Thursday, January 29, 2015

Happy Birthday, Kansas!

Happy Birthday, Kansas! You look pretty good for 154.

Randy is standing in for the Wonderful Wizard of Oz today. He's doing five mini-magic shows for Stafford Schools' Kansas Day celebration. He will miraculously reveal this cake during one of his tricks. (His assistant was busy behind the scenes yesterday making and decorating the cake. Thankfully, his assistant doesn't have to wear a skimpy outfit like those TV assistants!)

As a high school junior, I visited New York City. Cab drivers and waiters had similar responses when they found out we were from Kansas. "Oh! Dorothy and Toto!" they'd exclaim. And they'd want to know about the last tornado we'd been in and were sure our lives were lived in black and white.

As a Kansan born and raised, I'm glad to celebrate the day our great state entered the Union, January 29, 1861, and became the 34th star on the U.S. flag.

Under the Homestead Act, any person 21 or older could choose 160 acres of land on which to farm and/or ranch. If the homesteader could live and farm on this land for five years, they could own it. Randy and I are the fifth generation in our families to live and work the Kansas plains. We credit those adventurous forefathers who dreamed big dreams under a big Kansas sky.

For more on the pioneers who settled this great state, click on my last year's Kansas Day post.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Open Gate: Wordless Wednesday

There's a windmill in a pasture across from what we call the "round top." We have cows at the round top in the winter, a maternity ward of bovines awaiting their new arrivals.

We don't own or rent the windmill pasture across the road. But the windmill is in the perfect place to use as a silhouette for sunrises in the eastern sky.  (My blog header photo this month was taken at the same location.)

I made the two-mile drive on a morning last week. Usually, the gate is closed, and I've used the zoom to bring the windmill closer.

But on this morning, the gate was open. So I invited myself in.
As I walked up the path, I noticed the light pillar in the sunrise sky. Frost-covered grasses crunched beneath my feet, and my breath was like vapor in the crisp morning air. The morning sky was like a shape-shifter, changing moment by moment as the sun attempted to break through the clouds.

God opens the gate to beautiful days. And I am thankful.
The windmill in the light pillar
3 When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them? ...
Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8:  3-4, 9

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Twist of Lime

Cherry limeades were a special treat at Grandma Marie's house. For a summertime treat, Marie would combine fresh limes and sugar-free Cherry 7-Up and serve it up with ice and a straw. Maybe you watch those Food Network shows, and the chef is always squeezing or zesting a fresh lime to create that perfect balance of acidity (whatever that means).

Well, this is about lime. But it's got nothing to do with the Food Network or cherry limeades.

It's all about agricultural lime. Several weeks ago, Randy gathered soil samples from different fields and took them to the co-op so they could be sent to a lab for testing.

Some tests for the pH of the soil came back low. An ideal soil pH is around 7. We had some tests that came in at 4.8.

The pH is a logarithmic scale: The lower the pH, the more acid in the soil. The higher the pH, the more alkaline the soil.
Lime is a long-lasting soil additive made from crushed limestone or chalk. The finer it's crushed, the more effective it is. The application done this year should balance the soil for several years to come. Raising the soil pH should make more nutrients available for crops.
We had a local applicator deliver the lime, and they left it in sandhill-type piles in the fields that needed it. Then, last week, on the day the lime was to be applied, a front loader filled the applicator truck bed.
Off he went, applying 1 ton of lime per acre to those fields, with the loader refilling him as needed.
We hope the soil gets refreshed as well as a cherry limeade would refresh us on a hot summer day!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Everything Old is New Again: A Blog Anniversary

I went along for the ride last week when Randy delivered a load of our hay to a feedlot near Dodge City. As we neared Spearville, I saw the wind turbines dotting the prairie, and I pulled out my camera to see if I could get a decent photo through dirty semi windows.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an old-fashioned windmill at a farmstead and clicked the shutter quickly, hoping to capture the old windmill juxtapositioned against its newfangled "cousins." We were going 60 miles a hour down Highway 50, so I didn't have a lot of confidence that the photo from a dreary day would be worth saving. I literally had time for one click of the shutter as we rumbled by. But, later, when I looked at it on the computer, I was glad to have this contrast of old and new.

This weekend, I celebrated my fifth "blogiversary." I first published Kim's County Line on January 24, 2010. During those five years of writing, I've published 1,268 posts. Earlier this month, the page views on Kim's County Line topped 1 million. (Some of those people likely Googled something and my blog happened to show up on their feed.) But, still, 1 million views was a milestone for this homespun little blog.

When I started, I didn't have a plan. At the time, my sister, my daughter and my niece were blogging. (They have since quit blogging. Maybe someday, they'll try it again.)

I've always been a writer. I remember "writing" my first story at a women's church meeting in the basement of the Byers United Methodist Church. My mom handed me a little notebook and I scratched out a few words and pictures on the lined sheets of paper.
With Kim's County Line, I've substituted my crude hand-drawn illustrations with clicks of the camera shutter. But the writing - in one form or another - has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I even chose it for my profession.
Like those wind turbines on the plains, blogging is a relatively new way to share thoughts and impressions through writing. But, as new as it is, I've read some articles saying that Twitter is overtaking blogs. The short 140-character blurbs seem more attractive in this fast-paced world, I suppose.

Back when this area was settled, many a pioneer farmer or farm wife wrote in a journal or diary. There was no backspace button to delete a whole line of type. There was only pen on paper.

These days, I usually say that my blog is a mix of farm, family, faith, food and photography. I am certainly no Pioneer Woman in terms of blog followers or page hits. It can be frustrating if I play the comparison game. Comparison is never healthy, though it's human (at least this version of human struggles mightily with it). Some days, I do question the time and effort I put into it. But, then I consider: What is gained?

I think writing has made me more aware. For some of the posts about farming, I've approached the task like the reporter I am. I've "interviewed" my farmer and written down his answers. I've asked the questions and listened carefully, instead of halfheartedly, so I could answer the "whys" and "wherefores" of a modern farming operation.
 I used this photo of a sunrise after a 2007 ice storm as my first blog header photo.
I've noticed the beauty all around me, and I've taken thousands of photographs to document the magnificence of simple things - of rainbows and ice on fences and sunflowers along ditches and baby calves nestled against their mamas. And I've come to realize how precious these little glimpses of time are.

I look at Kim's County Line a little like a modern-day journal or diary. Maybe, someday, I'll have a great-grandchild or even a stranger know a little about life in the early 21st century on a Kansas farm. But instead of finding it written in cursive on a paper page, it will be documented in the photos and words captured in one little piece of the internet. 
Each quarter, I've published the blog posts and photos into hardcover books. I didn't want to lose all that work and the family history if the internet some day decided to eat Kim's County Line for lunch. The 20 books make a pile more than a foot high. I'm running out of room on the TV cabinet shelves.

Perhaps writing about our life on a Kansas farm helps us see into the rearview mirror but also keeps us looking ahead to the next day or week or year. There is value in both, I think.
I do thank those of you who visit my little spot on the internet - whether it's every time I post or just on occasion. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Baby Boom

There was a baby boom on the County Line yesterday: Introducing the first four members of the Class of 2015!
The babies belong to our heifers. Heifers are first-time mothers. Our 21 heifers were born in 2013 and are having their first calves this winter. We keep the heifers in a lot closer to the house so we can check on them more often. Sometimes, first-time moms have trouble with the birth and need some assistance. We can usher a heifer having problems into the barn, where we use a calving pen to help keep her and us safe while we pull the calf.
The official "due date" wasn't until January 28, so Randy was a little surprised to find three babies when he fed hay yesterday morning. The fourth was born later in the day. He had been checking the heifers, but the frequency of those checks will increase, now that calving has officially begun. He charged flashlights yesterday, since the checks will involve late night and early morning visits to the corral.
It was a beautiful day, full of sunshine and warmer-than-usual temperatures for late January. It was a nice day to be born. And it was nice for the farmer and his assistant, too, since we weren't traipsing around in snow or cold temperatures, trying to warm up baby calves.
Randy attached tags in the new babies' ears.  I recorded each calf's number and the number of its mama. This year, the tags begin with a "5," indicating that the calf was born in 2015.

After this little guy was tagged, Randy had a new friend. We were actually trying to figure out which heifer was his mother (and it appears he was ready to help, doesn't it)?
This little one was the newest in the crew. She was still wet and a little wobbly.
Randy didn't have to jog to catch her for her big yellow "earring." 
Here's hoping for more good weather for our 2015 new arrivals. Calving for the 97 cows in our herd (the moms who've already had babies) is set to begin in February.

Only 114 more to go! (OK, that sounds like a lot when I look at it that way.)

In 2012, I wrote "The Miracle of Birth," which showed photos of the guys pulling a baby calf. Click here to read that post and see the photos. However, it would be great if we didn't have to pull any calves this winter. Time will tell.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Start the Music!

For the first time in 20 years, I'm not playing the piano for the spring semester at school. They are in much more competent hands, those of a true pianist, my good friend, Linda, who has also been accompanying for the past several years.

I've always been more of a vocalist than pianist. If my piano teacher, Mrs. Lighter, were still alive, you could ask her. I was the least talented of the Moore sisters who sat at the piano bench in front of her baby grand piano each week.
(From our 1965 Christmas card, from left to right: Darci, me and Lisa)
I am sure she would be amazed that I lasted this long!
(The piece was called Drifting Moon)

It feels a little discordant to not have that daily appointment at the piano bench, but a shifting schedule at school made it the right decision for me. I may still help marginally with solos for festivals, but Linda will be the accompanist. And that's OK.

But just because I'm not in the classroom every Monday through Friday this semester, it doesn't mean I still don't find overwhelming value in music education in the public schools.

Yesterday, I saw a link via Facebook about a new study from the University of Vermont's College of Medicine about the value of music.  I emailed both Jill and Brent (and didn't hear back from either one, by the way.)

Brent has said more than once:  "Giving me piano lessons was like throwing money down the drain." I've always vehemently disagreed, though I realize he will never accompany a classroom of vocal music students or even sit at a piano and play it for fun.
1997 piano recital - Jill and Brent with Mrs. Dorothy Trinkle, their piano teacher.

Every week, I'd drive them to Dorothy Trinkle's rural Preston home for piano lessons. She deserves a medal, by the way, for teaching piano so many years to so many children, including my reluctant pair.  Their music-loving mama also forced them to take private vocal music lessons for several years and to play instruments in the school band.

Was it child abuse? I think not. And the University of Vermont study is backing me up:

James Hudziak and his colleagues analyzed the brain scans of 232 children ages 6 to 18, looking for relationships between cortical thickness and musical training. Previous studies the team had performed revealed that anxiety, depression, attention problems and aggression correspond with changes to cortical thickness. Hudziak and his team sought to discover whether a "positive activity" like musical training could affect the opposite changes in young minds.

"What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument," Hudziak told The Washington Post, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control."

The study found increased thickness in parts of the brain responsible for executive functioning, which includes working memory, attentional control and organizational skills. In short, music actually helped kids become more well-rounded.

My two turned out OK. They seem to have several of those attributes. Maybe it wasn't child abuse after all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Perspective at the Sunrise Tree

I have a favorite sunrise tree. It's just a half mile away from the house. As God paints the morning sky, each day is as unique as a human fingerprint. A winter sunrise is different from the summer, and the fall slightly varied from the spring as our planet makes yet another spin around the sun.

This morning, the stark branches were black against a multi-colored sky, like an Artist's palette where the paints are dabbled together.
"Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book, the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead God set before your eyes the things that God had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?"
Augustine of  Hippo, 5th century
As I drove home from a meeting late yesterday afternoon, my "sunrise" tree caught my eye. Instead of colors penetrating the inky black of dawn, the bare branches were accented by delicate clouds tinged with sunset pink as the sun began its descent to the western horizon.

The beauty was different, though the old tree was the same. It's all a matter of perspective. It's a lesson to take into my day today. I think Augustine had it right:  God didn't write the book with ink. The world is His canvas, if only I open my heart and eyes.
"Everything is a parable that God is speaking to us, the art of life is to get the message."
Chester Elijah Branch, 21st century

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Zoobilee by Kinley

Hello again! It's me, Kinley, reporting from the Kansas City Zoo. Since my sister Brooke is too little to talk about our adventures, it is left to me, your intrepid 3-year-old roving reporter.

Grandma and Grandpa Fritzemeier were in Kansas City for Grandpa's Kanza Co-op board retreat last week. Grandpa had Friday afternoon off. Really! He didn't skip any meetings to go on our zoo adventure. 

Brooke and I had never visited the Kansas City Zoo. Mommy and the grandparents had been there when she and Uncle Brent were little. They said it had changed a lot. Both Brooke and I dressed for the day in our owl outfits. Sadly, we didn't see any owls though.
We are veterans of the Topeka Zoo - even Brooke, who has grown up quite a bit from her first Topeka zoo visit in September. But, even though she's grown a bunch, she still can't talk. But I can. And I do.
September 2014 - Kinley, 2 3/4 years and Brooke, 2 weeks old
The Kansas City Zoo has lots of walking. Thankfully, Mommy was my chauffeur, and Brooke and I shared the stroller. Grandma says she needed a chauffeur, too. She got a blister on her foot. Sorry, Grandma! She says it was worth it.
Our first stop was with the penguins, since the guy at the gate told us it was feeding time.
I think my popcorn looked a lot better than the little fish those guys were eating, but to each his own, I suppose.
A couple of them were a little shy - kind of like me. It takes me a little bit to warm up. I'll bet it takes these guys even longer since they are in a cold place to begin with!
I like kitty cats. My Grandpa has a cat named Big Cat. After seeing these guys, I think Grandpa should revise his cat's name. But that is just my opinion.
We also saw some beautiful birds, though I thought one of them had crazy hair. (My Mommy said I had crazy hair, too, since I took out my braid on the way to Kansas City.) But I think this guy had me beat!
I counted six elephants. That's a lot more than the two at the Topeka Zoo.
I couldn't ride the real elephants and that was A-OK with me! But I chose the elephant on the merry-go-round. Actually, I have a confession: I wasn't so "merry" when we started. I thought it sounded like a good idea. I told my Mommy I wanted to ride the "spinning" thing. But then I was a little bit scared. It's a good thing Mommy came along.

Actually, I liked riding the baby hippo at the zoo's playground even better. It didn't move.

Grandpa rode the big one. Grandma says he'll do pretty much anything for his girls.
It was a fun day at the Kansas City Zoo! I can't wait to go again.
Neither can Grandma and Brooke. But Grandma says she needs to bring a different pair of shoes!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Banana Sheet Cake

Just like everyone else, I have a chocolate sheet cake recipe. Sometimes I make it with cinnamon and sometimes not.

I also have these sheet cake versions: strawberry, coconut, pumpkin, peanut butter and white.

But there was nary a banana sheet cake recipe to be found in my extensive arsenal of tried-and-true church and community cookbooks. I called my Mom. She didn't have one either.

So, with a hefty pile of ripe bananas on my counter and a need to make a sheet cake for a funeral dinner, I turned to Google. After looking at several options, I chose one that had sour cream, which always makes a moist, flavorful cake.

The resulting cake got good reviews from kitchen workers at the church and from my husband. The banana icing recipe (which I did have in my recipe files) got even more thumbs up. It includes mashed-up, ripe bananas for even more banana flavor.

Next time, I'll have this tried-and-true recipe ready to go. Now you can, too!

Banana Sheet Cake
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. banana extract (opt.)
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1 8-oz. container sour cream
3-4 ripe mashed bananas (about 1 1/2 cups)

Banana Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. banana or coconut extract
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp. milk or cream (or more to make frosting of the proper consistency)

Cream together sugar and butter until well incorporated. Add vanilla and eggs, beating well after each addition of an egg. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Combine milk, sour cream and mashed bananas in another bowl. Beginning and ending with the wet ingredients, add about 1/3 of the milk mixture to the creamed mixture, then 1/3 of the dry ingredients, combining well after each addition. Continue until all the wet and dry ingredients are incorporated, ending with the wet.

Spray sheet pan with nonstick baking spray. Pour batter into pan. Bake in 350-degree, preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. It is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake completely and then frost with Banana Frosting.

Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl. Add additional milk or cream if needed for proper spreading consistency. (Or, if too wet, add a little additional powdered sugar.)

Note:  I didn't have banana extract, which was called for in the recipe. Instead, I substituted coconut extract. But you could just use vanilla. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cold "Snaps:" Wordless Wednesday

We've been having a cold snap for weeks, so on this Wordless Wednesday, I thought I'd share my own cold "snaps" - aka cold snapshots.
Today, flurries are on the meteorologist's weather map, but, later this week, we may have temperatures in the 50s. It will seem like a heat wave.
The ice on Peace Creek will be only a memory after the warm up. We'd better enjoy it while it lasts. I'm guessing this is only a brief reprieve from Old Man Winter.