Monday, January 29, 2018

What Kansas Means to Me

We've heard it all our lives:  Don't judge a book by its cover.

And yet ... I did. The cover helped "sell" this book to me. The illustration by Brad Sneed provided the "eye candy" as I perused the Kansas books at the Nora E. Larabee Library in Stafford.

I prefer reading fiction. But the first book in the Stafford library's adult reading challenge required a Kansas book checked out of the library. Both of the reading challenges I'm participating in this year are urging me out of my "same old, same old" literary comfort zone. 

So a non-fiction Kansas book it was!  And, as we celebrate Kansas' 157th birthday today - January 29 - it was a timely read. 

The book, edited by Thomas Fox Averill, had a few too many politically-themed essays for my taste. My favorite stories were the ones that focused on the Kansas landscape or culture. An unlikely bonus? One of the essays (more accurately, a poem) had a Stafford County connection. 

In Averill's introduction to the piece, he says that May Williams Ward edited The Harp, a poetry magazine, from her home in Belpre for 6 years. From Belpre? Really? She died in Wellington in 1975 at the age of 93.  She would have lived in Belpre in the 1920s. In a bio I found online, it says that her husband's job would have brought her to Edwards County (a neighboring county just to the west of my Stafford County):
She married Merle Ward in 1908 in Osawatomie’s Old Stone Church that had been built by John Brown’s brother-in-law and nephew.  And John Brown’s grand-niece played the organ at their wedding. The Wards moved wherever Merle’s grain elevator business took them, first to Lamar and  Pueblo, Colorado, then to Spearville, Montezuma and Belpre, Kansas. When the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl put an end to his grain business, the couple moved to Wellington in 1933 where they took over ownership and management of his family’s hotel. The Wards remained in Wellington for the rest of their lives.
She published six volumes of poetry, often illustrated with her own woodcuts. This poem was featured in What Kansas Means to Me (photo illustrations by me):

May Williams Ward, 1927

Prairie-land is golden,
Airy, wide;
The sky our only mountain;
We, inside.
Who would choose a small land
Where the hills
Steadily asserting
Granite wills,
Narrow all horizons,
Stand apart?
Ah, my Kansas prairie
In the sky-mountain's heart.

Zula Bennington Greene wrote two short essays in the book that also resonated with me. The Cottonwood and the Prairie were written by Greene, who was best known as Peggy of the Flint Hills, a name she used for her newspaper column begun in the Chase County Leader-News in 1928.
On the cottonwood:
The early settlers planted the cottonwood around their houses because it was quick-growing. Its frilly daintiness must have warmed the heart of the pioneer woman and its soft rustle whispered to her of courage and faith.

Through the heat of the summer it stands cool and clean and shining. The leaves shake off dust as nervously as a fluttery housewife polishes the furniture, never content to sit a moment with quiet hands. In the night it makes a rain-sound on the roof.
Zula Bennington Greene

On this Kansas Day, I am thinking about those pioneers who settled this land I now call home. On January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union and became the 34th star on the American flag.

Too often, we Kansans have an inferiority complex. We apologize and somehow buy into the outsiders' image that ours is a flyover state. We know that Oz was in technicolor while Kansas was boring black and white.

But people who believe that have never really opened their eyes ...
... to the beauty of sunrise ...
... and sunset ...
... and the color and variety in between.
 Even in the more sepia tones of wintertime in Kansas, there is beauty.

I'm thankful that both sides of my family saw beauty and opportunity here. (Click on the links to read more about how the Moores and the Neellys came to Kansas.) Randy, who is a fifth-generation farmer in his family, still owns a pasture that's been in his family more than 100 years.

A final stanza of a poem by Kenneth Wiggins Porter (also from What Kansas Means to Me) seems a fitting tribute to my ancestors and those who settled this land 157 years ago:

Many came to this land and some stayed.
As for those who did not
God grant that they found greener pastures.
As for those who dug in and survived,
their names are familiar to you,
are your own, in whole or in part, 
the names of your children.
Kenneth Wiggins Porter, 1946

Happy Kansas Day!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

This Is Us: Farm Version

One of my favorite television shows is "This Is Us," a drama in its second year on NBC. For the uninitiated, it follows the life of three siblings - Kate, Kevin and Randall - through a series of flashbacks and present day life.

On last week's episode, the siblings and their mother come together in a counselor's office. While they all lived in the same house, they have very different perceptions about their shared experiences. While talking to his siblings later, Randall compares the different viewpoints to the experience of getting glasses as a youngster.

He talks about sitting in the exam chair at the eye doctor and being asked, "Is this better? Or is this better?" After the eye doctor shifts the lens, he's again asked, "Better here ... or here?" The changes are often minuscule, but they eventually lead to the proper prescription.

He reminds his siblings that we all view life through different lenses.

It really struck a chord with me. I vividly remember the trip home from Great Bend after I got my first pair of glasses in grade school. From my perch in the back seat, I suddenly saw things more clearly. Trees weren't just big green blobs: They had individual leaves. The world was sharper, more in focus. It was a revelation.

This week, I celebrate a "birthday" of sorts. It's my 8th "blogiversary." I hit the "publish" button on Kim's County Line for the first time on January 24, 2010. In eight years, I've published 1,683 posts, and there have been more than 1.78 million "page hits" on Kim's County Line.
Part of the reason I began Kim's County Line was to share our life on a Central Kansas farm. I subtitled the blog, "Camera Clicks and Commentary from a Kansas Farm Wife." In truth, I didn't have a solid plan. In fact, it was kind of one of those things your mother tells you not to do: My sister, niece and daughter were already blogging, so I decided to do it, too.

But, as it evolved, my focus became what I refer to as the 4 F's ... and a PH that sounds like an "f:" Farming, Family, Faith, Food and Photography.

Kim's County Line allows me to tell our story - through my own lens.

These days, it seems everyone is an "expert" on GMOs. Everyone has a magic bullet for improving health - and it probably does not include gluten, a protein found in the wheat that's the largest market share on our Central Kansas farm.

I'm not willing to let a Mexican restaurant chain declare that our method of farming isn't responsible. I'm not willing to have the Humane Society of the United States or Greenpeace say that I'm not a compassionate guardian for the planet or for the animals we tend.

So, I keep telling our story. I'm not blogging as much as I did at first. The first year - 2010 - I wrote six days a week and cranked out 265 blog posts. Last year - blogging only two days a week or so - I wrote 116 posts, my lowest total yet. But even though the frequency has waned, I'm still writing and photographing life on our Kansas farm - one blog post at a time
Each quarter, I publish a hard-copy version of the blog. My latest blog book arrived last week. I am running out of storage space. But I also know it's a comprehensive history of our life on a Kansas farm. While pioneer farm wives wrote in journals or diaries by the light of a lantern, I sit at my computer and type words into cyberspace. Still, just like those handwritten journals of the past, my words may some day reveal my life to my grandchildren or great-grandchildren or even strangers. They are both family history and farming history.

For now, it gives landlords a glimpse of what's going on. It gives me an outlet for my writing and photography.
And, along the way, I hope it sheds a little light on modern agriculture ... even if it's just one person's perspective. 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.

Want to know why it's called Kim's County Line? Click here for my very first post to find out.

It's my blogiversary, but to celebrate, one person will get a gift from me - a selection of my photo notecards. To qualify, either comment about this blog post in the comment section of the blog or on my Facebook page, Kim Moore Fritzemeier. Or, if you have trouble with either of those avenues, you may email me at The winner will be chosen at random from the commenters. Enter your comment by January 31 for a chance to win.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Class of 2018: Bovine Edition

This photo taken Sunday, soon after the first baby of 2018 was born.
Welcome to the first arrivals of the Class of 2018! Our heifers were scheduled to begin calving on January 28. But, like human babies, due dates are not dictated by the calendar, but rather Mother Nature.

We have the 24 heifers in a corral near our house to make it easier to check the expectant mamas and with easy access to the calving shed, which we built a couple of years ago to replace a falling-down barn.

By definition, the heifers are expecting their first calves. Once upon a time, they were among the County Line's Class of 2016. Each year, we keep 25 of the female calves born to serve as replacement heifers for our cattle herd. (When the veterinarian did the preg checks in November, one of the 25 was scheduled for a very late arrival date, so she got pulled from the herd.)

We always schedule the heifers to calve first, since they require more frequent checks to make sure they can deliver without problems.

We try to alleviate as many problems as possible by using a bull which is expected to produce a lower birth weight baby. 
A baby girl was the first to arrive on Sunday, January 21. She got the first eartag of the year - No. 800. Each of the babies born during 2018 will get a tag that begins with an "8." As the cattle become "upperclassmen," it's easy to tell at a glance that they were born in 2018. That's especially important for the girls who will stay in our County Line herd. In a couple of years, No. 800 could be delivering a baby herself!
Number 801 is the first boy born this year. He took advantage of the comfier accommodations - hay rolled out in the corral for bedding.
The guys also freshened up the hay in the calving shed. Last night, the guys ran four heifers into the calving shed, mamas who Randy thought looked closer to calving. I always tease Randy about his cattleman prowess. Will a mama in the shed calve, giving credence to his observation skills?
This time, he was right! One of the mamas had a baby overnight - out of the wind and in the warmth provided by body heat in a small shed.
So far, the Class of 2018 consists of four members - all of whom arrived without help from the farmer.
Like that overused phrase from the movie Sunset Boulevard, the calves were "ready for their closeups." However, it won't be long before I'll need a video to keep up with their antics.
The forecast for the rest of the week shows warmer weather, perfect for calving. Let's hope the mamas agree and keep up the good work.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

On the Move

I was at the state fair last fall when a friend came up behind me and squeezed my backpack.

"OK," she said. "I was just wondering if you really carry your camera all the time."

Yes, I have my camera most of the time. It's the reason I had to pay a "fine" at a PEO meeting in which the member with the heaviest purse forked over money by the pound to the treasury.

Portability and convenience are why I don't use a fancy camera. I want one that I can stuff into a pocket or where I can hang a small camera bag around my neck to keep it protected while I'm on the 4-wheeler.

But let's get real:  The faithful few who read my blog or see my photos on Facebook are getting the highlights. I usually don't share the outtakes ... like these that accidentally got clicked as we've moved cattle a few times this fall and winter.
This is straight out of the camera. I didn't turn it for illustration purposes.
You'd have thought I would have learned my lesson about trying to take photos on the 4-wheeler while moving cattle. I had to replace a camera last March when it bounced out of my hand during a cattle drive. (Evidently, I'm a slow learner.)

I am ambidextrous. I write left-handed, though my penmanship is better than most with my right hand (as long as I go fairly slowly). I eat right-handed. I shoot or throw a ball left-handed. I prefer using right-handed scissors. I am fortunate because I can use both hands fairly interchangeably. But let's face it: The world is designed for right-handed people. 

Most days, I don't even think about the fact that a camera is designed for right-handed use. But when you want to use your right hand to click a camera at the same time you're using the throttle on a 4-wheeler, it just doesn't work.

You try holding a camera (or your camera phone) and taking a photo with your left hand by clicking the button on the right-hand side of the camera. Go ahead: I'll wait. ... Not so easy, right?

Then think about doing it while trying to get cattle to move the direction you want, whipping the 4-wheeler around to chase those that don't want to cooperate.

That's why I got a few lovely photos like this:
 Hey! At least you can see the cattle in the very corner of this one.
With as dry as it's been, the action shots are a bit clouded by dust anyway.
But mission accomplished: One set of cows is at Peace Creek ready for calving.
And, last week, we did one of our final moves in preparation for calving, which starts for the heifers at the end of this month. I took a photo before we started moving the cows off stalks and into the calving pasture south of our house.
But I didn't get a single in-the-heat-of-the-moment shot. I had to snap one while waiting for the guys to lower the electric fence instead.
We moved these cows to a different section of stalks earlier this month:
But it will take another move to get them nearer to the barn and corrals before calving begins.

Will the camera stay in my pocket? Probably not.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Read All About It!

My sister, Lisa, and I share some reading time
I don't need a contest to "make" me read.

I read for my sanity. Therefore, I read every day. Some days, it may not be much. I may read a few pages in bed before I fall asleep, and Randy tries to gently lift the book out of my hands while I startle awake and vow, "I was reading!" (Sorry Randy!)

(Darci, me and Lisa with our books:  I have no idea why Lisa and I are in our robes outside
I can't remember a time when I wasn't a library patron. My mom took us to the old library at the Pratt County Courthouse from the time we could toddle in on our own steam. It was exciting when the new library was built in Pratt. There was a whole room of children's books where I discovered Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. I still love mysteries and thrillers today, and I have to believe those days of uncovering clues with them had to have laid an early groundwork for this love affair that's lasted all of my life.

I was a champion reader. And I have the certificate to prove it. When I was a third grader, I read 166 books. (Let's just say I didn't win any certificates for math.)

I got to go to the Peace Treaty pageant in Medicine Lodge one year after reading the most books in my age division during the summer reading program at the Pratt Public Library.

When I moved to Hutchinson for my first job after college, I lived a couple of blocks from the Hutchinson Public Library. One of my first Hutchinson errands was getting a library card. I think I've worn out three or four of them since 1979. I used to argue with the librarian about replacing them because I had my ID number memorized. Since that's how you get into the system to reserve books, I didn't want to learn a new number. The last time I got a new card, I switched the log-in to a non-numeric password. I don't know why this number-challenged brain didn't think of that earlier!
But, much as I love my Hutchinson Public Library, there are two other libraries which are "challenging" me this year as a reader. In January 2017, I saw an article by reporter in The Wichita Eagle, announcing a reading challenge, but I didn't join in. This year, I decided to try and meet the 2018 challenge in which The Eagle partners with the Wichita Public Library.

The categories are flexible, so readers can bend and twist them to meet their individual reading habits and goals. Here's a printable link I'm using to track my books.

 Here are the categories:
1. A library book
2. A detective novel or true crime book
3. A book about reading or writing
4. A book set somewhere you’ve never been
5. A book recommended/given/loaned to you by a friend
6. A book with an animal on the cover
7. A graphic novel
8. An essay or short story collection
9. A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you
10. A book about a topic in the news
11. A book published the year you were born
12. A book by an author slated to visit Wichita in 2018

I predict the hardest category for me will be the graphic novel, so if you have suggestions, let me know. (Of course, that would fit in the No. 5 category, too.)
Stained glass window at the Nora Larabee Memorial Library in Stafford
Then, last week, there was an article in The Stafford Courier, announcing an adult reading challenge at the Nora Larabee Memorial Library, our public library in Stafford. The Stafford library is undergoing a revival. (For more history and photos from the Stafford library, check out this link to an old blog post.)

And while I know that I won't give up going to the Hutchinson Public Library - where, just like the TV show Cheers, they know me by name - I do need to do a better job of visiting and using my local library.

The first challenge for Stafford is reading a book from the library about Kansas, appropriate during this month when we celebrate Kansas' statehood. Other categories are one Western, one Mystery, one Biography and one "you choose." For my first book, I picked up "What I Love About Kansas," a collection of essays.

It's not my usual read. And that's probably the point. Having these categories urges me out of my comfort zone. I guarantee that it's not going to keep me from reading the books I want to read. When Jodi Picoult or Lee Child or Jonathan Kellerman or a host of other favorite authors have a new book out, I'll be putting my name on the reserve list at the library. If it doesn't fit into a "category" I have left, it doesn't matter to me.

But broadening my horizons is a good thing. Want to join me? At the very least, give me some ideas of books you recommend - whether they fit the criterion or not! I think part of the reason I joined the #ReadICT Challenge Facebook page is so I could see what other people are reading and get ideas!

Read more here:

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Skipping Light at Quivira

On a cold winter evening, it was as if the heavens were "skipping light" instead of "skipping stones" across the surface of the ice at Little Salt Marsh at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
After several days of Kansas being in the "deep freeze," ice covered much of the surface of the water. As the sun sank, I watched the scene subtly shift, moment by moment.
We were at the spillway at the Little Salt Marsh, and even though much of the surface was frozen, we could hear the rush of water as it pushed underneath the surface and into another pond.

I thought about working my way down the rocky shore to the water's edge. But I decided that a view from above was better than breaking a bone or my camera. The view was just fine where I was ... even spectacular ... as I watched the colors of the sunset mimicked - though muted - on the icy surface, like fabric left too long in the sun.
As we drove away from that location, I asked Randy to stop a few hundred yards away at a place where I knew I could easily make it to shore.
Friday, January 5, 2018 (this photo and all those above)
But, by that time, the sun had already set, so it was no longer sparkling like diamonds across the ice. Still, it was beautiful in a subtle, less flashy way.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
We went back the next day, but by sunset, the skies were overcast. Again, there was no light skipping across the icy surface, though the beauty was undeniable, all the same.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
Sunday night, we decided to test the theory of "third time's the charm." It was.
January 7, 2018 - This photo and all those below
I kept thinking of the Rihanna song which has that line that says, "shine bright like a diamond."

Earlier in the day, Pastor Nate gave an Epiphany message at church. January 6 - Epiphany - marks the end of the Christmas season or Christmastide in Western churches. Epiphany Day marks the observance of the arrival of the wise men and celebrates that the Light of the World - Jesus Christ - came to the Earth to live among us.
During the service, Pastor Nate played a recording of his son, Philip, lyrically reading a piece by poet B. Kevin Smalls:

“Spoken Word” by B. Kevin Smalls
Seemingly, the darkness has been so thick
not quick to trust anything resembling light
Might be a trick...and tricks don't always
lead to a treat, so I retreat in the darkness
hoping, slightly, ever so lightly that
my deepest fears will submit to the changing
of dark gears leading to light years of praise
and adoration.

Then, the light is not found, seemingly,
in the measure of the day but the Way
the voice was the light
and life to all people and there was
no equal to its clear and present
demand.  I can, I believed. I can rise
right along with the sun.

Darkness is for lying down, laying down, hanging
around, pretending to be asleep.  All the
while the light slowly creeps between the
cracks in the blinds...which are unsuccessful
in stopping the liberation...
arise, shine, the light has come...
arise, shine the light has come…

I remembered the message as the sun sank below the horizon and all that was left were the call of coyotes and the sound of birds as they took cover for the night on refuge waterways.
The warmer day had started the melting process at the refuge, creating a sort of "freeway" of paths across the surface of the waterway. And I thought about how each of us comes from a different place and takes a different path as we work to carry the light of Christ into the world. 

Being in God's beautiful world was the perfect benediction ... and an epiphany.