Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Balcony Person: Thoughts Before Church Conference

The view from the balcony - Pratt First United Methodist Church
 (Photo from the church's Facebook page)

I spent a lot of my teen Sundays in the balcony at Pratt First United Methodist Church. When I was a sophomore in high school, our family transferred from the tiny Byers UMC just 3 1/2 miles from our farm home to the "big city" church in Pratt, 15 minutes away.

Even as a child, I wasn't a big fan of change. I don't specifically remember the first Sunday, as my sister Lisa and I walked into the high school Sunday School room just off the balcony. It's likely I trudged in with a fair amount of trepidation and worry, along with a nervous smile. Most of the other kids in the class went to Pratt to school. We were students at Skyline, a rural consolidation just west of Pratt. So it was a sea of unfamiliar faces. But in that room was the man who would become our Sunday School teacher, Carter Barker.

He was (is) a farmer and used equipment salesman. In some ways, with his barrel chest and no-nonsense voice, he reminded me of my Grandpa Neelly. Each week, he used the Guideposts magazine and taught us some real-life lesson about overcoming adversity, building character and bolstering faith in the real world.

After Sunday School, our family sat on the right-hand side of the balcony during the worship service. Carter and his wife, Marj, did, too. And Carter became as much a part of the church experience for me as singing "How Great Thou Art" for the hundredth time or repeating The Lord's Prayer.

This winter, I saved an email devotional that arrived one morning from the Great Plains UMC Conference. The devotional, written by Jeanie Leeper, Prairie Rivers District Director of Lay Servant Ministries, talked about recalling the "balcony people" in your life and writing them a note of thanks.

"Balcony people" are described as those who cheer you on and help you find your potential and calling in Christ. These people may see things in us that we aren't able to see ourselves.

Parents are designed to be "balcony people," and I was fortunate to have parents and grandparents who did that for me. But having someone who doesn't "have to" care about you is just a little bit different. Carter came to ballgames and 4-H fairs. He cared about me - even when he didn't have to.
The west balcony at Stafford UMC  is behind the rail in this photo.That's where Melvin & Marie used to sit.
Randy and I got married in the Pratt UMC. After establishing our own household, I continued my parents' tradition of mailing photo Christmas cards, and Carter and Marj are on our list. They kept up with our children with the yearly photo and even remembered them by name. Years ago, Carter gave them a wooden fence for playing "farm." Our granddaughters have played with that fence, so the gift keeps on giving. And even now, I look forward to deciphering Carter's handwritten note at Christmastime.

Carter was definitely one of my "balcony people" - both literally and figuratively. I had other cheerleaders - voice teachers Mrs. Cunningham and Mrs. Bolan, science teacher Larry Sittner, 4-H agent Jean Clarkson and a myriad of others who made a difference in my life. 
From the balcony at Stafford UMC
My connections to church balconies didn't quit when I left Pratt UMC. My late in-laws sat in the west balcony at Stafford UMC. I always found it ironic that both Randy and I had "grown up in a church balcony," so to speak. Melvin and Marie became my cheerleaders and cheerleaders for Jill and Brent, too, though I wish we'd had them around for many more years.
The view from Melvin & Marie's angle in the balcony
But then the  devotional asked, "Are you a “balcony person?”

I hope I am. I try to be.
“The heart of leader development is having a vision beyond what you actually see when you look at someone and believing in someone else even more than he believes in himself. It is to see beyond the actual to the potential, not just seeing who a person is but who she can become.”
Lay Servant Ministry handbook, United Methodist Church
Jill & Eric's wedding - Taken from the south balcony - August 2009. 
They had lots of "balcony people" at their ceremony.

This week, I'm our church's laity representative at the Great Plains UMC annual conference. It begins today in Topeka. United Methodist churches from all over Kansas and Nebraska will send their ministers and lay persons to represent them.

While at the conference, we'll be doing the business of the church and hearing about its ministries. We'll also be electing our delegates to the 2020 General Conference - a gathering of the global United Methodist Church set for next year in Minnesota. As I've studied the applications of those lay persons who want to represent the Great Plains, I've been circling phrases and trying to come up with a cross-section of people who will best serve our conference on an even bigger stage. For my vote, I've tried to pick people from different regions, from rural and urban churches, men and women, the young and the not-so-young.

As a lay member of annual conference, I can't vote on the clergy candidates, but I've read through a number of their applications, too. Some of them seem ready to "give up" on the UMC and divide into two or more branches. I hope that mindset does not win out.

I want delegates who'll be our "balcony people." But even more, I want them to be "balcony people" for the future of the United Methodist Church, to find a way to work together, to hear each other in disagreement and find a way for the church to have a renaissance. May the Great Plains find those people during this time of Annual Conference, May 29 through June 1.
 Who are your balcony people? And how can you be a balcony person for someone else?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Channeling the Beverly Hillbillies

I channeled my inner Beverly Hillbilly last week. We had a pickup load of junk piled up in the back, just like old Jed, Granny, Jethro and Elly Mae, my friends on the CBS station from 1962 to 1971.
The junk was there ... but Randy didn't make me sit in the back.

With all the rain that fell last week, Randy was looking for ways to keep our employee busy. (Side note: We are up to 11.80 inches for the month of May.)

Cleaning up the scrap pile is one of those jobs that doesn't get done otherwise. They ended up with two pickup loads full ... and a neater farmstead. Bonus!
After doing a little "market research," Randy opted to take the tossed-away treasures to Heavy Metal in Pratt. Even though I grew up on a farm north of Pratt and it was the "go-to" town of my childhood, I'd never been to that part of town.

“Weeeell, doggies! That’s just a couple a wagon races up the road,” as Jed Clampett might say.
Heavy Metal Recyclers takes copper, brass, aluminum, scrap metal and prepared metal.  You weigh your loaded vehicle on the scale, then drive to the unloading area.
Just like most guys, Randy admired the "big boy toys."
They used a couple of different attachments to get the job done. They used a magnet to lift out of one pickup. They used a fork-like grabber for the other pickup.
The operator was really skilled at getting the materials to fall where he wanted them to go.
We complicated his job with a little "wheeling and dealing" that happened in the scrapyard.
Someone who brought in a load of aluminum cans saw the broken bale mover in the back of one pickup. He offered to buy it from Randy. So the recycling employee off-loaded the bale mover, took off the other materials, then re-loaded it.
It stayed on the other pickup for the reweigh. We left behind 1,940 pounds of scrap hauled in on that pickup. And then we made the other transaction outside the scrapyard's fence, transferring the bale mover to the buyer's pickup. The guy had brought in $70 worth of aluminum cans. He paid us $60 for the bale mover.
Just like Jed Clampett's "black gold," our "rusty gold" paid off, too. We brought home $213 in cold, hard cash ... plus that 60 bucks!
It was worth the trip to another part of Pratt!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Bloom Where You're Planted

My secret garden isn't so secret anymore. And that's all right with me.

For the past few years, I've written about and shared photos of irises that bloom along the Zenith Road. That's the blacktop road that takes us part of the way home, so it's as familiar as the back of my hand.
They are just a hop, skip and a jump away from the co-op elevator at Zenith, where we haul our grain. (You can see the elevator on the horizon in the photo below.)
This year, one of my friends asked me in late April, "Are the irises blooming yet?" At the time, they weren't. But they are now. She grew up in the neighborhood, so she can claim them, too.
Since we discovered them blooming under the shadows of old cottonwoods, we've wondered who planted them. There's not a stone foundation there.
But Randy noticed some old pipe sticking out of the ground this year. So these purple blooms may have bordered a gate or walkway toward a long-forgotten farmstead.
The ground where they bloom is for sale. I hope the new buyer keeps them around.
These days, the irises are flanked by a CRP field, the dry, brown grasses of winter a sharp contrast to the brilliant colors and soft petals that form the old-fashioned spring flowers.
As we examined them more closely, we noticed several of the stems devoid of their blooms. They were likely food for the deer that flash in and out of the same trees and have been the source of more than one close call on our Zenith Road travels. 
Irises remind me of my Grandma Neelly, who had them in her backyard. You could see them from her kitchen window, where she cleaned up the dishes after poaching eggs for breakfast or serving Sunday's homemade chicken and noodles after church, followed by her light and sweet angel food cake. Seeing irises stirs up those memories as deftly as Grandma stirred up her rhubarb pies each spring.
There's another hidden patch of irises near the Ninnescah Pasture. With some poison oak and weeds camouflaging them, they aren't as pretty. And, just like with the Zenith irises, you have to know where to look.
As we left the pasture after our fishing trip last week, we drove by the small patch and found them blooming again.
They weren't the only "secret garden" we found on our way home. A field of canola bloomed vibrant yellow against an overcast blue sky.
The field is nestled at the end of a dead-end road where we had to turn left or right. Instead, we parked the pickup and trailer and walked up an old field road to get a close-up look. Beauty is all around us, there for the taking.
Nature gives us lots of reminders to bloom where you're planted. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Something Important: Advice from Winnie the Pooh

A friend posted this snippet from a Winnie the Pooh story on Facebook last weekend. It was the perfect description of a Friday morning fishing trip to our pasture on the Ninnescah River.

I suppose I could have been "busy" doing something else ... something that the world might deem more Important (with a Capital I, of course)!

But as dusk fell that evening, and my husband declared, "This was a great day!" a morning spent fishing seemed pretty IMPORTANT after all.
I did, indeed, listen to the birds. I wish I could have photographed a yellow bird that darted in a fast-moving Crayola-bright stripe against the Van Gogh-blue sky ... but I'll just have to remember the image in my mind.
I didn't see any squirrels ... but I saw some cows and calves, and I listened to them call to one another as they curiously watched the pasture interlopers along the river banks.
I heard the crashing of water against rocks as the water spilled over the dam.
I looked for spring blooms among the green pasture grasses. The milkweed will feed the butterflies as they migrate through our region. The pink blooms on the salt cedar waved in the breeze. And the tiny yellow flowers that hid in verdant green reminded me of play-yard days at Byers Grade School, where we sucked on the slightly sour stems as we played Red Rover, Red Rover and other games.
And we actually caught some fish.
A 4-pound catfish was the biggest catch of the day, but we had several that were close to that size.
We caught them early in our fishing excursion, which always makes me more motivated to keep dangling the fishing line in the murky waters.
The river is swollen with this spring's abundant rains.
Sitting in a lawn chair along the green river bank is not a bad way to spend a spring morning.
As anyone who knows me could predict, I also brought a book, though I didn't crack open the pages quite as quickly as usual since the fish were biting.
And then I realized that the book was titled "Runaway." It seemed appropriate that we had "run away" from our daily duties to a quiet pasture for a morning of solitude ...
I'm thankful for this hidden treasure, down a dirt road, through a gate under a towering cottonwood tree and a short ride via 4-wheeler.
We had sunshine part of the day on Friday and on Sunday. However, on Monday, we received another 2.10 inches of rain. That brought our total (as of 5 PM Monday) for the past two weeks to 8.10 inches, and there are raindrops on the weather map all week long. I guess it's another lesson in taking time for Important things when you can.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Banana Caramel Coffee Cake

It could be argued that I buy too many bananas.

I am picky about the bananas I consume "as is." They need to have the perfect tinge of green. And if they start showing their age spots, they are no longer in the eat-as-is category. (I know I should be more tolerant of age spots these days. I certainly have my share.)

Randy is less picky than I am and will eat some of what I deem too far gone. Invariably, though, I end up with bananas languishing on my kitchen counter.

There is an upside: There's no shortage of ripe banana recipes in this world. And I tried a new one last weekend - Banana Caramel Coffee Cake. It was Mother's Day weekend, so a special breakfast treat only made sense, right? This one has several parts, which may seem daunting when looking at the recipe, but the combination of tender cake, tangy cream cheese caramel swirl, buttery crumb topping and glaze made for a yummy combination and was worth the extra steps to produce the finished coffee cake.

The swirl is made by canned dulce de leche, which can be found in many grocery stores near the sweetened condensed milk or in the Mexican food aisle.
With graduation ceremonies on the calendar for many this coming weekend, this recipe would be a perfect addition to a breakfast or brunch buffet to celebrate a graduate ... or the end of school ... or a lazy weekend morning ... or just any old day. Enjoy!
Banana Caramel Coffee Cake
For the Cake:
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

For the Caramel Filling
1 14-ounce can dulce de leche
4 ounces cream cheese, softened

For the Crumb Topping
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
6 tbsp. butter, softened

For the glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
5 teaspoons butter
Milk, as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Set aside.

For cake: Beat the butter, cream cheese and sugars until creamy. Add the eggs, banana and vanilla and beat again. Mix together dry ingredients and add slowly to the creamed mixture. Spread in the prepared pan. The batter is fairly thick. Set aside.

For filling: Put dulce de leche into a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 15 to 20 seconds or until slightly softened. Mix the cream cheese in until it is incorporated and creamy. Place big spoonfuls of the caramel mixture on top of the batter. Use a knife to swirl into batter evenly.

For crumb topping: Mix together all ingredients until big crumbs form. Sprinkle on top of cake. Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour or until the cake tests done with a toothpick inserted in the center. Cool completely.

For glaze: Mix together powdered sugar and melted butter. Add milk, if necessary, to make glaze consistency. Drizzle over top of the cake and serve. Note: You can pour on the glaze while the cake is still hot or warm. It will provide a glaze, rather than the "ribbons" of frosting.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Chronicles of the Fridge

There are a lot of converts to the latest trend promoted by Marie Kondo in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

My daughter is an advocate of this minimalist approach at her house. And I definitely admire the crisp, clean look it yields.

And then I look at my refrigerator. It is symptomatic of my being the very antithesis of the "declutter" mentality.

I keep putting "deep cleaning" on my to-do list. Really, I do. But, invariably ... I don't.

I am getting a new refrigerator. My old one is giving out. And I've been debating about whether or not the new appliance will become a photo and magnet gallery.

I admit that I probably don't really "see" the photos on the fridge all the time. They are kind of like reciting The Lord's Prayer every week at church: If I don't really think about what I'm saying, it's an exercise in rote regurgitation. (Not saying it should be, but that's what often happens with the familiar.)

So, as I take off the old photos from the fridge, do I keep them? Some of them? Vow to keep the fridge clean and free from memorabilia? What's a girl to do?
If I take my cue from current home style magazines, I will keep my refrigerator free from any sort of mementos, memorabilia or magnets. Family photo Christmas cards and granddaughter-produced artwork would be banished to the trash can or rubber-banded together and stuck in an overflowing closet. (Wait! That doesn't work among the Kondo converts either.)
And a few of those tchotchkes from my old fridge are reminders of cherished people and places. A photo of Brent helping in the church basement at a long-ago bazaar work day was originally on my late mother-in-law's fridge. I "inherited" it after she died.
A magnet of an angel playing a cello was on my Grandma Leonard's fridge at their western Kansas farm house. Only the back of my fridge is exempt from the "stuff" on its surfaces, and, if truth is told, it's probably only because I can't reach it. 
The magnets holding up those snapshots of life were often collected from trips. Magnets from San Francisco and Churchill Downs and Nashville and Chicago and beyond are inexpensive souvenirs from our infrequent travels.
A magnet I got at the art museum in Chicago holds up an American Gothic-like photo we had taken at a long-ago Stafford Oktoberfest.
What do design-minded homeowners have against ye old refrigerator decoration? Have we Kondo'd away any signs of real life from our homes? took a survey of 150 people: 36 percent said they have minimal pics, event invitations, and other knickknacks around, while 29 percent reported having nothing on their refrigerators. I'm not entirely alone: 24 percent said their refrigerators are “drowning” in photographs and more.
“The refrigerator has become a primary display space in many U.S. homes. It functions as a kind of built-in bulletin board. Like any collage, fridge door displays involve the selection and arrangement of found objects. That is, few items are created specifically for refrigerator doors except for advertising magnets, which overtly recognize the centrality of the space and the practice of attaching things to it.”
Danielle Elise Christensen, teacher of American Studies at Ohio State University and whose study topics include everyday forms of collage
Some of these photos are like dear friends. They form a crazy quilt of memories. So, if I opt to keep the refrigerator clean or start my collection anew, I've been debating scanning the old photos and assorted minutia and making a book. (Again, I'm hopeless on the Kondo convert front. This book - along with all my blog books - will likely get tossed into a trash bin when my kids are forced to clean out the house because I never got around to it on my running to-do list. Sorry, kids! Or sorry - not sorry - as the advertisement goes.)
Will Miller of Lafayette, Ind., a therapist and comic who co-wrote the book Refrigerator Rights, explores how moving and media have pared how many close friends and relations can help themselves to what's in our fridges. Miller says the fridge is where a household's public face meets its inner sanctum.
 “The refrigerator is a signature appliance – it’s sort of public and sort of private. You’re allowed to see what’s posted on the door, but to go inside, you’d better be a Facebook friend at least.”
Will Miller, author of Refrigerator Rights