Thursday, August 29, 2013


A faithful sentinel welcomes me home.
Summer ... 
Winter ...
Spring ...
... the old cottonwood opens its arms in greeting.

As pioneers came to the area in covered wagons, they homesteaded on the wide open prairies, taking advantage of the provisions set forth in the Homestead Act of 1862. Settlers also could obtain a quarter section of ground for a timber claim. Through the Timber Culture Act of 1873, a settler could pay a $14 filing fee and plant trees on 10 acres of a quarter section. After the family cared for the trees for eight years, the land became theirs. Many of the pioneers came from the eastern United States, so they were used to more plentiful trees. They hoed them and watered them. As their own children grew, their trees did, too.

Did those settlers imagine that one day the trees would provide a landmark and shade for generations to come? I don't know when the cottonwood just south of our drive was planted or whether it was part of a timber claim. If only the markings on felled trees could tell me their story like hieroglyphics on cave walls. 
It's sad to see some of these majestic old trees breath their last and topple into ditches or among their peers in windbreaks.
If only they could tell their tales. They have been the silent sentinels as the world has changed. The horse and plow gave way to the first tractors and now to machines guided by GPS.
They have been the witnesses as a father passed the mantle of leadership on the family farm to his son, generation after generation.
Two summers of prolonged drought ravaged some of these faithful witnesses to history. Underneath the bark, insects have burrowed and left their homemade hieroglyphics. As I've driven by shelterbelts the past two summers, the dead and dying trees seem more noticeable. Were the rains that fell in July and August enough to save them? Or, like people, are these trees just at the end of their long and productive lifespans?
May "snow"storm
The tree at the end of the driveway is like an old friend -
as the fluff of its white "cotton" drifts along the ditches in the spring ...
as it stands strong when the January wind rattles the ice-covered branches ...
as sunlight kisses the fall leaves with gold ...
and as birds make their nests among the bright green leaves and their song joins the music of the south wind ...

Thanks, old friend.

Advice from a tree: Stand tall. Go out on a limb.      Remember your roots. Drink plenty of water. 
Enjoy the view. 
Bear Grylls
The cottonwood on my parents' farm
For more about a special cottonwood tree on my own family farm in Pratt County, click on this link.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Did You Hear The One About ...?

Looking for a tasty wrap recipe to serve with your zucchini? Try Sweet Potato & Beef Mash-Up Wraps.
Poor zucchini! It always seems to be the punch line of every garden joke.
Did you hear about The Best Zucchini Recipe? You'll need:
  • 1 bushel zucchini
  • 1 raincoat
  • 1 pair of sunglasses
  • A moderately fast car
Directions:  Go to a busy parking lot. Drive around until you find an unlocked car. Put the zucchini in the back seat and drive away fast before you are discovered!
Our zucchini plants are prolifically producing during these hot, dog days of August. Our tomato plants seem to have taken a late summer vacation, much to my disappointment. But I'm back to trying to figure out new ways to use zucchini morning, noon and night.

I saw the recipe for these Zucchini Parmesan Crisps on Facebook. Both Randy & I really liked this tasty sidedish of zucchini jazzed up with Parmesan cheese and panko bread crumbs. And it didn't take long to prepare. Since I used foil on my baking sheets, clean-up was a breeze, too.

If you're looking for a tasty way to use up the zucchini in your garden ... or you didn't run away fast enough when an enthusiastic gardener thrust some extra zucchini into your hands - I'd recommend Zucchini Parmesan Crisps.

And that's no joke.

Q: What kind of vegetable likes to look at animals?
A: A zoo - chini!
Q: What is a zucchini’s favorite game?
A: Squash!

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps
1 lb. zucchini (about 2 medium sized)
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil and spray lightly with vegetable spray.

Slice zucchini into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Toss rounds with oil, coating well.

In a wide bowl or plate, combine panko bread crumbs, Parmesan, salt and pepper, mixing well.

Place rounds in parmesan-panko mixture, coating both sides of each round, pressing to adhere. The mixture will not completely cover each round, but provides a light coating on each side. Place rounds in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle any remaining bread crumb mixture over the rounds. (I didn't have extra.)

Bake for about 22 to 27 minutes until golden brown. There's no need to flip them during baking. They crisp up on both sides as is. (FYI: This is not a "potato chip-like" crisp. They are just nicely browned.)

Serving size:  1/2 cup. Calories:  About 105. Serves about 4.

I'm linked today to Wake Up Wednesdays, now sponsored by four food bloggers for even more ideas to that "what's for dinner" question.
And a reminder:  Are you signed up for the chance to win a $50 gift card from the Kansas Beef Council? You have until midnight tonight. Go to my Sweet Potato and Beef Mash-Up post last week and leave a comment about your favorite meal featuring beef. I'll throw your name in the hat for a chance to win. Good luck!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Family Field Album

August 15, 2013

Corn husks whisper a scratchy-throated "hello" as I walk past. The south wind has blown the uncharacteristically rainy days of July and early August into just a pleasant memory. With it, the corn is starting to dry down.
August 26, 2013
Ten days' time and hot, southerly winds have turned the greener leaves of mid-August to brittle and brown as the thermometer teases the 100-degree mark again this week.

The difference is even more apparent when comparing late August's field photos ...
... to early July.
July 5, 2013
The evolution of a crop is even more striking when looking in the "family field album" at the May "newborn" photos.
May 23, 2013
Gone are the days of grabbing a few ears of field corn for a side dish. The kernels are now drying down, too.
August 15, 2013
August 15, 2013
Looking at the interior of the cob shows more changes. A horizontal line has started to appear near the dent end of the kernel and is slowly progressing to the tip end of the kernel. This line is called the "milk line" and marks the boundary between the liquid (milky) and solid (starchy) areas of the maturing kernels.
August 26, 2013
How long will it be until harvest? We're too new to this corn adventure to know for sure. While others are adding to their family photo albums with first day of school shots, I'm taking snapshots of a corn crop from "newborn" to "college." Such is the life of an empty nester, I guess. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Pay It Forward

Every time the violets bloom, I think of Grandma.
Lela and Shelby Neelly
Grandma Neelly had several African violets. A pink one sat in her kitchen window, and that's where my plant is, too. More were perched on top of an old radio in the dining room. 
However, these violets aren't from my Grandma's house. They were from a plant gifted to me in May 2007 by Arnita Schultz, a Trousdale farm wife.

In 2007, the 90-year-old Trousdale United Methodist Church was destroyed by a tornado. It was part of the same line of storms that demolished Greensburg and then tracked toward the northeast in a path of destruction that ultimately affected five different counties in Kansas.

Trousdale is in Edwards County, the county just to the west of Stafford County.  On a Sunday shortly after the tornado, Trousdale UMC church members gathered at the home of Ron & Arnita Schultz for worship. As a neighborly gesture from the Stafford UMC to our brothers and sisters in Trousdale, Randy & I took brunch to share at the Schultzes.

We were there to bring the gift of friendship. But I was the one who left with it.

As we gathered the coffee cake pans, covered the meat and cheese tray and put the lid back on the fruit bowl, Arnita asked if I'd like to take an African violet home with me. I am sure I told her that I didn't inherit a green thumb from either of my grandmothers. But that didn't deter Arnita. She had a whole table full of African violets.

They are part of her family history, too. The starts from her own collection belonged to her father, Alvin Otte. I recently asked her about them. She explains:
My Dad is the one who started these violets but, of course, Grandma (Zilpha Essmiller Otte) had them before him. When I was in middle school, Grandma was dying of cancer. As the oldest grandchild, I was selected to stay with Grandma while Grandpa was working on the farm. She taught me to be a nurse, as she was bedfast most of the time. AND she had a whole room of violets, too. I had to care for those and thought if I EVER saw another violet it would be one too many! 

Dad became interested after his retirement--at one time he had more than 600 along the walls in their basement. Before he died, he wanted me to take them. I still wasn't interested, but now I feel badly I didn't start my ONE table before he died. 
I was not the first nor will I be the last to receive an African violet from Arnita's collection. She says she's given away "dozens and dozens." Last year, she took 10 plants to their church bazaar and all were claimed by the end of the event. 
The last several years I've taken them to the Edwards County Fair. I just put them on the tables with a note to 'take and enjoy.' It's fun to watch who comes and takes. I'm always surprised at the young girls who carry them around.
The Trousdale parishioners built a new church, blooming where destruction had taken part of their history. Death takes away a part of us, too, but it can't take away the memories.
Thanks to Brenda Minnis for the angel hanging in my window!
So, when the African violets bloom, I think of my Grandma Neelly, for whom the life of the Byers United Methodist Church was central. At Grandma's house, we often pounded away on the manual typewriter in the spare bedroom. It was there she did correspondence for the many offices she held locally and for the district level for WSCS, the precursor to United Methodist Women.

Grandma was a master at the gift of hospitality and friendship.  For me, it's always a little bit of a miracle when the purple blooms again emerge from the velvety green leaves. Thanks, Arnita, for paying it forward (and to Randy, too, since he's the only reason the plant is still alive). There's love and caring in all of that. And I'm thankful.
I'm linked to Michelle's Hear It On Sunday, Use It on Monday and Jennifer's Tell His Story. Click on the links to read what other bloggers of faith have to say today.

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Dawn

Sunrise - August 20, 2013
I'm not seeing the sunrise on The County Line this morning. Instead, I'm seeing it in the big city. Well, it's the big city for me. Since yesterday afternoon, I've been in Salina for the Uniting Conference of the Great Plains Area of The United Methodist Church. During the three-day meeting, annual conference members from Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska will vote section-by-section on the proposed "Plan of Organization."

Each UMC church in Kansas and Nebraska can send a lay delegate. And I'm ours. I've read the 164-page plan, and I've been interested in the debate that inevitably happens when you bring 1,700-plus people together to try to agree on something. The Plan is a starting place for the new Great Plains Conference that will take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, leaving behind three separate conferences.

There will undoubtedly be more debate this morning and into the closing sessions tomorrow. But this afternoon, the delegates will spread out to Serve Salina, an initiative that will help individuals, families and agencies. Wearing our brand new T-shirts, we'll attempt to make the new vision statement more than just words ... through our hands, feet and actions. (For The Salina Journal's story about the volunteer event, click here.)
Opportunity always comes with the dawn - whether it's encapsulated in a sunrise or a new way of doing things. Transformation has been the unofficial "theme" on Kim's County Line this week. Why stop now?
"The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

More Transformations Than One of Those TLC Shows

You know those TLC or HGTV television shows when they show the before and after photos? On "Love and Or List It," an interior designer comes in and transforms someone's home from old and tired to snazzy and modern. (How do I sign up for that to happen to me? Not that I want to list my house, but I could sure use an interior designer to update some things around here.)

Or on "What Not To Wear," Stacy and Clinton toss the "subject's" old clothes and give them a thousand bucks to spend on new clothes. (I don't want to get rid of some of my favorite around-the-house clothes, so I think I'll leave the new duds to the television "victims," thank you very much.)

But transformations are interesting to watch. And we've had a front-row seat as summer's rains have transformed our drought-stricken countryside, including the Rattlesnake Creek pasture. (Click on the link to see the dramatic photos showing a dry creek in 2012 and beautiful, flowing water in 2013!)

Our neighbor, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, has had a similar "makeover." In April, Randy & I did a little sightseeing in our own backyard and visited Quivira one afternoon.

While we were there in April, I walked down to a burned tree stump in the marshlands in front of the observation tower and took this photo:
Last week, we went for a quick return visit. As you can see, the water level is now creeping toward that burned tree stump. I didn't get closer because I didn't want to get my feet wet and the mosquitoes were on full attack mode.
Here's the wider view of the same location. (The tree stump is just a spec just below center in the photo.) It's the only photo I took there because of said mosquitoes. I could tell you that the little specs flying around in the photo are mosquitoes. They felt as big as those birds, let me tell you.
Granted, the first photo was taken in April after a spring with a number of late freezes. Grasses were definitely behind the curve in greening up for spring. But it does show how much additional water is in the marshes after an unseasonably wet July and early August.

More water means more birds are stopping by the refuge.
 Some of our feathered friends were taking a dip in a flooded roadway.
It didn't exactly sound like the ocean, but there were crashing waves as water flowed through a spillway at the Little Salt Marsh.
Last summer, the marshlands near the roads were high and dry.
This is a photo comparison by staff at Quivira, posted to their Facebook page. The one on the left was the Big Salt Marsh on August 3, 2012. The one of the right is from August 6, 2013. We didn't drive up to the Big Salt Marsh, so I am using their comparison photos.
The transformation didn't happen in the space of an hour-long TV show. (Of course, neither do the actual transformations of homes or people's wardrobe). But it is a blessing to see the big changes in water levels ...
... and in the smallest blooms the plentiful rain has left behind. 
  1. A thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.
  2. A metamorphosis during the life cycle of an animal.
conversion - metamorphosis - change - alternation
Yep, I think that definition fits.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beef Up Lunch Plus A $50 Giveaway

I served Sweet Potato Beef Mash-Up Wraps with cherry tomatoes, grapes and baked zucchini crisps.

Move over, turkey! There's a new partner in town for your buddy, sweet potatoes. You may have a "beef" that you're getting booted aside, but taste buds don't lie, so mosey on down the road until November, won't you?

Hamburger and sweet potatoes are the new co-stars in Sweet Potato Beef Mash-Up Wraps, a recipe developed by the Beef Council to be used in school lunch programs to meet the revised USDA school lunch guidelines.

As a Kansas beef producer, I'm always glad to see beef included in school lunches. A 3-ounce serving of lean beef (about the size of an iphone) contains 150 calories, yet provides more than 10 percent of the Daily Value for 10 essential nutrients, including protein, which is important for kids (and adults) because:
  • It helps maintain a healthy weight;
  • It helps physical performance;
  • It supports growth, repair and maintenance of the body's tissues;
  • It supports the production of red blood cells;
  • It provides satiety (a feeling of fullness).
To help schools include high-quality protein, like beef, on the menu, a team of culinary experts developed five new beef recipes. (All five recipes can be found by clicking here.) Before final selection, the recipes were tested in schools across the U.S. to evaluate students' response, as well as ease of preparation and food sourcing for lunch personnel.

While it's not a combination that I would have dreamed up myself, the Sweet Potato Beef Mash-Up serves up a tasty and healthy meal with just enough Mexican spice to wake up your taste buds. And you can get dinner on the table in around 30 minutes - always a bonus in my book. 

There's still a little bit of time left for Kansas school food service directors to try one of the new ground beef school lunch recipes at home and then add it to their school lunch rotation for 2013-14. As an incentive, the Kansas Beef Council is offering to reimburse, up to $10 through September 1, school menu developers for ground beef purchases to try one of the new recipes.

But you don't have to be in food service for a chance to win a gift card! I was asked by the Kansas Beef Council to try one of the beef recipes and share it on Kim's County Line. The Beef Council has provided me with a $50 gift card to give away to one of you! To be eligible for the gift card, please leave a comment on the blog about your favorite meal featuring beef. If you have trouble leaving a comment, you may email me at The winner of the gift card will be chosen at random from all the comments received. The opportunity to win the $50 gift card will close at midnight on August 28, and the winner will be announced here.

Check out other beef recipes on Kansas Beef's Pinterest or like Kansas Beef Council on Facebook. Also, you can find recipes at Beef:  It's What's For Dinner.

I also received money to cover the cost of ingredients in making this recipe. However, the opinions are my own (and Randy's, of course)! I modified the recipe as indicated in the recipe notes. 

***UPDATE:  Ginger Sanders was the lucky winner of the $50 from the Kansas Beef Council. Randy drew her name from the bowl. (Really high-tech, right?!) Ginger shared that her hubby's favorite beef recipe is meatloaf. He likes it just as much the second day as meatloaf sandwiches. Thanks to all who participated by naming your favorite beef dish! UPDATE ***
Sweet Potato Beef Mash-Up
Makes 4 servings
Total Recipe Time:  30 to 35 minutes
1 lb. ground beef (93 percent lean or leaner)
1/2 cup water, divided
4 tsp. taco seasoning mix, divided
1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup Greek or regular nonfat yogurt
1/2 to 1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
Chopped fresh cilantro
Small whole wheat flour tortillas (6- to 7-inch diameter), warmed (opt.)

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add ground beef; cook 8 to 10 minutes, breaking into crumbles and stirring occasionally. Remove drippings. Stir in 1/4 cup water and 2 teaspoons taco seasoning; cook 3 minutes. Remove from skillet; keep warm.

Combine sweet potatoes, onion, remaining 1/4 cup water and 2 teaspoons taco seasoning in the same skillet. Bring water to a boil; reduce heat; cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring once. (Note:  When I checked this at 5 minutes, the potatoes were starting to stick, but weren't cooked. So I added another 1/4 cup water. That worked well.) After 10 minutes, remove lid; stir in oil. Continue cooking, uncovered, 4 to 6 minutes or until potatoes are tender and begin to brown, stirring frequently. Return beef mixture to skillet; continue to cook 2 to 4 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, combine yogurt and hot sauce, as desired, in small bowl. Note: I only used 1/2 teaspoon, but you can adjust it to taste.

Evenly divide beef mixture into four tortillas (about 1 cup for each serving). (This can be served as a hash without the tortilla and is 247 calories.) Garnish with cilantro and serve with yogurt mixture as desired.

Nutritional Information with 1 small tortilla, 1 cup of the beef-sweet potato mixture and 1 tablespoon of the yogurt mixture: 357 calories; 15 g fat (5 g saturated & 5 g monounsaturated fat); 76 mg cholesterol; 576 mg sodium; 25 g carbohydrate; 5.0 g fiber; 29 g protein; 6.3 mg niacin; 0.4 mg vitamin B6; 2.3 mcg vitamin B12; 2.8 mg iron; 18.3 mcg selenium; 6.0 mg zinc; 82.3 mg choline.

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

Want to try another of the recipes developed through Beef Checkoff dollars? I made this one, too, and the guys found them in their wheat harvest meals-to-the-field line-up.

I'm linked today to Ashley's What's In Your Kitchen Wednesday.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Picture Postcard Kind of Morning

It was a picture-postcard-kind of morning. Blue water mimicked a cloud-free sky, complementing rain-soaked green grasses that swayed in a gentle breeze. Look up "pastoral" in the dictionary and this photo at the "Big Pasture" on Rattlesnake Creek could be the illustration.

Well, it was pastoral if you could ignore those swarming, persistent mosquitoes. But, with a healthy dose of bug spray and a trip down Memory Lane, even the mosquitoes couldn't ruin the mood.

We'll take a few mosquitoes if it means that the pasture and the creek look like this ...
August 2013
.... instead of this. 
August 2012
Just a year ago, there was not a drop of water in the Rattlesnake. Two years of drought had left the creek looking more like the craters on the moon than a viable water source in our pasture.
August 2012
On that beautiful morning, we were at the pasture to replace the battery on the fence charger. But, looking around at the scenery, it was easy to forget that we were there to work. OK. I wasn't there to work. Randy was. I did give him a hand back up the bank. Does that count?
He thinks that cattle got too close to the battery and pushed it off into the water. The battery is attached to the 12-volt electric fence charger, giving "juice" to the electric fence that stretches across the creek. Sometimes, when water flows and debris is carried along after a rain, it knocks down the electric fence wires between our pasture and the neighboring pasture, requiring a walk in the creek to reattach the wires. This time, Randy didn't have to get his tennis shoes wet.

While Randy worked on getting the electric fence going again, I enjoyed the view. But looks can be deceiving. These little yellow flowers may look pretty against the weathered fence posts. But they are full of stickers. Admire from afar.
As we went back to the road, some other yellow flowers caught my eye. Kansas' trademark sunflowers seemed to be winking at the sun, which was finally shining after several overcast days. 
August 2013
It was a markedly different photo from the one I took at the same bridge a year ago.
August 2012
Besides watering the pasture's grasses that feed our cows and calves, the rain has the wildflowers offering confetti-like pops of color among the green. We saw more wildflowers than cattle that morning. I guess they were all off having brunch.
A study of contrasts - hard fence post and soft wildflowers
He turned the desert into pools of water
    and the parched ground into flowing springs.
Psalm 107: 35
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
Isaiah 35: 1-2a