Thursday, July 28, 2022

Four Generations of 4-H

4-Hers in our family

Earlier this month, Kinley went to 4-H camp at Rock Springs for the first time. Her Grandpa Alan - Eric's dad - texted us during her adventure to let us know that his mom - Kinley's Great Grandma Bonnie - was the first member of their family to attend Rock Springs. Kinley's arrival at camp signaled the fourth generation of their family connection to Rock Springs.

Randy, too, has great memories from his 4-H camping days at Rock Springs. It was decidedly more rustic back in his day when he stayed in a canvas-sided tent. At the time I was a 4-Her, Pratt County 4-Hers went to a camp in Ford County. So did my parents, so our 4-H camping experience didn't include Rock Springs.

However, Kinley and Brooke are the fourth generation of 4-Hers on both sides of the family. (Brooke will wait a few years before she has the Rock Springs experience.)

4-Hers in the Ladd Family

Last weekend, both sets of grandparents came for the Shawnee County Fair to see the girls' exhibits. It was Kinley's second year in 4-H. (Covid delayed her entry into the program the year before.) It was Brooke's first year as a member of the Auburn 4-H Club. 

As Pratt and Stafford County 4-Hers, members took shifts in the fair concession stand. One of the most valuable things (at least from a parent's standpoint) was helping kids figure out how to count back change; it seems a lot art these days. And, of course, 4-Hers also learned to work as a team, serve the public and be a small cog in a big event in a community - all skills that translate in a myriad of ways to life far beyond 4-H.

At the Shawnee County Fair, the 4-Hers serve a Saturday morning pancake breakfast.The pancake and sausage meal was delicious, but even more "appetizing" to me was the continued commitment to helping 4-Hers grow as people. "To make the best better" may be a slogan, but the program truly does teach life skills and leadership that can be used for the rest of their lives.

Of course, ribbons are something to work toward, and something to strive for. But there is intrinsic value far beyond the color of the ribbon. Some of them include:
  • Setting goals. 
  • Learning new skills.
  • Learning parliamentary procedure and how to conduct and participate in a business meeting.
  • Completing paperwork/project reports.
  • Working with others.
  • Volunteering in your community. 

Yes, Brooke got a reserve champion ribbon on her White Chocolate Blueberry Crunch Bread. (And Grandma's Kim's County Line got a shout-out as the recipe source, which was definitely fun to see). But I also watched Brooke work with her mom on preparing our Sunday meal. Following a recipe and producing a tasty meal is a skill she'll use for the rest of her life. Her family handed out plenty of praise for the delicious meal, but there were no ribbons awarded.

Kinley's sunflower decorated cupcakes earned a purple ribbon, too. It's great to know how to do these special occasion treats yourself. Have you priced similar items in a bakery?
For her arts and crafts project, Kinley decorated a food storage container for the newest member of the Ladd family, their dog, Summer.

After watching the dog showmanship and agility competition at the fair, Kinley came home and immediately started training Summer. That project is getting added to the roster next year.
Brooke's bee pencil holder was one chosen for the People's Choice Award in Arts and Crafts. (It was a penny a vote, but even the Grandpas stuffing the ballot box didn't garner her the win. And that was OK.)


Brooke earned champion for her clothing buymanship project, the dress she wore for Brent's and Susan's rehearsal dinner.

But maybe even more valuable was overcoming her fears and modeling in the public fashion show, where she got reserve champ for both her casual and dressy outfits.

Next year, Grandma Kim has been recruited to help Kinley with beginning a photography project. We spent some time looking at the 4-H photography exhibits at the fair, initially learning things about the Rule of Thirds, leading lines, framing and other basic principles. (I cleaned out a bunch of my 4-H project leader materials during my Covid de-cluttering. But Grandma already got an order for new Photography Leader manuals, and they arrived this week. Let's hope Kinley doesn't lose interest before the project sign-up next fall!)

No matter where 4-H is happening - a rural county in the middle of Kansas or a bigger urban area like Topeka - it's making a difference in the lives of youth and their families.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Three-Cheese Mac and Cheese

Homemade macaroni and cheese probably doesn't sound like a very "summertime centric" selection for a July meal.

But, when your summer includes getting a tooth pulled? Then maybe you'd be looking for soft comfort food, too.

It was one of those recipes that catches your eye as you're strolling through Facebook. C'mon ... you know you do it, too. My mouth was throbbing, and a summer salad just wasn't going to make the cut for a few meals.

So when the recipe said The BEST Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese? Of course, I clicked. (Yes, BEST was capitalized in the recipe's title, so how could I resist?)

Sharp Cheddar cheese is a staple in my refrigerator, but I didn't have Gruyere cheese. So I substituted Swiss. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I know I can't get Gruyere cheese at my Stafford grocery store. Actually, I think I'd have to go to the big cheese counter at the super-sized Dillon's to even find any in Hutchinson. 

The topping included Parmesan cheese along with the panko and butter, so it gave it an extra boost of cheese flavor. The recipe didn't disappoint. Because it didn't use processed American cheese, it wasn't quite as smooth as recipes using that as an ingredient. However, the sharp Cheddar and Swiss, combined with some Parmesan flavor on top, gave a big boost of taste.

And even though Randy didn't get a tooth pulled, he liked it. too.  (He had a side of ham to go with his mac and cheese.) If you try it, let me know what you think!

Three-Cheese Baked Mac & Cheese
Modified from Mom on Timeout blog

16 oz. pasta (elbow, rotini, etc.)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
6 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup flour
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 cups sharp Cheddar cheese (freshly grated)
2 cups Gruyere cheese (freshly grated) * 
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
*I substituted Swiss cheese for Gruyere.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 3- or 4-quart baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. 

Shred your own cheeses; already grated cheeses don't melt as well. After both kinds of cheese are grated, combine and set aside.

Cook the pasta about 1 minute shy of al dente, according to package directions. While pasta is cooking prepare cheese sauce. (If you don't have the cheese sauce completed when the pasta is al dente, drain the pasta and coat it with the olive oil; set aside until ready to combine with cheese sauce.)

To prepare cheese sauce: Melt butter in a deep saucepan or large skillet. Whisk in flour over medium heat and continue whisking for about 1 minute until bubbly and golden. Gradually whisk in the milk and heavy cream until smooth. Continue whisking until you see bubbles on the surface. Continue cooking and whisking for another 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 cups of shredded cheese and whisk until smooth. Add another 2 cups of shredded cheese and continue whisking until creamy and smooth. (Retain 2 cups cheese.) Sauce should be smooth and thick.
Stir in the pasta until combined and pasta is fully coated with the cheese sauce. Pour half of the mac and cheese into the prepared baking dish. Top with remaining 2 cups of shredded cheese and then top with remaining mac and cheese. 
In a small bowl, combine panko, Parmesan, melted butter and paprika. Sprinkle over top and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Stick to Your "Core" Meals


Back when I was a Pratt County 4-Her, we worked in the fair's concession stand during the county fair. Sloppy joes provided the mainstay of the noon-day meal. 

As a kid, you don't give a lot of thought to the behind-the-scenes work required. You just show up during your scheduled shift and do the assigned tasks.

But, as I became the 4-H parent and community leader in Stafford County, I remembered those sloppy joes. Then, I was the one responsible for the Stafford County Fair clean-up meal or fundraisers that required a roaster full of a main dish. And my mom got the inevitable phone call asking about that old recipe. I've passed that torch on to the next generation of 4-H parents.

It's Pratt County Fair time this week, but I won't make it to my home county for the fair. There are bigger attractions for me to the east at the Shawnee County Fair. Kinley is back for another year exhibiting in the fair, and Brooke is a first-year 4-Her, showing her projects for the first time. So Grandma and Grandpa will go and check out their fair entries. (Today is foods judging, so I'm anxious to hear how they did.)

I'm not sure whether sloppy joes are still a staple at Pratt County or not. But I'm still using the old Pratt County sloppy joe recipe for things like the Stafford Core meal. Core is a program that helps our community's families overcome poverty through budgeting, peer counseling and fellowship. Each Monday, different community groups provide the meal for Core families before their scheduled meeting. 

I'm the organizer for our church's efforts. It was our turn again last month. As is usually the case, Randy provided the muscle in carting everything to the car and then into the church.

Sloppy joes were on the menu. (I've done other meals, too - meatballs, tostadoes, cavatini, taco soup and a baked potato bar - most more than once).

With our sloppy joes, we also served baked beans, potato chips and coleslaw with homemade dressing. And, of course, there were homemade cookies for dessert. (I had some pretzel bites left over from the rehearsal dinner, too, so I shared those, too.)

As we sat at the tables, visiting with Core members, I noticed this sign:

Isn't that the truth?

Do you need a meal for a crowd? These are tried-and-true recipes to add to your recipe arsenal.

Sloppy Joes for a Crowd
Pratt County Fair concession stand
10 pounds browned hamburger (Brown with chopped onion or dried minced onion)
4 cans regular chicken gumbo soup 
1 1/2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup mustard
1 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
Brown meat and onion and drain. Put meat in a roaster and add all other ingredients. Simmer in a roaster until thickened and ready to serve. The original recipe said it served 100. Servings must have been a lot smaller back. Today, I'd say it serves half of that (probably bigger buns). 

NOTE: Chicken gumbo soup is difficult to find these days. This time, I substituted Campbell's Old-Fashioned Tomato Rice. It worked well.

Coleslaw Dressing for a Crowd 
Recipe origin unknown
3/4 cup vinegar
1 cup salad oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. celery seed
1 cup salad dressing or mayonnaise

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth and emulsified. Pour into a quart jar and refrigerate until ready to use. Use over shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix. I usually keep a jar of this dressing in my refrigerator each summer to use on home-grown cucumbers. (I like my cucumbers with vinegar, but Randy likes a more creamy version. This dressing recipe has fit the bill.)

For the Core meal, this amount of dressing covered about 4 bags of coleslaw mix. You can certainly shred or chop your own. Using packaged coleslaw mix just saved me some time and effort when I was making all the other components in the meal.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Picture Perfect?

I love purple. As K-State fans, my family often jokes that we have purple coursing through our veins. Of course, I love what our school calls "royal purple," that dark and intense color of royalty.  


But I'm pretty fond of lavender, too. (My childhood bedroom had blue and lavender carpeting, which I picked out when my sister and I moved to individual basement rooms after the birth of our brother.)

And this year, lavender was the color of ribbon I received for my top-rated photo at the Stafford County Fair. The photo I took the morning of Flag Day was the Reserve Champion in open class at last week's fair. Nothing like a strong southerly Kansas wind before 6:30 in the morning to make a flag fly!

As I've said before, I enjoy entering open class photos at my county fair. As always, the rankings reflect one judge's opinion on that particular day at that particular time. A different judge would likely have yielded a different outcome.

Me in 4th Grade
As a Pratt County 4-Her, I entered foods, clothing construction and reading and leadership posters or notebooks in the fair. I suppose photography was one of the options back then, but it wasn't one I explored. Still, old habits die hard.

When my youngest sister was in high school, she took a college math course at Barton County Community College one summer. (I think it was calculus, but math abilities skipped my genetic code.) I was a journalism student at K-State, and BCCC had a photography class offered at the same time. I figured it was a good skill for a burgeoning journalist. So we car-pooled to Great Bend. It was my first opportunity to work in a dark room.

When I was a beginning reporter at The Hutchinson News,  I'd carry a camera along if a "real" photographer wasn't available to go with me. And I loved entering that "tube" at the north end of the news room and retreating to the dark room there, even though I wasn't the one usually developing the film. 

Blue in Digital Composite

Then, both Jill and Brent chose 4-H photography. Jill moved on to other things, but Brent kept that project through his 4-H years. As often happens when you have kids in 4-H, you take on the role of a project leader. I always felt like I learned just as much as the 4-Hers (and maybe even more) as we went to workshops and did our own photo project shoots in parks, backyards and mini field trips. And I was always eager to hear what the judge at the county fair had to tell Brent and my other photographers. I usually got the opportunity to listen in when I'd help with the behind-the-scenes organizing, etc. I learned a lot.

The photos I took of my kids fill multiple plastic tubs in our basement. (Oh, if only things had been digital sooner!) Even though I did a lot of purging last year, that's still on my to-do list (way, way down the list). 

Starting the blog in January 2010 further spurred my interest in photos to illustrate a story. I look at food photos I took in the beginning of the blog, compared to now, and I think there's been significant progress. 

Blue in People category

Weeding through hundreds (OK, thousands) of photos is a daunting task. Thankfully, I kept a notebook with some of my favorites, which speeds the process some. Decision making has never been my strongest skill. Just ask my parents or my siblings or Randy. OK, the list goes on. I polled the kids via text as I was vacillating on a few entries. (Kudos to them: All four responded ... though not all four agreed. And that illustrates the whole idea that the ribbon placings are one person's opinion.)

The flag photo was in the "miscellaneous" category. In open class, only three ribbons are awarded in each class. Stafford County fair contestants can enter two per class, so you're competing against yourself and anyone else who enters that particular category. 

Blue in Agriculture, Black and White

True confessions: I entered a lot of photos, so that raises my chances, I suppose. It's not inexpensive when you buy enlargements, mat board, etc. But, as Randy says, I could have worse vices. 

This year, I collected eight blues, seven reds and four whites. Seven of my photos didn't place. Besides the regular open class photography competition, there's also a photo contest sponsored by Stafford County Economic Development. Two of those photos got first in their category and two were honorable mention, with two not placing.
I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't give me a thrill to have my work recognized. But entering the fair is also about being part of a community. Having entries to look at gives people a reason to come to the fair. 

Wheat appeared to be a theme throughout several of my blue-ribbon winners.

Blue in Agriculture, Color

 But wheat wasn't the only subject matter.


Blue in Nature

A bumblebee visiting my backyard lilacs made an appearance.

Blue in Human Interest

So did lighted "butterflies" from a Wild Lights display in December at the Sedgwick County Zoo - both in color ...

Blue in Human Interest, Black and White

... and in black and white. (Which do you like best? I could never decide.)

You never know how things will do. One of my favorite photos from this year just got a 3rd place ribbon. It was taken in December at Quivira. I liked it well enough that I made it into a canvas for my new daughter-in-law, and she has it in her office at school. (And I may get a canvas for myself, too.)

My winning photos from the Economic Development contest are below:

1st Place in People, Stafford Eco/Devo contest
Thanks to my friend, Linda, for serving as my patriotic model at the Nora Larabee Memorial Library's July First Friday event.

1st place in Commerce, Stafford Eco/Devo contest, Corn harvest

This sunflower photo was from corn harvest.  

I also entered a couple of my books in the computer-generated scrapbook division in Arts and Crafts. My fourth-quarter blog book from 2021 got 1st place. A book I did for Kinley and Brooke after our February ski trip got 3rd place in the same class. (The books arrived after the girls were here for harvest, so I am more excited about giving them their copies than I was about how it placed in the fair.) I think this is the 11th book I've done for the girls. I use my photos and write the stories in rhyme as a remembrance of outings.

We'll see how retiring from farming affects my photo taking and subsequent entries into the fair. There may be less wheat next year (though maybe not). But perhaps there will be more from places beyond The County Line.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Summer Sky Gazing


 The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.  
 ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Good old Ralph probably didn't know much about wheat harvest, but as we did our part to bring that "daily bread" into reality, I thought his quote was appropos. For the first week of harvest, there was hardly a cloud in the sky. 

And, admittedly, we got a lot done. Since the air was dry and there was no humidity, Randy was able to start cutting before noon each day.

However, the remainder of harvest certainly provided a prettier backdrop for photos. 

I find skies with clouds much more interesting. 

Taken through the semi truck window

I figure I can apply the same principle to my sky gazing. 

Those HGTV shows are always talking about "texture" making a room more beautiful - whether you're talking a sky over a field of waving wheat ...


 ... or after that crop has been harvested ...

... with your favorite golfer in the foreground while thunderheads billow behind him ...

... at the corner coming home ...

... or over the waters of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge at sunset.



To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie –
True Poems flee –

~Emily Dickinson, c.1879

Looking south at sunset over the Little Salt Marsh

When we look up, it widens our horizons. 
We see what a little speck we are in the universe, 
so insignificant, 
and we all take ourselves so seriously, 
but in the sky, 
there are no boundaries. 
No differences of caste or religion or race. 
~Julia Gregson