Friday, May 30, 2014

Growth Spurt

There's a song from the musical "Oklahoma!" that claims: "The corn is as high as an elephant's eye."

Well, we aren't there yet, but the little bit of rain we got last Sunday morning gave enough of a growth spurt to rival a kindergartener outgrowing his gym shoes. Depending on the location, we got between 0.50" to 0.80" of rain. It didn't come close to the 2.5 to 3.0 inch "forecast" the weather guys were predicting in Central Kansas prior to last weekend, but every little bit helps.

A month ago, the corn plants were just starting to emerge.

Photos from blog dated April 29, 2014
There's a corn field across the road from where I pull out of our north drive. I actually did a double take earlier this week. It really was like it grew overnight.
The rain gave the corn a boost. But the moisture also gave a foothold to weeds. Randy had the Kanza Co-op spray the corn with Round-Up on Wednesday to knock back the weeds.

We would like to schedule some more rain. If only it worked that way!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sightseeing ABC in OKC

Our whirlwind trip to Oklahoma City for our neighbors' wedding gave us a chance to do a little sightseeing on Saturday. Though we only had a few hours before we needed to head for home, our mini-tour of the city was as easy as ABC in OKC:

A - Arts

Memorial Day weekend was the Paseo Arts Fair. The historic Paseo Arts District was developed in 1929 as the first shopping district north of downtown. It's been redeveloped as the home to 17 galleries and more than 60 artists housed in renovated buildings with Spanish revival architecture. Intermingled with the galleries are restaurants, an event center, art schools, boutiques, gift shops and other businesses.
We wandered the permanent galleries and the city of white tents along the curved two-block street. Besides the visual artists in the booths, there were a number of live performers on the street corners. My favorite was this young cellist. Though I also enjoyed his classical selections, my favorite was his rendition of "A Thousand Years," which I'd just heard the night before at the wedding. (I put a link to The Piano Guys' rendition of this song at the bottom of the post. Beautiful!)
See what his tip bucket says? Juilliard Fund. Besides being an excellent instrumentalist, he was quite a marketer. I couldn't resist adding to his fund. (On the other hand, Randy put his money in a magician's hat. We both have our weaknesses!)

If you missed Memorial Day weekend, the Paseo district offers other special events, including the First Friday Gallery Walk with art openings, wine tastings and live music. On Saturdays, visitors can see artists at work giving live demonstrations.

B - Bricktown

We were in downtown Oklahoma City's Bricktown in 2010 for K-State's appearance in the NCAA regional basketball tournament's Sweet 16. For our Saturday foray into Bricktown, we ate at the Bricktown Brewery then took a ride on a water taxi.
Our water taxi chauffeur talked about the transformation of downtown OKC. During the past two decades, downtown has been transformed from a place most locals avoided after dark to a vibrant place to live, work and visit.

On two previous trips, we'd toured the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum (which we definitely recommend, but since our time was limited, we opted for something different this time.) The water taxi gave us a glimpse at all the improvements. Most impressive? They've had the money to pay for the improvements before they've started them. How fiscally responsible is that?!

From our water taxi, we had a front-row view of the Centennial Land Run Monument, which commemorates the opening of Indian land in the Oklahoma Territory. When complete in 2015, the sculpture-in-progress will feature 45 life and one-half size figures of land run participants, frozen in motion as they race to claim new homesteads.
The first major pieces, a buckboard and two draft horses, were placed by sculptor Paul Moore in April 2003. When completed, the art installment will be one of the largest freestanding bronze sculptures in the world.
It will span a distance of 365 feet in length by 36 feet in width and more than 16 feet in height. The Land Run Monument begins with a soldier and a cannon, firing the shot to start the run, and includes 24 horses and riders. A buckboard, two covered wagons, a buggy and a sulky represent some of the many vehicles used in the race. A dog races after a wagon, and a surprised rabbit watches from one side. The sculptor even included horse hoof prints at the water's edge. How's that for realism?

C - Cards

OK, it may be a stretch, but the "C" in our whirlwind tour stands for "cards" - as in, postcards. University of Central Oklahoma professor and artist Bob Palmer knows how to choose a canvas. He doesn't opt for the traditional 16- by 20-inch stretched canvas. His drawings appear on the sides of buildings.
His series depicting Oklahoma City through historic postcards can be seen during the water taxi ride. Palmer's students helped him complete the murals in record time, transforming drab buildings into works of art.
There is much more to see and do in OKC than we had time for during this short trip. Another location we'd go to again is Lake Hefner. Randy golfed there and I used the walking trails during two different visits.

As promised, here's The Piano Guys' version of Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years." Hers is worth listening to as well!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

At Rainbow's End

It rained from 4:30 to 8 Friday evening where we were. That was the good news.

The bad news? We were 4 hours from home in Oklahoma City.

The wedding we were attending was supposed to be outside in Coles Gardens. Brennan and Caitlin's Plan B inside the building was beautiful. It rained on Randy and my wedding day, too, which we always thought was a good omen for a couple of country kids. Brennan, our neighbors' son, and his new bride took it in stride, too.

After it quit raining, we wandered in the gardens at dusk. From looking at the radar, we knew we weren't getting the rain at home. It had been awhile since we'd smelled that unmistakable fragrance of rain-soaked earth.
Some fellow Staffordites were in front of the Coles Garden building and saw the remnants of a rainbow. We hurried around to get a glimpse, too.
It was a rainbow of another sort as the lights were reflected in the puddles on the garden patio. Raindrops glistened like diamonds on trees and flowers.
We finally got about 0.80" of rain Sunday morning here at our house. Our Rattlesnake Pasture that needs rain so badly got 0.50." We're thankful for every drop.
We did the "cemetery tour" after church with my family. As we were coming back home, we stopped at the Stafford Cemetery to decorate the graves of Randy's folks and other family members.

And we got our rainbow at home. It seemed fitting.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Dancing in the Graveyard

Maybe you don't think about a cemetery being a joyful place. But when I see the joy in these two little girls' faces, I can't help but think that the ancestors whose graves we were visiting had to be smiling.

Was their blonde hair from a distant grandparent? Were their blue eyes from a great-grandfather? If you compared their hands to those in an old photograph, would the shape of their fingers be echoed in the image?
Paige & Jill - 1988

For some families, Memorial Day may mean the first chance to get the boat out on the lake. It may mean a cookout with hamburgers and hotdogs and the summer's first s'mores.

For our family, Memorial Day has always included the annual cemetery tour.

For my Dad, Memorial Day holds special significance. Both his father and little brother died when he was still in elementary school. Memorial Day was a time to remember them, as well as others in the family who had passed on. It was a time to pay respects to the family members who homesteaded in South Central Kansas and established the farm where my Dad and brother still farm today.
Our annual trek has stops at cemeteries in Stafford and Pratt Counties, including Pratt's Greenlawn Cemetery, the Iuka Cemetery, Pleasant Plains Cemetery, Prattsburg Cemetery and  Macksville. On Sunday, we'll experience the 2014 version.
(New life in an old cemetery at Pleasant Plains: Brent's first Memorial Day, May 1988)

The trip involves a trunk load of fresh flowers - never silk.
My Grandma's flowers were usually from her own garden and carefully arranged in cans which my Grandpa had spray-painted a dark green.

(There she is in the background with my Grandpa in 1989. Brent, 1, is with my Dad, and the young-looking guy in the middle is Randy.)

Blake & Brent - 1989

When Jill was little, she noticed a marker with a little lamb in the Peace Creek Cemetery just a mile north of Randy's folks' house. There were never any flowers on this grave. So Randy's mom would always have an extra flower so Jill could decorate this little one's grave, a girl who was born and died in 1946.
The little girl's name was Jewell, so I know her parents wanted and cherished her. I always figured that her parents had already passed away or had moved away and that's why no flowers ever marked her grave. I think it made all of us glad that we could, in some small way, help remember her short life.

Families are a lot more transient these days. Unlike my Dad who lives on the same land where he was born, families are spread across the country.

Many don't live where they can drive down after church and make the cemetery rounds.
Will Memorial Day change as the older generations pass on? Even we die-hard cemetery visitors often don't go to all the out-of-the-way cemeteries our grandparents visited. As our children and our children's children move further from home, will there be anyone but flower shops visiting cemeteries on Memorial Day weekend?
We usually meet Kathy's family on the cemetery hill just west of Stafford during the Memorial Day weekend to decorate the graves of his Mom & Dad and Grandma & Grandpa. 
We even have purchased "real estate" nearby.
With life's fast pace and a world in which it seems we'd rather text than talk to our neighbor, will there still be flowers and flags and families dotting the cemeteries on a late May weekend in 30 years?
I hope so.
Note:  This is rewritten from a 2010 post on Kim's County Line. Happy Memorial Day to all!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kickin' Up Dust

"Summertime and the livin' is easy."

The song from the old musical, "Porgy and Bess," should describe the cattle's return to summer pasture. But as the mamas and babies left the corrals, they were kicking up enough dust to warrant a line in a sad country music ballad instead.

We waited 2 1/2 weeks longer than normal to take cattle to the Rattlesnake Pasture. The decision to delay was a collaborative one between Randy and his cousin, Don, who co-owns the pasture.

Drought again plays into management decisions for Kansas farmers and ranchers. For more than 100 years, their family has been taking cows and calves under the canopy of cottonwoods on this dirt road to the Rattlesnake. Back when Randy was a child, the pasture was co-owned and managed by his grandpa Clarence Fritzemeier and Clarence's two brothers, Ed and Harve. To be fair to everyone, no one took their cattle to the pasture before May 1. 
The tradition stuck. But because of drought in the past few years, Randy and Don have delayed taking the cattle to pasture. They've reduced the number of pairs they are pasturing there by a third. And they have been taking them off the pasture earlier in the fall in an effort to rebuild the grass.

After seeing the cattle raise up the cloud of dust Monday, I thought they had better eating in the pasture south of our house. That's where we began the cattle round-up.  The cattle have been getting supplemental feed and hay there while they've been waiting for the Rattlesnake to hang out the "Vacancy" sign this spring. 
It was a beautiful morning for a 4-wheeler ride. Randy and I took 4-wheelers to the far end of the pasture to make sure there weren't any stragglers left behind.
We bring them through a series of pens and eventually end up in a smaller corral by the barn, where we sort the mamas from the babies.
The mamas are never happy to be separated, but it's for their babies' welfare. We haul the babies in a separate trailer so they don't get stepped on during the ride.
It took two trailers two trips each to get the babies, their mamas and two bulls to the pasture. We unload them into a pen until we get all the cattle there. That way, the mamas and babies can find each other more easily.
The babies move with their normal exuberance for life, jumping out of the trailer. 
Their mamas usually come out of the trailers at a more sedate pace.
After we got all of them hauled, Randy herded them out of the corral to begin feeding at the Rattlesnake.
The picture below shows that the grass isn't in very good condition.
But, as they moved away from the corrals, they were able to find a little more green.
We pray the weather forecasts showing good rainfall for our area in the next few days are accurate. I will gladly dodge raindrops to decorate graves this weekend. Maybe I'll even throw in a rendition of "Singin' In the Rain."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Date Night Salad

It's been a long time since I was set up on a blind date. A long, long, LONG time.

But I remember being a bit tense about meeting this person for the first time. This was way before you could "Google" someone or search for them on Facebook or Twitter. It was back in the 1970s when we actually had to talk to one another on the phone. Awkwardly, as I recall.

Even though I'm not in the market for blind dates anymore, there is something to learn from the experience, I suppose. You need to get to know someone before you judge them. Is it too much of a stretch to say the same for salad ingredients? Yeah, probably, but here goes anyway.

I found a recipe for Warm Kale Salad with Bacon, Dates, Almonds, Crispy Shallots and Parmesan on Kristen's Iowa Girl Eats blog. How's that for a long, drawn-out recipe name? I wouldn't say I've used a lot of kale in my kitchen, but we do like it in some soup recipes. It definitely is in vogue among "foodie" writers.

This was the first time I'd tried it in a salad. It was fine, though I told Randy it had a texture like silage. (He wanted to know how I knew that. I revised my statement to say that it was what I imagined silage's mouthfeel to be.)

But I liked the salad, so I tried it with spinach the next time. Since it's a warm salad, the spinach doesn't hold up as well and wilts more. But we both preferred the more delicate green.

The original recipe also included some new-to-me ingredients. I searched all over Hutchinson for Medjool dates and Marcona almonds. I finally found the dates at Smith's Market, but I never found the almonds. The dates were yummy, but in my humble opinion, I'll substitute regular dates the next time - partly for cost and partly for convenience. I can buy regular dates in Stafford.

I also used the original recipe's shallots the first time. But I substituted sweet onion the second time because that's what is available at my local grocery store. I couldn't tell the difference, other than I sliced the sweet onion rather than keeping it in rounds.

So, I guess just like a blind date, don't be scared off by unfamiliar ingredients. It sometimes takes a getting-to-know you period.

Along with revising the recipe to fit us, I also shortened the recipe title. Yep, it's probably a stretch, too.
Date Night Salad
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, cut into thin rings (see recipe notes)
3 slices bacon
1 package spinach or 1 bunch kale (see recipe notes below)
5 pitted Medjool dates, chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 tbsp. shaved Parmesan cheese
1 recipe Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 tbsp. real maple syrup
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. extra virgin oil oil
2 tbsp. almond butter

For dressing: In small bowl, whisk together all ingredients. 

For salad: Make Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette and set aside. 

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots, then fry until golden brown, stirring frequently. Remove to paper-towel-lined plate to drain, then sprinkle with salt and set aside.

Turn heat down to medium and add bacon to the skillet. Cook until browned and crisp. Remove to paper towel to drain; set aside. Remove all but 2 teaspoons of the bacon grease from the skillet.

Add kale or spinach, dates and almonds; saute for 30 seconds. Add vinaigrette and then toss until just coated. Divide between two plates and top with reserved bacon, crispy shallots (or onion) and Parmesan cheese.

I served it as a main dish salad with salmon, but it would also be tasty with a grilled steak or grilled chicken breast.
Recipe notes:
  • The original recipe said to use 1 bunch kale, about 8 cups, removed from the ribs then torn into bite-sized pieces. I made the salad that way the first time. The second time I made it, I used spinach. We preferred the more delicate green.
  • The original recipe called for Marcona almonds. I knew I wouldn't find these specialty almonds at my local grocery store, but I couldn't even find them in the "big city" 40 miles away. So I substituted whole almonds one time and toasted slivered almonds the second. Both substitutions were good.
  • I can't purchase shallots at my local grocery store. I used them the first time after a visit to a larger grocery. But, the second time, I just thinly sliced sweet onion and substituted them. It was just as tasty.
  • I finally found Medjool dates at Smith's Market in Hutchinson. They were plump and chewy dates and were delicious, though pricey. Now that I've used them all, I'll just substitute regular pitted dates for future renditions of this recipe.
This shows the salad using kale. (I forgot to add the Parmesan cheese before serving.) That day, I served it with salmon and cheese grits. I also used extra Maple Balsamic Dressing as a sauce on the fish.

Today, I'm linked to Wake Up Wednesdays. Click on the link for more food recipes from across the country.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Success Is Relative

If you equate number of fish caught with the success of a fishing trip, we didn't have a whole lot of luck last Thursday evening.
The bend in the fishing pole didn't mean a big fish. Instead, the line was caught on a rock or some vegetation. Randy ended up breaking the pole. It was one that he'd purchased right after high school. I told him that he had definitely covered the cost per use for that pole and then some, if he'd been using it for 40 years.

He actually did have a big catfish on another line, but it thrashed itself free and went on down the Ninnescah River to live another day. I promise it's not just a fisherman's tale. I saw it, though I didn't get it captured on camera either.
So, if you think that a fishing trip is measured in fish, we don't have much to share.
But, if we measure the trip in beauty, now that's a whole other story.
And if I measure it in time spent with my best friend, it is indeed a treasure.
The rush of water on the spillway and bird calls provided the background music. The air was scented with a light perfume from blooming trees.
A rain shower teased us with a little bit of hope for moisture.Though it was over too soon, it provided diamond-studded accessories for prairie wildflowers and added that unmistakable springtime fragrance.

These delicate little flowers seemed to overcome the odds, growing from an earthen gash carved by runaway water long ago.
While Randy fished, I looked for hidden treasure, hiding in the prairie grasses.
Splashes of purplish-pink appeared amid branches ...
... and was hidden among green foliage.
Even cattails leftover from last season's crop provided whimsical decor on a perfectly cool spring evening.
Nature shares its splendor, if only we open our eyes and look closely.
I don't know the names of these prairie treasures. And it doesn't really matter. Sometimes, it's more important just to appreciate the view.
A few curious cattle came to check out what we were doing. The calf ran circles around its mama, frolicking in the cool of a springtime evening.
And the pasture's trio of silent sentinels waved goodbye as we again left for home. We left with no fish in our bucket. But we did not leave with empty hearts.