Mailbox Irises

Mailbox Irises

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Dizzy

"I'm so dizzy, my head is spinnin' ..."

It could be a dust-provoked headache generated by old newspaper clips and a basement storage room that hadn't seen the business end of a dust rag for quite some time. Or it could just be from the seemingly never-ending task of deep cleaning and purging.

For those of you who weren't fortunate enough to be around when Tommy Roe released his song, "Dizzy," in 1969 (insert slight sarcasm here), it's a line from that hit, which occupied the No. 1 slot for four weeks.

I liked the song well enough that I forked over some cash for the album of the same name. As I've been sorting and cleaning in the office, I found the album occupying some real estate among the predominantly Barry Manilow and Carpenters discs:

I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning
Like a whirlpool it never ends
And it's you, girl, makin' it spin.
You're makin' me dizzy



Of course, I have no turntable these days, so I had to pull it up on YouTube.

And the piles of paper (and other stuff) I've sorted and Randy has carried out of the house is "dizzying" in itself.

As I was going through yet more file cabinets and boxes crammed with dusty newspaper and newsletter clips, I texted my kids. In all honesty, I was feeling a little blue.
This is hard, I told them.

They didn't "know" me as a newspaper writer, and later, as an editor of the Focus (lifestyle) section, I told them. Brent was a baby when I quit the full-time commuting, and Jill was almost 3. I wrote a twice-a-month column, "At Home with Kim," for The News for several years when they were small. I also freelanced for a public relations firm in Hutchinson, writing copy for several quarterly newsletters. (These were in addition to the Stafford Main Street newsletter and The Messenger, the church newsletter which I am still doing when there's not a pandemic going on.)

But I hired a babysitter when I'd go for interviews for the newsletters, and I did most of my writing when the kids were in bed at naptime or the evening.

As I looked through story after story, I realized my kids just saw me as a Mom, and later, as a part-time school secretary and community volunteer.

I wouldn't change any of that. My most important job ever was being a Mom, and the other roles dovetailed nicely with that mission. But before I tossed all of the articles, I wanted them to know that I was pretty good at the newspaper/writing gig, too. I won plenty of state awards and even a few national awards for writing and editing.
Both of them acknowledged my difficulty in tossing things. (They both know I'm sentimental.) Here's what Jill had to say:
... Just because you're throwing away the physical reminders of your work at The News doesn't take away from the achievements you had and the hard work that went into it. ..."
Brent echoed:
... I agree that you should take pride in what you accomplished and the people and stories you amplified. It's good to know and remember. Throwing out a box of papers doesn't take away from that."

How'd they get so smart?

During one of our phone conversations, Brent asked me about what stories brought back the most memories.
One was from the first fire I was ever sent to. It's not because it was an award-winning story, but because it was my first venture into "hard" news. I had been hired as a lifestyle reporter. However, with a management change, all of us had to cover breaking news, community meetings, etc. It was one of the first times I had a front-page byline back when I was still Kim Moore. But I would have gladly given that up to skip covering the fire. The homeowner escaped, but her two dogs perished in the fire. I went to the car afterwards and cried.
Another front page article was a sidebar to a national story when the Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986. With the afternoon paper still to go to press, I remember watching the TV and can still feel the intensity as the whole newsroom scrambled to write stories. The Hutchinson News was in a unique position because of the Cosmosphere, a museum on the Kansas Plains - an unlikely place for a Smithsonian-affiliated space museum.

I interviewed a Goddard science teacher who had been in the running for the Teacher in Space job that eventually went to Christa McAuliffe. I talked to both he and his wife by telephone about their impressions of McAuliffe during the workshops and pre-flight receptions. Even that day, he was ready to apply to be in the next teacher in space.
I uncovered a series of stories I did on the Amish and Mennonites in the area. I was invited into several of their homes and discovered a world much different from my own.
There were hundreds of colorful food pages and other food-related stories like Cook of the Week. I wrote the stories, but The News had a talented graphic designer at the time named Karen Scott. As the Focus editor, I enjoyed working with her to brainstorm ideas and produce quality pages every Wednesday.
For one of those food pages, I earned a runner-up finish in the national Golden Carnation Awards Program for nutrition writing. My managing editor told me I should go to the awards ceremony during the International Food Media Conference in New York City. I stayed in the hotel at the World Trade Center back in 1987, long before 9-11. It was quite an experience for a small-town girl from Kansas, and I later wrote about it for a column.
 
I met First Lady Nancy Reagan (and I have the picture to prove it) when I attended a American Press Institute seminar in Reston, Virginia, for lifestyle editors, shortly being named the Focus editor. (The managing editor at the time told me he wanted to move me from hourly as a reporter to salary as an editor so he didn't have to pay me overtime any longer. This was before kids, and I was still working on a work-life balance, I suppose.)
After I "retired" from The News, I did some freelance writing for a public relations firm in Hutchinson. I wrote the copy for Wesley Towers, a retirement community in Hutchinson from 1988 to 2014. (I remember Randy had to go with me to the first set of interviews because I was still breastfeeding, so I had to take some timeouts in the schedule. TMI?)

My favorite series for Wesley Towers was interviewing World War II veterans for a story that ended up spanning several issues. It required numerous interviews with our nation's heroes, as well as a lot of reading and research. I then wrote a series of stories, which became a living history lesson for me. So was a story about residents who had celebrated their 100th birthdays and a series about residents with Hutchinson businesses whose children had carried on the legacy and were still operating on Main Street and other storefronts in the community.
I wrote the Newton Medical Center Connection newsletter from 1989 to 1996 and for United Methodist Youthville's Crossroads from 1992-98, plus other articles assigned infrequently by the PR firm for AgTrax, the Kansas Area United Methodist Foundation, Training and Evaluation Center of Hutchinson and others.
As I was going through my piles of clips I'd entered in the Kansas Press Women contest through the years, I ran across this artwork:
So, yes, at the heart of it all, I was still a mom at the core.

And you know what? My kids are both pretty good writers, too.

(This post is more for me, so that there's some record - somewhere - of my writing career ... since I threw away most of this stuff - SIGH!) Maybe the soundtrack should have been "Memories" - not "Dizzy.")

We've lost count of all the trips to the trash pit, and I also sorted through some other tubs and boxes in the basement, plus did a long-overdue closet purge. Randy and I had dental hygiene appointments before harvest, and we ended up taking both the car and pickup to Hutchinson so that we could leave the car at the shop.

We filled both vehicles with goodies for Goodwill. I texted my family:
"Is it bad that my treasures filled up all the bins at Goodwill?"

I guess it was bad for the car in line behind me, but it's good for my basement storage area, and my kids are thrilled that I've gotten rid of some stuff. Thanks Covid-19? Hmmm ... I'm not sure I will go that far!

True confessions: I haven't done much (any?) sorting since harvest. Maybe posting this is my motivation to get started again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Imagine Your Story

I got a text from my husband last week after he checked the answering machine:

"Congrats. You are a summer reading winner at the Hutchinson library. You read the most books. You get a sticker book."

A sticker book? Didn't I enter the adult division of the contest, I questioned myself?

As it turns out, that was just Randy's attempt at humor. Instead, I got a book bag and book light with the logo, "Imagine Your Story," along with a hardcover book they selected.

It may not have been a trip to the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty. (One sister evidently still has some unresolved issues from my elementary-school prize from the summer reading program at Pratt Public Library long, long ago.) But even if I'd won a trip to something fun like that, it likely would have been canceled this year anyway in the wake of Covid-19.

Imagine Your Story.  My story includes a whole lot of reading.

As I've been digging through boxes this summer, I found a prize from what I'm guessing was my first reading award. It was a book by Robert Louis Stevenson.
When Kinley was here, I showed her the inscription on the inside cover:
Since Kinley had just finished second grade, I thought she'd be interested. Yes, "once upon a time," Grandma Kim liked to read just as much as Kinley does! (Grandma Kim still likes to read, but that's not a surprise to either of the girls.)
This was how I looked on the first day of 2nd grade. I probably didn't look a whole lot different at the end.

Earlier, when I'd weeded out books on the office shelves, I found a couple of other books awarded as year-end reading prizes. I got "Best Friend" for reading 166 books in third grade and "Anne of Ingleside" for reading 47 books as a 4th grader. (I guess I was a slacker in 4th grade or the books got longer - probably the latter.)
Kim's 3rd Grade Class - Byers Grade School

As you can see, I didn't have to "beat out" too many readers in the third grade at Byers Grade School.
My fourth grade class dwindled to three people. (So you can take my award-winning ways for what they are worth!)

The following year, when I was a 5th grader, Byers joined Skyline Schools, a rural consolidation. Either books weren't awarded as year-end prizes or I was no longer the "champion" reader. I'm kind of guessing it was the former.

Just for a little perspective: I also found some report cards and notes from the same teacher who awarded the reading prizes. She sent math flash cards home over the summer, with a note to my parents that I needed to practice my math skills. So I certainly wasn't winning any math awards in grade school (or high school, for that matter)!
I thumbed through "A Child's Garden of Verses" this week, looking at the illustrations. I found a couple that help explain why I love reading so much, I think.
Reading can transport us away from our everyday lives. I'm someone who pictures the scenes in my head as I read. Even during Covid-19, they can take us far, far away.
They can help us think "Happy Thoughts."

We all could use a little of that, don't you think?

***
Several times this year, I've posted some book recommendations. I posted this same recommendation on Facebook last week, but for those who aren't my Facebook friends, I'll repeat it here. I always love finding a new-to-me author who already has several books published.
Steve Cavanagh is my discovery this summer. I've read three of his books already - The Plea, The Defense and Thirteen. My library is fresh out his books, so I ordered a couple more via a used book site.

The series features a con man turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. I would call them a combination of mystery, thriller and courtroom drama. With an excess of July rain, Randy has enjoyed reading them, too. We both highly recommend the series. (I am a much better reader than golfer!)

I also recommend this book by Robert Dugoni. It was one of my favorite books from last year, but I don't think I ever shared it here. It's a coming of age story about a boy with a rare eye condition that makes him look different from everyone else. It's about prejudice and friendship - two things that are certainly in the forefront this summer as well. It will make you think.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Baked Monte Cristo French Toast

Somehow, a chain restaurant didn't make the cut for Taste Atlas' Top 6 Monte Cristo sandwiches. I think Bennigan's in Wichita was the only place I ever personally tried this sandwich. (Bennigan's is no more in Wichita, so we're outta luck - at least, at that restaurant.)

A variation appeared on The County Line table when Jill's family visited during wheat harvest. The day before, I had prepared a spiral ham, so I knew I needed ways to use the extra meat. The Baked Monte Cristo French Toast recipe was in my "to-try" pile, so it was perfect timing to begin the day with a hearty breakfast. 

Taste Atlas describes it as: "an American sandwich consisting of two slices of white bread filled with a slice of cheese, ham and turkey or chicken meat. The combination is dipped in beaten eggs and fried in butter, resulting in a delicious, calorie-packed concoction that is crispy on the exterior while tender and custardy on the interior."

What's not to like, right?

That website says the first Monte Cristo was served in the 1950s in southern California, but some people claim that the sandwich is just a variation on the classic French Croque Monsieur.

What's Cooking America's website says the croque monsieur was originated in a Paris cafe in 1910 and consisted of Gruyere cheese and lean ham between two slices of crust-less bread, fried in clarified butter. This sandwich is still a popular snack or casual meal throughout France and Switzerland in most bars and cafes.

Many American cookbooks, published in the 1930s to 1960s, featured this sandwich under different names such as French Sandwich, Toasted Ham Sandwich and French Toasted Cheese Sandwich. Although there are no existing documents to support the claim, it is believed that the Monte Cristo Sandwich was first served in southern California in the 1950s.

Then, in 1966 at Disneyland in Anaheim, it appeared on their menu of the Blue Bayou and Tahitian Terrace restaurants in New Orleans Square and has continued to be a popular menu item to this day.
The recipe originator - Favorite Family Recipes - used a boysenberry syrup. I had blueberry syrup on hand, so we used that. You can also fruit jam - rather than syrup - for dipping.

Baked Monte Cristo French Toast
From Favorite Family Recipes
1 loaf French bread, cut into 1-inch slices
8 tbsp. whipped cream cheese
1/2 lb. deli black forest ham
1/2 lb. deli turkey
1/2 lb. Swiss cheese
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted
Powdered sugar for dusting
Fruit syrup or jam

Place 7-8 slices of French bread in the baking dish, trying not to over-crowd and squish too much. Spread cream cheese over each slice of bread, then layer on ham, turkey, and Swiss cheese.
Top with remaining slices of French bread (making "sandwiches").

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Pour over bread and let sit for 5 minutes. Turn bread over and cover pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or even overnight. (I refrigerated it overnight.)

Drizzle melted butter over the top and bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Dust with sifted powdered sugar over the top. Serve immediately with syrup or jam.

I also served with fresh fruit.

***
If you're looking for a more savory way to use leftover ham, try this Ham & Cheese Quiche recipe.
Plantation Turkey is a favorite recipe from a contest sponsored by The Hutchinson News. Despite its name, it also uses diced ham. (I've gotten better at food photos since I took this photo in 2011; however, the recipe is one we usually have if there's leftover ham in the fridge.)


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

My Trouble with Pigs (and Covid-19)

My cleaning binge has uncovered a fairly valuable book. It may not be a bestseller, but it was definitely good for some deep belly laughs from the author's parents.

Jill was 10 at the time, so we'll excuse her spelling of "troubles." And the challenges of spelling out "Fritzemeier" are clearly evident on her book cover. With a name that's 11 letters long, you may have to drift onto the next line to complete the word.
It even had an ISBN number on the Stafford School library. It was classified as nonfiction because it chronicled Jill's journey with her 1994 4-H swine project., her first year in the project. Here is most of it (illustrated with photos from her 4-H book):
One day, I went over to Jeremiah's house with my family to get a pig. I hated the smell! I got a girl and a boy and then we weighed them. I named my pigs Pork and Beans. Leonard pulled them by the ears; I hated that.
Finally, we took them home. I loved them! I fed and watered them every day for a week.  Then I got tired of doing that. But I still had to water them. Once my dad left the water running. I did not have to water them that day. I left the water on too long and the whole pen was wet. ...

Two to three weeks later, dad broke his leg, so Grandpa, Mom and Brent helped me with the pigs. Sometimes, dad did, too. One day, I ran screaming up to our house. My mom thought my pigs were dead. I thought they had run away because I did not see them. They were behind the boards, and we had to fix the pen. It made us late for swimming.
Six weeks later, we took them to the fair; Dad still had his broken leg. I got a red ribbon, which I was not happy with. I sold Beans to the Farmers National Bank for about $150.00. Plus I got $80 for being in 4-H. 
Pork was slaughtered, which I was not happy about. When we had a meal from him, I did not eat it unless my mom and dad said I had to. I have not bought much with my money, but I have put half in the bank because mom and dad made me.

Our kids were never the most successful exhibitors in the Stafford County Fair swine show. But those red ribbons didn't mean there weren't valuable lessons learned along the way ... like feeding and watering an animal - even if you got tired of doing it. Or completing a job - even if it meant you were late to something fun like swimming.

We were mean parents. Yes, mom and dad made her put half in her account to begin a college savings fund. Her 4-H livestock projects ultimately helped her go to college. Same goes for her brother. And, in her teen years, some of the other funds she generated went toward jeans (or other clothes) that Mom might have deemed too pricey. She could make up the difference with her own money, if she so chose. And there was a lesson there, too.

It's been a long time since we've had 4-Hers at our house now. But we still provide money for awards. I continue to serve as the 4-H foods and nutrition superintendent at the county fair (and I've lost count of how many years I've done that, but probably for a quarter of a century - yikes!).
 It wasn't business as usual this year. With Covid-19, we didn't do conference judging for foods.
All the fun extras - like the concession stand, kiddie tractor pull and other entertainment - were sidelined in an effort to social distance and keep people safe. There were no open class entries, so I didn't have my normal armload of 8 x 10 photos to enter.
Conference judging teaches 4-Hers - and parents - a whole lot. A sheet of comments can't compare, but that's all we could do this year.

I witnessed my children's growth from the time they were first-year 4-Hers to the time they were confident, committed 4-H veterans.
This photo was from Jill's very first year for foods judging. She looks a little scared by the whole process. But year after year, she got better and better at it, and the judges eventually probably wondered if she'd ever quit talking.  And by the time she was veteran 4-Her, she was teaching others, and she, too, was serving as a foods superintendent at the county fair.

To me, that's the value of 4-H. It's not the ribbons, though, of course, the kids want the blue ribbon at the time.

Instead, it's the "sticktoitivness" that keeps kids feeding, watering and walking their animals or trying that recipe yet again or ripping out a crooked seam - the list goes on and on.

Runaway the bucket calf and Jill both being stubborn
You sometimes have to dig in your heels and keep practicing - day after day after day so that - eventually - you can persevere.
Runaway and Jill at the fair.
It means building things - whether physically building a woodworking project or a craft or a cattle pen - or building relationships between kids from other communities and adults who volunteer their time to help.

No, the county fairs around Kansas - and elsewhere in the U.S. - are a shadow of themselves this year. The Kansas State Fair has been canceled, as have many other state fairs across the U.S. But 4-H is still standing tall in what's important - To make the best better.

Growing through 4-H isn't like magic (though that self-determined project was one of Brent's favorites when he was a little guy.) 
 
There's no sleight of hand. It requires putting in the time and effort - as an individual, as a family and as a community.

 I pledge my head to clearer thinking,

My heart to greater loyalty

My hands to larger service

And my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world. 

Now if we could just get adults to do the same - especially that "clearer thinking" part.