Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Sky Watch

I often look out my front door in the late afternoon/early evening. It's an informal sky watch, a reflex as natural as thinking about what I'll cook for Randy's supper. As a sunset aficionado, I'm contemplating my chances for a stellar sky as day slips quietly into night.

Clear skies at sunset are usually boring. On a clear evening, the sun may be bright, and it may look like a red fireball sinking toward the horizon. There is beauty in that, to be sure. But clouds provide the texture. Think of the clouds as the painter’s canvas on which the sun paints its warm colors.

It was on such an evening that we made the short drive to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. With some of the water rights issues between Quivira and the farming community, I haven't wanted to give a lot of publicity to the refuge. I'm sure nobody but me knew I was "boycotting." Kind of silly, right?

But on this particular night, the thought of a beautiful sunset sky over a body of water lured me back.
It didn't disappoint.
Even though the sun only broke through for a brief moment, it was all part of the show. The only living creatures we saw were ducks, geese and sandhill cranes winging their way back to the refuge and getting "tucked in" for the night after feeding in nearby fields.

We could hear the songbirds as they called to one another, and we saw an occasional ripple in the water caused by a turtle or fish.
I'd make brief trips to the pickup to get out of the breeze as the sun departed and left behind the chill of evening. But we stayed until there was hardly any light left behind to make sure we didn't miss a thing.

I've been thinking about sunsets and Covid-19. How can beauty and such an ugly virus be spoken in the same sentence? How could they possibly relate?

Cloudy skies elicit the most beautiful sunsets. Maybe "cloudy" times in our lives can help us to see things differently - to find the beauty in simple things.
While I much prefer seeing my family in person, I am so thankful for technology that still lets us "see" each other. How else could I see Brooke's animation and facial expressions? While I much prefer gathering for worship in our beautiful sanctuary, I appreciate the technology that enables us to "meet" as a community on a Sunday morning.

I've read posts from families who've dug old games out from the back of closets. Dinners around the table are a lot easier when there aren't the ballgames and dance lessons and meetings and the other "things" that clutter our lives with busyness. Those things are all good, but maybe, just maybe, being at home helps us take a breath.

Maybe it gives us time to look at the sunset and not worry about the things that are left undone. (And, of course, I'm not saying the virus itself is good. We can just find the good in a bad situation.)
One other night last week, we drove to a windmill a couple of miles away for another sunset "date."  And again, I left feeling thankful. 
Like the barbed wire, Covid-19 has us feeling confined and closed in. But we see example all over of positive responses - from teachers in impromptu "parades" waving to school children to hearts plastered on windows in the #aworldofhearts movement to "bear hunts" with stuffed bears peeking out of front windows, giving children something fun to look at on walks - and still maintain the ability to remain 6 feet away from their neighbors. 
Maybe my middle-of-nowhere location doesn't allow me to participate in all of those things.
  But it sure doesn't keep me from seeking the sunset. 
The end. Or at least ... the final one of that night.
 Be well everyone! Hoping you find the beauty amidst the clouds, too.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Legacy of Love

"I want to take a picture. Can you guess why?" I asked Randy.

I made Randy pause during one of our calf-working sessions this week to take a photo of a particular ear tag. It took him awhile, but he figured it out. 039: Yes, today (March 28) we will have been married 39 years. When I saw the ear tag rise to the top of the pile, I couldn't resist. (Randy will tell you I don't need much of an excuse to take a photo anyway. You probably know that, too!)
For those of you who are math-challenged, the year was 1981 and the place was the Pratt United Methodist Church. It rained so hard during the drive to Pratt that my mom pulled over on the highway to wait until we could see again. A few guests coming from out of town were late because of the deluge.
But by the time we walked down the aisle, the rain had stopped. And, as I've said many times, rain for a couple of farm kids was a good omen. The sun was shining when we left the church after the reception. (Thankfully, we had brought Randy's car instead of mine, which was stashed 15 minutes away in one of my dad's sheds. Randy's FarmHouse "brothers" had put milo in Randy's car's vents. For someone with allergies as bad as Randy's, it would have been a long trip to Colorado.)
Thankfully, the weather in 1981 wasn't like it was in 2009. We woke up to almost 2 feet of snow on March 28, 2009. I don't think either of us would have gotten to Pratt from our respective farm homes. Randy grew up 2 miles north of our house on the County Line. He wouldn't have gotten out of his driveway. That's our car buried under all that snow in 2009. My Pratt County farm road wouldn't have been any more navigable.
We will work our final group of baby calves this afternoon. I've put steaks out to thaw and I'm making a blueberry pie. (Randy prefers pie over sappy cards, though he gave me one.)

For old times sake, I should wear this apron that we got at one of our bridal showers. They were made by Sue Thole, a Stafford farm wife who's still a matriarch at our church.
With the coronavirus, we won't be going out to eat or going to a movie. After a day of working together, that would have been the extent of the celebration anyway. Eating at home isn't out of the ordinary for us - Covid-19 or not. And working together in a family business is something we saw modeled for us.
I've thought about it a lot this week. We were both blessed to grow up in families whose parents and grandparents modeled a legacy of love and hard work.
Randy's folks - Melvin & Marie (Ritts) Fritzemeier - were married April 29, 1951, at the Stafford UMC.
We still walk down those church steps - at least when not kept away by social distancing.
My parents were married August 12, 1953, at the Byers United Methodist Church.
But the legacy goes back even further. I don't have wedding photos of all of our grandparents. My Grandma and Grandpa Neelly were married May 20, 1934, at her parents' farm home.

My dad's parents - Lester and Orva Moore - were married January 24, 1932. There was no photo of their wedding available, but my mom included these photos in a history book.
They lived on the family homestead. However, Lester Moore died when my dad was only 9 years old in November 1943.
Orva Moore married the only grandpa I ever knew on that side of the family - LaVern Leonard - on December 28, 1952.
Randy's grandparents - Clarence & Ava Fritzemeier were married March 4, 1926. I found a photo from the wedding of one of Clarence's sisters, so I don't know why I couldn't find one from Clarence and Ava's special day. But I did find a certificate and a bridal memory book (copyright 1919).
Marie's dad, Alvin Ritts, was a Methodist minister, so he - along with Randy's grandma Laura (Russell) Ritts - lived a life in parsonages, different from the farm upbringing of the rest of our family. I don't know their wedding date, but I found a photo from what I assume is their wedding day.
Alvin & Laura Ritts - undated
Like my dad, Marie lost her father at a young age. Alvin Ritts died from a heart attack when Marie was only 12. The family moved to Stafford, where Laura took care of elderly family members. And the rest, as they say, is history.

When I was digging through old family photos yesterday, the oldest wedding photo I found was from 1905 - Simon and Augusta Fritzemeier - married in 1905. They were Randy's paternal great-grandparents.
Simon & Augusta Fritzemeier - Melvin's grandparents - 1905
Most of our grandparents were at our March 1981 wedding.

From left: L.C. & Orva Leonard; Shelby & Lela Neelly; us; Laura Ritts; Clarence & Ava Fritzemeier.

I couldn't resist including another couple of photos I uncovered. They are practically antiques - but not quite. 
 Taken at a bridal shower back in 1981
Taken at our first house. It was "fancy." We had a dressing room. OK - the truth. The bed was the only thing that would fit in the bedroom. Even then we could barely walk in the door of the room. We had our dressers in the next bedroom.
Marrying Randy was the best decision I've ever made. I'm thankful every day for this life we live together.
From the combine, wheat harvest, June 2019

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Just A Box of Crayons: Ag Month 2020

I gave a memorial service earlier this month for the Kansas Master Farm Homemakers Guild annual meeting. I used some missing crayons to illustrate the "holes" left behind by the unique members who've joined Chapter Eternal during this past year. Just like all the crayons in the box, each one had his or her own job to do. They leave a little less "color" in our world in their absence.

Anyway, our gathering in Manhattan happened just as the U.S. response to Covid-19 - or the coronavirus - was beginning. There was some talk of postponing the meeting, but several of our members were already on the road driving to Manhattan about the time the Big 12 canceled the rest of its tournament. While there, the NCAA sidelined the Big Dance. Governor Laura Kelly's request to limit group gatherings to 50 or less didn't come until after we'd all packed our bags to come home. And the 10-person limit was a week-and-a-half down the road at that point. The crowd was a little fewer than planned, but, for the most part, the Kansas Master Farmers/Farm Homemakers showed up to honor the six new couples who joined our ranks.

Since the 1920s, Kansas Farmer magazine began to publicly recognize excellence in farming, homemaking, farm living and rural citizenship. In 1953, K-State Extension got involved, handling the details of selecting Master Farm couples and planning the March recognition banquet. Local extension councils and districts submit nominations, and a committee picks one couple from each extension area, plus two couples at large. 

The farm families are all different. Some have a lot of acres. Some don't. Some are primarily livestock operations. Others focus more on grain production. But all have figured out how to combine their livelihood with community service - though that looks different from couple to couple and from community to community, too.
The month of March has been proclaimed Kansas Agriculture Month, and today - March 24 - has been declared Kansas Agriculture Day. Farmers and ranchers make up less than 2 percent of the population, and that number drops each year.  We also run businesses that are highly technical, are not very well understood and operate on razor-thin margins.
Not terribly long ago, a new acquaintance asked what I did. I explained that my husband and I are both fifth-generation farmers in our respective families. His response floored me when he said, we had "quite a racket sitting back and collecting government payments."
I was so stunned that I didn't respond quickly enough and the moment passed. It bothered me for two weeks before I wrote an old-fashioned letter to him to try and explain why he had the wrong idea about farmers and farming. He has since apologized, and I hope I made a difference by opening one person's eyes.
It's what I try to do all the time. Every day is Ag Day for me, whether I'm helping with cattle tasks (like Saturday and yesterday) ...
... or delivering meals to the field during busy times ...
 ... or visiting the Case parts counter ...
... or writing some children's books about farm life ...
... or contributing to my rural community.

It could be via  my KFRM Central Kansas reports and through blog posts via Kim's County Line, where I offer a glimpse at one Kansas farm family by featuring farming, family, faith, food and photography.
Every day is Ag Day for Randy, who works to provide food, fuel and fiber through crops and livestock.
As our society moves away from its agrarian roots, fewer people seem to recognize the value. As organizers of Ag Day say:
We know that food and fiber doesn't just arrive at the grocery or clothing store or magically appear on the dinner table or in our closet. There's an entire industry dedicated to providing plentiful and safe food for consumption.
  • Each American farmer feeds about 165 people. Agriculture is America's No. 1 export.
  • New technology means farmers are more environmentally friendly than ever before. 
With the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Homeland Security has labeled agriculture a critical industry, allowing businesses to continue operating as usual amid current and potential restrictions created to stem the spread of the virus. Farm groups had been concerned about the potential for movement restrictions put in place to limit exposure of the virus, including the potential for halted shipment of inputs needed for the upcoming planting season.

Still, farm businesses are doing their part to prevent the spread, too. At our local co-op, visitors need to go through the office to arrange for services. Some of the extraneous interactions have been curtailed for the time being - whether that's getting together for a cup of coffee to talk rainfall or commodity prices while they wait for a tire repair or that bunch of retired farmers playing dominoes in the farm store.
At the Master Farm Homemakers Guild meeting, we sang "The Sunflower Song," penned by one of our Kansas members, Rachel Imthurn. The words of the second verse seemed meant for the moment:

We celebrate this nation with roots deep in the sod.
Our hearts are with our children.
Our souls reach up to God.
Our joys grow in sharing the sunshine and the rain.
And when those hard times come along 
Friends help to ease the pain.

Farmers will still plant their spring crops, as long as they can get the inputs needed. Farmers and ranchers like us will continue to sort and work baby calves like we've done since our families settled as Kansas pioneers - and just like we did on Saturday and again on Monday. (More on that later.)

Just like other industries right now, there are plenty of "what ifs" and "what about that?s" that are being contemplated, whether that's supply and demand, the tottering economy and seasonal labor concerns.

The world is different today than it was a month ago. But we all need to figure out how to work together and live in the "same box."
And, by the way, I didn't mention it in my memorial service, but some crayons have a farm connection. Soybean oil can be substituted for paraffin wax in some brands of crayons. In fact, the Wisconsin Soybean Association estimates that one acre of soybeans can produce about 82,368 crayons. Prang Crayons are made with 85 percent soybean oil.

Happy Agriculture Day!