March 2014: The Children Are Tender

Caregiving, teaching little kids to read, and riding in the pickup with Farmer John; I tweet, pin, and blog, from my home in rural Kansas. If you've landed here looking for information about my books, visit my author's page by clicking this link: A. Born. Thanks for visiting!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Broomweed Bouquet

I love broomweed. It grows in a natural bouquet-shaped arrangement of hundreds of tiny yellow blossoms, and dries on the stem in October and November. With no further preparation it is then ready to be picked and added to fall bouquets. It looks just like Baby's Breath, but is a lovely brown, almost gold shade when dried. I have spray painted it white and used it in place of Baby's Breath in bouquets, and sometimes at Christmas I spray it gold or silver. 

Lydia (main character in The Children Are Tender) likes it too. The following passage is based on a real life event; like Lydia, I once stopped on my way to school to pick a wildflower bouquet but mine included goldenrod, which turned out to be an unfortunate choice on parent/teacher conference day; sneezing ensued. Lydia is wiser and leaves goldenrod out of her bouquet:

I waded through the overgrown ditch and quickly picked a bouquet, bunching two varieties of sunflowers and feathery Indian head grass in my left hand as I pulled some dainty broomweed from the ground with my right. 

I picked the bouquet shown in the photos below in the late afternoon and liked the shadow it cast as I walked home. 

It looks right at home in the milk can I found in the shed behind the house. I painted the can country blue last summer, then autumn green for fall...kind of disrespectful treatment for an antique. But I like it!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Life Imitates Art

In The Children Are Tender, I created the character of Jenny, a little girl who pronounces every R controlled vowel as "oi/oy." For those who have not taught phonics, let me clarify: ar as in car, er as in her, ur as in hurt, and or as in for would all be pronounced with the oi/oy sound (coy/car, hoy/her, foy/for, hoyt/hurt). For example, when describing the February doldrums, Jenny said, "Now that Valentimes Day is oi-ver, there is nothing to look foi-ward to."

I loved Jenny, even though she was a figment of my imagination (when one writes fiction these things happen). I thought her way of speaking--which I could hear clearly in my head--charming.

Our middle grandson, Logan, was born while I was writing The Children Are Tender, and hadn't yet begun to talk in sentences when the book was published in 2013.

But since that time Logan, now age 3, has begun to talk at great speed--and he substitutes oi/oy for every r-controlled vowel.  It is adorable.  It is also a bit surprising since I'd never heard an actual child do this. It was as though my fictional little Jenny had found a real life voice in my rambunctious, rowdy, lovable little grandson.

One of Logan's favorite books is Henry Explores the Jungle by Mark Taylor. In this book Henry explores the "impenetrable jungle," and Logan loves that word "impenetrable."  Except when he says it, it sounds more like "Impenetroy-ball."  When I took the photo below of Logan standing in sunlit willow branches he had just said, "Look Gwammy! I'm 'tandin in duh impentory-ball jungoy!"  It took me a good five minutes to decipher his words, but once I did--I was charmed.

Like Jenny, Logan's speech pattern is developmental and will fade as he grows.  But while it lasts it is a sweet facet of this adorable little boy's way of describing his world.

Logan in the "impen-tory-ball" jungle.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Fond Farewell to October

 In late October, the air freshened and the sky changed from hazy to jewel-like, as though the crisp fall breezes had cleansed away dust and haze to reveal deeper shades of blue. 

Hay bale jumping, the farm boy's joy! Our middle grandson, age 3, knows no fear.

This is our oldest grandson and our yellow lab, Moose, who had to be boosted onto the hay bales (he weighs 80 pounds). Yes, I hurt my back.

This is how little boys help their grandmother rake leaves. 

Red maple tree turned to burnished orange in the afternoon sun. 

Our middle grandson loves hedgeballs, especially throwing them, which is how this one ended up in a carpet of maple leaves.

Most authors do not make very much money.  Case in point, my eleven year old Ford Escape in the photo above. But a sugar maple frame makes even my dusty ol' ride look purty.

The light! The vivid color! Thank You Lord, for October beauty. 


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Unexpected Harvest

Don't you love life's little surprises?  Farmer John planted some pumpkin and squash seeds in a boggy place in the middle of one of his soybean fields last spring, then forgot about them.  When he returned to combine the soybeans just a couple of days ago, there were two great big pumpkins, quite a few smaller ones, and enough butternut squash to last us and all of our friends for the winter.

Another happy surprise has to do with my 35 year old quest to grow a sugar maple.  My grandparents had a gorgeous one in their yard that would amaze and impress each year with it's bright orange and yellow fall colors, and I wanted one just like theirs.  We planted two in the front yard and they died. We planted one in the side yard and it had been mislabeled; it was a red maple. We finally planted the one in the photo below and for 15 years it has been an oddly stunted disappointment. Each year its leaves have turned from green to dull brown and then fallen to the ground in sad disgrace by early November, and it just hasn't grown at a normal rate.  But this year, our little tree has redeemed itself.  Very rapidly, within a 3 day time period, it's leaves turned orange! Just like Grandma and Grandpa's tree! My grandparents' farm was sold earlier this year much to my grief, and it is heartwarming to see this reminder of the old home place right in my own yard.

We have two more little surprises due any day now, because both our daughter and our daughter-in-law are due to deliver babies within the next two weeks.  Blessing upon blessing this harvest season!

John usually won't pose for photos but he is proud of this pumpkin! 

The porch of the little yellow house is decorated for fall, thanks to Farmer John's unexpected harvest.

It IS a sugar maple after all! 

A friend from Arkansas told me she was disappointed in fall in Kansas.  "Not much color," she said. But I love the quiet beauty of softening browns and golds--and, I drew her attention to my bright orange sugar maple (above). Our yellow lab was anxiously helpful as I took these photos, and had be cropped out of every shot...missed cropping his tale from this photo, do you see it? 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Farmer John's Mad Carpentry Skills

Farmer John is...well, he is a farmer.  He is not fond of yard work; he prefers to disc and plant and spray and harvest 50 or 100 acre fields. He doesn't blink an eye at thousands of dollars spent for farm machinery, but hundreds of dollars earmarked for household use can cause him to squeeze his eyes tightly closed in pained resignation. He is especially oppressed by home renovation projects, famously muttering, "I hate this, I hate this, I just hate this" when we were picking out new kitchen cabinets a few years ago.

I call this a famous occurrence because it struck me funny. I laughed so hard I cried, and I'm afraid I've mentioned it whenever we've shopped for home supplies since.  "Remember that time..." here I begin to dissolve into giggles, "...when we were shopping for kitchen cupboards and you kept saying..."

Poor Farmer John.

I've always thought it odd that this man who is an accomplished welder and mechanic seems so inept when it comes to carpentry. Whenever I've inquired about building a shelf or doing anything requiring nails, hammers, and wood, he has had a stock response.  He stares at me, mouth partly open, with a crease between his brows.  It is as though I'm speaking Greek.  I have even felt sorry for him, thinking that it must be sad, having grown up around house builders and woodworkers as he did, not to share in their skills.

Fortunately, our son grew up to be a woodworker, and I've been able to turn to him when I've had need for someone to saw, build, or nail.  But our son is married now, lives 45 minutes away, and has a busy life of his own. 

A couple of weekends ago I was frantically preparing for company when the broken piece of trellis I'd propped along the ramp to my mother's apartment fell to the ground (our home has a "mother-in-law addition, where my 91-year-old Alzheimer's mom has lived for the past eleven years).  I was brought to tears; it just looked horrid and I couldn't get it to stay in place.  John happened to see me struggling with it and strolled up and watched for a few moments.

The next day he pulled into the yard in the farm truck and unloaded two six-foot pieces of trellis. 
He whipped two sawhorses from the bed, and placed one of the lengths of trellis across it. Striding to the ramp, he pulled out a tape measure and took three measurements. Back to the trellis, he measured, made pencil marks, then measured again.  He saw me watching him.  “Measure twice, cut once,” he said.

He plugged in an extension cord and attached some kind of a saw with a wicked looking circular blade.  “Oh be careful!” I warned. 

He didn’t reply, and I noticed he’d pulled a small, worn metal disk from his back pocket. 

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A chalk line.” 

 "A chalk line? Where in the world did you get a chalk line?" 

 He stretched a string across the trellis and snapped it expertly, once, then again, leaving a blue chalk guideline.  I plugged my ears as the saw sprang into ear-splitting action, and retreated to the house.  When I returned fifteen minutes later, John had cut the second trellis, matched the two pieces perfectly, and had used wood screws to secure the trellises to the ramp.  The whole process had taken less than 15 minutes.  

He tossed the tools into the back of the truck and as he prepared to drive away I yelled, "Wait! Thank you! I didn't know you could do this kind of stuff, do you think maybe you could do something about the trim on the back porch?...

However, the the wheels of the truck were already moving.  "Bye Hon, goin' to do some real work now." And he was gone.  He has to make a living for the two of us, and farming is more than a full time job.  

But you have to admire this man. He hid his woodworking skills from me for forty years and had me convinced that such things were beyond him. This probably qualifies him for some sort of a cagey husband award, but the cat is out of the bag.  I've made a list of a half dozen projects that I now know he is more than capable of completing.  

He can run, but he can't hide.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Beautiful September

Perhaps because I was a teacher for so many years and loved returning to work each fall, September is my favorite month. Well, until October comes and then maybe I'll say it's my favorite. And I'm fond of November too; perhaps we'd best just say Autumn is my favorite season and leave it at that.  I worked so hard on descriptive passages in The Children Are Tender that I think I'll be lazy this evening and use a quote from the novel to describe how I feel about this golden month:
In September, the leaves of the cottonwoods, wildflowers, and grasses became tinged with shades of yellow and amber so that the sun’s reflection from grasses and petals caused the light itself to appear warmed with shades of gold.  The Children Are Tender, p. 48.  
 The light is truly beautiful in September here in Kansas, as summer's harsh brilliance is muted.

Here's a photo of the front porch of the little yellow house; I'm pushing the season a bit with my mums and pumpkin:
My grandpa plucked this tractor seat from a pile of scrap metal on his farm and gifted it to my husband. That was about 40 years ago, and so this seat is probably 80 years old. Farmer John welded the seat to the legs of an old metal chair, and it has graced our front porch ever since.  

Above is an example of that beautiful September light. One afternoon about 20 years ago, my father-in-law stopped by and planted a little oak sapling in our side yard. Oaks are slow growing, and this sturdy little tree is still young.  It is beautifully shaped, and always reminds me of the Scripture, "They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor."  Isaiah 61:3

Thursday, August 20, 2015

End of Summer

This spring I was ill with a series of viruses, and even the scent and sight of my lilac bush in full bloom did not tempt me to pull out my camera. But as summer blossomed into one of the most pleasant I can remember (we actually had ample rain during the typically dry month of July), I began to feel better. As the weather warmed, my desire to capture moments around and about this community I love re-emerged. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the beauty of rural Kansas:
Nothing more small town or all American than a Fourth of July Parade. This gentleman, a WWII Veteran and our neighbor,  has led the parade for years.

Had to share this pedal tractor, a favorite in this year's parade, because the handsome guy with the dazzling smile front and center is our son, Jonathan. He was the inspiration for the character Marshal Rosencutter in The Children Are Tender. The good looking guy on Jonathan's left (to the right in the photo) is our son-in-law, Brian. Brian as I imagined him as a child (remember the little guy who loved snakes) is in the novel as well. 

This was the year for the 17 year cicada hatch--they are so distinctive with their red eyes. There were so many of them that locust song in June and July was nearly too loud for comfort.

And what is Kansas in summer without a good old fashioned thunderstorm? This one was like a bully who doesn't have nerve to carry out a threat, and sailed right overhead with only a few gusts of wind and a smattering of rain.

My outdoor rocking chair blew off the front porch one too many times last year, so this year only impatiens have been allowed to sit in it.

Love my Kansas blessed to live in small town Kansas, U.S.A. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Rain and Milkweed Blossoms

Milkweed blooms in early June, typically just at the time when the air turns heavy with  Kansas humidity.  We've had heavy rains this spring and so the moisture in the air is more pronounced than usual, but because it is new for this season--something like the pleasant sense of warmth when you step from a cool room into a sauna--it is, for this moment, enjoyable.

Milkweed has bloomed in our roadside ditches, and I always forget that it's scent is nearly overwhelming in sweetness; more heady than roses, and even more beautiful than that of lilacs. 

One of the joys of writing a novel was that descriptive scenes forced me to observe nature in minute detail as I struggled to do justice to our rural countryside. I feel strongly that the beauty of our state is underrated, and so I worked hard to help others see and appreciate Kansas beauty.  I rememeber laboring over the following passage, but I'm so glad to have this record of Kansas in the spring:

A thunderstorm riding the edge of a cold front had moved through in the night, leaving the early morning air cool and fragrant with the heavy purple scent of crushed milkweed blossoms. When I looked toward the east, I was awed to see millions of tiny droplets of dew coating the bent grasses in the pasture beyond the fence, each drop serving as a prism to reflect the angled sunlight. The hazy air was full of cottonwood fluff and swooping dragonflies, their back- lit forms creating a diaphanous, otherworldly beauty.
Milkweed--just one of the treasures of living in rural Kansas.   

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Catching Up

Back in November I hurt my hip and have been unable to do chores with Farmer John since. I suspect this is bursitis.  My grandma had bursitis.  My current mode of contending with this discomfort is to ignore it and hope it will go away.

I've missed mornings on the farm but things like Thanksgiving, Christmas, four birthday celebrations, a New Year's Eve gathering, and a Super Bowl party have kept me busy. And now the weather is so cold here in Kansas that I'm not minding hibernating just a tad longer.

I do hobble to the middle of the road in front of our house nearly every evening to watch the sunset, and while Lydia would write a word picture by way of description, I just snap a photo or two:

 We've  adopted a new dog, a big yellow lab named "Moose" who will not hold still to have his photo taken but just like his predecessor, Mort, he is a good, sweet boy nonetheless:

 I've done lots and lots of cooking including these ham and cheese sliders and a cast iron skillet full of biscuit topped chicken pot pie; Anna would be proud:

At the web site this month you can register for the February/March drawing for a chance to win a complimentary copy of The Children Are Tender. 

The Reading (pronounced "redding"), Kansas book club was gifted complimentary copies of The Children Are Tender with the only stipulation being they were to find another club to pass the books along to when they were finished. The books have now traveled from Kansas to Texas, and in a couple of months will be ready to make their way to a new locale. If your book club would like to read The Children Are Tender, message me through the web site's customer contact page or via Facebook. 

Have a safe, warm, February and I hope I'll have more farm news to share next post!