From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Book-ish Christmas

Reading with Dennis


Quite a few books were given at our house this Christmas. I received my own little stack of books, and I'm looking forward to reading and studying them. They include a new encyclopedia of tree information, three books of Great Plains and Kentucky history, and a volume of Willa Cather with several stories I haven't read before.

I worked last weekend, so I haven't had a chance yet to read more than a few pages in any of my books. However, Dennis has dived into his new book about the history of the Natchez Trace and has been sharing all the best parts with me and providing commentary. By the time he finishes a book, I always feel I'm well-educated on its topic.

Today, I heard all about the Horrible Harpes. They were brothers -- a pair of thieves and cruel serial murderers who operated in western Tennessee and Kentucky in the late 1790s. They worked the Natchez Trace at one point in their career of evildoing.

Dennis is not reading the books that he told me he really wanted for Christmas -- the brand new books, reviewed in his history magazines, that I had to order from university presses. No, he's reading the used book that I picked up at a thrift shop because I thought he'd like it. It certainly proves that I know his kind of book when I see one.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

A windy Christmas Eve


The wind is ripping around the corners of our house and roaring through the trees tonight. We have a wind advisory, but our precipitation is going to be liquid, not frozen. We are outside the path of the big winter storm that is moving across the central United States.

My co-worker is on my mind tonight. She and her family are headed home for Christmas. They're in a car, somewhere between here and Texas. Their route included a stop in western Oklahoma to pick up her son who lives with his dad. The weather forecast out there includes a blizzard warning. When the roads are normal, their drive home takes 15 hours. I hope they are able to make the trip safely tonight.

- - - - - - - - - -

It's been a joy this Christmas to have a young friend back in Christian County for a visit. D. J. and our son Isaac went through elementary school and middle school, side by side. In fact, Keely refers to D.J. as her "other little brother."  D.J. now lives on the West Coast with his dad, but his mom still lives here.

We've been worried about D.J. because he learned about a year ago that he has leukemia. He has been taking chemotherapy, and he's doing very well. Please pray for him.

Update, December 5, 2012: 
I am so happy to add this note. In September of this year, D.J. was declared 100% cancer free!  This brings tears of joy to my eyes. 

- - - - - - - - - -

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Growing Up Fast

All my children


A few days ago, a young man came through my checkout line at work. As I began ringing up his purchases, I realized I knew him. I hadn't seen Adam (not his real name) for at least five years. He was my daughter's schoolmate, a good student and an athlete.

I visited with him for a few minutes. He was wearing the uniform of a plant in Hopkinsville's industrial park. "You're at -----," I commented. "Yes, and I'm glad to be working!" he exclaimed. The fervor in his voice suggested a personal experience with unemployment.

Adam did not finish high school. He and his girlfriend married when they learned that she was pregnant. Adam dropped out of school and got a job. I used to see him pumping gas at one of the full-service stations in Hopkinsville.

Not long after their baby was born, his wife became pregnant again. I last saw his children when they were chubby toddlers. I'm sure they are in school by now.

Adam is probably 25 years old. His eyes are clear and honest, and he has a smile in his voice as he speaks of his family. I'm proud of him for "manning up" to his responsibilities.

I hope his job stays stable. I hope he's had a chance to get his G.E.D. I hope he can learn some skills on the job that will improve his qualifications. He's had a rough start, but he has ability and potential and many years of life ahead of him.

Thoughts cannot always be spoken. "Have a good Christmas, Adam," I said. "It's great to see you! Take care of yourself."

"I will," he promised.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

13 Links to Enjoy

A "Thursday Thirteen" of all sorts


Most of these links were sent by friends and readers, and the remainder came from my own web expeditions.

 1. Download and install free software easily at the Ninite Installer website.

 2. Daily Sodoku -- Just one of many Brainbashers at this site

 3. Easy Bib -- If you remember typing footnotes and bibliography the old-fashioned way, this site will make you cry, "Unfair!"

 4. Slide show of cowboy and western paintings. If you enjoy rural scenery and images of ranch life, you'll also like these photos of the American Midwest

 5. How to make a folded German bell ornament -- for your spare time between now and Christmas

 6. Whooping Crane Reintroduction website with Operation Migration Crane Cam

 7. Print a calendar for 2010.

 8. A great set of corner shelves, cut from a single sheet of plywood

9. Eagle vs. fox  -- An astonishing encounter over a carcass (verified by Snopes)

10. Views of San Francisco Bay from a Zeppelin at 1000 feet -- very cool

11. "Foods That Heal" -- but don't stop your prescriptions!

12. "Guess Your Number" game -- How do these things work so well?!

13. Independence Day quiz -- Can you answer 20 questions once used on the citizenship test?

Thanks to all who have sent interesting links to share!

There's usually a large number of Thursday 13 posts listed at the Thursday 13 website.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Decking the Halls in Christian County

A sure sign of Christmas




Are there houses you watch at Christmas, to see if their traditional decorations will be on display again? The house in the photo above is such a place for me. I pass it frequently; it's along my usual route to Hopkinsville.

I've never met the people who live there. I think their name is Oatts, and I think they own the nice farmland that surrounds the house. But these ideas of mine aren't verified facts; they are merely my deductions from reading the local newspaper, hearing people talk, and so on.

Every Christmas for the past decade or so, a big John Deere tractor has been parked in the front yard of this house. Santa is in the driver's seat, and a Christmas tree and gift-wrapped boxes are lifted high in the loader bucket. It's fun to see this scene in the daytime, and it's even cooler to see it at night.

The Christmas tree is always a red-cedar. Red-cedars grow abundantly around here. I've always imagined that sometime each year, they spot a red-cedar on their farm that is just the right size and shape to be the next uplifted Christmas tree.

When I saw their Christmas tractor for the first time this year, I called Keely. "All's well in Christian County," I told her. "The tractor with the Christmas tree is in its rightful place." She knew exactly what I meant.

Update:
I had a nice e-mail today from Rose Tooley-Oatts. She is the wife of Malcolm Oatts, and they live in the house in the photo above. Their farm is called the "Four Mile Farm".

Miss Rose said that they have been doing their Christmas tractor since 1993. Sometimes they talk about scaling back on their outdoor decorations, but they hear so many nice comments every year that it's hard to quit.

When they first started decorating the tractor, the packages under the uplifted Christmas tree were cardboard boxes. They filled the boxes with rocks (to keep the wind from blowing them away), wrapped them with white butcher paper (for moisture resistance), and tied them with big red ribbons. Eventually, Miss Rose happened to find some lighted Christmas boxes, intended for outdoor display, to put under the tree.

Red-cedars have been harder to find around the farm in recent years, so they now use an artificial tree. (My eyes expected to see a red-cedar -- and saw one!)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Joys of Cathood

Curling up with a good book




Skittles has a good idea about how to spend a cold winter day. I would like to do just that (take a nap), but I will be making Christmas candy. I'm getting Grandma Netz's annual box of homemade sweets ready to ship.

So far, I've only made chocolate covered peanuts. Today, I hope to make cherry bonbons and some peanut butter and chocolate fudge. Tomorrow, I hope to dip some pretzels and send the box. Sometime after that, I will clean up the chocolate dribbles and splashes in the kitchen.

Related candy posts:
Conflicted about Christmas Candy
Homemade Christmas Candy
Ghosts of Christmas Past 3

Related cat posts:
The Life of Skittles
Strolls with Skittles
Safe and Secure From All Alarms

Monday, December 07, 2009

Yarn Store Adventure

Enchanted Yarn & Fiber in Russellville, KY




Saturday, I went over to Russellville (KY) with Keely, Taurus, and Isaac. It's only about 35 miles from here, but we don't go there very often. Keely was on a mission to find a yarn store she had heard about (Enchanted Yarn & Fiber), and the rest of us went along for the fresh air and change in scenery.

Keely started crocheting when she was seven years old. I showed her how to do a chain stitch. She mastered that quickly, so I showed her how to single crochet. From there, she branched out. I don't know how many scarves, hats, afghans, and baby blankets she has made since then, and I'll bet she doesn't either.

Several of the ladies at Keely's workplace are knitters, and Keely has learned to knit since she started working there. She started with socks, moved on to hats and gloves, and she's now working on a fancy, lacy, alpaca shawl that she is going to wear on her wedding day.

All this history is background to an understatement: Keely really likes knitting and crocheting and yarn. She was so happy to wander around the yarn shop and choose a skein of nice yarn for a future project. (Knitters and crocheters have stashes of yarn just like quilters have stashes of fabric.)

The proprietor of the shop said that she is planning to increase the "specialty yarns" she carries. I guess those would be yarns that are harder to find. I did see many beautiful and unusual yarns. I saw on several labels that the yarn was made of or contained silk, and one group of yarn was made of sugar cane.

I think that "fiber" refers to a raw material, and it becomes "yarn" after it's spun. In the fiber category, I saw some braids of dyed wool, and some bags of silk thread that had been ravelled from silk fabric. The instructions said that the silk threads could be spun to make silk yarn, or they could be spun with other fibers to achieve special effects.

When we were at the Fort Massac encampment earlier this fall, we saw some Leicester sheep, so I was interested to see this Leicester wool for sale. Leicester is said to be a favorite wool of hand-spinners because it has long fibers. (And, of course, Keely would like to learn to spin.)

I have a feeling that if I keep hanging around with my daughter, I'll be visiting this shop again. (And again and again.) I may have to revive my crocheting skills.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Backyard Wildlife

Highlight of my day so far


Driving into our yard a few minutes ago, I startled some birds out of the apple trees and off the ground under it. I saw a mourning dove, two blue jays, a cardinal, a red-bellied woodpecker, and a brown thrasher. I enjoy seeing the various birds that live in and pass through our yard. That's one of the nice things about living in the country.

I've noticed that we seem to have a large population of rabbits this year. Every time I drive into the yard at night, the headlights of my car freak out several of them. I think the big piles of brush that still remain from last year's ice storm have provided extra habitat, and the wet summer gave them plenty to eat.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Christian County Wines and Whiskeys

Local winery and distillery


The last time I had an alcoholic drink was about 7 years ago, and it was the first drink I'd had in a long while. I'm not a drinker at all. However, I visited a liquor store with Keely, just before Thanksgiving. She wanted a bottle of white wine for cooking her turkey.



It was interesting to see some Bravard wines on the liquor store shelves. We know Jim and Janet Bravard, the owners and operators of the Bravard Winery. They live on a farm just off Highway 800 in northeastern Christian County (KY).

Around 20 years ago, we learned that my husband's employer (AAFES) was sending us to Fort Campbell, KY.  We were in Berlin at that time, and one of my husband's co-workers said, "You should look up my sister at Hopkinsville, when you get there." The sister turned out to be Janet Bravard. Jim was selling real estate at that time, and he helped us buy our house. They were very kind to us as newcomers, and their kids and our kids have been friendly ever since.

The Bravards have worked hard on their winery, improving their facilities little by little, planting more varieties of grapes, and producing more wines. Please note the name on the bottle on the right. If I were going to buy a bottle of wine, that would definitely be my choice!

Christian County now has a whiskey distillery, too. It opened for business a few weeks ago. It's located on a former Amish farm on Barker Mill Road, just east of St. Elmo in southeastern Christian County. The owner is Paul Tomaszewski, and his wife's name is Merry Beth Roland. (Is it a coincidence that the distillery is named MB Roland? I doubt it.)

I read in the Kentucky New Era* that MB Roland is distilling White Dog from white corn and Black Dog from white corn that has been dark fired in a tobacco barn. The MB Roland website mentions another whiskey, True Kentucky Shine, that is made with a traditional moonshine recipe and methods.  The website also says that they've made a couple of rums. These are the first locally-produced hard liquors in around a century, according to our county historian, William Turner -- not counting moonshine, of course.

There is very little chance that I will ever taste the White Dog, the Black Dog, the Shine, or the rums. I'm not curious about their flavors. I decided a long time ago that I don't like whiskey or rum. However, I am curious about the distillery, and I might visit someday, just to see how these spirits are made.

*"13 Cats and a Still" by Kevin Hoffman, Kentucky New Era, October 10, 2009. (Subscription may be required.)

Monday, November 30, 2009

I Hear the Train A Comin'...

It's rollin' round the bend.



The CSX crossing on Skyline Drive in Hopkinsville, KY

When the railroad crossing arms drop in front of me, I consider it a challenge to get a photo of the train. This freight train was traveling fast. I was surprised that I got my camera out of my purse, rolled down the window, and clicked the shutter in time to catch the locomotive.

The title and subtitle of this post are the first two lines of "Folsom Prison Blues", a song Johnny Cash wrote in 1951, the year I was born. On YouTube, I found over 5000 search results for "Folsom Prison Blues." Many have sung the song; some sang it better than others.

Here's a good, undated video of Johnny Cash singing "Folsom Prison Blues".  It's an interesting contrast to a younger Johnny Cash singing "Folsom Prison Blues"  in 1959.  He picked up steam with that song as the years went by.

In a video of Johnny performing "Folsom Prison Blues" at the Tennessee State Penitentiary in 1974, he appears to be using the Martin guitar that I photographed at the Country Music Hall of Fame museum.

Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I'd move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
And I'd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away...

(Johnny Cash, 1932–2003)

Johnny Cash's guitar
Johnny Cash's battered and scratched Martin guitar

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Counting my blessings


Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving. My family and I, like many Americans, will be gathering around a table loaded with food today. I thank God for another year of life, for family and friends, and for the plenty and freedoms we enjoy.

Remember our soldiers in your prayers today. My internet friend Fred sent a link to a photo essay of an Air Force Pararescue in Afghanistan. It's interesting and informative, well worth a visit.

And now, I must head for the kitchen. I have things to do there, and I'm also still cleaning house. I've been looking on the Reynolds cooking bag site to see just how long our turkey needs to be in the oven.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tobacco Curing in the Barn

A familiar autumn scene in Kentucky




This barn has tobacco hanging in it, visible through the doors. This is almost certainly burley tobacco, a variety that has light colored leaves; however, dark tobacco is sometimes air-cured also. The curing process typically lasts for a couple of months, It creates a dried leaf that is high in nicotine and low in sugar. When the weather gets a little colder, farmers will be removing the leaves from the stalks, packing and binding them into bales, and sending the finished product to the factory.

Update: This afternoon, I saw a farmer in his pickup truck, pulling a big trailer-load of tobacco stems. So that means that tobacco stripping is already under way.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Berlin in June, 1989

A letter home from West Berlin



I wrote this letter 6 days before our son Isaac was born. Keely was 3 years old. We were living in military housing (Duepple Housing area) in West Berlin, on the ground floor of an apartment building that was 6 or 7 stories high. Dennis was working for the PX system (AAFES).

Berlin
June 7, 1989

Dear Daddy, Mama, and all the family,

I'll write a few lines while Keely watches Sesame Street and Dennis snoozes.

Dennis was off work today, so we took Keely to the beach -- the shore of the Wannsee, which is a large lake just a few miles from us. Keely wore her swimsuit and waded a bit at the water's edge, but she wasn't at all adventurous about getting wet above her knees. Dennis and I parked ourselves in our lawn chairs, and Keely had a good time filling her sand bucket with various mixtures of sand and water.

The sky clouded over, and it looked rainy, so we left after an hour, just before it got seriously wet. Maybe it was the approaching rainstorm that made the swans so frisky today. All the time we were there, they were opening their wings and flapping across the water.

As you know, Willadene and Lewis (Dennis's sister and her husband) were here last week. We went to various places in the city with them that we hadn't visited before -- the stadium that was built for the 1936 Olympics, an interesting flea and antique market in some old subway cars at one of the stations, and St. Hedwig's Cathedral. The cathedral is in East Berlin, and the stadium and flea market are in West Berlin.

Also in East Berlin, we saw the weekly parade of East German soldiers in front of their Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They goosestep new guards in and out every hour, but each Wednesday at 2:30, the whole company has a elaborate ceremony and parade on the street in front of the monument.

After being so warm in May, it's turned cool again. They've even turned on the heat again. It's been below 50° several nights.

I hope that by the time you actually receive this letter, maybe we'll have the baby. The day we went to East Berlin and walked for miles, I wondered if maybe we would need to rush to the hospital. (I didn't say a word to Dennis and the group about it, because I didn't want to get everyone excited!) But I'm still waiting. I have my suitcase partially packed.

Laveda Boggs, another AAFES wife who lives one floor above us, has offered repeatedly to watch Keely if we have to go to the hospital suddenly in the night. She works during the day, so we've made arrangements with another lady (Linda) to keep Keely while Dennis is at work. Linda is trustworthy and has three preschoolers of her own. Keely and I have visited at their house several times recently so Keely won't feel like a stranger.

Keely has been wanting to learn to "spreche Deutsch" lately. She has become aware that she and the little German kids speak two different languages. She's been asking me to teach her. When we finish a little lesson, she says, "NOW those kids will understand what I'm saying!"

We went today to see about enrolling Keely in preschool next fall at the John F. Kennedy School. It's a private school, and we will have to pay tuition. We will have to pay her tuition at any preschool, so why not try for one of the better ones? They teach preschool mainly in German. We couldn't find anyone at the school because they're all on a week's vacation, so we will have to try again. They have a waiting list, and I wouldn't want her to begin before next fall anyway. With the baby, that will be enough adjusting and stress for her at present.

Well, I don't have enough news to begin another page, so I'll sign off. All's well here, and we hope you are doing OK too! Love from each of us, and juicy Keely-kisses all around.

Gennie, Dennis, and Keely

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Internet Amusements

For your entertainment




Some of the links below came from my e-mail and others came from the forums and other sites that I read online. The illustrations don't pertain to anything in particular. I just thought they were amusing.

Test your news IQ. They'll probably remove this soon, so go on and take the quiz now. You may do better than you expect.

The "Miniatur Wunderland" model railroad in Hamburg , Germany.  YouTube video of the world's largest iminiature railroad, covering 16,146 square feet of space with more than 10,000 train cars running around its 6.8 miles of HO scale track.

Test your memory -- an interesting quiz by the BBC Science & Nature website.

Regifting Robin -- I'm not sure how this works, but it nearly always does.  I think it has something to do with nines.

Snow Leopard Kittens --visiting outdoors for the first time. (YouTube video)

Model T History -- Watch the first Ford assembly line on YouTube. (Fascinating!)

Meet the Real Invisible Man, Liu Bolin --Bolin takes "blending in with the background" to new levels.

Emily and Fiona sing "Creeque Alley" -- (YouTube) These girls are sisters. They have a refreshing simplicity and lots of talent.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Colors of November

Fall foliage and flowers




The brown concrete building in the background is part of the St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church complex. I would call this building a "fellowship hall", but I'm not sure what they call it. Maybe a "parish hall"?

Four of these shrubs grow in a narrow strip of soil between the side of the building and the parking lot. In my opinion, they are prettier in the fall than at any other time.

The Catholics have a good gardener who keeps their grounds well-groomed and attractive. The photos that follow were also taken at the Catholic Church.






Parke-Davis Throat Lozenges Remembered

Tired of the tickle in my throat!


Today, I napped on the sofa for hours with Casper, my "therapeutic kitty". I've been battling a cold, so I needed the rest. I feel much better this evening, but I have a persistent tickle in my throat. If I could talk to my tickle, I'd emphatically say, "Leave now, and never come back!", as Smeagol said when he exorcised Gollum.

Fisherman's Friend helps my cough as much as anything I've found, and it doesn't interfere with my blood pressure medicine (an unsolicited endorsement). The flavor certainly lives up to the product's "Extra Strong" slogan. I would never mistake the F.F. lozenges for candy!

Fisherman's Friend reminds me a little of Parke-Davis Medicated Throat Discs, also marketed as Parke-Davis Throat Lozenges. Does anyone else remember them? They were quite effective for sore throats and coughs.

Parke-Davis Throat Discs came in a small, flat box that slid open. The dime-size lozenges were neatly arranged in stacks of three. There were 90 lozenges in a box, as I recall. A new box was wrapped in plastic, and inside, it had a little sheet of paper over the lozenges to keep them exactly in place. As soon as the first lozenge was removed, the remaining lozenges could slide around, and the perfect order inside the box was lost.

Like the Parke-Davis Throat Discs, Fisherman's Friend contains capsicum (pepper extract) and licorice. The flavor is somewhat similar, but Fisherman's Friend doesn't have the zing of chloroform that the P. D. throat discs had. Yes, chloroform! Because of the chloroform, the P.D. box carried a caution about the number of throat discs that could be consumed within a given period of time.

Chloroform in over-the-counter medicines was outlawed in the mid-1970s, and that was apparently the end of the Parke-Davis Throat Lozenges.  I haven't seen them in many years, and I didn't find very much information about them on the internet. Only older people would remember them now. I guess that classifies me!

Interesting related link: Weed, Booze, Cocaine and Other Old School "Medicine" Ads

Thursday, November 12, 2009

W. F. Ware Plant in Pembroke, KY

Small town, big bins




The website of the W. F. Ware Company says that they are "Buyers of Barley, Corn, Popcorn, Soybeans, & Wheat; Specializing in Corn for Human Food Products."  I've photographed their plant in Pembroke before.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Berlin Wall Remembered

We watched The Wall come down.


Dennis and I lived in West Berlin from 1988-1991. Dennis was working as a manager for the Army-Air Force Exchange System (PX system), and I was a busy mother of one, then two small children. Keely turned three shortly after we moved to Berlin in 1988, and Isaac was born there in June, 1989.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, this post and its photos will tell a little about Berlin from the viewpoint of an American who was there when the Wall was opened.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Invitation to Join this Blog

Friend Connect added


Today, I added a Friend Connect widget in the right sidebar of Prairie Bluestem. Friend Connect is a fairly new application that Google has made available. I've decided to try it and see if this blog's readers are interested in it.

Joining Prairie Bluestem through Friend Connect is a great way to show that you are a fan. But beyond that, Friend Connect can help this blog's readers get acquainted with each other. When the readers know each other better, a community of people with shared interests can form around this and other blogs and websites that they enjoy.

As a member (follower) of Prairie Bluestem, you can choose (or choose not) to allow other Prairie Bluestem members to send messages to you. You can also choose (or choose not) to allow me to send you messages.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Classic Automobiles Seen in Hopkinsville, KY

Pennyrile Classics Cruise-In




These photos are from the Pennyrile Classics cruise-in that was held on August 15, 2009, on the K-Mart parking lot in Hopkinsville, KY. It was reported that 150 cars were on exhibit by 5:45 pm. Anyone who was interested could walk around, look at the old cars, and talk to the owners.

The Pennyrile Classic Cars Club sponsored cruise-ins on the third Saturday night of each month from April through October.

Many of the owners have put untold hours of work into the engines of their cars as well as the bodies, so they like to open the hoods and show off. I am not particularly interested in the motors of cars, so I enjoyed best (and photographed more of) the vehicles that had their hoods closed.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Odds and Ends from My Email

Links, games, videos


Thanks to Fred, Gloria, Kenneth, Elaine, Taurus, and others who have sent me interesting links.

  • On Veterans Day, all military personnel (current or former) are invited to a free meal at Golden Corral and Applebees. Bring proof of military service.
  • Apple Picking Time -- Can you get half the apples in the pail? If so, you are quicker than I am!
  • The Bear-- A 4-minute wildlife video with a surprise ending by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Well worth watching.
  • Circle the cat game -- it hasn't got any easier since the last time someone sent me the link!
  • Test your reaction time. You might be faster than you think -- or maybe not.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween Sunset

Cooler weather moves in




Our weather forecast predicts lows tonight in the mid 30s, highs tomorrow in the mid 50s, and clear weather through next Saturday. I hope this forecast proves true. We've had so much rain that farmers are having a terrible time getting their crops out of the fields.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Early Life of Edgar Cayce

WKMS report about a local celebrity


Edgar Cayce is a celebrated native of Hopkinsville that I've studiously avoided writing about. I am not interested in studying his life because I don't trifle with the supernatural. However, if you are curious about him (or if you've never heard of him), this recent WKMS broadcast about Cayce's early life is informative.

In February, 2006, I wrote about Aunt Mary's Antiques -- a new business at the corner of 7th and Virginia Streets. This is the building mentioned in the WKMS broadcast as the site of Dr. Ketchum's office.

Aunt Mary's Antiques at 
the corner of 7th and Virginia

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sod House at the 1901 Pan American Exposition

Sod houses, Nebraska cooking, and the indomitable Mrs. Bowser




In 1901, the Pan American Exhibition opened in Buffalo, New York. The fair was a huge and wonderful event celebrating the achievements and industries of America, the scientific frontiers of the new century, and the treasures of the world.

A sod house from Nebraska was among the hundreds of exhibits at the fair. It was located in the southeast quadrant of the fairgrounds, tucked between the Forestry building and the Indian stockade, (about halfway down the right side of this map.)

The Nebraska Sod House was a popular restaurant of the fair, and Mrs. L. Bowser, the restaurant's manager, was a former homesteader of the Newport, Nebraska, area. It was there that she lived in her first sod house. This bit of trivia is interesting to me because Newport is located in Rock County, Nebraska, where I grew up.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dreaded Day Done

Another doctor appointment survived


One thing I'm really neurotic about is going to the doctor. I must have missed the lesson in kindergarten about "The doctor is your friend." I think of him as a stern examiner, not a helpful buddy.

When I need my prescriptions renewed, I wait until I have only a few pills left before I make an appointment to see the doctor. By prolonging the dread as much as possible, I achieve maximum levels of anxiety; I know this, and yet I do it.

Yesterday, with less than a week of meds left, I called the doctor's office and make an appointment. The receptionist said I should come in at 7:30 this morning for lab work and see the doctor at 2:30 this afternoon.

After I got the lab work done this morning, I came home and took a nap. I thought it might help my blood pressure. I'm good at having high blood pressure at the doctor's office. They call it "white coat syndrome." I've learned to bring a couple weeks of blood-pressure readings with me, so the doctor won't think my blood pressure meds have stopped working.

At 2:30, I was back in the doctor's office. I was surprised that the waiting room was not crowded with sick people, but the nurse said all the flu patients had been there this morning. She weighed me and took my temperature (normal), pulse (a little high), and blood pressure (only slightly elevated).

In a few minutes, the doctor came in. He caught a cold last weekend while camping with the Boy Scouts, and his voice was about two octaves deeper than usual. However, he was more jovial than he usually is. He complimented my cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar levels and skipped his usual lecture about exercising faithfully. (Don't worry. My conscience has committed that lecture to memory.)

And then, I escaped! I exited so fast that I didn't realize the doctor had forgotten to print out my prescriptions. The pharmacist had to call the doctor's office for them. While he was waiting on the phone, he told me that his grandmother's name had been Genevieve, and it was a lovely, old-time name. She liked to bake, he said. He has fond memories of her homemade bread.

Later, I ran a few errands around town, and I noticed that the cloud of doom was no longer hovering over me. A glow of happy relief had taken its place.

Blurring of the Seasons

Each holiday in its own time




At one Hopkinsville store this week, autumn and Halloween stick figures were displayed side by side with Christmas decorations. The blurring of the seasons irritates me. Scarecrows, witches, Christmas trees, reindeer, and snowmen do not belong together.

And where's Thanksgiving? Doesn't it deserve its own yard art? I'm vaguely offended.

It's still October, and I am not done with the rituals of autumn. I don't want to jump into Christmas before the jack-o-lanterns have been carved or the pumpkin pies baked. The garden hose and the tomato cages still must be stored away. We need to check the antifreeze in our vehicles. We should stack some firewood on the porch, and the chimney has to be cleaned. I want to put on a sweatshirt and rake some leaves.

The trees are not confused. They are dressed in autumn's proper colors, and they're wearing them with dignity. They are not rushing into the next season before it's time.

I'm going to follow their example and wait for nature to change the season. When the last leaves have fallen, and the days are cold and short, I'll be ready for the glitter and lights of Christmas. And that will happen soon enough.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Autumn Arrives

Virginia Street, Hopkinsville, KY


I've been waiting for them, and they've finally arrived -- the golden days of autumn.  We had two cold nights with a few spots of light frost a few days ago. Suddenly, all the trees are showing their autumn colors.

I love this time of the year. I hope we have an extended season of clear, cool, calm days, so the leaves can drop from the trees, one by one.

I stopped along Virginia Street in Hopkinsville (KY) to take this photo. The Gunn House appears in the background at left -- an 1890s structure with fancy, jigsawed trim and a small tower.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

When Fat Was Healthy

How ideas about being fat have changed


"Get fat; get nice and plump... ," an advertisement from an old newspaper urges. Cod liver oil was just the product to help put on some fat for winter in 1900. A good layer of fat would help one ward off sickness and make it through to spring.

When we read old advertisements like this, we should remember that a century ago, people didn't have many effective drugs to fight off sickness. A bad cold could kill, if pneumonia developed. There were no antibiotics or sulfur drugs. Even aspirin had not yet been invented. To recover from an illness, a person needed all the strength he could muster -- and some cod liver oil and a bit of extra fat on his bones might help.

My goodness, how our ideas and living conditions have changed! Today, most of us don't need any help getting fat. On the contrary, we struggle to avoid gaining weight. In the mass media of our day, we see dozens of advertisements for weight-loss products.

I'm reminded of a fellow whom I once heard talking on the radio. Mr. Jones (or whatever his name was) told how he took a job in a small Japanese town after World War II and stayed there for many years.

At first, he was astonished when the natives complimented him frequently on his more-than-ample girth. "Oh, Mr. Jones, you are so fat."  They admired his pudgy physique because it was a symbol of wealth. Poor people were always thin.

Mr. Jones said that he was never quite comfortable with their admiration of his obesity. As he ate the local cuisine over the years, he gradually lost a lot of weight. His admirers were a little disappointed in him, but he was happy when his size was not so showy as it had once been.

I am fortunate to have plenty to eat, and I don't need any cod liver oil to help me put on extra fat for the winter. To be honest, this topic is making me feel a little guilty about the abundance I enjoy while some in this world are hungry. I looked up Feed the Children and made a donation. Maybe you can afford a few dollars for them too.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Encampment at Fort Massac, Illinois (2009)

Historic reenactment at Metropolis, Illinois




Saturday, Dennis and I traveled back in time a couple of centuries. We went with the kids to The Encampment, a historic reenactment at Fort Massac State Park, along the Ohio River in southern Illinois. This annual event draws thousands of people to enjoy costumes, music, demonstrations,  merchandise, and food from the period of 1757-1815.

The weather was blustery. Sometimes, rainclouds covered the sky. Occasionally, the clouds parted and bright rays of sunshine broke through. A cold, damp wind blew all day. Over lighter layers, I wore a long cloak that I made several years ago for medieval reenactments. It has a warm "wooly" lining and a hood, so I was comfortable and only a century or two out of style.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Quilt Barn" in Christian County, KY

Quilts and fabric in Kentucky Mennonite country.




This barn stands along Highway 68/80, east of Hopkinsville, KY. The "quilt block" on its front has been there for several years. It was painted, I believe, by a local economic development agency that had a "quilt barns" grant from the Kentucky Arts Council. The quilt barns are supposed to look folksy, promote tourism, and encourage a better appreciation of our quilting heritage and history.

I could be wrong about how this quilt square came to be. It appeared during the quilt barn explosion. Quilt blocks were painted on a few dozen highly-visible barns in several counties, and then lots of barns suddenly had quilt squares painted on them. Property owners liked the look so much that they started quilt-blocking their barns, at their own expense. The quilt barn idea "went viral", as they say on the internet.

I'm don't know who owns this barn, but I do know who owns the sign on its side wall. Mrs. Amman Snyder, a Mennonite lady, had her "Quilts" sign on the barn even before the quilt block was painted on it. She has a quilt shop at her home, about a mile down Highway 1027. When I worked in classified ads at our local newspaper, I helped her with her occasional quilt sale advertisements.

Mrs. Snyder has recently added fabric to her shop. She is responding to published reports that WalMart will soon be eliminating its fabric departments. The Mennonite ladies of Christian County have been regular fabric customers in Hopkinsville's Walmart. They'll need another fabric source if they can't buy it at WalMart any more.

Last year, my Mennonite neighbor Elsie told me that I should open a little neighborhood fabric store. She thought I could put it in the upstairs room of our shed. I entertained the idea for about 10 seconds, and during that short time, I had vivid imaginations of owning dozens of bolts of cloth that no one wanted to buy.

Mrs. Snyder will be a much better cloth merchant than I would be. She knows from personal experience what sorts of fabric and sewing notions the Mennonite ladies want and need. She's open for business to the "English" as well -- her signs on the highway proclaim it.

Let's Cook

1950s 4H recipe book for beginning cooks


In 1959, I joined the Rose Scouts 4-H Club and signed up for my first 4-H project: Let's Cook. To complete the project, I had to prepare each of the following, two times:

Cocoa and Cinnamon Toast
Fruit Desserts (Ambrosia or Apple Crisp)
Raw Vegetable Plate and Sandwiches
Cookies and Lemonade
Hamburgers

As you can see, the cover art on the Let's Cook booklet  is slightly misleading. None of the recipes in the booklet required the use of a rolling pin.

The girl looks cheerful, though. She's dressed for the job. and she knows what she's doing with the various utensils on her work surface. Utensils were very important in Let's Cook. They were listed in every recipe right beside the ingredients.

I was 8 years old, the summer that I completed the Let's Cook project. My mother was in the hayfield most of every day, mowing. Grandma Nora was staying with us to help with the cooking and housework and to watch my sister and me.

In the afternoons after the dishes were done, Grandma Nora and I had some fun and excitement with the Let's Cook booklet. I had fun, and Grandma tried to keep me from getting too excited.

Grandma had her own ideas about some of the techniques in the book. She wasn't too adventurous. She didn't approve of sifting flour, cocoa, and such onto a square of waxed paper; she insisted on sifting it into a bowl. She didn't see any need to squish a stick of butter into a measuring cup, when she already knew it was half a cup.

The booklet had a short list of procedures for washing dishes. It didn't seem very important to me, but Grandma thought dish-washing was part of every recipe. "Cleaning up the mess is half of it!" she told me, again and again. Grandma's been gone since 1980, but when I'm working in my kitchen, I still hear her saying those words.

The oatmeal cookie recipe in Let's Cook became my favorite recipe to bake for a year or two. Then I discovered that I could make the cookie recipes in my mother's cookbooks, and I forgot about the simple little recipe in my 4-H booklet. Mama was more adventurous about letting me experiment in the kitchen than Grandma was, even though she wanted me to clean up my messes, too.

In the next ten years, I completed six more food preparation and preservation courses in 4-H. I still have their booklets, too. but Let's Cook is the one that I remember with affection.

"Cooking is an adventure. It's fun to put together shortening and sugar and flour and turn out yummy cookies. It's exciting to see how meat and vegetables and salad become supper on the table... "


(Opening sentences of Let's Cook, an undated, unattributed publication of the University of Nebraska Extension Service, circa 1959.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Scenic Kansas Highway 160

What I saw between Independence and Winfield


Here are a few photos I took last summer in Kansas. I attended my aunt's funeral in Independence, Kansas, in the morning and then drove to my brother's place north of Harper, Kansas, that afternoon.

I took Highway 160 from Independence to Harper. Kansas Highway 160 is a two-lane, east/west, "principal highway" that stretches across the entire state of Kansas. The section I traveled runs about 20-30 miles north of the Kansas/Oklahoma state line.



This valley just west of Independence, KS,
has a unique topography.


I wondered if this old building had once
been a boarding house or hotel, or perhaps
the town home of a wealthy cattle baron. I
can't remember which little town this was in,
so I must drive Highway 160 again and find out!


Despite scorching temperatures, the grass was green and
lush in the Elk River valley. Rain had been ample thus far.

 
The Flint Hills are a tallgrass prairie. I always enjoy
driving through them. Trees are scarce, the sky
is immense, and the view seems endless.


Main gate of a Flint Hills ranch. No buildings
were in sight. It's impossible to guess how far
 from the highway the ranch headquarters are.


The Stockman's Cafe in Cambridge, Kansas. The
mural on the side of the building is called
"The Count." The cowboy is standing on the
hilltop, counting the cattle in the valley below.


After the small and empty cowtowns of the Flint Hills,
Winfield appeared both populous and prosperous.
Well-kept older homes and large trees line both sides
of Highway 160 as it enters the east side of town.

Related on the web:
Early Cambridge Kansas Pictures
Elk Falls - World's Largest Living Ghost Town
Old postcards of Longton, Kansas
Kansas - The Elk River Valley (Flickr)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

October Landscape

Barn, beanfield, big clouds




This barn used to be all black, but the farmer has painted it red and white now. I rather like its new colors. The yellow-orange field in the background is soybeans.

13 Questions and 13 Answers

For the 13 people who typed these questions into search engines and surfed to my blog


1. Are there chiggers in Kentucky?

Yes, Kentucky has chiggers. Lots and lots of them.

2. What is the significance of the painted pigs in Cadiz?

The painted pigs in Cadiz (KY) are mascots. They are an amusing and eye-catching curiosity on the sidewalks and lawns of Cadiz, and they are a year-round reminder of the Country Ham Festival -- which is coming up this weekend, by the way.

3. Could you survive without shampoo?

Yes, but I don't want to. I am not fond of the naturally oily look.

4. Why do Mennonites have steel wheels on tractors?

The Mennonites are concerned that their members might be tempted to use tractors as a motorized form of transportation.The steel wheels limit the tractors to farm use. The Mennonites strengthen ties with each other by avoiding the ownership of motorized transportation. They look to the local Mennonite community first for what they need. Then, if travel beyond the range of a bicycle or horse and buggy is necessary, they hire an automobile.

5. Can shingles cause numbness in the arms?

Yes, and the numbness can linger for a long time after the shingle outbreak disappears. I had a mild case of shingles about 15 months ago and the top of my hand is still a little numb!

6. Where is the flower on a dill plant?

If you're having trouble seeing your dill flowers, I don't think your dill plants have bloomed yet. The flowers are at the ends of the stems and branches, and there's no way that you would mistake them for leaves.

7. Why do tobacco barns smoke?

Tobacco barns smoke because they have a smoldering fire inside them. The smoke flavors and colors the tobacco leaves that are hanging inside the barn. This is the usual and most desirable reason that a barn is smoking. Every now and then a tobacco barn smokes because it has caught fire. This is an unusual and very undesirable reason for the barn to be smoking.

8. How do you make an orange julius?

Combine ice cubes, milk, sugar, vanilla, and OJ concentrate in a blender. Blend on high until slushy. Complete directions here: Homemade Orange Julius. They are delicious, but drink them slowly so you don't get a brain freeze.

9. In the 1920s, what were mules used for?

Mules did heavy work that we use tractors and other motorized machines for today, such as moving carloads of coal out of mines and pulling plows, freight wagons, and streetcars. People also rode mules. Of course, in the 1920s, all of this was changing because of gasoline engines.

10. Are windmills illegal in Kentucky?

No, and I can't imagine why you think they would be. Several of our "non-electric" Mennonite neighbors have windmills. The reason you don't see more windmills around here is that most farmers use electric pumps. Windmills require a much larger initial investment, and of course, if the wind doesn't blow, no water can be pumped.

11. Where can I see interesting old sod houses?

I recommend the "Prairie Settlement" exhibit at the Library of Congress. Try looking in the Subject Index for "sod house".

12. What birds eat pyracantha berries?

The only birds that have consumed our pyracantha berries with real gusto were the cedar waxwings who visited one winter. Usually, the berries stay on the bushes until they fall off. I would love to have the waxwings come for another visit. I really enjoyed watching them.

13. What big cats are native to Kentucky?

Historically, the eastern cougar and the bobcat are natives of Kentucky. Stories of big cat sightings abound, but for reliable information, check the Eastern Cougar Foundations's website.

On the web:
Read more "Thursday Thirteens."
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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.