Thursday, May 27, 2021

In Flanders Fields

Jill - Memorial Day cemetery visit - May 1988
Most of the year, cemeteries are quiet places. They may provide an off-the-beaten-track place for a solitary evening walk, accompanied only by singing birds and a gentle breeze. 
My sister, Lisa, is a cemetery walker. She posted the photo below to Snapchat last Friday:
Photo by Lisa Bauer, Clay Center

Ideally, those peonies would be blooming this coming weekend as families make their annual pilgrimages, dotting the rigid pillars of stone with delicate fresh plants, silk arrangements or colorful plastic displays. The cemetery becomes a place to gather around great-grandmother's grave and tell a story or two. Visitors wave at neighbors across the narrow lanes. They may take time to visit for a minute or two before moving on to the next grave. American flags blow in the breeze between tombstones and wave a tribute to fallen heroes. 

Most flowers are toted in by visitors, like in the long-ago photo of Jill, who carried a mum about half as big as she was on our yearly cemetery tour.
But a few of the flowers are already in place - like the peonies in Lisa's photo. A few years ago, our  neighbor, Shirley, gave a program to my PEO group about the poem, In Flanders Fields, after she and her family visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City. It's the most famous poem to emerge from World War I. It was penned by Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD, who served at a field hospital in Belgium within sight of poppies blooming across the old battlefields and fresh graves. Since it was written, it's been memorized by schoolchildren in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. The poem is the impetus behind the little paper poppies long sold by American Legion and VFW posts during the Memorial Day weekend.

In Flanders Fields
by Lt. Col. John McCrae, MD (1972-1918) 
Canadian Army

In Flanders field, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That make our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields.

On the other side of the museum commemorative card, there's a verse by another unidentified wartime poet, who was inspired by the McCrae poem.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led.
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies. 

Iuka Cemetery
Though I've not seen poppies blooming during my annual cemetery jaunts, at some cemeteries - like the Clay Center one - the peony bushes offer their pink, red or white blossoms, adding fragrance to the setting as families arrive for Decoration Day. In the cemeteries we annually visit, it does seem that peonies are the perennial flowers in permanent plantings. But, on occasion, I've seen stately irises decorate a family's plot.
"My" irises aren't found at a cemetery, though they are at a similarly solitary place. These irises I've claimed are just north of Zenith along a road we travel frequently to get to where we're going.

In late June, the roadway will be littered with wheat kernels that have blown out of rumbling trucks as they make their way to dump their grain at the Zenith branch of the Kanza Co-op. 
But, in May, both Randy and I look slow down as we reach the grove of cottonwood trees and look for the purple blooms playing hide-and-seek in the light and shadows.

The irises don't mark a grave. Instead, we imagine that they provided a splash of color by a long-ago farmstead. 

No one still living remembers a farmstead at that location. But one lone post from a fence or gate still stands among the blooms. 

These days, the irises are flanked by a CRP field, and the dry, brown grasses of winter offer a sharp contrast to the brilliant colors that form the old-fashioned spring flowers.  

The fragile blossoms are such a contrast to the rough bark of the towering old cottonwoods or the bristly branches of the evergreen tree.

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-as-air angel food cake. Seeing irises stirs up those memories as deftly as Grandma stirred up her rhubarb pies each spring.

Randy knows my affinity for irises. When our cottonwood was felled by wind last year, Randy planted irises, along with tulips, by our mailbox. 
 Whether your Memorial Day weekend includes your first trip to the lake or an annual pilgrimage to cemeteries, remember the message of the irises:
What in your life is calling you? When all the noise is silenced, the meetings adjourned, the lists laid aside. And the wild iris blooms by itself in the dark forest. What still pulls on your soul?

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Adopt the Pace of Nature: Corn Update

May 10, 2021

Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
We have drive-bys on our country road. They just aren't the kind that happen in a disreputable part of town like the ones you see on the evening news.
Country drive-bys don't include souped-up engines.
They don't bring a danger of violence.
They may sound a little like this:

"Do you see any green out there? ...
"I think I see some green ...???"
 (My Farmer should know by now that my eyesight is such that he's always going to see green before me on one of these drive-bys.) 

Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, farmers understand the pace of nature. However, Emerson may not have known a farmer waiting for his planted seeds to emerge from the ground before he penned that quote.

May 10, 2021

While I will contend that Randy is one of the most patient people I know, I also know that patience doesn't extend to plants emerging from the ground. It doesn't necessarily apply to recalcitrant cattle, broken-down machinery or newfangled technology either. OK, maybe I should rephrase that earlier statement. Thankfully, he's pretty patient with me.

Anyway, the time between planting and emergence is not among his most patient times. But there's usually a reward for the waiting.

The tiny seed knew that in order to grow, it needed to be dropped in the dirt, covered in darkness and struggle to reach the light.
Author Sandra Kring

If that's not a metaphor for life, I'm not sure what is. Sometimes it feels like life drops you in the dirt. You get covered with darkness. And it's a struggle to see the light. But it's there, if only you look hard enough.

Living on a farm offers plenty of object lessons like that. Case in point: Our 2021 corn crop. 

April 29, 2021
Because of some rain, chilly weather and cattle chores, we were a little later than usual getting the corn crop planted. (You can read more about it here.)


But by May 10, the little corn plants were "up and at 'em." The seedling soldiers were marching down the fields.

 And just like that Sandra Kring quote said, they were reaching for the light.
We are relatively new to growing corn on our dryland farm. We definitely "self identify" as wheat farmers. (That's a buzzworthy thing to say nowadays, isn't it?)

So I'm still somewhat amazed at how quickly corn grows. It's a lot different from wheat. I took the first series of photos on May 10. By May 20 - 10 days later - the plants had gained some height and some hardiness.

May 20, 2021 

We collected about 1.90" in the rain gauge in the past 10 days or so, including 0.20" last night. I took the photos below yesterday morning (May 24).

Corn field, May 24, 2021

We're thankful for the moisture to give the crop a boost. There's more rain in the forecast. We'll see if any actually falls.

Corn field, May 24, 2021

 Randy planted 50 acres of milo on May 24 as well.

I guess more drive-bys are in my future. "Do you see any green out there? ..."

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Big Mac Salad


We don't eat out much. When you're 15 minutes from town, it hardly seems worth the effort. Plus, it's a lot more cost-effective to eat at home.
The pandemic impacted our limited dining out even more, mainly because we didn't seem to go anywhere at all. Even on our infrequent travels to see the kids, we took along a sack lunch and ate it at roadside parks, rather than going into a restaurant along the way.
McDonald's hasn't been on our regular dining out choices since our kids were little.  Happy Meals from the drive-through were part of the Wednesday night routine during the few years Jill and friends took dance lessons in Hutchinson. 
These days, if we go a fast-food franchise, it's usually Freddy's. And finding their sauce bottled and ready to eat at home has been a nice addition to the sandwich/tater toppings in my refrigerator door. 

So I'm not sure exactly why the recipe for Big Mac Salad appealed to me. Probably it's because I have hamburger readily available. And I'm always looking for new - and tasty - ways to use it. So the Big Mac Salad appeared on our noontime table this month, and it got good reviews from both Randy and me.
I just prepared enough lettuce for us for one meal and then topped with the toppings. I made each of us a main dish salad on separate plates. I had both hamburger and special sauce dressing leftover for another meal.  Just keep well-covered in the refrigerator until ready to use again. That's the beauty of this: Make as much or as little as you need. 
And make it how you prefer: We don't particularly care for raw onions, so I just included some chopped onion when I browned the ground beef instead.
And, by the way, it's Kansas Beef Month. Since it's always Beef Month around here, I didn't even think about the fact that this blog post could even be considered timely ... until after I wrote it. What a happy coincidence!
According to, there are more than 27,000 cattle farms and ranches in Kansas. This year, Kansas takes third place among U.S. states with cattle numbers, totaling 6.5 million head of cattle on ranches and in feedyards. That’s more than twice the state’s human population. Furthermore, Kansas ranked second among U.S. states in fed cattle marketed, with roughly 4.97 million in 2019. In total, beef cattle and calves represented 51.5 percent of the 2019 Kansas agricultural cash receipts, bolstering and enhancing the spending power in local economies across the state.
Kansas has about 45.8 million acres of farm ground. However, not all of this land can be used to grow crops. Grazing cattle is an ideal technique for efficiently utilizing grasses and plants growing on more than 15.3 million acres of Kansas pasture and rangeland. These acres would be wasted if not for ruminants like cattle who can turn these resources into essential protein and nutrients for humans. Additionally, grazing cattle helps maintain grasslands and reduce the fuel load which can spark destructive wildfires.
So enjoy a little beef for Beef Month!


 Big Mac Salad 
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats
1lb. ground beef
Worcestershire sauce
Seasoned salt and pepper
3 heads romaine lettuce, chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced (opt.)
Freshly shredded cheddar cheese
Cherry, grape, or vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
Dill pickles, chopped
For the Special Sauce Salad Dressing:

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup French dressing
2 tbsp. minced pickles
2 tbsp. minced onion (red or white)
1 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

For Special Sauce Salad Dressing: Add ingredients to a bowl then whisk to combine. Can be made several days ahead of time.

For Salad: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat then add the ground beef. (I added onion to cook along with the ground beef.) Let the beef cook undisturbed until the bottom is golden brown then add a few shakes worcestershire sauce. Season with seasoned salt and pepper, and continue to saute until cooked through. Drain any fat, and cool slightly.

Once slightly cooled, divide lettuce between plates or bowls then top with the cooked ground beef, red onion, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and dill pickles. Drizzle with Special Sauce Salad Dressing then serve.


  • Neither Randy or I prefer raw onions. I just incorporated some minced onion into the hamburger as I was browning it.  
  • I just prepared enough lettuce for us for one meal and then topped with the toppings. I made each of us a main dish salad on separate plates. I had both hamburger and special sauce dressing leftover for another meal.  Just keep well-covered in the refrigerator until ready to use for another meal. That's the beauty of this: Make as much or as little as you need. 
  • I kept all the components - including dressing - separate for photo purposes. Then we just tossed our own salads together and enjoyed!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Pheasants, Orioles and Blackbirds - Oh My!


I was surprised a couple of Julys ago, when neither of my bluebird photos won a ribbon at the Stafford County Fair ... not even a white ribbon.

As I thought about it, though, I realized that I see much better bird photos on Snapshot Kansas, a Facebook group where both professional and amateur photographers post their favorite shots. The fair judge didn't need to think about the photo like I did: I was considering how many photos I took just to get a few in focus. (And, those bluebird photos were especially rare because neither Randy or I had ever seen a bluebird in our area before. So seeing mountain bluebirds in our pasture and an eastern bluebird at the Stafford golf course was especially thrilling for us.)

Still,  my quest has continued for the elusive pheasant photo. On a trip to the Ninnescah pasture to check cattle last week, a stately rooster cooperated. It's always a challenge. I was shooting from the passenger seat through Randy's open window. I'd whisper and tell him to move the pickup s-l-o-w-l-y as the rooster strutted. 

I was mad at myself that I'd missed the tippy-top of the tail feathers in this one, but it's hard to hold the camera steady when the zoom is extended that far.  

But I can't complain with the results. I guess he wasn't in too big a hurry that lazy evening.

We weren't in too much of a hurry for a few snapshots at the bridge either.

My pheasant photos were the postlude to the day. 

A stop at the Peace Creek bridge on the Zenith Road had a red-winged blackbird enjoying the scenery, just like I was.

Peace Creek
I also got a photo of the first Baltimore oriole of the spring to visit our yard.

Randy put out grape jelly, and this guy showed up within 5 minutes. Unfortunately, that day, I only captured one in-focus photo. 

But I finally got a few more.

"Hey, guys! I know we bought the cheap brand of jelly, but we'd love to have you return to the buffet often!"

"Would you go for some Welch's?"

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Family Ties: Going to Pasture

Life can be like a winding river ... or, in this case, ... a meandering creek. 

In 1900, Albert Brinkman bought acreage along the Rattlesnake Creek in Stafford County, Kansas. Brinkman, who was a great-great-great uncle of Randy's, paid about $4 an acre. Originally in a tract of 1,040 acres, 560 acres remain in the Fritzemeier family. 

Today, Randy owns the pasture, along with his cousin, Don Fritzemeier. On May 1, we delivered cow-calf pairs and a bull to graze for the summer on the native pasture. Traditionally, we don't move cattle to the Big Pasture before May 1. Randy says that's because it his grandpa and his great-uncles wanted to keep it fair for everyone. So our Rattlesnake pasture delivery marked the final group of cattle to move to summer pasture this year.


Randy helping direct the trailer into place to unload at the corrals. Since it takes multiple loads to transport the cows and calves to the pasture, we keep them in the corrals until they have all arrived. That way, the mamas and babies are able to pair up before we let them out into the pasture.

These babies were born in January and February. It's their first visit to this pasture along the Rattlesnake. But maybe their moms remember from other years.

The next day, we went back to check on the herd. It looked like they were taking their Sunday afternoon nap.

And I wanted to take some new photos of a sign we got about 20 years ago, identifying this pasture as a Farm Bureau Century Farm. 


With a trailer attached and work to do, we didn't take time to snap pictures on the bridge as we made the delivery. But as I stood on the bridge and looked east the next day, I marveled at the picture postcard beauty that Randy's family has been privileged to nurture for 121 years. 

Randy has been making the journey to the pasture since he was a little boy. He rode shotgun as his Grandpa Clarence and his Dad Melvin delivered calves to the pasture.

Two generations ago, Randy's Grandpa Clarence owned the pasture with his brothers, Ed and Harve. 

This is an undated photo of Randy's Grandpa, Clarence Fritzemeier, with a bull. The back of the photo has written (in Randy's Grandma Ava's handwriting): "He looks like he knew he was going to be sold."

Things have changed markedly in those 120+ years, whether talking farming or the world in general. So having a tie to the past is unusual in this disposable world we live in today. 

County Line file photo
I miss the cottonwoods that used to line the road that's not much better than a cow path. I understand the reasons for taking them down several years ago, but I miss seeing those cottonwoods that were probably there when Albert Brinkman bought the ground so long ago. 

July 2013 - This was before the township tore down most of the cottonwoods along the road.

 Below, here's a September 2018 photo, which shows that most of the trees are gone.

But even without the stately old cottonwoods, there is plenty of beauty to enjoy. On days like that Sunday, I marveled at God's handiwork on display and felt so blessed to have been a little part of it for 40 years.

The Big Pasture - as Randy's family has always called it - seems like a good place to spend your summer vacation, especially if we get enough rain to keep the grass green and the Rattlesnake filled.

Do you like old photos? Here's another blog post about the Rattlesnake Pasture, along with more family history photos. More about the cottonwoods can be found here.