Friday, March 31, 2006

Strange Dream

All In The Family...

Isaac has strep throat and was out of school yesterday with it. Last night in his medicated and somewhat feverish condition, he had a nightmare.

In his dream, he had invited his friends to a party and they were all in the yard. Meanwhile, everything in the house was terribly wrong. Dennis was sitting at the table in his underwear drinking beer. Keely and I were dressed in the ragged old clothes that we save for painting. The house was a total wreck and no one seemed to care.

People were showing up that I had invited without consulting Isaac and they were people he didn't like. He didn't even know some of the people I had invited (such as the goth-looking teenage couple we saw at the library yesterday afternoon in real life.)

Isaac was frantically trying to fix everything, but there were too many things that were very badly wrong and he knew he was going to be terribly, terribly embarrassed at any moment when his friends came in...

The classic nightmare with the "Darn, I forgot to wear my clothes!" moment seems pretty mild compared to the kind of humiliation that the family was inflicting on Isaac in this dream.

Tall Grass

Life in Christian County, Kentucky...

Here we have last year's tall dead grass along the roadside contrasted with the fresh green grass coming up in the neighbor's newly seeded pasture. In which grass would you rather take a barefoot walk?

Walking through that tall grass barefoot is a creepy thought to me. I prefer to see the wildlife before it runs across my foot.

Bassett Building in Hopkinsville, KY

Historic downtown Hopkinsville, Kentucky

Bassett Building in Hopkinsville, KY

This fine old building sits at the corner of 7th and Main in historic downtown Hopkinsville. It is called the Bassett Building in honor of the businessman who had it built in 1885 and put his name at the pinnacle of the roof. Robert Fears, a local attorney and hometown boy, has his offices in the Bassett Building, and he's done quite a bit of restoration. I'm sure the amount of money he has poured into the old building over the years that he has occupied it would be shocking to me.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Old House, New House

Life in Christian County, Kentucky...

A local Mennonite family has recently built this new home. I really am not obsessed with Mennonite farm buildings, though I seem to be taking a lot of photos of them lately. It is simply that we share this community with many Mennonite neighbors, and so things related to them show up in my photos sometimes.

These houses, old and new, are located near the river on the Vaughn Grove-Little River Road in Christian County, Kentucky. It's been interesting to watch them build the new house over a period of about a year and now start to tear down the old house. Who would have ever guessed that the little white house had once been red?!

I feel a bit sad seeing the old house go because an old man whom I liked was born there. He has passed on and now his childhood home is passing on also.

Ink Wells and Fountain Pens

Another Trip Down Memory Lane...

When I was a little girl during the late 50's and early 60's, I went to a one-room country school. (To be specific, I attended Duff Valley District 4 in Rock County, Nebraska.)

By the time I was in school, bottles of ink were not used much by students anymore, but we sat in old desks that had inkwells built into their desktops. (An inkwell is a cup that is designed to hold a bottle of ink and keep it from spilling while a writer is using it.) Since we didn't use them much for ink, the inkwells made a handy place to keep some Kleenex or to hold wadded-up papers until you took them to the wastebasket.

Still, ink bottles weren't obsolete yet. A bottle of ink and a pen to use with it could be bought at any dime store. I had a few of them and had fun playing with them. The pen had a rubber bladder inside it that was loaded with ink by operating a little lever on the side of the pen as you dunked it into the ink bottle. The filling procedure made a small interesting gurgle.

I was never able to keep my hands clean while messing around with an ink bottle and a pen of this sort. I got a big ink stain on a page in my Social Studies book during my ownership of one manually loaded ink pen. I accomplished this behind the privacy shield of my raised desk lid because my teacher had already told me to quit playing with the pen and ink.

All of us students liked fountain pens. A fountain pen got its ink from a plastic cartridge that was a little smaller in size than a triple-A battery. An ink cartridge was installed by pressing the top end of the pen's nib into one end of it, then putting the cartridge-with-nib into the body of the pen. The cartridges usually leaked ink at the point where they were punctured by the pen nib. The ink oozed out as you wrote, and soon the side of your finger had a big inkstain on it -- black, red, blue, or green depending on the color of ink you had loaded.

With either type of pen, it was hard not to get inkblots on your papers. You had to keep the pen from touching the paper at any time you weren't writing. You had to be careful about shaking the pen because drops of ink would fly from it. And you had to be careful not to smear the ink by laying your arm across it or folding the paper before it dried.

We students made plenty of messes with ink, but Duff Valley's teachers had a long history of ink accidents that they couldn't deny. The bottoms of the wooden drawers in the teacher's desk had many blots and stains from years of leaky pens and tipped-over ink bottles.

My memories of using pen and ink and my admiration of people who do nice lettering are the reasons I enjoy an occasional visit to NIBLOG - the letterer's blog.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Downtown Hopkinsville

Life in Christian County, Kentucky...

Hopkinsville's Main Street is very quiet at 7:30 a.m.

Clarks and Fishers

All In The Family... Another Trip Down Memory Lane...

I have been thinking today about my great-grandfather Charlie Clark of Ainsworth, Nebraska. I'm ashamed that I don't know more about him. I really need to dig out that geneology packet that my cousin Judy made and try to study it.

Judy has traced the Clark line of the family back to William Clark of "Lewis and Clark" fame. (Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the party that explored the 1803 Louisiana Purchase). My brother studied Judy's papers once and pointed out that whenever there was a fork in the family tree, Judy followed the branch that led to William Clark. Well, that's how family tree research is done, of course. You choose a branch and see where it leads.

Grandpa Clark must have been born in the 1870's, and I think he died in the late 1960's. He lived to be around 90 years old. It seems to me that my brother was a pallbearer in Grandpa Clark's funeral, along with some of the Davis boys who were great-grandkids from Great-Aunt Goldie's side of the family. I must have been away to school at the time because I don't remember attending the funeral.

Grandpa Clark had a ranch near Ainsworth, Nebraska. He probably homesteaded on it, but I don't know that for sure. He married Virginia Fisher, and their children were my grandmother, Nora (Clark) Hill (born in 1907, I believe), and her sister, Goldie (Clark) Davis who was a year or so younger. Great Aunt Goldie is still living, but
Grandma Nora passed away in 1980.

Since Grandpa Clark had no sons, the Clark name has died out in our family. It would be nice if some of the great-great-grandchildren would name some of their children Clark as a middle name. (Just food for thought, kids.)

When the girls were still little, Virginia left Charlie and the girls and moved away. (To put it plainly, she ran off. She abandoned the family.) So Grandpa Clark brought up the girls, and I think they struggled. Grandma Nora only went to the 4th grade in school and was married by the time she was 16. Grandpa Clark had a second wife, Rachel, but I think that was after the girls were grown. I never knew Rachel; she passed away before my time.

But all that aside, I want to write down a few things that I personally remember about Grandpa Clark. In my earliest memories, probably about 1955 or 1956, he was already in his upper 70's. He lived in a little house on the last street on the west side of Ainsworth, and it had a cherry tree in the back yard. The windows on the west side of the house looked out on someone's pasture.

He had an old car (late 1930's or early 1940's model) that he drove around Ainsworth at an extremely slow speed. He didn't drive well because he couldn't see well, and eventually, he had to give up driving altogether which made the streets of Ainsworth much safer, I'm sure. I remember my dad being horrified once when he saw Grandpa Clark back out right in front of someone on Main Street.

When I think of Grandpa Clark, I see a thin little man with wispy white hair, wearing bib overalls. He was usually sitting in his rocker in the corner of the kitchen. Beside him was a sunny south window and a set of shelves stacked with magazines and plants. He liked to read, and he kept several magnifying glasses handy to help him. Against the wall, he had his little bed. The house had a real bedroom and a real living room, but he mainly lived in his kitchen.

He didn't hear well, and I remember everyone shouting at him. I also remember that his eyes were blue but they looked funny. I think he probably had cataracts. Back in those days, the technology did not exist to remove them.

When we stopped to see him, he would call my brother and me over to him and give us each a dime out of his pocket. That was nice of him. A dime was enough to buy two candy bars, ten pieces of bubble gum, or a bottle of soda pop.

Grandpa Clark is the only one of my great-grandparents whom I knew at all. Six of my eight great grandparents had already passed away. My great-grandmother Virginia (Fisher) Clark was still living and I think I met her one time. We called her "Grandma McGrew" when we talked about her because she had married a man named Walt McGrew. Grandma McGrew and Walt lived in Minneapolis when I was little. Later, they moved back to Ainsworth. They were in poor health and Grandma Nora and Great-Aunt Goldie (Grandma McGrew's daughters) helped care for them until they passed away.

I don't remember going to see Grandma McGrew and Walt after they moved back to Ainsworth but I was away to school a lot through those years. Probably my mother and father visited them because they were good-hearted people. I don't think there was a feeling of strong family ties to her because she had been gone ever since the girls were little, as I understand it.

The Fisher side of the family is kind of interesting. Kingfisher, Oklahoma is named for an ancestor whose name was -- ready for this? -- King Fisher. I think it was named for Virginia Fisher's dad who would have been my great-great grandfather and my children's great-great-great grandfather. My Grandma Nora and my great-aunt Goldie went to a town celebration in Kingfisher as guests of honor because they were descendants of King Fisher, the town's founder. That must have been a lot of fun for them. I hope to visit Kingfisher, Oklahoma, myself one of these days.

If any of my family can straighten me out where I'm mistaken, please let me know and I'll revise this.

Taking Food To a Grieving Family

And What I Think About It...

I am offering a three-fold bit of advice today.

1. If a friend or acquaintance has had a death in the family, take them some food. Do not hesitate to fix a casserole and bake a cake for them. Take the food along with some paper plates, a bag of chips, and a box of sodas to the bereaved family as soon as possible. They will appreciate it more than you can ever understand until you have been through a family death and funeral yourself.

2. When you fix the casserole and bake the cake, use disposable pans that the family doesn't have to wash and return to you. They have enough on their minds without worrying about your dishes.

3. Make a decision to keep the ingredients on hand for a couple of easy-to-make, easy-to-carry comfort foods. Keep some disposable pans on hand too, so you'll be prepared to help someone through a bad time.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Try Again

History and Old Stuff...

Who hasn't heard the saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again?" But have you ever read the poem from which it is taken?

Try Again

'TIS a lesson you should heed,
Try, try again;
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try again;
Then your courage should appear,
For if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear,
Try, try again;

Once or twice, though you should fail,
Try, try again;
If you would at last prevail,
Try, try again;
If we strive, 'tis no disgrace
Though we do not win the race;
What should we do in that case?
Try, try again;

If you find your task is hard,
Try, try again;
Time will bring you your reward,
Try, try again;
All that other folk can do,
Why, with patience, may not you?
Only keep this rule in view,
Try, try again;

by William Edward Hickson (1803-1870)

Maternal Instincts and Little Rabbits

The Rural Life... Another Trip Down Memory Lane... More About Birds and Animals...

About three years ago, Isaac and I went to a little house at Kelly, KY, and chose a kitten from a litter of five who were living in a big box in someone's living room.

We wanted a female so Happy, our old tom, wouldn't feel a need to fight it. There were only two female kittens in the litter; one trembled in fear when touched, and the other reached out a paw to Isaac and then bit him. We chose the biter and named her Skittles.

She's spayed now, but she had two litters of kittens when she was a mere adolescent. I forget whether the rabbit incidents happened during her first or second kitten episode.

At any rate, it happened this way. The kittens had grown too large for their box in the house, and the weather was warm, so I moved them to a large old wooden box on the carport.

I glanced into the box one afternoon and I was shocked to see a fuzzy little alien in there. The kittens were nursing and a baby rabbit was huddled against them. Obviously, Skittles had acquired the rabbit and she didn't seem interested in eating it, so I left it there. I didn't know if it would survive if I released it, and I hoped that maybe it would accept Skittles as its mother.

The next day I looked in the box and I was shocked to see that now there were two little rabbits. I can only surmise that in her condition of activated maternal hormones, Skittles thought the little wild rabbits were actually kittens who needed a home. Never mind that their ears were a bit long; obviously they needed her care.

I still wasn't sure what to do with the rabbits. They were so young that I was afraid they'd die if I turned them loose. Still, I wondered about leaving them with Skittles. She groomed them enthusiastically, just as she did her feline children but I didn't ever see the rabbits nursing. She wouldn't have minded, but they didn't seem interested.

After much pondering of the situation, I sought out a recipe for homemade milk-replacer for rabbits on the internet and bought some pet bottles so we could feed the little rabbits by hand. They were flighty, slippery little creatures, but they were hungry. Keely named them Abbot and Costello, and developed a method of wrapping them gently in a towel for feeding. That way, they could shrink into the towel rather than darting forward if they were startled.

Unfortunately, Abbot died, and then we had just Costello to nurse along. I read that rabbits have fragile bones and I became concerned about the kittens hurting him because they were much larger and they played roughly. We decided to move Costello to a nest of dry grass clippings in the bottom of a large round garbage can in the house.

Costello was terribly nervous whenever we handled him. He couldn't help it; that's the way rabbits are, especially wild ones. I guess he became about as tame as a little wild rabbit can be. Sometimes as he drank his bottle, he closed his little eyes and seemed to enjoy it and maybe even dozed a little as I sat very still and held him, bundled in his little feeding towel.

He developed sharp teeth that could sever a pet bottle nipple with a single chomp. I started giving his milk to him in a drinking bottle designed for hamster and rat cages. It had a long metal tube with a metal marble in the end of it. Costello quickly learned to push the marble up just enough that a trickle of milk flowed out of the tube into his mouth.

He grew rapidly. When he developed a hearty appetite for clover we picked from the lawn for him, I knew that he could probably survive on his own. One sunny day, I took him out to the hedgerow along the back fence where there's a thick cover of unmowed vegetation, and I said goodby to the little guy. After I released him, he sat still for a moment and then crept away into the tall grass. I couldn't help worrying about him!

Meanwhile, the kittens had grown too large for the wooden box, so we had moved them to a 6-foot round cattle tank that the kids had used as a pool when they were little. One day, I saw Skittles jump into the tank with a baby squirrel struggling in her mouth. Apparently she had an idea of adopting it like she had done with the rabbits.

The little squirrel was trying so hard to escape that Skittles was excited by it. She seemed a bit uncertain -- was it a baby or was it a game animal after all? I snatched the wild little thing away from her. It leaped from my hands in a flash, ran into the shrubbery and was never seen again. Skittles was momentarily puzzled where the strange baby had gone -- and then she nursed the kittens.

Last summer, when Costello would have been one year old, an unusually tame rabbit lived in our yard. He didn't come close to us, but he never ran away or froze in position like rabbits do when frightened. He was quite comfortable even at a 15-foot distance. The lawn mower didn't disturb him much; he just moved out of its way and enjoyed the freshly mowed greens. We saw him all summer long, placidly grazing on the clover in one spot or another. Of course we think it was Costello.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Plowing with a Team

Life in Christian County, Kentucky...

A few miles south of Highway 68/80 in eastern Christian County

Not far from this beautiful green field, I saw a Mennonite farmer plowing with a team of six mules today. He had a seat on the plow so he could ride. It looked like it was a two-bottom plow; that is, it had two plow blades and it made two furrows.

When I saw him, he had gone down the field and back a couple of times, and there was still a vast expanse of ground waiting to be plowed. I thought what a time-consuming task it must be to get the fields plowed that way.

I would have loved to take his picture, but I didn't want to be rude.

Several years ago, the local newspaper had a story about some of the Mennonite families who had settled in this area. One man said that when he came here to look for a farm, he thought to himself that this was nice country to farm with a team of horses.

Many of the Mennonites around us use tractors, but some of the Old Order Mennonites (like the farmer I saw) use teams of horses or mules for farming. The Old Order Amish also use horses and mules. They don't object to stationary motors, though, and it's a very curious thing to see them in the hayfield with a baling machine that's powered by a stationary motor.

Since the Mennonite and Amish neighbors seem to be my theme of the day (again), I'll add this photo of another newly built set of farm buildings. The black barn was there when they bought the farm; it's a tobacco barn. I am guessing that they will use the windmill to irrigate vegetable crops. I know these folks will be glad when their trees grow and they have some shade.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mennonite Barn

Life in Christian County, Kentucky...

A new barn is being built on a Mennonite farm just south of Fairview, KY. I don't know the family who lives there, but I recognize the style of the buildings as typical to the Mennonites. Many local Mennonite farms have big, plain houses and large barns, very similar to those in the photo.

We have a large Mennonite population in the Pembroke, Fairview, and Honey Grove communities of eastern Christian County. In southern Christian County, many Amish families have settled. Amish buildings look very similar to Mennonite buildings, but they usually don't have any telephone or electric lines leading to them.

The gambrel roofline is favored by the Mennonites because it encloses the most space for the least amount of lumber. This barn's sidewalls are constructed of concrete blocks. The farmer probably did most of that by himself, but I am sure he had a barn-raising with a group of his friends, neighbors, and relatives to get the roof on. Probably the roof was put on in a single day, though there would have been details that had to be finished later.

This barn will probably be used as a dairy with a milking parlor on the ground floor and a haymow and feed storage area above. Often, Mennonite farmers will construct an earthen ramp that leads to large double doors in the second-floor haymow. They can back a tractor or truck up the ramp for easier loading and unloading.

Concrete silos like the ones in the photo are much favored by the Mennonites. The Mennonite farmers buy old silos that have fallen into disuse on other farms, tear them down, haul them home and reconstruct them.

Isaac took this photo today as we were coming home from church. He was on the right side of the car. He did a good job of getting the complete scene. It's not his fault that the sun isn't shining.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Analyzing My Blog

Blogs and Blogging... Some Interesting News... And What I Think About It

I read an article about blogging a few weeks now, and I'm going to write about it so I can remove it from my bookmarks : "Cutting Through the Blog Fog" by Dave Beal from the March 5, 2006, St. Paul (MN) Pioneer Press.

Beal cites a interesting taxonomy of blog types that has been developed by Nora Paul of the University of Minnesota.

• Personal diarists: They share their thoughts, profound to mundane, with the world.

• Family networkers: This is a way to keep far-flung family members up to date on what's happening with the clan.

• Early responders: Eyewitnesses to news as it happens...

• Hunter-gatherers: They delve deeply into the nooks and crannies...

• Agenda blogs: These bloggers have a strong point of view and they editorialize on the news through their agenda-laden lens...

• PR/corporate communications blogs: Companies are adding them to their marketing toolkits to spread the word about their good or services.

• Newsroom blogs: a format for news columns that uses informal language, typically to provide brief insights and quick updates.

Quoted from "Cutting Through the Blog Fog"

Over the three months that I've been writing "Prairie Bluestem," my idea of its function has changed somewhat. I originally thought the blog would be a place where family and friends could keep in touch and have fun. A few family members and friends do read here regularly, but they don't say much. Many of my most faithful readers are other bloggers. Most of the traffic that passes through here is other bloggers or people who follow a link to this site from a search engine.

Two other functions of the blog have become apparent to me as I write here. First, I see the blog as a place to write down some personal and family stories that I want to record and keep for my children. Secondly, I realize that the blog is an unofficial ambassador for my adopted home of Hopkinsville and Christian County, Kentucky.

I think my blog has elements of the first three blog-types listed by Beal: Personal diarist, Family networker, and Early Responder. (I do report news, even though the news may be merely that I sighted a big flock of wild turkeys.)

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for reading.

Seen In Hopkinsville

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... History and Old Stuff...

Historic home in Hopkinsville, Kentucky

This beautifully detailed stoop is part of a home on Virginia Street in Hopkinsville, KY.

I was curious about the word "stoop" so I looked it up. Here is the definition according to

stoop (stup) n. Chiefly Northeastern U.S.
A small porch, platform, or staircase leading to the entrance of a house or building. [Dutch stoep, front verandah, from Middle Dutch.] Originally brought to the Hudson Valley of New York by settlers from the Netherlands... Stoop, “a small porch,” comes from Dutch stoep; this word is now in general use in the Northeast and is probably spreading...

And according to

Stoop: (?), n. (Arch.) Originally, a covered porch with seats, at a house door; the Dutch stoep as introduced by the Dutch into New York. Afterward, an out-of-door flight of stairs of from seven to fourteen steps, with platform and parapets, leading to an entrance door some distance above the street; the French perron. Hence, any porch, platform, entrance stairway, or small veranda, at a house door.

Washers, Dryers, and Clotheslines

The Rural Life... And What I Think About It...

Oh, the virtue of it all. The laundry is washed, dried, folded, and put away. I'm free from that drudgery for a few days until it multiplies again and must be dealt with. But at least, I have a washer and a dryer. I assure you that I'm grateful for them!

We bought our first washer and dryer shortly before Keely was born. A fellow who was moving sold us the set cheap. They were apartment-sized; the washer hooked up to the sink faucet, and the dryer could be plugged into an ordinary wall outlet. I did a lot of baby laundry with them (and used a lot of bleach on the sink all the time because of the dirty nature of laundry.)

Then we went to Germany for five years and our washer and dryer went into storage. When we came to Kentucky, the little washer refused to come back to life after its long hibernation. It wasn't worth fixing, so we went to Sears and bought a Kenmore which served us faithfully for 15 years with only a couple of visits by the repairman.

Last year, the Kenmore started having some problems and we decided to get a new washer. I did quite a bit of research on machines in the $500 range, and finally decided on a General Electric with a stainless steel basket. I am satisfied with it; my only minor complaint is that it is a little noisier than the Kenmore.

Though its mate died, the apartment-sized dryer still worked when we came back to Kentucky. We used it for about a year here, until one day I put too much heavy wet clothing into it and burned up its motor and the wall outlet it was plugged into. Neither the dryer nor the outlet was intended for the abuse it was receiving. I had already rigged a clothesline between a couple of trees, so after the little dryer died, I dried the laundry outside for a number of years. Money was tight and a dryer wasn't an absolute necessity.

A clothesline is a good idea most of the time, but it's not perfect. Clothing dried outside has a wonderful fresh-air scent that just can't be described. However, when a neighbor spreads manure across his field while the laundry is on the line, the clothing smells like it was hung in the barnyard. On a sunny breezy day, the clothing dries as fast outside as it does in the dryer but the clothesline is useless when rain lingers for a week. Hanging the clothes is a pleasant outdoor diversion on a warm day, but on a winter day, unprotected hands quickly go stiff and numb, and even gloved hands will ache with cold before a full basket of wet laundry is pinned to the line.

My husband finally decided that the clothesline between the trees looked tacky, so he fixed a proper clothesline with metal poles, on the south side of the house where the north wind wouldn't freeze me in the cold months of winter. He was trying to be nice, but it was a bad idea. We have a wood stove that we use in the winter, and in the clothesline's new location, the clothing picked up a smell of smoke.

Anyway, we eventually got a dryer (a Kenmore) and I'm grateful for it. I still hang clothing outside sometimes when the weather is nice. I don't have a clothesline anymore, but I do have a chain that I use for clothing on hangers -- one hanger per link in the chain. The hangers can't slide together and the wind doesn't blow them off. If the clothing is put on hangers promptly when the washer stops, much of it dries nearly as wrinkle-free as if it had gone through the dryer.

My Mennonite neighbor, Kathryn, is dedicated to hanging her laundry outside on the clothesline summer and winter, even though she has a dryer for emergencies. She has a mechanized clothesline that makes it a little easier. Her clothesline is a long loop strung around a pulley on each end. One pulley is on the porch and the other is mounted high on a tall pole far across the yard. She stands on her porch to pin on the clothes, then pulls the line through the pulleys to move the clothing out into the air high above the yard.

My conclusions about all this? A washer and a clothesline are better than going to the laundramat, and a washer, a dryer and a clothesline are about as good as doing your laundry gets. But what I really want is a laundry maid.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Big Flock of Wild Turkeys

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... More About Birds and Animals...

Coming home from taking Isaac to school this morning, I saw a large flock of wild turkeys browsing in a farmer's field just above the river. It was the largest flock of wild turkeys I've ever seen. I estimate that it had 30-35 birds in it. I couldn't even get them all in the photo. It was a thrill to see them.

I turned around, came back down the opposite lane, turned around again, and pulled over to the shoulder of the highway to take some photos. When I stopped the car, the birds became alert, and when I got out and began to photograph them, they started slowly moving into the weeds and brush along the river. Within a few moments, the entire flock had left the field.

A big tom had his feathers all fluffed out. He was in full strut when I first saw them, and he was still that way when I drove off. I don't know for sure that all the rest of the flock were hens, but I think it's very likely.

Turkeys were re-introduced to this area about 25 years ago, I think. We never saw them when we first moved here. Then, we started seeing two or three here and there, once in a very great while. In the last year or two, we have seen a few along our little road that runs 1/4 mile up a hill at the edge of a woods. I think they roost in the trees there.

Some of the farmers have told me that the turkeys are populous enough now in this part of the county to do real damage to a field of grain. I don't doubt that.

Ruffled grouse were once native here in large numbers, just like the wild turkeys used to be. I would be pleased if the grouse could be re-introduced too.

The webpage of the Kentucky National Wild Turkey Federation contains a brief history of wild turkey in Land Between the Lakes, about 50 miles west of here. It's a long page, but search for the name "Shelley Nickell". During the early 1900's, he managed to conserve a handful of this area's last native wild turkeys.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Kentucky Farmhouse

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... The Rural Life...

This large old farmhouse sits on the Vaughn Grove-Fairview Road in eastern Christian County. I don't know the proper term for its architectural style, but many old farmhouses with similar attitudes can be seen around here. They are big, sturdy houses that appear to have been built with the primary goals of providing shelter and enough room for a family. They don't have much ornamentation on the exterior.

When we first moved to Christian County, this old house was becoming delapitated, but a Mennonite family has bought the place and little by little, they've been repairing it. They have put on a new roof, built a new side porch and carport (actually, they drive carriages, not cars) , replaced the front stoop, and installed new siding. With a family inside it again and some attention to urgent needs, the house again serves the purposes for which it was built. Its dignity has been restored.

Playing the Piano

Christian and Lutheran Life... And What I Think About It...

As God in His wisdom has planned, we don't have many musicians in our church. We have a very good organist who serves faithfully. When he can't be there, Pastor usually can get a substitute organist, a lady from Clarksville who plays beautifully. But if this lady can't come, Pastor calls me and asks if I will play the piano.

I am not a good pianist by any stretch of the imagination. I had piano lessons when I was growing up, but my talent was mediocre at best. I have no inborn gift for reading music; it has always been hard labor for me. If it's unfamiliar music, I struggle pitifully with it! I have even photocopied music and used white-out to remove some notes that were just confusing me.

I can play many familiar hymns without much difficulty, but many other hymns are challenging for me. When I have to play for a service, it seems like the hymn list always includes some selections from the second category. I practice the troublemakers with diligence, and sometimes I do OK on them, and sometimes I hit wrong notes and distress myself with my imperfect abilities. Sometimes I'm nervous, and I have to force myself to relax, focus on the notes and get through the songs.

Over time, I have reached a couple of conclusions about playing for church. I have learned that several ladies in our church play the piano a little. I would be very willing to let any of them play in my stead. But if no one else volunteers, I guess they are content with (or at least resigned to) my efforts.

More importantly, I realized a while back that nervousness is really a self-centered emotion. The piano is part of the music and the music is a part of all the worship that is offered to God through the service. Obsessing about my fears and imperfections is just wrong; I need to play the best I can in humbleness before the Lord and He will bless the music. I try to keep that in mind.

Tonight I have to play for the Lenten service. Pastor called me yesterday afternoon and since then, I 've been practicing. The hymns are "Jesus, Thy Boundless Love To Me" with the Vater Unser melody, "O Dearest Jesus", "There is a Green Hill Far Away", and "Go My Children With My Blessing". In our hymnal, the first two hymns are one difficult minor chord after another, but I found easier arrangements in another hymnal. If I concentrate on reading the notes, I should do all right on them. The other two are easy enough. A short prelude, the four hymns, the offertory, and a short postlude, and I'll be done. Yes, I am a little nervous, but I'll be OK.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Periwinkle, The Conqueror

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... More About Trees and Plants...

My travels today took me by this old cemetery, and I stopped to peek inside it. I wasn't too surprised to see the entire grounds covered with periwinkle. Many old Kentucky cemeteries are full of it. I have heard and even read on the internet that an isolated patch of periwinkle is often a sign of an old, unmarked gravesite.

The periwinkle (vinca minor) is a native of Europe that was brought to America several hundred years ago. When the settlers planted it in their cemeteries, they were glad to have a low-growing, spring-blooming, evergreen ground cover that choked out grass and weeds. They didn't have power mowers to cut the cemetery grass, you know.

Today, the plant is considered an invasive species because of much evidence that it spreads aggressively and chokes out the native plantlife. It 's a conqueror, not a peaceful co-exister. I saw an extreme example of this at the Carl Cemetery in north-eastern Christian County. The old part of the cemetery dates back to Civil War times or earlier*, and where it adjoins the woods, the periwinkle grows through the fence and out into the woods as far as the eye can see. It is an incredible thing to see such a dense stand of periwinkle, but it's sad to think of the native plants that have perished as periwinkle stole their growing spots.

Periwinkle is an attractive plant with its periwinkle-blue, 5-petaled blossoms in the spring and its evergreen foliage. It's still sold in plant catalogs (sometimes called creeping myrtle), and I bought some when we moved here. I was looking for a ground cover to put in some beds and I didn't realize that it was of dubious character.

My periwinkle hasn't made any threats of escaping its beds yet. In fact, if I don't rake the maple leaves off it in the fall, the deprivation of sunlight gives it a serious setback. I've never understood how periwinkle has invaded the woods so successfully at the Carl Cemetery where there must be a heavy leaf-fall every year, but then, it's had around 150 years to establish itself.

*I think the oldest grave I saw in the Carl Cemetery was from the 1840's, but it has been several years since I was over there and my memory may well be deceiving me.

Update: See also Periwinkle in the Landscape.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dollar CD's

My Various Hobbies... And What I Think About It...

The last time I went to Clarksville, I got three CD's out of the bargain rack at Borders for $1.00 each. They were:

Wanda Jackson -"Rockin' With Wanda" - According to the album notes, "A collection of great country songs in the rhythmic singing style of Wanda Jackson." I will have to be in the right mood to listen to much of this one. It is a bit too squally for me.

Peter Rowan & Don Edwards - "High Lonesome Cowboy: Appalachia to Abilene" - This is a pleasant album of folk-style western music, much of which was written and/or arranged by Peter Rowan and Don Edwards. Rowan is the "Appalachia" of the duo as his background is bluegrass music, and Edwards is the "Abilene" as he's been writing and singing western music for a long time now.

Hank Thompson & His Brazos Valley Boys - "Vintage Collections" - 20 classic country hits, including "Humpty-Dumpty Heart," "Six Pack To Go, and "The Wild Side of Life." Hank Thompson is a great singer with an amazing history in country music. I'm enjoying the talent of the Brazos Valley Boys as well. The collection includes two instrumentals. Merle Travis plays lead guitar on many of the songs. Merle learned to play the guitar in Muhlenburg County, KY, just 20 or 30 miles north of us.

Not too bad for $3.27 (with sales tax.)

Gloomy day photos

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... The Rural Life... More About Trees and Plants...

This is just a mossy bank in the woods. Most of the leaves on the ground are sugar maples along with a few oak leaves of various sorts. If you ever have a chance, you should take off your shoes and walk on moss. It is wonderfully soft and dense, like living velvet. I recommend waiting until warmer weather, though.

I took the photo below from the car window. This little stream is running a bit higher than usual because of the rain. The tufts of grass on the fence (at the center bottom of the photo) were left sometime when the stream was running much higher than it was today. The whitish tree trunk with brown splotches at right is a sycamore. They love to grow by the water.

Hoping for a Snow Day

Life in the Nebraska Sandhills... Another Trip Down Memory Lane...

It's a bleak and rainy day here. Tomorrow we have a chance of rain turning to snow in the afternoon. There won't be any significant accumulation, but it's going to turn cold for a few days.

As I took Isaac to school this morning, he was hoping for enough snow that school would be cancelled. It brought to mind a silly little thing I said when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, about this time of the year.

School had been let out for the day, and we students (all six or eight of us) spilled out of the little schoolhouse with our lunchboxes. It was windy and chilly, and the sky was gray. I announced to the Horner girls in a voice of authority, "Look at that sky! It looks like we'll be getting some snow tonight." In truth, I wasn't sure what the sky looked like when snow was imminent, but I had heard my dad say things like that, and it sounded good.

It sounded good because we children liked snow and plenty of it! We hoped for a heavy snow so our teacher would cancel school for the day. The snow had to be deep because if the teacher thought she could get to the neighborhood, she'd call someone on the school board to meet her with a tractor and get her through the drifts to the schoolhouse.

Every activity and chore in ranch life was made a hundred times more difficult when there was a heavy snow, so our parents were always hoping that it wouldn't snow just as hard as we were hoping that it would.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Equinox Storm on the Great Plains

The Rural Life...

A major winter storm is moving across the Great Plains today and tomorrow. My mother would have called it an "equinox storm". She always said that bad winter storms were likely to occur around the March vernal equinox and the equinox falls on March 20 this year.

My friends at Chambers, Nebraska, on the eastern edge of the Sandhills have a nasty weather forecast that predicts up to 15 inches of snow and a caution for those who must travel to let others know their destination and to carry a winter survival kit.

Even my brother who lives in southern Kansas has a winter storm watch in his forecast. It looks like they will get some snow but it won't be cold enough for it to stick until tomorrow. Today, they have a chance of much-needed rain, and I sure hope they get some because it's been very dry there.

I am saying a little prayer for everyone who has to work outside in bad weather today, and especially for farmers and ranchers. Many of them will be working terribly hard under difficult and dangerous circumstances, trying to feed the livestock and fighting for the survival of the newborns. May God bless, protect and help them.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

March sunset

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... The Rural Life...

This evening, Skittles (the cat) and I had a nice walk down to the mailbox.Coming home, I took this photo of the fenceline along the edge of the field.

It's Kite Flying Weather

Life in Germany... The Rural Life... Another Trip Down Memory Lane...

We haven't done much kite flying for several years now, but when the kids were younger, they enjoyed it. This photograph is one I scanned today from a group of kite photos taken in 1996, here in Kentucky.

We first started flying kites with the kids at the end of the time we lived in Berlin. The Wall between East and West Berlin was opened and much of it was torn down while we were there. Most of what was called The Berlin Wall was actually two walls with a no-man's-land between them. We lived within easy walking distance of a section of the Wall that had a no-man's-land that was at least a hundred yards wide. We walked there often to fly kites since there were no overhead obstructions of any sort. The land on the East Berlin side in that area was a big farm field, so it was a great place to fly kites.

Keely was about 4 at the time, and Isaac was about a year old. One time we were flying kites there in the no-man's-land and we had to walk out into the field to retrieve one that had taken a nose dive. Keely stubbed her toe as she was running along, reached down, and pulled up a strange-looking thing. She announced excitedly that she had found a dinosaur bone! As it turned out, it was an old, rusty horseshoe which we still have. It is hanging outside along with an assortment of horseshoes that we have found lying around our yard here.

Here, we have too many trees in our yard to fly kites, but we can go out onto the road during the spring, fall and winter and let the kites fly over the road and our neighbor's field. This is not a good plan in the summer because we don't want to be walking out to retrieve a kite in a field with crops growing.

Not too long after we moved here, we ordered a couple of nylon kites and a mylar kite from "Into The Wind". If you have any interest at all in kite flying, I think you'll enjoy looking at the kites this company has. Our kites were from the "easy-to-fly" category, and we've had a lot of fun with them. One of the nylon kites is flying high above the neighbor's field in the photo above. The mylar kite has bit the dust permanently, but both nylon kites have survived a lot and are still in good flying condition.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Shagbark Silhouette

More About Trees and Plants... Life in The Upper South...

This shagbark hickory tree grows in the woods near a small streambed that carries water downhill when it rains. The bark of the shagbark is unique and easily recognized; it appears to be peeling away from the tree's trunk. One of my tree books (Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Rural and Urban America by Gary L. Hightshoe) describes the bark as "vertical exfoliating plates, curl outwards at ends, shaggy appearance."

In addition to the shagbark, several other hickories are native to Kentucky -- mockernut hickories, pignut hickories, bitternut hickories, and pecans. Hickory nuts are a reliable food source for squirrels because hickories bear nuts every year, unlike some oaks that only bear acorns biennially. I read an article in a farm magazine several years ago that recommended planting hickories if you want more squirrels to hunt.

The best way to get a hickory tree is to plant the nut. They have a deep taproot so they're hard to dig up and transplant unless they're very young. Shagbarks are slow growing (as are all hickories) but they can live as long as 250 years.

Hickory is a heavy, strong, resilient wood that was once used for wagon axles, baseball bats, and skis. It is well known as an excellent firewood that burns long and hot, leaving a long-lasting bed of coals. This site rates hickory as the hottest-burning and most dense of 27 native hardwoods and softwoods.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wild Fruits of the Nebraska Sandhills

Chokecherries, sand cherries, plums, grapes, and more

Over fifty years ago (can it be?), when I was very young, we lived south of Johnstown, Nebraska. Sand cherries grew along the side of the road-trail that led from Highway 20 through the hills to our place and south to the McDaniel Ranch, Moon Lake, and beyond.

We picked so many sand cherries along the road one year that my mother set up an old window screen on blocks to help process them. She spread sand cherries across the screen and washed them with the garden hose. I don't know if she decided this technique was successful or not. I just remember several big buckets of sand cherries and the interesting things Mama was doing with them.

Grandma Nora came to visit and she talked to my mother about how some of the cherries were as big as her thumb. I deduce that they were not often that large. Many years later, I asked my mother about all of this, and she was surprised that I remembered it so well.

Those wild sandcherries would probably have been the western sandcherry, Prunus pumila L. var. besseyi. Native Americans had used sandcherries for millenia as fresh and dried fruit, but the great pioneer botanist of Nebraska, Charles Edwin Bessey (1845-1915) gave the little silvery bush a Latin name and put it in its proper spot in botany's great structural diagram of earth's plant life.

My dad, a child of the Sandhills, loved sandcherry pie and my mother baked it for him whenever she had the fruit. Daddy's sandcherry pies were few and far between after we moved to Rose because we didn't have sandcherries there, but he developed a fondness for chokecherry pies. (More about chokecherries later.) I guess we may have been a little east of the natural range of sandcherries or maybe Duff Valley just wasn't a sandy enough spot.

We had windbreaks of trees (called "tree-pens" because they were fenced) around our ranch buildings. In one of the tree-pens, a big thicket of plum bushes grew. Their fruits were yellow and intensely bitter, and after her first harvest of them Mama didn't bother again. Still, in the spring they bloomed gloriously.

I remember a spring afternoon when we took the shortcut home from school, across the meadow and through the tree-pen. We could smell the sweet fragrance of the plum blossoms even before we saw them. We took a big armful of the blossoms to Mama. When we broke off the branches with their blooms, we were eliminating the fruit as well as mutilating the bushes, but the plums were always so sour that no one cared.

Wild Sandhill orchard

After we had lived at Rose for a few years, my dad bought some pasture land in Loup County, about 15 or 20 miles from our home place. The land was south of the Calamus River and much of it consisted of long ridges of big hills, actually grassed-over sand dunes, that ran mostly east and west. Thickets of wild plums were sprinkled across the south sides of many of those sandy ridges. These Loup County plums had a sweet, red fruit. The skins were sour, but the meat of the plums was delicious when ripe. The best way to eat them was to place the entire fruit in your mouth, bite into it, suck out the sweet juice and pulp, and then spit out the sour skin and the seed.

In one area of our most remote Loup County pasture, a long, wide sweep of prairie grasses lay between two high sandy ridges. Northwest of the windmill in that big valley, a very large plum thicket grew on the hillside. Small chokecherry trees grew within the tangle of plum bushes and wild grapes grew over the top of everything, so we called it "the orchard". In good years when spring weather was mild and no late frosts nipped the blossoms, all three fruits produced bounteously.

My mother often rode the Loup County pastures in the summer when all the men were busy making hay. Checking on the cattle, giving them salt and mineral, "doping" the backrubber with fly control, and making sure the windmill was working was called "riding the pastures" even though we rode in a pickup truck, not on horseback.

My sister and I went on these excursions to give my mother company and moral support as she bravely drove over treacherously sandy trails. We also opened the gates for her. Actually, I usually opened the gates because Charlotte was 5 years younger and shorter. (In all fairness, Charlotte may have had her turn at gate-opening later on after I started working in the hayfield.)

Riding the pastures always took an entire, long, hot summer afternoon, so I was never happy when my mom wanted to stop and pick fruit at the orchard. If I had picked faster, we might have left sooner, but I remember that Mama filled her buckets much quicker than I filled mine. Then when we were finally done picking, we had to stop at the windmill, so Mama could wash with lye soap to get the poison ivy off herself. It grew in the orchard, too, and she was very allergic.

My parents speculated that Indians had planted that hillside orchard. Wild plums were common throughout our several sections of hills, but chokecherries and wild grapes grew only in that one big plum thicket. It was probably a couple of acres in size, on a wide, sunny hillside at the edge of a large valley. Their talk of Indians intrigued me, so I was greatly interested years later when I read these paragraphs in Stephen R. Jones' book, The Last Prairie: A Sandhills Journal:

Plains Indians coveted chokecherries. They mashed them up and mixed them with bison fat to make pemmican, a winter staple, or crushed them to make a special drink. Many peoples refered to the August moon as the "black cherry moon" or "the moon of black cherries ripening." The Lakota drank chokecherry juice at ceremonies honoring a girl reaching puberty. The red juice represented both the sacred blood of the young woman and the fruits of the earth.

Plains Indian tribes would camp for days along streams where chokecherries grew. The women used stone pestles to pound the cherries to a pulp, pits and all. It's possible that people deliberately carried chokecherry seeds from one campsite to another, contributing to the spread of this moisture-loving shrub into arid regions.

My experiments with wild fruits

My childhood "fruiting" experiences instilled an interest in growing wild fruit. I bought some sand cherry bushes from a catalog and planted them here in Kentucky. They didn't do well, but during the few years that they lived, they produced a handful of cherries, and I picked and ate them right off the bush. I had forgotten their unique, dusky flavor.

Soon after we moved here, Keely became friendly with a little girl named Tiffany who had wild plums behind her house. I acquired a few plums from Tiffany's mother and started some bushes from the seeds. I planted them on a south facing slope that we don't enjoy mowing. I was hoping they would take over the slope, but they haven't yet. These plums produce a sour yellow fruit that I don't recommend eating straight from the bush, even when fully ripe.

Several years ago, I visited my brother's place in Kansas when their wild plums were ripe. Those plums are yellow and fairly sweet. The plum bushes are surprisingly small and scrubby, but I think they're stunted by the dry conditions that usually prevail in SW Kansas.

I brought home some Kansas plum seeds and planted them in a little bed, then transplanted them to the slope. Now, the Kansas Sweets are intermingled with the Kentucky Sours, and I can't tell them apart by looking. (Their fruit should identify them -- "By their fruits ye shall know them.") I posted their photo yesterday. If we don't get any more hard frost, I'll have a few plums to play with this summer.

 Lewis and Clark's descriptions of the wild fruits of the Great Plains are summarized by the Mouth of the Platte Study Group in their webpage titled, "Fruits." An interesting report from 1912 for the Smithsonian Institute about "Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region" can be downloaded (126 page PDF).

More wild foods

My father was knowledgeable about many plants of the Sandhills. One day in the hayfield, when I was just a little girl, he showed me the low-growing ground cherries in the stubble and how to open their little husks to find the seedy little fruits.

Daddy also showed us a wild purple flower that he called "Indian turnip". I have tried to identify it in a book of Nebraska wildflowers, and I can only say that it might have been liatris squarrosa (scaly blazing star). It had a small edible bulb with a woody texture and a sharp bitter flavor. They didn't taste very good, but it was fun to think that I knew something from Indian lore.

Our family ate and greatly enjoyed a certain type of wild mushroom that came up after a rain in areas where the cattle had been hayed during the winter. I have studied mushroom books, and I think it was the meadow mushroom.

If you have read all the way to the bottom of this long, long ramble, I congratulate you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Springtime in Christian County, Kentucky

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... More About Trees and Plants...

Wild plums

It's such a beautiful time of the year. Wild plums (above) are in bloom here and there on the hillsides. They have a lovely fragrance that takes me back to my childhood. I may write about wild plums later today (or tomorrow, because I'm about to get very busy.) I have an abiding affection for this native fruit tree.

Daffodils still come up and bloom beneath the oak trees at this old homesite near Highway 68/80 east of Hopkinsville (below.) It's not too hard to imagine a little log cabin sitting on this knoll at the head of a draw* just above the Russellville Road. The ridge would have sheltered the house on three sides, especially to the north, and the trees behind would have helped to break winter winds. This building site had good feng-shui, I think.
*It occurs to me that I may be speaking some kind of a dialect when I say "at the head of a draw." I mean, at the upper end of a small valley.

Update: I noticed when I drove by there today that the old barn is still there, back in the trees just to the right of the area in the photo.

Old Homesite

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Muscari and An Unknown

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... More About Trees and Plants...

Some folks call these little spring flowers "grape hyacinths". I call them "muscari" because I first learned their name from flower catalogs rather than from talking to people. Muscari is the Latin name for this flower's family, and it's a more melodic and exotic name than grape hyacinth, in my opinion.

I think these are muscari armeniacum, though they seem a bit more purple than many of the photographs I see online. The ones that grow on our hillside are closer to the purple-blue color of the muscari in this photo.

These muscari were planted by the lady who lived here before us. I think she planted a forsythia bush and daffodils and muscari all at the same time, hoping for a little spring color. As time has passed, the bush has grown large and now the flowers come up under its draping branches. I have dug out some of the daffodils and moved them, but I've never tried to dig out the muscari. Some have decided on their own to move out, and they're climbing the hillside.

Some of the green foliage in the photo is grass and some of it is leaves of a small white spring flower that one long-time local resident calls "snowdrops". I think that's an old-time local name. They are different than the flowers called snowdrops on horticulture websites. One of the Mennonite ladies calls them "Star of Bethlehem".

Whatever their real name is, they have naturalized on our 2 acres to the point that I consider them a nuisance. There are hundreds of tiny bulbs in each clump. It has taken me 15 years to get most of them out of my vegetable garden and flower beds.

When I first started digging them out of my areas of cultivation, I tenderly transplanted them thinking they must be a precious little wildflower. Now I callously toss the bulbs out of my garden onto the lawn where the sun can shrivel them up. It's amazing the changes that can occur in one's thinking over the years.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Help Me, Rhonda!

Life in Missouri... Another Trip Down Memory Lane...

As I researched the bad storms that have hit Sedalia, Missouri over the years, I remembered going to the State Fair at Sedalia when we lived in Missouri.

I went with my parents and a group of my nephews a couple of times. Another time, I went with my sister and her husband. I think that was the time that we left early because the storm clouds were threatening, and shortly after we left, violent winds blew many of the tents down.

I went in to the fair in 1985 with my friend Suzie. I was 8-3/4 months pregnant with Keely and I had to wear my bib overalls because they were the only thing that still fit me. Suzie knew somebody who had connections, and she somehow finangled a golf cart to drive me around for an hour or so. I think the guys who owned the cart were relieved when we brought it back and I hadn't had the baby yet.

In 1986, I went with Steve, my crazy brother-in-law, and Ricky Rowse, a friend from Nebraska who was exhibiting a sheep. Keely was not quite a year old, so I had her in a stroller. Dennis was attending AAFES training in Dallas at the time.

Bar none, my most memorable fair experience was the year that I went with our friends, Dave and Pat. I think it was 1979. Pat was a big fan of the Beach Boys, and they were one of the free grandstand shows that year. The seating was limited so Pat got tickets ahead of time, and off we went on the appointed day to see the Beach Boys.

We got in line, handed over our tickets, and found our assigned spots on the grandstand benches. The entire grandstand filled up quickly. Everyone was excited, but we soon realized that the group of seven or eight people who were sitting just in front of us were also drunk. One of them was a young woman named Rhonda, and it was her birthday. She wanted to hear the Beach Boys sing, "Help Me, Rhonda!" In fact, the whole group had that song on their mind, so they sang it over and over as best they could while we all waited for the show to start. (They did best on the chorus.)

Finally the Beach Boys came out, and the group in front of us was thrilled. They immediately climbed onto their bench and began to sing and dance along with each song. At every break in the music, they all bellowed the name of the song they wanted to hear: "Help Me, Rhonda! Help Me, Rhonda!" Finally, the Beach Boys did play it and Rhonda was delirious with joy. She clambered onto her boyfriend's shoulders and from that vantage point, she sang lustily along with the real live Beach Boys who were performing her song on her birthday at the Missouri State Fair! It was such an inspiring experience that she sang through the instrumental parts of the song too.

Of course, the only view of the show we had was through the legs and around the backsides of this group. After the performance of "Help Me, Rhonda", they all calmed down a little and some of them even got off the bench and sat down, so we did get to see and hear a few songs at the end of the show. It's a good thing because Dave was barely restraining Pat. She was ready to kill them all. Pat was a dedicated Beach Boys fan too, and she was furious that she couldn't see over, around or through these crazy people in front of us even when she stood up on the bench herself. Dave wouldn't let her tell them off because he didn't want to get into a fight. (Good thinking, Dave.)

To this day, I never hear the song, "Help Me, Rhonda," without thinking of what a hangover Rhonda must have had the day after her birthday. I'm sure she doesn't remember me, but I still remember her!

Tornadoes Strike

Life in Missouri...

The Sedalia [MO] Democrat by Sarah Daniel, Beth O'Malley and Oliver Wiest
One person was killed, six injured and two reported missing after a string of tornadoes moved through Pettis County Sunday afternoon and evening.

Emergency management storm spotters followed progress of storm systems well into the night Sunday, while hundreds either sought shelter or huddled in dark homes lacking electricity.


I was very sorry, but not terribly surprised to hear on the all-news channels last night that Sedalia, MO had been hit by tornadoes. Dennis and I attended college at Warrensburg, just 30 miles west of Sedalia on Highway 50. As Dennis always says, Sedalia has a bulls-eye drawn on it. That town has been hit repeatedly by severe weather and tornadoes. It must be something about the lay of the land that channels bad weather there.

For example, here's an account of a tornado that hit on May 13, 1980

Sedalia Mayor Allen Hawkins said the twister caused from $40 million to $45 million in damages, mainly affecting factories, warehouses and commercial enterprises that employ a large sector of the city’s work force.

At least 15 structures were damaged or destroyed.

Despite the economic damage, city officials took solace in the absence of a single death resulting from the second major twister to strike here in three years.


I think the last sentence of the above quotation refers to the tornado described in the following quote:

MAY 4 1977...The Sedalia Missouri Tornado.... The tornado touched down around 1:45 PM about 9 miles southwest of Sedalia, and went through Sedalia finally lifting 2 miles northeast of town. Approximately 150 homes were destroyed and 300 more damaged. Several schools were damaged and two elementary schools were closed for the remainder of the school year. The path length was 11 miles and the tornado was as wide as 700 yards at times. The storm was rated an F3-PL3-PW4 on the Fujita-Pearson scale.


I personally remember tornadoes and damaging winds hitting in and around Sedalia several times during the State Fair which is held there every summer. One year, we were there and observed that the sky was looking ominous. We decided to get out of there and very shortly after we left, a violent wind wreaked havoc on many of the tents and booths, as well as the fair-goers. Here's a much more disastrous State Fair weather event that happened well before my memory.

1952 – The golden anniversary of the Missouri State Fair was marked with a tragedy when the fairgrounds was hit by a tornado at 1:20 a.m. on August 20. The storm centered on the midway area and a carnival employee was killed. Despite suffering extensive damage to all 60 permanent buildings on the fairgrounds, totaling almost $700,000, the fair was back in operation the following evening.

Photo and another account of this tornado

And in a storm with straight winds on May 21, 1987:

Severe thunderstorms, developing along a sharp cold front crossing the central U.S., produced 60 mph winds and golf ball size hail at Sedalia, MO ...


Another report from May 7, 2003:

Damage was minimal in most areas compared to Sunday's storms, but there were reports of downed trees and power lines. Several buildings also were damaged, including concrete grain bins and a metal shed in Sedalia, Mo.


It just can't be denied that they get plenty of severe weather in Sedalia, MO.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A beautiful old house

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... History and Old Stuff...

Here are a few photographs from the tag sale I attended today. This nice old house in one of Hopkinsville's historic districts was once owned by Frank Bassett, a highly regarded and much beloved gentleman who served in county government for many years. He had trained as a physician, but did not practice. I heard at the tag sale that Mr. Bassett's granddaughter had inherited the house upon his death and that it has now been sold to new owners.

I don't know who actually built the home. According to a fellow at the sale who was examining the architecture of the basement, the house was probably built between 1910 and 1920. It's reasonable to guess that it was built before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. I personally think its construction date was closer to 1920 than 1910, based on my observations of the style of the home, but I'm certainly no expert.

The house has many features of a luxurious home of its time -- a butler's pantry, servant quarters off the kitchen, a library, beautiful hardwood floors, built-in cabinets in nearly every room, and a matching carriage house. The exterior walls of the full basement are cut limestone. At one end of the basement, a door opens to the outside. I suppose coal might have been brought in there to fuel a furnace. The upstairs was closed off, so I don't know how many rooms are there. In the main level, there are 4 (I think) bedrooms not counting the small servant's room.

Here is a rough sketch of the general layout of the house. This is my inaccurate impression of the house's floor plan, but you can see how the house is divided into thirds with a hallway along each side of the center rooms. Note the small room with a nice view of the back yard off the master bedroom. I didn't draw in the servant's room and pantries in the kitchen area .

This chest of drawers isn't a detail of the architecture, but it was so beautiful I had to photograph it. It had a matching piece (a dressing table, I think) which I did not photograph.

A safe is built into the wall beside one of the fireplaces.

Looking from the sunroom doors through the dining room to the front parlor and main entrance. This home has 10-foot ceilings and exposed beams in the dining room and front parlor.

An example of the built-in cabinets. This is in the dining room near the door to the kitchen area.

Both bathrooms have ceramic floors with this border and white tiled walls up to about 5 feet. Here you see more of the built in storage. One of the bathrooms has a vintage commode. I don't know what year it might be from, but it's older than me, I think. Its tank is mounted on the wall, and a pipe about a foot long runs from the bottom of the tank to the back of the bowl.

The carriage house has been converted to a residence, but you can see where the doors used to be.

I enjoyed visiting this interesting old house. My photos don't do it justice. Something about its atmosphere reminded me of the "Rock House" that Rose Wilder built for her parents, Almanzo and Laura (Ingalls) Wilder. If you've ever been there, you'll know what I mean.

The War-Time Guide Book

History and Old Stuff...

Old books are drawn to me as surely as Wooly Willy's beard is drawn to the magnetic pencil. ) I was just casually glancing at a bookcase at a tag sale today when The War-Time Guide Book caught my eye and demanded that I purchase it. It was only $2.50, so I did not resist.

This book was published in 1942 by the Popular Science Publishing Company, Inc. and it has two parts that are complete books themselves with their own indexes. Part I is titled, "Make It Yourself," and it includes, "Formulas, recipes, methods and secret processes for the handy man in meeting a multitude of household needs." Part II is titled, "Fix It Yourself," and its topics are, "Home maintenance and repairs in carpentry, plumbing, electrical equipment, concrete, metal work and automobiles." On the facing page, readers are advised that the book's publishers take do not guarantee and take no responsibility for the results of any recipe in the book. Hmmm.

The topics are arranged alphabetically so the first pages of the book plunge right into the War with sections on "Air Raid Protection" and "Blackouts". Thereafter the topics become more mundane, consisting mostly of many, many recipes for everything imaginable. A 22-page section is devoted to recipes for cosmetics of all sorts, from vanishing cream to grease paint for the theater. Except for the cosmetics recipes, most of the pages are devoted to formulas for things like wood finishes, poisons for flies and rats, photograph-developing solutions, glues, and so on.

It is interesting to see in the paints section that in 1942, recommended paint bases were "white lead" or "red lead". I was surprised to read that, "A form of wall decoration now much in vogue is sponge stippling," and a little later, a description of stippling using a crumpled newspaper or cloth. In 2006, those techniques are in vogue all over again.

Some of the information in this old book is so dated that it's hardly useful beyond being interesting to browse through, but some of it is still as helpful as when it was printed. For example, the step-by-step instructions of how to build a bookcase will still make the same sturdy piece of furniture today.

I had an obligation to buy this old book, you know. If I hadn't, it might have fallen into the hands of someone who didn't appreciate it for the jewel it is. I will never throw it away. It may gather some dust from time to time, but every now and then, I will get it out and enjoy it. I may eventually give it to someone who admires and deserves it. What more could an old book want?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Earth and sky

Life in Christian County, Kentucky...

Looking west, zoomed across the fields

The sky was beautiful this morning as the last clouds from last night's storms broke and revealed the blue behind them. The reddish speck in the center of the photo below is a salt and mineral trough for cattle.

The field below J.D.'s house

See Rock City

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... Life in The Upper South...

This barn sits on the north side of Highway 41 (the Dixie Beeline Highway) between Hopkinsville and Pembroke. The highway is being widened to a 4-lane and a lot of things are being bulldozed to make way for the road improvement, but I believe this interesting old barn sits far enough off the road that it will be safe. Rock City is a tourist attraction in the Chatanooga, TN, area. Advertisements like this one are painted on various barn roofs along highways in our area.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Stormy sunset

Life in Christian County, Kentucky...

First Christian Church in Hopkinsville, after the storm

After hard rain and strong winds this afternoon, darkness finally extinguished the unnatural yellow of the sky. Tonight we have severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches. I suspect that the sky would still be a strange color if we could see it. Here's an example of one of the bulletins that has been issued by the National Weather Service this evening:

At 727 PM CST... National Weather Service Doppler radar indicated a line of severe thunderstorms producing nickel size hail... and destructive winds in excess of 80 mph. These storms were located along a line extending from 10 miles west of Dawson Springs to 8 miles south of LaFayette... moving northeast at 55 mph. This storm has a history of producing winds that have been measured at 60 to 70 mph... and large hail. This is an extremely dangerous situation. Seek shelter now inside a sturdy structure and stay away from windows!

Watching the weather

Life in Christian County, Kentucky... The Rural Life...

Our neighbor's field, late yesterday as clouds gathered in the west.

Our Mennonite neighbor, Willis, is good at watching the weather. Most farmers are, but Willis doesn't have a radio or television to get the latest weather reports. He does have a telephone number that he can call to hear the forecast. He supplements that by asking everyone he sees if they've heard what the weather is supposed to do.

Willis keeps a journal of weather observations. He writes down the amount of rainfall, the depth of the snow, the dates of the last frost and the first freeze, and the details about any unusual weather, from a bad storm to a heavy dew. He uses his records to track microtrends for his farm that would never be seen by a general weather analysis of the region.

Willis also watches the weather throughout each day. He's aware of how the clouds look and where they are, whether the temperatures are going up or down, the strength of the wind, and most importantly, the direction in which the wind (thus the weather) is moving. He makes comments that remind me of the things my own dad and mom used to say. "I don't like how the wind has switched to the southeast." Or, "It will clear off now that the wind's changed." Or, "I'm afraid the wind's going to get in the southwest and stay there."

From all of this, plus frequent readings of his barometer, Willis knows more than most of us what the weather will be like. Last week, he spread manure on the field in the photo, and yesterday he plowed it. Today it rained. That's not a coincidence. Willis can't control the weather, but he can work around it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Self Portrait

All in the Family... And What I Think About It...

I had about 5 inches of hair cut off yesterday. Any hair style that has occurred was built into the haircut because all I've done is shampoo, comb, and air-dry it. That being said, the haircut doesn't look too bad and for most days in my life, "not too bad" is good enough.

I talked to my daughter last night and she wanted a photo of the new hairdo. Isaac took a quick and unflattering photo and I e-mailed it to her. When I looked at it today, I thought I'd try to get a better photo by myself. So I combed my hair, went outside into the wind which promptly removed any evidence of combing, and took my own picture a few dozen times.

It's not too difficult to hold the camera at arm's length, look at the lens, and click. The difficult part is getting one's entire head into the photograph, avoiding angles that peer into the nostrils, keeping the flash off the eyeglasses, presenting the most favorable profile, and finally, smiling while accomplishing all of this. When I downloaded the pictures onto my computer, I laughed at them. Too funny, some of those looks and poses! I need to make sure I got all the bad ones deleted. I could be blackmailed!

The above photo is the best of the lot although I did cut off one side of my hair. I look sort of determined, yet contemplative (and mature, haha.) I guess I'll use it for my Blogger profile for a while, since the one that has been there (a photo taken at the office for a newspaper ad) is probably 5 years old. Best to be honest about oneself.

Another self-portrait appears at left. When you look at these, imagine me with my arm stretched out taking the photo. I could have sworn I was smiling in every shot, but apparently this was the most pleasant look I could manage.

I really don't like having my picture taken, even when I do it myself!
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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.