Matfield Green - Our first years

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Digging for Chicken and Pork

Willie & Justine (Bill's kids) visited us last weekend. To celebrate, we thought we'd cook a few chickens, some potatoes and carrots (our carrots!) and two pork loins. A lot more food than nine people could eat, but what the hell, we were happy!

To challenge ourselves we decided to cook the food in a pit. Bill chose a spot near the house site where the earth had already been disturbed. He spen5 Friday afternoon digging and started the fire on Saturday morning. We seasoned the food and wrapped it in burlap. We put a big piece of corrugated metal on top of the hot coals, then the chickens, pork and veggies, then buried it all in couple of feet of dirt.

4 hours passed. We dug up the burlap packages. The pork was perfect. The potatoes were almost ready. Everything else was close to raw. And there is no way to stick it back in that particular over for awhile longer. So into the regular oven it went. Whetting our appetites with pork, tomatoes and white wine, we waited about an hour and a half for the second course. We finished up with Barb Armstrong's peanut butter cake with chocalate frosting.

An experiment. A cooking project gone wrong.

Trouble is we liked the doing. As a cooking method it feels earthy. We'd like to do it again. But we're just not sure what we did wrong. Anybody have any thoughts?

Meanwhile, it has been hot. The garden is languishing. We do have as many tomatoes as we can eat, a couple of healthy looking cantaloupes and some carrots. But everything else seems stopped in its tracks.

PHOTO: The Undone Chicken

PHOTO: Willie Digging for Food

Pepper in Pink

Nothing like a pink studded color to make a girl feel pretty.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Pepper & the Cicada

These 105+ degree days all tend to melt into each other. One night in the last five, I was watering the garden (where tomatoes and melons are having the time of their lives and everything else is dead or comatose) while Bill was working on his latest project of digging up giant rocks from all over our property in preparation for building a stone wall across the front of our new house.

Pepper, who after lounging all day in the air conditioning is ready by about 8pm to do some slow meandering up and down the path from bunkhouse to garden, spotted a cicada. Picture the biggest cicada you can imagine. About an inch and a half long, 3/4 of an inch in diameter and loud. Pepper nosed the cicada around, rather dismayed by the noise of the click-buzz-clicking. All of a sudden she went for it, grabbing the bug into her mouth. Now it was Pepper who was click-buzz-clicking-click-buzz-clicking-click-buzz-clicking. Weird.

She hesitated. The moment to ingest was lost. The bug was just too damned loud to be tasty. Out of the mouth it popped. And the pup stopped buzzing.

The heat broke in the early hours of this morning. It was a breezy seventy-something degrees when Pepper and I went out at about 6:15. Pepper took the opportunity (they're predicting temps back up in the 100s next week) to raise hell all over town. First she chase a new puppy off the Randy Talkingtons' porch and sampled some of its food. Then she ran after a calf up near the Rogler's house - somewhat deterred by the mother cow but not much. Finally, the rampage was halted by of all creatures a cat at Barbara Rogers' house who, after months, literally months, of running scared, dared to stand up to her troublesome canine neighbor. So raised her back and stood her ground, stopping Pepper in her tracks and sending her back to the road and along home for breakfast.

As we passed the Bryan's house she chased a couple of bunnies, just to prove that she still had it in her.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

117 degrees in the sun (and a husband without a truck)

Yesterday at about 5:30 pm we looked at the thermometer outside our bunkhouse window and it read 117.2 degrees. Granted it is in an intensely sunny spot and is always 5-10 degrees higher than other measures. But still.

I'd never seen anything like it.

And the temperature at the north end, the shady end, of the buildling read 106.

And the thermometers on banks in Emporia ranged between 105 and 109.

How is this possible?

The little air conditioner that came with my office house does not serve. So I went out to the big city yesterday to buy an air conditioner. At my fourth and final stop I found one big enough and still in stock. But it wouldn't fit in the Honda Civic.

"Can't you borrow a truck?," asked the warehouseman at Hills Appliances in Emporia. "Doesn't your husband have a truck?" Like, what kind of man would your husband be if he doesn't have a truck.

I hastened to explain that we had just moved here from Chicago and my husband simply had not acquired the requisit truck yet. But that, yes, I could borrow one and, yes, I would be back tomorrow with a truck.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Camp Counselor

It is difficult to be dedicated blogger and energetic camp counselor at the same time. Thus the dearth of entries lately, as I plan and execute activity after activity for my 10 and 11 year old niece and nephew. And enjoy myself a lot in the process. We've been swimming at the pool/water park in Emporia. Fabulous slides! We've been over to play with the O'briens and their cousins (Eureka! there are children in Matfield Green.) We saw the Wizard of Oz performed by the Wichita Music Theatre. A top-flight production that got extra laughs on all the Kansas references. We've been canoeing on Council Grove Lake. I took them over to Mary Ann Quay's place so that she could teach them to ride a horse. We've spent hours in the stock tank that Emily lent us and we filled up with cool water to help us through the steamy July days. We've picked tomatoes and eaten lots and lots of them. And today I dragged the young campers out to Cedar Point to look at the historic mill and have a picnic in the 95 degree heat.

That last thing, they didn't like much. Those Wisconsinites just can't stand the heat.

And, worklife goes on. Yesterday I had a first meeting with a coaching client here at my office. I was on the phone with another client when she arrived, so she went for a short walk. A few minutes later when I opened the door and let her in she said, half-laughing, half wondering what kind of world she had stumbled into, "Security is really good around here." Apparently she'd been met on the street just outside my little office by a man with a shotgun who asked her if she was going for a walk. It was just Tom Armstrong being friendly, perhaps forgetting, or ignoring, the fact that he had the gun in his hand. I learned later that Tom has the gun because he must terminate a family of skunks who have taken up residence in his backyard.

Bill has been learning the Latin names for the native plants and animals and teaching them to the kids. The other morning he woke up with the perfect Latin name for Pepper: Dogondis Bedhoggi.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I took an early morning walk with a new client yesterday. On our way up into the hills we stopped in the garden. I showed her the larksparrow nest, so elegantly hidden among the watermelon leaves, and now full of three plump but tiny chicks. My client spoke of the hope she feels when she sees things like that in nature. So trusting. So unaware of all the turmoil of the world. I quoted Wendell Berry's "The Peace of Wild Things" who "do not tax themselves with forethought of grief." We went away happy knowing the baby sparrows were snug and well taken care of by mom and pop who kept watch from aperch the telephone wire.

Later, about 10 o'oclock, I was ranging around the place with Abby and Andrew, my niece and nephew who are visiting from Wisconsin and will be with us for 2 weeks. I stopped to show them the larksparrows and the nest was empty.

It's hard to believe that they were old enough to fly away. They could only have hatched 5 or 6 days before. And I think it was mom and dad sitting, again, on the wire. So I worry. I also wonder, do larksparrow parents grieve for baby chicks who may have been stolen awy by some mid-morning maraurder? Or do they simply start planning for the next batch? Perhaps it is a moment of surprise, a sharp pang of grief and then a profound type of letting go.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Float trip on Middle Creek

The temperature at the bunkhouse read 101.7 when Bill and Pat and I got in the car to go to John and Annie Wilson's annual float trip on Middle Creek. About 30 people, ages 10 to 80 (that's our Barb Armstrong the adventurous octogenarian) gathered at the Wilson's Five Oaks Ranch, toting inner tubes and wearing old clothes and sneakers as directed. Pat does not own sneakers so he wore steal-toed boots.

We piled the inflated tubes in a cattle truck and loaded ourselves into the back of three or four pickups for the short trip down to the creek. The water was cool and muddy and it was a particular pleasure to float slowly downstream, visited by dragon flies, one tiny frog and only the ocasional more annoying insect.

The water is low all over this summer (though, June Talkington reminded us later, nothing like the summers of 1953, '54 and '55, when corn grew two feet tall and then stopped, dried up and withered in the hard earth), so we had to do some portaging. But mostly we floated, and chatted and paddled just a little bit with our arms when we started to fall behind the group.

Getting back to the house at about 6:30 we showered and changed and uncovered our covered dishes while Annie and John put out the lemonade and cooked hot dogs. My curried rice salad was a big success! I was astounded by the shear number of assembled pies and cakes and other sweets and amazed by how quickly and joyfully they were eaten.

After food, out came the instruments. Annie on guitar. Lauren on the banjo. Jim on guitar. June on violin. A keyboard, mandelin and even a string bass. And they played just the songs you'd think they'd play on a hot July night in the country.

As we got in the car for the 20-some mile trip home Pat looked back at the musicians and the audiece in their lawnchairs and their blankets and the moon and the young people drinking beer in the bed of the pickup, and said, quite rightly, "Toto, we're not in Chicago anymore."

1 wall up and three to go

We're on the way to a second floor. I arrived home from Wichita on Saturday morning to find Jim Worster (artist, fellow-transplant, who is giving a Pat a hand when one man cannot do the job alone), Tom Armstrong, Pat and Bill up on the roof of the very sturdy first floor of our house, getting ready to raise the front wall into place. I jumped in to help for awhile as they eased the wall up a few inches at a time, first in the middle, then at one end, then at the other, then back to the middle and up a few more inches, until Tom's level read vertical. But mostly I took pictures.

Summer Sunrise