30 September, 2011

Corn Farming 101 (Lesson 2 - Harvest)

I hope you enjoyed last week's photo essay, if you haven't read it yet, just click on the blue words. 

On July 22, this is what the ground looked like.
Yes, that is at almost 21 inches.

A rather impressive looking storm on August 8 that produced no rain (for us)
but a large amount of wind and a lot of hail in a nearby town. Our local TV stations did a great job
of pretending this storm wasn't as bad as locals were reporting, because it didn't look bad on radar.

The corn on August 25, very close to being ready to harvest.

August 25

Corn is competitive, each row thinks it should be taller than the previous row.
After harvesting the outside rows, you can see the true height of the cornstalks. August 27.
(Please remember that Alta is about knee high.)

This is my view from the driver's seat in the tractor as the combine unloads into the grain cart.

The truck full of corn. (Driven by my Dad that day)

The combine (driven by my husband) unloading into the grain cart while I
unload the grain cart into the truck. The grain cart holds approximately 2 1/2
combine bins full and the truck holds about 3/4 of the grain cart. A full sized semi
would hold an entire grain cart full. (My Dad took this picture)

My view from the seat of the tractor, following the combine to the opposite end of the field.

Looking out the back window of the tractor as I unload the grain cart into the truck.

The inside of the grain cart.

Another view of the inside of the grain cart. The space in the bottom
right corner is the unloading auger.

Alta by the grain cart. It holds just over 1000 bushels.
(FYI, a bushel is 9 gallons)

My hand by the bolts on the wheels of the grain cart.

Between 2 rows of corn.

Little parts of the corn husk (we call them bee's wings) on the ground
close to the grain dryer.

Sunset over a field after harvest September 1.

The combine in the distance (kicking up dust). I see some of the most
beautiful sunsets while in the tractor during harvest.

I hope you enjoyed my harvest pictures. Next week I have a yummy peach recipe for you (think peach pie without the crust!).

23 September, 2011

Corn Farming 101 (Lesson 1)

Back in June, when I got the idea to take pictures for this photo essay, I had no idea I was photographing corn that would do its best to hang on through the longest drought and the biggest heatwave the state of Kansas has seen since the 1930's. I just thought it would be a fun idea for my friends who don't know a lot about farming. I took a picture of the growing corn every week (as you'll see by the dates.... it's almost every week) and I took a picture of the irrigation system every time it came past the house. I used Alta as a height reference so you'll know how tall the corn is. Alta is a little more than knee high. 
June 7, 2011
The irrigation system as it came close to the house on June 7.

June 14, 2011

June 21

June 22
June 28
June 30
Also June 30
July 5
Developing corn cob, July 5

July 8
July 12
July 12 - corn stalks only develop 1 cob,
if a 2nd cob develops the plant will
choose to abandon the weaker cob.
Uncooperative dog, July 19
July 19
July 19
July 28 - the corn is starting to dry.
July 28
July 28 - some of the corn that the irrigation system doesn't
reach well are not looking so great.
July 28 - the lawn isn't looking so great either.
July 28 - Storm clouds but no rain. Poor lawn looks like a desert.
August 8
August 8 - Close to harvest

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the photos of the growing phase of corn. Please come back next Friday for pictures and information about harvest (there was too much to put in 1 post).

15 September, 2011

How to Laugh with a Crooked Smile

(Some info. that might be useful before you read this post: For those of you keeping score at home, I have attended 3 colleges. I never graduated from any of them. College #1 was a private church-run school which I loved! I made many good friends there and still keep in touch with quite a few of them. I was majoring in communications/journalism, but since it was a 2 year college, I would need to graduate from somewhere else. The university I had chosen to finish at was NOT CHEAP, so to save money for years 3 & 4, I spent year 2 at college #2: a local community college. While not a terrible experience, I didn't enjoy it, so I only attended 1 semester. The next fall I transferred to college #3, a tech school (which I referred to in my 9/11 post Where Were You?) and changed my field of study to commercial art/graphic design. The following events took place while I was at school #2, the local community college.)

It was a Friday morning in August 2000, just a few days before beginning my sophomore year of college (at a new school no less). I was getting ready to spend the day shopping with a friend. While putting on mascara, something strange happened. My left eye would not close correctly. It's rather awkward to put on mascara if you cannot blink and I sort of laughed. As I laughed, I realized that it wasn't just my left eye, but the left side of my mouth was not smiling correctly. What? I smiled again, on purpose. What is wrong with my face? The right side of my face smiled correctly, my eye crinkling as it always did. But the left side stayed strangely still. I ignored it, thinking I must have slept on it too much the night before. By suppertime I could not close my lips correctly to pull food off the fork and drinking from a glass became rather difficult to do without slurping or dribbling. I started crying and my parents asked what was wrong. I hadn't mentioned it to them yet because I assumed it was nothing and would be gone by the next morning. 

My parents took me to the emergency room and the doctor there (thankfully) figured it out quickly. He told me I had something called Bell's Palsy, a "temporary" paralysis of half of your face (usually the left side, but it can be either). He told me not to wear my contacts (because I couldn't close my left eye) until it went away and sent me home with a gauze patch over my left eye.

Monday morning my Dad drove me to school. I wasn't allowed to wear my contacts and it had been years since the lenses in my glasses had been updated, so I didn't see much my first few days of school. I took a trip to the optometrist for some new glasses and my family doctor gave me a few prescriptions for rather strong (and pricey) antiviral medications. He also gave me a better explanation of what I had. Bell's Palsy (named for Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon who studied the affected Bell's nerve in 1821) is (usually) caused by a virus. This virus attaches itself to the nerve that runs from your brain, through a small tunnel in your cheekbone and then branches out to control the movements of your face. The virus attaches to the nerve just before or at the point the nerve enters your cheekbone and causes it to swell, cutting off sensation and movement of anything beyond that point. I can quite easily make the left side of my face numb by touching that place on my cheekbone. I've read that 1 in 5000 people will experience Bell's Palsy. If that statistic held exactly true, the city I lived in would have had 8 people who had at some point in their life had Bell's Palsy. Seven plus me. That's a really lonely statistic. That means there are no Bell's Palsy specialists and no Bell's Palsy treatment centers. Just my family doctor saying "Well, research seems to indicate that this type of medication and this form of treatment might help, but no one really knows for sure." This is not a comforting statement to a 19 year-old. 

For the next 6 months I dealt with raging headaches on most days. At night I put a thick moisturizer in my eye which was basically the consistency of slightly runny Vaseline and taped a patch over it. I also got to take fun trips to a specialist for electro-shock therapy. They run a probe over specific places on the nerve and shock it to see if it's still responsive. Not fun. 

During my first few days of classes I had expected a lot of questions, but no one asked.  My Dad assured me that no one asked because they didn't know the difference. They hadn't met me before the onset of Bell's Palsy and so they didn't know that I wasn't even used to the new look of my crooked smile yet, and so I should smile like I didn't notice either, like it was normal. In some ways I wanted to be back at the private school where everyone knew me and would ask what was going on. In other ways I was relieved not to have to answer a million questions.

I have read stories in forums from people who have had Bell's Palsy and it went away in a week or a month. I was diagnosed around the middle of August and it was (I believe) November before I was allowed to wear my contacts. I walked down the hallway and into the newspaper classroom quite ecstatic to finally be wearing contacts again! No one in class had ever asked about my rather frozen face and so I didn't expect them to notice my lack of glasses, since I had purposely chosen small wire frames. But, within a few minutes, one of the sweet girls who shared the position of editor of the school paper mentioned that I had gotten contacts. I smiled, still rather crookedly, and said that I'd had contacts since Jr. High, I just hadn't been allowed to wear them because of a virus I had that affected that nerves in my face (that was easier than explaining the whole thing). The guy who had sat at the computer to the left of me the entire semester piped up, "You had Bell's Palsy, right?" My jaw must have hit the floor. No one ever knew what it was. He told me his sister had it a few years before. I had carried on a few unimportant conversations with this guy. Homework, movies, articles we were writing for the school paper that week. He had never once asked if there was a reason the left side (the side of me he sat on) of my face didn't move. In some ways that made me feel invisible. But with that statement suddenly I felt so much less alone! He hadn't asked because he hadn't needed to. He knew. Maybe they all knew.

Fast forward 11 years. I have most of the movement back in the left side of my face, though it's never fully returned to normal. I get headaches much more often than before. The left side of my face can often predict a change in the weather (from warm to cooler or cool to cold) and when I'm too cold or too tired I loose control of it and cannot close my eye. For years I knew when I needed to go to bed because the left side of my face would just stop moving. I don't close my eyes during prayer in church because it makes my eye water too much and if you ever notice me "winking" my left eye, I'm not really winking at you, it's just that something doesn't feel right when I blink normally and I'm making sure that eye gets blinked. There's also some fun ringing in my head when I laugh too hard or smile too long. I can get rid of the headaches, but nothing takes away the weird numb/frozen feeling my face still gets sometimes. Now that it's Fall and the weather is turning cooler it hurts more often, during the Spring and Summer I really don't notice it.

Want to know how it feels? Press the palm of your hand over the left side of your face with the heel of your hand at the corner of your mouth and upper jaw and the joints of your fingers close to your cheekbone and the corner of your eye. Push until you actually feel the pressure. Now try talking. Say the alphabet, your name, phone number, address, things you know well. How does it sound? Like you need to be in speech therapy right? I still talk like that when my "fash ish too cold." Drinking from a straw again was a big accomplishment for me. :)

The strangest thing about this virus, too me, was that I had never heard of it; but after being diagnosed, so many people told me about friends or family members who had it. There seem to be a number of pre-existing conditions which tend to lead to Bell's Palsy, but I had none of those. There's also some consensus that stress can trigger it, since I was switching schools at the time, that makes sense to me.

I'm not writing about this because I want your sympathy. Eleven years after my diagnosis and having regained around 95% of the movement in my face, I'm over the need for people to feel sorry for me. But the weather is turning colder and my face hurts, so I'm thinking about it again. Also, because I've never really figured out why God allowed me to have this. Maybe so I would learn to trust Him and His timing (I can be a rather impatient person). Maybe I'm supposed to share my story so you'll understand what Bell's Palsy is, and when you see someone in the mall or the grocery store who isn't moving half of their face, you can understand their pain just a little. Maybe you're reading this and you have Bell's Palsy. Please know that you are not alone! There are so many Facebook groups and online support groups dedicated to Bell's Palsy today. Those didn't exist 11 years ago.

Smiling was hard those first few months. It just looked so ridiculous! And it hurt. But my Dad was right. Keep smiling because people who don't know you won't know that your smile hasn't always been crooked, and people who know you will love you no matter what. Someday, you might even learn to laugh when the face in the mirror looks like this:

Instead of like this:

Yes, I really can control it (sometimes), I don't do it often because it makes it feel strange. By the way, there is quite a list of celebrities who have had Bell's Palsy. You can find an extensive list here. Here are a few of the more well-known people on the list:

Pierce Brosnan (actor, aka 007)
George Clooney (actor)
Katie Holmes (actress)
Ralph Nader (former Presidential candidate)
Rosanne Barr (actress)
Tony Gonzalez (NFL football player)

See? Those of you currently dealing with Bell's Palsy, you're in great company! So keep practicing those beautiful crooked smiles!

09 September, 2011

Where Were You?

This coming Sunday is the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Can you believe it has been that long? I know there has been a lot of talk about this already, and some of you may be tired of hearing about it. But for just a few minutes, I want you to remember where you were when you first heard. What was your first reaction? For just a few minutes, remember that the people on those planes and in the buildings were real people, with real families who are still hurting.

Here's where I was:

Sitting behind a table at school in Salina, Kansas, staring at a computer screen (I was studying commercial art/graphic design at a tech college). The teacher of another class walked through our classroom on the way to hers. She stopped and said, "I was just in the office and they had the radio on and a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center." What? I thought. What's the World Trade Center? Oh right, those really tall buildings they always show on TV shows like Friends so you know they're supposed to be set in New York City. Why would a plane crash into those? Isn't that what air traffic control is for? Surely she's just joking..... what's the punchline? No one in the room believed her. We all went back to our computers and whatever we were working on. The teacher shook her head, said "I'm serious," and left the room. 

A few minutes later, someone came into the classroom, I don't remember if it was the same teacher or someone else. "Another plane just crashed into the second tower of the World Trade Center, they're saying this is a war." No one breathed. Our teacher went to his office and brought out his little radio. It didn't matter what station it was on, they all said the same thing. How could this happen? How could anyone be that cruel? We just sat there, listening as the reporters tried to make some sort of sense of it. Sometime later, the reporters switched their focus from New York City to Washington D.C., saying that yet another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. A guy in my class suddenly came to attention, "My Aunt and Uncle work in the Pentagon," he said. Suddenly it didn't seem quite so far away. A fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Unrelated? Just a coincidence? No one knew. By the end of the day, I think we were all numb. No one knew what to think, or how to respond. How should we, in Kansas, react to something that seemed so far away? And yet, it was so close. This is all one nation, after all.

Driving home after school, I passed a gas station. The price of gas had gone up considerably from what it had been and there was a line of cars down the street waiting to fill in gas. What would this nation come too? What would happen to it? To all of us? Was it really a war? With who? So many questions. So few answers.

Slowly those answers began to trickle in. I remember watching videos on TV of people in some nations dancing in the street and burning our flag as they celebrated our down-fall. I still don't understand that kind of response. I remember watching the "Changing of the Guard"  at Buckingham Palace in London as they played our "Star Spangled Banner" instead of their own "God Save the Queen." 

The guy from class whose Aunt and Uncle worked in the Pentagon finally had answers as well. His Aunt's office had been on the side that was hit, her office was destroyed. But her husband's office was on the opposite side and she had gone to see if he had time to go to lunch together. Both were safely in his office at the time of the crash and were unharmed. The fourth plane, headed for Washington D.C., crashed in Pennsylvania, because the brave passengers had made enough phone calls to realize what was going on, and tried to stop it.

I've never really understood prejudice and racial hatred. Especially not the kind that would drive someone to deliberately crash a plane full of innocent people into a building full of innocent people. I have far too many friends and family members who have spent their lives serving God by ministering to people in countries in nearly every corner of this world for me to ever really believe that I'm any better than anyone else. Skin color, race, ethnicity; is all just diversity that makes us unique. Like flowers in a garden. Sure, you could plant an entire garden full of nothing but red roses, but where's the fun in that? The red roses loose their uniqueness when that's all you see. A garden filled with not only red roses, but yellow daffodils, pink carnations, white daisies and purple irises would be far more interesting. Each of us has a unique personality. We have our own likes, things that make us happy and personal preferences. No two people are the same. It's in those differences that I see the fingerprints of God! It's the differences that make life interesting. How dull would our lives be if we all looked, spoke and acted exactly the same? It makes me sad when people can't see the beauty in the differences.

Prejudice is nothing but fear. Fear of someone or something that's different from what you know. The events of 9/11 were designed in fear to create fear. But God calls us to love. "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Matt. 5:44. That's not always an easy thing to do. It's much easier to lash out in anger. To respond to the hatred with more hatred. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his 1963 speech "Strength to Love," "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." With that statement, he closely reflects the words of I John 4:18 "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..."

This is getting quite long, sorry about that, so I'm going to wrap it up with a song. There were more than a few songs that became sort of "anthems" for 9/11. Some were written mostly for the purpose of monetary gain for the writer/performer, others were written in anger and called for revenge, but this beautiful song by Alan Jackson, is purely a reflection: where were you? what was your response? Please watch, and remember to pray for the survivors and the families of those lost on that day 10 years ago.

p.s. - please feel free to respond with your own story from that day, I find that writing is cheap therapy!

02 September, 2011

Coffee Travels: Around the World from Your Recliner

Did you know that you can travel around the world without leaving the comfort of your own home? Thanks to the wonders of imported goods and an amazing invention known as the internet, it gets easier every day! Last week I was reading a blog written by a lady who recently moved from London, England, to a city on the shore of Lake Geneve in Switzerland. She had posted a picture of herself drinking iced tea in a swimming pool because she said she was "melting" in this new city. I thought to myself it's Switzerland! How hot can it be? So Google and I went to work. I discovered that on that day, the high in her city was 77. What? Wait, if she thinks that's hot, then how hot is London? So I searched again. The high in London was 64! Sixty-four!!! In August! I'm beginning to think I may have been born in the wrong country (or at least in the wrong part of THIS one). It was 107 here yesterday. Now THAT'S HOT! 

This little adventure of reading her blog and discovering the temperatures in various cities around the world reminded me of how easy it is today to get information, goods and services from anywhere! So, what if we put that idea to good use? When my husband and I go skiing, I like to pick up bags of coffee from the local coffee shops (instead of those kind that have a store on every corner everywhere in the world..... you know the one) and if the city we're in has a local coffee roaster, all the better! The best cup of coffee I've ever had came in the form of a sample (yes really) from a hotel in Aspen, Colorado. It was from a coffee shop/roaster in Telluride, CO. (which I thought was funny because there's a good local shop in Aspen!) The company was called "The Steaming Bean" and the coffee was French Roast, it was dark and smoky and absolutely delicious! When we were in Telluride a few years ago, I picked up a few bags of their coffee, all delicious! Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you don't have to go to Telluride to get their coffee, you can order it here.

Now, back to that idea about putting the things we buy to good use. What you may not know abut coffee, is that it is only grown in certain regions of the world. Most coffee is grown south of the equator, in countries like Brazil, Columbia, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Madagascar to name a few. Hawaii is the only state in the US to grow coffee. Now, those of you who have listened to your fair share of missionary reports in church probably already know where I'm going with this. Some of these coffee growing countries are among the most unreached with the Gospel of Jesus. Tea has the same issue, as most of it comes from India, China and Sri Lanka (the tea from Sri Lanka is known as Ceylon). What if every time you had a cup of Columbian coffee or an Indian tea (such as Darjeeling), you said a prayer for the people and missionaries in that country? Or when you have a cup of Yerba Mate (pronounced mah-TAY), you said a prayer for the people and missionaries in South America? Maybe you don't know anyone in those countries, it's OK, just pray for them in general, God knows who they are, and He knows their needs and can direct your prayers where they're needed. How much of a difference could we make doing something we do every day! 

Maybe you'd like to be more direct in your helping. Kungaloosh tea company will donate $2 for every single bag and $4 for every double bag of Japanese Sencha green tea to the Red Cross through the end of the year to help with relief in Japan. Check with your local Ten Thousand Villages for coffee from Equal Exchange, the company buys coffee, tea and chocolate (among other things) from small farmers and coops in coffee growing regions, and gives them a fair price for their goods. You can also buy direct from Equal Exchange if you aren't close to a Ten Thousand Villages store. If you want to know exactly where the profits are going, or pick a specific cause, check out Project7. Each blend/roast of coffee (they also have other things like t-shirts, gum and mints) supports a different organization. Among the places they give to are blood:water mission, Samaritan's Purse and World Vision. Be specific in what you buy, and pray for the people of the nations that provide your goods, you might be surprised at the results even in your own life. God uses prayer in powerful ways!