Tuesday, May 30, 2017

I've Come to Watch Your Flowers Growin'

Slow down, you're moving too fast
You gotta make the morning last
Just kickin' down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy
Ba da-da-da da da, feelin' groovy
                                                          --- Simon & Garfunkel

There aren't any cobblestones on my road ... just the tiny pieces of gravel mixed with Kansas dirt. But I could probably heed the warning to "slow down" - at least if we're talking about operating a motor vehicle.
The old Simon and Garfunkel song also has a line about "I've come to watch your flowers growin'." Not long ago, when I went "up north" to help Randy, I found some flowers growing. I could easily have missed them as I sped toward my rescue mission. Or I could have decided I didn't have the time to spend. After all, one little errand for Randy had somehow morphed into an afternoon of several errands, and my own to-do list had changed into a "not gonna get done" mode.
But after my second trip to the field, I stopped anyway. Like the irises I wrote about earlier, the purple flowers aren't in someone's yard. In fact, if you don't know where to look, their delicate blooms could be covered up by dried CRP grasses and hidden away in the shadows under the branches of an old shelterbelt. 
We first noticed them a couple of years ago and learned they are called Dame's Rocket, or hesperis matronalis. The seeds were brought to America from Europe in the 17th Century.
From a distance, they kind of look like their name, a slender rocket of lavender color. But, up close, they are made up of intricate, delicate petals. I pulled over and took several photos.
With my errands done, I came back home and stopped at the mailbox. Many times, Randy is the one to bring in the mail. But that day, as I slammed the lid back shut, I happened to look down. At the base of the old cottonwood tree, there were dozens of mushrooms.
The wet spring had them popping up at the base of the tree and even on the bark itself.
Though small, they had plenty of delicate details. I snapped some photos and then went back to the house. The next day, I thought I'd try again, but most of them looked like a moldy mess of fungi. Instead of the delicate cream color, they were now black.
If I hadn't taken the time to look that first day, I would have missed them all together. It was just a reminder to make the most of every moment. Our days on this earth are never guaranteed. Too often in the past six weeks or so, life has been teaching us that lesson.

Every moment of the day, we have a choice: to compare life to our expectations or to thank God for what we have been given. We can rejoice in the small adventures and surprises that God hides inside every day for us to discover if we only give that day a chance.

"Life I love you, all is groovy."

Friday, May 26, 2017

Beef Month: Philly Cheesesteak Sliders

I sometimes watch the Food Network show Cooks vs. Cons. In it, two professional chefs and two home cooks prepare food for celebrity judges. While the contestants are cooking, the celebrities try and figure out whether they are cooks or cons.

Kitchen techniques often get mentioned as an indicator of professionalism. I think I could make a tasty dish for the judges. But I'm afraid my knife skills would betray my amateur status. I thought about that again as I was dicing the peppers and onions for these Philly Cheesesteak Sliders.

As the celebrity chefs would say, my "knife cuts" probably aren't as consistent as they should be. But my lack of professional knife skills didn't get in the way of the yummy taste.

May is Beef Month. For us, every month is Beef Month because that's what we have in the freezer. (Click here for a complete look at our beef - from hoof to plate.) The Kansas beef industry is vital to the Kansas economy, generating more than $9 billion annually. Kansas is home to 6.25 million cattle, which is more than twice the human population of 2.9 million. Kansas also ranks third nationally in the value of beef and veal exported, at $787.7 million in 2014. The industry supports more than 48,400 jobs in Kansas.

Beef provides 10 percent of 10 essential nutrients, including zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins, in less than 10 percent of the daily recommended calorie intake. Specifically, a 3-oz. serving of beef provides 25 grams, or about 50 percent of the Daily Value, for protein. Today, about two-thirds of beef sold at retail, including popular cuts like sirloin steak, tenderloin and 95 percent lean ground beef, meet government guidelines for lean. (Source: Kansas Beef Council).

This Philly Cheesesteak Slider recipe likely will end up in the line-up for wheat harvest meals to the field, even though they are less "finger food" and probably best eaten with a fork. On our farm, the guys usually stop for their meal anyway to get off the combine or out of the truck for a few minutes. And a fork is probably better than dirty fingers anyway, right?
I served the sliders with watermelon and an apple coleslaw salad. Click on the link for the salad recipe.
Philly Cheesesteak Sliders
Adapted from my Facebook feed
1 package Hawaiian slider buns (can use Hawaiian rolls or mini-sub buns, too)
1/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 sweet peppers, diced (I used 2 red peppers, but you can use any color or a combination)
1 sweet onion, diced
1 lb. steak, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
12 slices provolone cheese
3 tbsp. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Put bottom buns in the paper-lined dish. Spread evenly with mayonnaise or salad dressing. Top with 6 slices of provolone cheese; set aside.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add diced onions and peppers. Cook until tender and starting to caramelize. Add steak. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the steak is cooked to medium rare. Remove from heat. Drain the majority of the excess liquid.

Put meat mixture over the bottom buns. Add another 6 slices of cheese. Place slider tops over cheese layer. Brush tops with melted butter.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until top has browned and cheese is fully melted. Number of servings depends on your diners - either one or two sliders per person.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I'm the Map, I'm the Map, I'm the Map!

My farmer likes maps. While I don't "read" them like novels (unlike another I could name), I prefer a hand-drawn map to help me complete my next "go-fer" duty. It's a lot easier to follow than an convoluted explanation. And, bonus: I can take it with me for additional reference. (The map above was my guide to picking up two bags of sorghum silage seed in a hidden-away building down a twisty dirt road at the Iuka branch of the Kanza Co-op.)
He used a cut-and-paste method to make a map to help orient our new farm employee, who started yesterday. Randy hopes it will make it easier for him to learn the names and locations of the fields we rent or own. 
Evidently the "map gene" is one that got passed down to another generation. When we took the girls to Manhattan's Sunset Zoo, the ticket seller asked Randy if he wanted a map. When Kinley saw Grandpa's map, she needed one of her very own.
If you look closely, you can see Kinley has her map in hand!
And if Kinley has something, Brooke has to have one, too. (That is officially the Law of Younger Siblings.)
As Grandpa and the girls consulted their maps, I couldn't help but think of the Dora the Explorer song we'd heard multiple times on the car's DVD player on a trip back from Iowa. Dora often uses a map on her adventures, and the map sings a catchy song, "I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map." (OK. It's annoying, too, but it is catchy.)
Kinley the Explorer helped us discover the nooks and crannies of the Sunset Zoo. Even though it's in Manhattan - my home away from home - I'd never been to the Sunset Zoo. Randy hadn't been since college ... and that's been a year or two (or 39).
My creature photos weren't all that great, except I was thrilled that we saw the peacock with its feathers spread.
We enjoyed watching the monkeys and the chimps. but the photos didn't do the experience justice. 
But the cutest creatures of all are our map-reading granddaughters.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Bird In Hand (Or Nest)

To find the universal elements enough;
to find the air and the water exhilarating;
to be refreshed by a morning walk 
or an evening saunter;
to be thrilled by the stars at night;
to be elated over a bird's nest
or a wildflower in spring ...
these are some of the rewards of the simple life.
                                                             --John Burroughs

I was beginning to think that the old saying, "A watched pot never boils," also applied to watching a bird's nest.

When Randy first discovered the nest in April, there were only two eggs in the nest atop the 4-wheeler ramps.
Then, a few days later, we found four eggs.
Not long afterwards, Randy discovered some delicate blue egg shells at the base of the ramps, and only three eggs were left in the nest. We don't know why one of the eggs toppled to the ground.
We patiently checked the nest every few days, hoping that they would hatch. And they did!
Two of the eggs are now baby birds.
Taken May 8
It's been amazing how quickly they've changed from scrawny, skeletal looking creatures to our feathered friends. We've not sure whether the third egg will hatch, but we doubt it will at this point. (You can see it under the feathers in the photo below.)
Taken May 15 - 1 week later
Initially, we didn't know what bird had laid the eggs. We never saw a mama sitting on the nest.
But now that the babies are hatched, a couple of robins aren't thrilled when I've peered into the nest or moved it to the nearby wheelbarrow for photos. They don't seem to understand that I'm just admiring their handiwork. 
Last Friday afternoon, we checked the nest again. As I walked into the shed, one of the babies flew out of the nest!
With its sibling off on an adventure, only one baby still resides in the nest. 
Their parents were none too pleased at the attention we were giving their babies. One led a particularly vocal protest and tried dive-bombing the shed.
Nature is a marvel, isn't it? I took the first nest photos on April 23, just a couple of days after Randy initially discovered the nest. The newly-hatched babies looked like space aliens on May 8. And then, by May 19 - less than a month after we discovered the nest - one robin was already off exploring the world.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.
Emily Dickinson

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mares Eat Oats and Does Eat Oats (and so do cattle)!

When I was a kid, one set of grandparents lived in Haskell County. To a child, it seemed like it took FOREVER to get to western Kansas from the south central part of the state. One of my memories of those long car rides was of my dad singing nonsense songs. One of them went like this:

Mares eat oats
And does eat oats
And little lambs eat ivy
A kid'll eat ivy, too,
Wouldn't you?

When sung quickly, it ends up sounding more like this:

and doezedotes
and littlelambszedyvy
Wouldn't you?

Other songs in my dad's car repertoire included "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "I'm An Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande."

But when we checked a field, it was that "Mares eat oats ..." song that I couldn't get out of my head. We're sure hoping that cattle eat oats, too, ... not just mares and does!
In March, Randy planted oats in an old alfalfa field.
They are "haying" oats vs. "grain" oats. This is the alfalfa field's last "hurrah" before it's torn up and planted to something else.
He used the disc to lightly break up the soil and to kill volunteer cheat and other weeds. Then, he planted the oats, using the same drill we use to plant wheat. Disking up the alfalfa wouldn't be a "normal" thing to do. But it's an old field, and to stretch its productivity for one more year, Randy planted the oats in the already-established alfalfa field. It should provide a mixture of alfalfa and oats that we can bale up for cattle feed this summer.
The spring rains have given the oats a good start. Depending on weather, Randy may put down our first cutting of hay next week.
It will be disked up after we harvest the oats/alfalfa combination this summer. But until then, it may not be the last time that the old song is stuck in my head!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Change Commences

 com·mence·ment  (kə-mĕns′mənt)
1. A beginning; a start.
a. A ceremony at which academic degrees or diplomas are conferred.
b. The day on which such a ceremony occurs.
The caps and gowns were just pint-sized versions of the garb that older students would soon wear in this season of transition. Their faces were also a preview of their older compatriots: Some were solemn and cautious. Others were exuberant and carefree. And there was every reaction in between.

Our family had one of the serious preschool graduates from the K-State Center for Child Development. Thankfully, Kinley's class was the third of the classrooms to walk across the big stage toward Willie the Wildcat. She'd had time to watch her classmates interact with Willie and survive the encounter. When you're 5, Willie can seem a little overwhelming, even if he is on bended knee. 
When you think about it, graduation is a bit overwhelming - no matter the stage of life. It's all about change. While some people may embrace change, others of us struggle with it.

If you think about this grand ceremony as "graduation," it's all about ending something. It's kind of like that book you don't want to end. You're afraid the next one won't be quite as good.

If you think about it as "commencement," it's about new beginnings. And that can be a scary thing, too - whether you're a 5 year old who will enter kindergarten in a few months or a high school senior from a small town class of 15 going to a university where not "everyone knows your name." (That can be good and bad, I suppose.)

It can be scary for a college graduate, whether moving on to a graduate program or off to conquer a new job. Even scarier is the phase where you're still looking and worrying about finding that job or hearing from that next school. 

But we "old" people aren't immune either. Circumstances often force us to "graduate" or "commence" to a different stage of life - whether it's a newly empty nest, an illness or death, a job, a move or any number of situations in which we are searching for a new "normal."
But facing those changes is much easier with a support system. It's a lot easier to smile if you've got people protecting you and standing beside you in difficult or scary circumstances.
It's easier to face those transitions when you have cheerleaders, like parents and little sisters ...
... and grandparents ...
... and even uncles (who may "tweet" about questioning the "need" for preschool graduations but then get converted because of the cute pint-sized caps and gowns).
Before the ceremony, neither Kinley or Brooke would get their photo taken with the new Willie the Wildcat statue at K-State's Student Union. But after Kinley faced a living, breathing Willie, the statue was a whole lot easier (though it didn't matter to Brooke, who still kept her distance).

That's typical of change, isn't it? We dread it. We drag our feet. And sometimes, it transforms us to a better version of ourselves.
So here's to you, Kinley. May you commence to all the good things life has in store for you!
Same goes for your little sister!

Yesterday, Jill sent me an email of thoughts shared with Wheatland USD 292's 13 graduates by their Superintendent Gary Kraus. Kraus shared insight from Hal Urban's book, The 10 Commandments of Common Sense: Wisdom from the Scriptures for People of All Beliefs.

It seems the world today is sadly lacking in common sense, don't you think? Though these ideas may be a bit esoteric for a 5 year old and 2 year old, I hope their parents and we in their supporting cast can help these little girls to live their lives this way. It wouldn't hurt the rest of us either. I decided to include them for future reference - for me, as much as for them:

5 things we should avoid because they are bad for us:

1.          Don’t be seduced by popular culture; it prevents you from thinking for yourself.

2.          Don’t fall in love with money and possessions; it will make you greedy and shallow.

3.          Don’t use destructive language; it hurts others as well as yourself.

4.          Don’t judge other people; it’s better to work on your own faults.

5.          Don’t let anger get out of control; it can wreck relationships and ruin lives.
5 things we should do because they are good for us:
6.          Keep a positive outlook on life; it’s the first step toward joy.

7.          Bring out the best in other people; it’s better to build them up than tear them down.

8.          Have impeccable integrity; it brings peace of mind and a reputation of honor.

9.          Help those in need; it really is better to give than to receive.

10.     Do everything in love; it’s the only way to find true peace and fulfillment.