Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Thanksgiving Day: A Small Duet

Thanksgiving for us this year was a new(er) experience, but not unique.

Here was our table setting:
 Say!  This is what our Thanksgiving table setting looked like approximately 32 years ago!  Just the two of us.

With our three kids and their kith in other places, it was just the two of us for Thanksgiving.  Yes, I did roast a turkey.  Yes, I hauled out the Wedgewood and sterling.  Yes, we did sit down and say our prayer and use our napkins and smile across the table at each other.

It certainly was a change from the Thanksgiving holidays we have celebrated in the past many years.  We played Chess right through dinner.  When I saw that I might be losing at Chess,  I began playing a tune on the rim of the Baccarat, in hopes that it might distract that Spouse o' Mine from his possible "checkmate".

I lost, despite my tunes.

We laughed and talked.  We ate and then moved on with our "indoor day" of rain-rain-rain.

What was nice about our Thanksgiving, was that we enjoyed each other again, just as it was, 30-something years ago, when it was indeed, "just us".

A re-acquainting of just the two of us.    

Thanksgiving Fun, Kansas Style


I wrote some haikus:

Three inches of rain
Cold and a north wind blowing;
Who else likes haiku?

Rain rain rainy-rain
I burned Thanksgiving muesli
And I lost in chess.

Rain rain rainy-rain
Thanksgiving meal was awesome
And we're all tucked in.

Rain rain rainy-rain
Tomorrow we can go skate!
Hope springs eternal
* * * I love haikus.* * *    

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Week, 2015

Yesterday I purchased a boatload of produce.

OK, it wasn't a boatload, but it was a whopping amount to fit into my car.  I purchased a huge bag of Gala apples, a bag of clementines, two giant boxes of grapes - both red and green (NOT a nod to Christmas, yet, thank you very much), two big ol' containers of mini-tomatoes, a giant sleeve (I will call it that...?) of romaine lettuce, approximately twenty bananas (organic, at that), two giant bags of cranberries.

This morning that Spouse o' Mine delivered them to our community Emergency Shelter.
(read: homeless).

We do this occasionally.  Three years ago, I was experiencing not a life-crisis, but a life "what is bothering you?".  It had to do with that summer being what I knew would be our last summer with our son home, living  with us.  Our two daughters had already made permanent moves out of our nest, and I had coped accordingly.  When I felt the familiar twinges of this fledge, though, I knew I had to acknowledge what it was and what I might do.

I always loved to feed our family.  Healthy. healthy, let's be athletic, let's be healthy and happy...  I asked myself what it was I would miss most with our son's final departure.  Probably, I thought to myself...was feeding my family.  I wonder if birds in the nest feel this same impending loneliness?

And then I got it: I would provide a meal to our Emergency Shelter twice a month.  I mentioned this to that Spouse o' Mine: the cost would be much as if he & I went out to eat each week.  In that we rarely eat out, this seemed an agreeable task at hand.

OK - so that was three years ago.  Since then, I have received great feedback about shelter meals. There are a few weeks that I opt out of cooking a meal.  Thanksgiving week is one of those weeks; there are many, MANY offerings in our community for Thanksgiving meals.

But...what about the day before, or the day after, when kids are out of school and don't have their school breakfasts and lunches?

Ah!  That's where this fruit and fresh produce come into play.

When our kids were wee young things, we had a fruit bowl in the kitchen.  Anytime, anytime at all, no questions from us, they were welcome to take what they liked from the fruit bowl.  As were their playmates.  Playmates were incredulous.  "Really?!"

The feedback that we get from the Emergency Shelter is that the kids, in particular, are the ones who eat the fruit and such.  The fruit is set in a bowl, as I understand it (for privacy reasons, our Emergency Shelter does not allow people into their inner rooms.), and the kids flock to it.

And that's all I have for today.

Mid Week Thanksgiving, tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2015


We were asked to come in costume to Book Club last night...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Picket Chronicles: That Was Problematic...

Well.  We've come to a point (notice that it's "we" now, and not "I"?) where that Spouse o' Mine is setting the posts for my gate.  This morning I primed and painted the last little things.  Now, I wait for his posts to go in.  This evening, I suggested that he show me how to start the giant rototiller, (hereafter, known as The Beast...), so that I could till and start planting my tulips and daffodils tonight.

Sometimes things happen so quickly.  People act astonished and say, "It was all a blur!"

That is exactly what happened this evening when I accidentally ran The Beast right into and nearly right over the new picket fence.  Wowee.  That was a blur.  All but the moment where that Spouse o' Mine was behind me, yelling in my ear, "LET GO!  LET GO!"  The Beast had already climbed to the top of the fence.

One would have thought he could have mentioned "letting go" before I went off to till my cutting garden.

This autumn project is lingering just a little too long.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Photo Opportunities: The Picket Fence Chronicles

Tick, tock, tick-tock, ticky-tock-tickety-tock-tock...
I have four days.

I do not do well with deadlines.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that I like leeway in all things.

But this picket fence thing is getting me going. Too, that That Spouse o' Mine has stepped in to help get things aimed more accurately in the right direction.  I do not want to go into silly detail here, but there was some question (eight inches?) about where my picket fence was going to set.  And end. (Somewhere out in the pasture?)  Louise Plummer  requested photos.  Oh, Honey Pie, I have photos.  Here they go: 

An apple tree and concord grapevines, awaiting a fence...

Painting fence panels...
 The sky...

Digging to China.  Because that's what you do when there is a gate in question,
and you are an engineer...

It is starting to look pretty great!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Picket Chronicles

Two years ago, I decided that what my cutting garden needed was a white picket fence.  After a couple of false starts, I set that idea on the back burner.  That is, until I visited Ithaca, New York this summer.  What a pretty little town!  Old houses, waterfalls, and - you guessed it: pretty white picket fences.  Well, that trip put a bee in my bonnet.

A week after I returned from Ithaca, daughter Claire came home for a visit.  Just what I needed: a partner in crime!  We set out one morning for the local fence store, purchased eight, 4 x 8' panels, put them in her new car (Thanks, Claire!) and headed home.  She & I fiddled in the yard, eye-balling and such.  Neither of us know much about fence building.

I should insert here that That Spouse o' Mine did not seem to want to participate in this activity.  I did not invite him to join in, and he did not attempt to.  That's thirty-one years of marriage: "Picket fence?  Bully for you!  Go for it!"

Claire left to return to her new Wisconsin home, and there I was staring at picket fence panels.  Lightbulb!  "I should paint these BEFORE I set them into place!"  And so weeks of priming and painting pickets went by.

I bought 8' 4 x 4s for my fence posts.  I needed to cut them into 4' posts.  I have used our big saw in the past (I don't even know what the big saw is really called), but it seemed like too much trouble for this, so I got a hand saw out and cut all the 4 x 4s like that.  I mean, how did the women of Ithaca make their picket fences before the invention of home-owned big saws?  Right?

  Years ago, I had an incident that involved a rock climbing wall that did not end well, and since then, my ability to pull any starter cord (lawn mower, rototiller, etc) has been a bit compromised.  When it came time to cut down the two giant cedar trees which were not in my plan for the cutting garden and new fence, I was not able to start the chain saw.  (I used to be quite handy with a chain saw, before the unfortunate rock climbing incident.)  Once again I took the hand saw, and spent a Saturday morning cutting down trees.  This was really pretty unpleasant.  But, I got it done, and that Spouse o' Mine came home from his Saturday bike ride to see the trees well-felled, and after his initial shock, he very nicely finished digging them out with a miner's pick for me.

From there, I confronted the perimeter of my garden: how does one set the perimeter?  I emailed my comrade of all things house & garden, Cate, in Ohio.  "How do I make a 90* angle???"

How embarrassing that Cate had to remind me of the simple algebraic rule of A2 + B2= C2.  Sheesh.

I taped off the edge of the cutting garden, where my picket fence should go.  And then what?  Where do I go from there?  I drove in to town and took neighborhood walks to see how other picket fences were built.  I went online.  (Man!  Some people sure have a lot of details in installing fences, let me tell you.)   I mentioned to that Spouse o' Mine that I did not know what in the Sam Hill I was to do next.

The next day he came home with a brace he bought at the hardware store.  Ah!  So that's it: a brace to screw the 4x4 to the 2x4 panels.  Brilliant!  Although the one he bought didn't work, at least I knew there was something out there in Hardware Land that was made for this sort of task.  

And so, this weekend I set my first post.  Set it in stone.  (concrete).  It has been 48 hours, and I still beam as I set my little level in the top and see that yes, indeedy, I DID get it level in spite of the wind and the kitten and everything else in my way.

The wind has been something else the past couple of days.  I reached a temporary standstill in the fence installment when I realized I could not, by myself, maneuver an 8' panel out there in the 25-35 mph wind.  That Spouse o' Mine came out late in the afternoon and showed me what Step #324 should be in this procedure.  I busied myself screwing braces (I went and bought 30 of the correct fit.) into all my 4x4s, and then I tried to set panels to posts, as that Spouse o' Mine had said, to set them up and then "jockey them into place."  Ha ha!  I laughed.  I think "jockeying them into place" really is a simplification.

Case in point: I set up three panels, in the gale, and went hunting for that Spouse o'Mine.  Something, I told him, is not right.  I couldn't say what, but something was not right.  I suspected that there was a slight decline in elevation in the yard.  I went online, and I did not like any of the solutions given for installing a fence on a slope.  The two of us went out to the cutting garden, and he poo-pooed my 7", lime green level which I had been using.  He disappeared, and came back with a magical laser level.  Because he is an engineer.

Together, we ascertained that there was a 7" slope in my garden.  "What does this mean?"

Well, he explained that I could do this, or I could do that, or such, or so forth, or, I could bring in dirt.

He knows me too well.  I have dirt.  I have a slew of dirt thanks to the crewmen who put the fiber optics on our property this summer.  I had asked them, "What do you do with all this dirt?"  And they replied that they had to take it to landfills.  "Take it to my landfill!"  And they did.  Loads and loads and loads of it.  What rural property owner worth her salt does not have a large dirt pile?

So, this morning, in more 25-35 mph wind, I shoveled dirt into a bushel basket, hauled it to the cutting garden with our little garden mower, over and over and over again.  That Spouse o' Mine is going to be the civil engineer in this detail, in that our rototiller is gigantic and, again, has a pull starter cord.  I haul dirt, he does the dirt-scaping.  Win-win.  From there, shouldn't it all be smooth sailing?

to be continued...

Friday, October 16, 2015


October.  It should be a month of color, and crisp.  Crisp, colored leaves on the ground - that's it!

But it's been a month of drought.  No color on the trees - no green, red, yellow OR orange.  There is no chlorophyll-breakdown by which to make the beautiful colors; the leaves are falling off the trees because THEY HAVE NO MOISTURE.  They are falling off because of drought, not autumn.

I have been running and bike riding up & down our country roads.  They're like talcum powder.  A car or truck passes, and the cloud stays in the air for long, long minutes.  I carry a handkerchief tucked into my running or cycling shorts, and sport the cattle-rustler's bandana look, over my nose and mouth, if a vehicle passes me on the road.

On a more-cheerful note, I called a friend this week, told her to pack a sack lunch to work, and I would pick her up at noon.  We picnicked at the K-State Gardens, which was very nice.  Nice for me to socialize with a long-time friend, and nice for her to get out of her office and into  garden for an hour.

After lunch, I went to the K-State Police Department to file a missing bike report.

This is so irritating.

That Spouse o' Mine and I have several bikes.  We happily loan our extra bikes out to anyone who may need a bike, or may express an interest in cycling.  This summer, that Spouse o' Mine was out on a group ride, and there was a new grad student, fresh from Ecuador, who was riding in the group.  Later, that Spouse o' Mine remarked that her bike was "really crappy".  I replied, "Well, loan her my Panasonic, if she is interested."

She was, and so we did.  Fast-forward to the end of summer, when she was to return to Ecuador.  She neglected to return the bike back to us, but rather, left it in the care of a neighbor at the university apartments.  Two days later, said neighbor noticed that the bike was missing from its bike rack. (Hello?  No lock???)

Since then I have traveled the internet highway, Craigslist, our many local cycling networks, the pawn shops, and finally, I am filing my reports with our police departments.  I have been told that most likely this bike is GONE.  Period.  Most likely to a pawn shop.  GONE.

What does this mean to me?  Frustration, but little else.  I was always so happy to be able to loan a bike out to someone, to encourage someone.  I always want to share cycling with anyone, and enable anyone.  But, if we don't get that bike back...I suppose that is one less thought and worry for me.

* sigh *  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Berries! CRANBERRIES, I say!

Three giant pools, Olympic-size...
Hydropower pouring over and through each pool...

Is this a new training facility for athletes of any given sport?

No.  It is the very start of one of many receiving facilities for one of America's famous holiday fruit: the cranberry.

Right now, just this week, and in some parts, just this morning, marks the start of "cranberry season".  Along with corn harvest, soybeans, and soon to be sugar beet harvest, this week also means cranberry season for farmers in the north, from Massachusetts to Washington state, up to British Columbia and beyond.

Think: fresh cranberries, cranberry juice, cranberry sauce, cranberry muffins, Craisins, and more!  This very brief window of cranberry time, this last week of September to the last week or so of October, marks cranberry season!

That Spouse o' Mine and I happened to be in Wisconsin this week.  We made a few calls, met with a few people, and enjoyed a full day of cranberries today!  In some places, I could take photos.  In some places, uhm...not allowed.  But I can give a fun recollection and description of the cranberry harvest we enjoyed today.

Shall we start at the beginning, the marsh...or bog...or cranberry bed?  Each place we visited, I asked which was the operative noun.  Each answer was politely different, and no one offered an argument.  Each replied, "Well, I just call it a cranberry ..."  And then followed with a twinkle of a smile.

Bogs, as I will call them, are years old.  Some, maybe decades old.  Maybe even older.  But the tending of such is certainly not willy-nilly.  A cranberry farmer we met today explained to us part of his "downtime" - that is to say, his winter.  Every three years, he explained, his farm lays a very precise amount of sand onto the cranberry vines in the bog/bed/marsh, in order to maintain the proper mix of boggy soil required for proper cranberry farming.  "Not to much, not too little...JUST RIGHT..."  Several (being ~ three) times each winter, his farm floods each "bed" with water, enough to flood the plants, for ~ ten days.  This is to keep the vines and the roots from freezing.  And then they must drain the beds, and keep records of the temperatures to maintain proper vine and root health in Wisconsin winter.  It must be pretty bitter there in 0* Wisconsin, gauging the cranberry beds.

This particular farmer had many, many beds.  Bogs.  Marshes.  (He called his , "beds".)  I asked permission, and he allowed me to take the following photos of his team, out on their first day of their "season".
A cranberry vine with one of our favorite holiday fruits:
 A bog/marsh/"bed", before it is flooded for harvesting:
 One source of the water for flooding the bogs, and the sand piles in the background:
I love this!  This is where our cranberries come from!  The dry bog, flooded, and then harvested:
 More berries:
 This bog/bed/marsh was flooded, and this machine went through to raise the vines, sort of "trouble" them, and that makes the cranberries rise to the top of the water.  From there, a boom, (a net) swings around wide and gathers all our cranberries.  From the boom to the truck, and then to the receiving station, usually a co-op of farms.    
 A cranberry farmer.  And he is not even in a commercial!
From the cranberry farm, we can follow the semis, full of cranberries, to the receiving docks.  HUGE trucks.  The trucks drive up to a platform which locks them into place, tilts them backwards to about a 45* angle, and then the back doors open. SWOOSH!!  (That should be in GIANT font.)   There is a man hanging on the side who opens the back doors and rushes back from the stream of cranberries.  I asked about this: apparently this is a dangerous job - one must make sure one does not lose balance and end up in the cranberry/water flood below.  That would be very bad.

From the three pools mentioned above, these cranberries go into indoor housing by means of water ladders.  Up above our heads, workers who were dressed like the Morton Fisherman have huge hoses, not unlike firemen's, and their job, in shiftwork, is to spray down the cranberries as they come in from the initial water bath.

Once again, the cranberries are moved by water ladder up to the next level.  All-in-all, the cranberries are cleansed three times at this facility.  I do not know how many times more they will be washed.  From this upper-level, they are "poured" into awaiting giant crates, and from here, by forklift and then into awaiting semis, they go to some packing and/or processing facilities, somewhere.

That Spouse o' Mine and I enjoyed visiting a couple of receiving facilities today.  I have written about this before, when we went to Chile and worked with Chilean cherry growers.  This morning we were required to don hairnets.  Paul and some other men were required "beard nets".  We had hard hats, safety glasses, and ear plugs.  And Neon Yellow vests.  Later, we two remarked that our sensory deprivation really did play a part in our clumsiness, both physically and conversationally.  The funny part?  I was not allowed to photograph.  Picture that sweet Spouse o' Mine.  Now, with a hard hat.  And, underneath that, a hairnet.  And, a beard net.  Couple that with giant safety glasses.  But then - WAIT!  I looked across the way at some point - he and I were working at two different computers, and I see him, all of the above, and he has raised the giant safety glasses to his high forehead, and has put on his reading glasses.  Oh, a sight to behold and to photograph!  And yet, I was not allowed.

Tonight, we drove back "home" to our now-Wisconsin daughter's home in Madison.  We enjoyed hors d'oeuvres of many Wisconsin cheeses, Amish cranberry summer sausage, and cranberry relish with our pulled-pork and pumpkin dinner.

So there you have it!  Cranberry harvest.

"If you tickle the earth with a hoe, she laughs with a harvest."  ~ Douglas Jerrold

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday (Isn't there a song?)

I thought there was a song called Saturday.  Is there not?  I went to Youtube, and I could not find anything I recognized.  But then...I realized that maybe my mind's text said Saturday, but my mind's tune said "Gloria" in whomever sang that song during Hurricane Gloria back in  1986?  87?  I need to give up on this mental thread...

What a terrific day today was.  Cool morning, so I took a 20-mile bike ride down the road.  That Spouse o' Mine went the first four miles with me, and then he circled back to meet his regular Saturday morning posse, who all ride way too fast for my enjoyment AND capabilities.  (You know: that Testosterone Posse?)  I rode the rest of the way by my lonesome, which seems to be a common occurrence anymore.  I did the same thing last weekend, in a group of about 600 cyclists. Yes, in a group that large, I managed to ride the lion's share of 32 miles all by myself.  The last, say, seven miles, I met up with three different riders who were very interesting, and nice.  I am not a fast rider at all, but somehow I managed to drop those cyclists and once again, I was by my lonesome.

After my bike ride this morning, I went about enjoying the cool morning (saints be praised) and spent the time outdoors, painting what will soon (I hope) be an installed wooden picket fence to my cutting garden.  I drained the dog's swimming pool.  I cleaned out the bike barn.  I spread hay and clay down by the creek where the soil is eroding.

I went to church this evening and sat with two couples with whom we share age, kids of same age, and life interests. That Spouse o' Mine opted out of evening church, even though it was HIS suggestion early this morning that we attend tonight.  This means he will go in the morning, I suppose.  Now he is out at the grill, cooking croutons and vegetables and salmon.

All-in-all, a terrific Saturday.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


Psssssssssst, Louise!
(whispered) "Enjoy your day!"

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Rural Charm

I am leap-frogging from happy, green, Ithaca, New York, early August, to rural Kansas (ughhhh) in late August.

I know, I know.  I live my life in dribbles and droves.  Ithaca was terrific. And I shall revisit my very enjoyable-yet- meager time there at some point.

However, I must report on rural Kansas as it is now, before the whole thing is wind-swept into the dusty, windy Kansas archives.

I think Rural Anywhere has a charm to it that may not appear in the realms of other places.  Last Spring, a local couple were both diagnosed with cancer within weeks of each other.  He works at a farm store nearby, and she is a public school music teacher.  How difficult to do a balancing act when one partner is ill, but to double the time and energy and finances and scheduling...!  Too difficult to want to try imagine.

Here is where that rural community charm comes into play, with empathy and compassion.  Some locals planned a fundraiser for the couple, who are not spring chickens.  Easy enough.  Lots of communities do this.  But this one seemed pretty special.  It was an evening filled with music, a silent auction, and a live auction later in the evening.  Both husband and wife were there, he looking gaunt and she, sporting a new colorful headscarf, post-chemo.  There were more than 300 attendees - and this is a dinky town!  Farmers and ranchers from miles around were there.  (Here's an interesting aside from the non-rancher, me: One can spy the men who wear cowboy hats most of their work day - there is a crease to their hairline on the back of their heads when they come into town on a Saturday night!)

The live music ranged from jazz and bluegrass, to concert piano, and so sweetly, two young vocal soloists who were students of the music teacher/cancer patient.  She (the teacher) accompanied both on the piano, and when that little kid (was she 9? 10?) sang Amazing Grace with sweet vibrato, the entire Columbian Theater was hushed.  So sweet.

Here I must segue to describe the Columbian Theater in Wamego, Kansas.  It was built in the late 1800s.  Back then, a Wamego banker bought some paintings from the World's Fair in Chicago.  Six of the paintings are 11' x 16'.  They are huge.  And they are really nice paintings.  And they are in rural Kansas.

Inbetween musical numbers, the live auction would auction off 3-4 items.  This was so fun and funny, and exactly where that rural Kansas charm comes into play.  The auctioneer and his cohorts must have known nearly everyone in the Columbian Theater that night.  This made the auction terribly fun.  A gas grill up for bid:  He points into the huge audience and states, "June, I KNOW this will be great on your sun porch!"  KU-K-State paraphernalia up for bid: he knew exactly which audience member had graduated from KU, and which from K-State, and he played that ying-yang well!  A very good time had by all.

All totaled, $21,000.00 was raised for this local family.

We do not know the family well.  We greet each other once a year down at the Shamrock Farm's/ Crenshaw's annual Halloween Doughnut gathering, where 80-something Mrs. Crenshaw fries up doughnuts all evening for friends and neighbors.
Here was my donation to the fundraising cause:
The "barn quilt", not the dog or cat.  Barn quilts are something that rural folks like to put on their barns as a celebration of quilts and life in rural America.  This particular "barn quilt" is 4' x 4', and the block is an old 1800s block called Carpenter's Wheel.

Happily, our rancher neighbor Joe Carpenter purchased this at the auction for his barn, to the tune of $500.00.  

And so it goes, life in rural Kansas...

Friday, August 07, 2015

It's August Already?

Well, that's a happy thought:  August 7th and three weeks to go, we'll be in September.  Hooray!

I am not in rural Kansas.  This week I am in upstate New York.  Ithaca.  Cornell University.  Home of waterfalls, cool weather, and lots of giant hills.

That Spouse o' Mine has been working with some Cornell counterparts this year, and it has necessitated a couple of trips to the "land of gorges".  I was so excited a few months ago when he planned his first trip.  I intended to accompany him.  And he was aware of this.  The trouble was that the instrument that he has developed for the folks up there (Agr. Breeding and Genetics) was so large that he had to drive a USDA big van to transport it to Ithaca.  In that USDA is federal, government, and all the rules and regulations that it entails, I, as a "civilian", am not allowed to travel in the van.  So, Pooh!  I missed my golden opportunity to expand my horizons to upstate New York.  (Ok, ok...I have been to upstate New York, and I love it.  I am always looking for an excuse to haul out my perpetually-packed suitcase and throw it underneath the airline seat in front of me.)

Well!  An opportunity arose just two weeks ago, that he was beckoned to Cornell to help those lab folks with said instrument.  He was to fly out, along with his lab technician, for five days.  I saw my glimmer of chance!  I asked that Spouse o' Mine to send me his travel itinerary.  He did.  I went to Expedia and purchased my own tickets for the same flights.  Plus, I made sure I was seated next to him on all flights.  Hahaha!  How funny is that? Well, this is where the surprise ended.  I would have loved to have surprised him by waltzing on board the plane and plopping down beside him.  But, in that we live about two hours from the nearest airport, one must make travel preparations, and so that evening I told him what I did.  Not much of a surprise, I don't think.

But here I am in Ithaca!  Hooray!

More to come...waterfalls, botanical gardens (is anyone surprised?), facets of life in China, and more...        

Friday, July 24, 2015

Public Service Announcement

This is a Public Service Announcement.

I have little habits and rules when it comes to my retail shopping.  Small things, rules, such as not shopping at the Wal Mart after Thanksgiving, until after Valentine's Day.  Even now, I might shop at the Wal Mart once every month or two.  And I do not like the word boycott, and so I won't use it, but the Wal Mart after Thanksgiving makes me become an angry person, and one should be delightful during the winter holidays, so I have learned to opt out of the Wal Mart for Advent and Christmas and even after.

Also, it has always irritated me that Hobby Lobby keeps their doors closed on Sundays, with self-righteous signs on their doors stating that Sundays are "closed" days so that their employees can spend that day with their families.  Except...WHEN IT COMES TO DECEMBER!!! And then, they are open on Sundays!!  HAHAHAHA.  I don't like that store.  I don't like Chik Whatever, either.  I don't like it when retail stores try to foist their beliefs on our world and expect us to follow lockstep with theirs.  I am a Christian.  But I am not one of those Christians.

I am getting cranky, so let me meander away from this vein...

Our family always has outdoor pets, and outdoor pets require food and water pans and bowls and such.  Somehow through the years I have become habitual in going to the Wal Mart in July, after the 4th, and picking up "fresh" bowls and pans for whatever animal seems to need a new one.  (Chewing, high winds, you name it!  We always seem to be in need of new outdoor pet bowls.)  And after the 4th of July, one can pick up a few of these necessities for seemingly pennies.

There are several aisles in the Wal Mart, and probably K Mart, Target, and all the other big ol' box stores, which are dedicated to the holiday(s) at hand.  Or back to school.  Or moving to college.  Marketing, marketing.

Uh-oh; I was almost at another meander, but I am retracing my thoughts to point out that days shortly after any celebration or calendar moment, the stores sell off all their plastic goods at a pittance.  And still, even after the "Clearance", there are way too many plastic items on the shelves.  Red, white , and blue, or Valentine pink, or Easter egg pastel.  Christmas RED!!  Autumn scarecrow ORANGE!!!


Where does all this stuff, made in China, go?  Back to China?  No.  Unless we have garnered a deal with them (hey - it does occur) to have our landfills shipped over there to their land.

Seriously, folks, if my own Wal Mart out in the middle of rural Kansas had three aisles of 4th of July plastics on clearance after the fact, multiply that by how many Wal Mart stores in the US and abroad, and also factor in the K marts and the Targets and all the others, and we have a serious landfill overload of nonessential plastic bowls, plates, pitchers, cups, figurines, and "celebration" signs that are filling up our dwindling natural resources.

THAT is where I was going with this piece.  Too much plastic, made-in-China trash that lands right there: in the trash.

Stop buying it.  Begin using traditional wares, which last from year-to-year, and through generations.

That is all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer Storms

This morning I arose at 6:00 and looked out the bathroom window to a really deep red sunrise belt low on the horizon, from northeast, to east, clear over to southeast and south.  Everything else in the sky was black as pitch with cloud cover.  There were two "tails" dipping down out of the black sky, and they made curious silhouettes in the red.  I called out to that Spouse o' Mine that I hoped they were not tornadoes, and when I went back to look again, they were gone, and the black lay smoothly horizontal alongside the red-and-then deep-orange-red of daybreak.  

But we never really saw daybreak, because the clouds of black snuck in so quickly, after my first glimpse of red horizon, daybreak was gone again in mere moments, and the tremendous winds of Kansas summer storms built up, along with the lightning and thunder.

And so my morning began with "Yoga by Thunderstorm", complete with loss of electricity.

And here I will insert my quandary as to what is correct:  Sneaked?  Snuck?  I prefer the latter:

Snuck is used in American and Canadian English as the past tense andpast participle of sneak, but it is considered non-standard, i.e., ol for dialectal and informal speech and writing. The standard past tense is sneaked.

After the morning storm, I went out to see a very large tree branch had fallen across part of our pasture fence.  Huh.  If we still had horses, this would have been an immediate problem.  As it is, we will haul the branch away and look at the fence, muttering, "Huh."  

And now it is early evening.  The clouds suddenly joined right over our house (seriously!) and commenced a monsoon, then thunderstorm, then hailstorm, and deluge, for an hour or so.  We have water running through any low points of our property.  Now the sun has come out in the western horizon.  But we still are watching the lightning, interestingly, striking air-to-ground bolts just across the way from us, in the cornfield and across the river.     

I am not a calm "lightning" person.  About twenty minutes ago, we were standing in the middle of our living room, watching a new sweep of hail come through.


The entire process, lighting/thunder/me rushing two feet over to that Spouse o' Mine's arms, and the subsequent shoulder injuries, took only seconds.  Seriously.  Mere moments.  After he regained his balance on the hardwood, he smiled and said, "Trish, didn't you see the flash?"

No.  No, I did not.  What I experienced was a very loud thunder that shook this whole house, all 120+ years of it, and I moved.  So much so, and so quickly, I think, that my two shoulders were left behind in the action.  Wow.  They hurt.  Seriously?  A "Thunder Injury"??

Tomorrow will tell the tale. I have found, in my midlife wisdom of 55, that time tells all.  I hope I did not suffer Thunder Whiplash.     

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Song of the Day

Song of the Day: (also, a good dancing-while-dinner-is-cooking song):

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive 

Also, Song of the Week, Month, and Year.  

Tuesday, July 07, 2015


The past few days we have been blessed with a very short visit from our older daughter, Gillian, and her boyfriend.  Her boyfriend, Kiran, has never been to Kansas.  My oft-asked question to anyone who will listen is, "Of all the times to visit Kansas, why would anyone come in (enter: June/July/August?September.)???!

Seriously: Kansas in summertime?  It's generally hot, humid, windy, and miserable.  Downright awful.  And this weekend was forecast to be none other.  But the happy couple came, and we were thrilled to have them!

They arrived early afternoon, and soon thereafter, that Spouse o' Mine had them out on the lake on the sailboat, in some hefty breezes.  I had said I would stay behind (the heat, you know), and make an apricot tart.  Which I did. I should post the recipe here sometime this week - yes, I will.  It is an awesome recipe from a French cookbook.

They sailed, I baked.

They returned, and brought with them a bag of ice for Gillian's shin.

Sailing is never for the faint-hearted.  The sailboat capsized, Gillian did the correct routine of climbing on top of the capsize, and they righted the boat.  But...somewhere in the exercise, Gillian's shin scraped across the boat as it was righting, and when she came to shore, her leg was swollen, swollen.  Happily, Kiran is a med student, knew the drill, and they arrived home with a bag of ice.  We did the RICE thing (I can never remember the words; I only know "raise it and ice it", "face is red, raise the head, face is blue, raise the shoe", and so on.  I was a 70s lifeguard, after all.)

That evening we played that age-old game of Scattergories.  What a fun game! Get the old edition if you are in the market.

Well!  That was only Day One.  Day Two was just a simple day of tiddly-winks of sorts, and much rain and BIG thunderstorms.  A few tornadoes in the area.  Not a time to enjoy rural Kansas.

That evening after dinner, we decided to play Scrabble.  Huh.  I am something of a Scrabble nerd. Growing up, my family, all seven of us played Scrabble.  A lot.  So much so, I know the Scrabble rules by heart.  And I know the strategies.  You know: the challenges, the fakes, and so on.  We Websters were stealth in our Scrabble strategies.  And yet, we ALWAYS adhered to the RULES.

The Scrabble rules can be found on the inside of any Scrabble box.  I guess we all read them and memorized them, much like we did the Ten Commandments.  But unlike the Ten Commandments, we understood the rules stated on the Scrabble box - they were black and white to us kids.  The Ten Commandments?  Graven images, coveting animals and wives, adultery...that was something beyond my early elementary school comprehension.

But I did understand Scrabble rules!  How funny.  And unto this day, I adhere to Scrabble rules, and it rankles me when I play with people who have no clue that there are rules on the inside of the Scrabble box.  *SIGH*  It makes this game so much easier.

Case in point:  If someone has an iffy word, you have the choice to challenge said word, or to let it go.  If you challenge, the dictionary is brought forth and you all look to see if it is in the dictionary. Yes?  You lose your next turn.  No?  The offender loses his next turn.

Simple.  IT'S IN THE RULE BOOK!!  CHALLENGE, PEOPLE!!!  That's part of the strategy!

Last evening I kept referring to the rules, and I seemed to be the only one who was privy to them.  What the heck?  At the end of the game, when one person runs out of letters, then the "losers" subtract their letters from their scores, and the  winner gains those same points to his score.


That Spouse o' Mine was trying to tell me that we should just take all the "losing " points and multiply them by two for the winner, and forget the subtraction for the other three players.

Ughhh.  Hello?  How do we discern who was 2nd, 3rd, and 4th???  Seriously, is there no competition anymore?  I want to know where everyone ended in my game of Scrabble.

I love this game. (And chess, checkers, Scattergories, Probe (also old), and more "thinking" games.)

We ended our evening with Mango Lassis, thanks to Kiran (of Indian descent), and some garlic-stuffed olives (by me, of Oklahoma descent.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A New Day at the Ranch.

Last month I enjoyed several days at the neighbors' ranch just south of us.  We two, that Spouse o' Mine and I, are non-farming, non-ranching folks, in a state of cattle-ranching, soybean-growing residents.  If someone owns acreage here, they are no doubt farmer or rancher.

Except us.  We have a small property which we purchased upon moving to Kansas because we had three kids and three horses, all six of whom wanted to move into the country.

I wrote in the last few posts about my experiences in the ranching world.  Go back to the beginning 
if you want to start from the uh...beginning.

A week or two went by, and I received a phone call from neighbor Rancher Joe: They would be gathering heifers up in the morning...

This is where my City Mouse lingo does not translate the Rancher lingo, here goes...

A huge ranch operation like theirs utilizes AI (artificial insemination).  In order for the ranch's  calving season to work like a well-oiled machine, they manipulate the heifers' hormones (synchronizing) into cycling at the same time - they will come into heat at the same time, be bred at the same time, and calve at somewhat the same time next January.

That said, his request to me was to go back to the Bunkhouse (more on this towards the end...) and help with the heifer biz, to get them cycling/into heat at the same time.

I could do that, I replied.

So the next morning, again a cool and muddy day, I headed to the Bunkhouse.  At this point in my cattle ranching experience, I had no idea, no idea atall, what to anticipate.  I went there with my china cup and thermos of coffee.  I was met by the herdsman, Brock.  He asked me to go down to the gate by the bunks...blah blah blah.  I frowned.  My mind had stopped at "bunks".

Bunks.  Whoa! What the heck did Brock mean?  What are "bunks"and where are they?  And so I asked him.  He looked at me as if I were making a joke. Two serious looks, facing each other.  He pointed to some cement (OK, concrete, for those of you who do not live like the Beverly Hillbillies and their "cement ponds"...) structures which, to me, looked like half-cylinders.

Nope. Those were feed "bunks".  Cows ate feed out of them.  I actually saw cows eating out of "bunks".  And, the house by the bunks, where Brock resides?  The Bunkhouse.  I don't get it.  But there is so much about ranching lingo that I do not get.  It's like talking to computer people and their vocabulary.  Sheesh.  Let's all speak English. No dialects allowed.

When everyone involve had arrived to the Bunkhouse, we commenced the day's deal:

Bring in each heifer (a female cow which had never had a calf...a virgin? Except she would only enjoy AI and not the fun of it all...).  My job was to write down her tag number (each cow, bull, calf, steer has a tagged ear which has all sorts of numbers to tell its hereditary information.), and then take a curry comb (a comb used to clean off all dirt and shedding hair {primarily used on horses...and that's how I have ever used it.)}.  I would take the curry comb and scritch-scratch the tail-end of the heifer, loosening dirt and hair off t tail end of the cow.  Then I would smack a sticker on to their tail side, which would provide heat detection in the very near future.  I made the joke "Moo-ed swings!!"  and all around me smiled a benign cheerio.  I suppose they have all heard it, said it, shared it, before.  But I was NEW to this ranching life!  Ha ha ha ha ha!  It was a funny (to me).

So that day, recording heifer numbers and scritch-scratching heifer hineys, was such a delightfully calm day...I left feeling that I had learned so much this past month.  I know part of the bull-cow-calf-heifer-beef- scenario that, once again, that Spouse o' Mine said, "People PAY to do what you did this week."

And there you have it: Kansas Cattle.


Kansas Lavender

Monday, June 08, 2015

Back at the Ranch

Chapter Two of Ranch Work:

The morning following the sorting of sixty cow-calf pairs, only to be interrupted by a call to a fire, held a gloriously cool morning, after a night-long session of rain and thunderstorms.  What did this mean to me, the new kid on the rancher's block?  Well, instead of capris, linen shirt, and leather horse boots, I donned long pants, sweatshirt, and lovely knee-high rubber boots.  (Wellies, if I were the Queen of England.)  It also meant several large, muddy, manure-filled pens which would soon hold the cow-calf pairs again.

I headed back to the Bunkhouse early the next morning, coffee thermos and china cup in hand.  From our house to the "Bunkhouse" is about four miles of beautiful Flint Hills, rolling green grass and vistas to miles and miles away. It really is beautiful.  So, I had one mile to go to arrive to this day's workplace, and as I was enjoying God's green earth, I saw commotion out of my left eye - to the south.  Yes...there were a whole lot of black cows running pell-mell down a hill.  Sort of willy-nilly.  Upon closer attention, I saw a pickup, a four-wheeler, two dogs running, and someone on foot, striding much longer and quicker than one might observe on a regular bucolic morning.

When I got to the Bunkhouse, no one was there.  And no cows.  Or calves, either.  I poured myself a cup of coffee, turned on some Vivaldi, and sat in the car doing a crossword puzzle.  Shortly, a pickup truck came into the drive, and the patriarch of the ranching family climbed out of his truck.  He is a large man, and his countenance is both kind and one which calls for respect.

"Good morning!" I called out from my station wagon.  I climbed out.  "Was that you all I saw down the way?", I asked.

He nodded. Or sort of nodded and shrugged.  "Now THAT was a rodeo." he replied.

I laughed.  Maybe I shouldn't have, but I thought he was funny.  As we chatted in the morning cool, the others brought the cows and calves into the pens, the pens that they were re-visiting from the day before.  But there was a catch to this morning's work...

Instead of 60 cow-calf pairs, we would be sorting and vaccinating 100 cow-calf pairs.  I don't know how rancher math works.  I don't think cows can reproduce overnight, but there ya go: many more bovine creatures to sort and assess.

We went into the pens and sorted.  This time I felt a little more at ease with the situation.  In part, I think, because there was no hot dusty WIND making my head spin.  Mud and manure, yes, and I had to make sure I was in balance in my Queen's Wellies in the muck, - if the mud suction wins the contest, one will either fall face-first into the mud/manure, or (at best) pull one's leg out of the Wellie and immediately plop a socked foot into the mud.  Keen balance is the best defense.  As for the mud: I will take that over Saharan conditions any day.

After sorting the cows and their babies, we got to the part where I walked into the barn with rancher Joe, and he said, "Trish, after lunch we will come back here and vaccinate calves and cows.  Your job will be to write down the calf number, its cow number, and while I vaccinate, you will replace the used needles with new ones, and here's how you do that (visual aid given), and put the used ones here (as he points to a bucket).  Then, make sure which pasture the calf is to go into, move the gate where that calf should go, (visual aid), and then you will open the chute (as he motions WAYyyy upwards, over my head) and let that calf out."

What was daunting about this?  Well...some things.  But the main thing, and I think Joe caught my hesitation about the "chute-opening" thing, because after lunch when we met up again, he was carrying a step-stool over for 5'2" me to use to open the cattle chute.  Ha ha!  Bravo, Joe.

The afternoon proceeded without too much noteworthy description.

Calves in, calves out.

Cows in...WHOA!  Much larger animals!  I was a little unsettled by these big old mamas.

But, hey: I am a small-town/city girl.  I did have some fun.  I learned an awful lot.  The learning biz was what was most appreciated. As that Spouse o' Mine mentioned, "People PAY to do what you did this week."  True, that.  But I appreciate that our neighbors might trust that I can come in and do a job, maybe well, maybe iffy, but do it.

And guess what!  There is yet another chapter of TWebsterArmstrong on the Ranch!  Haha !  Stay tuned.      

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Today, Sunday:

Today is National Women's Ride Day.  I don't know who came up with this.  There are too many "Days" out there, in my opinion. "Eat Green Peas Day"... "Say Good Morning to One Hundred People Day"... "Red-Winged Blackbird Day"...

I am making these up.  (I think.)

But here it is, National Women's Ride Day, and so:

I am the short one towards the left, sporting a teal peacock on my bike jersey.  (Thanks, kids, for my Mother's Day gift some years ago; the gift that keeps me going...)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Next Morning

The morning after my rancher neighbor called, I ate a hearty ranch breakfast and got into my rancher duds. It was hot, and I can't do hot, so I donned some capris.  Not kicky capris, just denim "have them in your wardrobe in case you ever get invited to wrangle cows in hot weather" capris.  I also wore a long-sleeved linen shirt.  Not because I thought resort wear was in order, but because I hate sunscreen and sweat does indeed dry on linen really quickly.  And lastly, my three-decades-old Aussie "bush hat".  It is/was guaranteed to be uncrushable for 36 years; I should have taken it back to Queensland this spring to show them that it crushes remarkably well.  Nevertheless, it has stayed in useful employment on hot sunny days on both sides of the equator for 31 years.  And finally, I wore my Aussie Blundstone "Blunnies" boots, which, too, have served me a decade or two.

All-in-all, I was a 55-year-old fashion masterpiece to behold.

I drove down to The Bunkhouse, where I was to meet our rancher neighbor and his ranch herd manager. Both cowboys.  Hats, boots, they drive pickups and ride horses.  I poured coffee into my china cup and walked into the barn, where I thought I might be stationed at a table or desk or something.  That's when Joe said, "We have 60 cow/calf pairs that we will sort, and then this afternoon we will vaccinate both cows and calves, and sort them into which of two pastures we want them to go."

Well, that sounded like an organized plan.  I wasn't aware that it included me until Joe said, "Trish, if you come out here (as he motioned to a big pen full of black cows and calves, all mooing and moving...) we'll get the cows moving along the back side...blah blah blah..." and I found myself following him into the sea of large black animals.  I am not a tall woman.  These gals were as tall as me. And a heck of a lot heavier than me.

I have spent years amongst horses.  The equine population is not predictable, but in that knowledge, one can anticipate the unpredictable.  This cow biz?  I had no idea what to anticipate.  And there I was, in the mix.

Our first task of the morning was to maneuver through the 120 bovine(s) {is that a plural? a singular?} to ascertain which little baby calves were without ear tags.  Those little calves were so darn cute.  Some were only three wobbly days old, some were two weeks old.  Joe or Brock, the herdsman, would grab a tagless calf by a hind leg.  Something like three or four or five mama cows would line up to see what was going to transpire.  The trick was to see which cow - Cow#1, or Cow# 2, or #3, or #4, was the Mama Cow to this calf.  Because they were all curious.  Joe and Brock had a good eye as to which cow went with which calf, but occasionally one of the men would bawl out like a calf in distress, so that the REAL SLIM SHADY cow would please stand up.

After tagging a cute little baby calf, one of the men would spend just a minute before releasing it, scratching the calf, rubbing it down, making the calf calm and helping it see that humans are gentle.

OK! This is where my anticipated job began.  My first job of the day was to record the newly-tagged calves with their mama's ear tag numbers, whether they were heifers or bull calves, or headed to steer world.  This seemed simple.

After tagging calves came the sorting.  This was not as pleasant as the cute calf bit.  This entailed moving cows and calves alongside the perimeter of the pen, with help of two seriously intelligent cattle dogs who did a large part of the work.  As perhaps ten or fifteen cows and calves headed to the NEXT pen...the gate would shut and the sorting of those cows & calves happened.  The cows were herded to one pen, and the calves to another.  This went on all morning, until all the mama cows were in one pen, and just adjacent, their baby calves.

The heat, the dust (hey : it's Kansas), and the wind (hey: it's Kansas) was uncomfortable.  The lowing and mooing had suddenly changed: the cows and calves were not happy and they were BAWLING. BAWLING, I tell you.  It was absolutely deafening.

Well.  How could it possibly be that at the very moment we (they and the dogs?  I was more of a scarecrow in the pen than an active participant) got the cow/calf pairs sorted, but Joe held his fireman's radio up in the air: An emergency call had come through.  Joe and Brock are both first  responders in our part of rural Kansas.  So I was merely lamely lip-reading through the cow cacophony that those two had to be somewhere.  Fast.  So fast, in fact, that I did not get a feel for what would transpire next.  They were off before I even had my manure-covered boots off my feet.

So I took my coffee cup and my boots, and headed home.  I called that Spouse o' Mine and gave him my take on the morning, and asked if he thought I should get cleaned up or should I stay in the cattle attire?  He had no idea.

So...the post script on the house fire was that it lasted well into the late afternoon.  The fire won.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there were calves that needed cows, and cows that certainly wanted calves.  I got a call that evening:  Cow/calf pairs had to be reunited for obvious reasons, (Baby calves need to nurse! Mama cows need that milk expressed!)  Could I possibly help out the following morning, again?

Yes!  Certainly!

(Thinking, I've got this.  I so have got this!)

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ranch Wranglin'

Our dear friends and neighbors to the south of us are cattle ranchers.  Theirs is a huge operation with hundreds of cattle and thousands of acres.  Their lifestyle is about 180* from ours: hundreds of cattle: bulls, steers, cows, and calves.

We have a dog and a cat.

This past season, my dear friend and neighbor was hospitalized for numerous weeks and months.  I sent out the neighborly "Yoo-Hoo!" asking how we could make their lives proceed more smoothly during this trying time.

We two invited their daughters over for weekday dinners when both parents were absent.  Their high school daughters are fun dinner companions.  I sent over a few meals, whenever I ascertained there was a "big-durn-deal" day at the ranch.

This month, May, I got a call from the ranch folks: Could I help the next day in sorting cow/calf pairs?

I assured them that I could.  Yes!  I would be there: in my denim capris and Australian Blundstone boots from horse days of yore.  And a jaunty 36-year-old sun hat from my first visit to Australia. And a china tea cup full of coffee.  Yes!  I was ready for service.  I thought "service" would entail typing numbers into a laptop.

Typing, sipping, going home.

Case closed.



Apparently, there is more to cow/calf biz than typing in little numbers whilst sipping lukewarm Starbucks...

Stay tuned...

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Bull

I have had interesting activity in this, my rural Kansas life, of late.  At some point I will write about it, but for now, I will share my fun artwork.

One day last month I was perusing the Southwest Art magazine (which I love!) and saw an oil painting, a knife painting, of a Hereford bull.  I loved it.  So much so that I called my local rancher (and next-door neighbor/good friend) and asked if she had any bulls (albeit Black Angus) that I could photograph for such purposes as to play with knife and oils?

She indeed took me out to where four of the ranch bulls (500 bovine specimen totaled at this ranch) were currently located. She took me out to the bulls' temporary pen.  I was busy messing with two different camera lenses for my photos, and I asked her to hold the "spare".  (My spare is a little expensive, and I think she realized this.)  The two of us (50+ years old, both of us, but one of us is a marathon runner and one of us is a blog writer) ) climbed over the tall gate into their enclosure.  This is where I asked, "Is this safe?  Are we safe?  Am I safe?"   She smiled and said we were fine.  I replied, "Well, I am behind you.  And I can run backwards FAST. She replied, "And I have your camera lens with which to throw."

I took some photos of two of the bulls, and then asked if we could venture over to where the other two bulls were standing at attention towards us.  "Sure, " she replied.

No sooner than those words were out of her mouth, but the next words, much more urgent, followed:

"No, nope!  Let's back up!"

I turned to see Angus bull #A335 pawing the dirt.  Head down, pawing the dirt.

What the heck?!!  That's something that one sees in bull fight paintings!

I didn't want a photo of a bull fight bull.  I wanted a happy bull.

I immediately walked backwards, as did my rancher neighbor.  I softly reminded her that I was behind her and that I could run backwards really fast.  She immediately reminded me that she could throw my camera lens at the errant bull post haste.

Ha ha!

We both made it back over the gate without incident.  I got some terrific photos, which I will utilize later in a knife oil painting.  As for now?  

I made a fun picture of a fun bull.  I began with Guernica, and finished with Laurel Burch.  Whoa.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Kansas Wind

That Spouse o' Mine is at Cornell University this week.

He called this morning, and during the conversation, queried about the Kansas wind.  He had heard "Wind" in the forecast.

"Well, it's blowing," I replied, "but nothing out of the extraordinary."

That was at 3:00 pm, Central Standard Time.

I called him back at 5:00 pm, CST, with the wind report:  25 mph, and 40 mph wind gusts.

What does this mean, you ask?

Very foul moods and a particularly bad hair day.

Monday, May 04, 2015


Months ago, I took a trip to Australia.  In that time, before, during, or afterward, I received in the mail a slim postcard that exclaimed that my Kansas driver's license was due to expire soon.  I am not sure I ever saw the postcard, pre-Australia.

I took my Aussie trip, returned home, and lived a normal life until weeks later when I prepared to go to Hilton Head Island, our family's annual Springtime haunt.

My flight reservation was made solely on the thought of when my Dad would be taking his tennis lesson, after which he could drive to Savannah, GA to pick me up.  So great in theory...

I glanced at my itinerary on Sunday night.  It said I would leave Kansas City at 8:00 am.


That meant I would have to leave the Flint Hills of Kansas at 4:30 am in order to make it through security on time.  I opted to leave the afternoon before, and spend the night in Kansas City.  This was not a big durn deal; I love spending time in KC.

Ok, ok, Go back to Sunday night, the night BEFORE I was going to KC to spend the night before my Tuesday flight to Savannah, to be picked up by my Dad after his tennis lesson on Hilton Head Island.  I was going through mail and bills and recycling so that everything would be "Ducksinarow" for my absence.

Whoa, there!

My driver's license!  EXPIRED!! NOooooooo!  How could this be?!!!

It was thus, because that thin little yellow postcard settled in quite nicely in-between my recycling of newspapers.  When I returned from Australia, I had a stack of newspapers, the innards of which I LOVE to read (Wall Street Journal).  And so I gleaned my papers and there was my Department of Motor Vehicles note.  Bah!!!

I showed that Spouse o' Mine the card. I said that I would renew it first thing the next morning, before I headed to Kansas City.  The next morning I drove the rural Kansas miles into town to run errands - one of which should have been the DMV.  Sheesh!  I forgot both the thin little yellow postcard AND some proof that I lived where I do.  I drove  the rural Kansas miles back home, mid-afternoon, about two hours before my planned drive the opposite direction, to Kansas City.  This day was already feeling old.

When I neared our home, I observed lots of big machines, Kansas Department of Transportation (K-DOT), very nearly blocking my drive.  Something about re-sealing the road?  I screamed shrilly at one husky driver on one husky machine, "Will I be able to drive back out in twenty minutes??"  And he smiled and smiled and smiled.  Too loud, too much hearing loss from riding loud machines, too much tar-inhaling, whatever.  I ran inside, had a drink (of water, people), took my documents and went out the door.  I had to drive across our front lawn and make a 4-mile detour because the big machines were indeed blocking the drive by then.  I drove back into town, to the DMV parking lot, and that's when I read the sign:

Open T_W_TH.

Huh.  Not Monday afternoon.  After driving 45 miles to be lawful in my driving pursuits...

So you know what I did?  I went on down south to Hilton Head and Savannah and drove all the way back to Oklahoma with my Mom and Dad.  So there.

Well, it just gets worse.  A day after I returned home to rural Kansas, I gathered all things needed to acquire a renewed driver's license.  I even made myself presentable, with manageable hair, and lipstick, even.  I was going to come out on top of this photo opp, because I knew it was going to be with me for six  more years.  Off I went, humming a lilty Cell Block Tango, to the DMV.

I walked into the place, and was dumbfounded.  There were three people working a giant 20-yard desk, and me.  That's all, just me.  No waiting.  Just me and the three of them.  So I walked up to the first guy, and LO AND BEHOLD, it's my son's Scoutmaster from years ago.  He used to be a police officer in the higher levels of the force way back when, and I assume he has retired and is now taking a second job.  I smiled and started to say hello when he barked, YES!! He BARKED at me, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, go back, step back and look at that wall.

What wall?  What the heck?!  I looked at the wall and there was some STUPID screen there asking me what I wanted to do.

I wanted to talk to the man sitting at the desk in front of me.  So I looked at him (again), and he said, "Pick which option you want to do."  I looked from him to the screen and back at him.  I didn't even bother rereading it because I was beginning to think I was on Reno 911. He asked, "What option do you want?"

And I smashed some button and walked right over to him.

"Hi!  I am Trish Armstrong.  Graham's mother.  How are YOU?!!!"

I may have been scowling.

Right after that, the lady (far end of the 20-yard desk, "called my number".  "Number 16."

Seriously?  I am the only one in the office.  Seriously?!

OK, so this is where I lost a little bit of control and did not utter, but DID say really loudly, rather scathingly, that "It would be really GREAT if we could just communicate like humans."

I was really angry. 

Well, BOOM!!!  That former Scoutmaster former cop practically loped the 20 yards down the desk to where I stood fuming.

He smiled and began asking all sorts of "get me up to date on your son, and your family" questions, and then the bombshell of "Do you have any grandkids?" Oh, seriously, this was just getting worse and worse.  I wanted to say "Not that I know of." but I smiled benignly and said, "No."

Just then the lady who called "Number 16" looked at my old license and remarked, "Patricia, I see here that your height is 5'2".  Is that still correct?"

I looked at her dumbly.  I thought to myself fleetingly, "Does she seriously think I would have grown any in the past six years?"

And then, I got it.  Sadly, I got it.  I am 55.  Even though I got up that morning and "spruced" and even put on perfume, I was still 55, and this lady thought I might be shrinking like a pathetic violet.  Then she motioned me over to the square on which I was to stand for my new photo.  She told me to lower my head and look into the camera.  Lower my head.  Lower it more.  A little more...  I didn't want to lower my head because then I have a double chin, lady. 

There was nothing, nothing atall pleasant about ANY of this Department of Motor Vehicles chapter in my life.

When I received my new license in the mail this afternoon, of course I eagerly looked at my photo.  I am frowning.  My eyebrows are greatly raised.  I look like a cross between the SNL Church Lady and my Great Aunt Alpha, who could express her opinion with a glance.

I'll take it.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Field Trip!

A week ago our rancher neighbor Joe took that Spouse o' Mine and me out for a Sunday drive around part of his ranch property.  This is a big ranch.  Thousands of hilly, flinty, Flint Hills acres.  And we drove over hill and dale of rocks and rills until I was very nearly sick to my stomach, weebling around in the back seat of this giant pickup, across land that had no discernible roads, only slight pathways through the tallgrass which defines the Tallgrass Prairie.

We always enjoy outings with our ranching and farming neighbors.  I learn a lot, having spent most of my life in city and townie-living.  That Spouse o' Mine grew up on farming, ranching lifestyles, both in the US and in Australia.  His work now is indeed in horticulture and agriculture, but his job title is Scientist, and he works in a lab.  These field trips out into the real deal of farming and ranching pull us into what is involved in the day-to-day work of the land.

And from our Sunday field trip last week, I have a photo to show and tell.  I had spotted an animal skull which looked to be impaled on a locust tree, exactly at my eyes' height.  (I spotted it because I nearly ran into the skull!!)  Locust trees have TREMENDOUS thorns.  How did this happen???
OK.  I think that Spouse o' Mine has come up with the correct conjecture:  An animal died.  The locust tree grew, and continued its growth through the eyes of this skull.  In later years, the locust limb got to be as high as my eyes' height, and therein lies the skull.  The skull, by the way, is unidentified.  It's larger than a skunk or badger.  It has molars.

And that's the end of this tale.   

Sunday, April 05, 2015


Today is Easter.  Such a happy day that ranks up there with Christmas and Valentines Day in my Happy Holidays book.  After forty dreary days of Lent, Easter is all about good and happy, with flower blossoms, fresh air, a good church service, and Hallelujahs! in the air. 

This morning we went to early service, after which we scurried back out to our car and grabbed our backpacks.  They were full with hiking gear.  We returned to the church and changed out of our Easter finery and into our fleeces and hiking boots, and headed out to the woods for an Easter hike and picnic.

This was really nice.  I think everyone else must have waited to go to their respective late services, because it appeared that we two were the only hikers in this state park.  That Spouse o' Mine and I began a conversation about bees.  What colors do bees see?  I said something about ROYGBIV and he replied back, "Richard of York Gained Battles In Vain."  Where WAS he educated?!  We bantered back an forth about this.  How could anyone know what a bee sees, anyway?!  Is someone out there talking to the bees? Somehow this subject evolved into campfire songs and then into the question of how did musicians centuries ago tune to a pitch?  (I was explaining that when I was a kid visiting my grandparents, we would attend their church which did not believe in pianos or organs in a church service, lest they drown out the voices raised up in praise to God.  I described that singing as interesting even to a little kid, in that there was a song leader who had to be pretty true to pitch and not start a song really high or really low, or midway through there would be big problems.)

When we got home from church and hike, I hadn't gotten the "hike" out of my system, and I called out to our dog, "Pasture!" (NO: Her name is not Pasture, but "pasture" is one of very few words that she reacts to in a favorable way.  She connects Pasture! with Adventure! and she comes running.  Biserka is such a neurotic/borderline psychotic dog that most movements and noises unhinge her.  But Pasture! is one of her few "happy" words.  I named her Biserka because she is.  She rarely comes when called.  She WILL come if I call out MacArthur! which is our cat's name.)

Biserka and I crossed through our pasture, down a steep trail, and into our creekbed.  The creekbed is dry, yet muddy, and the sides of the creek are straight-up steep, in many areas higher that a 2-story building.  It's like exploring a mini-Grand Canyon, with wild animal paw prints and hoof prints, and curiosities which change from season to season, and flood to flood.  There used to be a Model A car in a wall of the creekbed.  And a red boat once appeared during a flood.

We followed the creek's meander down for about half an hour, and then climbed a steep climb out into our meadow area.  I have always intended to put a picnic table down there.  Maybe this summer...

Easter was a nice day.  No big feast with family, no Easter Egg Hunts, just a nice church service and then the outdoors.  A nice day.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Evening

This evening while waiting for the bread to rise, and also the pasta dough to rest on its gluten laurels, I began playing chess, interspersed with reading a poem between games.

I like Billy Collins poetry.  Tonight's poetry choice was I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of "Three Blind Mice":
And I start wondering how they came to be blind.
If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sister,
and I think of the poor mother
brooding over her sightless young triplets.

Or was it a common accident, all three caught
in a searing explosion, a firework perhaps?
If not,
if each came to his or her blindness separately,

how did they ever manage to find one another?
Would it not be difficult for a blind mouse
to locate even one fellow mouse with vision
let alone two other blind ones?

And how, in their tiny darkness,
could they possibly have run after a farmer's wife
or anyone else's wife for that matter?
Not to mention why.

Just so she could cut off their tails
with a carving knife, is the cynic's answer,
but the thought of them without eyes
and now without tails to trail through the moist grass

or slip around the corner of a baseboard
has the cynic who always lounges within me
up off his couch and at the window
trying to hide the rising softness that he feels.

By now I am on to dicing an onion
which might account for the wet stinging
in my own eyes, though Freddie Hubbard's
mournful trumpet on "Blue Moon,"

which happens to be the next cut,
cannot be said to be making matters any better.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Week's End

This week was a very normal week.  I spent part of last month in Australia and I think it made me goofy in the "What Season is It?!" department.  That, plus it was warm in rural Kansas last week.  Cccold this week, though.  I have so many clothes strung out upstairs (closets) and downstairs (bedroom), because one day, I am in linen capris, and the next, I am in a cashmere sweater.

This week's beginning was as it should have been: acknowledge that the cherry season is beginning in California (and ending in the Southern Hemisphere), and that means my business ducks should be in a professional row from here until August (Canadian cherry season).  What this means for you consumers a short time you will see beautiful red and Rainier sweet cherries in the produce department wherever you market.  Buy them.  It's the trickle-down effect: from the orchard grower to the orchard pickers to the orchard packers and the orchard truckers and the orchard storage and the orchard marketers, also to the orchard wholesalers and the hort. professors and hort. grad students, not to mention the hort undergrads, all doing research, and the cherry shippers (ships: really!), and even down to us: we who sell instruments to enable the growers, the pickers, the packers, the shippers and the researchers.  A lot of business goes into one of those fine, ripe cherries.  Buy them.

This week's end was busy with things other than cherry biz.  On Thursdays, our church serves a community dinner for people in the community who need a dinner.  Or, those who want a dinner. Some people arrive out of hunger, and some arrive out of loneliness.  We provide sustenance for both needs.  That Spouse o' Mine  and I had signed up for Hospitality this week (i.e., dining), and so we did. There were chess games going, some artwork, a few people were busy reading the day's newspapers, that Spouse o' Mine had brought in a photo which Daughter Gillian had sent from her historical museum: an old undefined piece of equipment, asking "What is this??"  That was fun to pass around the tables and discuss and interject what it might be...what clues we all could contribute.  (It turned to be a cork press.  {Thank you, Gillian.}  You can read about it here: )

Last week a man in our church was killed in a farming accident.  He was popular and well-loved.  It is customary in our church to provide a funeral luncheon when the need is there.  Sometimes, the luncheon is small.  Sometimes it's only coffee, or perhaps a brunch.  This luncheon was expected to feed 200 mourners.  All I volunteered to do was to provide flowers for the luncheon.

It is fulfilling to live on this property and have the capacity to share something that is so enjoyable to that Spouse o' Mine and me: flowers and such.  Happily, this week's pre-spring nature show was all about trees in the pasture and creekbeds, just teasing out some blossoms hither and yon.  After the community supper Thursday night, that Spouse o' Mine and I headed out to the pasture and creek, dusk and nearly dark, and clipped branches of beautiful dogwood, pear, forsythia, and redbud blossoms.

So pretty.

This morning at church, as I was arranging lots of vases, another horticulturally-inclined acquaintance arrived with what must have been hundreds of daffodils from her yard.  Gorgeous.  And between the two of us, the mood in the fellowship hall was made one mite brighter than what mourners no doubt felt in the sanctuary this morning.

Well, leaping from meals to funeral flowers and then...

A marathon?

Yes!  A marathon.  That Spouse o' Mine and I are doing the Wicked Marathon tomorrow!

That is to say, we are "doing" the marathon as the bike leads for the front runner.  I told that Spouse o' Mine that this would be the only way I would ever experience a marathon.  Even better, being in FRONT of the front runner in a marathon!!  I am always last in everything.  How fun to see what the finish line looks like before a kabillion runner/cyclists/whatever go through.  So, we volunteered.  26+ miles of riding slower than 12 mph.  It might get a little boring.  And cold??? The forecasters lied.

And here is my End of the Week.  It has been fulfilling.  Enjoyable.  Happy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Things We See

I sent this photo to a blogger friend this weekend:
She had posed the question: where is our happy place in one's home?

I have several happy places.  I tend to migrate from one room to another during a day.  Sunrise and yoga are always in the "new" living room, which faces east.  I tend not to stay long in that living room, though, for the "old" living room (above) holds a much better vantage point for sunlight, and apparently I am all about sunlight. (and lack thereof; sometimes I adore a dreary, dark day.)

The past few weeks I have visited furniture stores and home decor places, trying to make a few changes in our home.  Our sofas are in dire need of replacement.  We just removed a beautiful 13-foot church bench from our new living room, and are filling in the empty space.  I haven't been all too thrilled with what I see in some of the stores.  I am not fond of particle board furniture.  I would rather have paintings on my walls than wooden letters spelling out words.  I like natural fibers and  hardwood floors and solid wood furniture.

Ha!  I must be a dinosaur.

When I gaze at this photo, which I took several years ago, I see so many "happy" things - things that are meaningful to me, and hopefully to the rest of our family.  That old ball & claw coffee table belonged to my Great-Aunt Lois.  My father-in-law painted the nautical scene hanging above the bookcase.  The bookcase is filled with all things ponies, horses, veterinarian, travel, Spanish, Arabic, French languages.  (I have bookcases in most of the rooms in our house, and they all have "subjects".)  The sculpture on the bookcase is one of my Dad's: he made bronzes one year of this sculpture, for each of us five kids.  It's a sparrow on a wavy branch, and if you get close enough, you see a treble clef with musical notes on it.  The notes are from one of my mother's favorite hymns: His Eye is on the Sparrow.  One has to be able to read music to appreciate what he did. My Dad also carved the marble treble clef on my piano.  You see?  People can buy lots of things from lots of stores, but my "happy place" has all of this given to me by people I love.

The flowers in the window are wintering over from the past hot summer months.  If I took a photo this spring, one would see a red poinsettia, a violet heliotrope, and a peach-blooming geranium.

Our piano was a gift some thirty years ago from that Spouse o' Mine's parents.  They knew I played, although their son did not.  So during one trip they took from Australia, they surprised me with this amazing gift.

The cello...the cello...We had had an empty nest for several years, and there was a cello in this old living room.  Just sitting there.  Silently.  When I turned fifty, I called the local music store, found a cello instructor, and spent the next few years under her tutelage.  Our daughter/cellist asked for her cello back once she was married and had a home of her own.  So, I went out and bought me a nice cello.  It is about 100 years old, and it sounds really nice.  This helps, since I am not the cellist I had imagined I might become some five years ago.  I need the help of a nice cello.

The rattan rug is old and faded.  We celebrated out 31st wedding anniversary this winter, and picked out a new rug to replace this old thing.  And you know what?  Life got in the way, and we have yet to go back (two months later) and purchase it.

Puzzle, the old calico cat, crawled under our Christmas tree last year and peacefully died.  I guess you can't ask for more than that: a healthy nineteen year old cat, who just knew where and when to go, without much ado.

Oh - and finally?  The leather loveseat and chair are a pair I bought so many years ago, in such an early chapter of our lives.  The chair is still there - often with a load of books in it so that our giant Bouvier dog won't feel like it is her domain. I have replaced the loveseat with a sunny yellow linen chintz loveseat.  It was sort of a "whim" purchase, and I am so happy with it.  Buy on a whim, I tell you.

And that is the story of this happy space.  There are all sorts of stories in every corner and angle of this room.  I wonder, in that the house was built 120 years ago... how many other "happy spaces" were spent in this room?
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