Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Farm visit

We love to have people visit us - especially kiddo's. Our niece was here with Jeremy's family a couple of weekends ago for family pictures and to celebrate his parent's wedding anniversary. We always include time with the animals for the niece.

Even when it is cold, she bundles up to help with chores. Even when it is early and everyone needs to get on the road, she bundles up and rolls out of bed early to help with chores. We need her around more often.

She got to feed the chickens and gather eggs.

She fed and walked Blue - our ambassador alpaca. He is so calm and very happy for a chance to roam around the yard.

Then, chore time shifted to games in the yard. A serious game of modified tennis took up most of the evening. (If I haven't told you before, I love that hill behind our house. This picture is an example of our beautiful and serene our backyard view.)

And, the keep-away game with the cowboy hat rounded out the games. I think my husband thought it matched his shorts - and the silver, sparkle fringe was pretty cool.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Family photos

Sunday was a beautiful day! My husband's parents are celebrating 40 years of marriage this June and wanted the family to get together. My sister-in-law thought family photos would be a great idea. Calendars aligned for this weekend and we had a great day together.

My good friend, Lindsay, agreed to be our photographer. You can see some of her work and read her blog. She has a great eye and worked really hard to make us look good. Our niece was having a shy moment this morning and we had a hard time getting her to smile, though Lindsay tried!

We had lunch at our house and I was so happy to be able to cook for a crowd. I keep thinking that we need to have lots of kids, open a restaurant, or I should become a house cook for a fraternity...I love to cook for people! It brings together things I love - planning, food, and people.

Our menu: beef brisket from my dad's cows, funeral potatoes, creamy corn, bacon beans, mini cornbread muffins and the most heavenly cheese cakes from Deb's Cheesecakes.

The weather was perfect for the photos in the morning and for just sitting outside in the shade in the afternoon. We had a very good time and lots of good leftovers for the week.

Plant geek: irises

This week my husband told me that the bog irises were blooming. This news warmed by heart for a couple of reasons. First, a relative non-farm, non-plant guy came into my life and he has evolved into this machine that is fanatical about our yard. He can name almost all of the plants in our yard and was even mowing the yard at 6 a.m. the other day. (Let's be clear, our nearest neighbors are a distance away and are also fanatical about their yards...they would totally get that he was worried about the weather forecast and his schedule matching.)

The second reason that I love this news is that bog irises - really, irises period - are some of my favorite spring flowers. I have also heard them called Louisiana irises. They are smaller than a typical iris and they do really well in the space where our air condition condensation is kicked out of the house. A perfect solution for this part of the flower bed.

These are so dainty! I love how the foliage and the flowers are tall and elegant.

Up close, they are just as beautiful. Of course, I am a sucker for purple flowers.
These lovelies are the classic old-fashioned iris. I love the color - so subtle and feminine.
We also have some of these purple edged variety. So pretty! I am sure all of the fancy varieties were divisions from our neighbor.
This row of irises is a high point south of the garage until the hollyhocks behind them stretch up higher and bloom. I love seeing yellow and the different shades of purple together.

This time of year is wonderful - we can have fresh flowers in the house everyday! Each spring, I could also write a love letter to the tulip, hyacinth, crocus, peony and lilac. I love spring flowers!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The gift in a conversation

Have you ever had one of those conversations? The conversation that stays with you. Typically, these include some phrase or comment by a friend or family member that just locks into my brain. The words are just so RIGHT and I want to hold onto a phrase and lock it away forever.

This happened last week. A co-worked came in my office at the end of the day and out of the blue she shared with me that her daughter had just finished reading her father's journal (my co-worker's father). The journal outlined his time as a POW during World War II - a time during which he was marched across Africa, shipped by train, and marched more across Europe. My co-worker confessed that both she and her mother could not read the journal because it was so upsetting. Yet, her daughter read her father's legacy and reported back.

My co-worked told me that she hadn't known what her father had endured. And then, she said it. That phrase that I can't get out of my head.

"If I had known, I would have been a different daughter."

She went on to explain why she felt this way. She recalled talking to him about her problems that she now found to be so trivial compared to what he had experienced. She said he never talked about his war experience, rather he decided to record it in a journal. She wished she would have known.

I told her that her father was a brave and wise man. He knew that she needed to talk about her problems and that was part of her growing up. He dealt with his Trauma (with a capital T) in his own way and helped her to deal with her trauma.

I keep thinking about being a different daughter (or insert your role - teacher, friend, wife, co-worker), if you only knew something about the people around you. My mind is stuck on how to be more authentic, more compassionate, and more resilient. How to not have the feeling of regret that you didn't know something about someone, lest you would have treated them differently. How to share what you need to share with the people around you to connect with them. How to know when that sharing is a burden or a benefit in a relationship. How to remember that everyone you meet has a story, a trauma, a talent or gift and you have to know that you may never know the whole story, but everyone deserves the best you have to offer.

I am convinced that conversation was a gift. I will continue to be challenged by that phrase,

"If I had known, I would have been a different daughter."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A goal for this year...buy more art

I set a goal to buy more art. We are not going crazy or anything, but we have a commitment to finding affordable, cool pieces that speak to us.

You read in previous posts about Connie Norman and her fabulous ceramics and Ursula Dunnewind, the talented paper artist. Now, meet Jamie Lavin, a Kansas painter who created this beauty.

It has amazing dimension with a painted canvas and a silver layer under the oil painting of the prairie.

Jeremy and I both fell in love with it, so it had to come home with us. I think we get bonus points for having it already installed on our wall.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My mom

This Mother's Day, I wanted to pay tribute to my mom. The person who has taught me so much.

My mom is a dreamer and a storyteller. I have learned so much from her example and treasure our time together. The photo is from a tasting event at a local 4-H camp where you get to watch chefs cook and then enjoy a lunch and sampling reception in the afternoon. I am so glad that we had our picture taken that fall day.

Things I learned from my mom...
...always drive yourself to places because if you get uncomfortable, you can always leave. If you go with someone else, you are at their mercy for a ride home.
...friendships only last as long as they need to, if someone drifts away, other friends will follow.
...when you break up with a guy, you only remember the good times. Use that information for some perspective when you feel lonely and want to call him.
...make up should be subtle and highlight your features.
...figure out a way to pull the calf, bake the pie and still be dressed up for the event. It can be done.
...hard work and sacrifice are the surest way to get what you want out of life.
...how to can fruits and vegetables and be seriously clean while you do it and keep your fruit from getting brown in the process.
...always sweep the kitchen floor when you are finished canning or cooking a big meal.
...before you buy a piece of clothing, think about the price per wear when you are not sure if it is worth the price.
...downsizing is an all the time thing...edit, edit, edit your stuff.
...if you want to buy something, ask if you have the money and if you love it, get it.
...hard work keeps you focused and honest.
...to love reading.
...the value of education.
...to lust for change and new scenery and to never be satisfied that things are good enough.
...work hard because someone is always working harder.
...if you think you have it bad, someone always has it worse.
...compassion for those in poverty.
...and many, many more things.

No one works harder than my mom. She is an amazing person and I am so proud to have her in my life.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Prairie town vacation

Saturday's post talked about the Tallgrass Prairie hike, this one talks about the rest of that trip.

Several weeks ago I asked Jer to hold a weekend on his calendar. I wanted to surprise him with a mini-vacation and we were both desperately in need of a break from the usual schedule.

My idea was to be away for only one night and to take in some local places we had never explored. We started in Council Grove with a great lunch at the historic Hayes House. The strawberry pie was homemade and really delicious!

We continued on to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve National Park and hiked one of the trails. It was a gorgeous spring day. We loved having nothing scheduled except a 7 p.m. dinner reservation.
Our final destination was Cottonwood Falls for dinner and an overnight at the restored Grand Central Hotel. We arrived early enough to do a little shopping in the few stores that were open. The beautiful county courthouse is the focal point of the downtown.

We found a great cooperative art gallery that had some beautiful antiques and art pieces of all kinds of media. We bought a terra cotta piece and a wooden business cards holder with the gorgeous silver details. And, I had to get a cd of the Tallgrass Express. I heard the cd at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, but did not buy it. I kept thinking about the beautiful music and had to have it. Once I returned home, it was the background music for grading papers.

Our room at the hotel was spacious and comfortable. The dinner was very good - prime rib and great sides. We enjoyed the chance to relax and feel far from home, yet to be just a little over one hour away.

We highly recommend this line up of stops. Local friends can make a short weekend trip and some who live a little further away can just make this a destination or a stop on the way to or from Manhattan. You will love the quaintness and slow pace.

Prairie home

The famous get-to-know-you question - are you a beach or mountain person? I have always been a little ambivalent about that choice. Both seem kind of exotic since Kansas has neither ocean nor mountains, but I also think my real preference was a third, unnamed option. My choice - the prairie.

Kansas is a beautiful place! We get a bad reputation for a flat and boring landscape, yet I am confident the people who hold this belief have never experienced the Flint Hills. The rolling hills that house the tallgrass prairie are simply breath taking. We have vistas that allow you to see for miles and down into valleys. The colors of the grasses change over the season to all shades of green and brown. We are at this really interesting time of the year when the portions that are recovering from spring controlled burns are turning a vibrant green. The sunrises and sunsets are simply gorgeous over these hills.

Most people only have the chance to drive through the Flint Hills because there are few places where people can get out and experience the prairie. Driving through is nothing compared to hearing the wind rustle the grass, to see wildlife and wildflowers up close, and to examine the detail in a weathered limestone rock.
There is a place where people can experience the prairie. Nestled in the Flint Hills is the National Park Service Tall Grass Prairie Preserve just north of Strong City and south of Council Grove. The Spring Hill Ranch, later known as the Z Bar Ranch, and now the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, has a 1883 ranch house and gigantic barn with other outdoor buildings, all in native limestone. The grounds are open 24 hours a day for hiking and they have some really manageable short trails or frontcountry trails. They also have backcountry hiking trails.

Last Saturday, we ventured out for a short one night vacation. We started our day with lunch at Council Grove at the Hayes House the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi. We had a great lunch with homemade pie.

We then ventured further south to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve for hiking and touring and a little shopping. We hiked the Southwind Nature Trail that leads you to the Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse for a nearly two mile hike. The hike was not tough at all and just long enough to feel like you had an adventure without tiring you out.

The gift shop had a lot of books about the prairie ecosystem, ranch life, and cowboy culture. We bought two great pieces of art, some notecards, and a great book on Flinthills cowboys. We then continued on to Cottonwood Falls to shop and stay overnight. More on that in a later post.

It really was the perfect weekend. We really enjoyed the whole trip, but the highlight was the time outside to enjoy one of the treasures of Kansas. There is something so peaceful about being on the prairie. The vastness of the grass and the sense of being small yet connected.