Saturday, September 29, 2007

Triple Decker Rice Krispies Treats

Rice Krispies Bars, fancied-up a bit

Here's an idea for Rice Krispies bars. I often make these for church potlucks because
1.) it makes a big batch,
2.) people like them, and
3.) it's relatively easy.

Coat an extra large baking dish with no-stick cooking spray. (I use a 4.8 quart, 10x14" Pyrex pan.) Make a batch of regular Rice Krispies Treats, and press it evenly into the bottom of the pan.

Make a second batch, substituting either Fruity Pebbles or Cocoa Krispies for the regular Rice Krispies cereal in the recipe. Spread and press it evenly over the bottom layer.

Then make a third batch of regular Rice Krispies Treats, and spread and press it over the colored layer.

Last step: Melt a couple blocks of white candy coating (sometimes called "almond bark") and drizzle it over the top of the Treats with a fork. Then add a final bit of pizazz with some color-coordinated cake sprinkles.

Who knows? A similar recipe may be on the Rice Krispies site. I've never looked! However, I did come up with this idea myself, even if someone else did also.

That's what I'm doing this morning, plus baking bread, fixing a large bowl of cole slaw and making a fruit jello. Those are my contributions to the church potluck tomorrow. I'm just taking side dishes because the church is supplying chicken and ham, and since we live about 25-30 minutes from church, I like to take foods that aren't likely to slop out of their pans.

I also need to vacuum this morning because Keely and Taurus are coming to eat a late lunch/early supper. We're having roast beef. It's a busy day, and I'd better get with it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day of the Robot

Most modern robots don't look much like the Jetsons' maid.

Robot How many robots have served you today? Chances are, you've used some kind of a money-handling robot. Perhaps it was the ATM machine, the self-check lane at the grocery store, or the pay-at-the-pump at the gas station.

Robots are mechanical devices, controlled by electronics, that do jobs previously done by humans. Even modern household appliances like automatic dishwashers, washing machines, bread-baking machines, etc. could be considered robots. They may not have the intelligence and lovability that Rosie of the Jetsons did, but I do appreciate them!

Modern robots in everyday use include everything from big-armed automatic car washes to the tiny "scopes" that doctors send into various parts of our bodies. (And personally, I prefer car washes!)

My husband's cousin learned to be an electrician at the Allis Chalmers plant in Independence, MO, in the late 1960s. Later at General Motors in Kansas City, he was trained in industrial robotics and spent the rest of his working years doing that, quite profitably. A neighbor of ours (sadly, now deceased), who lived down the road about 2 miles here in Kentucky, traveled all over the country setting up robots in factories.

Today, I read about a robot that should be popular for both homeowners and commercial lawn-care firms -- a little remote-controlled gizmo that scoots through gutters. It uses augers and a brush to whiz out the leaves and collected crud.

The (South) Koreans have launched an ambitious program that is supposed to put a Ubiquitous Robot Companion in every home by 2020. One model is a roly-poly Rosie-like robot that's probably pretty cute in action, especially while it's doing work for you!

The robots will clean up homes, care for pets, read to children and identify visitors... Half of them will be controlled remotely via cell phone.

Source: Robots to do Household Work in South Korea, UPI article published on, July 03, 2006

Robot title=Another article about Korea's rapid advances in household robotics reports that South Korea put 72% of their households on broadband in just five years! Based on the rate that broadband has been adopted in western Kentucky, Ubiquitous Household Companions may be available and affordable by the time my children are grandparents. But that's another topic.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Foods of the Season

Ready for the autumn menu.

I'm ready for a change in the weather and a change in the menu!

All summer long, I try to cook things that require only a short time on the stovetop or in the microwave. It's too hot here for long sessions of roasting, simmering, or baking.

I was thinking today that vegetable soup and cornbread would be good (or chili or beef stew) when the weather finally cools down enough that we can turn off the air conditioner for good. We're still having 85 or 90 degrees most days, and a big bowl of hot soup just doesn't sound good yet.

Our church is celebrating its 45th anniversary this coming Sunday. The church is providing ham and chicken, and everyone's supposed to bring potluck to complete the meal. I haven't made a final decision on what to take, but I'm thinking autumnal.

Pumpkin pie sounds good. Apple pie sounds good too.

Still, I must confess that I already miss the melons and fresh sweet corn of summer. The stores still have a few melons and ears of corn, but they're not the lush fruits of summer. They're the last fruits of half-dead plants. So I guess the seasons are changing even if I'm a little impatient. Everything in its own time -- soup days will be here soon enough.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bad Day

Usually, it could be worse...

Bad day

Flat tire on tobacco wagon
Just to improve your outlook on life a little, here are a couple of photos of someone else's bad day.

This big trailer, loaded down with tobacco, was on the way to the barn when one of its tires went flat. By the time the driver got it off the highway, something -- probably the wheel -- was leaving a deep track in the road surface.

On the bright side, at least there was a fairly flat spot to pull over. And at least, it wasn't an inside dual!

The driver jacked up the corner of the trailer, took off the remains of the old tire, unhitched his pickup truck, and went somewhere to get a replacement.

The trailer was still there when I passed by again, but it was gone the next day.

Everyone has frustrating days when Murphy's Law prevails. Even here in the Shire, things don't always go as smoothly as we wish they would.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Milestone on the Blog

1000 posts and still typing

1000 posts on Blogger

Blogger states that I've made 1000 posts on Prairie Bluestem. It seems an appropriate moment to pause and comment.

Blogging has had a few surprises for me. For example, I didn't know that blogging would be such a heart-warming experience. I could never have imagined the nice people who would visit here or the interesting comments and e-mails I would receive.

Every now and then, I have the nice surprise of coming across posts from this blog listed in the search engine results!

And I'm surprised that it's been fairly easy to write something, most days of the last 21 months. I like to imagine that daily practice is helping me become a better writer. Of course, I don't worry much about what my editor and publisher think, because they are me. Or, to say it with better grammar: they are I, and I am they.

Blogger at keyboardPrairie Bluestem has given me the impetus to record some personal and family stories that I hope will be passed on to my grandchildren's children. In other posts, I've added to the internet's body of information on various topics. Of course, there have been plenty of mundane posts, too, but I hope that even they have helped someone forget the cares of life for a moment.

At my current blogging rate, I still have enough photo-storage space with Blogger for about 11,000 more posts or about 17-1/2 years. Apparently the blog has just begun, so thanks for reading post #1001, and please stand by for #1002.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Greater Tickseed: Yellow Autumn Wildflower

Coreopsis major Walt.

Greater Tickseed

Even though it's been a very dry summer here, the autumn wildflowers have managed to survive. They are a tough bunch. The butterflies who are migrating are probably grateful for them.

The flowers in the photo above are growing in a ditch on a dry hillside along the edge of a wooded area. I supposed they have a fairly moist environment there, in rainy summers. I hope I have them identified correctly. If I'm wrong, please let me know! Based on the characteristics of the flower and the description of where it grows, I think it is greater tickseed (Coreopsis major Walt.,) a member of the aster family.

Coreopsis major Walt.
Coreopsis major

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Changing Trains in Guthrie, KY

Guthrie's passenger train days described in old stories

TrainI've happened upon a couple of interesting passages about changing trains at Guthrie, KY.

"A Special Providence" is the story of Mrs. Melissa Allgood, who is on the train alone. She's a 34-year-old widow who has been traveling with a Holiness band, singing in the towns of central Kentucky. She listens sympathetically to the problems of another traveler, an old gentleman, and before long, he announces that God wants him to marry her when the train stops in Guthrie. The tale of his pursuit and her escape appear in an amusing book, Stories of a Sanctified Town, written by Lucy S. Furman and published in 1896 by the Century Company, New York.

Lucy S. Furman was a Kentucky writer. She wrote Widow Allgood's story in a dialect that is amazingly authentic, to this day. (Let me just be blunt: I mean that some people still talk that way!)
Lucy Furman (1870-1958) was a novelist whose writing has considerable charm even today. Born in Henderson and graduated from Sayre Institute in Lexington, she spent much of her life in Hindman as a house-mother at the Hindman Settlement School. After she left Hindman she became a crusader against cruelty to animals. The Lonesome Road (1927) is often cited as the strongest of her five novels.

Source: KYLIT - A site devoted to Kentucky Writers

The other story of changing trains in Guthrie is not so funny. Two Tennessee lawmen are transporting a prisoner to Nashville, but they must change trains at Guthrie, KY, just across the state line. As they wait for the Nashville train to arrive, they discuss whether they have any legal authority while they are out of the state of Tennessee. This chapter is titled, "A Noted Individual Shuffles Off This Mortal Coil and Leaves the World None the Poorer", and it is part of The K. K. K., a fiction written by C.W. Tyler and published in 1902 by the Abbey Press, New York.

C.W. Tyler was a judge in Clarksville, TN, just 30 miles or so from where I live. He would certainly have known all about going to Guthrie to get on the train to Nashville. His book, according to a 1904 New York Times review, demonstrates the flaws of vigilante groups and of conventional law enforcement, but suggests that a responsible K. K. K. "is at least excusable in exercising a sort of fatherly care over the community." I wonder how many times Judge Tyler stretched or ignored the law in favor of the Klan.

I am sure that all sorts of people passed through the depot at Guthrie.

Related post: Guthrie, KY: A Railroad Town

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New Barns near Fairview, KY

No old barns here...

Two new barns near Fairview KY
The barn on the right was built recently and is already filled with burley tobacco. You can see the tobacco leaves hanging down below the side walls. That barn should have very good air flow with all sides open at the bottom.

I'm not sure what the other barn will be, but I am guessing (only guessing!) that it might be a curing barn for dark tobacco. In dark barns, a smoky sawdust and hardwood-slab fire is kept burning on the barn's floor. As the smoke rises through the tobacco leaves, they are flavored and colored.

These barns are located near Fairview, Kentucky. I think they're still in Christian County, but just barely.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Guthrie, KY: A Railroad Town

How trains have shaped the history of Guthrie, KY

R.J. Corman railroad at Guthrie, KYFreshly painted locomotives in Guthrie, KY

Railroads made Guthrie, Kentucky. Several major rail lines intersected in southern Todd County, on the Kentucky and Tennessee state line, and the city of Guthrie grew around the tracks.

The beginning of the railroad era

The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture gives the following information about railways that ran through Guthrie, even before the Civil War.

Nashville gained rail access to the North through Kentucky. Louisville city subscriptions and Tennessee state aid financed the Louisville and Nashville (L&N), incorporated in Kentucky in 1850... Completed in 1859, it hosted an excursion intended to preserve the Union... The Edgefield and Kentucky (E&K), completed in 1860, ran from the Nashville suburb of Edgefield to Guthrie on the Kentucky boundary.

Memphis also established railroad access to Louisville: the Memphis and Ohio (M&O) ran from Memphis to Paris; the Memphis, Clarksville, and Louisville ran from Paris to Guthrie; and the L&N constructed a branch from Bowling Green to Guthrie."

Quoted from The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture

Shortly after the L&N completed its line to Nashville in 1859, the Civil War disrupted the region. During the war, the Union controlled the area in which the L&N operated, and the railroad made a lot of money transporting U.S. troops and supplies.

Guthrie becomes a railroad boomtown

Opera House, Guthrie, KentuckyOpera House, Guthrie KY
When the war ended and reconstruction began, the L&N Railroad had plenty of cash on hand to expand dramatically throughout the South. The surge of investment in infrastructure paid off in an immense increase in traffic on its lines, bringing many trains through Guthrie at all hours of the day and night. Businessmen recognized the opportunity to provide goods and services to travelers and shippers, and Guthrie became a railroad boomtown.

In 1879, the city of Guthrie was chartered. It was named for John James Guthrie, the L&N Railroad President. The railroads prospered for many years, and Guthrie also prospered. Fine homes were built, and the business district was lined with stores, saloons, a hotel, and even an opera house.

Five railroad lines that met in Guthrie were:
- the L&N St. Louis-Evansville-Nashville line
- the L&N Louisville-Memphis line
- the L&N Guthrie-Bowling Green branch
- the Edgefield and Kentucky Railroad
- the Guthrie-Elkton (KY) spur (chartered in 1883)

Hard times for the railroads

Rail travel and shipping declined during the mid-1900s. The rail companies labored under out-of-date FCC regulations, a loss of travel and shipping to the new Interstate highway system, an increase in air travel, and the loss of railway post offices. These problems led to major restructuring and consolidation. Many railroad lines closed in the 1960s. 1970s and 1980s.

Congress could not agree whether to subsidize, nationalize, or deregulate the remaining passenger lines, so nothing was done. Finally, in 1970, Amtrak was formed and most of America's railroads turned their passenger service over to it. In 1980, an important railroad bill, the Staggers Rail Act, was passed, and with deregulation, freight lines were able to operate at a profit again.

R.J. Corman locomotive in Guthry, KYR.J. Corman locomotive
in Guthrie KY
The Elkton-Guthrie line closed in 1957. The L&N was merged into the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad in the early 1970s and eliminated its few remaining passenger lines in 1979. After another merger, the CSX railroad company assumed control of the former L&N rail system. The City of Guthrie's website states that the population of Guthrie dropped by 50% in a single year, sometime (no year given) during all this restructuring.

Railroads in Guthrie today

I've become quite curious about Guthrie lately, and this has led to my research of its history. We bought a used car for Keely in Guthrie, so we've made several trips there in the last month. I've had a chance to loiter about the town, admire the old houses and buildings, and note the presence of the train industry to this day.

R.J. Corman locomotive in Guthrie, KY
Front end of an
R.J. Corman locomotive
The R.J. Corman Railroad Company has a shop in Guthrie. They usually have a freshly painted locomotive on the tracks in front of it. R.J. Corman operates a short-line railroad from Bowling Green, KY, to Zinc, TN, that passes through Guthrie.

The CSX Railroad Company, heir to the L&N railroad, has an office and shop in Guthrie also. Trains still rumble through the town regularly.

L&N caboose in Guthry, Kentucky
L&N Caboose in Guthrie, KY
The L&N Railroad's role in Guthrie history is honored in a little downtown park where a cheery red L&N caboose is displayed. The depot was torn down long ago.

I'll write more later about some of the efforts Guthrie is making to revitalize itself after enduring the changes in the railroad industry.

"Southbound in the Snow" -- train pictures taken near Guthrie
Songs by Mickey Newbury that mention Guthrie
More train pictures from Guthrie
Many L&N Railroad photos

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

St. Elmo School Revisited

A local couple is compiling information about the St. Elmo School in southeastern Christian County, KY

An early photo of the
St. Elmo School in Christian County, KY

I had a nice note recently from Charles and Dean Norfleet, who grew up in the St. Elmo community of southeastern Christian County, KY. The Norfleets happened to find a post about three old Christian County schools (St. Elmo, Fairview, and Ralston) that I had made a few months ago. Charles wrote the following in an e-mail:

As one who went to the St. Elmo School, I appreciate your interest in it. My wife and I both attended there. I left in 1948 to attend Pembroke and she was among the last group of students to attend there in 1949. I am 70 years old. There are a few people in Christian County still alive who went there earlier than I did (1943).

The building is still being used as a Homemakers Club meeting place. My wife is a current member of the club. They are searching for advice/procedures to have this building placed on the Kentucky Historical Register. If you have any ideas please share them.

This Club has been hosting a BBQ every year for over 55 years. You should attend. 500+ Christian Countians look forward to the 2nd Thursday in July when they come out to the old school for a great outdoor BBQ. Please find attached a very early picture of St. Elmo Elementary School.

If you have information about the school or experience with the Kentucky Historical Register, please get in touch with the Norfleets. They are documenting the school's history from old school rosters, people's memories, etc. You can write to me at prairiebluestem at, and I will gladly forward your e-mail to Charles and Dean.

St. Elmo School, Christian County, KYAs you can see from the photo at right, which I took earlier this year, the building appears to be very well preserved in its historic condition.

Charles also sent a link to "The Pembroke Connection", a great website that you'll enjoy even if you're not from this part of Kentucky. The site is mainly about the Pembroke school -- that is, the Pembroke school along Highway 41, not the new Pembroke school on Highway 115 south of town. The old photos are a trip back in time.

Related post: Three Old Schools in Christian County, KY

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Discovered by touch

Naturally disguised caterpillar
I was going to pluck a leaf off this tree, and then I felt a turgid little lump in my hand along with the leaf. I don't know what sort of caterpillar it is.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Lost and Found

Some stories of losing, seeking, and finding

Lost Coin and Lost Sheep woodcutThe gospel text at church last Sunday was the first part of Luke 15 -- the parables of the shepherd who leaves the flock and goes to find the lost sheep, and the woman who sweeps her house searching for a lost silver coin. The stories have an underlying spiritual meaning: God is concerned about every individual, and He rejoices when a sinner repents.

Losing and finding was certainly on our minds even before it was preached on at church. Isaac misplaced his iPod last week. He knew it was in the house, but he searched fruitlessly for several days. Finally he thought to look in Keely's room. There it was, on the bed where he had laid it while he was doing some ironing. It is not an exaggeration to say that he rejoiced.

I think the luckiest find I ever made was when I lost the stone out of my engagement ring. When I saw that it was missing, I told myself, "It's gone." I was really surprised a week or so later when I found the diamond in the bottom of the laundry basket.

One of my sadder losses happened when I was living in a college dorm. First, a couple of necklaces were missing, including one that my grandma had given me. Then I accidentally left a ring on our bathroom sink, and when I came back a few hours later, it was gone. I talked to my roommate and the other two girls who shared the bathroom, but they denied any knowledge. After that, I locked my remaining valuables in the closet, an action very similar to locking the barn door after the horse is stolen. I was glad when that semester ended.

In our yard, I've found about a dozen cut glass crystals that look like they came from a chandelier. The man who built this house worked at a factory where they made light fixtures, and I think he must have brought home a few crystals for his children. They played with them outside and either dropped them or forgot where they had put them.

I've never had a flock of sheep, but I've had quite a few pet cats over the years. Kitty, my Bolivian cat, got lost several times. She stayed with my mother-in-law during the five years we were in Germany. At one point, she went missing for a couple of months before she showed up again, looking like a skeleton. Mama Netz thought she must have been locked in someone's shed.

Kitty disappeared another time after she came to live with us in Kentucky. I walked down the roads and out in the woods and pastures calling her name, but I didn't find her. Several weeks later, I was working in the far corner of the yard and I saw a cat walking by. I thought it looked like Kitty, so I spoke to her. She turned and looked at me in total surprise. If I hadn't seen her, she would have kept on walking. I don't think she had any idea that she was near home.

Two thousand years have passed since Jesus told the parables of The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin, but the experiences he relates in them are timeless. We all have lost-and found stories. Who has not experienced sadness and concern when something was lost, and joy and relief when it was found again?

After these two parables, Jesus told his audience a third parable -- The Lost Son (The Prodigal Son.) It's another timeless, poignant story of pain and joy that illustrates God's concern and love for each of us.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Messy Side of Second Amendment Rights

A citizen who wasn't ready for gun ownership...

Most Kentuckians are strong supporters of Second Amendment rights, and I agree that citizens should have the right to own weapons. We have a few guns ourselves. I've always thought that an occupying force would have a terrible time subduing Kentucky, given the armed populace, the love of freedom, and the challenging terrain.

Unfortunately, a very sloppy exercise of Second Amendment rights happened in Hopkinsville last Friday. It was chilling to read about it, but on the other hand, the story has some almost-comical elements.

According to Hopkinsville's newspaper, the Kentucky New Era, Matthew Ashley Hicks went to WalMart and bought some ammunition for his brand-new Jennings 9mm handgun. Then he walked out of WalMart with his purchase and got into his vehicle,

Sitting in the driver's seat of his Mercury Mountaineer in front of the WalMart garden center, Hicks began loading the gun. In the process, he fired it three times.

The first bullet went into the steering wheel. The second bullet went through the driver's side window and the front tire of a nearby car. Glass from the shattered window sprayed onto the hood of another vehicle parked nearby. Police hadn't located the third bullet at the time the report was prepared for the newspaper. The story includes a photo of a policeman on his hands and knees, inspecting the bullet hole in the flat tire.

Luckily, no one was injured. I'm surprised that Hopkinsville police can't think of anything to charge Hicks with, but the newspaper reports that no charges will be filed. Hicks' age and address were not available at the time the story was written.

Dennis and I were leaving WalMart at about the time all this was happening -- 2:30 p.m. on Friday . We were getting groceries for a Boy Scout campout. We didn't hear the gunshots. Fortunately we had parked on the other end of the parking lot!

I don't want you to think that incidents like this happen often in Hopkinsville's parking lots. The majority of our gun-owning citizens are careful, steady, responsible folks who, I'm sure, could hardly believe this story!

(Source: "Accidental gunfire damages 3 vehicles in Wal-Mart parking lot," from staff reports, Kentucky New Era, published in Hopkinsville, KY on Saturday, September 15, 2007.)

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My Computer is Making Me Crazy

Grub Error 17

This afternoon, Isaac and I installed a new video card on the so-called "good" computer which has Windows Vista on its main hard drive. It also has Ubuntu Feisty Fawn installed on another disk, so it can be booted in either Windows or Ubuntu.

While we had the computer open, we saw the wires for the headset jack on the front of the computer which has never worked. So we decided to plug them in, and also to plug in a card reader that was disconnected for reasons too complicated to explain right now.

Somehow, when we rebooted, something caused a GRUB error, and now the computer won't boot in either Windows or Ubuntu. It says, "GRUB loading" and then something about GRUB loading stage 1.5, and then, Error 17. We took the video card out and unplugged the things we had plugged in, but the error remains.

I've spent the evening reading about Error 17, including the story of someone else who had this problem after installing a video card. Apparently the GRUB will have to be repaired or reinstalled somehow. "Error 17" means it's unable to read boot-up instructions in the place where it's looking for them.

I've already tried booting up the computer with a live Unbuntu CD. I've typed various powerful incantations and spells into the terminal window but no magic has occurred.

Don't worry if you don't understand all this about GRUB, etc. I don't understand it very well myself! What it really means is I am just geeky enough to get myself into trouble that I really am not prepared to handle. I hope Keely's boyfriend will have some helpful suggestions.

Code of Outdoor Ethics

Responsible behavior in natural and rural areas

1. Respect the property of rural residents and ask before using it. Save fences, close gates and bars, go around planted fields.

2. People, livestock, trees, and birds were never meant to be target-practice backstops.

3. Respect the law. Catch enough legal fish to eat and then stop.

4. Clean up your camp. Don't litter the highway with trash.

5. Finish what you start. Carelessness with fires is cussedness.

6. Leave the flowers and shrubs for others to enjoy.

-- Seth E. Gordon (1890-1983), conservation director for the Izaak Walton League of America.

Quoted from Shafer's Universal Scrap Book, by Jacob H. Shafer. Published in 1945 by The Shafer Speech Service, Sunbury, PA.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Update About My Nephew in Sudan

Rebuilding Christian churches in southern Sudan

ECS church in Tonj, SudanA church in Tonj, Sudan,
that Ben helped to build

You may remember that my nephew Ben, a civil engineer, is working for Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization. He is in southern Sudan, where he has been helping with rebuilding Christian churches that were destroyed in the recent civil war. His role is to organize workers and materials and to provide expertise and oversight for the construction.

Church dedication service at Tonj, Sudan
Opening service in the church at Tonj
When he first arrived, he was headquartered at Tonj, a small town in southern Sudan. He helped build three churches in that area -- one in Tonj, one in Thiet (45 minutes south), and one in Mapel (1-1/2 hours north.) The church members in those three villages had already assembled their materials and made their cement blocks, so they were ready to begin construction.

Now Ben is at Rumbek, another small town in southern Sudan, rebuilding churches in several villages in the area. A letter he wrote to his mom early this month gives a glimpse of some of the challenges in a third world country where many modern conveniences, such as blacktop roads, don't exist.

I have been getting quite of bit of rain recently here in Rumbek. The main problem though I have been facing is the flooding that was caused by the eastern and southern parts of Sudan getting so much rain. It cut off all the roads that go to Uganda from Rumbek for two weeks.

This put a strain on the town and my church projects because almost all the food and merchandise is brought up from Uganda and all my church materials are brought up from Yei and Uganda. We were forced to delay the start of building churches in this area from the end of August to the end of September because we were not able to transport the supplies and building crew up.

I've also been cut off from my two most northern churches by the flooding. The road to them is under water and the current was so fast it ripped a big culvert out of the road way.

It has been a challenge logistically because I had one of our 20 ton trucks stuck on a different road on that side of the river but I was not able to reach them because of the flooding. I had to send one of my Sudanese staff members to that side by having him swim across the bad place and hitch rides with different trucks to get to the 20 ton truck. Luckily I had both of my small New Holland 4wd tractors on that side to help pull the truck out of the mess.

One of the crazy things they told me about the place the truck was stuck at was that it was so far out in the bush that at night there were a couple of Lions that prowled around their trucks growling and disturbing them. There was a big line of trucks stuck at this one spot so all the driver had to gather together at night to make one big camp with many fires to keep the lions away.

Although disaster struck when one of the tractors was helping pull another trailer out of the road to clear it for our twenty ton to go by. My drivers allowed another truck that was helping them to pull the trailer out of the way to hook the other trucks tow line around the front tractor weights. I suspect they tried to jerk everything out real quick and when they jerked they pulled the front axle off of our tractor.

That was a mess because then I had to send and hire people to dismantle it and put it in the back of our 20 ton to send it back to Yei and no telling how long it will take to get fixed.

More recently, Ben wrote that the roads had dried up enough that he could travel to the two northern church sites again. The road to Yei, an important route for bringing in supplies, has also opened up again. He's hoping his teams can resume construction in late September. Before then, he'll spend a week in Kenya at a Samaritan's Purse Africa ministry retreat. I hope it is refreshing and uplifting because I know he's been working hard. Please continue to pray for him.

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Why Cars Are Important

(According to cats!)

Cats basking in the sunshine

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Black and Yellow Garden Spider, 2007

Argiope aurantia

Black and yellow garden spider

I've taken dozens of photos of these black and yellow garden spiders over the years. I don't like spiders much, but the bright colors of this species and their big webs are irresistible to my camera clicking finger.

We start seeing lots of these spiders in the garden and flower beds in early fall every year. It's one of the signs of the season.

This is a female. They are much larger than the males. The males approach with caution, and communicate by strumming the threads of the web.

When a hapless insect strays into the web, Her Ladyship springs into action. She injects him with a liquifying agent and wraps him in silk. Then she leaves him to soften up while she waits patiently for the next catch.

It's quite similar to the way Frodo was bundled by Shelob in the Lord of the Rings.

Garden spiders are very interesting creatures. Here are a few websites with more information about them:

Black and yellow argiope
Black and yellow garden spider
Yellow garden spider

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A Nervous Pianist With Modest Skills

Playing the piano at church

I've been playing the piano on Wednesday nights at church for the last three or four months. We usually have just a small group, so it doesn't make me very nervous. I choose the songs myself, or at least have veto power over what's been chosen, so I don't have to play anything that worries me.

I am not a very good pianist, so all of the above is important to me!

Here are some of my worst weaknesses:

  • I don't practice enough, and I never do any finger exercises.
  • I am particularly bad at reading time markings. I struggle terribly with unfamiliar music if it has lots of dotted 8th notes, etc.
  • I have favorite fingers. I like to hit the keys with them instead of using all my fingers equally. In other words, I have bad fingering habits.
  • I keep my eyes glued to the music while playing and never look at my hands. This was drilled into me by my piano teachers so thoroughly that it has become an instinct. When there's a tricky place in the music, I mark it to remind myself to check whether my fingers are going to land on the right keys. (How weird is that?!)
  • I can get very nervous.

Still, over the years that I've been playing Lutheran hymns, my skills have improved slightly. I'm better at sight-reading the bass clef notes, and I've become much more comfortable in some keys I'd never played much before.

In the 16 years we've attended our church, I've played the piano for Sunday School for about half that time. I've probably played for church a couple of dozen times, when Pastor couldn't find anyone else to fill in for the regular organist.

Playing for church is more nerve-wracking than playing for Sunday School. Our church service includes a liturgy that is mostly sung, and we also sing 3 or 4 songs that I don't get to choose. I make terrible mistakes sometimes, but I just play on. You can't stop and correct yourself when folks are singing along with you.

Several other ladies in our church have taken piano lessons and own a piano, but they all try to keep it a secret. It's taken me years to find out. I don't know if they are out of practice, or if they are just nervous about playing in front of a group.

I understand both of those problems very well, but I do think they should "let their light shine." I'm sure that with minimal practice they could play as well as I do or better. Really, I am more than willing to share the church piano!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rural Party Line Remembered

Our phone lines are bad -- but they could be worse.

I get pretty disgusted about our telephone line sometimes. I wish AT&T (new owners of the former BellSouth) would lay fiber-optic cable in this part of Christian County, KY. Then we could get a broadband internet connection, which would speed up our uploads and downloads tremendously .

Isaac recently showed me a Newsweek article about the lack of access to high speed internet service in America. Compared with many parts of the world, including places you wouldn't think of as rich or advanced, America is lagging behind on the information superhighway. For example, Estonia has passed us by and is leaving us in the dust.

Even though our telephone lines are inadequate by modern standards, I do remember when telephone lines were much, much worse. Fifty years ago, when I was growing up in Rock County in northern Nebraska, we'd have been amazed at the telephone service I'm complaining about tonight.

In those days, every little community had their own telephone company and everyone was on one big party line. In the Duff Valley where we lived, twenty or more homes were on the line. Every phone call rang in every home.

To call someone on the telephone, the receiver was taken off its cradle and the handle was cranked to make it ring. Our family's "ring", the signal for us to pick up the phone, was a short ring followed by a long ring. The Anders' ring was a long and a short. Duff Valley School's ring was two longs and a short. My Saar cousins' ring was a short, two longs, and a short. It may sound complicated, but everyone knew everyone else's ring by heart.

An emergency (such as a prairie fire) or a community announcement was signaled with an extremely long ring. That was the one time that everyone was supposed to pick up the telephone and listen! Some of the neighbors liked to "rubberneck" every time the phone rang. When my parents needed to make private business calls, they made them from a telephone booth in town.

The phone line itself was strung on poles that were a little taller than fence posts, but not nearly as tall as electric poles. Glass insulators -- the ones that you now see in antique stores -- kept the wires from touching the posts and grounding out. It was not uncommon for the telephone lines to go down in a bad winter storm.

When you wanted to call somewhere beyond the neighborhood, you cranked out a long ring for "Central", the switchboard at the telephone office in Bassett . When she answered, she said , "Number, please," or "Operator," and then connected you to whatever lines you needed.

My mother's Aunt Letha Blair was the night operator at the Bassett telephone office for many years. My mother often called her late in the evening and visited with her between the incoming calls at the telephone office.

Shorty and Garneta Schubert were on two telephone lines--both the Duff line and the Sybrant line. I think the telephone office charged whenever a call went through Central, because people often called the Schuberts and asked them to get on their other telephone to relay a message.

We all thought we were pretty up-to-date when we finally got dial telephones in the mid-1960's. The telephone only rang when the call was for us. I think we still had a party line, but it was just a couple other people. It was quite a change.

Irregardless, I still want DSL!

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Eagle Scout Court of Honor

A few photos from our son's Eagle Court of Honor

Eagle Scout and parents

Tables decorated for Eagle Scout receptionIsaac's Eagle Court of Honor was last Saturday (Sept. 8.) Keely should have been in the above photo with Isaac, Dennis, and me, but as you can see, we didn't get her corralled. She and Taurus, her boyfriend, were a huge help in setting up for the reception and serving it.

We put balloons on the tables and sprinkled red and blue star confetti down their centers. I baked homemade rolls for turkey and ham sandwiches and three kinds of cookies. We also had deviled eggs, chips and dip, other finger foods, cake, and punch.

Eagle Scout Court of HonorHere, Isaac reaffirms the Scout Oath during the ceremony. The Court of Honor was led by several former scoutmasters of Isaac's troop. The program included a candle-lighting ceremony, "Trail of the Eagle." "Voice of the Eagle," and "Eagle Charge," all of which are traditional in this troop for Eagle Courts of Honor.

Pastor James C. Redmann of Faith Lutheran Church, Hopkinsville, KYOur pastor, Rev. James Redmann, was the guest speaker. Pastor Redmann has known Isaac since he was 2 years old, and he's definitely had an influence upon Isaac's upbringing. Since Isaac had to stand through the entire ceremony, he was thankful that Pastor got to the point and didn't talk too long.

Display of Eagle Scout photosThis photo is for people who are looking for ideas for their sons' Eagle Scout ceremonies. This is a Science Fair board. I spray-painted the back of it black. The photos are of Isaac, taking part in various Scouting activities through the years. Sometimes people set up a laptop with a slide show, but this worked well enough. The other Scouts enjoyed finding themselves in some of the photos and reminiscing about the circumstances.

Several days later, I have almost recovered from this event. All in all, it was pretty exhausting. My advice, if you are planning an Eagle Scout Court of Honor, is to start early, get lots of help, and plan thoroughly. We planned well enough, but we should have started earlier with things like getting the programs printed, and we probably should have asked for more help. However, the ceremony went very smoothly and so did the reception, much to my relief!

13 Things To Do Before an Eagle Scout Award Ceremony
Learn more about Isaac's Eagle Scout service project in the posts labeled "Boy Scouts"

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Two Old Tobacco Barns

Old barns can be hazardous.

Tobacco barn, Christian County, KY

This time of the year, many of the old barns along the rural roads of western Kentucky are put to use. They are tobacco barns, constructed with "tiers" (horizontal braces) that support the tobacco-laden sticks.

I shuddered when I saw the barn above loaded with tobacco to its very top. The old barn isn't in very good shape. Its board siding is springing loose and curling up and it's got some kind of problem with its roof (left side.) I hope they checked to see if the timbers of the barn were still solid before they started filling the barn.

I know a fellow who was on the top tier of a barn, laying out the sticks of tobacco as they were handed up to him. The tier broke and he fell to the barn floor, breaking his leg terribly. He is a big guy and he probably shouldn't have been up there, but it does illustrate how dangerous an old barn can be.

Tobacco barn, Christian County, KY

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

13 Things To Do Before an Eagle Scout Award Ceremony

A Thursday Thirteen

Do as many of these things as possible several weeks in advance!

1. Find a date and time that will work out for the greatest number of people possible.

2. Arrange to use the place where you'll have the ceremony.

3. Get a guest speaker.

4. Use scripts and programs of past Eagle Scout award ceremonies to help you develop a script and a program.

5. Make copies of the script for all the adults who will be in the ceremony.

6. Make a guest list and send out invitations.

7. Go to the Scout store and buy blank programs, napkins, cups, etc. with the Eagle emblem if you want them. Also, buy the Eagle Scout neckerchief and slide.

8. Get the programs printed.

9. Find a recipe if you're having punch at the reception. Order the cake if you're having one made.

10. Decide what else you're going to serve, make a list of everything, and go shopping.

11. Ask someone to take pictures. Ask other people to help with serving at the reception.

12. Make sure all the Scouts and adults in the ceremony know how to find the place where the ceremony will be held.

13. Make sure the Eagle Scout candidate's uniform is clean and ready to wear.


A few more suggestions, written with hindsight:

  • Set up a guestbook.
  • Write out a complete menu so you don't forget anything you planned to serve (like the carrot sticks.)
  • Bring some ziplock bags for packing any leftovers.
  • Make time for some formal pictures either before or after the ceremony.

Eagle Scout Ceremony This Saturday

Important event for Isaac

Our son's Eagle Scout award ceremony will be held on Saturday afternoon. It's a major achievement for a Boy Scout to earn his Eagle badge, so this is a special event for Isaac. I'll be busy getting things together for the next few days. I can't say when or if I'll be posting to the blog, but I rarely abandon Prairie Bluestem completely. :)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hay Shortage in Christian County, KY

Cornstalks baled for winter feed

Rain in  Hopkinsville, KYRain was a welcome sight!

One day last week, rain came down in torrents in Hopkinsville. Low spots in the streets were flash-flooded, and the electricity all over town went out for a while because of a TVA substation problem. Hopkinsville and Crofton got about two inches of rain from this little cloudburst.

When I went home, it was disappointing to learn we'd only received a sprinkle. To the west, east, and south of Hopkinsville, much less rain fell, and in many cases, there was no rain at all.

Though it's too late for most of the crops, rain would still help the grass in the pastures and relieve the fire danger of crisp-dried fields.

Coming home from town the other day, I passed by a parched and barren pasture with a herd of cows in it. A little creek (dried up, no doubt) runs through the pasture. I saw a cow balancing on the very edge of the gully and stretching as far as she could, so she could eat leaves off a little tree that grows in the stream bed. It was a pitiful sight -- she wouldn't be doing that if she had anything else to eat.

Farmers are baling their cornstalks and soybeans for winter feed. We really only got one half-decent cutting of hay this year. Usually, we would get three cuttings. The first grass was set back by the late freeze, and then the weather turned so dry. Prices for a big round bale of hay are around $70, compared to $20 a year ago. [UPDATE: An ad in the Kentucky New Era on September 5, 2007, offered "horse-quality" hay in big square bales, 3x3x8 feet, for $85 each.]

On the radio a few days ago, they announced that the Montgomery County, TN, extension service had located 5000 bales of bermudagrass hay in Oklahoma. (Montgomery County is just over the state line from us.) Planter's Bank will front the money for shipment, and farmers can purchase the hay when it arrives.

The lack of pasture grass and the shortage of hay has forced many farmers to sell calves early and to reduce or sell out their cattle herds. It's a very bad year for agriculture in this area. Even though we're not totally agriculture-dependent in Christian County, we'll feel the effects of the drought on our local economy.

Bales of cornstalks in a drought-stricken cornfieldA trailer of baled cornstalks

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Life Pictures by William B. Dyer

Illustrations for the poems in Riley Love-Lyrics

Over four dozen "Life Pictures" by William B. Dyer (1860–1931) illustrate the book, Riley Love-Lyrics. For this post, I've scanned nine of the Life Pictures of women, but men, children, nature, and still life are also represented in the book's images.

Riley Love-Lyrics, a book of love poems by James Whitcomb Riley, was first published in 1883. My copy of the book is the 1905 edition. I don't know if early editions of the book included the Life Pictures, but I don't think so. William B. Dyer would have been only 23 years old in 1883.

By the turn of the century, cameras and film had advanced enough that photographs could be natural, casual, and expressive, rather than contrived and stiff as in the past. The Life Pictures are experiments with photography as an art form.

I had a hard time finding much information about William B. Dyer. The following paragraphs piece together many scraps of information that I gleaned from more hours of search than I should have invested!

Dyer was a native of Racine, Wisconsin. He moved to Chicago in 1894 at the age of 34, and he worked there for 10 years. Like James Whitcomb Riley, he was a Midwesterner. I don't have any other information about how he spent his life, except that he was a pioneer of modern photography.

I found the following few phrases of information about William B. Dyer in an antique book seller's description of Riley Love-Lyrics. These exact words are repeated on many book-selling websites:

William B. Dyer became a professional photographer in 1897. His first and only solo illustrated book was the above title [Riley Love Lyrics]. He was elected a member of The Linked Ring, championed by Clarence White to Alfred Stieglitz and published in Camera Notes and Camera Work.

Source: Book description on

On the Internet, Dyer's name often appears in association with Alfred Stieglitz who was (among other things) the editor of Camera Works. a journal published from 1903-1917. The journal brought publicity and respect for the photographs of Steiglitz and other early photographers whom he admired and published.

Stieglitz published two of Dyer's photos in Camera Works and at least one photo in Camera Notes. The Stieglitz papers include correspondence with Dyer. I am unable to determine the extent of their acquaintance with each other.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) included a chapter about William B. Dyer in their 1978 catalog , The Collection of Alfred Steiglitz: Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography. This book is a catalog of the museum's collection and a reference volume about early photography.

If you have access to JSTOR (perhaps through your library,) I believe another article about Dyer is available there.

The Princeton University Art Museum owns a collection of Dyer photographs. I found only three examples of Dyer's photographs online, so this post will quadruple that number. Bear in mind that these are scans of pages printed over 100 years ago -- the original photographs probably didn't have the sepia tones.

Related post: James Whitcomb Riley and Me

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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.