of cattle, which is over 2 ½ times the state's population. There's the beef!

We have fewer head of cattle after a trip to the Pratt sale barn. They will be on the auction block today. This was a group of older cows and their calves, along with some other cows that would fit in that game, "Which of these things is not like the other?" They'd lost a calf, hadn't calved yet or didn't fit with the group in some way. He was going to feed them this summer and then sell them in the fall.

But with the heifers and the bull continually getting out, he needed to move the older cows out and put the heifers in their location. Let's hope that works! It's going to be a long summer otherwise.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Thriving Metropolis

The state of Kansas may not have sprung for new signage along U.S. Highway 50. But someone with a sense of humor did.

Last week, as I was approaching Stafford, I saw a red flag fluttering from a new sign.

"Stafford Next 5 Exits," it proclaimed.

I had to smile. But it's not false advertising. There truly are five different streets where you can turn to explore our fine community. You can see one of our skyscrapers in the background.

And just in case travelers missed the opportunity, here's the other side of the sign:

It's not often that you see an NC+ seed sign coupled with one of those "Big Town, USA, next 5 exit" signs.

(Read more about Stafford signs - and get a couple of great cake recipes - by clicking here.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Head in the Sand

I'm thinking we need to build an animal enclosure. Those pasture fences just aren't doing the trick.

I haven't heard any reports of animal escapees at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha lately. The same cannot be said about the animals on the County Line. We are having a heck of a time keeping cows, heifers and bulls where they are supposed to be this spring.

Randy is fresh out of ideas. He and Jake have fixed fence - more than once. He knows the pastures aren't nearly as lush and productive as last year. We could definitely use a rain to get them green and growing. But there is plenty there to eat. The cattle don't need to be exploring their take-out options.

I realize my idea is not the most cost effective solution. Randy is hoping, however, that he will not have to resort to again "catering" the cow's meals like the zookeepers bringing hay to the ostriches at the Omaha zoo. Randy & Jake thought their stint as the bovine equivalent to pizza delivery guys was over for the season.

From our perch on the zoo's Skyfari, it certainly looked like their livestock was ready to belly-up to the hay bar.

It doesn't look like the ostriches have the option of foraging for their own grub in their dirt-packed enclosure. But the cows are another story. Didn't their mothers teach them they need to grow up and fend for themselves?

I guess it could be worse. We could be trying to keep these guys in - though I don't think they moved once in the time we went up and back on the Skyfari.

They might take out a fence or two if they decided to visit the neighbors.

Monday, May 16, 2011


They found me.

For years, I've gotten questionnaires from Stafford County about jury duty. I'm all for doing my civic duty. But I live in Reno County. The dividing line goes right in front of my house, but I live in Reno County, nevertheless.

With a Stafford address, I realize it's confusing. Shhhhh ... don't tell Reno County courts.

But this time, they mean business. I got a letter from the U.S. District Court:
Dear Potential Juror:

The District of Kansas qualifies potential jurors every two years from all 105 counties in the state of Kansas. This is not a summons for you to appear for jury duty. However, federal law, 28 U.S.C 1864(a) requires that you complete a questionnaire which will determine whether or not you qualify to serve as a potential juror for the United State District Court ...
It came with a written questionnaire, but the letter encouraged potential jurors to complete the questions online.

It was dated April 18, 2011, but it didn't arrive in my mail box until May 16. It said I had to fill out the survey within 10 days.

Really, Your Honor. I didn't get it until May.

Long, long ago, my mother-in-law served on a jury for a murder trial. So we shall see if my name comes up in the next two years. I love mysteries, but a murder trial? I don't know about that.

Roots and Wings

If Facebook is any barometer, it was graduation weekend for lots of families. I personally know people who collected their bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and even one who wrapped up a doctorate.

Next weekend, more high school graduates will walk across the stage, collect their diplomas and run headlong into the next phase of their lives.

Good parents give their children roots and wings
roots to know where home is,
and wings to fly away and exercise what's been taught them.
-Jonas Salk

On Mother's Day weekend, we visited Jill and Eric in Omaha. As always, it was fun be together and to see where our "little girl" is putting down roots and building a new life with a pretty great guy.

The broken big toe slowed me down a bit, but it wasn't something that a heating pad couldn't solve.

I will have to say that we didn't get our money's worth at the Henry Doorly Zoo because of my temporary handicap. But we did get to go in one of my favorite exhibits, the Butterfly House. My family's gift for me on Mother's Day? Their patience and their quest to be the best butterfly scouts in the place.

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
- Maya Angelou

Life changes. Little girls grow up. Little boys move away and pursue their own dreams. It's quite a journey. As babies, they reflexively grasp your fingers in their tiny hands. And the letting go begins in increments ... even as early as they quit holding on to your outstretched hands and awkwardly toddle away.

It requires some scraped knees, broken hearts, teenage angst and a little healthy rebellion. It's all part of the journey. And that's a beautiful thing.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Little Neelly

In April, we said goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa Neelly's house. And we said hello to a little girl named Neelly Mae.

Neelly is the first child for my niece Paige and her husband Russ.

Neelly Mae carries the name of great-great-grandparents she will never meet. She shares her middle name with her Great Grandma Mae Bauer, who also passed away long before Neelly's birth.

Maybe it seems like a big legacy for such a little girl. But just think ... The DNA from great-great-grandparents and other long-ago ancestors from both sides of her family came together to create a beautiful little girl.

She'll be her own person. But she's uniquely part of a story that began long, long ago.

She's the second grandchild for my sister Lisa. She joins Braden in writing the new "history" for the family.

She's the second great-grandchild for my parents.

In Neelly's birth, the story of family continues. Through the years, there have been other four-generation photos taken, some in the house that just tumbled down and others in homes that are still standing.

August 1957

I was the baby in this four-generation photo with my Mom, Grandpa Neelly and Great-Grandma Neelly.

December 1985

Jill was the baby in this photo with my Grandma Neelly, my Mom and me, following her baptism.

But whether houses stand or they fall, the story of family goes on. It goes on in Braden and Neelly and in babies yet to be born to our family. It goes on in your families, too.

And that's the great blessing of this life. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What Makes A House a Home?

I have some new wind chimes hanging at my kitchen window. They are a bit tarnished and worn, but they are golden to me.

I gave those wind chimes to my Grandma Neelly for a long-ago birthday. She hung them between the living room and dining room at their two-story farm home, and they often tinkled a greeting when someone brushed against them at this busy traffic way in their home.

When I selected "treasures" from the house, I didn't initially take them. In fact, my Dad rescued them on the morning the excavator arrived. He had the wind chimes and a few other trinkets in his pickup.

I left the ugly orange vase. But this time, I couldn't resist the wind chimes. But the impact that she and my Grandpa had on my life was more precious than things. As the walls of their home crashed down, I remembered:

** The candy dish. I'm not sure who took the candy dish. It was a black and silver plastic dish that sat on their kitchen counter for as long as I can remember. It certainly wasn't valuable ... except to kids who didn't have a candy dish at home. When my sisters, my brother and I would race in the back door, the candy dish was one of the very first stops. M&Ms were often the candy of choice. We left Grandpa's horehound candies alone. We weren't fans.

** My Grandma's kitchen window. Grandma spent a lot of time in the kitchen. And so I figure the things she had on the nearby shelves were special. One of the first things I selected as we were cleaning out the house was this little piano, which sat on a window shelf, and the spoon rest that sat on her stove.

** The chickens. My Mom grew up having to do chores related to chickens. She didn't choose to have chickens at our house. For us, it was a treat to take our buckets, go out the back door ...

... run to the chicken house and collect the eggs, though we were a little wary of some of the temperamental old hens.

We also "helped" when my grandparents and mom would harvest the chickens. My Grandma was a small woman, but she was mighty when it came to wringing the chickens' necks with the flick of her skilled wrist.

My grandparents had a stove in the garage where they would process the chickens. As I stood at the door into the garage, just before the walls came crashing down, I could almost smell the wet chicken feathers and feel the heat of a summer day as my siblings and I plucked feathers (albeit not as swiftly or as well as my Mom and Grandma).

** Those chickens made the best chicken and noodles I've ever tasted. My Grandma made homemade noodles. I remember walking into her kitchen after church and seeing the noodles drying on clean tea towels. I still love chicken and noodles, though I have never been able to duplicate the taste.

** My grandma made the best angel food cakes from scratch. That is a skill that missed my generation, too. Jill and I attempted an angel food cake for a 4-H foods project once. We turned it upside down on a pop bottle, just like my Grandma used to do. Ours fell out onto the kitchen counter. Hers never did. Angel food cake was my cake of choice for birthdays.

** And while we're fixated on food, I loved her green apple pie. There always seemed to be a layer of sugary goodness between the crust and the green apples. Those green apple trees also provided plenty of fruit for the simple cooked apples she made on her stovetop, adding butter and brown sugar to the quartered fruit. On good years, we'd gather brown grocery sacks full of the green fruit. It wasn't as perfect as the fruit from the grocery store's produce section, but it was far tastier.

** Grandma's Pear Honey: One reason we planted pear and apple trees south of our house was because of my childhood memories. Grandma made pear honey from the fruit gathered from the trees at their farmstead. I made it once. I don't usually can or make jelly, but I sure enjoy eating the pears (if I can get them before the varmints do)!

** Homemade ice cream. For years at Grandma's and Grandpa's, we used a hand-cranked ice cream freezer. We'd all take our turn cranking the handle and anticipating the creamy goodness for a special occasion. Somebody finally got smart and got them an electric freezer. Homemade ice cream for birthdays is a tradition my mom continued with us and then I continued with my own family. And for the record: We rarely make vanilla. Probably my favorite of my Grandma's varieties was banana.

** Grandma would be appalled to know that one of my food memories was having frozen pot pies. We'd get to choose our flavor of pot pie and then instead of eating at the table, we'd get to eat on TV trays in the living room and watch "The Wonderful World of Disney" or "Lassie." I think Grandpa Neelly was just as concerned about what was going to happen to Lassie that week as we were ... hence the TV trays!

** Living only seven miles away, my grandparents often babysat when my parents went out or had meetings out of town. Grandma would make Jiffy Pop popcorn on the top of the stove. We'd watch the foil packet expand and then would eat the tasty snack in brightly colored metal bowls. I had to bring those bowls home, too. (And a sidenote: Randy's Grandma Ava had the same bowls and tumblers, so they are a memory for him, too.)

** Those metal bowls also held Party Mix on New Year's Eve. It was quite an event to get to stay up late and have snacks way after our usual bedtime.

** Breakfast was different at Grandma's house, too. She would make poached eggs, bacon and toast. And we'd get to have coffee! Granted, there was probably more milk than coffee in those cups, but we were so grownup to be sipping that very adult beverage in the morning ... even if Grandpa would gravely intone, "It'll stunt your growth."

** With all those food memories, you'd think that's the smell of Grandma's house that I remember. But ... hold on a minute. Even the best food can't hold a candle to the aroma of Cramergesic ointment. Grandpa Neelly believed it cured everything. (He probably would have told me to put it on my broken toe.) He was a coach and an athlete, and he used it to cure all sorts of aches and pains. He was also good at self-diagnosis. It's a running joke in the family: When someone makes proclamations about what is ailing them, we call them "Dr. Neelly."

** My Grandma had a green thumb. I didn't inherit it. But I can't see purple iris without thinking of her. She also enjoyed planting roses in her front yard and often chose new varieties to try out.

**PURPLE: The irises definitely weren't the only purple things on the farmstead. Take a look at that photo of my mom and me again. See the purple shed in the background? Grandpa, a K-State football player back in the 1920s and '30s, loved K-State. He literally painted the farmstead purple. Our family addiction to all things purple comes quite naturally.

** My grandparents had a large vegetable garden. I am lucky to raise a few tomatoes and peppers. Strawberries - plucked from the plant and popped directly into my mouth - were my favorite. But yellow pear tomatoes were a close second. My grandpa was highly opinionated about his planting schedule. Potatoes were to be in the ground on St. Patrick's Day. The Farmers' Almanac was the gardener's gospel.

** My grandma was a tireless worker in the WSCS, the women's church group which eventually became United Methodist Women. She not only served locally, but she also held state offices. She was always typing up one report or another on her manual typewriter set up in the front bedroom. And she rolled sheet after sheet of paper into the typewriter so I could write, too. Who would have thought all that plucking around on the typewriter would lead to a writing career?

** Family celebrations. There was lots of history recorded in the walls of that old farm house. Lots of babies sat in that old pink high chair.

** Life lessons. I remember one time telling my mother that Grandma had served us milk for our noon meal, so we wouldn't need it at suppertime. My sister informed Mom that we had not had milk at dinnertime. My mother called my grandma to find out. Let's just say it was a valuable lesson in truth telling. (I was the one who lied, by the way.)

It's definitely not the only life lesson I learned at Grandma and Grandpa's house. What life lessons did you learn at your grandparents' house?

Tomorrow ... their legacy continues.