Sunday, December 30, 2007

Wild Sandhill Prairie

Out in the hills, the Middle of Nowhere still exists

Sandhill prairie

When I was growing up, we lived about eight miles from a wide-spot on the highway known as Rose, Nebraska (population 2.) Our house was about six miles off the highway and about 32 miles from the nearest real town.

Rock County and surrounding Nebraska counties
I grew up in the Duff Valley, just west of the Middle of Nowhere.
People sometimes remark that I grew up in the middle of nowhere, but actually, there were quite a few neighbors in and around the Duff Valley where we lived. Our nearest neighbor lived about a mile and a half away. Our mailbox was only a mile from our house, where our land met the nearest county road.

The most sparsely-populated area of Rock County was east of where I lived. At that time (1950s and 1960s,) no improved road went through the hills from Rose on U.S. Highway 183 to Nebraska Highway 11, the road to Burwell. You could drive through, but when you came to the end of the maintained road, you had to open gates and follow some very rough and sandy two-track pasture roads. A four-wheel drive pickup truck was recommended.

Times have changed. Nowadays, there's a road all the way through from Highway 11 north of Burwell, Nebraska, to Highway 183 just north of Rose, Nebraska. Along the way, you pass the Sitz Ranch, the Gurney Ranch, and the Rose Church. It's a beautiful drive through Sandhills prairie that is still much as God made it. The road truly does go through the Middle of Nowhere.

I don't recommend the drive if you are a timid driver who is likely to get stuck in a sandy spot (can't slow down, must keep going or you're sunk!) You also need a clear understanding of where you're going and a good inner sense of direction (or a GPS unit.)

It was a great joy to drive my kids through this wild area of southeastern Rock County several times when we went on vacations to Nebraska. I think it gave them a better understanding of what the Sandhills are like and where their mother is from.

The photos in this post were taken along the road somewhere in the hills east of the Rose Church. In the image at the top of this post, the windmill is on top of the hill so it can catch enough wind to provide water for the cattle. The water tank is in the "pocket" down below, between the hills.

The image below is taken from the hill where the windmill stands. You can see the wind-sculpted peaks and pockets of the dune formations. Indeed, the Nebraska Sandhills are grassed-over sand dunes, the largest area of sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere.

One thing I should make clear -- this is not the only Middle of Nowhere. Many other remote, unspoiled, rural areas still exist in the United States -- and I'm glad that they do.

East of Rose, NE

Adventures in Dreamland

Strange dreams of no particular significance

DreamingI rarely remember my dreams more than a few seconds after I wake.

However, last night I had a long dream (or so it seemed), and I clearly remember its theme. I was engaged to marry Dave, whom I had a crush on through most of my grade school and high school years.

Where was my real-life husband of 29 years, Dave's wife of 35+ years, and the children of our two marriages? Apparently they didn't exist! Dave was young, tall, and handsome, and I was young again, too.

Here is a curious detail I remember. I told Dave, "I knew your mother." I offered that to him because I knew he would value it. In real life, his mother passed away about 15 years ago.

I don't attach any meaning to this dream, except that my subconscious still remembers my emotions of forty-some years ago. It was entertaining -- especially the part where our engagement was announced in the front page headlines of my hometown newspaper. Wow!

This dream about an old infatuation brought to mind another oddly vivid dream I had a few years ago. It was about a nice guy whom I dated for a few months, many years ago.

In my dream, I chanced to meet him, and he was genuinely glad to see me. He put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a squeeze. That made me happy, and I thought, "We're still friends after all these years."

By pure chance a few days later, I read on the internet that he had passed away. It was a great shock to me. I don't think he was even 50 years old. He died several months before my dream about him. I suppose it was all just a coincidence.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

I'm sorry.

Benazir BhuttoPakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, 1988
Photo from Wikipedia, Source: DOD via pingnews

This morning, I woke to the news that Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated. Beyond my concern about the national and international repercussions, I am personally saddened. I've admired Benazir Bhutto for a long time.

Born in 1953, she was just a couple of years younger than me. She attended primary and secondary schools in Pakistan, and then she came to the United States to attend college at Radcliffe and Harvard. After graduating with honors, she went to England and studied at Oxford.

During her years as a young woman in the West, she surely must have thought sometimes about staying in the U.S. or England. But Benazir decided to put on the scarf and go back home. I won't summarize the events of her life here -- you can read about her in any number of news articles today -- but I have always respected her for being smart, brave, strong, and intensely loyal to her country.

Rest in peace, Benazir. The world is a poorer place without you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Another Mackeral Sky

Unusual cloud formation over Hopkinsville, KY

Mackeral skiesLooking to the east across
the former Skyline Golf Course.

A few days ago in the late afternoon, this unusual cloud formation stretched across the sky from horizon to horizon over Hopkinsville, KY.

I don't know if it was a natural phenomenon or if it was created by an airborne vessel. It seemed much too wide to be a normal jet track, but perhaps it was. Or perhaps the little green men brought the mother ship this time.

Whatever the cause, it was a spectacular streak of mackeral sky.

Mackeral skiesLooking to the west
(K-Mart on left, Holiday Inn on right.)

Christmas Inflatables

Decking the halls outside

Christmas yard artDecorated for the season in Elkton, KY.

This house and yard is decorated with exuberance, to say the least. I can imagine how fascinating the big inflatable Christmas figures are to young passersby.

Thrilling the children is one of the main reasons for Christmas decorations, both inside and outside. Sometimes the thrilled children are the adults who put up the decorations!

Compared to this house and many others, our exterior decorations are bland. We don't do much since there isn't much traffic on our road.

I hang a big lighted star in the second floor window of our shed. It's on a dusk to daylight timer. I always enjoy seeing it when I drive in at night. I hope our Mennonite neighbors who share the road enjoy it also.

I also hang a few lights in our living room windows. The Mennonite lady who lives on the other side of us told me once that she enjoyed seeing the lights, so I put them up each year for her. She would never put up Christmas lights for herself, but her inner child is still happy to see them.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given...

Dear friends of Prairie Bluestem,

I wish you each a Happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

I hope that you have a chance to offer hope and love to someone this Christmas. That's the essence of the holiday, and the very reason that Jesus was born.

I am happy that my family will be together again this Christmas. Keely and Taurus will be arriving late this evening, and Isaac will be here, so we'll have the day together tomorrow. Having both my kids come home for Christmas is a blessing and a gift.

May God bless you this Christmas. Thanks for reading the blog!

Friday, December 21, 2007

December Sunset

Mackeral skyMackeral skies and mares tails
Make lofty ships carry low sails.

The mackeral sky is composed of cirrus and cirrocumulus clouds (which resemble scale patterns on a mackeral's back). The mares tails refer to trails of ice crystals blown in streaks from cirrus clouds. These clouds may appear ahead of an approaching storm or frontal system, and can indicate strong winds aloft. If the cirrus and/or cirrocumulus thicken to cirrostratus, altostratus, and then nimbostratus, stormy conditions may be on the way. Strong winds require less sail for navigation in a rough sea. (Source: Weather Lore, Jingles and Proverbs

I think this cloud pattern (most visible at upper left of photo) might be a "mackeral sky." If so, the proverb held true. This was Tuesday's sunset sky. On Wednesday, we had a rainy, windy day in Hopkinsville. We're not complaining about the rain, though, or the other rains that we've received this month. We hope that the water table is returning to normal levels.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Carolers Tonight

Mennonite neighbors sharing Christmas

Tonight, two of our neighbor families came to our house Christmas caroling. They are Mennonite families, and this is is the second Christmas that they've sung for us, so perhaps it will be a tradition. They told me that they visit six to eight homes in the neighborhood.

Together, the two families had (more or less) a dozen children with them. With most of the children and all the adults singing, their little choir has quite a few voices. They sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "We Three Kings of Orient." and another that I was not familiar with.

As it happens, both of these families have had a disagreement with the local Mennonite church and no longer attend there. It is interesting that both husbands have become licensed drivers and have bought vehicles since leaving the church. They arrived at the house tonight in a couple of vans.

I noticed that one of the mothers no longer wears her little white cap. Her hair is in a long single braid down her back, not pinned up on her head anymore. It's surely easier and more comfortable for her.

Beyond that, I have no idea what changes leaving the local church has brought to their lives, but I am glad that they feel we are their friends. It was really nice to have them stand in our kitchen and sing for us.

Old time Christmas carolers

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Secret Chicken Love Affair

A collection I am resisting

Chickens on their nests

Long-tailed roostersTrue confession: I am attracted to chickens. There's nothing kinky about it. I simply admire their handsome appearance.

I've been admiring the currently-popular chicken knick-knacks ever since the fad started. At Clarksville yesterday, I saw some nice tributes to chickens at Hobby Lobby, but I resisted buying any of them. I didn't even look at their prices. I just took their pictures.

I've only had real chickens once in my life, about 32 years ago or so. I was working at Empire Gas of Hermitage, MO, and I rented a little mobile home near there from a lady who wanted to move back to Kansas City.

Chicken at Hobby LobbyMy landlady had about a dozen chickens, which I inherited when she moved out and I moved in. My favorites were the black-and-white speckled ones. I think they were Barred Plymouth Rocks.

My boss liked my black and white chickens, too. He was always wanting me to bring in some of their little speckled fuzz-feathers so he could make them into fishing flies. He had a spell of good luck catching crappies with them, and he always hoped to repeat that success.

Made in China chickenYou can see a couple of good drawings of Barred Plymouth Rock chickens at the Oklahoma State University Animal Science website. Another good photo has been uploaded to Mother Earth News by Robin Arnold of Port Clinton, Ohio.

At the blog, "Thoughts from the Middle of Nowhere," Sarpy Sam sometimes posts some good photos of his Darling Wife's chickens. You can find them by visiting the Sarpy Sam's photo archives and typing "chickens" into the archives. (You'll find many beautiful photos of Montana ranch country there, as well.)

Though I like chickens, I don't think I'll probably ever own another flock of them, real or otherwise. I am not that excited about the responsibility of taking care of them, and really, we don't use too many eggs.

The family got me a nice large rooster with metal tail feathers last Christmas. Unfortunately the cats knocked him off his perch, and his body, which wasn't metal, shattered.

Another Chinese chickenI do have a set of rooster salt and pepper shakers which Keely gave me, and a hen-on-a-nestegg bank that my friend Cynthia gave me a couple of years ago. However, I refuse to start a serious chicken collection. I have plenty of collections already.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Frosty December Morning

No snow or ice yet

Strong winds and cold temperatures created
the froth of ice in the grass around this pond.

We escaped the bad ice storm that hit Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and beyond. I was a little worried about it on Saturday because I worked until midnight. According to the weather forecast, freezing rain and snow would be falling when I drove home to the country in the middle of the night.

That dire prediction did not come to pass. The rain was looking somewhat opaque at midnight, but it wasn't freezing on the roads. Apparently the precipitation stopped soon after that because our roads were still OK the next morning.

I'm thankful that we were spared from heavy ice this time. In 1992, we had back-to-back ice storms here. I remember what it's like to live without electricity for a week at a time and have terribly broken trees all over the yard. My thoughts and prayers are with the Midwesterners who are suffering that sort of thing today.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Life in the Country before Electricity

Rural Kentucky in the 1930s and 1940s

With Christmas just around the corner, my days at work have been very busy with one customer after another. I've been working full-time, and honestly, it's been exhausting.

All of this makes me remember my one-time job at the little country store with fondness. I did spend a lot of hours there, but it was a relatively stress-free job less than a mile from my house. I made sandwiches, cleaned the store, and ran the cash register. Another of my jobs was visiting with the customers while they sat down to enjoy a snack.

Here's something I wrote back in my country-store days, about some of the reminiscences I heard from the old fellows who gathered there every day.

I take a lot of trips down memory lane at the little country store when the old-timers sit around with their "co-colas" and reminisce. The other day they were remembering straw ticks in their beds. By the end of the winter, they had worn a little nest in the straw where they could snuggle down completely warm under a pile of quilts even though snow might blow through the cracks in the log walls.

Another thing they all remember fondly is home-canned meat, fixed in a gravy. I've heard them say many times that their (rural) families never were hungry even during the Depression. Everyone had a big garden, pigs, and milk cows. They butchered the pigs in the winter and either smoked or canned the meat. They raised what they ate and ate what they raised!

The creamery sent a truck out once a week and people put their cream cans out on the road to be emptied by the driver. He left the cream money from the week before tucked under the handle on the lid. The ice truck also came once a week.

They went to bed early because kerosene for the lamps and batteries for the radios were expensive. On Saturday night, the young folks gathered at the store to socialize. They came in a car or on a mule if they had one, and if they didn't, they walked.

Electricity and paved roads changed everything!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cats and Christmas Trees

An evergreen feline attraction

Casper and some of his seasonal cat toys

I've had quite a few cats through the years, and they have all liked the Christmas tree.

Skittles is technically Isaac's cat, and she is the exception to the rule. She was about six months old at her first Christmas. She must have been outside when we started putting up the tree, because we had a good start on decorating it before she discovered it.

As soon as Skittles came into the living room and saw the tree, she jumped right up into its branches. I guess she thought it was a real tree. "NOOOOOO, Skittles!" we all shrieked in unison, as the tree began to tip over. Terrified by the whole experience, she ran from the room, and she has ignored the tree ever since. Trauma is not always a bad thing.

Happy, our old tom that we lost summer before last, was a terror with the tree when he was little. Until we got Happy, I still had several dozen 2-inch red satin balls that I liked to hang on the Christmas tree every year. They had been on the Christmas tree in the church when we got married.

During Happy's frisky kitten years, those red satin balls were his favorite. He loved to ricochet one across the room and catch it again by sinking his claws into its threads. When he got one of those balls, it had to be retrieved rapidly, or it would be too torn up to put back on the tree.

Later on, Happy lost most of his interest in the ornaments. He just enjoyed sleeping on the quilted tree skirt. He followed the rule, "If you like it, take a nap on it."

Casper is enjoying his second Christmas this year. He has only climbed up into the tree once this year that I know of. Dennis doused him thoroughly with water from the squirt bottle, and he rapidly exited the tree. I haven't seen him even attempt to climb it again.

Like Happy, Casper is very fond of lying underneath the tree. He checks out the interesting "toys" that hang from the bottom of the tree, and then, he usually takes a nap.

Caspar has several favorite ornaments that I pick up and rehang every day. He prefers the little stuffed, furry things over hard metal or plastic ornaments. He likes to sink his teeth into them and give them a thorough kicking. I hope they survive the season.

Christmas tree ornaments

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Foggy Night in Hopkinsville, KY

Dense fog blankets the area

Night fog scene

When I got off work this evening, I was shocked at how foggy it was. Visibility was limited, to say the least. Hopkinsville seemed unfamiliar with the usual expanse of stores and lights hidden.

I pulled over at K-Mart's entrance on Fort Campbell Boulevard and snapped the above photo, looking south. I like the way the picture looks, but I promise that it doesn't begin to show how dense the fog is.

Driving home on the main highway wasn't too bad. I was able to go 45-50 mph.

But when I turned onto the blacktop county road, there were no more painted lines or embedded reflectors on the road to guide me.

I drove slowly and steered the car by watching where the asphalt meets the grass at the road's edge. It almost made me dizzy. I was glad to get home at last.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Homemade Christmas Candy

My mother-in-law's tradition carried on

Homemade Christmas candies

My mother-in-law is almost 91 years old, and she has lived in an assisted living facility for the last few years. It's hard to know what to give to her at Christmas because her needs are few and her space is limited. She's in Kansas City and we're in Kentucky, so that complicates things too.

Before Christmas for several years now, I've sent homemade candy that she can pass out to the staff and her many visitors. I use some of her tried-and-true candy recipes and some other recipes that I've collected.

I'm running a little behind on this project this year, but I did get the chocolate mints and the peanut butter bonbons made yesterday. This evening, I hope to make the cherry bonbons. I will also make peanut butter fudge, and probably some "turtles" or pecan candy. Sometimes, I buy some gourmet fruit jelly candies and dip them in chocolate too.

I'm showing off the peanut butter bonbons in the above photo because they look interesting. Many of the bonbons were completely sealed by the first dipping in chocolate, but a number of them had places on the bottom where the filling showed through. So, I redipped the bottoms of the defective ones in white candy coating. I really like the visual effect as well as the flavor.

Mama Netz was famous for her Christmas candy. She always made a huge amount of it. She gave boxes of candy to each of her children and all her neighbors and friends. Her daughters in Kansas City took Mama's candy to work with them. When anyone visited her over the holidays, she offered them coffee and candy. Usually, she made enough candy to last through her birthday in January.

I hope that Christmas candy to share helps Mama Netz get into the holiday spirit. I hope she enjoys knowing that her recipes are still in use. None of her daughters make candy, so perhaps a candy-making daughter-in-law is better than nothing.

In Mama Netz's candy making days, her bonbons were the size of Cherry Mash candy bars. I've always made them fairly small (the size of a large marble or a small egg yolk.) I think most people prefer a small piece of candy. If they want more, they can eat another piece. Maybe they'll want to try a different flavor.

I was amused last year. Mama Netz told me she had been taking a little dish of candy to the office girls every day. She said she was cutting each of the candies in half because they were so large. She has forgotten about the golf-ball size candies she used to make.

After we get the candy mailed, then I must immediately worry about her Christmas box. I'm really not sure what will go in it this year. I've bought a digital photo frame for her, but I don't think I'll have enough time to fill it with photos before Christmas. We will probably give it to her for her birthday in January, instead.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

An Unforgettable Glimpse of Genuine Poverty

Many of America's "poor" are rich by world standards.

This is a true story about an experience I have never forgotten.

When my husband and I were first married, we taught school in Bolivia for two years.

Bolivia is a landlocked country in South America. It's tropical, and it lies south of the equator. Some of the Amazon lowlands lie in eastern Bolivia, but on the western side of the country, some of the peaks of the Andes Mountains are nearly 4 miles in elevation (over 21,000 feet.)

We were in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which is a major city in the lowlands (but not in the Amazon basin.)

In the early 1980's when we were there, the socio-economic structure was much as it had been since early colonial days--

  • a small wealthy upper class, mostly of European ancestry
  • a large, extremely poor, and mostly illiterate lower class, mostly of Indian ancestry
  • almost no middle class at all.

Many beggars lived on the streets. Many of them were people who were mentally retarded, insane, or physically handicapped. They coped as best they could, with the help of family if they were lucky.

And now, the little story I want to tell ...

We bought our fruits, vegetables, and many necessities of life in the open air markets because grocery stores simply did not exist. I was at the Siete Calles market one afternoon, and I had bought some cloth in a group of booths under a roof.

Coming out of that building, I saw a very short Indian man coming toward me. He would perhaps have come up to my waistline. As he caught my eye, I thought, "My goodness, that man is a 'little person'!" (I thought he was a dwarf.)

Then I looked closer and saw that he was "walking" on his knees, and I thought, "Oh dear Lord, he has somehow had his legs cut off!"

All this time, I was walking toward the man as he hobbled along. And as I met him, I saw how he really was: his poor, withered legs from the knees down were dragging along in the dirt behind him as he walked on his knees.

When I hear the saying, "I felt bad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet," I always think of that man in the market. To be so handicapped and to cope with it as he was doing is beyond my imagination.

I am so fortunate to have been born an American. Though I'm not rich by American standards, I'm wealthy by world standards. Many Americans do not comprehend what real poverty is.

Please be generous with your favorite world charity this Christmas. If you don't have a favorite charity, I suggest the Lutheran World Relief, an organization that uses 92.5¢ of every donated dollar to help people in need around the world.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hanging Out at the Country Store

When I worked at a little country store in my neighborhood for several years, my boss was about 80 years old. He worked every day, pretty darned hard for a guy his age, and he always had many ideas and plans for the future!

One day in the store, I listened to that old man have a heart-to-heart talk with a young fellow in the neighborhood who was at loose ends. (I'll call him Josh.) I don't know why Josh dropped out of high school, but he did. I can't imagine why his parents permitted him to drop out, but they did. Such a shame -- Josh was a good kid.

Josh had been hanging out a lot at the store, and he had become quite friendly with my boss.

As they talked that day, it was clear that he was unsure about what he was going to do next. I think his parents were pressuring him to get a job, and certainly if he wasn't going to school, that was the next logical step.

My boss advised him to think about going into the military where he could finish his education and perhaps make a career. That was good advice, but when you tell an l8-year-old to do something for 20 years, it sounds like an eternity to them. They can't imagine that at 38 they will be still young.

The conversation went on and my boss counseled Josh to open up to his parents and really discuss the things in his heart with them.

It was evident that my boss, an old man, truly cared about and wanted to help Josh, and that Josh accepted and appreciated the affection and concern.

During the next few years, my boss was able to give Josh some fatherly advice at times that Josh probably wouldn't have liked to hear from his real father.

As it turned out, Josh didn't enlist in the Army, but he did get a job at one of the factories. Now, seven or eight years later, he's married and has a child, he's working, and he seems to be doing all right. Maybe someday he'll get his GED. I don't think it would be too difficult for him.

My boss has passed away, but he worked almost until the day he died. For him, it was like Emily Dickenson wrote: "Because I could not stop for death, Death kindly stopped for me."

I remember his relationship with young Josh as an example of the important role that elders can play in the community.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Great Email Ad Title

An advertising email this morning had an interesting title. It piqued my curiosity enough that I opened it instead of deleting it. The title was:

I've included the link, in case you're curious what those gifts are.

The ad was from Tiger Direct, a big internet electronics firm, and it did include a few things that I would like to have. (I'm getting along OK without them, though. ) I have ordered a few things from Tiger Direct over the last several years, and I've never had any trouble with either the products or the firm.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Arms Loaded With Wrapped Christmas Gifts

I think it's a myth.

Honestly, now -- have you ever really seen anyone walking down the street with their arms stacked high with wrapped Christmas gifts?

It's a nice image, but if it ever did happen, it doesn't happen anymore. Today's shoppers lug around plastic bags stuffed with gifts that need to be wrapped after they get home.

Some stores hand out free gift boxes, but those will still have to be wrapped by the customer.

I do remember when many of the stores wrapped gifts for their customers. They had big rolls of wrapping paper hung on the end of the counter, and they wrapped them on the spot, right after you bought them.

I'm not sure why, but it seemed that the stores usually had striped wrapping paper at Christmas.

One time, a lady clerk showed me how to make fancy, spiky bows, and I still make them sometimes when I want to make a package look really special.

I must admit that I'm glad clerks don't have the responsibility of wrapping the customers' Christmas gifts anymore. It would definitely require a lot of time and a lot more counter space than my workplace offers!

Christmas Shoppers of All Sorts

My community, preparing for Christmas

I've seen a lot of shoppers during the past several weeks, and they've been both naughty and nice.

One of the naughty ones was in our store today -- a fellow in his upper 60s. He explained to me that our price on a certain item was ridiculous. The more he talked, the more irritated he became, and he began to spit a little as he spoke. To avoid agitating him more, I just said, "Yes, yes, that's right, that's right." Finally he ran out of steam and wandered away.

Of course, it's not naughty to have opinions about prices. However, ranting about them to an employee who has no decision-making authority is self-indulgent, to say the least.

Other naughty shoppers, in my opinion as a retail store employee:

  • parents who let their kids run wild
  • people who deliberately make a mess as they pass through
  • people who buy huge piles of merchandise and then return it all the next day

Fairly often, a shopper seems stressed. I can tell that they want their transaction with me to be brief. They are civil, but barely so. I try to hurry so they can get on with their lives. I don't know if I'm the cause of their mental anguish or if they have other problems.

On the other end of the spectrum, some shoppers want to talk. One lady today told me all about her cat bothering the Christmas tree. She shakes a plastic bag at him to scare him away from it. She laughed, just thinking about it.

A man who was waiting for his wife told me about his hip and leg problems. They had spent the night at their daughter's house and the waterbed had thrown him out of kilter. He truly did look like he was in pain.

Another fellow, waiting for his wife, told me about the mobile home his son is remodeling. The son is getting married soon. He's already bought a new side-by-side refrigerator and range, and he had to remove some of the cabinets to fit the new appliances into his kitchen.

Sometimes, there are unexpected glimpses of sweetness. A white-haired petite lady confided in me that she's looking for a extra-soft blanket that she can lay over her husband when he goes to sleep in his chair.

Earlier this week, I waited on a grandma who was doing all her Christmas shopping that day. Her granddaughter, a young lady in her early 20s, was with her. They had come from another town, and the granddaughter was doing the driving and carrying the packages. They both seemed to be enjoying their day.

Today, a dad and his grown-up daughter were in the store together, shopping for the mom. The daughter was there to provide suggestions and expertise, I guess. Dad had trouble with his PIN number and his card was rejected. He had to get it back out of his wallet and swipe it again, but he remembered his PIN that time, and the daughter joked him out of feeling cranky.

One man this week, a man younger than me, told me that his wife has terminal cancer and probably won't be here for Christmas. I promised I'd pray for her, and I am. May God have mercy. May God give comfort.

God bless us, every one.

Good reading: The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Sunday, December 02, 2007

My Pansies on December 2

My potted pansies are still blooming and looking pretty this gray, rainy December morning. This is why I like pansies much better than mums as fall flowers. They last and last, until a hard, hard freeze finally gets them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Playground Diva Remembered

Life in DOD housing, Berlin, 1990

Here's little Keely, all ready for a clown birthday party at Rachel's house. I think this photo was taken during the summer of 1990.

We were living in military housing in Berlin, Germany. The Army had rented a German apartment building that we shared with 13 other military and Department of Defense (DOD) civilian families.

We were in Berlin for the Army-Air Force Exchange System (AAFES, the PX people.) Other civilians in our apartment building included another AAFES family and the family of a teacher who worked at the DOD school.

Most of the other families in the building were military. Most of them had little children, so it was fortunate that the backyard had some playground equipment and a sandbox.

Some of the wives worked, but several of the wives stayed home with their young children. There were children in the backyard during most of the daylight hours, and Keely loved to go out and socialize.

Rachel (the one who had the clown party) was the alpha female of the playground. She was 7 years old, going on 30, and big for her age. When she barked, everyone jumped. She decided who was shunned and who was accepted. She could cuss fluently, and she knew all the facts of life and then some. Her parents smiled and said, "Well, that's Rachel."

I worried about Rachel being a bad example for Keely. Because of our living situation, we saw Rachel just about every day all summer long. There was really no way to avoid her. She was on the playground from daybreak to dusk. I was really glad when school started again and she was gone for part of the day.

Rachel would be about 25 years old now. I'm sure that she is still running things, wherever she is.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rose, Nebraska

A "wide spot in the road" is fading away

Rose, Nebraska, in 2000Rose, Nebraska, in 2000. Trading Post (left),
livestock feed shed, and machine shop (right)

My address, when I was growing up, was Rose, Nebraska. Rose is on Highway 183, more or less midway in the 60 miles between Bassett and Taylor, Nebraska.

When I was little (1950s), the blacktop road from Bassett ended just south of the Rose Trading Post, and the next 30 miles to Taylor were gravel road. A couple of miles after the road turned to gravel, it passed Grandpa and Grandma (Gilbert and Christina) Swinney's house, which was the Rose post office.

By the time I was 10 or so (early 1960s), Highway 183 was paved all the way from Bassett to Taylor. Not long after that, Grandma Swinney retired as postmistress, and the post office was moved from her house to the Rose Trading Post.

After acquiring the post office, the Trading Post earned the honor of having the "Rose" highway sign there also. It always read, "Rose, population 2."

Rose was in its heyday during the time that I was growing up. The store sold groceries and necessities, livestock feed, and gasoline. Another building housed the Swanson Brothers' machine repair shop. (They moved their operation to Bassett around 1960.)

The Rose Community Hall was located just north of the Trading Post, and it was used for dances, 4-H and extension club meetings, Thanksgiving potlucks and Christmas programs, and as a polling place during elections.

We lived about four and a half miles west of Rose, as the crow flies. We could have driven through pastures, but by real roads, it was about eight miles. I looked forward to my mother going to the Rose store because I might be able to talk her into buying me some bubble gum or perhaps even a bottle of pop.

When Mike and Mildred Riley were running the Rose Trading Post, Mildred had a beauty shop in a room between the store and the living quarters. My Grandma Nora liked to go there to have her hair done, and I remember going with her to have a perm put in my hair once, courtesy of Grandma.

About 1970, several rural schools in the area consolidated and built a community school at Rose. I believe my sister-in-law Kathy taught there the first year that the Rose School opened. She was young and single, and she boarded with my parents. She and my brother became interested in each other, and the rest is history. They've been married for around 35 years now.

The last few decades have been hard on Rose. Population in the county has decreased, and Rose has been one of the casualties. I don't know if Rose still gets a dot on the Nebraska map or not, but it won't completely vanish as long as the school is there.

Rose NebraskaThe community hall is still there, too, and it's probably still used for some of the same events that I remember attending there.

The Trading Post has closed. The machine shop has, I believe, stood empty since the Swanson Brothers moved out.

The post office was located in the community hall for a while, but now it has closed permanently. You can still address a letter to Rose, but the Bassett post office handles that zip code.

Cowboy poet Baxter Black gave Rose a bit of immortality in "Sandhills Savior", a poem about the windmills in the Nebraska Sandhills.

... From Thedford to Hyannis, from Valentine to Rose
Across that sandy country where the prairie grass still grows
You'll see those man-made daisies, silhouettes against the sky
Their steel petals gleaming on their stalks eighteen feet high...

Rose, Nebraska

Monday, November 26, 2007

I Like the Christmas Season

A few reasons why I like Christmas

I accidentally deleted this from my blog and I had to retrieve it from the Prairie Bluestem feed. I apologize to my feed subscribers for duplicating this -- and for the many other mistakes and retakes that appear in the feed on a regular basis!

Having survived "Black Friday" at a retail store, I can say with authority that the mad Christmas rush has begun in America's heartland. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to the holiday with true enjoyment and genuine pleasure in the season.

I like:

Finding a perfect Christmas gift for someone I love.

Singing Christmas carols (and hearing them, too.)

Thinking about the meaning of the Christ Child's birth.

Christmas lights on the houses (even the ones that are beautiful mostly in the eyes of the owners.)

Downtown Christmas decorations, hung from the electric poles.

Sending and receiving Christmas cards.

Seeing wonder in the eyes of little children -- and love in the eyes of the parents and grandparents who accompany them.

Decorating my home for Christmas.

My kids getting up early on Christmas morning to open their gifts (even though they're young adults.)

Making Christmas cookies and other goodies that are traditional in my family.

Remembering happy Christmas celebrations of the past.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Happy Christmas memories

In 2006 I wrote about some Christmas memories in a series I titled, "Ghosts of Christmas Past." I hope you'll enjoy reading (or re-reading) these articles.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

First Experience with Country Ham

Learning to cook a country ham

Country hams from two different plants. They're wrapped in a
netting and hung. The hams at left are wrapped in paper inside
the netting and the hams under the red roof are just in netting.

The family didn't seem too enthusiastic about turkey this Thanksgiving, so I decided we'd try a country ham.

One reason I chose country ham is that they don't need refrigeration. They are stored at room temperature so no thawing is required. That's a plus when you're planning refrigerator space for a big meal.

I found country hams on sale, not much more expensive than turkeys, and I chose a 17-pounder that I thought might fit into my roasting pan. It was a little too large, so I should have got a 14-or 15-pounder. It worked out all right, though. We just shortened it a little with the meat saw.

I had no idea how country hams were supposed to be cooked, so I looked on the internet and found a great number of recipes. Many of them recommended soaking the ham overnight before cooking it. The purpose of soaking it is to remove some of the salt that was used to cure it.

I set a 5-gallon pickle bucket in the kitchen sink, put the ham in it, and filled it to the brim with water. I changed the water once, but in retrospect, I would recommend changing it several times.

The next morning, Dennis put the ham on to cook. He drained off the water, scrubbed the ham a little with a clean scratchy-pad, and sawed off its skinny end with the meat saw so it would fit.

Then he placed the ham skin-side down in a roaster. He tucked some onions and celery around it, threw in a couple of bay leaves, and added a couple of quarts of water.

I had allowed plenty of time to cook it, and it was done (internal temperature over 160°) a couple of hours before the meal was ready. We just kept it hot in the oven until time to serve it.

I know you're anxious to hear how it turned out. (Of course you are; don't try to deny it!) Well, the ham was good. It was very tender, very juicy, and also very salty. Very Salty. After all, it is salt-cured. That's why I think I should have soaked it longer, or changed the water more, or both.

I will reheat the leftovers in water so a little more of the salt is removed. We really don't need to eat concentrated salt like that. I'll freeze some of it to use as seasoning in soups and stews. No additional salt will be needed!

In case any connoisseurs of country ham read this, this was a Clifty Ham, cured and smoked in Paris, Tennessee, not too far from here.

Country ham is a traditional food here, especially for the holidays, so I'm glad we tried it. However, next Thanksgiving, I think we'll just have a turkey, or if the family wants something different, maybe a pork loin.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Thursday Thirteen

Counting a few of my blessings

1. I'm thankful that my husband and I became parents.
2. I'm thankful that I have everything I really need and much more.
3. I'm thankful that I live in America.
4. I'm thankful that I grew up in a happy home.
5. I'm thankful that I have never been persecuted for being a Christian.
6. I'm thankful for the peace and quiet of our country home.
7. I'm thankful that I live in the internet age.
8. I'm thankful that I have interests and hobbies.
9. I'm thankful that we are debt-free.
10. I'm thankful that I am able to read.
11. I'm thankful that I enjoy the holidays.
12. I'm thankful for all the cats who have owned me.
13. I'm thankful for my eyes and for my eyeglasses.

How about you? What are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Accents and Dialects

Language with a personal flavor

In my opinion, I don't have much of an accent when I speak my native tongue-- but I suppose that most people don't hear their own accents very well.

I am thankful that my grade-school teachers (in a tiny, one-room country school in Nebraska) taught me standard English and proper grammar. They had a fit if anyone said "ain't," and I still don't say it four decades later. Saying things like "I seen" or "I done" was not permitted either. Those ladies did not hesitate to correct a student's grammar whenever necessary, and I am glad they taught me well.

After living in Missouri and Kentucky for 20 years or more of my adult life, I've added "y'all" ("you all") to my vocabulary. This makes my Nebraska friends say that I've picked up a southern accent. However, native-born Kentuckians say to me, "You're not from here, are you?"

Various dialects can be heard in Christian County. One characteristic of our local speech is that people talk slowly. My speech has slowed down too, and that's another reason that people say I've developed a Southern drawl.

Two words that I know I pronounce wrong are "wash" and "milk." I say "wush" (rhymes with "mush") and "melk" (rhymes with "elk".) I think that's a bit of flat Midwestern accent that I retain from my childhood.

My aunt, a native of Gordon, NE, who now lives near Chicago, told me that she can hear her Midwestern accent when she says "potatoes." She actually says "podadoes"  because of the place in her mouth that her tongue touches when she pronounces the "t."

  Plowing a potato field near Andersonville, TN, 1933

New Job

Working is not what it's cracked up to be.

A while back, I applied for a job at one of the larger stores in Hopkinsville, never dreaming that they would actually hire me. After all, I have tried and tried to get a job (a real job, not sub teaching) in the local school system, and they don't hire me, despite my Missouri teacher's certificate and two degrees.

Anyway, I did accept a part-time retail job, and I have been working for the last week or so. The store has been busy every time I've worked so far, and I suspect that it is only going to get worse as Christmas approaches. I'm getting lots of practice on the cash register, merchandise returns, etc. due to the abundance of shoppers.

I have run various cash registers through the years, but the registers at this store are the most computerized that I've used. I'm getting more comfortable with them as the days go by. Now, I'm not as worried about running the cash register as I am about closing it. I had my first experience with that on Sunday night, and I didn't like it.

The girl who is my main trainer is about the same age as my daughter. She's bright and quick -- almost too quick for me to see and remember all that she's doing. She probably goes home and tells her husband that they hired the village idiot to work in her department.

Working is cutting into my blogging time. I must learn to write faster and shorter. I also need to jot down ideas when they come to me, because I may be brain-dead when I finally sit down at my computer.

I'm sure I'll soon get used to working again. After I'm trained and the Christmas season is over, maybe I'll even have some sort of a regular schedule. And it's only a part-time job. But right now, it is a bit of a shock after three years of soul-restoring intentional unemployment.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Rudyard Kipling 's Description of Omaha

America irritated by Kipling's 'American Notes'

I recently found the book American Notes, by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), on the books-for-sale shelves at the library. Because of it, I've done some minor research and now I know that Kipling took several excursions in North America. In fact, there's a town in Saskatchewan named Kipling in his honor.

In American Notes, Kipling gives an account of his travels from San Francisco to Vancouver, and thence to Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago and eastward. Apparently, he took the trip in 1889, and as he traveled, he wrote letters that were published in a newspaper in India. Later, he put the letters together as American Notes, a book that was published in 1891. A revised edition came out in 1899.

Kipling traveled by rail from Denver to Chicago. He probably took the Burlington line. Enroute, he passed through Omaha, Nebraska, and his comments included the following:

Omaha, Nebraska was but a halting-place on the road to Chicago, but it revealed to me horrors that I would not willingly have missed.

The city to casual investigations seemed to be populated entirely by Germans, Poles, Slavs, Hungarians, Croats, Magyars, and all the scum of Eastern European States, but it must have been laid out by Americans.

No other people would have cut the traffic of a main street with two streams of railway lines, each some eight or nine tracks wide, and cheerfully drive tram cars across the metals.

Every now and again they have horrible railway crossing accidents at Omaha, but nobody seems to think of building an overhead-bridge. That would interfere with the vested interests of the undertakers...

Rudyard Kipling, about 1915
American Notes was widely criticized in America when it was published. Americans readers thought Kipling  was sneering and sarcastic, and after browsing through the book, I understand their reaction. Perhaps you can feel a bit of his bite in the excerpt above.

Many were disappointed in an author whom they respected. Others were just irritated. Mr. G. A. England of Harvard University, in a letter to the editor of the New York Times about Kipling, stated, "His is a bad case of megalomania, complicated with Intellectual myopia."

Somewhere else (I'm unable to relocate the webpage), I read that a dislike of the crassness and excesses of unfettered democracy was behind Kipling's sarcasm in American Notes.

The publisher of the 1899 edition was a bit anxious. He admitted in a foreword, "[The letters] seem supersarcastic, and would lead one to believe that Mr. Kipling is antagonistic to America in every respect." However, he suggested, the caustic flavor of the letters was interesting to students of Kipling, and thus the letters were worthy of publishing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mennonite Immigration from Russia to America

Russian Mennonites on the North American prairies

If you are interested in the Mennonites, I've found an old article that you may enjoy reading. It appears in an 1878 encyclopedia that has been digitized by Google. You can read the first paragraph at the bottom of this post, and then go to the link to read the remainder of the article (about two pages in all.)

The article explains some of the circumstances that led Mennonites to immigrate in large numbers from Russia in the 1870s and settle on the North American prairies.

Brief history of the Russian Mennonites

Thousands of Moravian and Prussian Mennonites went to Russia during the 1600s and 1700s to escape cruel persecution in their homelands. However, in the 1870s, they were threatened with conscription into Russian armies, which was against their religious beliefs.

Because of their reputation as an industrious, law-abiding, productive people, the government of Canada sent a special messenger in 1874 to invite Russian Mennonites to settle in Manitoba. Canada even lent them money to help them resettle.

Settlements were also established in Kansas, Dakota, Nebraska, and Minnesota. In some cases, whole villages of Mennonites left Russia and resettled on the prairies of North America.

The author (name not given), writing in 1878 during the surge of Russian Mennonite immigration, comments that they are hardworking and thrifty farmers, but reluctant to associate with outsiders and fond of their own language. The women are good housekeepers and the men are good farmers. He is impressed with their ability to establish attractive, well-equipped, productive farms despite limited funds and adverse weather conditions.

The historic marker in the photo below tells a little about the hard red wheat ("Red Turkey Wheat") that the Russian Mennonites brought with them to Kansas. This wheat made Kansas the "bread basket of the nation." I took this photo along Highway 50 in Harvey County, east of Walton, Kansas.

Russian Mennonites brought red wheat to KansasRed Turkey Wheat: Mennonite gift to agriculture.
Text on this historic marker is also available here.

Mennonite immigration to America began in the 1600s.

It is curious that the encyclopedia author writes as if the Mennonites from Russia were the first Mennonites to come to the New World. That's not correct at all.

In 1683, William Penn extended an invitation to the Mennonites to settle in Pennsylvania, and that was the beginning of a large settlement of Mennonites in Pennsylvania. Penn was a Quaker, and he viewed the Mennonites as gentle people of similar faith.

By 1735, there were already close to 500 Mennonite families in Pennsylvania. (Source) I suspect that number included families that we would call Amish today. The Amish were Mennonites who followed Jacob Ammen's teaching about church discipline.

1878 encyclopedia article about Russian Mennonites

Here's the first paragraph of the old encyclopedia article about the Russian Mennonites. The link below it, will take you to the full article.

If the small print is difficult to read, there's a text version. Just follow the link above, and when you get to the Google page, look in the upper right hand corner for the "View Plain Text" link.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Set of Oxymorons

Double dose of contradictions

Set of oxymorons

I love the small print at the bottom of the banner: "First time customers only." The second time you're a customer, the oxymorons do not apply.

In truth, these money lenders aren't funny. They say they're providing a service to people who don't have other resources. That may be true, but when people get started with check advances, it's hard for them to escape from the trap. The interest rates are exorbitant. The customer may repay the loan and interest after he gets his check -- but then he has to get another loan to make it to the next check.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kentucky Hopes for a Rainy Winter

Recent rains have greened the autumn landscape

Rainy sky

After a very dry summer, rain surprises us. Even though rainy weather is normal for November, my reaction this year is, "Look! It's raining! I'd better take a picture!"

The National Weather Service announced a couple of weeks ago that the drought has ended in the Pennyrile, our region of Kentucky. However, we remain 12 to 16 inches short of rain for the year. We need a rainy winter.

According to the NWS and the National Drought Monitor, only the southern border of Christian and Todd counties, across the Oak Grove and Trenton areas, are still under drought conditions. The drought in those areas has been downgraded to abnormally dry, the least severe categorization.

Source: "Officials declare end of drought" by Blair Dedrick, Kentucky New Era, Nov. 2, 2007

Recent rains have insured good seed germination for the winter wheat. The fresh green color of the newly sprouted wheat is good to see. The grass in some of the pastures is looking better also.

Hay for the winter remains a problem for livestock owners. The late freeze followed by drought reduced the hay harvest by half in many areas. In an effort to help, Kentucky's Department of Agriculture has a hay hotline (1-888-567-9589) where buyers and sellers can list their contact info. Weight and size restrictions have been eased for trucks hauling loads of hay.

Some farmers have baled their drought-damaged soybeans. Others have left the beans standing in the field, saying that the expense of baling is greater than the value of the fodder.

Farmers who are feeding crop residues (corn stalks, etc.) are cautioned to have them tested for nutritional value and nitrate content. High nitrates can kill livestock.

In our neighborhood, it was a good summer for the bulldozer operators. While water levels were low, many farmers took the opportunity to clean out their ponds and dig them a little deeper. New ponds have been constructed as well. Now we need a rainy winter to fill them.

Recent rainy afternoon

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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.