Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It's Clouds' Illusions, I Recall

The clouds haven't brought much rain this summer. But they have brought back some memories. Brent was my cloud watcher. From the backseat, he was always discovering some shape in the marshmallow fluff of clouds floating by.

Back when the kids were little, I "retired" from working full-time as a writer-editor at The Hutchinson News, but I wrote a column for them, At Home with Kim, for several years. Here an excerpt of what I wrote when Brent was in kindergarten: 
It was one of those days when it looks like the angels are using the clouds for tumbling mats. Brent and I were driving home, and he started cloud-watching.

"Oh, look, Mommy! That one looks like a dinosaur. And that one looks like a puppy."

We found an eagle and a dragon and a cat among the whipped-cream clouds. I was thinking that even though our world changes, some things - like cloud watching - have been children's pastimes for years and years.

And then he said, "Oh, there a roller blade."

As a child, I saw dragons and rabbits, but not a single roller blade was suspended in my cotton-candy skies. 

Change is part of us - even daydreaming cloud watchers confirm that.
"Why can't I see the roller blade anymore? Where did the dinosaur go?" Brent asked as we sped down Highway 50. "Why don't the clouds follow us?"

It's moment like those when I remember an encyclopedia salesman's spiel at the Kansas State Fair when Jill was about 2.

"How will you know how to tell your children why the sky is blue if you don't buy this complete set of encyclopedias?"

After some convoluted explanation about how were were traveling down the highway at a different speed than the clouds were moving, Brent quit worrying about the things he'd lost and began finding other treasures in the sky. Kids change as fast as the clouds.
The same column mentioned the Mother's Day Tea in the kindergarten classroom, so here was my cloud watcher in action at that big event.He was one of the "violets" whose job it was to pass out mints.
Last week, I was the one doing the cloud watching as I delivered Randy from one field to the next. I was the one finding treasures in the clouds, mostly in the form of memories. (And, by the way, how smart do I look that I didn't buy that set of encyclopedias? Who could have predicted I could use a computer, type in "Why is the sky blue?" and have hundreds of explanations at my fingertips? Pretty amazing, isn't it?)

If I momentarily forget how quickly life - and kids - change, I get a Facebook reminder that a certain girl was 7 months old yesterday.

Time shifts as quickly as floating clouds, doesn't it?
I can't look at clouds without thinking about a song my sisters and I sang for a long-ago 4-H Club Day, "Both Sides Now."  Now you, too, can get it stuck in your head, if you choose.

It's OK to have your head in the clouds, I think. Imagination and memories: They are good things.

Monday, July 30, 2012

New Every Morning

July 16, 2012
I started the coffee and glimpsed the sky through the northeast window. We are cocooned among trees at our house, so I can't see a panoramic view from my kitchen window - or any other window in the house. But the paintbrush colors streaking above the treetops were enough to entice me away from the welcoming smell of freshly-brewed coffee. I grabbed my camera and jumped in the car to watch another morning officially arrive. 

The old cottonwood tree at the corner south drew my attention. Its boughs watch yet another sunrise. How long has it stood like a sentinel as night again turns to day? It likely came with the homesteaders who brought trees to the area. Maybe it started as a sapling and now stands sturdy and strong. It has been battered by life - by storms, by drought, by wind, by insects. Yet it stands.

Today, the sunrise is obscured with clouds, though it doesn't seem to offer promise of much-needed rain. Each day is different. Each sunrise, each morning, has a fingerpint all its own.

Perspective is a fluid thing, isn't it? Today, there is light, but not the kaleidoscope of color.  Even a drama-filled sky is different, depending upon which direction you look. Look to the east, and there is bold color - hues covering the gamut of a new 64-Crayon box of color. 

But look to the north, and the scene shifts as the sun's rays turn the clouds to a pastel palette.
Turning to the west, it looks different still. And isn't there a lesson there? Our perspective may change when we look at a problem or a situation in a new way, with new direction. That's my prayer today - for you and for me.
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him. 
Lamentations 3: 22-25, NIV

Today, I am linked to Michelle's Graceful: Faith in the Everyday's Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday. Head on over and check out what other bloggers are talking about today!


Friday, July 27, 2012

Butterfinger Blondies

Just in case having a blondie bar isn't decadent enough for you, how about inviting candy bars to the party? What? Not enough? Then how about topping the chockful-of-flavor bars with even more sugar via more candy bars in buttercream frosting? These bars aren't for the faint of heart - or for anyone on a diet.

But they are really good. Really good. I saw the recipe nearly a year ago. I unearthed it from my massive "To Try Sometime" pile, and finally remembered to pick up fun-sized Butterfinger candy bars. I took some of these bars, along with BBQ Meatballs, to a dear church family who lost their patriarch last week. I hear they got thumbs-up from the great-grandkids. Jill also approved. That's not something to take lightly. She definitely tells me if she thinks something I try is not "blog worthy." 

I will be making these again - with or without frosting. (I have a genetic predisposition for frosting though.) I won't be making them unless I have somewhere to take them, though. They are way too tempting. Enjoy!
Butterfinger Blondies
Recipe from Cookies and Cups blog 
1 cup butter 
1 cup light brown sugar 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
2 tsp vanilla 
2 eggs 
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
1 tsp baking soda 
1 tsp salt 
2 cups coarsely chopped Butterfinger Bars (approx. 16 “Fun Size” bars)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugars in mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and eggs, and mix until incorporated. On low, add dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in chopped Butterfingers. 

Spread in a prepared 9- by 13-inch baking dish and bake for 25 minutes until center is JUST set. Remove from oven and cool completely. Top with Butterfinger Buttercream, if desired.

Note: I've seen bags of Butterfinger Bites advertised recently (kind of like mini Rolos and Reece's Peanut Butter Cups in bags.) That would save the unwrapping the candy bars step. 

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)
Cooking time: 25 minute(s)

Butterfinger Buttercream
1/2 cup butter (at room temperature) 
1/2 cup vegetable shortening 
2 1/2 – 3 cups powdered sugar 
1/2 cup chopped Butterfinger Bars (approximately 4 “Fun Size” bars)

Cream the butter and shortening together until smooth. Add powdered sugar on low speed. Turn speed up to medium and mix until smooth. Stir in chopped Butterfingers. Spread on cooled blondies
Preparation time: 5 minutes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Birds of a Feather

Fancy water parks attract lots of visitors as the thermometer tops 100-plus for yet another summer day. We may not have a wave pool or slipper slide, but our backyard water hose attracted a visitor last weekend.

It's so hot and dry that the hawk continued his backyard bath with only a glance over his shoulder as I came out the door to take his photo. I might not be threatening, but the screech and dive-bombing of sparrows had him retreat to the electric line.

It didn't make much sense to me that the big old hawk was scared of some tiny little sparrows. Randy says they were probably protecting their nests and thought the hawk was a threat. So they teamed up to harass the interloper.
But even annoying sparrows couldn't keep him from returning for more enjoyment at the County Line Water Park.
Our yard has been a thoroughfare for a family of turkeys, too. They, however, didn't want to pause for a photo op and scurried away as I returned from a morning walk.
I like the backyard visitors and all. But they can't beat these two for guests at the County Line.
Jill and Kinley - July 22, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Lurch

lurch1 (The dictionary definition)
vb (intr)
1. to lean or pitch suddenly to one side
2. to stagger or sway
the act or an instance of lurching
[origin unknown]
lurching  adj

lurch (The County Line Definition)
1. n
Kinley's crawl

When Jill and Kinley visited last weekend, we were anxious to see her new trick - crawling. She's only 6 1/2 months old, but she is already on the move. Her day care center calls her a "go-getter."
When we saw her moves, we decided it was more "lurch" than "crawl." She gets up on her tippy toes and hands likes she's doing a pushup, then she lurches forward. 
This unconventional approach to crawling does not slow her down in the slightest. She chased a measuring cup all over the kitchen floor when I was cleaning up lunch dishes.

Nothing is safe, especially TV remotes, full glasses of water on the floor, cell phones or magazines. Forbidden items make little girls move even more quickly as her Mommy and Daddy are discovering.
Even though it's only been two days since we last saw her, Jill says her lurch has turned into a more fluid crawl. I'm glad we got to see the lurch. It provided lots of comic relief for her many visitors this past weekend, who literally laughed out loud to watch her get where she wanted to go.

Kinley was all seriousness about the crawling. Her comic relief came in the age-old game of peekaboo.
Who says folding laundry is boring? You just need a short helper.
Note the "I'll just ask Grandma" shirt. Her Grandma Christy gave it to her. I think she has lots of options in that area with two grandmas and three great-grandmas. Lucky girl! Lucky us!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Grandma Rules

When my kids were little, we had a rule. Actually, we had lots of rules. But the one to which I refer today is:

There are to be no animals in the house.

Yes, it was a hard and fast rule. Animals in the yard were encouraged. Animals in the corral were part of the paycheck.

But no animals in the house.

I must admit that the rules have relaxed over the years. Randy sometimes brings a cat or kittens into the house. But they are to remain on his lap. If they escape the confines of said lap, outside they go.
This photo of Randy and Big Cat is from the wintertime. He doesn't have to be garbed in a blanket to have a cat in the house. Even I'm not that mean!
When Kinley was here this weekend, Grandpa brought in three baby kitties.
He put them right on the carpet. And I didn't say a thing. What is wrong with me? It must be Grandma Rules.

Well, for sure, it's Grandpa Rules.

Kinley worked a little magic with her Mommy, too. Jill isn't much of an animal person, but she was right down there with Kinley and the kitties. (It may have been to make sure that Kinley kept the kitty out of her mouth and to wipe her hands after playtime was over. It may even have been to protect the kitty. But still ...)

Sunday morning before church, Grandpa and Kinley were out on the back steps, visiting another kitty. It was a perfect start to the day in Randy's eyes - Kinley and kitties!

A note:  I know lots of people feel differently about animals in the house. I was raised with outdoor animals.  I felt strongly enough about this issue that Randy and I discussed it before marriage, and I told him it was a deal breaker. Since I'm the primary cleaning person around here, I figured I got more votes on this issue. What you do in your house is your business, and I know lots of people adore their house pets.

And, apparently, this Grandma is getting lax in her old age.

Monday, July 23, 2012

All's Fair at the Fair

All's Fair at the Fair
By Kinley Marie

I have heard of a "fair" before. I've read about it in a book.

I convince lots of people to read me stories. One of my favorites is But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton.
Great-Grandma Moore and me reading on Saturday.
It has a page that says:

A bear and a hare have been to a fair.
But not the hippopotamus.
Well, I didn’t want to be like the hippopotamus. So I went to a fair this weekend. It was called the Stafford County Fair.

Grandpa and me at the fair.
When we got there, we went to the 4-H beef show. I saw lots of my Mommy's old 4-H friends.

Well, it's probably not polite to call them old. They were friends my Mommy had when she was in 4-H. 

That's my Mom, 3rd from the right, with Sheila, Taci and Mr. Kevin Alpers at the 2003 fair.
I met Sheila and her mom. And I talked to Taci's mom and a bunch of other people, too. I was popular among all my Mommy's friends. My Grandma and Grandpa's friends seemed to like me, too. Who knew?

Besides the book about a fair, I've also read quite extensively about animals. I've heard all about pigs, but I'd never seen one in person. They were OK when they were just visiting among themselves.

But when one came and snorted right at me, I did not like that. Not one little BIT!

My Grandpa could NOT get me away from that pig soon enough.

After that episode, I didn't much like the goats or sheep either. Thankfully, they kept their distance. And so did I.
Even though I knew there was a chance I'd see pigs again, I had to come back the next day. Mommy and the grandparents wouldn't leave me home alone. So we went to the 4-H Premium Auction. I did see some pigs again. But they were much further away behind a bigger fence. Whew!

There was another interesting attraction, too. There was a guy there who talked really fast. I just had to give him a serious look.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone talk so fast. Now Grandpa sometimes talks loud. But this guy? He was talking fast AND loud.

He seemed to be saying something about money. And I finally figured out the kids were selling their animals.

After my experience in the hog barn, I could definitely understand that.

And, just for the record, the bear and the hare in the book came home from the fair with a balloon and ice cream.  I can see their loot right in my book.

I didn't get a balloon. I didn't get ice cream.

 I just got hot.

The End for now.

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's No Mystery

Encyclopedia and I go way back. I often drifted toward the "S"s in the children's department of the Pratt Public Library, looking to see if there was a new installment of Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol to add to my considerable stack of books.

Amateur sleuth Encyclopedia Brown and his friends solved mysteries. They were written in short-story form, giving the reader lots of clues to try to deduce the situation, right along with Encyclopedia and his friends. And, if you were clever enough, you just might figure out the ending before having to turn to the back of the book to find the solution.

Donald J. Sobol died last week at the age of 87.  Starting out his professional career writing for the New York Sun, Sobol eventually worked his way up to reporter, and then worked at the New York Daily News for two years.

Though Sobol began writing mysteries in the 1950s, the first Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective book wasn’t published until 1963, after it was repeatedly turned down by publishers. Once published, however, the book became so popular Sobol soon followed with more stories about 10-year-old Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown and his sidekick Sally Kimball. The stories were translated into 12 different languages.
"Thanks to Donald, generations of children have learned to read and solve mysteries alongside Encyclopedia Brown, one of the most iconic characters in children's literature."
 Don Weisberg, president of Penguin Young Readers Group
I'm still a fan of mystery and thriller books. And I wonder how much of the love of that genre is related to my early days, curled up with yet another Encyclopedia Brown mystery.
Me in 4th grade, the height of my Encyclopedia Brown days
I looked up Encyclopedia Brown on Amazon and found more than 1,000 entries. Some of the latest were $5.99 books for the Kindle. Encyclopedia looks a little different than he did back in the 1960s, doesn't he?

But he still seems to be popular, as 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the “Encyclopedia Brown” series, and a new book, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme, will be published in October.

Sobol wrote more than 80 books, including 28 in the Encyclopedia Brown series, writing daily until a month before he died. And that is inspiring, too.

Rest in Peace, Donald J. Sobol. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Farmers' Market Salad

Colorful and tasty: That's what's for dinner. With both zucchini and tomatoes available from our garden and beef stocked in the freezer, it was a perfect summertime meal. 

And, even if you don't have the fresh produce available out your back door, many towns now have farmers' markets available once or twice a week. Even our small town has one! 

I've enjoyed searching the Beef: It's What's for Dinner website, especially recipes from The Healthy Beef Cookbook. Dieters may not think about beef as part of a plan for smart eating. However, the Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet (BOLD) study, conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University, found consuming lean beef daily as part of a heart-healthy diet lowered LDL “bad” cholesterol by 10 percent, which was just as effective as the DASH diet. That's good news for Kansas cattle producers like us.

This research provides support that nutrient-rich lean beef can be an everyday part of a heart-healthy diet:
  • On average, a 3-oz. serving of lean beef is about 150 calories.
  • Beef is an excellent source of nutrients, including protein, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and niacin.
  • Many of the most popular beef cuts sold at retail are lean, including T-Bone, Tenderloin, Top Sirloin and more. 
This salad will definitely be on our dinner table again!
My dietitian daughter would tell me to remind you that this is not a full-sized dinner plate, though it may appear so. I've used a smaller plate for portion control.
Farmers' Market
Vegetable, Beef & Brown Rice Salad
Adapted from   
The Healthy Beef Cookbook 
published by John Wiley & Sons
Marinade time: 6 hours or overnight
Total recipe time: 50 minutes
Makes 4 servings

1 beef top round steak, cut 3/4 inch thick (about 1 pound)
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups asparagus pieces (2-inch pieces)
1 small yellow squash,diced
1 small zucchini, diced
3 cups hot cooked brown rice
1 cup diced, seeded tomatoes
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed, drained
1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper 

Combine marinade ingredients in small bowl. Place beef steak and 1/4 cup marinade in food-safe plastic bag; turn steak to coat. Close bag securely and marinate in refrigerator 6 hours or as long as overnight. Reserve remaining marinade in refrigerator for dressing.

Remove steak from marinade; discard marinade. To grill, place steak on grid over medium, ash-covered coals or cook on medium heat on preheated gas grill. Grill, uncovered, 10 to 11 minutes until it is medium rare (145 degrees F) doneness, turning occasionally.

For salad: Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add asparagus and squash; cook and stir 7 to 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Toss with rice, tomatoes, beans, basil, salt and reserved marinade in large bowl.

Carve steak into thin slices. Serve over rice salad. 

Notes: I used sirloin steak instead of top round. I also used dried thyme, since I didn't have fresh available. I used about 1/2 teaspoon, but you could add more to taste. The original recipe just called for a medium-sized yellow squash. However, since I had zucchini available, I used some of both.  The original recipe gave a broiler pan alternative for cooking:  Place steak on rack in broiler pan so surface of beef is 2 to 3 inches from heat. Broil 12 to 13 minutes for medium rare (145°F) doneness, turning once. Remove; keep warm. 

Nutrition information per serving: 514 calories; 15 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 8 g monounsaturated fat); 61 mg cholesterol; 593 mg sodium; 6 g carbohydrate; 7.3 g fiber; 36 g protein; 8.6 mg niacin; 1.1 mg vitamin B6; 1.5 mcg vitamin B12; 5.9 mg iron; 50.8 mcg selenium; 7 mg zinc.

This recipe is an excellent source of fiber, protein, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron, selenium and zinc.

It's not too late to take the My Plate, My Way quiz and get personalized recipes for you and yours family.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

4-H: The Legacy Lives On

Jill's very first year of 4-H foods judging

She looks scared to death to talk to the judge. The innate talker finally won out in subsequent 4-H years! I also remember that cake. It was entered in a microwave division. It wasn't that good, but we didn't know much at the time. There's no microwave class at the 2012 Stafford County Fair. That's a good thing!
Today is the first day of the Stafford County Fair. Even though I haven't had 4-Hers at my house for the past six years, I'm still superintendent for 4-H Foods and Nutrition. Yesterday, I spent part of the day setting up for the judging and calling workers.

This is the second year we're doing the judging in a nearby church basement, which certainly helps combat the 100-degree heat on the fairgrounds (until I need to set up the displays and get everything organized there). I'm thinking I should have written more notes to jog my memory, but Randy says it will come back to me.

Yeah. Either that or I'll wing it.

Randy will help weigh in pigs and then will help during the swine judging on Thursday morning. So, even though this is the sixth year we are "4-Her-less," we still find small ways to help out. (True confessions: We are definitely not as involved as we once were. We retired after a dozen years as community leaders when Brent graduated. And I gave up the local foods leader job this year after beginning when Jill was a young 4-Her.)

Still, why do we (and a bunch of other 4-Her-less people) continue to show up to work? It's because of what 4-H did for me and my family.

A 4-H talk circa 1973 or so
Both Randy and I are 4-H veterans, he in Stafford County and me in Pratt County. (I'm sad that the two fairs are the same week this summer, so I won't make it to my home fair this year.)

Jill and Brent both joined 4-H as soon as they were old enough. I look at that photo of Jill with her first-year cake, and I think about how much she (and I) grew and learned. She went from that uneasy first-year 4-Her to a confident leader.

She chose her profession - a registered dietitian - at least in part because of 4-H foods and nutrition.

Randy continues to advise people on their bucket calf and beef projects (when asked) for much the same reason. Our kids learned so much through that project. And their livestock premium auctions proceeds also helped them pay some of their college expenses.

They both learned that it takes perseverance. You sometimes have to dig in your heels to get things accomplished. There's no better lesson on that than trying to break a bucket calf to lead.
There's an article in this week's High Plains Journal that says:
Young people in 4-H are three times more likely to contribute to their communities than youth not participating in 4-H.
4-Hers all across the nation are empowered to take on the leading issues of their towns, counties and states and make a lasting difference. ... 4-H youth get the hands-on, real-world experience they need to become leaders and to make positive differences in their communities.
"The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development"
 from Tufts University 

I, too, have case study after case study to back it up. My research isn't done in the hallowed halls of a university like Tufts. It's more in the sweat produced by working side-by-side with 4-Hers, parents and other volunteers on a 100-degree day in July.
Brent's final year of 4-H - 2006
I'll have even more real-life examples when the last of the exhibits comes down Saturday evening. Good luck 4-Hers, parents and volunteers!