Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reigning Over the Reins

Faulty headline noted

Kennedy camp reigns in Bloomberg adviser Kevin Sheekey’s Senate seat lobbying efforts

(Headline on a New York Daily News article)

Oops. That should be "reins", not "reigns." Reins are the long straps on a horse's bridle that a rider uses to guide and control the horse. When a rider reins in a horse, he brings it to a stop, as the Kennedy camp would like to do with Kevin Sheekey.

A monarch reigns. After all the recent talk about the Kennedy dynasty and the entitlement to public office that the Kennedys supposedly feel, I wonder if the headline writer made a Freudian slip.

The NY Daily News article tells of efforts to "muzzle" Kevin Sheekey, who is described as New York City Mayor Bloomberg's "pitbull." Caroline Kennedy's advisers are afraid that Sheekey's high-pressure advocacy is hurting her bid for Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. The advisers are trying to rein in Sheekey's efforts.

Perhaps the headline writer didn't read Zane Grey westerns as a child. In Grey's fiction, cowboys reined in their horses nearly as often as they pulled out their guns. An example:

The cowboy reined in his horse, listened a moment, then swung down out of the saddle. He raised a cautioning hand to the others, then slipped into the gloom and disappeared.

(from page 54 of Desert Gold by Zane Grey)

On the frontiers of Zane Grey fiction, it didn't rain much. If anyone reigned, it was the cowboys. They had firm control of the reins.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Telephone Service in 1950

A phone in every home, Bell urged

I pulled a few National Geographic magazines from 1950 off the shelf and looked through them this evening.

It was interesting to see the ads that Bell Telephone System was running. I noticed two frequent themes: 1) We're a big company, so you can count on good service, and 2) If you don't have a telephone, you need to get one.

Here are the texts of two persuasive ads of the second sort:

Big Value At Low Cost

The telephone is a big bargain in security, convenience and good times for every member of the family. Just in the steps it saves, it more than pays for itself. Its value in emergencies is often beyond price. Day and night, every day, the telephone is at your service. And the cost is only pennies per call.

Advertisement by the Bell Telephone System, in The National Geographic Magazine, January 1950.

Service That Never Sleeps . . . Whatever the need or the hour, the telephone is on the job -- ready to take you where you want to go, quickly and dependably. Telephone service is one of the few services available twenty-four hours a day -- weekdays, Sundays and holidays. Yet the cost is small -- within reach of all . . . Bell Telephone Service

Advertisement by the Bell Telephone System, in The National Geographic Magazine, February 1950.

In 1950 -- the year of these ads --  62% of American households had telephone service (source). Most of those households were served by party lines.  Many of the rural party lines were owned by small locally-owned telephone companies that had no affiliation with Bell at all.

The Bell ads show sleek black desk telephones with rotary dials, but the telephones I remember from the 1950s had crank handles. We didn't have telephones with dials in rural Rock County, Nebraska, until the mid-1960s.

- - - - - - - - - -
Prairie Bluestem: Rural Party Line Remembered

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas

And a healthy and prosperous New Year!

Dear friends,

It's Christmas, whether or not the preparations are complete. What a relief!

For me, it's been a very busy season. I'm tired and a little frazzled, but I'm looking forward to attending a Christmas church service, exchanging gifts, cooking a nice family dinner, and then a quiet Christmas afternoon of conversation, movies, and games.

And there will be sweet memories of dear family members and friends and the Christmas celebrations of other years. How could we ever forget them?

When I look back at the last year, one of the highlights for me has been Prairie Bluestem and its readers. I've enjoyed your comments and e-mails.

I've known some of you for many years, and I've only recently met some of you through the blog. Old friend or new, I appreciate your company as we go down the road.

May God bless you this Christmas. As Tiny Tim put it, "God bless us every one!"


You might enjoy the Christmas series I wrote a few years ago: Ghosts of Christmas Past.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Icy Roads

Schools cancelled

The recent ice storm was persistent. On three successive nights, a new layer of freezing rain fell. School was cancelled for three days in a row.

To be precise, during the last week before Christmas, school was held on Monday and school is planned for Friday (tomorrow). It will be a wild day with the kids super-excited for Christmas. I'm glad I won't be there.

Ugh, Norovirus

Down and out with stomach flu

I've had an violent case of stomach flu. I suppose it is norovirus.

It started about 48 hours ago, in the evening. I was sick all night long. Dennis went to town yesterday morning and got me a bottle of Emetrol. I took most of it yesterday. It seemed to help more than the ancient Nausene tablets we had on hand.

I stayed home from work yesterday, and today was my day off, so I stayed home again today. I've been lying around the house, still recuperating. I do feel much better, though hardly back to normal.

I suppose I picked up the virus at work, probably from handling money. It truly is filthy lucre. I remember that I ate a cookie in the break room without washing my hands. Ack! I won't make that mistake again.

In fact, the cookies could have been where I caught it. Someone with dirty hands could have been groping around in the cookie tin. Yuck!

According to the websites, I may still be contagious up to a week after I start feeling better. There's no way I can stay home from work that long, so I will wash my hands carefully and often to prevent spreading the virus. Dennis and Isaac haven't caught it from me yet, and I hope no one else will.

Moral of this story: Wash, wash, wash your hands -- and suspect other people of not washing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

First Winter Storm of 2008-2009

Icy roads expected

As the solstice approaches, winter is upon us. Saturday's weather forecast suggested we might have freezing rain on Monday. On Sunday, a winter weather advisory was issued for Monday and Monday night.

Now it's Monday, and the weather has arrived. The temperature is 31° and light rain is falling. The weather advisory has become a Winter Storm Warning. An inch or more of sleet, ice, and snow is expected over the next 18 hours.

I was supposed to work from 10:30 am to 6:15 pm today. As I was ready to walk out the door, a  manager from my store called and begged to change my schedule to 2:30 pm to 10:15 pm.  A co-worker has cancelled. She drives about 20 miles to work and she is afraid the roads will be bad tonight.

I reluctantly agreed, though I live nearly as far from work as the other woman does, and my roads are not nearly as well-traveled. Furthermore, I have to be back at work early in the morning. There is no justice in this, and I probably won't even get a thank-you, but I guess I'll survive.

I'm feeling cranky -- have you noticed? Little things on the radio are irritating me. For example:

  • The Pajama-grams commercial -- are men so easily manipulated by fantasies? I suppose they are.
  • Are there really people who would pay to have stars named after them?
  • Anyone who says "incentivize" a dozen times in 30 seconds should have shoes thrown at them.

On the bright side, I have plenty of time before work today to take Grandma's box of Christmas candy to the UPS store. I'll even have time to go to the antique store to look for one of Isaac's Christmas presents. (No, I can't tell you what it is. Isaac does read the blog.)

I hope my northern readers have been able to stay inside and avoid the sub-zero wind chills today, and I hope my northeastern readers have electrical power, or at least, reasonable hope of power restoration soon.

And I hope all of you are giving the weather the respect and caution it demands. If you don't have a winter survival kit in your car, please assemble one that's appropriate for the potential dangers you face on your roads.

Related post:
Prairie Bluestem: Ready for Winter?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Biggest Moon in 15 Years

Spectacular moonrise

Have you noticed that the moon seems large and bright tonight? It's not your imagination. Tonight's moon is closer that it has been in 15 years. It won't be this close again until 2016. High tides are expected.

You can read more about this astronomical event in the National Geographic news:
Sky Show Tonight: Biggest, Brightest Full Moon of 2008.

I took this photo in Hopkinsville when I left work about 5:00 pm. The moon was clearing the treetops on the eastern horizon. I should have waited for the cloud to pass across the moon's face, but I was impatient.

The house in the photo was the clubhouse for the Skyline Golf Course until it closed six or seven years ago. Now it's a sports bar. But years before its rather frivolous modern history, it was a farmhouse, just a mile or two southeast of Hopkinsville.

The house has a name, but I can't remember it. I've searched all my Hopkinsville history books twice and can't find it.

I would have looked it up in the Kentucky New Era archives, but sadly, the Kentucky New Era made their archives inaccessible in a recent facelift to their website. Their puny little search engine now only gives results (including classified ads) from the last week or two.

If you know the proper name of this old house, please let me know.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Conflicted about Christmas Candy

With the temptation, a way to escape

I'm looking forward to Christmas, except for the Christmas candy.

The last few years, I've made a big box of homemade candy and sent it to my mother-in-law before Christmas.

Mama Netz used to enjoy making lots of candy and giving it away at Christmas. Now she is 93, and she lives in an assisted-living home.

It's hard to think of gifts for her, but she does enjoy having the candy to share. Part of the gift is that I use her recipes to make some candies that she used to make.

It's only about 2-1/2 weeks until Christmas now, so I need to get the box in the mail.

However, I'm reluctant to start because I like candy too much. It's hard for me to resist sampling the dipped chocolates and fudges and mints and so on.

I don't want to gain any weight or elevate my cholesterol or triglycerides, because I'm at the end of my prescriptions. I have to go back to the doctor within the next 30 days, and I hate it when he lectures me.

Yes, the doctor worries me more than the actual state of my health does. His nagging has affected me. I used to enjoy making candy instead of feeling guilty and worried about it!

Here is my plan. I'll make as much candy as possible on the next three days and send the box by UPS on Friday. Then I'll make all the candy plates for friends and neighbors, and I'll deliver those right away, too.

I'll save some candy for the family on Christmas Day, but I'm going to keep it in the shed until then. Anyone who wants to sneak a piece in advance will have to put on a coat, get the key, and go for a little excursion.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dog News

For dog lovers

Three interesting articles:

And another incident of bad food from China (probably):

Australian Veterinary Association warns poisoned meat causing kidney damage in dogs

Do most pet foods disclose the origin of the ingredients?  I'm going to conduct an investigation on cat food.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Clichés Compiled

List of losers

If you are a person who enjoyed English class in school, or if you want to speak and write better English, take a look at Laura Hayden's list of clichés.

Often we speak and write with clichés because we are lazy. Rather than thinking of original ways to express our ideas, we repeat the familiar, overused phrases that come to mind so easily. Clichés make our writing and speaking dull -- and may suggest that we don't think much.

It takes vigilance to avoid them, but I'm inspired to try harder after browsing Hayden's list.

Cliché can be spelled with or without the accent. I like the look of cliché better, so that's how I've typed it.

20 of your most hated cliches

Marginally related:
Repeating a holiday cliche, a column by Martha Allen which contains an amusing anecdote about her child's reaction to an oft-told Santa Claus myth.

On the same general topic (thanks, Fred):
Oxford Researchers List Top 10 Most Annoying Phrases

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Deck the Halls

Unpacking the ornaments of the season

The Christmas tree is decorated. (Thanks, Keely, Taurus, and Isaac!) It's a new, smaller tree, and the old, larger tree has gone to Keely's house.

At the stores, I've been seeing themed trees -- woodland, gingerbread, jewels and sparkles, etc. If our cheery little tree has any theme at all, it must be "nostalgia."

The Christmas village is on the mantle, and the Santa Clauses have rendezvoused on the old steamer trunk in the hallway. The nativity scene is in its place of honor, atop the china cabinet.

One Christmas curiosity I always enjoy getting out is a very gaudy Peruvian nativity retablo that we were given when we lived in Bolivia. It was made for tourists, and it isn't valuable, but I like it.

The little box is white, outlined with red, on the outside. Under a triangular peak, giant purple flowers adorn the doors. The doors open to reveal a nativity scene, with a Peruvian point of view.

Mary and Joseph kneel, watching over Baby Jesus in the manger. In the foreground, a little boy and girl in Andean costume play the flute and drum. Below the manger, two dogs rest. (Or maybe it's a cow and a donkey -- it's hard to tell!)

 On the back wall of the box, golden clouds and stars dance across a black sky, and above all, the brilliant  star of Bethlehem shines.

The little retablo is a good reminder that the Christ Child and Christmas belong to all the world, not just to people who look and talk like me.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"Puzzle Pages" Workbooks Remembered

Reading seatwork series illustrated by Ethel Hays

In our one-room school, our teachers taught several classes for every subject. The number of classes depended on the grade levels of the current students. Sometimes there were half a dozen grades or more for ten or twelve students.

Usually, the teacher called the classes in order from youngest to oldest. "First grade Reading," she might announce, and the first grader/s went to the bench beside the teacher's desk with appropriate books and papers. After a few minutes of oral reading, the teacher assigned some seatwork and called the next class.

In the primary grades, we always had a page or two to do in the reading workbook, a few pages of practice reading from the textbook, a page in the phonics workbook, and the next page of Puzzle Pages.

Read and write, cut and paste

Puzzle Pages was a reading seatwork series. Besides the part of every page that had to be read, the work usually required some writing and some cut-and-pasted words or pictures from the back of the book. This kept our hands busy with pencils, round-tipped scissors, and globs of white paste. We were also expected to color all the pictures on the pages.

The cover of this Puzzle Pages workbook is exactly like the ones I remember. Just look how busy those children are. And so were we! My husband remembers this workbook, also.

One day, the children in the Puzzle Pages story went to the circus, so we had pictures of circus animals to cut and paste. When the teacher checked my page, she marked the elephant wrong, even though I had pasted it in the right place. She said it was colored wrong. Not having gray in my box of 16 crayons, I had made the elephant purple. Maybe she would have preferred light black.

Ethel Hays, artist and illustrator

ThePuzzle Pages workbooks were published by McCormick-Mathers of Wichita, Kansas -- a publishing company which appears to have gone out of business. Internet searches for "McCormick-Mathers" yield used books from the 1930s through the 1980s, but no website for the company.

The illustrator of all the various Puzzle Pages editions and revised editions was Ethel Hays. Her other work included a comic strip, Flapper Fanny, during the 1920s and magazine illustrations and comic strips during the 1930s. During the 1940s, she illustrated a number of well-knownl children's books, including The Little Red Hen (1942),  Little Black Sambo (1942), The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1942), The Town and The Country Mouse (1942), and others. She also illustrated the popular Raggedy Ann books of the same era.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Memory Game

How fast can you see and remember?

Here's a neat Chinese memory game that Fred sent today. It requires concentration and a quick eye. The game is played by clicking the numbers in order from smallest to largest.

Fred found this on a forum he frequents. The members there were reporting scores in the mid-30s. I have only broken out of the 30s one time, and I am sure that was luck, not skill. If you do better, give yourself a pat on the back.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you a wonderful holiday

It is a cool, bright morning in Kentucky. The sky is a cloudless blue. When I opened the kitchen door to let the cats out, I heard birds singing and the wind chimes moving gently.

I thank God for the peace and normalcy in my immediate world today. I am blessed in countless ways. I hope that you can look at your life today and say the same.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A favorite psalm

Yesterday in church, we sang "The Lord's My Shepherd". It's one of my favorite hymns.

Our hymnbook uses the melody "Belmont" (by William Gardiner, 1770-1853), but several melodies are associated with the hymn. You can hear a very nice recording of " The Lord's My Shepherd" sung to the hymn tune "Crimond" at Psalm 23, a British site.

During his sermon, Pastor talked a little about the comfort that many Christians find in the words of Psalm 23. He brought unexpected tears to my eyes, because I immediately thought of my mother reciting the 23rd Psalm as she went under anesthesia for surgery.

I think I was about five years old when my mother helped me memorize Psalm 23. Then, I best understood the part about the shepherd and the water and the green pasture. Those were things I could easily imagine, having seen the cows in my father's pasture.

Now many years later, the rest of the psalm is within my experience, too. I understand why paths of rightousness are better for me. My soul has needed restoring countless times. I have had enemies who wished me ill. I have passed through the valley of the shadow of death a few times, and I have had times of great happiness when my cup overflowed with God's blessings.

David wrote the Shepherd's Psalm 2000 years ago (or thereabouts). His world was vastly different from mine, but his words are still intensely meaningful to me. Timeless truth underlies each image in the psalm. Like the parts of the Iliad that made me cry when I read them, the setting may be ancient, but the truths are eternal.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Days Are Just Packed

And the nights are a little chilly.

My 82-year-old neighbor lady and her daughter have returned today from ten days in the Holy Land. Their arrival home releases me from the responsibility of caring for their seven dogs, twice a day. (The son did come out from town for dog duty on the nights that I worked late.)

I feel a great sense of relief! If I didn't think it would hurt my back, I might leap up and click my heels.

The last few days of November

November has turned cold while the ladies have been gone . I've knocked ice out of the dogs' water bowls on several mornings. This morning, I found a miniature drift of snow on my windshield.

November has only eight more days and Christmas is just a month away. People are beginning to shop earnestly. We've been busy at the store where I work.

Shoppers and shoplifters

I try to serve the customers as quickly as possible with a cheerful attitude, and to treat them as I like to be treated. Simultaneously, I try to fulfill my employer's expectations and guidelines. When things go well, these two sets of interests intersect or, sometimes, even converge, and everyone is very pleased.

We also have some people in the store who are shoplifters, not shoppers. Shoplifting is a perpetual problem, but there is an increase during this time of the year. A few steal because of true need, but most are motivated by vanity or greed. Sometimes they steal to resell.

I'm better than I used to be at sensing bad intent, and I alert the security people if I am suspicious. Our store prosecutes shoplifters and requests maximum penalties. I'm glad we do.

Many sides

Like so many things in life, the Christmas shopping scene has its seamy underside. I understand the metaphor well because I sew. I know how imperfections can sometimes be gathered and hidden in seams that don't show.

Related figures of speech come to mind. Most people have good sides, bad sides, and sensitive sides. Some have wild sides, and they could cross over to the dark side. On the lighter side, people enjoy laughter. Optimists look at the bright side and don't worry about the flip side.

And then there's the sunny side. This morning, when I was doing the dog chores, I paused for a moment on the south side of the shed. A stout wind was blowing and the temperatures were below freezing, but the shed blocked the wind and the sunshine was warm.
Keep on the sunny side,
always on the sunny side.
Keep on the sunny side of life.
It will help us every day,
it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.
- Ada Blenkhorn (1899)

Music, lyrics, and info

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Substitute Frost Scrapers

Necessity is the mother of invention.

I'll pass this along in case anyone ever needs to know. In a pinch, a plastic dustpan will substitute for a frost scraper. It cleaned the windshield quite well for me a couple of mornings this week, and it seems unlikely to cause scratches.

The spatula works pretty well too, but I'm afraid I might scratch the glass with it. I mean the pancake-turner spatula, not the rubber-scraper spatula, of course. The rubber scraper doesn't work too well.

I do have a couple of real frost scrapers. I'm just not sure where they are. I think they were removed from the car when we went camping.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A little creature, loved and mourned

About a month ago, a starving kitten showed up at Keely's house. She saw it when she was leaving for work but she couldn't catch it. Later in the day, Isaac came to hang out for a few hours between school and work. He, too, heard the kitten's pitful cries, and he caught it by offering it a bit of food.

Keely had one of the vets at her job check him for parasites, feline leukemia, distemper, etc., and he was given a clean bill of health. However, he was very thin -- skin-over-bones thin. They named him Rufus for the rough life he'd led so far.

Today, after a month of nursing little Rufus and hoping for the best, he had to be put to sleep. He just couldn't recover from the severe starvation he had endured. I suppose his organs were damaged because he was near death when Isaac caught him. We will remember him for his loud purr and for his affection for humans.

Thank the Troops via Xerox

Monday, November 17, 2008

Seen at a Neighbor's House

The November garden -- cool and crunchy

Soon, some of this furniture will go inside for the rest of the winter, my neighbor told me. Meanwhile, it invites passersby to rest a moment and enjoy the tangy aroma of the fresh-fallen leaves.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Autumn Color

Maple leaves

It's a bleak, damp day in western Kentucky, but the maple leaves are still glowing with color. The dark redcedar is a perfect backdrop.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Seen on the Roads

Large mammals of the Kentucky countryside

Deer season started last weekend in Kentucky -- that is, deer season with modern guns. (We also have bow-and-arrow season, crossbow season, muzzle-loading season, etc.)

As I drove to work before daylight on Saturday, I saw several pickup trucks parked along the roadside. The drivers, I assumed, were in their stands out in the woods, awaiting the dawn with high hopes that a deer might cross their gun sights.

When I got home that night, Dennis mentioned that he'd seen a Mennonite man in a red hunting vest, bicycling down the highway with his gun in a sling over his shoulder.

I had a similar story to relate. I had also met a Mennonite man in hunting garb, bicycling down the highway. He had a little wagon hitched to his bicycle and in the wagon, he had a dead doe. He appeared to be headed for the tagging station at Fairview.

I have no interest in hunting and I don't like venison, but I am thankful that some people do. We have so many deer here that they are a menace on the highways. Dennis and I have had three collisions with deer within Christian County and another deer accident in southern Illinois.

The Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance Company has been running radio ads, urging motorists to be especially watchful for deer this month. It's mating season, so the deer are unusually active, and hormones have overpowered their brains.

I kept that warning in mind this week as I passed through areas where I frequently see deer. Last night, I drove through one of those areas about 11:00 p.m. Just after I crossed the river and passed the Mennonite cabinet shop, I caught a glimpse of movement in the ditch. "Deer!" I thought, as I stepped on the brake.

Then I saw white legs and wild eyes in my headlights. Several Holsteins bounded out of the ditch and onto the road in front of me. I came to a stop and wondered what I should do. The cattle probably belonged to the Mennonite cabinet maker, but all the lights were out at his house.

In my headlights, I saw at least a dozen Holsteins. When one fell onto the pavement as she lunged out of the ditch, I decided that I could not drive away. For the sake of the animals and the safety of other motorists, I had to try to waken the farmer.

I backed my car several hundred yards to the farmhouse and left it running with the lights on as I pounded on the door. In a couple of minutes, a light came on and a slightly-frazzled Mennonite man opened the door. He had pulled on his shirt and trousers to answer my knock.

I apologized for disturbing him, but he assured me that he was grateful for the warning. He said he'd telephone his brother because the cattle might be his brother's yearling heifers.

When I got back in my car and drove toward home again, there was not a Holstein in sight. Maybe they ran back to the pasture they came from, frightened by their experience in the greater world. Maybe the brother came out of his house and found his heifers waiting for him in his front yard.

Whatever the case, I went home with a clear conscience. I hope the farmers found their strays, and then got some rest during the remaining hours of the night.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Winter Rears Its Hoary Head

And other news from our house

I haven't had enough of autumn's golden days, but winter is at hand. We had our first hard freeze last night, and early this morning, the windshields were frosted over for the first time. I need to remember the possibility of windshield-scraping when I think about my departure time for work!

Tomorrow, I'm going to get out the rakes and leaf blower and clear away the leaves around the house. Out here in the country, we don't worry about bagging them up. Mother Nature either blows them away or rots them.


Dennis usually helps the leaves decompose a little faster by running them over with the lawn mower.This year, I guess I'll mow the leaves because Dennis is devoting all his spare time to cutting firewood. He has already hauled home enough wood to last us all winter, and he says he has a lot more waiting. He is cutting up branches from some oak and hickory trees a co-worker removed around her house.

Now someone else has offered three oak and hickory trees that fell in his pasture. We are thinking about buying a log splitter. Does anyone have comments about the brand we should get?

Books, computers, and sewing machines

In other news around the homestead, I've been working toward my goal of setting up my office and sewing center in the back bedroom, aka Keely's room. My two sewing machines have been back there for a while already.

After analysis (hauling my books back there and realizing that they greatly exceed available bookshelf space) I'm planning a large floor-to-ceiling bookshelf on each side of the south window. (Yes, Keely, when I get the shelves built, I will give you the long bookcase that has always been in your room.)

Last Saturday, I bought a used computer for my new office. It has a Pentium 2.8 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, 2 hard drives with a little over 200 GB total, 128 MB video card, and Windows XP. The previous owner reformatted the hard drives and reinstalled XP the day before I picked up the computer.

I will upgrade to 2 GB RAM and get a new monitor, and a "roll-y chair" when my discretionary budget permits (sometime after Christmas.) All in all, I'm pleased with my latest slightly-outmoded computer. We are now a 3-computer house, but we'll probably get rid of the little Linux machine in the hallway, which is really outmoded.


And so we go, full speed ahead, into winter and the holidays. The holiday shopping season has begun. My store has been doing fairly well despite the nation's economic problems, and I certainly hope that continues. I've been training a holiday-hire employee for the last week. She is in her early 20s, and she's the mother of two little children. This is her first job.

Isaac, who works part-time at a grocery store, is dreading the season. He remembers how busy they were last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's hard to predict what this year will be like.

Keely says she is going to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I'm glad to let her do it, to tell the truth. I'll contribute the pumpkin cheesecake and anything else she tells me to bring.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Poll Worker Report

Working the election

Dennis and I were poll workers in the November 4, 2008, election. He was the Democrat judge and I was the Republican judge. (Yes, we really are registered that way.)

We arrived at the polling place at 5:15 a.m., the appointed time, and found the other poll workers already setting up the signs. Dennis and I hurried to set up the voting machines. We have a good system -- I read the directions and he does the setting up. It went smoothly, and we were ready about 15 minutes ahead of time.

At 6:00 a.m., we opened for voting. A line had already formed outside the door. With our new E-Scan system, the voters moved through at a steady pace. Each voter received a paper ballot and went to one of five privacy booths to mark it. Then the voter brought the completed ballot to the E-Scan machine to electronically record his/her vote. Many expressed appreciation for the quick and easy voting procedure.

Just one complaint

We had only one disgruntled voter. He arrived at the polls mid-morning, feeling cranky and hoping for a problem. He let us all know that he'd been listening to news reports about malfunctioning machines. We assured him that we had a very good and totally up-to-date system, but he was clearly dubious.

After he marked his ballot, he fed it into the eScan and read the message: "Your vote has been recorded. Thank you for voting!" Then he told us that was not satisfactory. He wanted the machine to also display a summary of what it had read from his paper ballot -- that is, to tell him who or what he had chosen on the ballot. (Can you imagine the bottleneck this could potentially create?!)

We told him that it was the voter's responsibility to ensure that the ballot was correctly marked before feeding it into the machine, but we would write his suggestion on the Sheriff's Report. (And we did.)

Our oldest voter was 101. He voted by the eScan with assistance from his son. We had quite a few voters who were in their 80s and 90s. They had all voted by eScan during the spring primaries, and they had no problem at all with it in this election.

We had to turn one lady away who wanted to vote. Her name was not in the voter roster, and when we called the county clerk's office, they couldn't find her name in their list of registered voters. She said she hadn't voted for over twenty years. Apparently her name had been inactive for so long that it was removed. She didn't seem surprised. It's a shame that she didn't check on her registration before Election Day.

Our son Isaac voted for the first time, and we, as election judges, helped him cast his ballot. That was a moment of pride and joy for us. I think he will be an informed citizen and a faithful voter. He is interested in history and current events.

By our unofficial estimate, based on the number of ballots used and the number of registered voters in the book, over 2/3 of the registered voters in our precinct came to the polls. It's possible that some also voted by absentee ballot. We didn't have any statistics for that.

Long Day

The polls closed at 6 p.m. Dennis and I closed down and locked up the machines, following the instructions step by step. Three tapes were printed from each machine, and all of the election workers signed each tape. One tape from each machine was hung on the door and the other tapes were for the county clerk's office.

As election judges, Dennis and I had the responsibility of carrying the briefcase with our election materials and results to the county clerk's office. We got there ahead of the rush and didn't have to wait in line at all. The girls went through the bag quickly and checked to see that nothing was missing. I am always relieved when we successfully complete that checkup!

It was about 7:30 p.m. when we got home. We attended two classes before the election and worked about 14 hours on election day. In this county for this election, workers will be paid $150 each for working. Judges who drove the results to the courthouse will also receive a small milage payment. At our house, these payments will go to Isaac's college fund.

eScan Success

In my opinion, the eScan performed flawlessly at our precinct. I like the E-Scan system because the paper ballot, marked with ink, is retained when the ballot is scanned. A numbered stub from each ballot is also collected separately. The number of ballots, ballot-stubs, unused ballots, and signatures in the voter roster all must agree, so it seems to me that the system would be hard to cheat.

If there was a question about the results, the ballots could be scanned again. No "hanging chads" will create uncertainty or confusion. In fact, if there is any problem with the ballot (such as too many votes or no votes at all or stray marks on the ballot, it's immediately apparent. The machine rejects the ballot, and the voter can correct the problem on the spot.

Christian County also provides an eSlate machine for voters with disabilities. It has a dial that the voter turns to select names on a lighted screen. Than a button is pushed to cast the ballot. It is more confusing to use and it does not provide a paper record of the votes cast, so we encouraged all our able-bodied voters to use the eScan instead.

I was quite surprised to read on the Hoptown Hall that someone was unhappy with the eScan's system of paper ballots. The voter seemed to feel it was a step backwards rather than an advance. I suspect that he was disappointed that it was so easy to vote.


About 75% of our voters chose the John McCain/Sarah Palin team in the presidential race. In combined results for the entire county, the election was a little closer, but McCain still won: 13,669 to 8880. McCain carried the entire state, and in fact, Kentucky was the first state announced for McCain in the election results.

On the national level, voters in our county preferred Mitch McConnell (Rep.) for U.S. senator over Bruce Lunsford (Dem.) and Ed Whitfield (Rep.) for U.S. representative over Heather Ryan (Dem.) The electorate in other western Kentucky counties agreed, and both of these men are being sent back to Washington.

In state races, we returned Myron Dossett (Rep.) to Frankfurt as a state representative and Joey Pendleton (Dem.) as a state senator. Both of these men were incumbents.

For more results in Christian, Todd, and Trigg counties, see the Kentucky New Era's election page

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Season Changes

Beautiful autumn days

I stopped to photograph these yellow maple leaves on the way home from work tonight. I've had little opportunity to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. Autumn isn't waiting for me; the leaves are taking on their final colors and, one by one, drifting to the ground. The old maple tree in the front yard has already lost most of its leaves.

The season is changing in another sense, with the election of a new President. He's not the person I'd have preferred for the job, but he will be the leader of my country -- my President for the next four years. I will pray for him and his family. May he be blessed with the wisdom of Solomon, because he's certainly going to need it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Whooping Crane Migration

Helping endangered cranes survive

Carolyn Hall, of Bassett, NE, sent a link for Operation Migration, a group that is helping to establish a new flock of migratory whooping cranes. This flock will winter in east Florida and summer in central Michigan.

Eggs are collected in the wild and hatched in incubators. Even before the eggs are hatched, the baby birds are imprinted with the sound of ultralight aircraft, the "birds" that will eventually lead them as they migrate. The imprinting with ultralights continues as the baby birds are born, grow, and learn to fly.

This year's "crop" of whooping crane chicks is now migrating from Michigan to Florida, and the ultralights are teaching them the safest route. You can read a daily log of their progress in the Field Journal. Start at the bottom of the page to read the entries in chronological order.

Today's entry includes a video of the young whooping cranes taking some exercise after a couple of days on the ground due to weather conditions. With a wingspan of 7 to 8 feet and long legs stretched behind them, they are beautiful in flight -- and a joy to see, because they are rare and precious.

According to Operation Migration's Crane Count, the total population of all whooping cranes (wild and captive) was 539 on July 14, 2008.

Related: Whooping Cranes Threatened by Wind Farms

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Trench Coat Travails

All's well that ends well

I've gone so long without writing a post that a couple of my readers have emailed to ask if I'm OK. I appreciate your concern. I am well, and my family is well. I've just haven't had time for the computer lately.

When I wasn't busy doing other things this week, I was busy in Keely's bedroom. (It's still called Keely's room, though she has moved out and has her own place now). I have my sewing machine in that room, and I'm planning to move my computer and my personal library back there soon.

Last weekend, Keely moved a chest of drawers and a vanity out of her room. I had some things in and on those pieces of furniture, so I had to find new places for them. I had to get the room cleaned up quickly because I needed to sew a trench coat I had promised Isaac. (You may remember that I hoped to sew this coat while I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago. Ha!)

Reason for the trench coat: On Halloween night, Isaac went to an "Alice in Wonderland" costume party (hosted by Keely and Taurus), and his character was the caterpillar. He wore the trench coat with a fez and a matching vest that Keely sewed for him.(According to my kids, the caterpillar is dressed like that in a non-Disney Alice film that they've seen.) We couldn't find a pattern for a regular trench coat, so we used a pattern for a long Matrix-style coat.

I had quite a time with that coat. It wouldn't have been bad, except that I decided to line it. The pattern didn't have directions for a lining, but I thought I could manage it -- and I did, but it took my spare time for the rest of the week.

About midnight Thursday night, I finished putting in the sleeves. Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, I came home from work, hemmed the coat, and put in the collar. I finished it at 7:30 p.m., took it to town, and met Isaac when he got off work at 8:00. Never let it be said that I break my promises -- though sometimes I cut it close!

Isaac donned his coat and went off to his party, pleased that his costume was cool (and complete). As for me, I came home and sat at the computer to read my e-mail and the news headlines. In just a few minutes, I was nodding over the keyboard, so I went to bed.

This morning, Isaac and Dennis talked to me a few times, but I dismissed them quickly and kept on sleeping. All in all, I got about 12 hours, and I loved it.

Was all that intense sewing worth the time and trouble? Of course it was, because it made Isaac happy. He said he got lots of compliments on his coat. Tomorrow, I'll try to get him to pose in it for a picture to post.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Before Cars, The Importance of Hay

Horse power requires fuel.

A century ago, thousands of tons of prairie hay were sold out of wild meadows each year. Railroads carried the hay to distant markets.

Hay was an important income source for homesteaders who were trying to get ahead. A 1908 New York Times article (pdf) states that hay was the second most important cash crop of Nebraska.

The 1919 Encyclopedia Americana reported that Nebraska was the biggest producer of prairie hay in the nation (2,544,000 tons in 1917). It also notes that the largest hay-shipping station in the world was located at Newport, Nebraska.

The following short description of the best of Nebraska's fine hay prairies was written in the late 1930, after the hay-shipping market had begun to decline:

West of O'Neill, the highway [Highway 20] passes through the great hay-producing country, which extends as far as Valentine in an almost unbroken stretch of prairie, dotted in the fall with large haystacks.

Source: Nebraska, a Guide to the Cornhusker State (page 310), by The Federal Writers Project, Nebraska. Published in 1939 by US History Publishers.

And where did the railroads carry all this hay? Some of it went to the horses of the U.S. Army, but much of it went to cities, to feed the millions of horses that labored in the streets.

If one assumes an urban horse population of approximately 3 million in 1900, then 7,200,000 tons of hay and 4,200,000 tons of oats were consumed by city horses per year. To grow this amount of fodder may have required as many as 15,000,000 acres.

Source: The Making of Urban America (page 120) by Raymond Mohl. Published by Rowman & Littlefield in 1997.

The production of hay for the urban horses was an important part of the economy. In the early 1930s, the Horse Association of America (HAA) issued several statements that blamed the depression in the agricultural sector on the automobile. They claimed that the ag depression would never have happened if automobiles, etc., had not largely replaced horses in city streets, and they provided a set of figures to prove it.

The authors of The Horse in the City think that the HAA may have underestimated the amount of hay needed, had horses and mules still been powering all city vehicles in 1930. However,
[t]here can be little dispute that the amount of land needed to feed urban horses and mules was vast. In short, horses had to eat in order to produce energy, and the food they consumed absorbed the output of large amounts of agricultural land, required massive capital and labor inputs for production and transportation, and necessitated an extensive regional and urban distribution system.

Source: The Horse in the City (p. 129) by Clay McShane and Joel Arthur Tarr. Published by JHU Press in 2007

The importance of hay in the economy helps to explain why the New York Times archives from the era of horses contain many reports of prairie fires. An example is the article, A Disastrous Prairie Fire (pdf), which burned a portion of the hay crop in the Newport, Nebraska area.

Besides the interest that the public always has in disasters, such fires were matters of concern to business people. Just as we watch the price of gasoline today, people watched the price of hay then.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Renovation Underway

Handsome old home rejuvenated

I've wished for years that someone would give this house a bit of tender, loving care. It looked so shabby that I feared it was doomed. I've been expecting to pass by and see a demolition in progress.

I was delighted when I drove by today and saw that new windows had been installed and new siding was being applied. It looks so nice.

This home is located on Virginia Street in Hopkinsville, just south of the stoplight at 21st Street. I took this photo from the car window as I sat in a line of cars, waiting for the light to change.

In the past, it looked to me like the house might have been split into apartments. If so, I hope that it's going to be restored to a single-family dwelling, again.

If this house does not set within the official historic district, it is certainly a near neighbor to it. Virginia and Main Streets (and the streets that run between them) have some lovely old homes

Another renovation has been completed recently. In downtown Hopkinsville, the old First City Bank building has resumed a commercial life. Photos from the open house appear on Eric Brake's blog.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday Monday, Can't Trust That Day

Some Mondays should be spent in bed

Before the alarm went off this morning, I dreamed about sleeping. It seemed that I had gone to work but I was tired. I had no customers, so I lay down on a sofa and went to sleep.

In my dream, as I was sleeping on the sofa, I woke a few times and wondered if anyone noticed or cared that I was lying down. Finally, I felt rested enough to resume my usual work duties. I rose from my nap and noticed I'd been sleeping for 3 hours (in dream time, that is.)

I should have taken the hint that it was a very good day for sleeping. Instead I got out of bed when the alarm rang. Soon after that, I compared the dentist's postcard and the calendar and discovered that I would be going to the dentist in a couple of hours.

I went straight to work after seeing the dentist. I'll summarize the events of my very bad day there by saying I had many customers who just couldn't make up their minds about what they wanted. The ambivalence was airborne and infectious.

As my customers made mad dashes down dead-end paths, they left a lot of opened-up, messed-up merchandise behind them. Helping them find the way back and cleaning up behind them made me tired. I could have used a nice 3-hour nap!

I drove Dennis's car to work today. When I got home, I backed it into his usual parking spot as he always does, and I missed the tree by at least a foot. (Thank goodness!) I was quite shocked to see how close I was to it. Like the dentist appointment, I thought it was farther away.

I checked to see if there's a full moon, but it's not even close to being full. So, I can only blame this day's craziness on Monday.

Monday Monday, can't trust that day,
Monday Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way
Oh Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be
Oh Monday Monday, how could you leave and not take me.

(Complete lyrics as sung by The Mamas and The Papas)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Audubon State Park

Camping at Henderson, KY

Another pleasant outing in the faithful Coleman tent

John James Audubon, noted American ornithologist, lived at Henderson, KY, from 1810-1819. Today, the Audubon State Park preserves some of the old-growth forest where Audubon roamed along the Ohio River, observing the birds and collecting specimens to paint.

Isaac and I camped two nights at Audubon State Park, while we were sightseeing at Henderson, KY, and Evansville, IN, last week. Isaac had just three days free from both work and school. Dennis was still obligated at his job for part of that time, so Isaac and I went by ourselves.

The Audubon State Park campground is near the Ohio River, just off Highway 41 at Henderson. In fact, the traffic on the busy highway is clearly heard at the campground. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful site with tall trees and many squirrels. We were the only tent-campers there, and there were only about half a dozen RVs.

Isaac really likes camping, and Boy Scouts deserves the credit for it. I'm glad that he has a wholesome hobby that he can pursue all his life. When I camp with him, we don't rough it too much. We get a site with electricity so we can hang the "trouble light" in the tent for reading after dark.

This time, I also brought along a tiny television set, so I could see the McCain vs. Obama debate. To my surprise, half a dozen stations came in clearly with the small antenna. I watched most of the debate while reclining on my air mattress in the tent. Near the end, rain began falling, so it seemed prudent to unplug the extension cord and listen to my little radio instead.

Our campsite was under several black walnut trees. We set up the tent at the edge of the walnut area, but we still had to clear a spot by kicking dozens of black walnuts out of the way.

Whenever the squirrels ran through the treetops, the walnuts rained down. We weren't hit by any of them, but one did fall on my car's hood so hard that it made a little chip in the paint. Oh, well. That's a hazard of parking near walnut trees this time of the year.

The museum in the park has some of the Audubon sketch books, original paintings, and early prints. It's quite interesting. I didn't take any photos because there's a sign at the museum entrance that says, "No Cameras."

One interesting thing I learned at the museum was that Audubon set very high standards for himself. He went through his work every year on his birthday and destroyed everything that was not up to his current level of painting skill.

Like every other Kentucky state park I've visited, much of the infrastructure at Audubon State Park was put in place by CCC and WPA workers. The museum (photo below) was built in 1938 as a WPA project.

Next time we camp at Audubon, I want to hike some of the trails to see more of the forest. This park deserves more time than we were able to give it on this trip.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sunset over the Ohio River

A mighty river

Isaac and I enjoyed seeing the Ohio River at Henderson, KY, and again at Evansville, Indiana. We saw this beautiful sunset from a nice park on the riverfront in Henderson.  It has many inviting benches, where you can rest and enjoy the view.

Several of the benches were occupied by groups of men who were chatting and watching the river. A few other people sat alone in the park.

A few blocks east of here, a wide, long, steep street leads right down into the water. It's a public access area to the river where anyone can put a boat into the water. It has parking spaces on both sides of it, so we drove about halfway down to the water and parked. It felt strange; we discussed whether cars ever tipped over sideways and rolled into the river. (Probably not.)

We got out and walked around briefly, but didn't loiter. We felt much safer on the high bank, above the river where the buildings sit, than on a steep downhill slope ending in water. Landlubbers like us have great respect for big rivers like this.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fall Break

A few days of vacation

Dennis and Isaac are both on fall break -- Dennis from his school job, and Isaac from college. Dennis still has to go in to work a few days, and Isaac has to work at his job a few days. I don't go back to work until Saturday, so I have more days off than either of them, for once. This is my R&R before the craziness of November and December at my workplace.

My goal tomorrow is to stack the firewood that Dennis has been hauling home and pitching into a big pile. He's been cutting wood a few hours each afternoon, and he's hoping to cut a lot more this week. A friend is having three dying or dead old trees removed, and Dennis is cutting up the branches as they are dropped. Two of the trees are white oaks and the other is a hickory. It's going to be excellent firewood.

Isaac and I are going to take a small trip to Henderson, KY, and Evansville, IN, during his time off. Evansville and Henderson are across the Ohio River from each other, or nearly so.

A lot of people go to Evansville to gamble on the riverboat, but we're just planning to go to the mall.  We also want to visit the World War II ship that is docked at Evansville. It is the USS LST-325 which was manufactured at the Evansville Shipyard in the early 1940's.

UPDATE 10/14/08: A reader has written to tell me that the USS LST-325 was actually manufactured in Mississippi, but it is like those manufactured at Evansville.

UPDATE 10/16/08: We learned during the tour that the LST-325 was manufactured in Pennsylvania.  Evansville was selected as its permanent docking site because of the enthusiastic support when it visited there on tour.

In Henderson, we want to go to the Audubon Museum at the state park, and I want to do the walking tour of the historic district. Henderson was once a major shipping port for dark tobacco, and it has some beautiful old homes that were built with the money that flowed through town from the tobacco trade.

A couple of my other projects for the week involve paint. I still haven't finished painting the baseboard in the bathroom, so I'm hoping to get that done.

I also want to spray-paint an old file cabinet. I'll do a little sanding to take off the loose rust, wash it good with soapy water, and then use Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer, followed up by Rustoleum Hammered paint. These are both spray products. I used them on a similar old file cabinet recently, and the finish looks like it was done in the factory. I was very pleased.

The other thing that I really need to work on is a trench coat that I've promised to sew for Isaac for a Halloween party. It's supposed to be an easy pattern, so maybe I can get it done in one day of dedicated sewing.

I'm looking forward to doing all these things, except for stacking the firewood. However, there is a certain satisfaction in admiring a big, tidy stack of firewood, securely tarped to keep it dry until the cold days of winter when it's needed. It's a worthwhile chore.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Seen at Wickliffe, KY

River town on the Mississippi

When I drive out to southwest Missouri to see my sister, I always go through Wickliffe, KY, a small town in extreme northwestern Kentucky. Wickliffe sets just south of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. About four miles north of Wickliffe, I cross the Ohio River. Then I drive through Illinois for maybe a mile before I cross the Mississippi River into Missouri.  It's an interesting bit of geography.

I've always thought Wickliffe is a pretty little town, so I stopped to stretch my legs and take a few photos when I went through there last week.

Five (or more) highways come into Wickliffe from various directions. Several of them go through Wickliffe's business district on the town's main street, 4th Street.

The courthouse is the most imposing structure in Wickliffe. It borders 4th Street on its west side. The only stoplight in downtown Wickliffe is at the southwest corner of the courthouse block, where Highways 62/51 and 286 intersect.

The courthouse doors on the west (photo above) and south sides of the courthouse aren't used anymore. Signs direct visitors to a door on another side. I figured those doors were closed to discourage people from walking across the busy highway like I did.

Wickliffe became the county seat after the original Ballard County courthouse, located in Blandville, burned in 1880. The election results were appealed by Blandville, but Wickliffe prevailed. A second election favored Wickliffe as well, and the courthouse was built. Amazingly, the population of Ballard County at that time was over 14,000, roughly double the current population.

The Mississippi River runs along the west side of Wickliffe. At the riverside, big transport trucks were waiting to pick up loads from barges. Train tracks run along the river as well. The river, the highways, and the trains have been an important influence on Wickliffe's economy through the years.

A couple blocks above the river, a large old store building is mouldering away. The doors on the left side of the storefront seem to have been for loading in and out.

Across the street nearby, a little fish market was open for business. Farther down, a boat store serves brave mariners of the mighty rivers. At the river's edge, a tugboat was pulled into something that I thought might be a "dry dock" (a term I've heard in association with boat repair.)

In the image below, the bridge across the Mississippi River (from Illinois to Missouri) is visible in the distance. The shoreline at right in the distance is the extreme southern tip of Illinois, and the water flowing in front of it is the Ohio River. This is literally a photo of the Ohio River joining the Mississippi River.

I didn't stop at the Wickliffe Mounds on the north side of town. It is a state historic site where an Indian village was once located. We've visited it before, but a return visit would be nice. I didn't have time for it on this trip, though -- I needed to move on down the road.

Pembroke (KY) High School

Needed: Old photos of the Pembroke area

I received the following note from Chuck and Dean Norfleet. The Norfleets are nice people who both grew up in the Pembroke area and attended Pembroke High School. They have done a lot of research on Pembroke High School history and also have researched the St. Elmo rural elementary school.

If you can contribute to this project, please e-mail them at

We are working on a photo DVD about former Pembroke High School, the town, the area and the students. This will not be for sale but will be a gift from us to the former PHS students who attend the school reunion on 17 October 2009. The first section will be composed of old pictures of anything in and around Pembroke before 1959 (that was the year the last class graduated). If you have access to any photos that fall into that category, we sure would like you to email them to us. You may find our website interesting.

Chuck and Dean Norfleet

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Computer Shenanigans

Acccckkk, blarg, and bleccchhh!

We've been having some strange computer problems lately. The so-called "good" computer thinks that the connector cable for some disk is missing. I've taken it to Keely's boyfriend Taurus to see if he can figure out what's wrong.

That leaves us with the little Linux computer in the back hallway. I use it often anyway, because Isaac ties up the other computer. Usually, it works fine, but not lately.

First, it could barely connect to the internet. I finally discovered that the network cable plug-in on the back of the computer was missing some of its little wires. I don't know why. Maybe they just got old and fell off!

While crawling around on the floor and fumbling with computer cords, I knocked the goose-neck lamp off the desk. Later when I turned it off, a big, loud spark popped, and the computer lost power. This electrical event fried the surge protector.

Meanwhile, I couldn't log onto Blogger or access any Blogspot sites, including my own blog! I kept getting a "Server not found" message. This was making me crazy!

The new network card had no effect at all on the Blogger/Blogspot problem. I finally changed the DNS (Dynamic Name Server) numbers, and that was the necessary magic. Here I am at last, happy to see with my own eyes that my blogs still exist.

The little computer is plugging along valiantly again and doing the best it can (much like its owner.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Visit with My Sister and Brother

A pleasant get-together

Last Friday, I drove out to southwest Missouri where my sister Charlotte lives. My brother Dwight also arrived from south-central Kansas on Friday, after attending the Farm Show in Springfield, MO.

We had a nice weekend at Charlotte's house. This was the first time we'd all been together since the Sees reunion at Osage Beach, MO, which was six or seven years ago. (I've visited them and they've visited me, but separately.)

This morning, Dwight and I headed for our respective home when Charlotte left for work. I got back about 6 p.m. tonight.

I had no problems of any sort on the road, so I'm grateful for that. I took lots of pictures and I will post more of them later.

I was amazed to find that gasoline in southern Missouri is a lot cheaper than Hopkinsville gas -- at least 50 cents per gallon cheaper at every gas station!

The sumac is red on the road banks and the soybeans are yellow in the fields, all across southern Missouri.

It was interesting to see cotton ready for harvest around Sikeston, MO. Now I can imagine why "Blues for Dixie" says, "...those old cotton fields were white in pale moon light..."

Most memorable thing I heard on the radio during the trip:
It was time for the "Are You Smarter Than Your Kids" segment on a morning show. The question was "Which state is known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes?" The caller's answer was "India."

Here's a photo of me (left), my sister Charlotte, and my brother Dwight. This is for all who haven't seen us for a while. We thought you might be worried that we weren't getting older -- haha! We are now (left to right) 57, 52, and 62.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Symphony

A life of harmony

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common -- this is my symphony.

--William Henry Channing (1810-1884)

Today is my 57th birthday. Last night, I came across the words I've quoted above. They seem a good set of principles for my next 57 years (in addition to the Ten Commandments, of course.). The one I'm going to have perpetual trouble with is "hurry never."

The Cream Separator

A big advance in farm technology

The Cream Separator. — Another great change which has come into Nebraska farming, in the past twenty years, has been brought about largely by the cream separator, by which the milk fresh from the cows is separated into cream and skimmed milk, the cream going to butter factories, while the milk is fed upon the farm. Dairy farming, which was almost unknown in the early years of Nebraska settlement, is thus becoming one of the chief industries of Nebraska farming.

Source: History and Stories of Nebraska: With Maps and Illustrations by Addison Erwin Sheldon. Published by University Pub. Co., 1915

Many older people who grew up in the country remember the cream separator. At our house, it sat on a table in the corner of the back porch. I vaguely remember an old black separator, and I have a clearer memory of a later, smaller separator with an electric motor.

At the top of the separator was a big metal bowl that had a gridwork of holes in the bottom of it. A round, paper filter was fastened over the grid to strain out foreign matter as the milk drained. Then the filtered milk went into a centrifuge that spun the cream (butter fat) to the center and the "skimmed" milk to the outside. The two liquids were then dispensed through separate spouts.

Every time the separator was used, it had to be taken apart and washed. At our house, that was always once a day, and often twice a day. The milk from the morning milking was nearly always separated, and the whirr of the separator's motor woke me, many mornings. The milk from the evening milking might be strained and left whole, or it might be separated.

The separator had about a dozen stainless steel parts.I particularly hated washing the disks, a set of nested cones. I suppose there were 12 or 15 of them. Each disk had a little hole in its side, and a giant safety pin was slid through the holes to keep the stack of disks in order while washing.

We usually had just one or two milk cows, so my mother had a small cream can that held just a couple of gallons. We took the cream to the Rose Store to sell. When the Rose Store got out of the cream business, my mother did, too. She wasn't making enough profit to mess with taking the cream to Bassett, roughly 35 miles away.

Until I read the quote at the top of this post, I'd never thought of the cream separator as a high-tech machine. The cream separator was not considered a great marvel at our house. It was just an appliance. But, like many of the great technologies we enjoy today, I can imagine that it seemed miraculous when it was first invented.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ranching in the Early 1900s

A look at cattle ranches of America's Great Plains, 100 years ago

The following paragraphs are quoted from the textbook, World Geographies: Second Book (p. 112-115) by Ralph S. Tarr and Frank M. McMurry, published in New York by the MacMillan Company in 1922.


Passing westward from the fertile valley of the Red River of the North, one finds the farmhouses decreasing in number and the country becoming more and more arid until finally, in western North Dakota, there is very little farming without irrigation. At the same time, the plains gradually rise higher and higher, until, near the base of the Rocky Mountains, an elevation of fully a mile above the sea is reached. This arid plateau, extending from Canada to southwestern Texas is commonly known as the Great Plains...

...[M]ost of the arid region of the Great Plains is unsuited to farming. For this reason, there are comparatively few large cities, as you can see on the map. The entire western third of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, as well as the Great Plains farther west, are given over mainly to ranching.

This industry is carried on in much the same way throughout all parts of the arid West. In western North Dakota, for instance, there is little water except in the widely separated streams, and there are very few trees except along the stream banks. Since the ranchman must have both water and wood, he locates his house, sheds, and stockades, or corrals, within easy reach of these two things. If there is no neighbor within several miles it is all the better, for his cattle are then more certain to find abundant grass.


Few fences are built, partly because most of the region is owned by the government, not by ranchmen. Very often they own only the land near the water; but this gives them control of the surrounding land, for it is of no use to anyone else if his cattle cannot reach the water. Another reason why fences are not common is that it is necessary for the cattle to roam far and wide in their search for food. The bunch grass upon which they feed is so scattered that they must walk a long distance each day to find enough to eat.

A single ranchman may own from ten to twenty thousand head of cattle, and yet they may all be allowed to wander upon public land, called "the range". Usually they keep within a distance of thirty miles of the ranch-house; but sometimes they stray one or two hundred miles away.

Twice a year there is a general collection, or round-up, of cattle,-- the first round-up occurring in May or June, and the other early in the fall. One object of the first is to brand the calves that have been born during the winter.

Since there are few fences, cattle belonging to ranches which are even a hundred miles apart become mixed during the winter; and those in a large herd may belong to a score of different ranchmen. Each cattle owner has a certain mark, or brand, in the form of a letter, a cross, a horseshoe, etc., which is burnt into the side of every calf.

A round-up, which lasts several weeks, is planned by a number of ranchmen together. A squad of perhaps twenty cowboys with a wagon and provisions, a large number of riding horses, or "ponies," and a cook, go in one direction; and other wagons, with similar "outfits," set out in other directions. Before separating in the morning, the members of a squad agree upon a certain camping place for the night, and they then scour the country to bring the cattle together, riding perhaps sixty or eighty miles during the day.

Each ranchman knows his own cattle by the brand they bear; and since the calves follow their mothers, there is no difficulty in telling what brand shall be placed on them. After branding the calves, each ranchman drives his cattle homeward to fend during the summer within a few dozen miles of their owner's house.


The second large round-up is similar to the first, except that its object is to bring together the steers, or male cattle, and ship them away to market; it is therefore called the beef round-up. A ranchman who owns twenty thousand cattle may sell nearly half that number in a season. As the steers are collected, they are loaded upon trains and shipped to distant cities to be slaughtered.

Very often the cattle have found so little water and such poor pasturage, that they have failed to fatten properly, and must be fed for a time before being slaughtered. This may be done upon the irrigated fields near the rivers in the ranch country; or the cattle may be sent for this purpose to the farms farther east, as in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska.


The lives of ranchmen and cowboys are interesting and often exciting, most of each day being spent in the saddle. They are so far separated from other people that they must depend upon themselves far more than most people do. For instance, a ranchman must build his house, kill his beef and dress it, put up his ice, raise his vegetables, do his blacksmithing, find his fuel, and even keep school for his children if they are to receive an education. He affords a good example of the pioneer life which was so common in early days.

This passage is quoted from the textbook, World Geographies: Second Book (p. 112-115) by Ralph S. Tarr and Frank M. McMurry, published in New York by the MacMillan Company in 1922.
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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.