Wednesday, July 29, 2009

To make the best better

That is 4-H's motto. I revisited my 4-H days last week when I went out to the Pawnee County Fair to be present as the first savings bonds in Dad's memory were presented to winners in the swine and horse competitions.

Dad served as a club and county 4-H leader for more than 30 years, so it was powerful for me (and I'm sure other family members) to see him continue to contribute in this small way.

The 4-H pledge explains what the four Hs are:

"I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living - for my club, my community, my country and my world."

The pledge sounds simple and wholesome, but we learned a lot in 4-H. My siblings and I belonged to the Rozel Rockets in western Pawnee County. They were the Rozel Hustlers before the space race erupted, but adapted to the times.

The Rozel Rockets are no more, though. They merged with the Burdett Blue Ribbons to become the Western Wranglers (western Pawnee County, I take it). I guess that's a reflection of changing times once again.

But a few clubs survive whose names I recognize from my childhood: the Gem Dandys, the Zook Zippers and the Tiny Toilers.

Get the feeling 4-Hers enjoy alliteration?

We learned all sorts of things in the various projects we could enroll in, along with how to run and participate in meetings. That included public speaking, parliamentary procedure and how to sit still for an hour!

That was no small task for tykes, even then.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The dregs of summer television

Beach soccer?
On television???

And they're serious?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sorry, I just can't hate summer

I've been hearing a lot of people talk over the past few weeks about how much they hate summer.

I'm sorry, I just can't join in that chorus.

Maybe it's the farm boy in me, but summer means abundant sunshine and growing season and nature in its full glory: trees and plants and crops and calves and colts and kittens and piglets and puppies.

It means blossoming gardens and vibrant lawns and warm nights and showers that can seem to wash the day clean and make everything fresh. It means ice cream sounds right almost every night and fresh corn on the cob can call my name countlessly. It means barbecues and baseball and easy banter into the evening.

Sure, it also means heat waves and hail storms and maybe even a few tornadoes - but every season has its thorns.

We couldn't live without summer - both literally and figuratively. So count me not with summer's boo-birds.

I'll be over in the Halleluiah Chorus instead.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reflections on a summer Saturday

I would be returning to the city later in the day, but buckets of freshly picked ears of sweet corn demanded my attention at this given moment on our family farm.

I stripped husks from the ears, eliciting screeching sounds from the leaves as I pulled. Silk clung stubbornly and stickily to the yellow kernels.

A southerly breeze suddenly appeared, notable not just for the cool freshness on my back but for the way it clattered through the trees in the yard.

This, I thought as I glanced up, is summer in full blossom. As the wind whipped through the leaves, it sounded much like raindrops on a roof...or applause building, peaking and ebbing at a stage show.

Off to the east, clouds were erupting and darkening, and I knew Larned and Great Bend would soon get rain. Rarely is moisture unwelcome in farm country - when it halts a harvest, say, or aggravates a flooding risk - but I knew farmers east of our place would smile even as the sky grew increasingly angry.

These weren't tornado clouds, they were just a hearty summer shower in the making. My goddaughter, Rachel, was helping me clean the corn, and I told her to close her eyes and the wind, the leaves, the birds.

To summer.

"Oh, yeah," she said after several moments, a smile spreading on her face. "That's cool."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Faces at a fair

I spent a couple of hours at the Larned community building with Mom yesterday, wearing red "volunteer" ribbons, to make sure no one walked off with the champion onions or the best jar of wheat or one of those hand-stitched quilts that got a yellow ribbon for participating.

Let's just say I wasn't worried.

Among those who came to browse the projects on display was Mrs. Haun. She remembers being a young 4-Her...back when Herbert Hoover was president.

"I showed a hog at the fair," she offered sweetly. "I sold it to pay for my wedding dress."

She was 17. It was 1929.

Her children would form the backbone of the Gem Dandys 4-H Club, in the northcentral part of the county. The Gem Dandys club is one of perhaps four left in the county. "We came up with the name," she said of her family.

Fitting, since Mrs. Haun is a gem, and it was dandy to talk to her.


Then there was the anonymous guy who was wearing a ball cap boasting of Iron City, Mich. It's cold there in the winter, he said. So cold that you could go sledding and if your sinuses were running it would freeze as you slid down the hill.

"By the time you got to the bottom, you'd look like a walrus," he offered.

Um, thanks for that visual image, sir.


Stephen Schartz, who was one year behind my twin brother and me in school over at Pawnee Heights, came through the building with his wife, Kaye. He stopped to say "hi" and tease me about my red "volunteer" ribbon. And then he opined to Mom and me that this was the best time to buy chicks, so you wouldn't need a heat lamp to keep 'em warm in the first few weeks of their life. Oh, and it would be comfortable temperatures in the fall...when it comes time to kill 'em, clean 'em and put 'em in the freezer. He's even figured out a way to strip the feathers quickly and hands-free.

Good luck with that, Stephen.


Then there was the Josefiak girl who is getting ready for her wedding. She just graduated from vet school at K-State and will be marrying another vet, a schoolmate who has already moved to northcentral Nebraska to help expand an existing vet practice.

Her grandmother said she talked repeatedly about never, ever, moving farther north because she hates winter...and ends up falling in love with a vet who will be living and working a stone's throw from South Dakota. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?


And finally, there was a former classmate of my oldest brother, Don, who was the essence of patience as his wife studied quilts and crochet and cookies. He asked my Mom if I was one of her grandsons.

That made me smile.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

And the winner is.....

.......well, actually, she was the reserve grand champion in the "fitting and showing" class of the swine project at the Pawnee County 4-H Fair.

Her name was Briana O'Neill, and Dad would have been pleased that she won the first $50 savings bond given in his memory.

"She's a good girl," Mom told me. "She comes from a nice family."

That's Mom in the background of my photograph. The savings bond is one of two that will be given in Dad's honor at the annual 4-H fair. The second will go to the total points winner in the junior division of the horse project on Friday. That's appropriate, because Dad loved horses and he was a swine project leader for decades.

Sure, it's only $50, but it's a way for Dad to keep giving to the organization - and the young people - that he loved.

The maelstrom otherwise known as swine judging

I had to stifle laughter as I watched the "fitting and showing" judging of swine at the fairgrounds arena this morning. Hogs are ornery and independent, and by 9:30 in the morning they were more in the mood to nuzzle and nibble the wood chips on the arena floor than pay any attention to what their "handlers" (and I use that term very loosely) wanted them to do.

The 4-Hers were using riding crops to try to control their animals. When I was in 4-H, we used wooden canes. Not that they were very useful, though I guess the crook of the cane could come in handy for tugging rooting snouts out of the dirt.

One boy's hog made himself at home on the wood chips and wouldn't budge for anyone or anything. Not squirts of water, not knees in the ribs, not metal panels that fair volunteers used to separate pigs grappling with each other (or, as I put it, sparring spare ribs of the future). Yes, that's him glaring at my camera after they finally roused his porker from a prone position.

In 4-H, grand champions get purple ribbons, reserve grand champions get pink ribbons, top performers get blue (the champion and reserve champion come from blue-ribbon entrants), mid-level receive red, and third-level get white.

In some projects, such as foods and photography, the non-winners get a yellow "participant" ribbon. Ouch. "Thanks for coming, but...."

Anyway, I wish I'd had my video camera rolling for the entire junior fitting and showing competition. The animals were bigger than some of the children in the arena (you have to be 7 before you can join 4-H), and some of the hogs were determined to root and root and root with their noses 'til they had a comfy place to flop in the shade. Makes sense on a hot summer day - but not in the arena during the fitting and showing competition.

That may seem like no big deal - after all, they are pigs - but one of my enduring memories of 4-H fairs was getting up at the crack of dawn to wash your two hogs entered in the swine competition, and then using baby oil and baby powder on their hides to make them glisten. Why? So we can make hogs look good!!!
But, to me, hogs look best as bacon, ham, barbecue ribs......

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Off to the fair we go

I'm in Larned for a few days to visit Mom and the family farm and take in the Pawnee County 4-H Fair for the first time in several years.

We'll be giving out the first savings bonds in Dad's honor to winners in horse and swine projects, the fruits of money donated in Dad's memory after he died in 2006. It'll be bittersweet, to be sure...and I was tossing and turning last night wrestling with emotions that came to the surface as I reflected on what we would be doing at the fair.

Dad was a 4-H club and county leader for more than 30 years, so it was only natural that people would remember him by donating to the 4-H foundation. He nurtured generations of kids through the organization, which focused on developing leadership and civics skills in young people by offering a wide range of projects for them. Once focused almost exclusively on farming tasks, 4-H's project list reflects a much stronger urban flavor now.

In case you're wondering, the 4 Hs are 'head, heart, hands and health.' I can't remember the 4-H motto off the top of my head at the moment, but I'm sure it will come to me eventually.

The fair is held in a different part of town now; when I was growing up, it was held in and next to Moffett Stadium, not far from downtown or the municipal swimming pool. Moffett Stadium seemed to date back to the Depression, built as it was out of concrete, with wooden planks for much of its seating.

Now the fair is held at nice new facilities on the edge of town, just north of the armory. I'm not saying the change is bad --- but it sure is different. The old location reverberated with history: not just generations of young people striving for ribbons and trophies and the attention of their peers, but countless major events in Larned's past.

The new digs may well feel like that some day. But they don't yet.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My couch is at it again

So I was sitting here on my couch working on my blog when my glasses slipped off the arm rest of the couch (sometimes I take them off to work on the computer) and down between the arm and the cushion.


I reach down to retrieve them, brought them up - and one of the lenses was missing. Baffled, I dug out a flashlight to see what had happened...because they hadn't fallen hard at all.


The flashlight showed that the frames I had retrieved were not the glassses that had just fallen down there - but an older pair whose absence I had noticed a week or more ago: "Where did those things go?"

I'm sure I was reading something on my laptop some time back, took them off like I often do and simply forgot about them when I was done with the computer.

Me? Forget my glasses? Sure, it's been done before. Sometimes I have to remind myself to put them on before I head out the door to work, because my eyesight without my glasses isn't all that bad. I need them for distance viewing, but not most day-to-day tasks reasonably close at hand.

Fortunately, the loose lens was down on the floor just beneath the frames to which it belonged. The frames aren't bent and the lens isn't scratched, so it should be simple enough for my optometrist just down the street to fix them.

Thankfully, the glasses that did just slip down between the cushion and the arm rest were within easy reach, and they're fine.

But probably the most amazing aspect of this journey to the depths of my couch came next. Just out of curiosity, I shined my flashlight elsewhere below where the seat cushion rests --- and spotted a weathered wallet.

I expected it to be empty. It wasn't. There was a driver's license that was valid until 1997. Bank receipts from a June day in 1994. A couple of credit cards issued by a bank that no longer exists....and now long expired. A Sam's card. A Wichita Eagle employee ID card.

Even cash...which I think is still valid currency, in spite of how dusty the ol' George Washingtons are.

I had to reflect on what happened to allow a wallet to slip unnoticed between the cushions. The dates on the receipts and notes written on the back of a card provided the clues. I had just returned from 2 weeks in Europe - a pilgrimage that took us from Rome to Assisi, Florence, Salzburg, Munich and Venice.

Marvelous trip....but I'll share memories from it another time.

I left the wallet at home so I wouldn't lose it overseas, instead tucking my passport, a credit card and driver's license into a travel belt that I could slip inside the shirt and waistband of my pants or shorts. When I returned home, I bought a new wallet and soon transferred everything.....well, clearly not EVERYthing, as I discovered today.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

A night of near misses - and one that didn't

I found myself watching an episode of "Storm Chasers" on the Discovery Channel tonight. The series follows groups of storm chasers through spring in Tornado Alley...some trying to gather scientific data that will help researchers and meteorologists better understand tornadoes and the conditions that create them......and some just trying to capture video and photos that will draw large numbers of hits to their Web sites.

This particular episode struck close to home, because it was in late May in Kansas last year. The Friday before Memorial Day, when tornadoes touched down awfully close to Quinter - the small town next to I-70 in northwest Kansas where my oldest brother, Don, lives. I remember blogging about those tornadoes - one of which hovered in the sky and passed over I-70 and Quinter before finally touching down north of town. Talk about a close call....

Later that night, a tornado touched down in Kiowa County and seemed headed right for Greensburg...which had been decimated by an F5 tornado just the year before. Thankfully, it fell apart prior to reaching Greensburg.

Hearing the tornado sirens go off in the wrecked town that Greensburg largely remained was particularly chilling. As threatening as the clouds appeared, the poor souls of Greensburg had to be shaken to the core as those sirens blared, given what they had been through the previous May.

I was glad to see the researchers check out farm damage north of Quinter the next morning, to remind viewers of what tornadoes can do. There was something important missing from the episode, however: perhaps 50 miles east of Greensburg, on that stormy Friday night, a couple from Colorado was struck and killed by a tornado as they drove east toward Wichita. Driving through a storm in the dark, they probably never knew what hit them.

It would have been wise to mention the fatalities, to remind viewers what can happen when tornadoes strike.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A total headache

Well, as I suspected, that hail storm last Wednesday totaled my Mercury Sable. An All-State agent confirmed that for me.

Now I wait to hear from someone else what they'll pay me for my 10-year-old car. I may end up being able to buy a cup of coffee with that check.

But here's the thing: except for the cracked windshield, the car still runs and rides I'm sorely tempted to keep it and drive it for a while, even though it looks like somebody attacked it with a ballpeen hammer.

Given the doldrums of the current economy and the cutbacks so many businesses have had to make - including newspapers - I'm reluctant to dole out a bunch of money for a new set of wheels.

I guess that's the farm boy in me: if it still works well, why toss it aside? Let's hope I get a lot more miles out of that Sable, dents and all.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The song of the cicadas

I went for a walk tonight, chased to the dying moments of sunlight by the day's unyielding heat. As I strolled through the residential streets surrounding my apartment complex, I heard the song of the cicadas.

As a child, I always associated that sound with the arrival of August - which, with school days just around the corner, meant the departure of summer.

Oh, not the summer's heat, but the 'freedom' of the season. Summer meant no classes, no long bus rides, no homework or interminable list of math equations to tackle.

Not that we ever had the freedom to while away those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer that I heard about in song, and from the stories of those who grew up in the city. On the farm there were always chores to do, and the older we got the more work there was to be done.

But summer still meant the lunch break could be two hours if the heat was especially intense, and if we needed 10 minutes to get a drink of water and catch our breath, we could do that.

Summer also meant you would likely be out in the field or the barn or the yard in a place where you could watch the traffic flash by on the state highway or the horses frolic in the pasture or birds flittering about in the trees - all sights denied you when you were locked away in a classroom somewhere.

I guess that's why the sound of cicadas always filled me with a sense of sadness as a youth, coming as they typically did so late in a child's summer. And that old melancholy flashed tonight when I heard them again - even though we haven't even reached the midpoint of July yet.

So sing a song of summer, cicadas. You don't have to mean "farewell."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How hot is it?

It's so hot that as I stood in the Best Buy parking lot this afternoon I felt like a sausage being cooked on a massive Teflon frying pan.

It's so hot I thought my tennis shoes would melt even as I stood there.

It's so hot that I could feel the heat radiating from me even as the AC in my apartment hummed and hummed and hummed.

I'm guessing Wichita hit 103 today...which would be the hottest day of the year here.

But you know what? It's July in Kansas. That means summer. And summer means some days are going to be mighty hot. I'd still take this over winter....any time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A hail of a storm

Windows are shattered in the bedrooms. The screens have been shredded. So much hail had piled up on the balcony in a matter of minutes that it looked like it had snowed. The hail stones pounded the roof of my apartment building so intensely I had to shout to be heard on the phone.

And that wasn't even the worst of the storm that blew up in the atmosphere Wednesday night and savaged sections of Wichita. Hail the size of baseballs struck downtown and in neighborhoods around the city.

There's something poetic about baseball-sized hail falling at the baseball stadium...unless it was your vehicle that had its windows crushed by the onslaught.

My car took a pounding in its own right. My front windshield has a handful of cracks, which spent a steamy Thursday lengthening. I'm going to have to replace the windshield...and I may have to replace the car.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"The coldest beer in town"

How many times have I heard that phrase in beer commercials?

Don't they all have coolers? Don't they all keep the brewskis at about the same temperature? Come on.

When I hear a store advertise "the coldest beer in town," that sounds like, "the beer we offer sucks, so we'll brag about its temperature instead."

Tell me you have more varieties than any other store.....or more of our local favorites....or more shelves of good beer than anybody else.

But "the coldest beer in town"? Really? Why? Is it frozen? Does it come in bricks, not just 6-packs?


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Where's the cheese?

"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win you're still a rat."

- Lilly Tomlin