Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wave as You Drive Across Kansas This Holiday Season!




Many Americans think of Kansas as “that long, boring stretch of interstate” on their way to somewhere else.  Us old-timers are quite satisfied with the view this paints of our home state.  We love our secret spaces; our uninterrupted views of horizons and sky.  We procrastinate any thoughts of selling out our greatest and only resource – the open space – to join a world of unending allegiance to balance sheets and investor returns. 


The prairie is the place where there is nothing.  Yet, it is complexly everything. But you must still yourself to understand. “On the prairie, what you are left with is the bare truth, the land pared down to the bone, the basic dirt and grass and sky that shape the lives that play out upon it.” Tom Groneberg, The Secret Life of Cowboys, 2003.


The Flint Hills of Kansas are the last 4% of native tallgrass prairie on the planet.  North American tallgrass prairie covered thousands of square miles until the arrival of white settlers and their plows in the 1800’s.   According to Loren Lown in the 1995 book Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics and Promise of the American Prairie, “We have less than one tenth of one percent of our prairie.  The rest died to make Iowa safe for soybeans.” 


In the end, it was this stark ruggedness within the layers of the earth; the geology of limestone rock just under the surface that protected the prairie from extinction.  Farmers seeking fortune gave up.  They pulled up their stakes in the Flint Hills region and headed west.     


In order to absorb and enjoy the vast emptiness here, you must be patient and curious.  Day after day, fascinating opportunities arise; witnessing cowboys on horseback working loading chutes with newly arrived migrant cattle for the fat grass season.  Moving cattle along gravel roads with the assistance of their dogs to opened barbed wire gates and fresh grass.  At noon, the local diners are filled with cowboys, dusty and sweat streaked in their chaps and bandannas, their hats and gloves stacked neatly beside their plates of fresh hamburgers.  The smell of fresh cow shit wafts from their boots; the real kind; the kind that won't hang you if you slip too far out of your saddle. 


It’s simple here.  We love visitors who are willing to slow down and experience a bit of life as we believe it was meant to be.  “There are people who think of the prairie as boring and it’s hard not to pity them.”  Candace Savage, (2004 Prairie: A Natural History).  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Managing at Home: The Sliding Puzzle Dilemna

copied from www.hellokids.com
Are you old enough to remember the little sliding puzzles?  The last one that we had around here was a picture of Santa.  Children (or adults) slide the little squares around until all the pieces line up to reveal Santa's face or the answers to a math or word, or pattern challenge.

I'm here to tell you that this little game sums up my most frustrating thoughts on housekeeping and home management!  Although this game is fun, it is entirely another experience to be the person who must constantly move all the pieces back to their correct places.  It's a full time job in itself.  And this is my life as a stay-at-home mom who is now a stay-at-home grandmother and wife.  This is my gig.

Do you notice that there is always that empty spot somewhere on the board?  That's what makes it all work.  It's the starting point.  The opening.  It leads to the step-by-step frustration and challenge.  Here's how it plays out in my life....

A slightly too big Tupperware bowl sits by the sink.  Great for popcorn.  All washed and dried but taking up too much space.  My husband helps by putting it away so he can cook breakfast.  But, where does it go?  hmmmm.....

There's an empty spot on the pantry shelving.  It fits.  Great!  Kitchen looks better. 

He might as well put the rest of these clean dishes by the sink away.  The bowl we used to mix the pumpkin pie filling.  Where does it go? Pantry shelf? Yes, just enough room if he stacks it tightly inside the Tupperware bowl and then kind of tilts the whole arrangement until it slides in.  Done.  Out of sight. 

After breakfast, he helps by unloading the dishwasher.  Two glass pie pans. Homemade pumpkin pie now just a memory.  Yummmm!  Wonder where these go?  Hey, there's a smidgeon of space on the pantry shelf, except that big Tupperware bowl is in the way.  Oh, look!  Here's a wide open, empty spot in the carousel cabinet.  They fit.  Success!

Beaters for the mixer?  He's lived here 28 years.  No idea where they go.  Sees some nice open space in the silverware drawer.  Must be where these go.  Congratulates himself on his resourcefulness.

Butcher knife?  Hmmm.... silverware drawer seems like a good option.  Ooops, no space.   But, there's just enough of a sliver of space in the drawer with the can opener if he moves the hot pads to the next drawer down.  Done.

And on and on the game goes as he creates a picture on the sliding puzzle that is our home.  Which, I admit, might be fun.  Except, the next day I need my mixing bowl and beaters.  I keep my bowls stacked in the carousel cabinet.  You know, the biggest bowl on the bottom with the smaller one inside.  But just the small one is waiting when I open the carousel.  And next to it are two pie pans taking up alot of horizontal space in this, the only cabinet I have with good, useful vertical space.  I go to the pantry to stack the two pie plates with their lonely cohort on the shelf.  And notice a curious arrangement on the top shelf where the food processor usually sits.  What is that bowl doing up there?  My glass mixing bowl nearly bonks me on the head as I tug on what should be a nearly weightless Tupperware bowl.  

Then I start the search for the beaters and square by square move things back to where they originally started. 

It's not that I'm such an expert on where these things should go.  It's that I'm the one who suffers when things are in odd places.  Like the time I dragged over a kitchen chair to get to the back of one of my upper cabinets....because....well, for weeks, months even, the door wouldn't shut.  Just what the he!! was in there that NOTHING that belonged in there would fit?   I discovered a giant disposable plastic container, the one you get with a decorated cake, very carefully washed and CRAMMED in the farthest back of the cabinet.  Hogging nearly half the cabinet's useable space.  So more than a cubic foot of prime real estate in my kitchen absorbed by something, empty with the lid on it no less, that should have went into the recycle bin months ago!  

It makes me crazy!  I get alot of help like this.  Always have.  And I struggle to smile and say, "Thank you".  Because everyone wants to be helpful.   

I wrote a household rule about this.  I posted it.  And he said, "uh-huh".  Want to know what it said?  "If you don't know where something goes, do not put it away!  Leave it for me to take care of." 

I don't know.  Was it not written clearly enough? 

And wonder just how BEZERK he would be if I spent a couple hours every Saturday morning out in his shop just kind of, you know, rearranging things in a more useful way. Putting them where I think they belong. Like all the screws in groups by color, or all the spray cans in alphabetical order by brand name.