Tuesday, March 30, 2021

My Kind of Date

It's not hard to imagine why Randy's ancestors chose a spot along for Rattlesnake Creek to stake a claim as they pushed westward more than 125 years ago. It's especially true on an evening when the sky was painted like an expansive, texture-filled canvas of light and darkness. The creek gently gurgled as the current ebbed and flowed along the banks after recent rains. 

That particular night, there were few insects to swat away. And a little springtime chill in the air made a sweatshirt the perfect fashion accessory.
It's no wonder that this piece of ground has been handed down, generation to generation, better than an antique ring or dusty family china.
The evening "date" was an excursion to replace a rotted hedge post along the eastern border of the Big Pasture, as Randy's family calls it.  


I rode along - not for my fence-building prowess, but for the company for him and the scenery for me. It was the evening after my second Covid vaccination, but it was before the side effects arrived. The cloudy sky promised the chance for an interesting sunset, an unexpected bonus.
It was just a couple of days before our 40th anniversary. This kind of "date night" has become the norm in the past year, with Covid restrictions. But, in truth, it's always been my kind of date. God's creation is an ever-shifting painting here on the Kansas plains. Some may not recognize the beauty, but to me, it seems a gift to savor.
On Sunday, I gave Randy a canvas of a photo I took last August at the same pasture. We don't usually give each other gifts for things like birthdays or anniversaries, but I thought the 40th deserved more. I take thousands of photos a year. It was really hard to choose just one to enlarge and present. But I chose the scene from the Big Pasture for several reasons, including the tradition and family ties it represents. We have held that family partnership for 40 years now - significant, of course, but just a fraction of his family's legacy. The creek's twists and turns mimic a marriage's ebbs and flows, and water is a life force on a Kansas farm.
It was especially hard to choose the photo when I couldn't ask Randy his opinion, even though he's usually my sounding board when it comes to my decision-challenged selection of photos for contests and such. 
It's just as well I already had the canvas ready to go because that evening's scenes were pretty enough to move into contention to take up some real estate on the wall of our farm home. 

 Here was the scene looking west from the border fence as Randy made the fence repairs.

The view to the east looked past the fence into the neighbor's pasture, where the Rattlesnake continued its meandering path through more native grasses.

Once the fencing mission was complete, we worked our way back to the bridge on a dirt road that borders the pasture to the west. 

The "same" scene looked nothing like the canvas that Randy would unwrap on Sunday morning, though it was taken from about the same spot. And that's the beauty of nature, isn't it?

More of the fence line that Randy and his cousin Don maintain provided a foreground for another snapshot facing east.  It's hard to know whether they were the ones to set the posts or their dads or granddads planted them in the Kansas soil. And there's some history and symmetry in that, too.

The view to the west of the road gave a very different perspective. The sunbeams were almost like God reaching fingertips downward to our little piece of heaven on earth. I guess it seemed right on that Friday before Palm Sunday, a message of hope and peace in a world too often fraught with chaos.

The sky continued to shift. Most of the time, ducks soaring high overhead were our only companions. Eventually, a couple of guys in a pickup came by to make sure we weren't broken down on this desolate road with limited cell phone coverage. 

 (They also may have been curious about what we were doing, but I hope they were giving us the benefit of the doubt.)

We moved down the road and climbed onto an oil tank platform for a view of a pond where our cattle will drink this summer.

Some of those ducks who had been soaring overhead found a resting and feeding spot in that small pond.

Randy said it looked like they were making jet streams in the pond to mimic the ones in the sky as they glided over waters unruffled by typical Kansas winds.

I probably gave up on the sunset too soon. As we turned the corner on our road to go home, we saw the vivid pink underneath a blanket of blue as the sun went to bed for the night. We stopped at our wheat field for a quick snapshot.

Afterwards, we got to enjoy Randy's blueberry anniversary pie. Nature's "movie" and a snack. Maybe it's even better than a blockbuster and popcorn. (It's been so long between blockbusters, we wouldn't know.)

The next day, I was really glad I'd made the pie early. Dose No. 2 of the Covid vaccine knocked me for a loop. Thankfully, the reaction was short-lived. And I figure it's just a sign that it's working.

I hope it will help move life back toward "normal." But I'll still love dates with nature as the marquee attraction.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Banana Coffeecake: An Easter Morning Treat

I am picky about bananas. I prefer a little green tinge to the bananas I consume. Randy is less discerning. (Read less picky, if we're honest.) He'll cut up bananas that are way past their prime (in my humble opinion) for a swim in his cereal bowl.

But, I still seem to end up with bananas ripening on the counter, 90 percent of the time. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it seemed we were all a little more creative in using up leftovers and past-its-prime food. 

It was only a year ago that meat cases were looking sparse at times. And let's not even talk about toilet paper. 

Some of us remember standing side-by-side in the kitchen with our grandmothers. After a Sunday chicken and noodle meal, Grandma Neelly had us washing foil and plastic bags along with the pots and pans. In her mind, those "disposable" goods could be used again. Waste not, want not: I may have rolled my eyes at the time, but it was a good lesson to learn.

But back to the bananas: My languishing bananas often end up in Byers Banana Bread. I usually have enough bananas to double the recipe so that I can stash some small loaves in the freezer for another day.

But this time, instead of turning to my go-to banana bread recipe to re-purpose a bunch of aging fruit, I tried a new recipe - Chocolate Banana Coffee Cake. It would be the perfect addition to an Easter breakfast or brunch buffet.

The recipe is from Cake Mix Magic. I've had the cookbook on my shelves for quite some time now, and I've made other recipes from it multiple times (including Blueberry Coffee Cake.) But this time, I used a different page. (Yes, I'm perfectly capable of making a cake from scratch ... and I do, much of the time.)

But this shortcut is tasty, too. (Links to more Easter treats are at the bottom of this post.)


Chocolate Banana Coffeecake
From Cake Mix Magic cookbook
1 pkg. yellow or white cake mix (I used yellow)
1 4-oz. pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3-4 large bananas)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray cooking spray in 13- by 9-inch pan.
For Topping: Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and chocolate chips. Set aside.
For cake: In a large mixer bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, mashed bananas and oil. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Spread half of the batter in prepared pan.
Sprinkle half of the topping mixture over the batter already in the pan. Top with the remaining cake batter, then the rest of the topping. 

Bake 40-50 minutes (depending on your oven) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or cool. 
Other ideas for your Easter weekend include:

Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake

 Apple Butter Coffee Cake


Lemon Buddies (Add Easter M&Ms to make it full of holiday fun and color.)
Use Easter M & Ms for an easy-to-do-with-the-kids treat

 Try these Blonde Brownies

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

4.2.58. Kansas Ag Day 2021

Sunrise tree, March 16, 2021
4. 2. 58.
  • Today's U.S. consumer is 4 generations removed from the farm.
  • Farmers and ranchers make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population.
  • The average age of U.S. farmers/ranchers is 58.

Anyone who knows me realizes that numbers aren't my thing:

Give me words.
Give me photos.
Don't make me do math!

But on this Kansas Agriculture Day, it's a reality check to think about the numbers.

The governor of Colorado just asked people to NOT eat meat on March 20. Thankfully, there were some well-organized efforts that countered that message with the verve of the lady in the old Wendy's commercials. Beef producers were happy to answer the question, "Where's the beef" and encourage it to be on the family's dinner table - on March 20 and any other day.
The Rattlesnake Pasture, August 2020 - Randy and his ancestors have been caring for cattle in this pasture for more than 125 years. 

Bill Gates was on "60 Minutes" this month, touting lab-grown meat as a solution to climate change. He and his wife, Melinda, are now the largest land owners in the U.S. His influence should be a concern for farmers and ranchers.

May be an image of 2 people, including Kim Moore Fritzemeier, tree and text that says 'SUPPORT LOCAL FARMERS & RANCH ERS #meatin theFence Post'

Like many others, I changed my Facebook profile photo to promote beef consumption, and, as usual, we did our part in consuming the product that we raise.

But back to those numbers: 4.2.58.

Several years ago, a friend shared an article about them from a farm publications. What better day to think about them than Kansas Ag Day 2021.

Those numbers mean the U.S. ag population is aging, shrinking and losing more and more influence with shoppers making food decisions for themselves and their families, according to Deanna Karmazin, an independent ag literacy and curriculum consultant from Lincoln, Nebraska. In her view, the numbers also mean farmers and ranchers need to make better connections with consumers who may not know much about where their food comes from but won’t let that lack of knowledge get in the way of forming strong opinions. 

Same goes for ad agencies, who repeatedly paint an inaccurate picture about agriculture's environmental impact or somehow believe farmers/ranchers don't care about their animals.

According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Farm and Ranch Coalition, 72 percent of today’s consumers know nothing or very little about farming or ranching. That makes sense, when you consider the "2" in the equation. Just 2 percent of the U.S. population has any direct connection to the farm. Still, 69 percent think about food production at least somewhat often, and 70 percent say their purchase decisions are affected by how food is raised.

Those consumers are concerned about their families’ health, the well-being of the environment, and the humane treatment of animals, Karmazin said. And they should be concerned about those things.

However, Karmazin characterizes many of those groups' messages as "anti-agriculture."

“The thing is, they have money,” she said, referring to groups like the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and others that raise millions of dollars to support their lobbying and public relations efforts.  

Of course those very same concerns are central to farm and ranch families, too. The environment and the animals we care for provide our very livelihood.

However, we go back to the equation and realize that consumers aren't necessarily receiving that message. They are 4 generations removed from any connection to a farm or ranch.

The influence of such groups and their messages can be seen much closer to home than one might imagine, Karmazin said. She told about picking up a copy of an elementary school newspaper in Lincoln and finding an article encouraging readers to eliminate all red meat from their diets. She also told about sponsoring a poster contest for children inviting them to imagine the problems for a world without farmers, only to receive entries indicating the world would be a better off without agriculture and its carbon footprint.

If such examples come as a shock in farm and ranch country, Karmazin said, then that’s why they need to be shared. 

She urges farmers and ranchers to put themselves out in front of people, whether physically or through social media, to let them know farmers are real people with families of their own who are not in business to poison the planet or put anyone’s health in jeopardy.

“Talk English, not farmer,” she said. 

I've tried to carry that mission into my blog posts.  

I was a farm daughter first. 

And I've been a farm partner for 40 years. On March 28, we'll celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Both of us have been living and working on a family farm our entire lives. (And, just FYI, we both help raise the average farmer's age of 58 in the equation.) 

March 28, 1981

And even though I'm a fifth-generation farmer and a long-time farm partner, I have found that writing about what we're doing has made me pay attention and understand why we do what we do in a new way. 

It's part of why I started a blog in 2010 - and have kept at it since that time. 

It's our story - not the story of a humane society ... or a restaurant wanting to sell burritos ... or an ad agency in a downtown office. 

Kansas Ag Day is not a holiday on the farm or ranch. Today our veterinarian, Dr. Bruce, will be here to test our herd's bulls. On Wednesday and Thursday, we plan to work and vaccinate two groups of baby calves.

 It will be a working "holiday."


Happy Ag Day! If you have a question for this farm family, please ask. You can comment via this blog, interact with me on Facebook through Kim Moore Fritzemeier or email me at rkjbfarms@gmail.com.