Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Simple wrapping

Thursday marks a big transition in our office as six employees end their official appointment and move on to fabulous other adventures. They will be missed.

Five of them have a similar job and are at a similar place in their young professional careers. I am giving them the same book that is a favorite and recommended by a dear friend. More on that tomorrow - don't want to spoil the surprise before they get to open the gift.

Today, let's focus on the packaging.

The paper is this cool (RED) campaign print. Words that decorate the paper are: Treasu(red), Sha(red), Empowe(red), Kind(red), Chee(red), Ado(red), Inc(red)ible, you get the idea. Proceeds from the purchase of this paper and other (RED) products go to fight AIDS in Africa. A great cause and the perfect sentiment for my co-workers as they are incredible, treasured, empowered...you get the idea, right?

The black and white ribbon was the just right contrast for the paper. It has been in my ribbon collection for some time - glad it was held over for this paper.

These gifts were fun to wrap and I thought about how much better I was at wrapping gifts. A few years ago I learned some important lessons that changed my skill level.

1. Use double-sided tape. A little awkward at first, double-sided tape makes for uninterrupted lines and a smoother finish. Love the stuff.

2. Don't use too much paper. This was revolutionary because my corners always looked sloppy and not sharp and polished. Less paper keeps things flat and just looks better.

3. Make your creases and corners like you mean it. Smooth corners start with sharp folds.

4. Buy neutral, all-season, or multi-season wrapping paper and ribbon. Try to find end of season sales on paper and accessories that can be used for a lot of different occasions and stock up when it is cheap.

This is usually not a problem until you forget where you put things. I had a dozen shirt boxes and spent a good four hours looking for them in the house. What made it worse was when I put them away I told my husband to remind me where I put them...must have had a feeling they would be hard to remember.

5. Use ribbon and other embellishments to dress up the package. Yet, you don't have to tie a dynamite bow. Sometimes a simple knot does the trick.

Looking forward to sharing the content of the packages with you soon.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Obsessive learning

Most of my friends know that I am an obsessive learner. My resume includes yoga, knitting, raising alpacas, trying new recipes, installing new plants in the garden, learning about The Depression, and much more. Some of my learning experiments work out well and others just turn out to be great experiences.

I figured out this learning thing was something that defined me when I told my boss what I was making for a big family Thanksgiving dinner and he asked if the recipes were all of my tried and true favorites. In fact, many were new, never tested recipes gathered in my hours and hours of reading magazines devoted to Thanksgiving holiday meals and recipe books. He looked at me like I was insane. I was in heaven - a challenge to feed a whole crowd and the chance to learn some new recipes in the process. My final exam was actually pulling it off with everyone fed and happy.

Some of these learning obsessions come to me slowly - building one thing on top of another. A magazine article mentions a person that leads to a book. I read about Dorthea Lange, a famous Depression-era photographer and have been reading about her and devouring her work ever since. Her biography inspired me to read The Grapes of Wrath. I have another book on the Depression in my pile to read.

A recent favorite subject has been the prairie. We visited the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve and I bought Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales from the Tallgrass Prairie by Jim Hoy. It was a delightful read full of great storytelling and rich Kansas prairie tradition. Some of the cowboys were real characters and the stories were laugh out loud funny. Other stories told about the heartbreaking, dangerous work of making your life from the land told by a scholar and native of the Tall Grass Prairie. Lots of learning and pleasant reading.

My second read was recommended by a professor at K-State. Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch was very well written. The author's experience in transitioning from a cattle ranch to raising buffalo was full of learning, joy, heartbreak, and history. I loved reading about the prairie from someone who obviously loves the land and has a passion for preservation. It played out the real-life struggle to make a living in production agriculture and impressed the need to think about conservation and to relearn what our lands can support.

If your current learning adventures have you anywhere near the prairie or agriculture or the Great Plains, I highly recommend these two books. Happy reading!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

When a walk becomes a hike

We began this beautiful Sunday with a walk. We had taken a nice stroll on Saturday and thought if we wanted to get a walk or run in today, we should go early before the heat of the day settled in. Plus, the wildflowers in Kansas are looking so pretty right now and I wanted to take my camera along to get some of the color dotting the roadsides and pastures.

We saw a lot of these Black-Eyed Susan like things that I think are actually Brown-Eyed Susans? I am really a novice at identifying wildflowers. A book on Kansas wildflowers is next on my list, but until then, there is this great resource on Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses. This website helps you identify prairie plants. The flowers are categorized by color family and photos help with connecting names to plants.

Our walk began usual enough - straight west of our house up the gradual hill to the cemetery where we decide to go straight, left or right. Yesterday, I complained that straight was my least favorite because the gradual hill continues and the walk is harder. My husband suggested left which is a nice gravel road that turns to dirt. We kept walking south and I was taking pictures and loving the cloud cover.

We moved along on Loux Road when my husband suggested that we walk all the way to the end where Loux intersects with Myers Valley Road. At that intersection, he gave me a choice - turn around and cover the same ground or continue west and meet up with Pleasant Run. He swayed me with the promise of great pictures, and in fairness, he did tell me that his cross country kids run it and it is not pleasant (meaning pleasant views, but a lot of hills).

I agreed to the challenge, but should have asked exactly how far this trip would be in total. And, I should have looked at the weather forecast to see that rain was possible. The rumble of thunder near the half-way point made me a little anxious. I also should have brought along water, but who knew we were leaving for a hike.

The trip was beautiful - only sprinkles and cloud cover almost the whole way. We saw some great flowers and beautiful Kansas vistas. Yes, even in Kansas, you can stand on top of a hill and see valleys and rises that will take your breathe away.

This stretch of flowers reminded me of the scene at the beginning of Little House on the Prairie when the girls run down the hill. The cut wheat field in the back ground is quintessential Kansas.
We happened on this friendly herd of cows. They came running when they saw us, but we only disappointed them when we didn't have any range cubes. (We call them cookies in our family.) They walked with us almost the whole length of their pasture - running ahead and then stopping, turning, facing and watching.

I think this one is a moth mollein? It, along with more than 50 other pictures, made our 7.5 mile hike worth it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Customer service award

I love good customer service! This affinity for having people care about their work, look you in the eye, say "thank you" and mean it, and to try to make things right when things go wrong is most likely because that is part of my own job. I am kind of obsessed. When I encounter good or bad examples of taking care of people who consume something under your leadership, I think about it and talk about it a lot.

Last night after work I stopped at Starbucks for my favorite ice tea. Venti shaken black ice tea, unsweetened. Saying that phrase is like music to my ears. I consider getting one of these drinks a treat and it seemed like a great day for a treat.

The barista seemed kind of new and after I paid, I realized he didn't give me my small discount for my reusable cup. No worries. But, his co-worker handed me one of these little gems.

The outside says, "A cup should never be half empty."

The inside says, "We apologize if your Starbucks experience was anything but wonderful. We want to know how we can make things better and always invite you to share your thoughts with us. The next time we see you, please enjoy a beverage, on us. We hope your next visit is better."

I love this for many reasons. They didn't have to do anything! I wasn't even unhappy; I even told them it was ok. The concept is brilliant! They ask for your feedback and tell you it is because they want you to have a great experience. They invite you back! And, they give you something free! Who doesn't love a free beverage at Starbucks.

The Starbucks customer service experience is legendary and my own personal experience today confirms all that I have read. They try to make things right when things go wrong. I also know that the big corporate reputation of Starbucks makes them controversial. No matter how you feel about them, they do get some things right!

Farewell to Wes

It has been a sad week on our little farm. We lost Wesminster or Wes last week.

He began showing signs he was not feeling well while Jeremy was gone and I was doing chores solo. We had just had one of those huge rainstorms that caused some flash flooding in our area. I worried that his lethargy and altered appetite was because of the drastic change in temperatures from cooler and rainy to hot and humid. An animal with a black coat has extra risk for heat-related stress.

Jeremy came home early to keep an eye on Wes and we monitored and doctored for a week. He seemed to be on an upswing when he suddenly took a turn for the worse. We are fortunate to have a teaching hospital nearby and we made a call for a farm visit from a vet from K-State and several vet students. They began some treatment at our farm and decided it best to transport him to the hospital. He made the trip, but died of cardiac arrest on the table.

We were all torn up about it and went over and over how we could have cared for him differently. Was is colic or pneumonia or an infection...we just didn't know. Jeremy asked for an autopsy. If we were doing something wrong, we wanted to know. The results came back to say that it was cancer that had spread to all his vital organs. Cancer is always bad news, yet we were relieved to know that any course of treatment would have resulted in the same outcome.

The good out of a bad situation - he was a good boy for us. Out of his pair, our two free alpacas from a local couple, he was the first to warm up to the herd and us. He ate with great gusto and always gave us a good laugh as we watched him eat hay like a champion. His condition helped the vet students learn about alpacas and that will help other producers with their animals.

We will miss our boy, Wes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Plant geek: container hits and misses

Earlier this spring I posted about my impulse buying of plants. I have finally recovered from the sunburn from the marathon planting session and have been enjoying watching the new combinations of plants fill out nicely. Here are some of my hits and misses for this year.

This vintage washtub is one of a pair we found at an auction near Alma. They flank the garage bay where my husband parks and are some of my favorite containers in our yard. I always struggle to get the right mix and have become bored with the usual spike plant, geranium, and vinca vine combination - sub in some asparagus fern sometimes. A great classic combination, but this year I wanted something a little different. This location gets a lot of sun.

The focal point is an ornamental pepper plant with alyssum and another bedding plant that I can not remember. I faithfully kept all the plant tags for the first hour of so of planting and then it all went out the window when it got down to crunch time.
This is one of many concrete planters we have accumulated. Concrete planters can be added to the list of things we collect by accident.

This combination of the ornamental pepper plant and the dusty miller - one of my new favorites! It has to be the colors side-by-side that just energizes me. Add in the small purple flowers on the pepper plant and I am over the moon!
Our porch has more concrete planters, including the big urns. I tried something different this year for these, too. I put in the usual red spike to play off of the door (bright red - sorry the photographer didn't show that flashy door) and then added the vinca vine for some drape. My big decision was what to put in as the filler - the base of the arrangement. I settled on the yellow flowers with this really cool foliage - again lost the tag!

The smaller planters have a mix of a lot of different plants - each selection trying to have at least a little bit of red.

Ummm....you might have noticed the broken tile that had been used as a coaster for the planters. Yeah, those got busted this Sunday when my husband (my hero) disposed of a huge black snake on our front step. That is a story for another time...
I can not in good faith show you all of my "hits" in the container world and not show you some misses. This grouping is another of my favorite concrete planters - love them! The plants are some coleus and a lot of weeds! Embarrassing. And, these sit closest to the well-traveled road by our house.
This is the same grouping of pots when I finally got so embarrassed that I pulled the weeds to see what is actually still living. Weekend project: replant, replant, replant.

Oh, and there are more - some that got too much water. Some that got too little. It's time for some container intervention.