Thursday, May 31, 2018

Kansas Staycation: Scott County

Our Kansas Master Farmer/Master Farm Homemaker group has made it a priority to Discover Kansas with a field trip each spring or summer. Even though many of us are lifelong Kansans, we haven't explored every nook and cranny of our home state. Discover Kansas gives us a chance to celebrate the beauty, history and industry of the Sunflower State.

Staycations" are a growing trend - a way to have a little holiday without spending a lot of time and money. After visiting Scott County with Discover Kansas, it could be one summer destination for a staycation. 

As I wrote in my last blog post, Scott County residents are investing in themselves. They've found ways to survive - and even thrive - in a volatile agricultural economy by thinking outside the proverbial box. They could be among the success stories found by authors James and Deborah Fallows in their recently-released book, "Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America."

Agriculture is still Scott County's "bread and butter," so to speak. It's 2nd in Kansas in total production agriculture and 32nd in the nation (2012 figures). It's a place with quality farm ground and also is a hub for animal agriculture, with 17 commercial cattle feeders, six commercial swine operations and one dairy.

But they've also found some value-added components to agriculture, including NuLife Market.
NuLife Market Founder and President Earl Roemer gave us a tour. Earl’s family has farmed in the western Kansas for four generations. For years, his family grew grain sorghum – also called milo – as a feed grain crop for livestock. But then Earl began exploring how sorghum could be a human food source, especially as more and more consumers wanted gluten-free products. Sorghum has no gluten.

He admits that the early grain sorghum products “tasted like cardboard and the texture was like sand.” In 2007, Earl founded NuLife Market in Scott City to produce and market sorghum-based products and sell sorghum ingredients to other food companies.

NuLife uses sorghum grown in the region, providing value-added opportunities for area farmers. And now NuLife supplies sorghum and sorghum products for companies like Kashi, Bear Naked, Go Lean and Annie's Organic, just to name a few. Their sorghum products can be found in more than a thousand products, such as gluten-free baked goods, cereal bars and snacks, represented by some 80 brands. Nu Life Market is shipping its products coast to coast and beyond.
Another business with a reach far beyond the county is the Spencer Flight Center, a pilot training center created as a memorial to Scott City residents Dylan and Amy Spencer ad their daughters, Chase and Ansley, who died in a crash of their private plane in 2011. It's equipped with the only full-motion flight simulator between Denver and Salina. The simulator gives pilots a chance to train on a Beechcraft A36, Beechcraft BE58, Cessna 172 and a Cessna 206 under varying weather conditions.
That evening, we had a prime rib dinner at the Majestic Theater Restaurant in downtown Scott City.  The theater was built in 1922 and was a theater until 1966. The restaurant features original interior components including a decorative ceiling, wall lighting and large wall tapestries.
Next stop was the  El Quartelejo Museum. It traces the history of the region through fossil discoveries to present day. Displays feature both Native American and pioneer history. Attached to the museum is the Jerry Thomas Gallery and Collection. The Scott City native now lives in Manhattan, but he opened the gallery in his hometown. His art and collection focus on Native American, Civil War, Indian War, cowboys and wildlife.

The next morning, we actually saw some of the history we first learned about at the El Quartelejo Museum when we toured Battle Canyon. It's where the last Indian battle in Kansas was fought in September 1878.
Punished Woman's Fork includes a monument which overlooks the cave, canyon and the bluffs where the Northern Cheyenne hid, waiting to ambush the Cavalry.
As usual, Randy had to explore the cave a little more closely. The cave sheltered the Cheyenne women and children during the battle.
The draw to the northwest was the escape route for the Cheyenne after the battle.
More Native American history was found at Lake Scott State Park. The El Cuartelejo Indian Pueblo is the 1664 reconstructed pueblo ruins of the Taos Indians, who were fleeing Spanish rule.
It was later used by the Picurie Indians in 1701. The ruins were discovered by Herbert Steele in the mid-1890s. In 1970, the Kansas Historical Society began excavation and restoration.
Lake Scott State Park includes natural springs, wooded canyons and bluffs.
The 1,020-acre park surrounds a 100-acre, spring-fed lake.
There's a building where some groceries are available, along with rental of canoes, paddle boats and some fishing and camping supplies.
 Its arches provided a perfect frame for photos of the lake. 
We also stopped at a new business in Scott County, the Bellwether Barn. Owner Susan Griffith told us that her daughters used to ask their dad to build them a barn for their weddings. Dad wasn't convinced, but it sparked an idea with mom. She finally convinced him and Bellwether Barn was built. And, yes, they have had a daughter get married there. So have a bunch of other couples from the area. It's also been a revue for meetings and conventions and has become another cog in the tourism of Scott County.
We also took a trip to Monument Rocks. More on that next time.  I'm planning to share several ideas for Kansas Staycations in upcoming blog posts. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Innovation not Stagnation: Discover Kansas

Scott County, Kansas (April 2018)
Not long ago, a headline popped up on my Facebook feed:

Rural Kansas is dying. I drove 1,800 miles to find out why.

It was an article in The New Food Economy. The subtitle claimed: A native Kansan returns home to find that the broken promises of commodity agriculture have destroyed a way of life. 

OK. That made me squirm. After all, I've been a resident of rural Kansas all my life, and I'm involved in commodity agriculture. So the author is talking about me and a lot of other people like me.

You may have seen the article, too. Several of my Facebook friends linked the article to their own timelines. Most of them went on to explain what they were doing to help their own small Kansas towns thrive. Our son, Brent, read the article and sent it to me, too, to make sure I'd seen it, and we had a good conversation about it.
Photo courtesy of Millie Dearden
Ironically, the article was making the rounds at about the same time that Randy and I went on a field trip to Scott County with our Kansas Master Farmer/Master Farm Homemaker group. I couldn't help but wonder what the author of the article would have thought had she visited Scott City.

I also came away with the same thought I usually have after reading how modern farming practices are destroying rural America: How is it that farming is the only business that is supposed to exist in a time capsule? Why do some consumers want us to farm like our ancestors did 100 years ago? And isn't it interesting that these same people are espousing their views from the latest cell phone or computer while eating what they want, when they want to?

In 2011, Scott City was designated an All-American City. Their economic development tagline is: "We've Invested Millions in Ourselves." More than $80 million in capital improvements have been made in the county during the past decade, including a state-of-the-art hospital. Now, they are addressing the need for assisted living options for the aging population. Building houses for young families is another priority. "Come Thrive With Us," they say in one of their full-color brochures.

Shortly after we returned from Scott City, we also watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning. In it, they interviewed James and Deborah Fallows, the authors of Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America.
For the last five years, the Fallowses have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane, visiting dozens of towns. They met hundreds of civic leaders, workers, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, public servants, librarians, business people, city planners, students,and entrepreneurs to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign.

They came to a different conclusion about rural America. James Fallows said this:
"Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself."
Wow, a glimpse of optimism from a national journalist! Fallows, who writes for The Atlantic magazine, wrote a portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place in America, town by town and generally out of view of the national media. (I've signed up for the book from my library, and I'm anxious to read it when my name gets to the top of the reserve list!)

The Fallowses acknowledge the problems rural America face, but they also found people who are  crafting solutions on the local level. They found people with energy, generosity and compassion, dreams and the determination to make things better.
America is becoming more like itself again. More Americans are trying to make it so, in more places, than most Americans are aware. Even as the country is becoming worse in obvious ways—angrier, more divided, less able to do the basic business of governing itself—it is becoming distinctly better on a range of other indicators that are harder to perceive. The pattern these efforts create also remains hidden. Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself. 
James Fallows in The Atlantic
And, yes, he found some of those places in Kansas:
“We may be ‘conservative.’ but we’re progressive,” Melissa McCoy, who grew up not far from Dodge City and is now the city’s Project Development Coordinator, told Fallows. “There was a time when we had a really negative self-image as a town. But people thought, If we won’t invest in ourselves, how can we expect anybody else to? It was a matter of getting the community behind it and realizing that we needed to back ourselves up to get outside investment and support. Now we’re starting to see it pay off.”
From an article in The Atlantic, Why Not Dodge City, Why Not Stockton
The authors could have discovered that "can-do" spirit in Scott County, too.  Leaders and citizens embrace their historic past. But they put a modern spin on them by tying history to tourism and business. Another of their taglines is "Where History and Progress Meet." The Kansas Master Farmers/Homemakers experienced that firsthand.

Next time, more on our trip to Scott City and the first in a series of blog posts about possible Kansas Staycations.

On Memorial Day yesterday, I posted these photos to my Facebook page. While this doesn't have a thing to do with the economy of small-town Kansas, it does show there are fringe benefits that aren't possible to compute in dollars and cents.
 On this Memorial Day, I'm thankful for small town Kansas patriotism. Thanks to the Patriot Guard who accompanied a Korean War veteran to his final resting place on Saturday and who stood at attention as people arrived at the memorial service. I also appreciate their raising the flag at every home football game. I'm thankful I live in a place that still pulls over for funeral processions as a sign of respect.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Memorial Day Picnic Potluck: Mandarin Pasta Spinach Salad

Gate at Iuka Cemetery (Pratt County)
Memorial Day weekend just isn't the same as it was back when I was a kid. Yes, we still do the annual cemetery tour with my parents, putting flowers on loved ones' graves.
Look closely to see the rainbow in the clouds over Randy's parents' graves at Stafford - 2016
But back when I was a little girl, we sometimes gathered at Lemon Park in Pratt for a picnic before our car caravan to the cemeteries. My Great Aunt Helen and Great Uncle Mike and their family would often meet us there. As a child, I loved getting together, eating homemade favorites and playing on the playground equipment until it was time to go and place flowers on graves of ancestors, some of whom I remembered and some who had died long before I was born.
Jill helping decorate graves in 1988 - Age 2 1/2
At the time, I was blissfully unaware that preparing a picnic meal while also getting flowers ready for Decoration Day was more work for Moms and Grandmas. These days, we usually let a local pizza parlor do the cooking for us. And that's OK, too. But, if you have a picnic or a potluck to attend this Memorial Day weekend, this Mandarin Pasta Salad could be a contender.
True confessions: I think I saw this recipe on Facebook and printed it out a year ago. Sometimes I've wanted to make it, and I didn't have cilantro ... or spinach ... or some other vital ingredient. But this time the stars (and the pantry and fridge) aligned, and it was go-time.

It won't be the last time. Both Randy and I gave it good reviews. I served it as a side dish with grilled steak, but it would be tasty with grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon, too.

If you wanted to use fresh strawberries, blueberries and/or grapes instead of (or in combination with) mandarin oranges for even more spring-like freshness, I'm sure it would be yummy. The dressing could be used on a variety of salad greens.
Whether you're having a picnic at a park, camping out this Memorial Day weekend or are heating up the grill at home, this recipe would add a tasty side dish to your celebration ... or just an everyday meal. It may also make an appearance during harvest this year at our house.

If you try it, let me know what you think!
Mandarin Pasta Spinach Salad
with Teriyaki Dressing

12 oz. box bowtie pasta
4 cups spinach leaves (or spring mix)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup cashews
1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
1/3 cup rice wine or apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup oil

Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. While pasta is cooking, combine dressing ingredients in a jar. Shake well to combine.

In a large serving bowl, combine cooked pasta, the chopped cilantro and the dressing. Just before serving, add all other ingredients. Toss and serve.

  • Use a thicker teriyaki sauce. Kikkoman's Teriyaki Sauce and Glaze works well, as does Panda Express's Orange Sauce. I've tried and liked them both with this recipe.
  • A 50-50 green mix was on sale at my local grocery store. It included baby spinach, baby lettuce, baby greens and radicchio. It worked well in this recipe. 
  • I served the salad with grilled steak, but it would also be good with grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp. 
  • We had leftovers. Even though the nuts and the greens weren't as crisp after sitting in the dressing, it was still tasty. You could add more nuts and greens for a little more crunch before serving the "re-runs!"

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Secret Garden

And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed,
and every morning revealed new miracles.
Frances Hodgson Burnett from The Secret Garden

It's a secret garden hiding in plain sight. And it's in bloom yet again.

The Zenith Road is our thoroughfare to Stafford and home again. Early in our marriage, we lived in a house right along the road. But until four years ago, we didn't realize there were irises blooming under a grove of cottonwood trees, less than half a mile from that house. 
It was my sharp-eyed husband who first saw them. Every May since then, we subtly slow down as we approach the canopy of cottonwoods, glancing to the west to see if the blooms are back again.
It's like a surprise party each time they return.
As I parked in an old driveway and got out of the car, a pheasant squawked and flew away when I disturbed his afternoon nap. He startled me as much as I did him. After that, there was only the rustle of cottonwood leaves in the wind, accompanied by a bass line of tires slapping the pavement of U.S. Highway 50 only a half mile away.
Every year, I think about who might have planted this bed of irises. There's no concrete foundation, marking where a farmhouse might have been. The field to the west has long been in CRP, the brown grasses of winter still holding on while springtime blooms in this secret garden.
I stopped again as the sun was setting one day last week. The only other witnesses were swarms of mosquitoes who buzzed in my ears and came in for a landing.
Soon, the irises will fade again like the setting sun. But these blooms offer a lesson in appreciating life in the moment.
Last fall, Randy planted irises around our mailbox and near our front door. He knows that purple irises remind me of my Grandma Neelly's backyard, and, more importantly, evoke memories of my childhood. Not many of the irises bloomed this first spring. But to me, he couldn't have offered a more thoughtful gift.
Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message. 
–Malcolm Muggeridge, journalist

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Every Month is Beef Month: Quick Beef & Salsa Skillet

Every month is beef month at our house. But it's Beef Month with capital letters in May. Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer said so!

I don't need a reason to serve beef. I have a freezer full of it. But I sometimes do need a reason to try a new recipe. Even though I enjoy cooking and baking, it seems I get stuck making the same old, same old when the clock has flown too quickly toward noon and its obligatory meal.

Don't get me wrong: Those old tried-and-true recipes are tasty. They are quick. But sometimes you just need to change it up. This Quick Beef and Salsa Skillet fits those tasty and quick criterion, too. Plus, the ingredients were ones I had on hand in my pantry.

Randy and I are proud to be part of the cattle industry in Kansas. With more than 6.3 million cattle on ranches and in feedyards in the state, Kansas ranks third in the country in beef production. Yes, there are more than twice the number of cattle as people in Kansas!

Kansas has approximately 46 million acres of farm ground. However, not all of this land can be used to grow crops. Grazing cattle utilize grasses and plants growing on more than 15.5 million acres of Kansas pasture and rangeland, which would be wasted if not for ruminants like cattle that can turn those resources into essential protein and nutrients for humans.  Kansas also ranks second in fed cattle marketed, with 4.94 million in 2017. Beef cattle and calves represented 50.8 percent of the 2016 Kansas agricultural cash receipts.  

The product they help bring to market is one that contributes substantially to the human diet. Beef provides 10 essential nutrients, including zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins.

This Quick Beef and Salsa Skillet is just another way to put some of those nutrients on your plate.  Making it all in one skillet saves clean-up time, too -- a bonus in my book!

If you enjoy Mexican flavors, I think you'll like it, too. Team it with a tossed green salad, and you've got dinner. If you try it, let me know what you and your family think!
Quick Beef & Salsa Skillet
1 pound ground beef
1 16-oz. jar thick and chunky salsa - as hot or mild as you wish
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 11-oz. can fiesta corn, undrained
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
2 tsp. chili powder (divided)
1 1/2 cups biscuit mix
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup shredded cheese

Brown beef in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat; drain fat. Stir in salsa, beans, corn, tomato sauce and 1 teaspoon chili powder. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low.

Stir biscuit mix, remaining 1 teaspoon of chili powder and the milk together until a soft dough forms. Drop by 6 spoonfuls onto simmering beef mixture.

Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Cover and cook 8 minutes longer. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and cook about 2 minutes or until cheese is melted.

For more beef recipes, check out the Kansas Beef Council's website.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wowbray: Loving My Library

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No offense to my human email contacts, but Wowbray from the Hutchinson Public Library is probably my favorite Wednesday in-box entry.

Wowbray gives thumbnail glimpses of new books coming to the Hutch library and gives me a chance to put them "on hold." It's a good day when a favorite author has a new book coming to the library.

My first "click" is always "Mysteries and Thrillers." After I've perused and clicked my way through that list, I go to "Literature and Fiction." I usually take a quick glance at "Romance," though unless it's a go-to author in that genre, I usually don't do a lot of reserves.

All is well until I get that dreaded message: "You have reached the maximum number of hold requests." It happens after a patron has 20 books reserved. And I understand the rational. But I have to force myself not to go and get my husband's card to "bypass" the system. (For the record, I do not do that!)

Yes, I am that big of a nerd. And proud of it!

As I wrote earlier this year, I decided to sign up for two book challenges. I've been done for awhile, but just hadn't written the blog post yet. I decided I wouldn't overlap any of the selections, so I read different books for each of the challenges.

I don't need a contest to "make" me read. Books have been part of the daily diet for years.
My sister, Lisa, and I share some reading time
With only five books on the Nora Larabee Memorial Library adult reading program in Stafford, I finished it first. I spent my $5 Stafford Chamber Buck prize long ago, but here's my list:
  • Book about Kansas: What Kansas Means to Me edited by Thomas Fox Averill
  • Mystery: Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda 
  • Western: Come Spring by Charlotte Hinger
  • Biography: Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward by Lana Wirt Myers
  • Other: Any Dream Will Do by Debbie Macomber 
The Wichita Eagle/Wichita Public Library's #ReadICT list had 12 different categories. My final book was one published in my birth year. It was probably the toughest category for me - even harder than the graphic novel I was dreading before I began the journey.
For one thing, I decided I wasn't going to plod my way through anything I didn't like. Life is too short, and there are too many good books to waste my time. I chose Ed McBain's The Con Man published in 1957.  The Hutchinson Public Library had it on its shelves - another plus. OK, they didn't really have the original book from 1957 but a re-published version. It is 60 years old, you know!

I have read McBain before, so I figured I'd like this early entry in his 87th Precinct series. I was struck by how much the world has changed in regards to race and women. Characters called people from phone booths, not cell phones. A secretary had a "good-paying job" at $90 a week. Detective The victims had small heart tattoos, and Detective Steve Carella makes a point that not many women visit tattoo parlors. My, how times have changed!
Times may have changed, but my love of books has not. I try to have a book with me if there's any chance I may have a few minutes to read. If I'm along for the ride at the golf course, so is a book. (I do watch and take photos, too. Really.)
Since January 1, I've read 41 books (besides the Bible). I decided at the outset that I would read my challenge books, but I would also read what I wanted to along the way. If my name came to the top of the reserve list for a new Jeffrey Deaver book, for example, and I'd already read my mystery, that was OK. I read it anyway.
If you like mysteries and thrillers with lots of twists and turns, I recommend this book!
The reading challenge nudged me out of my comfort zone. Until the #ReadICT challenge, I would never have looked at the "graphic novel and comic book" category on Wowbray. My parents weren't fans of comic books when I was young, though they never censored anything I wanted to read. Still, I think I still must have a subconscious bias against comic books. And I'm not a super-hero fan either, which seems to be a prevalent theme for graphic novels.
It took several tries, but I ended up making it through The Flying Couch by Amy Kurzweil. It was about three generations of Jewish women, a young Jewish artist (who wrote and illustrated the book), her psychologist mother and her grandmother, a World War II survivor who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto by disguising herself as a gentile.

Another graphic novel I brought home was How To Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You. Randy read it; I did not, even though I'm convinced that Randy's favorite feline, Big Cat, gives me the evil eye.
I don't read many biographies, but the challenge led me to a book about a Kansas poet who lived in a neighboring county nearly 100 years ago, Prairie Rhythms: The Life and Poetry of May Williams Ward. I ended up using one of her poems to go with some of my photos for my Kansas Day blog post.
Doing more reading than fishing is not unusual for me!

One fringe benefit of the #ReadICT challenge was joining its Facebook page. Other readers post what they're reading, and I've gotten some ideas to put on my "to-be-read list" from their suggestions.

The Stafford library is starting a summer reading program for adults next month. Sign me up!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Fishing Trip or Business Trip?

I bought fish coating mix before we went fishing. That could have been why we didn't catch a thing.
Or maybe our onlookers were too loud. No, I don't think that was it. 
They were curious and they may have done a little moo-ing, but they were really more interested in eating.
Maybe the fish were scared away by the bathing beauties.
No, I don't think that was it either. Not many of them chose to get their feet wet that day.
Maybe we didn't catch any fish on our trip to the Ninnescah pasture.
But we can't complain.
It was still a beautiful day.
An inch of much-welcomed rain had the water rushing over the dam.
There was a little breeze to keep us cool enough under a bright sun-filled day.
And even though I didn't catch any fish, I caught a little time sitting in a lawn chair, reading a book.
I got to spend some time with this guy.
It was a work trip .... really. We found the bulls.
The calves looked bigger already since their April 24 arrival at the Ninnescah, and their mamas looked in fine form, too.
Yes, it was a work trip. But it might have been a pleasure trip, too.
Just look at that view. 
We've been moving cattle for the past few weeks. On Monday, we moved the final group to the Rattlesnake pasture. 
The Monday move was the final piece of the puzzle, getting all the cows, calves and bulls to pasture for the summer. 
We never move cattle to the Rattlesnake before May 1. Randy now owns it with his cousin, Don, but the gentlemen's agreement has been in the family for years. This year, we didn't move the cattle until May 7 to give the grass more time to grow after little moisture during the winter and a chilly April.
After the move, the guys got the trailers cleaned out. (I opt out of that job.) The feed truck has been put back in the shed. And the cattle are settling in at their summer vacation spots. Let's hope they eat with just as much fervor as humans at a cruise buffet line.
"Paint" treatment from my camera - After you've taken hundreds of cattle photos, you might look for something new.
Au revior to our bovine friends until our next fishing trip or summer 4-wheeler "dates" to the pastures!