Thursday, February 28, 2019

Slow Cooker Loaded Baked Potato Soup: An Antidote to Winter

I admit it: I'll be scrolling along on Facebook, and I'll get momentarily distracted by a cooking video. Sometimes, my distraction turns into printing the recipe and actually making it. (Jill would point out that I don't actually have to print the recipe. I could just pull it up on my phone. But I'm a paper recipe kind of gal.)

Slowing my Facebook scroll was the case for this Slow Cooker Loaded Baked Potato Soup. A couple of different Facebook friends shared it, and I was cold enough that soup sounded good. Plus, a slow cooker soup is always a bonus because I can fix it and go about my day. Several hours later, I've got dinner made by adding just a few extras ... in this case, crackers and baby carrots. 

The original recipe didn't have the additional vegetables, so I made some adjustments, adding carrots, celery and onions. (I guess I'm getting all "fancy" with my cooking channel "mirepoix.")

I've made this soup a couple of times this winter. One time was when Kinley and Brooke were here, and they both loved it, too. It gets a thumbs up from the younger set and a bonafide Kansas farmer. It's delicious the first time around, and the leftovers warm up well. 

As I looked at the Facebook recipe, there were people complaining about the use of frozen hash browns and commenting about using "fresh" potatoes. Yes, you could cut your own potatoes into cubes, and it would be less expensive. (Though it wouldn't be as convenient.) So, by all means, if you want to peel and dice non-frozen potatoes, go for it!  

But, just for the record, frozen potatoes are "real" potatoes, too. (It seems we have to have reminders like that with the current "organic" and "natural" obsession.

This recipe is perfect for the cold weather we're getting again this week. And the weather map shows snow coming again on Sunday. Here's your antidote! Enjoy!
Slow Cooker Loaded Baked Potato Soup
Adapted from Facebook
1 bag (32 oz.) frozen hash brown potato cubes
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 box (32 oz.) chicken broth (or water and bouillon to make 32 ounces)
1 can (10 oz.) cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese
3/4 cup crumbled bacon (plus extra for garnish, if desired)
1/2 tsp. fresh rosemary (or 1/4 tsp. dried)
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste (I used bouillon, and I didn't add any salt)

Combine hash brown potatoes, vegetables, chicken broth, cream of chicken soup, Cheddar cheese, cream cheese, bacon and seasonings. Mix to break up cream cheese, though it won't be totally incorporated at this time. Place lid on slow cooker and cook on High for 3 hours, stirring occasionally to continue to incorporate cheese and cream cheese, until potatoes and vegetables are tender. (It may take a little longer than 3 hours to get the extra veggies tender. If you want to make sure the veggies are tender quickly, microwave the carrots, celery and onion in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup until they are par-tender. You don't need to add water. Just cover with plastic wrap and microwave. They don't need to be soft. They will cook more in the soup.) Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with additional bacon bits, cheese and/or chopped green onion or cilantro and serve with crackers and additional raw veggies.

If available, you can use southern-style hash browns, which have some onions and green peppers already incorporated.  I still like adding the bonus veggies.

Note: Use crock pot liners for easier clean up.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


A Time to Think

Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.
And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.
 –Maya Angelou, author and poet

A Time to Act

Approach today with a grateful heart.

Sometimes, it's easier said than done. Sometimes, an email devotional comes at just the right time to rearrange my attitude just a tad.

I know I have plenty for which to be thankful. But I don't think I'm alone in letting circumstances beyond my control cause moments of forgetting how blessed I am. Sometimes, it's like I'm looking through obscured glass. It's like my Grandpa Neelly used to say: "You've been drinking muddy water." He was talking about blocking his view to the television. But it works for attitudes, too, I think.
The Sunday School class I facilitate just completed a study called #struggles: Following Jesus in a Selfie-Centered World by Craig Groeschel. Each week, there was a section called Practice: IStrategize. It was a way to put the book knowledge to "boots-on-the-ground" use. An option during the first week was "Cultivate gratitude."
Go on a daily hunt for God's goodness in  your life by keeping a gratitude list. Throughout the day or at the end of the day, write down at least 10 things you're grateful for. ... You might choose to focus on a specific area in which you're struggling with envy or to focus on gratitude in general. Either way, begin by hunting for God's goodness in the little joys or graces you might otherwise take for granted: God, thank you for ... hot coffee first thing in the morning, a good night's sleep, giving me the courage to apologize ... Praise God for His relentless goodness in your life and ask Him to help you make gratitude the lens through which you routinely look at life.
It reminded me of an exercise I'd done several years ago after reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.
 It never hurts to get a timely reminder, does it? I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago. But I could use a change of perspective today. Funny how that works!
After Christmas, I ordered a discounted journal from a photo site, thinking it would be a good place to keep track of my prayer list.
 I've also been using it for my "thanksgiving" list.
 Being thankful isn't limited to one Thursday in November. It's even more important on those days when you have to look around a little more.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

A Snow Globe World

It was a snow globe world for just a little while.

It's rare that snow falls in Kansas without a gusting wind on the side. An evening check of the pasture just south of our house February 19 was like shaking that snow globe and watching the flakes gently drift to the bottom.
Ironically, it was the same pasture where, just the week before, I'd taken photos of bright bluebirds against the winter brown landscape, their bodies painting the drab surroundings as surely as a periwinkle blue Crayon colors a blank page.
This time, white and silence were the themes, except for the intermittent call of a cow trying to find her calf.
We probably had 4 inches total, which isn't a lot. However, last winter, we didn't need to get our snow shovel out of the wash house.
This year, the first snow actually fell in October, while fall leaves still clung to the trees. (It didn't amount to much then either). A little more came as we moved cattle in November.
This winter, we've had a little more moisture, but most has been in ice or sleet form.
It was undeniably pretty, especially since after a ride to the pasture, we could come back into a warm house.
The calves didn't seem to mind.
 Their milk machines were still dispensing warm snacks on demand.
I had a morning appointment with the dentist in Hutchinson on Wednesday. Randy was my chauffeur in the 4-wheel-drive pickup, which was nice since even the major highways were a mess earlier in the day. However, sunshine and warmer temperatures melted some of the snow yesterday, and today's forecast should clear up the rest.
A layer of straw behind windbreaks was dispensed in the pastures yesterday to give the cattle a dry place to lie down, if they wanted. Another weather system may bring us more snow this weekend. I think Punxsutawney Phil missed the early spring prediction.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Pasture Guests: Bluebirds

"If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh, why, can't I?"
Over the Rainbow, 1939

Usually, it's the baby calves who are the main attraction in the pasture south of our house. (We are up to 67 calves born this winter on the County Line. And they are mighty cute!)
But on a spring-like February day, it was the vibrant blue of birds gliding and zipping with wings to match the morning sky. As Henry David Thoreau observed:

The bluebird carries the sky on his back.
Thoreau's Journal, April 3, 1852

Randy saw them as he fed in the pasture and came to the house to retrieve me and my camera. Once in awhile, they'd perch on dried weeds and grasses, daring me to try and capture them with my little camera. Most of the shots were out of focus. A telephoto lens would have helped. But a few were good enough to share.
An article in Mother Earth News had this to say about bluebirds: 
Everybody loves a bluebird. No other bird is featured more often in our prose, poetry, and song. The bluebird is the cheery little guy on your shoulder as you sing zip-a-dee-doo-dah. Bluebirds fly somewhere over the rainbow. But there is substance, not just lyrical literature, behind our fondness for bluebirds. They have earned their place in our hearts.

Bluebirds occur only in North America. European settlers called them “blue robins,” because the birds’ size reminded them of English robins. Comparatively scarce in pre-Colonial days, the American bluebird thrived as pioneers cleared forests and plowed fields, creating the open, woodland-edged habitat they favor. Orchards and field crops served up concentrations of tasty insects. Bluebirds nest in tree cavities, and farmers furnished housing by surrounding their fields with cavity-prone wood fence posts. At the turn of the 20th century, bluebirds were common in much of rural America, and even nested in urban residential areas.
Mother Earth News, 2010
The nearly all-sky-blue colored Mountain Bluebird is a winter resident in Kansas. Mountain Bluebirds breed across western North America as far north as Alaska. They spend winters as far south as central Mexico. Migrating flocks may consist of 20 to 200 birds. We estimate there were at least 30 of the bluebirds in our pasture on February 13.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The mountain bluebird shares much of the western bluebird’s summer range, but occupies open habitat — mountain meadows, high hills, and plains. (Cornell)
Advice from a Bluebird
Rise early.
Spread a little happiness.
Keep a song in your heart.
Think spring.
Be colorful.
Feather your nest with friendships.
The sky's the limit!
Just as quickly as they arrived, they had moved on. We went out to the pasture the very next day and didn't see one bluebird. It's a lesson in capturing moments when you can. Otherwise, they fly away ... sometimes, literally.

Today, any bluebirds in Kansas may face a snow storm. Here's hoping they find shelter from the storm.
Be like the bluebird who never is blue,
For he knows from his upbringing what singing can do
- Cole Porter, Be Like the Bluebird, 1934

Click here to hear their call.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Out of the Shadows?

For the first time, my name was mentioned as a seller at the sale barn last week.
It's only taken 38 years.
It's about the best Valentine's present I could get.

It may seem like a silly thing to celebrate. But, if I'm honest, my exclusion in years' past has really stuck in my craw.

"Thank you, Randy and Kim," the sale barn manager said as the sale wrapped up and our feeder calves surged through the doors to be loaded out. I almost fell off my chair.

For the past several years (at least), my name has been included on the sheet we present to the sale barn. I know because I've typed it! It's an information sheet that says when the calves were weaned, what vaccinations they've received and how they've been cared for.

And, yet, each of those years, Randy's name was the only one mentioned as the seller on the day of the sale. And I was sitting right there, too!

I fully admit that I'm not as involved in the day-to-day care of the cattle as Randy. But I am definitely a partner in this enterprise.
October 2011
Later, I joked to Randy that I only had to have my life flash before my eyes during a 4-wheeler accident while moving cattle for me to actually get mentioned at the sale barn.

I know one didn't have a thing to do with the other.
It was just a joke, I quipped to my husband.
Maybe it was a joke?
But not really.
I said I was going to write about it.
He said I should.
I know that Randy values my partnership on the farm. But it seemed the surrounding ag world didn't necessarily see that value. I'm not getting a paycheck.
Therefore, my contribution must be negligible, even though I perform every task to the best of my ability - and, often, with better skills and less drama than extra helpers who are getting paid.
My mother-in-law Marie, Jean Newell Fritzemeyer & Marjorie Giedinghagen on a cattle working day back in the 1950s.
So, every year at the sale barn, as only Randy's name got mentioned, I thought, "This is no different than 50 years ago when my mother-in-law was Mrs. Melvin Fritzemeier and my mother was Mrs. Bob Moore."
From the kids' memory/history book from my Mom & Dad. Note the caption - the first tractor Janis drove doing field work.
And, for the record, I learned a lot about cleaning house and making meals because my mom was on a tractor when I was an elementary-aged kid. (See the photo above.) She's been a major part of the farm partnership for all their married lives - 65 years and counting!
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad to be Mrs. Randy Fritzemeier. But I also have my own identity and name separate from my husband.

Other women's names were mentioned as sellers at the February 7 sale, too. I asked Randy later, "Do you think someone else complained?" For the record, we didn't. But I still wondered what precipitated the change.
Just like other women in today's world, farm women come in all shapes and sizes. They are young and old and in between. Some work in the field alongside their husbands. Some keep the books. Some have dinner on the table at 12 noon without fail. Some load up the meal in the car and deliver it places that no Pizza Hut delivery guy could ever hope to find, even with GPS.
Taken while filling up a diesel tank at the Kanza Co-op, Zenith branch
Some work at off-farm jobs to help supplement farm income. I drove to Hutchinson to work for more years than I wanted early in our marriage, and I've had part-time employment of some sort for most of our married lives. All of those things have been essential to the success of the farm.
My friend and classmate, Diana Hemphill, got these at an auction and then gave them to me. Thanks, Diana!
And that doesn't count the hands-on work - cattle gathering and sorting, truck driver, chauffeur, go-fer, fertilizer deliverer, fuel retrieval, secretary and landlord correspondence, meal planning and execution ...and that just scratches the surface.

I did a Google search for "value of a farm wife." Honestly, I didn't find a lot. (That probably is telling in itself.) But a 20-year-old article in The Producer gave an annual value of $19,000, based on a Canadian judge's ruling after a farm wife's fatality accident on the farm. Even 20 years ago, Manitoba Women’s Institute past-president Barbara Stienwandt said it was too low. In the article, Carolyn Van Dine, president of the Canadian Farm Women’s Network, said her group was trying to make people realize how crucial farm women are.
“If you were to take farm women out of the agriculture business in Canada the impact would be huge. We’d lose an awful lot of farms.”
Winter sunrise at my sunrise tree
I don't want to leave the impression that I'm complaining ... at least, not too much. I know that I am truly blessed. My payments come in the form of having a beautiful place to live and work on the County Line. They come in having a front-row seat for the changing of the seasons and the splendor of God's handiwork - spring, summer, winter and fall. They come from a husband who invites me to grab my camera and come to the pasture to look at bluebirds. (Photos from that next week!) A quick phone call from Randy telling me that the sunrise or the sunset is worth a trip down the road is better than a dozen roses to me.

But getting a mention is still nice. Isn't it interesting how the smallest things can make a big difference? That's true on Valentine's Day, too.
Check out this little calf. I think it looks like he has a white heart on his chest. So there's my Valentine. Randy's Valentine from me will come in the form of a homemade blueberry pie today. Happy Valentine's Day to all of you, too! May you find joy in the small things, too!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Sold! (On a Very Cold Day)

My husband is a glass-half-full kind of guy. It's a good quality in a farmer ... and a husband.
Last Thursday morning, with the temperature around 0-degrees F and a wind chill dipping even lower, we were on our way to the Pratt Livestock sale barn to sell feeder calves. We drove past trees and fences draped with the sleet that had fallen the night before amidst crashes of thunder and flashes of lightning that sounded more like spring than winter. The thin layer of ice on the county roads had us slipping and sliding a few times. I kept worrying about whether cattle buyers would even show up. It was the coldest sale day Randy can remember, and he's been doing this since high school.

And in the midst of my concerned musings, Randy said, "Well, at least they have buyers on the internet these days!" Yep, like I said, he's an eternal optimist. For the record, some buyers showed up in person, too. Maybe they preferred the warmth of the sale barn arena to being out scouting for cattle in a feedlot somewhere.
Compared to 2018, the price was down about 10 cents per pound. Our calves were a little lighter in weight than last year, too. With the colder and wetter weather, they didn't gain quite as well.

But the 70 feeder calves we sold averaged $1.45 a pound.
It takes only minutes for our cattle to go through the ring and have the auctioneer declare, "Sold!" But the journey with this crop of feeder calves didn't start and end on one day in February. The calves were born on the County Line more than a year ago, and we have been caring for them ever since.
First calf of the Class of 2018
Last March, we ran the babies through the working chute, making the bull calves into steers and getting them ready to go to pasture.
Calves born to heifers already had ear tags, but the ones born to older cows got their ear tags and their first round of vaccinations as they went through the chute.
In May, we moved the Class of 2018 and their mamas to summer pastures ...
Some went to the Rattlesnake pasture, where our family has had cattle for more than 100 years.
Others went to the Ninnescah pasture.
 They stayed at their appointed pastures all summer with their moms.
Then, in November, we brought them back closer to the farm. We were two weeks behind schedule because of muddy conditions.
After they arrived home from the pastures, they were weaned from their moms.
Like wellness checks for humans, the calves had a doctor's appointment, too. Dr. Figger gave them another round of vaccinations.
We fed them silage, grain and hay until we shipped them to the sale barn.

Back in November, Dr. Figger calfhood vaccinated the females that would potentially be kept for breeding. (More on calfhood vaccinations at the County Line can be found in this previous blog post.)
Then, last week, we sorted the steers from the heifers. Once we had the females in one place, Randy chose the 25 heifers he wanted to keep. Another 26 went to the sale barn, along with 44 steers.
He treated the heifers we retained with a lice control pour-on before sending them back out to the pasture to keep eating silage, hay and grain. They'll be there until it's time to go to summer pasture once again in May. They'll be first-time mothers in 2020.

The remaining females and the steers went through the sale barn on February 7. They were among some 2,500 head of cattle sold at Pratt Livestock that day.

The sale ends one chapter. (And we've since paid off an operating loan with the proceeds, so the bank is happy, too.)
First calf of 2019
The next chapter has already begun with a new crop of 2019 calves. 
And the journey continues. It may only take a few minutes for cattle to go through the sale ring. But it represents a lifetime of work.