Small Town Christmas

Small Town Christmas

Monday, December 5, 2016

Lessons from a Christmas Tree

I saw this cute graphic on my friend, Linda's, Facebook page. I think those are all good things to remember during this busy holiday season. But I've learned some additional lessons from my Christmas tree this year, too.

In the olden days, we'd chop down a tree from a St. John tree farm. I loved the whole process.
Christmas 1990
We'd wander the trails at the tree farm and do a Goldilocks search for one that was "just right."
The smell of pine would permeate the crisp, winter day.
Christmas 1995
The tree farm folks would shake and wrap the tree while we went inside the store to drink hot spiced cider and crack open a few peanuts. Putting up the tree in the living room was the prelude to Christmas and all its sights and smells.
Christmas 1990
OK, so maybe I'm waxing nostalgic and forgetting the pine sap, the prickly needles all over the carpet and the spilled water. Just this morning on the news, I heard that live trees can bring an infestation of aphids into the house. We had enough aphids in our milo fields, thank you very much! And maybe I've forgotten squeezing two kids into the center seat belt of the pickup for our 25-mile excursion to the Christmas tree farm.

By the time the kids got into high school, I was the only one who still cherished the tradition. So, now we have a pre-lit tree. Let me clarify. It's supposed to be pre-lit. But this year, only about a third of the lights came on when we plugged it in.

"Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!" was not Randy's first thought. Some traditions never change. These days his only job is to help schlep the plastic tubs of decorations up from downstairs and get the tree set up. This year, he had to add lighting back into his holiday schedule. He added two more strings to the tree and we called it good.
I think some additional lights flickered out after we did the light positioning - or so it appears when I examine the photos I took.  They seem congregated around the middle, kind of like Santa's jolly belly.

It was not the only light fatality. The evergreen swag I use over the grandfather clock also didn't light. Another extra strand of lights fixed that problem.

I can't even find my miniature Christmas tree. Did it quit working last year and I tossed it? Did I think I'd remember to replace it before this holiday season? Well, if that's what I thought, I clearly was mistaken.

I think I need to actually read one of the books that I use to decorate my mantle, "Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect." It was given to the kids by our minister and dear friend, Cheryl, long ago.

No Christmas trees aren't perfect. Neither are Christmas decorations (unless they are on those fancy schmantzy HGTV shows).

But you know what? The Savior of the world was cradled in a smelly manger. So if my Christmas tree lights aren't placed with algebraic precision, I think it's going to be OK.
As I pull the ornaments from the boxes, it's a trip down memory lane. The elf my Grandma Leonard made when I was a little girl lost its hanger long ago, so I nestle it in the tree branches.
One of my newer ornaments was made by our former pastor Amy, who used stain glass to resemble the ceiling panels at our church.
My favorites are the photo ornaments which capture moments in time.
Other decorations remind me of my crafty mother-in-law. Marie added to our Santa collection year after year.
But Marie didn't ignore the true message of Christmas with her creations either. I have her quilted nativity scene on the piano.
How can we, in the midst of our culture's conspicuous consumption and demand for perfection, turn our focus on the Child who was born into poverty as a sign of hope and salvation for a broken world? While it may seem the world demands perfection, the Gospel message demands nothing from us. Rather, God invites us to gather around the manger just as we are: unfinished lists, burnt pies and all. No matter our imperfections, great or small, God invites us to peek into the manger and gaze at the real Christmas message: That Christ came for us all to be a beacon of hope for the hopeless and to bring peace.
Rev. Amy Slater, 
Stafford UMC newsletter, Christmas 2012
 So, yes, I am still learning from my less-than-perfect Christmas tree this year.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Living Life: To Click or Not to Click?

Brooke, 2, & Kinley, 4 (almost 5!)
The only photo I took on Thanksgiving Day was of Brent's first-ever smoked turkey. And I took it with my cell phone, so it wasn't all that great. Let me clarify: The photo wasn't great. It was the best turkey we've ever had, but I still didn't get my good camera out of the case.

Instead of clicking the camera shutter, I read a dozen library books - literally - to two little girls. I read some of them two or three times. (Who knew Bill Peet's Encore for Eleanor would be such a hit? I read every word for Kinley.  Brooke and I developed our own shortened version, which she then "read" the same way every time.)

I helped Kinley figure out how to make paper crowns out of coloring book pages. (You have to improvise at Uncle Brent's. We were lucky he had tape.)

Instead of searching for bargains on Black Friday in Topeka, I read some more. We also colored with sparkle glue that mommies like to leave in the craft box but Grandmas are willing to make a mess with. I also played with dollies and helped a girl become a princess.
I may have sworn off heels, but I can help a girl who thinks they are a necessity when wearing a fancy purple princess dress.

As it turns out, princesses are also interested in photography.
Even though Brooke kept pushing the button trying to connect the camera to wi-fi, she managed to take more shots than I did on Friday. (Don't tell her that I deleted the majority of them.)

I took some photos of Kinley and Brooke on the porch of their house before we went off on our big adventure - seeing "Finding Dory" at the discount movie theater.
Brooke only lasted half-way through before we sent out an SOS to Mommy to come and pick her up. As she told Jill, "It was dark in there." It was good while the popcorn lasted.
I didn't swear off the camera all together. I took a few photos at the K-State game. We don't often get the flags on our end of the football field, but I was ready this week to line up the flags with the K-State image in reverse on the football field.
I recorded the celebration after Bill Snyder's 200th win, and my favorite photo was this one that showed two of the quarterbacks at the end of the line as the team worked its way around the stadium, greeting fans.

But I only took 35 photos the whole weekend. It's not unusual for me to take twice that number (or more) on a family-filled weekend.

I saw a cartoon in which one character complained to the other, "I hate how people take pictures instead of just enjoying the view. Documenting your life distracts you from living it." (I'm not going to show the actual cartoon because there is some unnecessary bad language.)

The other character says, "Trying to take a picture makes me pay more attention to it. Some of my best adventures are built around trying to photograph something."

I have a little bit of both those people in me. Sometimes, it's more important to read those books or make a mess with glitter glue.

And sometimes it's important to capture a moment - whether it's sisters hugging on the front porch or a beautiful start to a new day. 
I think there's room for both. Who says I can't have a split personality?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Oh Deer!

So ... do you think this deer could read?
This doe was hanging out around the "No Hunting Zone" sign at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Was she taunting us? I could almost hear the "Na, na, na, na, na!" as we sat in the pickup and she commenced with the stare down. However, my camera was my only "hunting" equipment anyway.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Birds

Uninvited guests can wreak havoc at a party. No Kansas wheat farmer wants to provide a never-ending buffet for tens of thousands of geese. But, for several weeks, migrating geese have evidently seen an all-you-can-eat buffet sign flashing green from the heavens. And they say, "Don't mind if we do!"
Farmers try to send them on their way by honking their horns and making more drive-bys than a police cruiser trying to clean up a shady neighborhood. But about as soon as farmers mosey on down the road to the next location, the geese circle back for another taste of tender green wheat.
While hunters might enjoy the influx of geese in Central Kansas, wheat farmers prefer the feathered beasts find their buffet elsewhere, since they can eat a young wheat field to bare ground faster than a teenage boy and his friends can plow through a bag of chips.
We are just south of the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Thankfully, we don't have as many birds on our crop land as they host on the refuge. One of the sites I researched estimates that more than 800,000 ducks and geese visit the Refuge until severe weather drives them southward to winter along the Gulf Coast and in Mexico. Being nearby when they lift off reminds me a bit of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Simple Praise

Our church choir sang a song for our community Thanksgiving service last Sunday titled  Simple Praise.

As I sit at my computer ...
As I've ridden the 4-wheeler to help move cattle ...
As I've baked and chopped and stirred ...
The words and music of this song have drifted through my mind, over and over again.

And when I've been at choir, pictures have floated into my mind as we've sung the words.

It's about thanks giving. Not necessarily Thanksgiving, though it's certainly the perfect time to recognize God's gifts and blessings all around us. But our thanks giving should be every day, not just on the fourth Thursday in November each year.

I found one choir had uploaded Simple Praise by Craig Courtney and Pamela Martin to youtube. If you'd like, listen to the song (the link is at the bottom of this post) and look at the illustrations that have been floating through my mind and are now assembled together, kind of like that other favorite song of the season, We Gather Together.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from The County Line.

 For a canvas of colors
For a concert of sound
For the unfolding seasons
The earth spinning round
 For the birth of each sunrise
For the sky set ablaze
For these simple gifts
We give simple praise
 Simple praise for the Giver
And thanks to the One
Who has given us breath
And given His Son
To the Giver of blessings
For all of our days
  For these simple gifts

We give simple praise

For the love of a mother
For the touch of a hand
For the deeper emotions
We can't understand

For the lessons we learn
From the trials we face

For these simple gifts
We give simple praise

The heart of the Giver

 The hand of the One
From whom every blessing
Of living has come
 For measureless mercy and limitless grace
For these simple gifts
We give simple praise.

This was updated from a 2012 post.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Life In the "Hood (Calfhood That Is)!

Some of our calves are in the 'hood - the "calfhood," that is.

We build our cow-calf crop by keeping 25 of the heifers born each winter. To work toward that addition to our herd, Randy chooses some of the females as potential future mamas for the County Line.

Dr. David Harder from Prairie Vista Veterinary Clinic recently came to the County Line to "work" the calves which had been born last February and March. As the calves came through the chute, Randy identified the heifers he wanted to retain for our herd, choosing the ones in good body condition and good confirmation.
Dr. Harder gave those heifers a calfhood vaccination to prevent brucellosis, also known as "bangs." This disease causes abortion or premature calving. The vaccination must be performed by an accredited veterinarian, in compliance with state and national regulations.
Dr. Harder used a device to "tattoo" the animal to show it had received the brucellosis vaccination. Then he used green ink to mark the tattoo.
The orange "bands" help identify the calves who've been calfhood vaccinated. Most of these heifers will become part of our cow-calf herd and will have their first calves in 2018 as 2 year olds.

The male calves aren't ignored during this doctor visit. Just like we humans can benefit from routine physicals and preventative care, our bovine charges also need regular doctor visits.
The calves go down a lane and into a squeeze chute. We use the chute to safely restrain the animal and also to keep the people involved safe. Dr. Harder lowered a panel in the chute to check and see whether the "patient" was a boy or girl.
File photo from 2014
He had syringes in both hands, giving the calves shots to prevent blackleg and PBD (persistent bovine diarrhea).
He also gave a shot to control parasites inside and outside the animal. That syringe hung from the chute on a gerry-rigged baling wire hanger. What would we do without baling wire on a farm?
They kept the medications cool by storing them in a specially-fabricated cooler.
A few of the calves had lost their yellow identification ear tags, so Randy put in new ones.

Dr. Harder also gave a growth implant to steers and to heifers we don't plan to keep for breeding. 
The implant is Ralgrow, a hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland and helps the calf grow faster.
The $1 injection will bring a $3 return. We believe it's a matter of using the technology available to more efficiently grow food for consumers. And yes, we eat the cattle we raise here on our farm, too.

Like keeping a patient record for humans, the assistant Liz recorded the "office" visit, making note of the calves we calfhood vaccinated. 
We keep the weaned calves in the corrals for a couple of weeks to get used to being separated from their moms. It also gets them acclimated to eating hay and silage.
They are less likely to be "spooked" by deer or other animals when they are in the corrals, which reduces the chance of them breaking through a fence. We will feed the calves through the winter. In March, we'll sell the steers and any heifers we don't retain for our own herd.

In the meantime, we took some of the ladies-in-waiting to graze on sudan that the guys had fenced off. Others have been dining on an alfalfa field.

The bulls also got a break. They evidently didn't want to leave the summer pasture. When we gathered the mamas at the Ninnescah, two of them were hanging out in cattails. Once we got the cows caught, Randy and I went off on another expedition to find them.
They, too, were run through the chute at the farmstead.
These two from the Ninnescah Pasture joined the two bulls from the Rattlesnake Creek last week at the Palmer pasture.
And there was a rumble in the 'hood. Boys will be boys. They had to have a little contest to see who was "boss," even though there were no "ladies" nearby to impress.
Another fall task is "culling" cows that aren't pregnant. When Dr. Harder found an "open" cow, Randy would mark it with a yellow line on its face and big "O"s on either side. This helps us see them more quickly to sort them off.

We hauled a total of 6 open cows to the sale barn in Hutchinson.
Sometimes, we have to say goodbye to some of the ladies in our 'hood. That's life on the farm.