Friday, August 29, 2014

Your Word for the Day: Petrichor

Rain is grace;
rain is the sky descending to the earth;
without rain, there would be no life.
--John Updike

Is there anything that smells better than rain? It's better than any fragrance bottled by a celebrity and sold for exorbitant prices.

I was going to impress everyone with the why and how of this wonderful, enticing aroma. And then I found out there really is a word for the smell after a rain: petrichor (PET-ri-kuhr), a noun, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.

Petrichor is from oils given off by vegetation, absorbed onto neighboring surfaces and released into the air after a rain. So says Matthew Bettelheim at Nature's Laboratory, Mount Shasta, California.

Now there's a little something to talk about at the dinner table today.
File photo from The County Line
In the past three days, we've gotten 2.10 inches of rain. There was 1.10" in the gauge after a Tuesday night rain, 0.40" on Wednesday night and 0.50" last night. We had gone to the Hutchinson Community College football game to watch our niece, Amanda, cheer. But we K-State fans didn't bring an umbrella because they aren't allowed in Bill Snyder Family Stadium, our normal football watching venue. We could have had one at the HCC stadium. Live and learn.

The rain has slowed our start to corn harvest, but that's OK. It's helped the silage head out and has given the pastures a boost. It will help get the wheat ground ready for planting next month.

When I was looking for rain quotes, I thought this one from Thomas Haden Church best applied to life on the County Line and for farmers everywhere:

"I love going to the feed store and drinking coffee and talking about how much rain we need."

Just insert the proper location -- co-op of your choice, AmPride, Joan's Cafe, the repair shop, your local convenience store: You fill in the blank.

Randy is at Joan's for breakfast this morning. He says he usually eats oatmeal there, so surely it's not for the meal. I'm guessing they are talking rain.

I'm linked to the Country Fair Blog Party. Check out these other rural writers by clicking on their links.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Symphony for the Eyes

The scenery is familiar, but it's never routine. The Flint Hills are a symphony for the eyes, a place where the grass is, as poet Walt Whitman describes, "hopeful green stuff." The prairie is often referred to as a sea of grass. On a breezy Kansas day, the grasses undulate, their "feet" staying in place like a junior high boy at a Stuco dance while the upper body sways to the music of the wind.

We often drive Highway 177 between Manhattan and I-70.  It gets us from "family" in Bill Snyder Family Stadium to family in Topeka. Though the route is the same, the view is always different. The clouds change. The shadows from dawn to dusk paint different swaths across the peaks and valleys. The grasses and prairie flowers each have their time to bloom, then wither.
We've never stopped at the scenic overlook until last Sunday evening. It was the weekend of "to-do" lists. Brent had a list to help make his new Manhattan house a home. Jill & Eric needed some heavy lifting, too, something that wasn't on the acceptable activity list for a soon-to-deliver mama.

But, with clouds billowing in a summer blue sky and light diffusing from the west, we stopped at Overlook Park. It's located on the northeast corner of the Konza Prairie Biological Station and overlooks the Kansas River Valley.  The 8,600-acre Konza Prairie Preserve, jointly owned by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University, is one of the largest tracts in North America dedicated to research on the ecological processes that characterize and maintain the tallgrass prairies. From Overlook Park, the Konza Prairie Preserve stretches south for five miles to I-70 and four miles west. 

I gazed toward the horizon and wondered what the settlers thought as they looked across the vast expanse. Though I heard the rush of semis barreling by on the four-lane highway in the present, my imagination turned the white, billowing clouds into the settler's white canvas-covered wagons which would soon circle together at dusk.

Spring, summer and fall's revolving  color wheel will eventually fade into the drab brown of a cold, Kansas winter.  And still, there is splendor in the monotone palette, a simple loveliness like that of a woman whose natural beauty is unadorned on a "no makeup day."
At 6 PM, the sun didn't cooperate for a sweeping view to the west.
But the view to the north made up for it.

With triple digit temperatures, the fall seems far away. But the prairie must have an inkling that autumn will soon come. A few orange leaves decorated the green landscape, nature's preview to the next season. 
A woman was sitting on a bench, just taking in the view. She saw the camera in my hand, another appendage, it seems at times. And she kindly asked if we'd like to have a photo taken.
We were pioneers that day, too, taking time to stop and not rush by the beauty in our "family's" backyard.

I'm linked to the Country Fair Blog Party. Check out these other rural writers by clicking on their links.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Smartest, Cutest, Bestest

Every grandparent thinks their grandchild is the smartest, cutest, bestest of the bestest in all God's creation. I am no exception. Since Grandbaby No. 2 has not yet decided to grace us with her presence, I can still think that about Kinley.

As I told my friends, I needed a "Kinley fix" this past weekend. I decided I didn't want to wait until Baby Sister arrived.

Kinley demonstrated her smarts by reading "Go, Dog, Go!" from cover to cover. I should have videoed her at the beginning of the book when there are fewer words. But it's still pretty darn cute. She lined up her owl, dolly and dog, and we all listened to that classic children's book, Kinley style.

It didn't really surprise me that she was able to "read" the book since she is well on the way to knowing all her letters. And I'm not even exaggerating, as Grandmas are prone to do. She can tell you all but about 3 letters of the 26.
Maybe that's why she goes downstairs to Daddy's make-shift office and studies corporate finance in her spare time. Everyone needs a study partner when you're studying for your MBA.
 I think maybe she's starting to write her own book - via crayon.
But, when she got writer's block, she decided to help Mommy sweep the basement. 

Then she helped Mommy make homemade sandwich pockets. (You have to hold your mouth just right to roll dough.)
The budding musician even had time to play Grandma a drum solo.
She practiced her Big Sister skills by giving her dolly a ride in the baby swing. (Her vigorous pushing of the swing may require some supervision when Baby Sister arrives.)
She did a few pull-ups with some assistance from her spotter.

After working so hard, she had time to play with a few toys while Daddy and Grandpa built a storage shelf in the basement.
A girl can't work all the time, can she?
We even had time for a Facebook profile photo update. (Why do I always choose the days to do this when it is the windiest outside? I guess it gives me an excuse for why my hair isn't so great!)
Grandpa also got his portrait taken by the budding photographer. "I do it! I do it!" she says.
I'm telling you: She's the smartest, cutest and bestest!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Keeping Up With the Pregnant Lady

I'm having trouble keeping up with the pregnant lady. Jill is in full nesting mode. She has cleaned her house from top to bottom - more than once. She's putting meals in the freezer while working full time, caring for a 2 1/2 year old and working on a master's degree in public heath. She puts this old Grandma to shame. (I told her that I had plenty she could come and clean here, but it's a little far to travel when she is counting down to Baby. And I might feel a little guilty watching the pregnant lady clean for me. Maybe.)

But, last week, I also started stashing meals in the freezer to take to Jill and Eric when the new baby is born. Baby No. 2 and I are in a race. We'll see who wins. (Actually, I win either way. I can always make more meals later.)

I like making meatballs when I'm going to share meals with others. My go-to meatball recipe is on a dog-earred page in the first Stafford Oktoberfest book. Since I wanted to make enough for Jill's family and for a friend recovering from surgery, a recipe using 3 pounds of hamburger goes a long way.

This week, I noticed the Waikiki Meatball recipe right there on the adjacent page. And while it didn't convince me to ditch my regular meatball recipe, I did want to try the sauce.

The homemade Sweet and Sour Sauce was a hit with Randy & Jake. We'll see if Kinley and the parents like it, too. I know I'll be making it again here on The County Line.

Waikiki Meatballs
From the Stafford Oktoberfest Cookbook
Sweet and Sour Sauce:
1 recipe of meatballs (click on the link)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup brown sugar
15-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained, RESERVE JUICE
1/3 cup vinegar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 coarsely-chopped bell pepper (I used red, but green is fine, too. Or use a combo for more color)

Combine cornstarch and brown sugar well. Stir in reserved pineapple juice, vinegar and soy sauce, stirring until well combined. Pour into skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Add pineapple chunks and pepper.

Pour sauce over prepared meatballs. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve over rice, if desired.

My meatball recipe makes a lot of meatballs. In the original Wakiki Meatball recipe in the Oktoberfest cookbook, it only used 1.5 pounds of hamburger. So, depending on how "saucy" you want your Wakiki Meatballs, you may want to use the Sweet and Sour Sauce on part of the meatballs. For another pan, you could use your favorite prepared barbecue sauce. (Our is Curly's.)

This freezes well.

I'll have more from Topeka later in the week. While there is still no new baby, there is a 2 1/2 year old I needed to see. Oh yeah ... and her parents and her Uncle Brent.

I'm linked to the Country Fair Blog Party. Check out these other rural writers by clicking on their links.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Cut for a Cure

Salina Journal Photo, used with permission: Clarence Patmon and the pink Cut for a Cure header.

It’s not every day you see a pink corn header on a Case combine. But during this upcoming fall harvest season, that pink header will be Cutting for a Cure in Central Kansas. A few weeks ago, Clarence Patmon, who is a shop foreman at Pihl Repair and Farms near Falun, was servicing equipment in preparation for fall harvest. And he had an idea. He wanted to give farmers a chance to help fight cancer through donating part of their corn crop. But he wasn’t sure how to get it done. He approached one of his boss’ wives, Karla Pihl, who has done seven Susan G. Komen Walks for the Cure all across the country. And Cut for a Cure was born.

In Cut for a Cure, farmers will donate a strip of corn - the width of the header - to the cause. Clarence and Karla had other help, too. Besides farmers, Karla and Clarence have gotten help from all of the Pihl Repair and Farms family, staff and managers. They’ve gotten area support as well. Curtis Barnes of Anderson Body Shop in Lindsborg donated the paint and painting of the header. The mission hits close to home for him, since his mother-in-law Shirley Bloomquist is a cancer survivor, who hopes to ride along with Clarence Patmon during the pink header harvest.
From the ground, Kelly Pihl quides Clarence Patmon as he connects a combine to the Cut for a Cure corn header. Salina Journal photo, used with permission
Justin Kinderknecht, owner of JustIn-Sane Graphics, of Salina, donated the vinyl lettering spelling out Cut for the Cure on the front of the header. Straub International in Salina donated parts to refurbish the corn header.
Karla Pihl, Salina Journal photo
When I talked to Karla on the phone last week, she said the project has gone from idea to pink combine header in just 3 weeks. Right now, five farmers between Lindsborg and Salina have committed to leaving strips of corn in their fields to be harvested by the pink combine header. Karla plans to follow up with other farm families where she’s left messages, and she fully expects more farmers to participate. This year, the grain will be taken to the Mid-Kansas Co-op elevator in Lindsborg.  The grain will be sold to help patients at the Tammy Walker Cancer Center, in Salina, and the Pink Fund at Lindsborg Community Hospital. The money will be used to help patients pay for expenses not covered by medical insurance, such as fuel for driving to medical appointments, meals, hotel stays and purchase of wigs.
While she’s been working on breast cancer awareness through the Susan G. Komen Walks for several years, Karla is excited that this money will stay in Central Kansas to help area families. Ironically, she says, just as news of the Cut for the Cure was getting out in the area, her husband’s cousin received a chemotherapy treatment for cancer this week at the Tammy Walker Cancer Center. Karla’s sister-in-law, Sue Pihl, of Assaria, has also fought cancer and is part of Karla’s continued commitment to helping fight the disease.

This year, Cut for a Cure plans to have the pink header working in the McPherson and Saline County vicinity exclusively. But Karla believes the idea could grow in coming years – either with their own Cut for the Cure header or if other farmers and farm communities take on the challenge and build the program in their own areas. 

In conjunction with the Cut for a Cure fundraiser, Karson Pihl, the 9-year-old son of Karla and her husband, Kendall,  has decided to collect full ears of corn to sell as squirrel food. The squirrel food will sell for $7 for a bag of eight to 12, or $15 with a squirrel corn feeder. Karson's grandfather, Don Pihl, is heading the feeder construction.

Clarence and the Pihls will participate in an annual Cancer fundraiser in Lindsborg next month. The Battle of the Buses is September 13 in downtown Lindsborg. Traditionally, a big mammogram bus and a pink fire truck have taken center stage during the fundraiser, which benefits the Pink Fund at the Lindsborg Community Hospital. This year, a big pink corn header will be there, too.

It just goes to show you how one little idea can grow in a place like Central Kansas. 

NOTE:  Thanks to Tim Unruh of The Salina Journal for telling this story first. He also generously shared his photos when I asked. I read the story in the paper online and then followed up by calling Karla myself. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Field of Dreams ... Er, Nightmares

My Farmer called it "the field that never ends." He called it some other things, too, but this is a family blog.

It was definitely not his Field of Dreams. Nightmares? Maybe.

On Monday, a friend sent me a text. She'd been watching The 700 Club, and farming was described as "a romantic profession."

I laughed out loud when I read the text. Maybe the commentator would like to come for a little visit. As I told her, Randy had baled until 11:30 the night before. That morning, he was contending with tractor problems. At that moment, farming seemed more like a horror film than a romance. 

Randy custom swathed, raked and baled 70 acres of sudan for a neighbor. It took a week just to swath it by the time he contended with breakdowns, an untimely rain shower and the sheer volume of plant matter going through the machine.
The baling wasn't flawless either. For the last day and a half, the tractor wouldn't shift out of low gear. When Randy was finally done and headed home, he timed it: It took him 18 minutes to go a mile. I can literally walk faster than that!
By the time the last bale rolled out of the baler, there were 356 bales. That is a lot of cattle feed.

The best news? He doesn't have to pick up and move the bales. Last I knew, the neighbor and his hired man were still debating who "gets" the job. It's going to take awhile to move 356 bales, two at a time.
As for us, the guys have moved back to our own alfalfa fields. They hope to have the third cutting all baled up by the weekend.

There's an old song from the musical "Porgy and Bess" that claims:
"Summertime, and the livin' is easy."

I think Randy might have a different take than lyricist DuBose Heyward and composer George Gershwin or The 700 Club's evaluation of life on the farm after another afternoon of swather problems yesterday. 

And I'm thinking that a new swather and baler will be on Randy's shopping list after this haying season. The "livin' isn't easy" when paying for new equipment either.

Maybe The 700 Club would like to come shopping with us and see how romantic it is to spend money on a swather and baler. Doesn't it just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Yeah. Me neither.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Sort Of

Doesn't this look like a painting? On one of my farm "taxi" trips, I drove over the bridge on 4th Street Road. And even though it's a paved road,  I stopped and backed up. There are benefits to living in a place where traffic jams only happen when you're behind a slow-moving tractor.
This is Peace Creek: It lives up to its name on a beautiful summer day, doesn't it? 

Joy is what happens 
when we allow ourselves
to recognize 
how good things really are. 
–Marianne Williamson, author
Peace Creek - just down our dirt road

Some bloggers traditionally post photos for Wordless Wednesday. I can never seem to manage truly wordless.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ap'pear'antly, It Was a Good Year

Ap'pear'antly, it's a good year for fruit trees.

What is the secret to our success? Neglect.
(I'll bet you're never heard that recipe for success before. It's not something I normally recommend.)
The pear trees are in our side yard. Back in 2010, we had lots of pears, too, but they suddenly disappeared. I never solved that mystery.

I do think the deer and squirrels are visiting our buffet, but they'd have to invite all their friends from neighboring counties to get through all the pears.
If I had canning equipment, I might try my Grandma Neelly's Pear Honey recipe. It was a sweet combination of pears, pineapple and sugar and was one of my favorites on Grandma's table. I still might try freezing some.
Four generations: My mom, Janis Neelly Moore, my grandma Lela Johnson Neelly holding Jill Renee Fritzemeier, and me, a much younger version, on Jill's Baptism Day - December 1985
Yesterday, I searched online for fresh pear recipes. I even found a few that weren't for desserts.

The challenge with pears is to know when to pick them. I Googled that, too, and found a publication from Oregon State University Extension. (I love Extension.)
"To tell if a pear is mature, a general rule of thumb is that, while still on the tree, most mature, ready to ripen pears will usually detach when "tilted" to a horizontal position from their usual vertical hanging position. 
"Unlike apples, which are ready to eat from the day they are picked, pears must go through a series of changes before they can deliver their full splendor. Pears do not ripen on the tree to our liking. If allowed to tree-ripen, pears typically ripen from the inside out, so that the center is mushy by the time the outside flesh is ready."                        David Sugar, Oregon State University
Commercial growers refrigerate pears right after picking. So that's what we're trying. Our downstairs extra fridge is full of pears at the moment. We'll take a few out at a time to ripen on the kitchen counter.

On Sunday, we took a plastic tub of pears to church. For a contribution to Missions and Ministries, people could sack up pears to take home. This week, anyone who comes to the Stafford Food Bank can take home fresh pears.

If you have a family favorite pear recipe, please send it my way! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Farmer's Goldilocks Story

Remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Since Goldilocks was trespassing, I'm not sure she really should have been that picky. But I'm sure you remember the story: Papa Bear's porridge was too hot. Mama Bear's porridge was too cold. Baby Bear's porridge was just right. And so on and so forth.

Farmers like things "just right," too. For the first time in several years, conditions are right to apply anhydrous ammonia to the ground where we'll plant wheat in another 6 to 8 weeks or so.

We know we haven't put on anhydrous in the past five years, since I haven't ever written about it. (What? I thought I'd written about every detail of farm life at least one time!)

The ground might have been too hard. (Think 3-year-plus drought.)
The ground might have been too wet.
The ground may have had too much organic matter on top for the applicator to get through.
Time was ticking, and it didn't get done with everything else on the to-do list.

It's sounding a little like Goldilocks, right?

But this year, it's "just right."
NH3 - anhydrous ammonia - is less expensive than urea or liquid fertilizer. It is 82 percent nitrogen. Nitrogen is the most essential nutrient for crop development. Some nitrogen is formed by the breakdown of plant material in the soil. To achieve higher yields on most crops, additional nitrogen is needed.

We are applying about 60 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre as we put on anhydrous. We will probably add 10 pounds per acre as starter fertilizer when we plant wheat, along with some phosphorus.

Nitrogen is the most common element in the world. Air is mostly nitrogen but plants are unable to pull it out of the air.

Each tank holds about 2 tons of NH3. Each tank costs $1,120, or 38 cents per pound of actual nitrogen. Each tank covers a little more than 50 acres. We can run a tank out in about 2 hours. Cha-ching! Hopefully, it will pay off in better wheat yields next summer.

How many have we used? A lot. (I asked. That's the answer I got. I think my Farmer has lost track, but I'm sure the co-op has not. There's a reason we get our co-op bill in a manilla envelope.)

Jake has been running the tractor pulling the applicator and the anhydrous ammonia tank behind it. Randy has been the shuttle driver, pulling the tanks between the field and the co-op. He usually helps switch the tanks.

Natural gas is used in the manufacturing of anhydrous ammonia. It is a more dangerous fertilizer to use in this form than urea or liquid fertilizer. When it is exposed to air, it vaporizes. That's why we use an applicator with knives that slice through the soil about 8 inches deep, so when it vaporizes under the ground, it will attach to soil particles that have moisture in them. Then, the plant can use the nutrient.
The NH3 comes out of the applicator here, when the applicator is in the soil.
In the photo below, they are "bleeding" the tank before Randy unhooks it. (You can see the anhydrous ammonia vaporizing as it hits the air if you click on the photo and view it larger.) Randy stayed back during this process so that he didn't inhale any of the vapor.
He then removed the hose so that he could attach it to the next tank. Then he unhooked the tank from the applicator.
Jake then backed the tractor and applicator up so that Randy could hook up the new tank. Randy used those ubiquitous hand signals. While Randy hooked up the hoses to the applicator and the tank, Jake cleaned dirt out of the applicator "fingers."
Repeat as needed.
And hope we get it "just right."

Today, they'll continue the process. And my job will be supplying lunch and supper in the field. Hopefully, it will be "just right," too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sandy Kansas: Snapshot Kansas

Sometimes, I participate in Snapshot Kansas, a Facebook group of amateur and professional photographers. Sometimes, I just enjoy the photos shot all across our beautiful state.

Last week, the challenge was Kansas dogs. I could have used old photos from our days with Sandy, Lucky, Mindy, Ralph and Millie. But it made me kind of sad to think about them. So I stayed on the sidelines last week and just watched the Facebook feed. 

This week's challenge is "Sandy Kansas." I can do sand.
Ironically, the photos that most represent "sand" to me are also old photos. They are ones I took in September 2011. The three-week Kansas Cattle Drive was in honor of Kansas' 150th birthday. They began the journey on Labor Day weekend in Caldwell and ended September 24 in Ellsworth. 
The 210 longhorns herded by some 35 trail riders came through our area, and I went to take photos a couple of days. The route took them right by one of our pastures before they arrived at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge to spend the night. 
Sandy roads have been part of my life since I was a baby. I tried to learn to ride a bicycle on the sandy roads in front of my house in Pratt County. I learned to drive a stick shift pickup with the sand pulling the tires inevitably toward the ditch.

I still live on a dirt road, though it's typically less sandy than the ones of my childhood.
We drive over dirt roads, under a canopy of cottonwoods, to take cattle to pasture.
While it's not a particularly beautiful photo, I took this photo at Randy's request. Someone had tied a deer skull to an oil tank. The ants in the sand cleaned the skull.
I took this photo from the top of Coronado Heights near Lindsborg. From a bird's eye view, the dirt road goes on forever.
Then I thought about the purple sand at the No. 5 hole at Colbert Hills in Manhattan. That sand is a little different than the sand I dump out of my shoes after a morning walk. 
I could do sand photos for a lot longer than one week.


I'm linked to the Country Fair Blog Party. Check out these other rural writers by clicking on their links.