Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cattle farm of your dreams

Yesterday was our anniversary.  It's the 26th, which doesn't seem very special, but last year, the big 25, we somehow never had time for the big splash.  So this year we decided to do one simple thing - a little road trip.  Just a day trip.  And seemingly against all odds, we took it.  
Have you ever met any Highland cattle?  We never thought we would; we just admired them, posing happily at the beginning of the BBC series "Hamish McBeth," much like the moose in "Northern Exposure."  When we saw those bangs, we were hooked.  
But last year there was a stand at the ethnic festival that offered a chance to eat grilled Highland cattle patties, which we passed up.  But the farm was nearby, and it billed itself as raising its beasts in a way that sounded good to me, so we filed away "Oz Highland Farm" in our heads as a possible destination.  And today we went.  
This farm has been in this Scottish family for generations, but the Topeka suburbs are creeping up on it.  Still, it's totally unfussy - no sign, just a multicolor crowd of shaggy beasts grazing out by the fence.  We drove in, not knowing if we'd be welcome. 
Well, John and Debbie Jenkins love to talk about their cattle.  They breed them for gentleness so they can walk about with them, and they encourage calm.  John and I bonded over a mutual dislike of red cedar trees (invasive and smelly!), and he is delighted by the Highlands' interest in chewing them up.  That helps him keep his prairie just the way it ought to be.  
They knew we didn't know much about cattle, so they told how to tell a male from a female (besides the obvious, the females' horns turn up; the males' are more prosaic), and they told about the different colors.  Debbie said they like to have the young ones present when the moms give birth, so they won't be so scared when it's their turn.  All the cattle have numbers, but only the ones who will not be meat get names as well.  
When we were leaving, I stopped to buy some hamburger meat, and Debbie charged me nothing for a huge package.  We've decided to go to this year's Highland Games so we can visit their concession there.   
(If you're a vegetarian, you might stop here, if you've made it this far.)  I asked Debbie to recommend a place to eat, and she suggested the barbecue place in Auburn, the town up the road.  It was behind the Phillips 66, she said - she didn't say it was just a door in a blank wall, with Visa and MasterCard signs on it.  But it smelled right.  Linda, the proprietor, said if we waited a bit the ribs would be ready; they were done, but not falling off the bone enough to suit her yet.  Echo said they were well worth the wait; I found the barbecued turkey the best I'd every had, just on a buttered, grilled bun.  Linda was the gruff type, but she was pleased with Echo's incoherent mmmm's.  Especially when we decided to go for the strawberry rhubarb pie, because it was our anniversary.  Mmmmmmmm.
A stop at the Kansas History Center topped off the day.  I won't tell you all, you poor patient dears, but I'll tell you that the Indian dwelling made of straw bundles was worth the trip, and the whole steam train that they built the building around.  It may lack the sense of humor that the Minnesota History Center has, but you can't have everything.  Did you know that your 60's dashiki or your Fisher Price farm set could be in a museum?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kansas weather and related activities

"All weather signs fail in Kansas."

from Koch, Folklore from Kansas

On February 28, just as we were pleased or resigned to the fact that winter was over, five inches of dampish, packable snow fell, creating an icing-on-the-cake effect on what used to be my papyrus pot.  Now the pot is gone, but the roots keep the shape, and on milder days the squirrels have found it interesting to munch on.  

That was a week ago.  Last Saturday, on March 7, the air was full of spring, and I made major progress with my garden
 plot and planted a row of snowpeas.  The soil was cool but loamy, and I could imagine the dry, pale little peas shivering a minute and then settling themselves into the perfect little home they've been dreaming of ever since they escaped being eaten. 

This is the new plot, with a little path in the middle.  It came conveniently in this organic shape because the sun did something to the zoysia grass that attracted some bugs that ate it and turned it into a dry, brown mat that was easy to pull up and make into a garden.  Now I've covered it with newspapers and mulch, and soon I hope to find out how to dig little holes through the paper and drop in seeds that will resist pests and rodents and Kansas weather and produce lots of nice vegetables.  

I love living in Kansas!  Look at the weather map almost any day, and you'll see three or four weather systems fighting it out to see who will bless our particular little corner of the state for that day.  Usually somebody wins, but occasionally they come to terms: you take morning, and I'll take afternoon.  When I see someone walking their dog in early March, wearing just shorts and a t-shirt, I worry, because I figure they should be carrying a parka and the keys to the tornado cellar, just in case.  I'm liking the thunderstorm that's going on right now, but if I didn't, never fear - tomorrow it may rain a little more, but the next day the temperature is to drop thirty degrees and the sun's to come out.  

I'm following in Aimee's footsteps by showing you the humble beginning of my garden, and apparently I'm following a national trend by trying to grow vegetables in my yard.  But it also runs in the family.  When we moved to a little San Fernando Valley town in 1945, lots of people, mostly midwestern transplants, grew a little stuff and sold it at stands by the street.  We'd go around and buy vegetables, and other people bought eggs, chicken and boysenberries from my grandparents.  I don't know what the peacock people sold; we never so them, just heard them.  Even my parents, who were urban at heart, raised a duck once and grew a huge yam plot, because I was allergic to white potatoes.  I don't remember eating the yams, but I loved playing in the irrigation ditches, diverting water that undoubtedly was destined to go somewhere else and probably learning a bit about the natural forces of water and soil when they meet.  I still think that having my hands in the dirt, talking to the worms and following long runners of errant grass, is a high form of Zen meditation.  

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Becoming my great-aunt

We went out for dinner tonight.  I wanted to save room for dessert, because they had flan, so I ordered a little corn quesadilla with shrimp.  It was really little.  So I started picking at Echo's rice and beans, and suddenly I thought about Aunt Margaret.  

I never met her, but Daddy knew and loved her.  She was verging on famous, but I remember best that he said that when they'd go out to eat, Aunt Margaret would say, "I'm not very hungry; I'll just get something small." So she did that, and pretty soon she was soliciting bites from everyone else's plate.  I've always felt akin to her.  

Margaret Fay Whittemore was a suffragist, a member of the National Women's Party.  I have a telegram that she wrote on the occasion on my mother's birth in 1915.  If I remember right, it reads: "Congratulations on the birth of baby Elizabeth. Votes for women." 

In this picture, she's campaigning for the vote in 1916, in Pendleton, Oregon, with someone named Mary Gertrude Fendall.  Aunt Margaret is on the right.  Someday I want to learn more about her.  I hope I took after her in more than just stealing food.  

Well, yes.  According to my dad, she was probably a lesbian.  My cousin Susan, who was her niece, adored her, and Susan was undoubtedly a lesbian.  That's how I figure we have four generations.  I don't know just what Daddy was going on - he said she rather collected young men, but I assume they were probably gay.  And she was certainly tough - sometimes she drove her own Model T while campaigning, and sometimes she rode a horse.  I really want to know if she was one of those who chained themselves to the White House fence.  

Do we all turn into our ancestors as we get older?