I'm A Sunflower from the Sunflower State

I'm A Sunflower from the Sunflower State

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Playing Tourist In Our Own Backyard

I suppose the people who live next door to Disney World don't spend months planning a trip there. Unlike we flatlanders, the people who live in the mountains aren't straining their eyes in the distance, trying to catch a faint glimpse of peaks through their windshield glass as they travel.
So I suppose it's not that unusual that I hadn't been in Strataca, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, even though I live about 45 minutes away. But I got to play tourist in my own backyard during the National Master Farm Homemaker Guild's convention last week. I joined farm women and their guests from Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky and throughout Kansas for meetings, fellowship and, yes, even some sightseeing at two of the 8 wonders of Kansas located right in Hutchinson, Kansas, less than an hour's drive away from our farm.

Randy had been to Strataca - with my parents. We can't figure out why I didn't go at the same time, but I suppose I had some other obligation that day.
As someone who loves quotes, one of my favorite displays was in the lobby before we ever got to the real attraction.

I have a tendency toward claustrophobia, but once you're out of the elevator, the underground salt mine is vast. There's no feeling of being closed in. Though you don't see the salt particles in the air, they show up in the flash of the camera.
Don't we look like salt miners? OK, maybe not.
When we think of tourist attractions, we think of the St. Louis Arch, towering 630 feet above the ground or the Washington Monument stretching 555 feet into the sky. This museum is 650 feet below the ground. (The Statue of Liberty is 152 feet tall. Think about that when compared to the depth of the salt mine!)
I'm guessing most of the farm visitors paused at the display of this old McCormick-Deering WD-6 tractor, wondering how and why it ended up 1/8 of a mile below any of Kansas' fertile farm ground. Once abandoned along a fence line, the tractor was given a long second career in the salt mine.

The museum is just a small part of the underground beneath Hutchinson, known as the Salt City. An early-day settler in the Central Kansas community discovered salt in 1887. The Permian Wellington Formation was formed about 275 million years ago when the Permian Sea dried up. One of the largest in the world, the extent of this bedded salt deposit is 27,000 square miles in central and south-central Kansas and is marginal to Permian Basin salt deposits in Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and southeastern New Mexico that cover 100,000 square miles.

Today there are three salt companies in Reno County: Morton and Cargill operate brine evaporation plants and the Hutchinson Salt Company operates the original Carey rock salt mine in which Strataca is located. The Hutchinson Salt Company produces salt for treating roads in the winter. It's a different process than mining for table salt.

My farmer was most intrigued about how they get the machinery down to the mines. They literally have to break down the equipment, transport the pieces in the elevators and then put them back together once underground.

Besides salt production, the environment is perfect for underground storage, with its constant temperature and humidity. It's a lesson that was learned during World War II, when the Nazis hid artwork and valuables in the salt mines of Europe. It's the story told in the movie, The Monuments Men.
The motion picture industry stores props and film canisters under the earth in the middle of Kansas.
I have never heard of the movie, Salt, even though Angelina Jolie was in it. But it's kind of ironic that the film is stored in a salt mine, don't you think?

I had to take a picture of the boxes from Warner Brothers with the tapes from the television show, Friends, since I was touring the museum with my new farm friends from across the country.
Underground Vault and Storage Company also stores business records and documents from around the world.

After our tour, we had Hog Wild Pit BBQ while down in the mine and also got to hear Larry Hatteberg, the long-time news anchor at KAKE-TV, talk about some of the "characters" he met while doing the popular video series, Hatteberg's People. He reminded us that everyone has a story. It's a truth I've also found as a reporter and writer. And sometimes the best stories aren't grabbed from the news headline, but rather, from ordinary people ... like the ones we met during the convention.
I had been to the Cosmosphere several times, but it had been awhile, so it was fun to play tourist there as well.

The Cosmosphere is another of the 8 Wonders of Kansas. Once our granddaughters get a little older, we'll have to make a return trip for adventures above and below the earth! After all, they are practically in our own backyard.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Hide and Seek

As I dashed out of the house to run an errand for Randy, I glanced to my left and saw four little kittens nestled in the crevice between the house and the back steps.

And when I got back there were 11. YES, 11!
I texted a photo to the kids and sent it in an email to my Mom, but by the next time I looked, not a single one remained. Two litters of kittens are playing hide and seek. Or maybe it's their mothers. I need a scorecard!
I found some hiding in the window well.
 A few were more clever at hiding behind the screen mesh for a little camouflage.
Some had moved by their mom for a snack.
Others were hanging out by the cat food bowl. Maybe they were waiting on their mother, too.
Randy's mission is to tame some of these kitties so they can make their way to my parents' farm in Pratt County. It's a mission he is always glad to accept.
He already had a good start with a kitty we named Fluffy. (Or maybe it was Fuzzy. It depends on which one of us you ask.)
At this time, Fluffy (AKA Fuzzy) is nowhere to be found.
And this big guy isn't talking.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Sing Anyway

A Time to Think

Some days there won't be a song in your heart. 
Sing anyway.
–Emory Austin, motivational speaker
(From my email devotional from Guideposts)
The tires clickety-clacked over the small wooden bridge. I'd been over it three times already, and each time, I turned to the left as I passed. A creek meandered through a pasture, and clouds dotted a blue August sky. It registered each time, but I didn't stop the car. I thought I didn't have time to dig through my purse and unearth the camera when I had another place to be.

But, on my final trip (for now), returning from Miller Seed Farm, I decided I'd stop. I looked both directions on the rutted dirt road and didn't see anyone coming. I wasn't going to block anyone's progress in a farm truck as it rambled to get seed wheat cleaned or force anyone to wiggle by me on the narrow road.

It was an uncharacteristically cool morning for August. As I stepped on the bridge and jockeyed around, trying to figure out the best angle, I heard the creek babbling under my feet as it made its way under the bridge, doing the Limbo under the fence and gurgling its way through the green grass-fringed banks. Birds sounded their own tune, and the grasses provided the gentle drum brush accompaniment. And I remembered the words of the devotional that I'd just read the day before:

Some days there won't be a song in your heart. 
Sing anyway.

When I am distracted by my agenda or by my worries or by my disappointments or the latest farm breakdown, it's easy to forget to "sing." When I feel that way, it's easier to drive right by those everyday, ordinary gifts from God and hardly even notice the miracles right outside my window.
I was in my basement office, nowhere near the sky, when Randy called me from the tractor.

"It's a beautiful sunrise," my farmer told me.

So I left my computer and drove down the road. When I saw the sky, my first thought was of the hymn, "When morning gilds the skies, my heart awakening cries! Let Jesus Christ be praised!"

And then, when I was editing the photos later, a simple children's Sunday School song drifted in my mind: "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, to shine for him each day. In every way try to please Him, at home, at school, at play. ... I'll be a sunbeam for Him."

When those dark clouds cover up my "sunbeam," I still need to remember to shine ... and sing.
Taken as I delivered Randy to the tractor to bale. By the time I had gotten him there, the sun had almost sunk below the horizon.
12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; 
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, 
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12

Friday, August 28, 2015

Barb's Chopped Salad

I took this before I added the dressing to better show the ingredients.
This is one of those recipes that isn't really a recipe. My friend, Barb, brought a delicious salad to a church potluck. I asked for the recipe. And I got an email back with this message:
"No recipe. I will try and tell you what I did."
Then, the next day, I got another email, saying:
"I think I forgot I also put in rinsed black beans and fresh corn that I cooked in the skillet for a few minutes."
Back in another era, savvy cooks combined a pinch of this and a smidgen of that. I have a tendency to start with a recipe and then adapt from there. A recipe writer opts for unsalted butter: I invariably used salted. Another uses all butter for a drop cookie recipe, but I like the texture that shortening provides, so I substitute all or part.

This recipe for Chopped Salad is kind of like that. If you've just come home from a farmer's market and have fresh zucchini, by all means, chop up some and add it. Same goes for other fresh veggies. This could also be called a "mix and match" salad, I suppose.

For the dressing, Barb gave me some measurements and then terminology like "a splash of honey" and "a splash of vinegar."

She went to all the work to type it and then the recipe got buried at my house until this summer. I measured my splashes and then I lost the internet at home. So I carried my recipe notes to another location. And I lost them.
 So ... I'm giving you my best approximation of things. But this truly is one of those recipes like your Grandma used to make. Add or subtract the veggies you like. Use a pinch more of this or that. It will all be OK. But I would use the avocado, since it adds a nice, creamy texture along with the dressing.

In her original recipe, Barb cooked chicken breasts on top of the stove. Since we are in the midst of grilling season, I grilled seasoned chicken, along with beef to serve to my cattleman. (I like beef, too, but I also like a change of pace once in awhile.)

The recipe makes a large amount, perfect for a potluck or family reunion. You can adjust the amounts downward if you're only serving a few.

This is not a low-cal salad. But it sure is yummy!
I put both my serving and Randy's on a platter for illustration purposes!
Chopped Salad
Recipe from Barb Sewing

4 chicken breasts cooked in non-stick skillet with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper
3 hearts of romaine, chopped
1 bunch green onions, diced
2 green, red or other colored peppers (or use the multi-colored baby peppers)
1 cup shredded cheese (use your favorite)
3 diced avocadoes
1 carton cherry or grape tomatoes (or chop up regular tomatoes)
1 cup rinsed black beans
2 cobs of fresh corn (or use frozen)

1/2 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
Salt & pepper to taste
Half & half needed to thin the dressing

Cook the chicken breasts and set aside to cool. You may also season and grill chicken or steak. If you're using fresh corn, remove the kernels from the cobs and cook in the same skillet until tender. If you're using frozen, set it out to thaw while you are preparing the other ingredients.

Chop lettuce and other vegetables. Toss to combine.

Combine dressing ingredients, adding ingredients to taste and thinning with half and half. When ready to serve, stir the dressing into the salad and gently toss. Barb also stirred the cooled chicken into the salad. I served it separately. It's delicious either way. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sky on Fire

Sunrise, August 25
Remember those bins of rubber balls in the end-cap display at the downtown five and dime when you were a kid? As I've looked at the sky the last few days, it seems like one of those balls has escaped from the bin and has rolled across the horizon, bouncing higher or lower as the day begins or ends.

It's been beautiful, almost like the sky is on fire. And unfortunately, the red sky at dusk and dawn has had fire as its source, according to meteorologists.
Sunrise, August 25
Recent red sunsets and sunrises will soon diminish as smoke particulates from western-state fires in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and California are expected to disappear from the atmosphere in Kansas this week. A cold front this past weekend carried smoke from multiple western fires to Kansas, said Jeff Hutton, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Dodge City.
Sunset framed by trees, August 24
There’s been smoke in the atmosphere for the past few weeks, into even a month, Hutton said, but it’s not always easy to see. The air quality across the plains is fairly good, and air quality “is not really an issue” due to the strong Kansas winds.
Sunset, August 21. I wondered if the smoke made this sunset hazy.
It's too bad that such beauty in my backyard is tied to such destruction for others.

Pastor Nate has asked us to pray for a California church camp, Hume Lake, where he spent many happy summers. This long-time church camp has been threatened by wildfire. They are not alone. Prayers for those who've lost so much in the fires - even their lives - and for the safety of the firefighters combating the blazes.

It's a reminder to celebrate the small things every day. The small things often become the big things.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Back in the Bin

In 1,352 blog posts, I've never written about binning seed wheat. How did that happen? At harvest time, I guess I've been too busy serving as chief go-fer and making and transporting meals to go down to the bins and take photos. Since 2010, there have been five other opportunities to chronicle our seed wheat's journey from on-farm storage bin to Miller Seed Farm for cleaning and back home again to the bins.
But somehow in those millions of words and thousands of photos, I've missed recording it for posterity. Until now.

Farmers may store their own wheat and plant it for their next crop, but only for their own use. During harvest this summer, Randy saved two varieties: 1863 (a K-State Wheat Alliance release) and Cedar (a WestBred wheat variety). Each year, Randy has specific fields from which we harvest the seed wheat. Usually, he plants that wheat fairly close to the farm headquarters, where we have the capacity to store 2,100 bushels in on-farm storage in two different bins.

After the wheat came back from Miller Seed Farms, the guys hoisted the truck bed up and opened a hatch in the center of the truck bed, just raising it enough to let a slow, steady stream fall into the rubber trough.
An aside: Every time I see the back end of our old white truck, I have to smile at the irony of the "I Like Cotton" bumper sticker. The closest we've gotten to cotton production around here is through wearing jeans. But the bumper sticker came attached when we purchased the truck several years ago. So there it stays.
The wheat is that color because it's been treated with Cruiser insecticide and Vibrance Extreme fungicide.
I should have stepped back a little ways to show that the tractor was running the PTO that makes the auger run. (If you use your imagination, you can see a tiny portion of the tractor in the shadow on the lefthand side of the photo above.) The white rod was attached to the tractor and then to the auger, where it provided power for making the auger run.
The auger is used to transport the wheat back into the storage bin, where it will stay until we're ready to plant wheat in late September and early October.

Because Miller Seed Farms gets so busy closer to planting time, we schedule our wheat cleaning early. That way, it's ready to go when we are.
Photo from 2013 wheat planting
Wheat planting is probably about a month away.
And then, we'll again begin the 9-month journey toward harvest.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Planting a Seed of Appreciation

Dolores Wagler, Photo from http://millerseedfarms.com
Sometimes, customer service is as simple as a bright purple clipboard.

Let's face it: I'm not cashing a paycheck every two weeks from my job as "office manager" on the County Line. So when Dolores, the office manager at Miller Seed Farms, chased me down and gave me a purple clipboard, I felt like I had just gotten a prize.

Randy had taken photos with his phone of our struggling alfalfa crop so he could get a replant rate on the seed cost. But I was the one that got them texted to owner LaVerne Miller's phone. Randy made a comment about being glad he brought his office manager and communications specialist to run the technology. And I joked that I hoped Dolores got paid more than I did for her office management duties.

We all laughed. But, after we left the office, Dolores brought me that purple clipboard while we were waiting on the guys to load the alfalfa seed. I wouldn't have liked a dozen roses any better.  Don't get me wrong:  My farmer definitely makes me feel valued (and I know I'm fortunate because of that. Not every farm wife feels that way). But it was still nice to have someone else acknowledge my contribution to the cause.
It's not like we see the folks at Miller Seed Farms all that often, though they always make us feel like old friends. They are part of our annual pilgrimage toward wheat planting. We take the wheat we stored in on-farm bins during harvest time to get cleaned and treated before wheat planting starts in September.
Farmers may store their own wheat and plant it for their next crop, but only for their own use.
This year, Randy saved two varieties at harvest time, 1863 (a K-State Wheat Alliance release) and Cedar (a WestBred wheat variety). He and Jake loaded the saved wheat from our bins into our trucks. I went to Miller Seed Farms to pick them up so they could get some other work done while Miller's cleaned and treated the seed.
Just like at the local elevator, the first stop is the scales. Test weight on the Cedar was 59.6 bushels per acre as it came across the scales.
After it was cleaned, it raised the test weight to 61.2 bushels per acre since they clean out any foreign matter and smaller or broken kernels.
Test weight on the 1863 wheat was 60.5 bushels per acre. After cleaning, it was 62.3.
We also have our wheat treated with an insecticide - Cruiser - and a fungicide - Vibrance Extreme. This is an extra expense, but we believe it will get the 2016 wheat crop off to a good start. Detractors worry about the amount of chemicals that go into the mix. However, only 0.48 ounce per bushel of Cruiser is used, while 1.68 ounce per bushel of the Vibrance product is used. Think about a little bottle of eye drops (usually about 0.5 ounces). Adding slightly more than 2 ounces to a whole bushel of grain is really not much!

The clipboard wasn't the only customer appreciation freebie. Alongside the jars of wheat, customers can help themselves to a Lifesaver candy or a snack mix.
We've reserved KanMark (a K-State release) and WB 4458 (a WestBred variety) to plant for seed wheat this year. We'll go back to our friends at Miller Seed Farms at planting time to pick it up. Maybe I'll take my clipboard to keep track of the paperwork!

Next up:  The cleaned and treated wheat goes back in the on-farm bins until we're ready to begin wheat planting in late September/early October.