Friday, July 29, 2016

Aloha Paradise Bars: A Vacation for Your Mouth

Summer is vacation time for many of the world's inhabitants.
Summer is not vacation time for most farmers - including us.

So, sometimes, you may need a little taste of the tropics without leaving home. That kind of taste vacation doesn't provide any stunning vacation photos. But, if you close your eyes, these Aloha Paradise Bars may work for taste. And with Kansas' humidity this summer, it could feel like the tropics - minus the ocean, the sand between your toes and the palm trees. OK, never mind!

I found the recipe in the Stafford County Hospital's Cookbook: Working Hands, Caring Hearts. The recipe was from my friend, Shari Chansler, who, with her husband, Jim, owns our awesome hometown grocery store. Don't you just love using tried-and-true recipes from friends via community cookbooks?
I first made these bars for Memorial Day weekend and shared them with my family. Then I made some and included them in my freezer stash for harvest. There were definitely days when we needed a vacation from harvest woes. To paraphrase an old bubble bath commercial: Oh, Aloha Paradise Bars, take me away! I'm not sure it worked for the guys, but it was worth a try.

The bars start with a sugar cookie mix. Yes, we can all make sugar cookie dough from scratch, but sometimes we need a vacation and shortcut in the kitchen, too. Then, macadamia nuts, flaked coconut and dried pineapple mingle on top with white chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk for a taste of the tropics - whether you're eating them in a beach chair or finishing up another meal to the field with the car trunk as the dining room table.
Aloha Paradise Bars
Recipe from Shari Chansler
from the Stafford County Hospital Cookbook: Working Hands, Caring Hearts

1 pouch (1 lb. 1.5 oz.) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 12-oz. bag white vanilla baking chips
1 cup coarsely chopped dried pineapple
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13- by 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. In bowl, combine cookie mix, butter and egg until soft dough forms. Press dough into the bottom of the baking pan. Bake 15 minutes.

Remove from oven. Sprinkle with white chocolate chips, pineapple, coconut and nuts. Drizzle evenly with condensed milk. Bake 30-35 minutes longer or until light golden brown. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack. Cut into bars.

Today, I'm linked to Weekend Potluck, hosted by these bloggers. Check out the tried-and-true recipes from them and other foodies!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Clothed in Splendor and Majesty

Sometimes, I think I want God to speak to me through a burning bush.

This perfectionist Type A overachiever might crave the clarity that arrives like a thunderbolt with a direct line from heaven. (But ... please God, I don't want to get burned.)

Then there are days when I realize that God is talking to me. I may not hear His voice booming with authority from the heavens. But I hear Him nonetheless.

I've been doing a "read the Bible in a year" devotional. I get up early and read the passages. This morning, as I finished, I went to get another cup of coffee before I went downstairs to start working. I saw beautiful light peeking above the treetops outside my northeast kitchen window. The scene of sun-kissed clouds beckoned me to leave the coffee on the kitchen counter and drive down the road,to witness the sunrise in person.
The Bible study I'm doing is The Daily Message: Through the Bible in One Year by Eugene Peterson. (I know there are fundamentalists who don't like that translation of the Bible, but I figured reading in more common language might help me stick with the program. So far, it's been working.)

There's another reason I like it: It doesn't just start in the Old Testament and work its way to Revelation. To avoid getting bogged down in all the unfamiliar names and laws of the Old Testament readings, Peterson weaves together readings that may feature Old Testament chapters for a few days, then some New Testament readings. Every day, there's a Psalm or Proverbs to read to conclude, along with a couple of questions to think about.

I'm actually ahead on my readings, which is a good thing. Then, if I am gone or miss a day for some reason, I don't fall behind.
Anyway, I concluded the August 3 reading this morning, and the final passage was Psalms 104: 1-23. I couldn't help but think of the words I'd just read when I drove down to the oil field road and stepped out of the car to experience the sunrise:

Psalm 104

Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
    you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
    he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
    and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
    flames of fire his servants. ...
Scattered raindrops were falling and our neighbor's milo was rustling in the wind, and I thought about the question at the conclusion of the reading:
What is your favorite aspect of creation? Why?
Exhibit A, folks!
Thank you, God!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Little (Golden) Light on the Subject: Alfalfa

A note:  I took most of the photos below at the golden hour in the evening and at sunrise of another day. Much of the work for the alfalfa crop is done in the evenings and the mornings. It helps keep the leaves on the alfalfa, which increases nutrients for the cattle who will eventually eat it. It also makes for some pretty photos! Right now, my blog header (also posted above) is a photo I took in the evening last July. It's one of my all-time favorite alfalfa photos.

There's no question: Wheat Harvest gets top billing around here. But it's not our only harvest. Last week, we were in the midst of another kind of harvest on the County Line - harvesting alfalfa hay.
This was the second cutting of alfalfa this summer.  We don't swath the entire alfalfa crop at once. Instead, the guys swath just part of it at a time. That spreads out the risk somewhat. For example, we put down 85 acres just as wheat harvest ended. Then, 2 inches of rain fell on it before it could be baled. But the 130 acres of alfalfa swathed last week got baled without any rain, which preserves the quality. (We did have a breakdown with the baler tractor, which delayed the last of the baling for a day. But we only got sprinkles on the remaining hay. Randy got it baled Sunday morning - and still made it to church for Sunday School and to do the children's sermon!)
Last Friday, before the sun came up,  Ricky raked two of the windrows together.This speeds the baling process.
Here's a better photo series of the raking process (from the County Line archives).
Randy followed behind in the baler, making big round bales of alfalfa hay.

Sunspots and the rounded bales mimicked the fireball of the sun as it slipped above the horizon.

 By the time the sun was fully up, the guys had moved to another field.
As each field was completed, Cierra moved the bales to the end of the field. That gets it off the field so that the alfalfa can grow back.
This year, we will likely get only three cuttings, rather than the four we sometimes get. Since wheat harvest stretched out so long, we didn't get the alfalfa cut as quickly. However, we likely wouldn't have been able to cut it anyway because of the rain, which slowed down wheat harvest in the first place. Still, the rain has provided good, lush alfalfa. We got more than 400 bales from this second cutting of alfalfa. Right now, we are only 100 bales short of our 2015 total crop, which we should surpass with the third cutting.

"Don't count your bales before they're stacked."
That would be the equivalent of "don't count your chickens before they're hatched," I suppose.
Photo from from the County Line archives. It was taken from the combine for a bird's-eye view!
We will feed the bales to our cattle during the winter. If we have extra bales, we will sell them to feedlots or another buyer.

For a blog post with even more details and photos about hay harvest on the County Line, go to Making Hay When the Sun Shines.

Randy also baled some crabgrass. It was kind of like "leftovers" from wheat harvest. Because it was so wet during and after harvest, we weren't able to work ground promptly. All the rain caused the crabgrass to grow. He decided to  swath and bale the crabgrass and he'll also feed it to cows this winter.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Oh My, How You've Grown!

Oh my, how you've grown! It's a phrase often attributed to little old ladies commenting on children's exponential growth. (Oh wait! Some people may put me in the "old lady" camp these days. Hmmppffff!)

But the sentiment also applies to our 2016 corn crop.
June 18, 2016
In a little more than a month, our dryland corn crop has gone from waist high to towering over my human measuring stick.
Randy says that corn needs a certain number of "heat units" to grow well. I would say it definitely got its share of "heat units" last week.The temperature hovered around 100 degrees all week, and we didn't get any rain. This Monday morning, we've gotten 0.20" of rain. Let's hope it helps cool things off a bit and gives another boost to the corn, milo and feed sorghum crops.

Since we are first and foremost wheat farmers, the rain we got during wheat harvest may have been an aggravation. But our corn farmer alter ego is happy the rain helped fill the corn cobs and has the 2016 corn crop looking so good. 
Most the corn stalks have more than one ear.
Maybe the song lyrics from South Pacific will come true this year: "I'm as corny as Kansas in August." By the end of August, our dryland crop may be ready to harvest. It happens in half the time of the 9-month-long march to wheat harvest.
April 23, 2016
More photos from this year's corn crop progress (and my human measuring stick) can be found by clicking on this link.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

One Person's Opinion On One Day

Grand Champion, Stafford County Fair 2016 open class
"It's just one person's opinion on one day."

It's a phrase my parents often repeated. They said it at music festivals while I anxiously waited for the rating on my vocal solo to be posted. They repeated it during the county fair. With a stomach turning somersaults and my fingers anxiously tapping a nervous rhythm, I probably inwardly rolled my eyes. (I didn't outwardly do it: I would have gotten in trouble.)

But you know what? It's true. Judging is one person's opinion on one day.

So if people at the Stafford County Fair looked at the Grand Champion ribbon taped to my photo last week and thought, "I wonder why they picked that one?" That's why: It was one person's opinion on one day.

Of all the photos I entered, I wouldn't have chosen that one as my favorite either. It was probably among my most unusual though, and sometimes uniqueness counts.

I took the photo last March at Pratt Livestock when we sold feeder calves. We had been at the sale barn all day long. But when we stepped outside into the darkness, I noticed the country version of a traffic jam. Randy wasn't surprised when I delayed our departure a little longer to get a few shots of the cattle trucks lined up around the perimeter of the sale barn parking lot.

I entered a bunch of photos in the open class division of the county fair last week.  Old habits die hard.

I've been exhibiting things at county fairs since I was 10 years old. I was a fourth grader and a member of the Lincoln Bluebirds 4-H Club.
My only project my first year was "Snacks and Little Lunches," a foods and nutrition project. According to my meticulous record book, my first fair netted a blue ribbon on cookies and red ribbons on both my cupcakes and brownies.

If my 4-H story is to be believed, I had a "lot of fun." In fact, several times, I had "a lot of fun." Perhaps my descriptive writing had not yet been developed.
But, at any rate, I evidently did have "a lot of fun." Here we are ... um ... several years later, and I'm still entering exhibits in county fairs.

In open class at the Stafford County Fair, not every photo gets a ribbon. I had several blues, along with some reds and whites. And I had some that didn't place at all.
Blue ribbon in "People" category
My premium money didn't begin to cover the cost of enlarging photos, buying mat board and special plastic bags, but I felt pretty good about having more than half of my photos "in the money," so to speak.
Blue ribbon in "Animal" category
However, it's not about the money. It's about being part of something bigger. If people don't enter, there's nothing to look at during the fair. And if there's nothing to look at, nobody is going to come. And if no one comes, fairs are going to die.
Blue ribbon in the "Landscape/Scenic" category
Because of a decreasing population base, there are already fewer exhibits than there were back when I was a kid. Or maybe it's just a shift in the kind of 4-H projects kids take today. Back in my day, there were lots of little girls in clothing construction. Today, very few 4-Hers construct their own clothing or other items. There are no longer racks of home-sewn clothing hanging at county fairgrounds.
Blue ribbon, "Human Interest" category, Black and White
But photography seems to be alive and well. There were lots of entries in both the 4-H and open class divisions.
Blue ribbon, B/W, "Action" category
Because of blogging, I seem to grab the camera more often. So I have a lot of photos to choose from.

Blue ribbon, "Humor" category
For the record, one of my favorite photos, a sunrise over a wheat field, got a red ribbon. That particular photo had gotten more than 500 "likes" on Snapshot Kansas' Facebook page. So you just can't outguess a judge: "It's one person's opinion on one day." 

So here we are, back to the question at hand: Why exhibit at the county fair? People have been experiencing fairs since the days of the Roman empire (At least that's what Wikipedia - the authority of all things - told me). I suppose there's a little rush to being chosen "best" at something, satisfying that little kernel of competitiveness in the human spirit.

But I truly think it's about helping to make sure fairs last another 2,000 years. (Maybe women in Jerusalem met in the city square while gathering water and decided who had the best flat bread. Yes, I know I have a vivid imagination.)

Fairs give people an excuse to come together, to visit with people they don't see everyday.

It gives guys an opportunity to eat food their wives won't fix them at home everyday (Yes, I think Randy had pie every day he was there.)

It brings volunteers together to work on something that's bigger than what any one person could accomplish on their own.

It's about being part of a community. I'll give that a purple ribbon any day.

And speaking of purple ribbons, I also got a pretty lavender Reserve Grand Champion ribbon in the arts and crafts division with my children's book, Count on It! Adventures from a Kansas Farm. 
I used my photography and created rhyming verses for the numbers 1 to 20 and self-published it on Heritage Makers. I dedicated the book to our granddaughters, Kinley and Brooke, and to "other children in an effort to keep our rural heritage strong."
I'd like to pursue getting it published by an actual publisher, so I could sell them at a lower price, but that's easier said than done. Still, it's nice to have someone say, "Job well done!" Even if it's only one person's opinion on one day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Wheat Harvest 2016 Summary

Wheat Harvest 2016 is now in the rearview mirror.

I don't know that there is ever a harvest without some hitches. But the 2016 version had its moments of "the good, the bad and the ugly" during the almost month-long process.
The good: We had a high yield of 80 bushels per acre in one field. (Randy got 2nd place at the Stafford County Fair market wheat show with some of the KanMark wheat, which tested 64 pounds per bushel.)

The bad: We experienced rain delay after rain delay, dragging harvest out for a month. By the end of harvest, the test weight was down to 56 pounds per bushel.

The ugly: We  had a low yield of 15 bushels per acre on a field that had been hailed on twice and was mired in mud and weeds. By the time we "called it good," the grain was sprouting in the head, and we had a borrowed combine buried in the mud.

Our overall average on 1,559 acres planted to wheat was 48.5 bushels per acre. The last two fields definitely brought down the average.
It had all started so well. We were all smiles when harvest began June 15.
We had a new-to-us combine. At a farm auction this spring, we purchased a 2010 7120 Case combine, along with a 2011 35-foot flex header.
Randy was loving all the new gadgets. He could hardly keep his eyes off the yield monitor and information screens.
After a quick, first-day repair, the combine was working well.

We were getting binloads of high-quality wheat. Early in harvest, test weights were 62 to 64 pounds per bushel. The benchmark for quality wheat is 60 pounds per bushel. 
The lunch lady was getting good reviews from the boss and from the truck driver.
Philly Cheese Steaks served al fresco on the back of the car trunk!
Our first minor bump in the road was a trouble with a truck tire. But nobody got hurt and we were able to get it fixed relatively quickly. Plus, we were close enough to Zenith that hauling exclusively with the semi didn't pose too much of a problem.
A storm rolled in late June 17. Even though Randy would have preferred spending his Father's Day on the combine, we had a weather delay.
 After 6+ inches of rain during a period from June 17 to July 2, we were starting to see quite a few weeds in the remaining fields.
The final 275 acres had been hailed on twice and had gotten the most rain.
We had a rain-imposed hiatus from July 2 to July 11. Then, a raccoon dining inside the combine created more harvest drama. The raccoon went through the radiator when Randy tried to move the combine to our final two fields. The combine got hauled off to the repair shop.
So we traded red for green, borrowing our neighbor's combine.
The 4-wheel drive came in handy anyway, since Randy was still combating soggy ground and mud. Randy had a breakdown on July 13, which necessitated parts runs to both Hutchinson and Pratt.

The Kanza Co-op locations at both Zenith and Stafford were full, so we started hauling to Stafford County Flour Mills. And there we discovered another problem. The wheat had begun sprouting in the head because of all the rain and because it was down in the field so badly. Thankfully, they accepted the grain, though it was with a 17 percent dock. (It's not the impression you want to make on a mill that produces the best flour in the country: Hudson Cream Flour. We weren't the only ones with sprouted wheat, though, and Stafford County Flour Mills hauled the sprouted grain to another facility, where it will likely be used as livestock feed.)
We ended harvest with Randy watching a bulldozer in the combine's rearview mirror as it got pulled out of the muck and mire of the final field.
At some point, you just have to say "enough is enough" and call it good. It was our final location, and it had hail damage from two separate storms. Weeds were taking over after multiple rains. 
And after the combine got stuck the evening of July 13, we got another 2.20" of rain. The bulldozer we hired had to pull the combine all the way to the road.

A little perspective is in order: In 2015, our wheat crop averaged 50 bushels per acre. Harvest 2014 was not a good year, and we averaged 24.5 bushels per acre. Our best year ever was 2013, when we averaged 52 bushels per acre, despite planting into dust and several late freezes. 

So, the sun has finally set on Wheat Harvest 2016. The dryland corn and milo looks good after all those harvest rains. The guys are working on the second cutting of alfalfa. This harvest has been one to remember. Some of it, we'd probably prefer to forget. But that's part of farming. Kind of like the amnesia that new moms experience following labor, we'll put it behind us. And the journey will begin anew in September and October as we plant the 2017 wheat crop.