Karen Madorin

Prairie Tayles writer

Community: Hays, KS

A sixth generation Kansan, Karen Madorin cherishes the prairie in a way only one who has left a beloved homeland and returned can.  A writer, amateur photographer, and former teacher, Karen loves finding fossils from the ancient inland seas as well as learning about modern pioneers who harvest Kansas wind.  Her Prairie Ramblings essays celebrate living the good life on the High Plains.

Ways to Connect

Lake Lou / Flickr

Learning more about how our ancestors lived fascinates me so I’m always up for any adventure that involves the past. A favorite place to explore old times is nearby Cottonwood Ranch at Studley, Kansas. First, the architecture is interesting. Even better, are its stories. The curator and his support team have skillfully preserved this English-style sheep ranch and its history. Fortunately, the original owner kept meticulous records that open windows into his world. In addition, the caretaker is a great storyteller for those inclined to listen. 

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Add a bucket, crank, rock salt, ice, canister, milk, cream, vanilla, sugar, eggs, and arm strong power to take any summer celebration over the top. As a kid, I loved arriving at a gathering where men sat or knelt circled around a good size wooden or plastic bucket and each took a turn cranking a long metal handle. Oftentimes, a child perched atop the bucket to stabilize the turning device. I knew when I saw this, it didn’t mean the guys were just telling good stories. It meant we’d soon be eating homemade ice cream.

www.oldmeadecounty.com

Most families keep their black sheep a deep, dark secret. Following this unwritten code in the late 1880s and early 90s, Eva Whipple, sister of the notorious Daltons, didn’t announce to fellow residents of Meade, Kansas, that her brothers robbed banks for a living. However, a hidden tunnel between her house and nearby barn supports the theory her outlaw relations secretly visited her.

Wikipedia

Social media users, join local photography sites to see what’s going on around the state. You won’t be sorry. Right now, a slew of oriole pictures: Baltimore, Bullock, and orchard,  fill scroll bars daily. Based on what I’m seeing, these pretty birds are everywhere. I love the captures of these saucy black and orange birds and reading photographers’ posts.

Creative Commons

Before my students read a section of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca’s travel journal about his exploration of Texas, I had them write directions from their house to a nearby destination. It sounded like a simple assignment until I add these qualifiers. They couldn’t use man-made landmarks or addresses in their instructions, nor could they use vehicles or GPS systems. They were limited to foot travel, and they needed to depend on the sun and stars for directions.

Country kid fun

May 19, 2017
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Warm weather always reminds me that country kids know how to have fun. An eight-year old from the Denver area made me think about this when he entertained me with adventures he enjoyed at a trampoline and arcade business near his home. After he detailed hours of good times performing tricks and challenging friends, I wondered what my grandkids would remember about their country childhoods. Thank goodness, I spied two teens playing a crazy game of either hide-n- seek or paint ball war in between lined up hay bales along Highway 24.

WWW.OURHENHOUSE.ORG

Something’s been eating my strawberries. Yes, the luscious berries that we planted two springs ago and carefully nurtured so we’d have fresh fruit over our ice cream and cake or sliced to sweeten a fresh spinach salad. Since they first began blooming in May, I’ve harvested about 15 scarlet bursts of flavor that hip hop on my taste buds. Last week, I went to pick some for supper and discovered I’m not the only one that likes this spring treat.

Troglodyte Miscue

May 5, 2017
LEARNER.ORG

Kids love to find words that get under the skin of siblings or enemies. This term gains power due scatological or other socially inappropriate connotations. For me, the word troglodyte, meaning knuckle-scraping Neanderthal, carried great import.. What could be more insulting?

Imagine my surprise to discover a word I secretly called my worst enemies was part of the scientific name of one of my favorite birds, the house wren.

First day at the park

Apr 24, 2017
WHEREINTHEUSARV.BLOGSPOT.COM

After months of wearing long pants, heavy sweaters over flannel shirts, and clunky shoes, folks are enjoying the chance to leave jackets behind and head to the park. It’s like a spring cleaning for the spirit as everyone goes down a slide, swings, or teeter totters in order to wipe away winter’s cobwebs and staleness.

Mongo

“But--I didn’t start it,” are words parents and teachers hear regularly. Over decades, I’ve learned that seeing one kid hit another doesn’t mean that child began the fuss. Usually he or she is answering another youngster’s actions. The bad news is I saw what I saw, so I have guide that person back to acceptable behavior at home or in a classroom. A lesson I try to teach is that reacting often draws unwanted attention. 

Ammodramus

Combine past information with storytelling and you get history, which both entertains and offers examples of actions that improve lives. Kansas has experienced thousands of years of learning how to set up functional communities. At least 155 years of those include practice establishing permanent towns operated by local and state governments.

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Youngsters nowadays have tough choices when it comes to playing. For those of us who are living our second half of a century, the p word meant wandering outdoors to look for trees to climb, finding neighbor kids willing to put together a newly invented street game, or digging up some dirt suitable to build forts or create giant war zones for green plastic army men.

www.firstthings.com

Due to medical appointments and grandkid visits, I’ve spent several days driving across central and western Kansas the last few weeks. During that travel time, gusting north winds have shaken and tossed my silver Toyota like a terrier shaking a rat, leaving me to hope that spring weather lore is more than a wishful thought. Now that the beginning of the month is here and I have a few more journeys to make, that old saying about March, “In like a lion, out like a lamb,” appeals to me.

Glimmer721

Kevin Costner’s character Ray in the movie Field of Dreams listened to a mysterious voice telling him, “If you build it, they will come.” Against others’ advice, he sacrificed a cornfield to construct a baseball diamond in the middle of Iowa farm country. If you’ve watched this film, you know the end of the story. Shoeless Joe Jackson, members of the banned 1919 Black Sox team, and others show up to play some spirited games.

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Miners may have headed to the mountains hoping to discover gold nuggets and tiny gilt grains in streams and veins of rock. Unlike those adventuresome characters, we’ve stayed home on the prairie and discovered treasure in our Kansas garden after experimenting with new crops. One such Eureka moment arrived in the form of beta-carotene, vitamin A rich sweet potatoes.

Mud blessings

Feb 18, 2017
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Chinese philosophers are on to something with their Yin and Yang concepts. Light balances dark, silence/noise, joy/sorrow, and in our case, mud offsets dust.

Yes, mud. Icky, gooey, sticky mud. Like cat hair, it latches onto anything it touches, finding its way from roads, yards, and pastures onto shoes and pant legs and into homes. It finds its way into the oddest places—a speckle stuck to a grocery sack, a chunk dropped by the door, a smear on a purse.

www.goodfreephotos.com

When I talk to friends who love to live in cities, they often wonder what we do for fun in our rural setting.  Even my former students who live in a nearby small town frequently asked, “Don’t you get bored in the country?  All you have to do is watch grass grow.” Anyone who reads my essays knows I don’t get bored even though we don’t have any neon lights or busy city streets lined with businesses that cater to people who just want to have fun.

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Weather forecasters have a miserable job. On one hand, they predict impending catastrophic weather and save lives. Think of residents if Oklahoma who made it to shelter before devastating F5 tornadoes bore down on their neighborhoods and businesses. On the other, these predictions are often wrong. A  cell fritzes out, leaving the audience to compare yesterday’s hero to the boy who cried wolf. It’s a dilemma.

Quilted treasures

Jan 28, 2017

I’d be the first to tell you I’m not a quilter and unlikely to become one unless catastrophe requires me to recycle old clothing remnants into blankets to warm me or my loved ones in the cold of winter. While I don’t have patience to construct such intricate coverlets, I admire those who do. When our youngest daughter learned to quilt in a high school sewing class, I was thrilled she’d continue a family tradition that has waned since my great-grandmother last sorted through her ragbag to come up with pieces to create a lovely blue and red star heirloom that my mother treasures.

Creatures of habit

Jan 7, 2017

The other day, I watched our Jack Russell fidget impatiently by the bedroom door, waiting for someone to let him into the hallway. Directly behind him was an alternate path that led through the bath to the living area on the other side of the house. Because he’s in a new home, he never considered exiting via this route. After I released him from his self-imposed trap, I began thinking about how I, too, am a creature of habit locked into boundaries established only my mind.

Wikimedia Commons

Mother Nature does a fantastic job of cleaning up after herself. Humans could learn a trick or ten from the efficient way natural processes clean water, recycle plants into humus, and tidy up dead critters lying on roadways. For each specific job, creatures abound to make sure nothing stinky lies around too long. Two of my favorite helpers include the roadkill eradication team: magpies and turkey vultures. 

Public Domain

Few baby boomers can flip through old photo albums without finding black and white pictures featuring themselves, siblings, and cousins as youngsters. They often show off cowboy hats with stampede strings tied tight under their chins, fuzzy chaps, and belts holding plastic six shooters that fired red ribbons of firecracker-scented caps. Not many escaped that ache to ride the range on a stick horse or to rope sad-faced pups and kittens. Watching Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Lone Ranger on those two-channel TVs fueled dreams and guided neighborhood shootouts.

mommypotamus.com

Despite the fact I had a flu shot the minute the doctor made them available, one of those germs invaded, took up residence in my ears, lungs, and sinuses, and has hung around with his buddies far too long. I’ve taken antibiotics and added a few homeopathic treatments to see if I can send this invader packing. Some of my self-care, which includes slathering Vicks on my feet and wearing cotton socks to bed, has offered comfort but not a cure. Several sympathetic friends recommended taking elderberry elixir, and one provided a bottle of his homebrew. When I looked up elderberries, it appears science agrees that syrups made from this native fruit have successfully evicted this nasty attacker and its accompanying symptoms.

Library of Congress

The Great Plains is its own eco-niche with distinctive plants, mammals, birds, weather, and history that constantly evolve. Its human population is as dynamic as these other unique factors. Those of us whose families have lived here for generations understand the world Willa Cather describes in My Antonia. Our families lived her stories. When we read them, we wonder how we got where we are today.

Kansas Memory, Kansas Historical Society

HPPR listeners thinking about the theme of this year’s book club--Borders and Becoming--need to keep in mind that borders change to meet the needs of those who live within them. Over the last two and a half centuries, the parameters of the United States changed repeatedly. A modern day description of the contiguous states would include Folksinger Woody Guthrie’s first stanza of “This Land Is Your Land.”

nature.mdc.mo.gov

In the past week, I met a garden neighbor.  Apparently, this blue/green juvenile racerunner lizard moved from his burrow or wherever his last digs were into my 12 x 18 foot raised-bed garden.  Our hilltop is too rocky to support an in-ground garden, so we had to create our own little haven for tomatoes, peppers, onions, and okra.  Mr. Psychedelic must enjoy the insects that also call the Salsa in the Makings Ranch home, and he is now dining al fresco under the tomato vines.

While I was on my hands and knees pulling weeds, this little character’s reptilian movements alarmed me to leap swiftly to my feet.  After all, we live on a sunny, rocky hilltop that translates into perfect snake habitat.  I have found it is best to be on the lookout since slithery things live here too.  After my brain settled and eyes focused, I realized the new garden guard was a cute little lizard called a racerunner.

www.ourhenhouse.org

 Something’s been eating my strawberries. Yes, the luscious berries that we planted two springs ago and carefully nurtured so we’d have fresh fruit over our ice cream and cake or sliced to sweeten a fresh  spinach salad. Since they first began blooming in May, I’ve harvested about 15 scarlet bursts of flavor that hip hop on my taste buds. Last week, I went to pick some for supper and discovered I’m not the only one that likes this spring treat.

Fourth of July Fun

Jul 1, 2016

“Gramma, wuuuhms (worms), pops!” giggled my three-year-old granddaughter, calling from western Kansas. It’s July 3, so I realize her parents have taken her to buy childhood firecrackers such as black snakes and those little poppers that I, our daughters, and now our grand love to throw on hard ground. Sure enough, my little caller’s mother confirms that’s what happened. This is G’s first year to enjoy these holiday favorites, and she wanted to share her excitement.

Troglodyte Miscue

Jun 17, 2016
learner.org

Kids love to find words that get under the skin of siblings or enemies. This term  gains power due scatological or other socially inappropriate connotations. For me, the word troglodyte, meaning knuckle-scraping Neanderthal, carried great import.. What could be more insulting?

www.goodlifegarden.ucdavis.edu

Picking and shelling peas is a labor of love, not practicality. After three evenings bent over knee-high vines finding and shelling full pods, I conceded the payoff—healthy calories—doesn’t match effort expended. Some folks might wise up and start buying canned or frozen peas at the market, but they’d miss what some researchers call the intangibles.

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