Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tickled Pink

Our Little Ladd will be a Lady! We are, of course, tickled pink.

Jill & Eric had a sonogram on Monday. There is always some question as to whether the baby will cooperate with the sonogram technician. But I had no doubt our future grandchild would perform beautifully.

We were in Manhattan for Randy to attend meetings. So Jill & Eric came after work to tell us the news in person.

Both Randy & I had guessed a girl. The vote was split among immediate family members in Jill and Eric's family tree. Half of us thought girl. Half of us thought boy. Half of us were sure to be right.

But when we opened our gift, we discovered a pretty pink frame around a "photo" of a beautiful little girl. Within an hour, we had already purchased our first ruffles - with a Powercat thrown in for good measure.

You see, my beautiful new granddaughter is blessed with smart parents. They knew that first-time grandparents on both sides of the family would have trouble resisting the baby aisle. They were right.

Come January, our little lady will be coming home to this house. Randy & I spent the weekend in Topeka helping the parents-to-be unpack boxes. The other grandparents get the painting detail.

Even though we know Smalls is a "She," we don't get to discover her name yet. Jill says they have started calling her by her real name when they're home alone.

I'm keeping my ears open for an inadvertent disclosure.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fudge Filled M & M Bars

What's colorful enough for a party and easy enough for everyday? Fudge-Filled M&M Bars!

I found the recipe in my Journey Toward Excellence: Skyline Schools 40th Anniversary cookbook, always a source for tried and true recipes. These have elements of two other favorite bar cookie recipes I've used for years. You may want to try Fudge Bars or Toll House Cookie Bars. Or try these .... Mmmm! The best of both worlds!

Fudge-Filled M&M Bars
1 cup margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. soda
2 cups quick oats
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tbsp. margarine
1 cup plain M & Ms (I used minis)

In a mixing bowl, cream 1 cup margarine and brown sugar. Add flour, salt, soda and oats, mixing well. Reserve 1 1/2 cups for topping. Press remaining into a greased 9- by 13-inch pan.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine condensed milk, chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons margarine. Microwave at 50 percent power until chips are melted, stirring after each minute to prevent burning. Spread melted chocolate mixture over the bottom crust. Sprinkle with the 1 1/2 cups reserved crumb mixture. Top with M & Ms.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes or until nicely browned.

Note: I thought maybe the recipe had left out the eggs, but the bars turned out great ...just in case you're wondering the same thing.

Monday, August 29, 2011

CRP ... No, Not CPR

Land in CRP

And now for your crash course in CRP. No, I'm not about to take over for the American Red Cross and teach you CPR (though that's a very good thing to know).

CRP is the Conservation Reserve Program. The program involves taking land out of agricultural production and planting it to native grasses and wildflowers. This helps prevent wind and water erosion and also enhances native wildlife populations. Most of the land that qualifies for CRP is less productive for agricultural crops anyway.

Usually, farmers can't graze cattle on CRP acres, and they can't harvest the native grasses. But this year, because of the extreme drought, the USDA has allowed emergency haying or grazing on part of the designated CRP acres. A neighbor asked Randy to custom swath and bale about 60 acres of CRP grass.

This is more action than our baler has gotten all summer long.

The resulting 180 bales will be used to feed cattle this winter. With the lack of rain this summer, alfalfa bales are going to be in short supply. The fields of silage have withered with the lack of rain, too, leaving cattlemen with few options for winter foodstuffs.

The CRP hay is much lower in nutrients and protein than alfalfa. It provides all the nutritional requirements for a non-lactating cow, but a cow nursing a baby calf would require additional supplements.

Maybe it's a little like comparing a home-cooked meal to a McDonald's Value Meal. But that bale of native hay will look mighty good this winter in the midst of a snowstorm.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tractor Fever

Tractor fever: It's a malady that can strike at any time. Symptoms include restless leg syndrome, tapping fingers and a general malaise.

The cure? Getting behind the wheel of a tractor and actually getting some field work done. (The previous cure was getting in a car and driving 3,255 miles.)

It has been so dry this summer that the guys stayed out of the tractor cab for most of June and July. At the County Line, Jake is often disking wheat stubble during or right after harvest. This year, even the weeds were struggling to survive.

It wasn't until we got about 2 inches of rain within the past 3 weeks that the weeds have started to thrive. And the guys could begin the road to recovery from their drought-imposed tractor fever.

Randy chose to use the fallow master on the wheat stubble fields, rather than a disk. The fallow master leaves more residue on top of the ground, decreasing the chances that the ground will blow.

(Pulling the fallow master.
Sorry the photo is a little blurry.
It was bouncy in the passenger seat of the tractor!)

Who'd think we would welcome the sight of weeds in the field? Well, we didn't really welcome weeds. But having that little "rough around the edges" look gave us a little hope that something besides weeds might grow too.

I, for one, prefer the well-groomed look.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

By Leaps and Bounds

Either the tub is shrinking or Millie is growing.

The pile of laundry wasn't the only thing that grew while we were on vacation.

Millie seemed to have morphed from babyhood to adolescence. Well, she still acts like a puppy. That's a cross that Ralph just has to bear.

But I'm no longer worried that her little legs won't make it back to the house during our morning walks.

Here she was on June 16, her little legs pumping to keep up with Ralph.

Two months later, on August 15, she's the one keeping both Ralph and me on our toes.

It's amazing how quickly little ones grow. Our great-nephew Braden celebrated his 1st birthday last weekend.

We'll celebrate with them before the first K-State football game. (The brainwashing begins early in our family.)

And this little Miss came to visit her great-grandparents last week, so the rest of us horned in on the baby holding time. And, of course, we were also glad to see her Mommy and Daddy (because how would she have gotten there otherwise)?

Here she is modeling the latest in summer fashions for 4-month-olds while showing off the name blanket her Grandma Lisa made her.

My little Ladd or little Lady Ladd coming in January will have to do without a carefully-pieced and quilted name blanket (unless I can find someone to do it for me).

But don't think the baby will be ignored. I told Jill it was probably a good thing I didn't know whether we are adding a girl or boy to the family come January. At every gift store, I seemed to gravitate toward the baby section. My pocketbook just might have been a little lighter had I known whether to buy ruffles or camouflage at Yellowstone.

Hmmm ... I wonder if that's the reason the secret will soon be revealed. With both first-time Grandmas hanging out in the miniature clothing aisle, that appears to be a smart move, Jill and Eric.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Italian Pizza Bake

This Italian Pizza Bake is ready in no time ... with no freezer burn in sight. It may not be quite as quick as pulling a pizza from the freezer case or as easy as calling for pizza delivery (if that were even an option around here!). But it is a great choice for supper - whether you're sitting around the kitchen table or serving it up on paper plates.

The guys were finally were able to work wheat stubble ground after it rained a couple of inches in early August. So it was Meals on Wheels time at the County Line kitchen. The guys are fans of Taco Pizza, which uses a crescent roll dough for the crust.

But I saw a version of this recipe on the biscuit mix box and decided it was time for something new. The original recipe was made in a loaf pan, and I knew it wouldn't make enough for both guys. So I looked at my Bisquick cookbook and came up with a dough to fit my pizza pan, then multiplied the topping ingredients.

The end result was a success. Even my farmer, who prefers beef over chicken any day, gave me a thumbs up. It's going in the "keep" pile.

Italian Pizza Bake
2 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 cup diced green or yellow bell pepper (I used yellow)
1/2 cup chopped onion (I used green onion, both bottoms and tops)
1 cup canned diced tomatoes with Italian herbs
1 1/2 cups cut-up cooked chicken breast (I had grilled extra at the noon meal for this purpose)
1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (Original recipe called for mozzarella. I used a fiesta blend)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray pizza pan with cooking spray. Stir together Bisquick, water and garlic powder until a ball forms. Using a little extra Bisquick, knead the dough about 10 times on the counter, adding a little Bisquick if it's too sticky. Using floured or Bisquick-coated fingers, spread dough in pizza pan.

Cook peppers and onion in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until tender (I had to add a little water so it wouldn't burn before the veggies were softened. It cooked off.) Stir in chicken, tomatoes and seasoning; heat until hot and liquid reduces some. Spoon over dough in pan. Sprinkle with cheese.

Bake 12-15 minutes (depending on your oven) or until golden brown and cheese is melted. Cut into 8 pieces and serve.

If you prefer, you can use a use a yeast dough pizza crust. Click here for a recipe. Or, if you're short on time, you could purchase a refrigerated pizza crust from the grocery store.

A few photos of the process:

Pat the biscuit dough crust onto a pizza pan.

Cook the yellow bell pepper and green onion (with tops) in a nonstick skillet. I added a little water so they didn't burn before they got tender. No oil necessary!

Here's the mixture after I added the tomatoes, chicken and seasoning.

After the liquid reduces, spread it on the pizza crust.

Top with shredded cheese. (Measure if you must: I usually just put it on until it looks "right.")

Serve it up. (I put a piece on a plate for the photo. In reality, I put pieces on paper plates and took them to the field for the guys, along with grapes and homemade cookies.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Mountain or a Mole Hill?

Maybe if I'd taken off my glasses, I could have pretended I was still in the mountains.

After all there was a mountain - of sorts - at the corner south of our house and matching "foothills" catty-cornered across the section.

There were a few obstacles to this fantasy:
  • I certainly didn't need a long-sleeved shirt on my morning trek.
  • The "mountain" was surrounded by wheat stubble and not green valleys.
  • The mountains mysteriously disappeared in a single afternoon.
It wasn't so mysterious. My short-lived fantasy was crushed as finely as the limestone the co-op spread on our farm fields. My homespun mountains were there only until the co-op had time to apply agricultural lime to the last field that needed it.

Much as I miss the cool of the mountains - both literally and figuratively - I am never sorry to come back home.

We may not have the mountains, but you can't beat the sunrise on the County Line.

Home sweet home!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Small Stuff

When you're a girl from the flat lands of Kansas, it's easy to get distracted by the majesty of the mountains. Practically as soon as the "Leaving Kansas" sign disappeared from our rear view mirror, I peered toward the horizon, squinting my eyes to see if I could glimpse the mountains in the distance.

It's not that I wanted to leave Kansas forever, but the sign did just welcome me to Colorful Colorado, after all. For this Sunflower Girl, the mountains are a novelty, a different kind of beauty than the sunsets that stretch for eternity and beyond outside my front door. Kansas is equally beautiful: It's just a different kind of beautiful.

It's hard to miss the beauty in the "big" things ... the mountains, the sunrises, the birthdays, the weddings, the anniversaries, the reunions, and all the firsts and the lasts.

But sometimes, in our haste to look forward to the next "big thing," we miss the myriad of small things that make up all those big moments.

I had already been thinking about this when I happened across a beautiful blog about this very thing. Emily at Chatting at the Sky, who was saying goodbye to her father-in-law, said it so eloquently.

With the magnificence of the towering mountains, it might have been easy to miss the yellow blanket of wildflowers stretching across a mountain meadow.

I might have walked right past purple flowers whose heads bowed under the weight of morning dew.

I might not have crossed the road to see the spikes of red hiding in a sea of green.

I may have seen only the rushing water of a river instead of pondering the petals of flowers nourished by the underflow.

I might have walked past a the fence row of wildflowers in my haste to begin a walk on a 2-mile trail.

I could have ignored the little flowers as I looked at the clouds teetering on the mountaintops in the distance.

And isn't that what we are prone to do in our everyday lives? We are so busy. We are so hurried. We are so frazzled. We are so consumed with checking things off the to-do list that we fail to appreciate the little blessings that God sends our way each and every day.

So, today, I will cherish the small things ... the tomato fresh from the vine, a favorite song on the radio, a phone call, the touch of a hand, the compliment I don't think I deserve, the email from a friend, the smell of freshly-turned earth on an early morning walk, a cool house on a hot day ... Small blessings abound, if we just pause to look for them. And after all, the bigger picture is composed of nothing more than the small stuff.


A clarification: The photos were taken in Grand Teton National Park, not Colorado. But I'm glad the photos of the wildflowers reminded some of my Facebook friends of their Colorado landscapes, too. During our 3,255 miles, we saw and experienced the mountains of Colorado (from a distance), Wyoming, Utah and Idaho. Beautiful!

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Snowy August Afternoon

The thermometer on the top of Rendezvous Mountain said 57 degrees. But factor in the psychological impact of seeing snow on an August day and being close enough to touch it, and it felt even more like long-sleeve weather.

(Don't you love the hair? It was windy on top of that mountain!)

We ended our day at the Grand Tetons by visiting Jackson Hole. During the summer, the ski resort offers rides on "Big Red," an aerial tram.

Rising 4,139 vertical feet from its dock in Teton Village to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, "Big Red" can transport up to 100 passengers and offers 360-degree views of the Snake River Valley and Grand Teton National Park.

We could see Jackson, Wyo., nestled in the valley from our perch at what seemed like the top of the world.

Speaking of which, we had Top of the World Waffles at Corbet's Cabin on top of the mountain. We chose the brown sugar and butter filling. (Our other options were Nutella or strawberry jam. We went the Paula Deen route. It was real butter ... yummy!)

No forks were required: You were supposed to eat them like a sandwich. In our defense, this was a late lunch and we shared.

The Old West logo provided a unique perspective on the Grand Tetons.

It wasn't an inexpensive 9-minute ride. But snow on an August afternoon? That was priceless.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How Beautiful Upon the Mountains

No matter how sophisticated you may be,
a large granite mountain cannot be denied.
It speaks in silence to the very core of your being.

- Photographer Ansel Adams

As we drove through the Grand Tetons National Park, a Bible verse kept floating in and out of my head:

1 I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121: 1-2

How could anyone deny the Creator in this magnificent place?

I think I loved the Grand Tetons even more than Yellowstone ... and that's saying something. It certainly didn't hurt that a sweatshirt felt good on an early summer morning, especially after leaving 100-degree-plus weather behind in Kansas. (Of course, it didn't take long for the sweatshirt to be thrown into the backseat, but it was good while it lasted.)

Maybe I loved it because we experienced the Tetons at a more leisurely pace, including walking a trail between Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake.

Maybe it was the fog that played hide-and-seek with the mountaintops on a beautiful August morning, creating a study of light and shadows.

Maybe it was the break in the trees that revealed a mountain peak reflected in the waters of Jenny Lake.

The walk was a study in contrasts. Along the smooth-as-glass surface of Leigh Lake, we found an overturned National Park Service canoe perched at the edge.

Birdsong was the only accompaniment to our footsteps until we reached the banks of the Snake River, where water fell over the rocks with a different kind of music.

How could you leave this spot feeling anything but thankful?

A Panoramic View of the Grand Tetons

Within this space, the Creator
must have intended
to bring man in humility to his knees.

-- Margaret E. Murrie, Grand Teton Official National Park Handbook, 1984