Tag Archives: Kansas

Garden Adventures

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Home is where the heart is! A healthy sample of our potato crop: little red potatoes, some shaped like hearts.

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Invasion! Colorado Potato Beetle Larva devouring my potato plants!

Yesterday Van and I spent a lovely evening in the garden after dinner. While he fussed over where to put seeds, I pulled weeds, thinned out competing baby plants, and discovered a horde of hideous  larval Colorado Potato Beetles.  Not wanting to touch them, I batted the nasty little buggers off the potato plants and into a plastic bucket.  I must have knocked at least fifty into the bucket in twenty minutes.  Van had recently ordered a kit: lady bugs, praying mantis, lacewings, and beneficial nematodes to eliminate nasty garden pests without the use of pesticides.  They should arrive soon, and I can’t wait to see them in action!

While I was pulling Morning Glory vines away from the rows, something cool and familiar passed with lightning speed over my foot.  I shrieked and Van chuckled.

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Napoleon “posing” for a photo. Isn’t he handsome?

“Did you find Napoleon?’  He asked.  Napoleon is our toad who has lived in our back yard since we moved into the house in 2012.  I named him Napoleon because of the determined and grumpy grimace permanently fixed on his little toad face.  I suspect that he is bent on world domination.  After crossing my foot, Napoleon froze and deigned to have his picture taken.  I hope he eats all the potato beetles that I didn’t find!

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A view of the new rhubarb through a screen of asparagus buds.

The weather yesterday was absolutely perfect, a rare occasion for Kansas.  It was a bit inebriating to be in the warm, welcoming sun, bronzing us ever so slightly as we toiled — not too much, but just enough — to feel vitality running through our veins.  I checked all the plants.  My rosebush had come back triumphantly since being pruned quite aggressively in early Spring.  It could very well have over one hundred buds right now!  Van put in a dried rhubarb rhizome sliver several weeks ago, and we were delighted that a healthy little plant popped out of the soil in the asparagus patch.  Our asparagus, established in 2012, is now available for eating.  We get 3 to 5 spears a week, and they are amazing!  I snap them off and eat them straight out of the garden.

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Our grape vine on its trellis, expected to climb over eight feet tall this summer.

Because of the cool weather and thunder showers, we have many plants doing extraordinarily well.  Potatoes, sunflowers, dill, tomatoes, grapes, roses, raspberries, bleeding hearts, asparagus, hops, rhubarb, and beans have all taken a healthy start to summer.  We worked in the garden until there was nothing else to do, and then Van asked me to sit on the deck and watch the world with him for the rest of the evening.

Napoleon made mooing noises at his garden post, perhaps wooing a Josephine somewhere.  I was so happy that he had come back.  A few weeks ago we had a rather large bull snake in the yard, and I was worried that  such a large predator would scare away more timid pest controllers like my beloved toad.  Ross the Dog scared the snake into the next yard, where it met its demise when it coiled itself under the neighbor’s grill and scared the neighbor half to death.  So, Napoleon has his yard back and is the ruler of his vast domain for now.

I wouldn’t mind more days like yesterday, with immeasurable time to work in the garden followed by a languid night of good, casual conversation with a treasured loved one.  It must be the best cure for any problem.  A little dirt, a splash of sun, a grumpy toad, little green plants, and a lover’s hand.  What could be better?

— G

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Checking potato plants. A healthy little specimen!

 

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We Did It For The Ducks

Last night we had the pleasure of attending the Kaw River Ducks Unlimited Banquet. Van’s best friend Sam had extra tickets, courtesy of his father, a lifetime sponsor of Ducks Unlimited. We knew little about the event other than it was a casual dress fundraiser in a popular venue outside of Saint George, Kansas.  I didn’t know what to expect, but this is almost always the case with Sam’s family.  The rule of thumb when spending time with them is to come prepared for nearly any contingency, including small road trips, Roman candle tag (don’t ask) and all other forms of chaotic fun.  We were in the mood for some spontaneity anyway, and looking forward to a night out.  When we arrived, the fundraiser atmosphere was down to earth and exuberant; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many burly bearded men dressed in different kinds of plaid, camouflage, or K State insignia, sometimes all at once.  Nearly everyone had a Solo cup of frothy beer, and everyone looked very happy.

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Pencil sketch version of the guys keeping track of the auction proceedings.

Our table, reserved for Sam’s father and family members, was closest to the auctioneer’s stage, perfect for watching the action unfold.  As soon as I saw people pass me, carrying plates of food, I realized that I should have brought snacks.  Having been on a gluten and dairy free diet for almost a year, I should know by now that not every public venue is going to accommodate special diets.  To combat food disasters when dining out, I typically have a large snack/small meal at home prior to leaving, or stash “survival” treats in my purse so I’m not miserable and crabby during the events.  A tote bag full of snacks was thoughtfully packed, but when it came time to hop into Sam’s truck and head to the banquet, I forgot to pull out a few items and slip them into my purse.  So here I was, snack-less at a gluten laden buffet.

Half of the (grand total of four, excluding condiments) items on the buffet line contained gluten and dairy, so I ended up with a plate of watery canned green beans and greasy pulled pork.  After I finished eating, I was still famished and  began contemplating devouring the contents of my purse: leftover vitamins, extra migraine medicine, and a giant tube of lip balm flavored like gummy bears.  I also considered whether or not eating my spare change (about $4.00 in quarters and dimes) would make me feel full.  Then I wondered if I was being weird.  Van bought me a Coke, which was watered down like the green beans, but it filled my stomach and kept me satisfied while we bid on silent auction items.  Van tried to win me a Bulova watch.  We spent a Kansas sized utility bill on tickets for a camo print Mossberg shotgun.  Van also wanted to win hunting dog gear for Ross the Dog, but I also put a ticket into the bucket for goose decoys.  Van could use them.

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Van and Sam kept tabs on the items being auctioned while Sam’s wife and I entertained ourselves with the surroundings — mostly a drunk guy who kept standing in front of our bench and then leaning over to talk to someone, thus pushing his butt into our faces for minutes on end.  Let me specify.  We weren’t admiring the view, we were being assaulted.  After a while, we got the giggles pretty bad; luckily with all the screaming auction winners and loud beer swilling rowdies, we blended in.  Van and Sam had a scheme to win a hunting trip at a game preserve, but the bids became too high so they contented themselves with adding up the auction totals.  As with many things between the boys, it got a little competitive, and Sam gave Van an F-  for his addition because it didn’t match Sam’s.  By the end of the evening, we had spent some money, but for a good cause — the ducks!  And we didn’t go home empty handed.  Van won the geese that he didn’t want, and the Bulova watch was mine.  Only when we went to settle up with the cashiers, we discovered that someone had stolen the watch from the display table.  So we left with the geese, a receipt, and the promise that a new watch would be sent to us.

This morning I woke up too early, having gone to bed too late.  We had stayed the night with Sam and his wife.  Van had a hangover from too much beer and too much fun, but he had one more surprise (maybe to make up for the watch debacle).  While I was sipping my coffee he laid a small handgun case in front of me and said, “There is one more thing.  Sam won this last night, and I bought it off of him.”  It was the handgun that Van had been wanting to give to me for a long time, a compact beauty of shiny black and gray metal.

“What an amazing surprise!  You are so sweet!” I kissed him on the cheek.

“Aww, crap!  I should have saved this for Mother’s Day,” Van mumbled.

Yes, I do believe I was a big winner last night.

— G

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Passing Time on a Winter’s Evening

A bee visiting a giant sunflower in my Kansas garden.

A giant bee visiting a giant sunflower in my Kansas garden.

After the shock of Christmas has worn off and all the decorations have been packed carefully into closets until next season, we settle into a generally quiet routine and wait for Winter to melt into Spring.  The signal that Spring planting is closer than we think arrives with seed catalogs in our mailbox. We usually have a stack as thick as a phone book by the end of January.  These glossy wish books full of endlessly fascinating plant varieties provide hours of entertainment during even the coldest of winter evenings.

My system for browsing seed catalogs is simple: I choose my three favorites, toss the rest, and then sit down with a hot cup of tea and religiously peruse, looking for coveted packets of heirlooms and rarities for the new year’s garden.  I dog-ear the magazine pages and make an extensive shopping list of seeds that catch my eye.  Before practicality overtakes me, imagination reigns supreme, and I write down absolutely everything the family desires, from fantastical warty pumpkins the size of enormous boulders to dwarf bushes bearing glittering gem colored berries.  Growth and food production characteristics of exotic squash, vibrantly hued okra, delicate bee enticing flowers, crisply fragrant cucumbers, and vivacious snappy carrots are researched vigorously by the glow of a warm lamp.  Only after my exhaustive list is complete, and Spring is just around the corner, do I edit items that won’t quite fit into our budget or our garden.

Asparagus established in our Kansas garden.

Asparagus established in our Kansas garden.

The heartiest plant in our garden: my $5 rosebush!

The heartiest plant in our garden: my $5 rosebush!

In past years I have kept an Excel spreadsheet on my old laptop with all my shopping lists, seed prices from catalog and Internet vendors, price comparisons, and best of all, my garden records.  When we lived in South Dakota I had a glorious garden!  The soil yielded vegetables willingly at the slightest turn of my spade, and I could spend hours fussing about with my little seedlings, helping them turn up to the sunlight.  In South Dakota we produced a bumper crop of carrots, onions, lettuces, spinach, wild kale, beans,  cucumbers and others.

Our hops going dormant last autumn.

Our hops going dormant last autumn.

Every plant was recorded in my spreadsheet, with seed type, location, date of planting, and success rate noted.  I even added  notes indicating any unusual circumstances surrounding the success or failure of the seeds.  For example, we had a terrible hail storm one year that annihilated the tomatoes, but practically every other seedling managed to dodge the hailstones plummeting to earth like icy buckshot.  After this  storm, the garden thrived and provided delicious edibles for the remainder of the year.  Noting anomalies, weather pattern effects, and strange circumstances in my spreadsheet helped me decide whether or not to continue to attempt to plant certain crops.  I eventually gave up on tomatoes after three straight years of various failures, but my husband has picked up the proverbial spade, determined to get the little buggers to grow come hell or high water (which we had in our yard last year)!

Our asparagus thriving, with bright red berries to mark the coming winter.

Our asparagus thriving, with bright red berries to mark the coming winter.

Sun Chokes, AKA Jerusalem Artichokes, have found a home.

Sun Chokes, AKA Jerusalem Artichokes, have found a home.

The garden in Kansas presented a new challenge.   Uncultivated like that of our beautiful Black Hills soil, it is ugly construction zone soil badly in need of care and refinement.  However, our first year garden in Kansas was surprisingly successful.  We had so much okra that we became tired of gumbo, stir fried okra, curries, and okra pickles, so I let the remaining pods go to seed, hoping the okra would reseed naturally the following year.  Torrential rains and a temperamental spring prevented the seeds from taking, and we had no okra.  We had  similar experiences with other vegetables.  Seeds that had sprung so lively from the soil the previous year failed to even germinate.  My heirloom lettuces and wild kale, the pride of my garden, washed away when the yard flooded in the torrential rains.  The beans were devoured by a mysterious insect, possibly grasshoppers, and Napoleon, my garden toad, could only grimace apologetically at me as if to say “I ate as many as I could!”  

The rosebush enduring the first winter storm of 2013.

The rosebush enduring the first winter storm of 2013.

The final insult felt like a sharp blow when my husband and I discovered that a varmint had plucked and eaten every last sun ripened grape from the spiraling vine I’d been nurturing and (thought I had been) protecting all summer.   As we stared at the last remnants of our efforts I know we were both thinking the same thing: all that work, and for what?  But, as I was tearfully mourning the jars of grape jelly we would never taste, my husband just said quietly, “Well, now we know what to look out for next year.”  This is the nature of gardening: so many risks, so many contingencies we can’t always plan for, and so many heartbreaks when our hard work goes unrewarded.  But every gardener knows that all the hard lessons from the past should not prevent browsing the catalogs, making seed lists, and making plans so to be prepared for the future!

As with choosing seeds for my garden, I had a very difficult time choosing related articles to add to my post…so, I chose them all!  
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Change of Command

Two things have been preoccupying me lately: Army farewells and wardrobe dilemmas.  After a good run, my husband will soon relinquish his company to a new commander during a change of command ceremony.  He has innumerable tasks to attend to in preparation, but there isn’t much for me to do except choose one pretty outfit to wear to the ceremony.  The stress is unbearable!

A pile of dresses with vibrant patterns.  Which do I choose?

A pile of dresses with vibrant patterns. Which do I choose?

Most of my nice dresses don’t fit anymore because I (accidentally) lost some extra pounds, and now they hang off my shoulders like shapeless, circus-y potato sacks.  I was tempted to order a nice pair of shiny pants from J. Crew and wear them with a little wool jacket.  It will be chilly in February and the Kansas wind is notorious for blowing skirts in embarrassing directions, so pants are a wise decision.  Of course, I got distracted with work, children, and everything that fills the mind of a housewife, and I forgot to order them.  Now I am back to staring into my closet, wondering if I can pin anything into a respectable shape and cover it with my wool jacket.  Agonizing over what to wear brings to mind memories of past ceremonies and events attended, the outfits and costumes I painstakingly assembled or just threw together, the revelry of friendship, and the pain of saying goodbye.  For a military spouse, choosing an outfit for a special occasion is bound to make dormant memories spring back to life.

Coming to Kansas held promises of new adventures, but I was definitely nervous about interacting with other Army spouses.  I’d previously had little exposure to them, and with my only background knowledge coming from a few episodes of ‘Army Wives‘ I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It didn’t take long to realize I had stumbled upon the Dream Team of spouses in my husband’s organization.  After getting to know several of them, I was enthusiastic to be involved in their community events, fundraisers, and social gatherings.  My husband had no qualms about volunteering me, and by the time he took charge of the company, I was slated to be the Family Readiness Group Leader, even though I had no inkling what the responsibilities would entail.  I learned that the best way to figure out anything in the organization was to dive in, ask many questions, and above all else, be myself.  I was grateful to learn that the spouses in advisory positions were not judgmental, and that they encouraged individuality.  I knew immediately that this organization would be a perfect place to learn, grow and excel!

Not realizing what I had discovered, my husband was more cautious.  When we attended our first social event, a semiformal fundraiser, he insisted that I conceal all cleavage by taping my low cut dress at a severely modest angle on my decolletage, and by wearing a shawl so as not to give the impression that I was a street walker.  Incensed at his lack of trust in my judgment, I nonetheless compromised and taped myself into my dress.  But I refused to wear a shawl! I told him that I knew the other spouses would be wearing the same type of low cut dress, but he countered with “I just think you should dress more conservatively because I don’t know how my boss will react if you have cleavage flying everywhere.”   When we arrived at the fundraiser, I smirked in self satisfaction while he gaped at the throngs of heaving bosoms and short hemmed thighs shimmying around the conference room.  “I told you so,” I seethed, “and this tape is giving me a rash!”  Since then, no matter how emphatically he argues the virtues of bland attire, I refuse to dress “conservatively” for any Army function, with one exception where I ended up dressed like a Nancy Reagan stunt double.  Note to self: remove all shoulder pads from blazers and avoid wearing hair in a pompadour from now on!

A dress with pockets is a brilliant investment!

A dress with pockets is a brilliant investment!

Once I found myself in a group of spouses who would not pass judgment on me for my background, beliefs, point of view, and yes, choice of clothing/questionable fashion sense, I became much more comfortable just being myself.  This opened up a world of possibility for my previously boring wardrobe.  I began to courageously show up at ceremonies in unconventional outfits.  I attended the change of command ceremony for our beloved Battalion Commander in a seizure inducing psychedelic flower printed Cynthia Rowley sundress (complete with pockets), fantastic paisley fishnet hosiery from Missoni, and little black stiletto boots.    I thought my husband would pretend he didn’t know me out of embarrassment, but the Battalion Commander’s wife was tickled; I did it for her anyway.  Life is too short to wear clothing that makes you feel stuffy, especially when attending ceremonies where all you want to do is cry your eyes out while saying farewell to the people you adore!  You might as well be happy with your clothing.

Two dresses: one from when my husband took command and one from when he came home from Afghanistan.  Apparently I have a thing for floral prints.

Two dresses: one from when my husband took command and one from when he came home from Afghanistan. Apparently I have a thing for floral prints.

I probably won’t go overboard for my husband’s change of command.  Even though this ceremony will pay homage to a period of time when his Command Team (which includes me) held the unit together through teamwork, leadership, and love, it isn’t all about me and my fabulous outfit.  But it is a little about me and my fabulous outfit…As the commander’s spouse I will be a representation of the pride invested by Army families when we send our loved ones to serve.  So I really should be dressed appropriately, perhaps a little triumphantly, in clothing I love, to show I am excited and proud that my Command Team is passing the torch of a fine organization.  A well put-together ensemble can go a long way in translating such noble sentiments.

But it also isn’t a fashion show, and my knees have been hurting lately (and it might be icy) so the stilettos will stay at home, and I will probably opt for something more conservative, like my husband originally asked for when we attended our very first event at Fort Riley.  He deserves a little compliance on my part since the ceremony is mostly about him.  I do have a delightful little dress with a flying bird print, and if I pull it off right, I can sneak in “conservative” zippered motorcycle pants and low heeled boots without looking like a middle-aged Miley Cyrus wannabe…

Always Reliable, Always Professional!

— G

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Boise Deux, Or Memoirs of a High Strung Housewife

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“All she wanted to do was haul firewood, but would a tragic injury put an end to her firewood hauling days?  Watch the video documentary and read the gut wrenching tale of the housewife who just…wants…to haul wood in Kansas.”

—Dramatic Voice Over that sounds a little like Sean Connery

For those of you who did NOT read my post ‘Hauling Wood.  Like a Boss’ (that would be 99.99999999985% of the world population), let me catch you up.  I LOVE to haul and stack firewood.  Call it a fetish, call it a hobby, call it redneck exercise; it gets me into the fresh air and puts me in a good mood.  It is definitely one of my favorite activities.  Today we had a short window of decent weather and a ridiculously affordable source of firewood available just minutes from the house.  Van only had to purchase a permit and hook up the trailer; I only had to wrangle the girls into the Expedition.  Then we were off like dirty underwear (which is what I suspect some of us were wearing because the car interior smelled as such during the drive to the slash pile).

Documentray Video 1:  The Anticipation

As soon as we arrived I had to pee really bad (this is an important detail) and Van announced that he’d forgotten to pack motor oil for the chainsaw (of course he did).  I would have to drive to the nearest gas station with the trailer hitched to the Expedition and buy a bottle.  I have never maneuvered around, pulling a twelve foot trailer behind my already huge SUV, so I was not thrilled.  The nearest gas station was only about five miles away, so how bad could it be, right? 20140103_141019 To start things off, I accidentally turned onto a dirt road running parallel to the correct road.  Why?  Great question!  I’ll get back to you.  With no place to turn around, I would have become hopelessly lost if not for a helpful turnoff leading back onto the paved road. I then had to go through three traffic circles with a maniac suffering from road rage trying to fly up my ass.  I think he cared little that I was driving a bit more slowly than the speed limit because I was pulling a freaking twelve foot trailer, or maybe he was trying to drive up onto the trailer to perform a stunt.  Either way, it was unpleasant to look in my mirror and see the vindictive gleam in his eyes as I shimmied around each circle.

Upon arrival at the gas station I suddenly realized I have never actually parked with a trailer or tried to turn around while pulling a trailer.  I realized these things as I was attempting to park, then turn around, then park again, then turn around again.  Uh-oh!  I mimicked what I had seen Van do before: looking in the side mirror at the trailer while switching back and forth between Drive and Reverse while muttering alternating curses and coaxes at the trailer.  And…success!  If the diminutive Toyota Corolla I turned around near had been two inches wider it would probably not be intact anymore…but I maneuvered without causing any damage to any property, and I found a place to park (illegally).  Problem solved.

I ran inside and skipped peeing because I was too nervous to take the time necessary for that; the motor oil was top priority.  I bought two different bottles because there was no way I was coming back for anything else!  The drive back was less stressful; no guys with road rage on my tail.  But the scenery looked different after the third traffic circle and I wondered if I had accidentally taken the wrong exit.  Traffic circles are such a pain in the…Oh crap, that looks like the turn, and signal light NOW!  Yeah, the two drivers that came up behind me (from out of nowhere) were probably not happy with my short notice, but that trailer is really good at handling corners.

20140103_141028The little gravel road leading to the slash pile offered a quiet drive.  Now when I say “pile”, I don’t do it justice.  If Jack had desired firewood instead of gold coins and a goose, this place would have been his Beanstalk.  We were in Firewood Heaven.  Van cut logs while I put armloads onto the trailer.  I still had to pee really bad, and would have squatted behind one of the huge piles, but the wind had whipped the landscape into a freezing and uncomfortable place.  Bladder be damned!  I decided against baring my rear end to the unfriendly elements.

20140103_143120 (1)After a while, I must have become tired or careless because I lost my footing and fell.  I have been hauling wood for most my life so I know how to be careful, but that doesn’t mean I am not susceptible to clumsiness.  My bulky snow boots made my feet almost as wide as they are long, so when I tripped on a branch hidden in the snow, I fell and and landed hard on a knobby rock embedded in the mud.  It goosed me in the calf and I couldn’t get up for a good twenty seconds.   Strange sensations pulsated through my leg as I hobbled to the Expedition and drove to find Van cutting up the last part of the haul.

Documentary Video 2: The Agony

Even though it was very tender, I stayed relatively calm and in good spirits about my leg until we got home.   I pulled my long johns up my shin to have a look.  Then I panicked a little, and the hypertensive, slightly crazy housewife in me resurfaced.  I showed my husband, sure that he would be very sympathetic.  The conversation went something like this.

Me, with a dramatic flourish: “Look at this!  Isn’t it terrible?”

Husband, leaning veeery close, as if he couldn’t see the giant injury: “Hmm, that will be fine in a couple of days.”

Me, demonstrating more drama: “But what is it?”

Husband, already walking away: “Just a bruise.  You will be fine.”

Me, demonstrating the ultimate drama possible: “But it hurts so much; I’ll probably die from an embolism!”

Husband, turning slightly to look back at me with an amused look: “You aren’t going to die from an embolism.  It’s a bruise and you will be fine.”

Me, apparently needing the last word: “I bet I will!”

I settled down after we had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant in town.  My leg still hurts but I never regret any trip to haul wood, no matter how “tragically” I am injured when I fall down in the mud and snow the way a clumsy toddler might.  No pain, no firewood!

Documentary Video 3: 127 Minutes…Later

— Another Dramatic Voice Over

If this is made into a movie I would like Emma Stone to play me and Mark Wahlberg to play my husband.  Just saying…

— G

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Finding the Right Tree

Family Tree

When you know it’s the right one, you just know.

Sunday my family went on an expedition of sorts to get our Christmas tree.  We do this every year, usually as Thanksgiving Weekend is fading into memory.  I am not sure how the tradition started, but it just feels right to be putting ornaments on a freshly illuminated tree the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, as we sip hot cocoa and listen to carols on cable television Sounds of the Season channel.  Over the years, retrieval of the perfect tree has changed somewhat, but the symbolism has not.  To us the tree represents being together as a family, celebrating abundant joy and peace at Christmastime.

Our first Christmas as a married couple, Van and I were in a tiny apartment with very little money and one giant potted Norfolk Pine in the corner of our living room.  It became our Christmas tree, with one string of lights and a few diminutive ornaments.   It drooped sadly and threatened to collapse under the weight of the baubles.  After that first year we decided we would always have a real tree, never a fake, and no more Norfolk Pines.  This “no fakes” rule was only broken one year, under extenuating circumstances.

In 2007, after waiting for my husband’s  15 month deployment to end, I moved all our furnishings into a great old rental house in Colorado Springs, with only two weeks to prepare for Christmas.  The last detail after putting Van’s favorite edible goodies in the kitchen cupboards and spreading our new comforter across the bed was finding a tree to decorate with photographs of the family he had missed so much while he was away.  After all, he would be coming home just in time for Christmas!  It was as if we were living a Hallmark Channel movie!  There was not enough time to go out hunting down a beautiful real tree, so a friend lent me a nice enough looking fake.  But after Van’s welcome home excitement settled, we both agreed that never again would a fake tree cross our threshold.

Getting a Christmas tree, Black Hills of South Dakota.

Getting a Christmas tree, Black Hills of South Dakota.

Fast forward six years, and it is once again time to look for a tree.  One major difference between getting a tree here in Kansas and getting one in South Dakota (where we lived before moving here) is that in South Dakota, we could purchase an inexpensive permit to cut down our own tree in the Black Hills.  Once we had the permit, it was time for a gorgeous drive through the Hills until we spotted a stand of pretty pines.  We could stroll into the wilderness, wading through snow and fallen leaves, and claim our perfect tree.  In South Dakota it was our job to cut it down and load it into the vehicle to take home.  In Kansas, the thrill of the hunt is somewhat diminished because there are no beautiful Black Hills for tree hunting, and the trees are already cut for the customers.  So much of the grandeur is removed!

We do have a place to go that makes up for this in spades:  The Rocking M Tree Farm outside of Junction City, Kansas.  This Christmas tree farm is hands down the best place to buy a tree.  What is it that makes Rocking M different — and better — than others?  As soon as you arrive and speak with the owners it will immediately become clear how much care is put into the trees.  Making money is not the priority, providing an experience for customers through the highest quality trees is most important.  The owners treat their trees with dignity; even as the life is fading away (because it does, slowly, after the tree is cut down) the trees are kept in big water basins to preserve as much vitality and natural beauty as possible.  This ensures that customers are purchasing the absolute best for their money!

Shake It

Shaking loose needles out of the tree. We told the kids that the Shaker was for shaking out squirrels too!

We immediately found a big, beautiful Frasier Fir that reminded us of the lovely bluish green Spruce trees we hunted for in the Black Hills.  As a family we took a vote.  It was between the Fir and a nice Scotch Pine, but we unanimously chose the Fir with the soft needles and heavenly scent.  The owners had lost many of their trees this year due to a prairie fire and had to source trees from other parts of the country.  Our Fir had come from Wisconsin.  I was impressed by the fortitude of the Rocking M owners, bringing in trees from other places so that local customers could continue to enjoy the experience of traveling to a great Christmas tree farm to pick out that perfect tree.

Baler

Sending the tree through the baler to package it for its trip.

Tree Haul

Taking the big tree to the car, and then on to its new home!

Our tree is voluptuous, incredibly pleasing to the eyes, and it makes our living room smell so delicious!  After he set it up Van started a fire in the fireplace and we pulled out all the decorations.  Van placed the star at the top and we applauded as it lit up beautifully and filled the room with a comforting glow.  The girls had a wonderful time hanging their special ornaments on the tree and I loved watching them fuss over the perfect spot for their favorite, a tiny homemade Baby Jesus in a walnut shell.   Once all the decorations had been placed on the tree and we had tired of the Christmas music, we stood back and took one last look before bedtime.  If the tree is any indication, then I think it is safe to say that this will be a really wonderful Christmas.

—G

Big Tree

Ready for the ornaments.

http://www.therockingmfarm.com/

Kansas is Purgatory (Part I)

CookieCutterWe traded a view of the Black Hills for a view of ugly cookie cutter houses…

So yesterday I ended my post with the comment that I am not Catholic, but Kansas must be Purgatory. Now before I end up ticking off people who love Kansas (because I may have already lost the Catholic readers – sorry in-laws in Texas) let me explain. I am actually not making fun of Kansas. Well, yeah, I am making fun of Kansas — seriously–why all the purple everywhere? Could K State have chosen an uglier color? It is splashed on everything within a hundred miles of Fort Riley. Ugh. What I am actually doing here is whining about how difficult is has been for my family to live in Kansas because of the hellish weather, jacked up prices on groceries, lack of actual culture, and general isolation on the plains. Fair enough? In light of the monstrous blizzard that encapsulated western South Dakota in several feet of snow this past week, it feels naïve and selfish to say that I would rather be there now, but I really would prefer to be digging out of the snow to burning in the allergen infested heat.

The fact is, no other place has been so caustic to my soul.  I know that sounds dramatic, but Kansas has even taken a toll on my typically unflappable husband.  To fully understand the problem, let’s go back to the beginning.  When we first came to Junction City, we were excited, like many Army families who have the urge to roam and explore new frontiers.  My husband, Van, had to check in at Fort Riley and start work right away, but we had purchased a home that was still being built; it was literally a slab of concrete on snowy construction soil.  So, we had to live in a hotel for five weeks while the house was finished.  We chose what was one of the cheapest motels in town to try to keep our out of pocket costs low.  I do not recommend this!  Picture cramming  a family of four with two carloads of personal items into living quarters roughly the size of well, a motel room for several weeks.  We thought we could handle living there for a month or so since everyone would basically be gone during the day.  The kids would be at school, Van would be at work, and I could run errands, go for walks, get to know the town, and figure out how to make nice dinners for everyone at night.  There was a small kitchen and I actually succeeded in cooking homemade pork chops and Tokyo fried chicken.  Everything would be fine.

It was after a few nights that the dark forces began to set the wheels of discontent in motion.  First there were the neighbors.  A large group of Mexican day laborers had moved into the room next to ours.  During the day they were gone, but around 8:00 p.m. they returned and right as we were trying to get the girls to fall asleep, very loud tejano music began booming through the cardboard thin wall.  Now I personally like tejano music, but not late in the evening when I’m fighting crabby kids.  At that point it only becomes an annoying stimulant.  Then there was the train.  When we chose this lovely motel, we did not notice that it was built right beside the train tracks that run through town.  Even if we had noticed this , we probably would have thought nothing of it.  Well, we sure had thoughts when every morning the train raced through town, shaking the flimsy motel on its foundation and blasting its ridiculously loud whistle at 2:00 a.m., then again at 4:30 a.m. and finally at 6:00 a.m. Guess what our thoughts were then!  Even though we now live nearly five miles from the tracks, we can still hear the damn thing because there are no trees in our neighborhood to buffer any noise.  Sometimes in the middle of the night when we hear the train whistle we still whisper to each other softly “f$%# you train”.

Once we got used to our neighbors, who were actually very polite men who cooked delicious smelling food, we thought that maybe we could survive.  We were wrong.  That is when my older daughter Annie started having psychological problems because she couldn’t handle the stress of living in a tiny rat cage.  Every morning before school she would throw a fit because her socks and underwear were “too tight”, even after I stretched them until they were completely misshapen and would have fit me!  This tactile tantrum went on for three weeks, until the day we moved out of the motel when her symptoms magically disappeared the moment we stepped into our new house.  The move couldn’t have come at a better time because by then we were all so depressed and sick of staring at each other that we probably would have tried to smother each other with smelly motel pillows if we had to spend one more night in that place. Anytime we move into a new house it is fun, exciting and a great diversion from any horrifying experience, so for the rest of the winter and into spring we were perfectly fine getting settled in.   Finally things were wonderful again!  It wouldn’t be until we decided to try to grow grass and plant a garden that we would discover more of nature’s little monsters that Kansas had in store for us.  But more about that another time. I have plenty more complaints to file and don’t want to alienate too many Kansas loving readers right away.

Besides, I want to end by making a clear statement that it is not the people in Kansas (most of them anyway) that have made this place difficult to survive.  In fact, it is the friendships I have made here that will make it hard to say goodbye when my time comes to move on.  That is one of the wonderful benefits of being in an Army family.  There are a lot of Purgatorial military reservations all over this country, and the odds of getting stuck on one at least once in your military career are very good, but the friendships you make will help you survive and teach you so much about yourself.  The definition of purgatory is: a state of suffering inhabited by sinners being cleansed on their way to heaven.  If this really is Purgatory, then I am glad I was here with such great friends, and if I actually do survive–and right now it isn’t looking good– then I will be happy to report that I am purified and squeaky clean.  But you don’t want to know the process that nature contrived out here to make that happen!  Until next time,

—G