Prairie Tayles

Saturday morning, 7:30 central during Weekend Edition

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 teacher, Karen loves finding fossils from the ancient inland seas  as well as  learning about  modern  pioneers who harvest Kansas wind. Each week Prairie Tayles takes you inside everyday life.  It is a celebration of living the good life on the high plains.

Karen also writes a blog by the same name, Prairie Tayles.

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.

 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.

4th of July Traditions

Jun 24, 2016

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.

Troglodyte Miscue

Jun 17, 2016

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?

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.

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.

A phone call brings Karen one step closer to becoming the oldest generation.

I recently overheard someone at an area coffee shop say, “The worst day of fishing is better than the best day at work.” I’m not sure I agree 100 percent, but any day with a baited hook tossed out, waiting for a nibble is a good day. You’re near water, catching sunrays, listening to birds twitter, and smelling that nose teasing scent of mud, water plants, and fish. If you happen to reel something in to put on the dinner table, it’s a bonus.

Does anyone else wonder what highway workers charged with stopping one lane of traffic during road construction think about as they stand in the elements and flip their signs from stop to slow eight to twelve hours a day? Whenever possible, I visit with these souls who brave extreme temperatures and irate drivers to see how their jobs compare to my inside work.

I’ve grown up hearing America called the melting pot of the world. If you spend time traveling Kansas, then you understand the Sunflower State is the biggest bubble in that boiling mess. In a few hours’ time, travelers can visit Lebanon, Denmark, Norway, and Cuba. During that journey, drivers can drop south to Glasco, named for Glasgow, Scotland. Kansas is a state of many cultures, evidenced not only by town names but also by buildings designed to honor old-country customs.

Just Swingin

Apr 28, 2016

Once upon a long time ago, children played on asphalt or gravel playgrounds filled with tall metal swing sets and finger pinching chains. Those thick links froze little hands November through February and roasted those same palms July through September.

Four Letter Words

Apr 15, 2016

Most of us have heard about four letter words. The minute you mention them, many immediately think naughty words. But this time of year, hope is a four-letter word. As is soil, seed, rain, bird, root, stem and grow. Four letter words-- every one. As I roamed about my yard planting hollyhocks, bachelor buttons, sweet William, zinnias, and other butterfly attractors, I kept thinking, I hope for moisture and that the hard little hulls I tucked in the earth would sprout roots and stems to unfurl skyward under warm, spring sun.

For a man who wrote easy-on-the-ear verse in line after line of iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare must spin in his grave to think he’s the reason millions of screeching, squabbling starlings swarm from shore to shore and border to border in America.

So who had the misguided idea to import these obnoxious creatures? In 1890 and 91, New Yorker Edward Schieffelin, a leader of the American Acclimatization Society, acted on a romantic notion to import examples of everything ever mentioned in a Shakespearian play to his hometown. Unfortunately, the bard included starlings in a scene in part one of Henry IV. That was the beginning of this cursed bird’s existence in the New World.

You’ve heard the saying, “Looks can be deceiving.” That statement describes our little terrier’s coat. When you meet him, he looks like a sleek pooch that doesn’t shed. That’s true July through February. However, when the calendar says spring, he gives March Madness a new interpretation.

Most folks who meet the winter Buster love to stroke his silky fur and rub his soft ears. Let them visit before a spring de-thatching, and they’ll wear Buster home. That little guy sheds like a champ. If there were Olympics for losing winter hair, our pet would win a gold medal.

Easter is about much more than egg hunts and a big ol’ rabbit posing for pictures with little ones. However, in small towns across Kansas such festivities remind winter -weary children and adults that spring truly has arrived. With the promise of sugary treats, hope rises like sap in tots impatient to collect brightly colored eggs tempting them from a green lawn. Their enthusiasm should be bottled and sold.

Almost Empty Nest

Mar 18, 2016
Vincent Mancini

I’ve observed a great-horned owl on her nest for the past three months. This triggered a reflection on parenting similarities humans and critters share. It also added questions to those already swirling about my busy brain. One of those is do birds experience a sense of unsettledness like the one humans have when their young first leave home? After surviving those aching months when our youngest moved away, leaving behind an unnaturally quiet house, I recall a moment when my husband and I looked at one another, and said something along the lines of, “We’re going to have to relearn what a world without kids is like.”  

Blooming Turkeys

Mar 18, 2016

Outback Steakhouse may advertise blooming onions, but I know where turkeys bloom in  green fields near my house.  Like a rose going from a tight bud to full summer bloom, those big ol’ gobblers put on a show. Puffing their feathers and spreading their fan-shape tails into a full blown sail, they strut and rattle.  All this action occurs to woo nearby hens that coyly scan the area for insects and greens.

You don’t have to travel far to learn something new. During Spring Break, my husband and I jaunted to Courtland, Kansas, to explore Jamestown Marsh and other area sites. I expected to see migratory birds, including eagles, ducks, and geese. I hoped to visit the Pawnee Indian Village Museum to study more about early residents of my region. My to-do list also included antiquing and photography. One thing I never expected to discover was a maple tapping/syrup making operation. In fact, I thought of this as a New England only activity, never considering that Kansans produce local maple products.

Paul Phillips

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.

A nostalgic essay about the good old days when all food was slow and TVs only received two channels recently caught my attention. It made me think about the differences between my childhood and my grandkids’.

The paragraph about not having a remote really struck home. The author explained how adults expected children to trudge to the television to manually switch from one channel to the other. I remember those days when dad would tell us to change channels. I might have been a grown up in my own home before I owned a television with a device that allowed us to flick channels without leaving our seats. That was just the beginning of technology that encouraged dependence. Now it’s expanded into restrooms.

Valentine Memories

Feb 12, 2016

It’s hard to ignore Valentine promotions. Big box stores dedicate aisles to red and pink candies, stuffed animals, balloons, tableware, and other items most of us don’t need. Flower shops depend on profits generated by lovers sending bouquets to their sweethearts. Card stores tempt us to send our partners expensive cards declaring true love. It’s the February assault on our winter-dulled senses, and we’re all gullible—me included. I love getting posies from my husband.

Despite my adult vulnerability to this over-promoted holiday, kids really know how to celebrate it best. They spend considerable time using construction paper, crayons, and glue to craft personal mailboxes for their friends to fill with corny cards signed in childish scrawl, which are then folded, and tucked into thin envelopes that would never make it through the U.S. mail.

After receiving scores of Presidents Day sale flyers in my mailbox and e-mail, I’m flashing back to childhood celebrations of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington’s birthdays. Keep in mind we didn’t combine birthdays fifty years ago. We turned February into one long party. We celebrated Lincoln on February 12 and then Washington on the 22nd. When you added in a Valentine party, February was a festive month for elementary students in the late fifties and early sixties.

Elvis wasn’t the only the person to note a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on. Lately, it appears that even more of it is taking place. Kansas residents have experienced plenty of recent unexpected movement as the earth repeatedly shifts under feet and houses. This messes with people’s equilibria and generates questions.

By a generation, I missed wearing flour sack clothing. After drying dishes with Grandma’s treasured dishtowels that originated as such containers, I was relieved the Depression was over so I didn’t have to dress in something that started as a bag. However, over decades as I’ve listened to stories of those who did, I realize I missed making memories that people still talk about 70 to 80 years after the fact.

There was a time that I found rumble strips—you know, those zig-zaggy indentions down the middle and sides of highways—to be nothing but obnoxious. They make terrible sounding vibrations when crossed, regardless of whether drivers intend to pass over them or not. They remind me of a dentist using the big drill to grind out a chunk of old filling. My feelings about those asphalt irritations changed the day those rough-carved asphalt concaves saved not only my life but my mom’s. Since then, I’ve new respect for that once disturbing noise.

Some people like cities. They like the anonymity of blending into a crowd. They like choosing where to shop, dine, and have fun. Being unknown to a server is a relief rather than a blessing. For these folks, the intimacy of living in a small town where everyone knows your name and your business is too personal. On the other hand, there are people like me who love going into a local eatery where the wait staff knows my name and what I’m going to order. These establishments are the heartbeat of tiny towns.

Sore Hands No More

Dec 26, 2015

Frigid temperatures do more than raise the gas bill. Cold, frosty days redden and roughen flesh, leading to splitting skin on fingers and hands that hurts as bad as or worse than a paper cut. No matter how much girly girl lotion and cream I applied in January and early February, I couldn’t smooth out either the hangnails that snagged on bulky sweaters and hoodies or soothe away those painful, weather-induced wounds that formed at the edges of my finger and thumbnails and over the tops of knuckles.

 One of the bonuses of teaching for so many years is that I’ve learned much from local speakers who have shared their knowledge with my students and me. In  1986, Lawrence Weigel, a regional historian from Victoria, began a tradition of speaking to my classes about local Volga German Christmas customs. Even though my grandma’s family came to America from this region, I’d never heard about the character called Belznickel that Mr. Weigel brought to life in my English classroom.

White Treasure

Dec 11, 2015

Holidays remind many of us of either family or cultural customs that connect us to generations long past. By following old family recipes, we can savor treats our ancestors have served for decades or maybe even hundreds of years. For instance, my husband’s Swiss ancestors have been making and giving linzer tarts at Christmas time long before they migrated from Switzerland to the United States. After analyzing my own great-grandma’s stash of old recipes, the English side of my family has baked date cookies and breads as well as Christmas puddings for eons.