Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Still Learning.....

'I am still learning.'.....

....is Michelangelo's famous quote, one that takes its place on my refrigerator with the postcards of faraway places, the snapshots of adorable grandkids, and a legion of magnets ranging up and down the tacky scale. I used this quote long ago in a talk to the Tarkio National Honor Society banquet in hopes of persuading the graduating seniors that a future in Atchison county would be as rewarding and challenging as any farther afield.  Nothing up to this date in 2016 has proved this assumption incorrect!  But that’s part of learning, right? To recognize that work and creativity can walk hand in hand in the most mundane of circumstances, the most homely of surroundings.

I have not mastered night photography....or the lowest notes of a saxophone....chipping onto a green....or growing orchids. I haven't read Paul Johnson's "Art" or plunked out a Scott Joplin Piano Rag(not too fast!), thrown a piece of pottery or successfully cast a fly. I cannot seem to remember the sails on a boat or ship nor the stars in common constellations. There are so many places to see...to read about....to understand. And there are gardens to plan and plant, an old house to treasure, a family full of energy, anecdotes, adventures, and minor miracles, and a husband and friend with whom to carom and careen through life....or rest, reminisce, and share.

I want to paint hay bales.....

...and circumnavigate our country...

That's not all.....

As time wears on, Michelangelo's image of God bringing Adam to life holds a deeper meaning for me. I am still learning: still a student of what it means to be human and to aspire. Sixty is too old for lots of things...my eyes will keep me from hitting a fast ball; my knees from downhill skiing; my nerves from drinking coffee all night like I did when I was twenty. But God's word tells us it is never too late to seek His face, to walk His path, or to meditate on His word. Adam's finger reaches for the life giving hand of God, but it could as well be mine. Six, sixteen, sixty or beyond, we can never learn enough...

Monday, October 10, 2016

Time Capsule ....or.....Now We Are Six(ty)

" I don't feel very different, she said, I know it's strange....."

Back When We Were Beautiful
Matraca Berg
I remember the '57 Chevy...and not just the pictures of it, either. We drove it a long time. Laura and I were very young, but it seemed very big, and the only thing keeping two little girls from rattling around the back seat was the bubbly vinyl seat covering my folks put in to protect the upholstery. We stuck to it pretty good; this was long before seat belts in the back. The '63 red Dodge Dart didn't have seat belts, nor did the '64 Volkswagen Beetle.
We had the Volkswagen while my mother was attending night school to get her teacher's certificate. While she was in class, my father took us to the laundromat. I learned my multiplication tables and long division to the swishing and sloshing of washing machines in Naperville, Illinois. When we had completed our lessons, we got to share a bottle of orange Fanta from the vending machine....or maybe a Tab...while we were folding the laundry. Tab was new and it tasted terrible, but I remember feeling quite adventurous trying it.

Afterwards, Laura would curl up behind the back seat and I'd stretch on the back seat. The Bug didn't have a radio, but my father hung his AM-FM transistor from the rear view mirror and listened to one of Chicago's classical music stations while we waited in the dark.

I was hanging my coat up in the hallway outside Mrs. Erdman's second grade class when I heard President Kennedy had been shot.

When I asked my father whether he thought Mr. Goldwater or Mr. Johnson should be President in 1964, he said one would probably be a better president and the other would be probably be better for his job.

In 1968, our class spring field trip to either the Museum of Science and Industry or the Field Museum was canceled because of the rioting after Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination.

Our family watched the first moon landing while gathered around a tiny black and white television  in the creek side rooms of a lodge in South Dakota when my father's work took him there for several weeks. We didn't watch much television that summer, nor did we stay up late: doing both in one night marked the occasion as momentous.

I remember when Harry Caray was with the Cardinals( til 1969); the first stumbling broadcasts of Mike Shannon(1972); our first air conditioned car, a 1968 pale yellow low slung Plymouth Fury with a cushy suspension but no power steering; and the epic collapse of the Cubs that broke the city's heart and paved the way for the Miracle Mets (1969). I got to see “The Sound of Music” on a theater trip with our Girl Scout group and “Mary Poppins” with our family at the theater in LaGrange." Dumbo" made me sad and "Pinocchio" made me scared.

We played whiffle ball in the driveway. I had a pair of roller skates that adjusted length and width-wise with a key; I loved to coast down the driveway and turn right onto the sidewalk of our long corner lot. After a while, sand and grit got into the bearings, or the metal spread and your wheels would either lock up or spill bearings into the street.

I got a social security number the summer I accompanied my father to practice and play several concerts with the Lemont Town Band under the direction of Mr. Nichols.  I dearly wish I could tell you more about Mr. Nichols.  My impression is that he had been a band director of some note in the hey day of John Philip Sousa and his peers. He was aged by then, a tall spare stooped figure of few words leading a smallish town band in the basement of the city hall.  His wheelchair bound wife always accompanied him to practice.  The sheet music was old, yellowed, black with fast notes and stamped with his name at the top.  When we played virtuoso chestnuts like “Norma”, “Carnival of Venice”, and original arrangements of “The Washington Post”, “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Colonel Bogey”, the band barely hung together through the multiple repeats and the trio, but somehow maintained its force and plunged with a flourish and much relief to the coda. I knew no one could really hear one small clarinet or had time to notice me foundering in my search for the key signature, or the fingering for some accidental an octave above the staff, but the experience that summer left lasting memories of a musical past just out of sight behind me, and what technical quick wittedness was required to make all those notes bubble out effortlessly.

I got three checks in the mail…$6 dollars each for playing with the Lemont Band.  It seemed an immense amount of money at the time for a player no better than I was. Those checks, with their official looking Social Security number, undoubtedly went directly into my savings account.  

Kids my age got chicken pox...and German measles (what we called the three day measles).  My sister and I got one of the very first measles immunizations, which has lasted all these years.  We never did catch the mumps despite being exposed to them many times.
 We went to the dentist every six months like we were supposed to...but instead of a new toothbrush and tube of toothpaste, we left the dentist office with one of those fruity suckers on a looped string!

When our family lived in Orland Park, it was a town of 4500 people with an IGA, a lumberyard, a laundromat, a Dog 'n Suds, a library, the Orland Bank, a new Methodist church, our church, Christ Lutheran, and St. Michael's Catholic Church and parochial school. A harbinger of the growth to come, I attended both of the elementary schools, Orland Park,in town with its 1950s addition to the brick school and 1930s rock gymnasium, and Orland Center, with its one room schoolhouse and 1950s building addition, set between the sod fields and hog farms. I could walk to both from our subdivision...over the railroad tracks and through the older neighborhoods...
......or past the vacant lots flooded during the winter for ice skating and hockey, past the little league baseball fields, under the Osage orange trees and across 151st Street.

We can't stay Six...or Clever as Clever either for that matter.  But Winnie the Pooh is full of wisdom...for a bear "of very little brain"....and has a solution for all of us six to sixty.....

So be it....

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Breaking Up is Hard to Do...

It was cleaning the bathroom that did it. The downstairs bathroom, the one with a few leftover diapers in various sizes underneath the counter, the one with tear free kid's shampoo in the cabinet, the one with the rubbery dinosaur and frog from Target, the yellow duckie hand sponge, and the squirty fish toys that continued to bring squeals of surprise and laughter to baths as each grandchild came to visit and say, "I want to take a bath..."  

It was just yesterday, I swear, that Aaron would climb up my back before his bath and ask for the "cups and spoons" out of my kitchen that stood in for 'real' bath toys before this grandma was quite prepared for water play.  And here on my Timehop is a picture from five years ago...five years! with a little short Josh climbing out of his pants in an effort to join his older brother...a measuring cup in the picture... in the big iron tub just off the living room. 

 (It's an odd location for a bathroom, I concede, but closer to the family action and far warmer in the wintertime than than the one upstairs.) Josh doesn't ask for cups and spoons when he takes a bath anymore; Aaron is 13, and more likely to take a shower upstairs these days.when the kids come to stay. Levi still plays with the little boats and squishy fishes, but the time is coming when these toys will have done all their work and be as unnecessary as the diapers I should take to church so someone can use them.... What should I do with that handful of cheap little toys? Scoop them into a drawer? Into the trash? Will I be tidy? Or sentimental? I don't know.  The squeaky frog toy my kids played with at my parents' still lives on the side of the tub.

This big, old, cluttered house doesn't lack for room for the toys of kids of all ages: the Gator, thirteen years old and now mute, but plenty sturdy for whichever kid, 4 to 9 chooses to  skid it across the wood floor; the hardwood blocks in their wagon, made by my grandfather and well into their third generation of construction; a veritable artist studio of pencils and notepads, hole punches, stamps, and markers in the dining room at two short wooden play tables; dollies of various vintage that are still occasionally swaddled and left napping on the ottoman. The kids still dig through the big red barn toy box for defunct cell phones, handbags, and assorted construction toys, but there's no doubt the My Little Ponies, farm animals, and Toy Story characters are lonely for company these days...all but Buzz Lightyear! 

 Buzz, a handmedown from Gus via Lydia has captivated every small child in this house with his spinning aura of green and purple and astonishingly long battery life. Even Blake and I behold him with awe.

Thankfully, the front room is still awash with Legos...current Legos, five year old Legos, ten year old Legos....twenty year old Legos.........Legos a quarter century old! Legos: the past, the present, the happily ever after hand-me-down!

Despite the amusing meme and very real danger stepping on a Lego, it is a lucky grandma who finds random Lego creations lining the window sills and standing guard from the stairwell.

  Periodically, when Levi calls to Facetime, he will ask if he can see the "toy room", and I walk through to reassure him that the train tracks and the farm machinery are as they were when last he saw them.

The day of Aaron's first junior high football game, Ann forwarded me a picture of Ben's seventh grade football picture. Ben has a big grin, wearing a big 75 on his red jersey.  I guess he hadn't gotten the memo about looking grim and unsmiling in your sports shots. When I look at his picture, all I can think is, "Who pasted that little kid's head on that football body?"

Aaron's smiling sixth grade football pic on my fridge has been replaced by a squinting wary serious looking guy wearing the #30 Wolves jersey. No rookie photo mistakes for this seventh grader.  

Years have passed between the junior high Indian and Wolf, and much has changed besides the uniform. But not the fun of climbing bleachers or making a road trip with other moms, dads, grandparents, friends...and assorted younger siblings and cousins.

Isn't there a song that says "Growing Up is Hard to Do"?  NO...wait!  That's "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" by Neil Sedaka....showing my age. It isn't always easy to pack away old toys or happy memories.  So the bath toys stay at their posts, waiting to play with Joshie or Levi and I stick another piece of tape to keep the multi layered artwork on the door.  

Yeah, and I'm better at Waylon and Willie than Neil Sedaka....
"She just talks about the good times they've had and all the good times to come"
--Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Soul Food

John 21:9-13English Standard Version (ESV)

9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.
"Come and have breakfast." With these words, our Lord beckoned his friends from their long night's labors to eat with him on the beach. We may not use those exact words, but every Sunday, the Fellowship hall fills from within and without as the good smells of coffee and casseroles leak out into the morning and waft down the hallway. The early church goers meet and greet on their way out of the sanctuary, joining a serving line that is always shaped like a Matroshka doll: the littlest ones ready for seconds before the adults have filled their plates.

"Feed my sheep", He told Peter, and in the most down to earth way, we certainly do. This Sunday it's our turn to cook and serve, which means I get to work with some of my favorite cooks....

Ann: "I have 40 plus little egg/sausage muffin things".
Lee:"I have stuff for two 9x13 done need them both?"
Ann:"I would. "
Lee:" Ok. Will do!"
Me:"I bought pie pans to make either 2 or 4 quiches...?"
Ann: "Oh with the quiche I bet we don't need Lees extra! "
Lee:"I can make it- we can always eat it for lunch:)"......
As it turns out, our church body licks the pans clean, consuming the 40 "little egg/sausage muffin things", the two 9x13 pans of egg casseroles, and two pans of quiche (real men do eat quiche, I guess!) as well as three pounds of lovely red Holiday Grapes, and something more than the Biblical two loaves of home baked poppy seed, apple, zucchini, and applesauce bread. We aren't the five thousand..or even the four....but we are a flock.
"Feed my sheep."
If it's good enough for our Lord, I guess it's worthy work for us. Load the bags and coolers in the back of the car to deliver meals. Bring a salad, a potato, a dessert, to feed a bereaved family: the original meaning of "comfort" food. Fill a roaster with pancakes and a Crockpot with sausage to "let the little children come to me and do not hinder them!", and then wipe the tables of syrup and smudges of peanut butter with the knowledge that similar grubby hands hugged the neck of the Son of God.

1 Corinthians 12:27-28

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.
Hmm. Well, the apostle Paul clearly didn't spend as much time thinking about food as does your average small town Baptist or the cooks would have made that list of gifts. Just kidding. The world is way short of apostles, prophets, teachers, and miracles compared to folks who can whip up some Texas potatoes, ham salad, or mac 'n cheese on a dime. But, apocryphal or nay, the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln has the ring of truth....

The full laden tables and shelves of church cookbooks attest to the corollary: that God so loved the world...that He provided a passel of cooks. Common as grass and necessary as air: hands and heart serving where wisdom and words fail us common folk.

"Come and have breakfast."

"Feed my sheep."

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Turkey Redux

My ongoing computer education...and labor of love....is the compilation of six years of "The Farmer's Wife", Millie's weekly vignettes of humor, history, reminiscence, and sometimes all three for the Tarkio Avalanche.  It's a dandy occupation for fall nights: sitting on the couch with a baseball game silently playing on the television  and a laptop on my....well, lap.  This week, Blake happens to be hobnobbing with high tech agriculture types at what we common folk might characterize as a "Shark Tank" gathering for agricultural innovation.  As an erstwhile future consumer of what these folks are peddling, his message to them could be paraphrased in the famous, if unsubstantiated, words of Benjamin Franklin upon signing the Declaration of Independence: "If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately." One might assume this message would resonate, perhaps precipitate a rousing 'hooah', but that was not the case.  The participants were "all in" when the subject was the application of technology to seed, machinery, and other inputs for crop production.  But when the subject turned to modern animal production systems, the affirmation could be summarized as 'crickets'.   No surprise to hear that the food served at this gathering was heavy on descriptive terms....and light on substance. It isn't an encouraging scenario: the best and brightest minds toiling on a future for agriculture....that harkens back to mid 20th century for its models of poultry or pork or beef production.

Therein lies a tale....a slice of history, if you will, unadorned, unedited, and without any of the warm feelings modern poultry hobbyists and proponents of the good old days would like to pull over the cold hard facts like a cozy comforter.  

Here's Millie's 2008 article about the rise and fall of pasture turkey production from one Atchison county farmer's  experience back in the 1950s:
 The Farmer's Wife
    THIS PICTURE, TAKEN IN 1956 - Shows 12 acres of turkeys with the same amount on the other side of the hill. Lynn Niemann had sold 6,000 turkeys prior to this picture being taken. He was told that he was one of the largest tur­ key producers at that time.

By this time, many of you have already purchased your turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. The size of it depends on how many people there will be gathered around your table on Thanksgiving Day. You had a few things to consider when you purchased it, besides the size of it. What brand would be the best tasting? Would you buy a frozen one or a fresh one? Where would you get the most meat for the cheapest price? Possibly other factors not mentioned here were considered as well. As you took it home, did you ever consider how convenient it was to be able to find a nice fat turkey at your grocery store?

I have visited with Charles Lynn Niemann several different times about his experience with raising turkeys during the 1950's.

Lynn lived north of the Farmers City Store. His father owned 160 acres of which 100 or more he kept in permanent pasture. It was basically unproductive. Looking about for a method to utilize this in a productive manner, Lynn started raising turkeys, ranging them on this pasture land.

The first year he raised 200, then went to 1,000, 3,000, 5,000, and then to 10,000. The first four years in this business were profitable. The last year the market went to pot, thanks to several different companies entering the production, processing, and marketing phase of this business. Consequently, the price in a controlled market did not improve, as well as other factors beyond Lynn's control, and he, as well as many others in the business, absorbed a huge loss and most producers and Lynn quit the business.

One of the hazards in turkey  production on an open range is an unexpected hard rain.  The turkeys drown quite readily if a large or heavy rain is the first exposure to the young turkeys. Lynn witnessed 4,000 drowning the first night  there was  a hard  rain  on  the  range, that  time  a  $12,000  loss, and there was  no way  to prevent  it. There were other factors in the loss of many turkeys due to heat  and predators.

Lynn related to me that during this time of raising these turkeys, it took several truckloads of feed a day. He did not have an adequate supply of water and hired Luke Mather to haul a load of water to the turkeys every day. He eventually had a deep well dug which helped supply water to the turkeys but, again, at a cost.

The year after he stopped raising the turkeys, he planted corn on the acres where the turkeys were raised. There had been so much turkey manure on the land that  the white  corn planted there produced over 170 bushels per acre, a record yield for Atchison  County at that time. 
 When he quit the turkey business, Lynn had suffered  close to a $60,000 loss. That was a lot of money i n the 1950's. , He said, "It was a time in my life not worth remembering."

I believe Millie's piece about Lynn Niemann would resonate with livestock producers attempting to convince the general population and well meaning animal advocates that reinventing the wheel when it comes to animal agriculture will come at a price.  More animals will be injured or killed by predators, weather, and their cohorts in pastures and pens.  Prices will be more volatile and costs will increase.  That is a pattern centuries old.  Only time will tell whether the innovators at Blake's meeting will produce breakthroughs  that change the food system for the better.  But rehashing methods older than our grand and great-grand parents used is surely not the answer....