Thursday, January 20, 2022

Why Should I Read? New Year's Resolution Part 2


Remember when reading was fun!  Your New Year's Resolution should be about rediscovering the fun of reading.  And, there is no reason why your reading resolution could not be a family project.  Reading with children reinforces the idea that reading is fun and important.

33% of H.S. Graduates never read another book the rest of their lives.

However, assuming your resolution to read more books is going to be solitary reading, there are many good reasons for you to make a New Year's reading pledge.  I will share just a few of those reasons.

42% of college grads never read another book after college.

Last week's blog described two friends who read to relax at bedtime in one case and to just pass the time without any particular reason in another case.  There is nothing wrong with reading to reduce stress.  Personally, even if I am reading to relax, I still prefer to read something of value to me, so  I keep a book of poetry beside my bed which serves that purpose well.  The rhythm of poetry and the shorter length, which makes it easier to find a stopping place, are both reasons why poetry is especially restful and relaxing.  Often the substance of the poems offer content for reflection as I fall asleep.  In a similar category, reading can be inspiring, whether read at bedtime or any other time.  Reading about the achievements or courage or good deeds of others can be an inspirational reason for reading.

The more a child reads, the better they are able to understand the emotions of others.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Three hundred years ago, Joseph Addison described another important reason for reading:  "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."  Studies have shown that reading really does increase the blood flow and improves connectivity in the brain.  It is not just what you learn by reading but also an actual physical impact.

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

Obviously, reading can provide information that can alter your thinking.  Right now, with health issues limiting travel, we can still learn about other people and other places through books.  Books can even take us back in history.  Mark Twain wrote that history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.  Instead of every generation needing to learn hard lessons for themselves, reading can spare the mistakes and build on the achievements.

70% of U.S. families have not been inside a bookstore in the past 5 years.

Children are not alone in benefitting from reading books that challenge their imaginations.  Fiction authors of the 1800s are believed to have inspired and challenged inventors and scientists who read their books and made fantasy into reality.  How many young boys credit reading a book about an athlete as what made them believe they too could run faster, jump higher, or enter a sport that they believed had been closed to them because of a disability or their color or financial limits.  How many people have built something or written something or baked something or explored something because they were inspired by a book they read, and age need not be a barrier to readers inspired by a book. 

I do not know the source of the statistics I quoted.  Frankly, I hope they are wrong, because I cannot imagine not wanting to continue reading for a lifetime.  But, I do know that other sources support the severe reduction in reading, and I know too many bookstores closed because people stopped buying books.

Whether you read to relax, to be inspired, to be educated, to learn, to improve something about yourself, to gain confidence--and I am not referring to "self-help" books but rather well written books that appeal to you for many reasons, I hope you believe that reading is worth making time to read.

Thank you to Kansas for recognizing Kansas authors & books about Kansas.

And thank you to Libraries and librarians for all they do to encourage reading!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Not Too Late for a Resolution

New Year's is past, but it is not too late for a resolution.  It probably will not surprise you that I am about to suggest that you resolve to set a reading goal.  In the past I have written about my Millennium Reading List.  I chose 100 great books published between 1900 and 1999 to read.  Have I read all of the books on my list?  No.  Is that a bad thing?  No, because the list became the source for discovering more and more books I wanted to read.  

The original list was intended to be fiction, but often fiction made me curious about the time period in which the novel was set, and I discovered history books I would not have otherwise read.  Then the history books led me to biographies.  I also discovered authors I admired, and in addition to reading a single book by that author, I sought other books that particular author had written.

The point is that by making a list of books to read it is likely that you will discover more and more books to enjoy reading.  At least, that is my experience.  

I have also written about the decline in reading.  From my perspective, that is a serious matter.  I know that many people now "read" audio books, especially if they have long commutes to work, or their jobs involve repetitive labor that allows listening to a book without hindering their work.  Audio books have their place, but the reader's interpretation inevitably alters the content with every decision about where to place emphasis, the tone of voice to be used to describe characters, or the character's voice used in dialogue.  All of those things and more can alter a listener's response to the book.  Listening to a book is not the same as reading a book, but it is better than not reading at all.

I am a slow reader.  A friend told me that she set her goal for the number of books she wants to read in a year at 50 books.  I could never accomplish that!  If you make a Resolution, do not set yourself up for failure by demanding more of yourself than is reasonable.

First, consider the kind of books you want to read.  For me, fiction is much quicker to read than nonfiction.  A friend of mine loved reading Romance Novels.  I asked her why she enjoyed them, and she said because they are all alike.  For her, they were just a way to relax and escape into an imaginary world.  Those are not really the kind of books for which you need a New Year's Resolution or a book list.  Another friend told me she reads to relax at bedtime.  She might not select books that stimulated her mind with new ideas for her bedtime reading.

If you decide you want to make a reading list of books, here is my advice:  Don't set yourself up for failure by making an impossibly long list or selecting especially long books.  To start, set a reasonable goal, maybe one book a month, or ten books for 2022.  If there is a particular book you know you want to read, start reading it now.  

If you don't have a particular book in mind, visit your local library and ask the librarian for a suggestion.  Before you go, decide the type of book you want to read--fiction or nonfiction, history or biography, a classic you remember from high school or college that you want to read again with a more mature perspective, a book by a particular author you have liked in the past or that you have heard about.  If you have a particular type of book in mind, the librarian will be better able to direct you to something you will enjoy, or at least to direct you to the shelf when those books are housed. If you are fortunate enough to live in a town with a bookstore, ask a knowledgeable clerk for suggestions, but be prepared with the same thought about the type of book you are interested in reading in order to give the clerk some guidance.

Finally, read the first two pages before you buy or check the book out.  Don't force yourself to start off your New Year's Resolution with a book that feels like an assignment.  If you want to be generous to the author, read five pages before you decide, but don't begin your Resolution with a book you are not enjoying.  Maybe later you will want to give a challenging book another chance, but at least start off the year's reading with a book that interests you from the early pages!

Good Luck!  I'll see you next week with some fresh ideas for why we should Resolve to Read!! 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

She Didn't Marry a Farmer

Continuing last week's blog that shared 3 generations of women who married a famer and concluded with a husband who married a farmer's daughter, I will remind all of us that while it may be true that young women today may be choosing farming for themselves, they are far from the first Female Farmers!

The Homestead Act of 1862 identified "heads of households" as the family member allowed to stake a homestead claim.  Since husbands were always the ones considered as the head of the family, married women could not stake a claim unless they could prove that their husband did not provide support for them in any way.  That was often difficult, since even the worst of husbands usually managed to bring home some bit of revenue occasionally.  

The picture above right compares the roots of prairie grass that the homesteaders had to break through to plow their fields for crops to the shallow roots of cultivated grass.  Breaking the native prairie sod was no easy task for male or female farmers!

Single persons, male or female, could stake a claim to prove up, as could widows and divorced women.  Adjacent to Isaac Werner's timber claim were two such women.  Persis Vosburg lived across the road to the west of Isaac's timber claim.  She had never married, but she had her own home and staked the quarter section on which it set.  Her widowed brother's claim was just to the north of hers.  She helped take care of his motherless children and he helped with some of her farm work in exchange.  A neighbor, coveting her land, raised a complaint that she was not complying with the requirements of a homesteader.  Isaac spoke up for her, saying that if two brothers had claims side-by-side and shared work, no one would object.  The fact that the work she did for her brother involved childcare should be treated no differently than the case of two brothers sharing work.  Persis was allowed to prove up her claim.

Just to the east of Isaac's timber claim was a divorced woman with children who had staked a claim.  No one seemed to object to Isabel Ross staking her claim, since it was obvious that she was supporting herself and her children.  Isaac often did simple kindnesses for her, including hiring Isabel and her children occasionally to help with his potato crops. 

Homesteading Chrisman Sisters

Perhaps the most famous female homesteaders are the four Chrisman sisters, Hattie, Lizzie, Lutie, and Ruth, who all staked claims in Custer County, Nebraska in1886.  They were not alone.  Historians today have estimated that about 20% of the homesteaders in Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North & South Dakota, Utah, and Idaho were single women.  Not every person staking a claim managed to endure the hardships of survival or the loneliness and hard work, and many claims were abandoned.  However, the success rate for proving up their claim was higher among women than men.

These brave, resourceful, stubborn women homesteaders were generations ahead of the Pioneer ad that inspired last week's blog, which is continued this week.  In the book "Letters of a Woman Homesteader," a widow with a young daughter decided to stake a claim.  Her Pastor advised her to "get a position as a housekeeper for some rancher who would advise [her] about land and water rights."  As you might guess, the widow and the rancher didn't quite stay single for five years, but she maintained her own land and he continued paying his bride the housekeeper wages he had paid before their marriage, so that she had her own money for maintaining her claim.  The government accepted the arrangement and awarded her the land at the end of the required 5 years.  Isaac Werner's neighbor ladies Persis and Isabel had no such romantic entanglements and proved up their claims 'by the book.'  Perhaps for some of these ladies, a man may have come along after her hard work of proving up a claim and asked for the lady's hand in marriage.  I'm not sure whether these ladies would have accepted a marriage proposal after proving they could manage on their own, especially since the laws of their time would have taken away some of their rights if they married!

But, like the woman in the Pioneer ad that inspired the two blogs starting last week and concluding this week, perhaps some of those homesteading women could eventually say "Her husband married a farmer." 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Married to a Farmer


In gratitude to the many people who follow this blog, I have shared history and other topics weekly for nearly 550 blogs.  It will probably not surprise you that I am constantly on the lookout for interesting subjects, but so is my husband.  Recently he handed me a page torn from a magazine, with an ad from Pioneer.  The text read:  Her great grandmother married a farmer,  Her grandmother married a farmer;  Her mother married a farmer,   Her Husband Married A Farmer.  Beneath that was this sentence:  "We're proud to work with generations of American farmers in the most complex and rewarding industry on earth."

"Do you think you can make a blog out of that?" my husband asked.  "Probably," I replied.  Actually, it was easy!  Thank you to Pioneer for the idea.  They inspired me with the quote from the upper corner of the ad pictured at the top of this blog, which reads:  "We're proud to work with generations of American farmers in the most complex and rewarding industry on earth." 

My Great Grandmother

Living in the farmhouse of a 4th generation family farm, all I needed to do was consider my own ancestry.  My great grandmother, Susan Beck, was a pretty young teacher when an older fellow, who had put marriage aside to help support his parents before serving 3 years in the Union army and working for a while after returning from the war, spotted the young teacher and asked her to marry him.  By the time he went to Kansas to stake both a homestead and a timber claim, they had two young children, which Susan brought with her by train to join her husband.  When a stroke disabled her husband, Susan stepped forward, taught school, helped neighbor ladies with medical needs, and bought a quarter-section of land with her son.  Her role in their marriage went beyond being "a farmer's wife."

My grandmother raised a family of seven.  The house we now live in had no electricity nor running water inside the house, but the pump on the enclosed corner of the porch provided the water she needed to fill the tank in the iron stove every morning to keep warm water available through the day--once she got a fire going in the stove first thing in the morning!  I don't know how much was delegated to her children and a full time hired man, but although she never managed to learn how to drive a car, she was said to be able to harness a horse to a wagon as fast as any man.

My mother was the 3rd generation, and while her role was more domestic, no one should minimize the importance of her summers of canning what was raised in the garden, providing shelves in the basement filled with enough canned tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers, as well as jars and jars of sand hill plumb jelly to last until the next summer's garden.    

And finally, the 4th generation comes down to me.  I have done some gardening since we moved to the farm, but not every year.  I do make enough sand hill plum jelly to last through the year, if late frosts don't ruin the harvest.  I can't really claim to be a farmer, but I certainly can claim to be a Farmer's Daughter.

More history about female farmers next week!


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Keeping Holiday Traditions During Covid

The day after Thanksgiving I began packing away the turkeys and the pilgrims for another year and bringing out Santa and the Angels.  Covid cases had been lessening, and I hoped maybe we could share the holidays with friends in our home this year.  Unfortunately, between the new varient, more people traveling at Thanksgiving, cold weather bringing people together inside, and other reasons, we will probably not be inviting guests again this year.

Nevertheless, the calendar says it is Christmas, and even though Mother Nature delivered the worst wind we have ever seen at the farm instead of snow, we are doing our best to maintain the Christmas spirit with decorations in every room.

It took us a while for just the two of us to finish off the Thanksgiving turkey, so we aren't doing turkey again for Christmas, although that was the family tradition in this house when I was a child because our crowded holiday tables contained so many guests that there were few leftovers.  We finally have managed to collect all of the ingredients we need for our recipes, although the now familiar challenge of not always finding ingredients on the shelves meant it required shopping early and visiting more than one store.  

I confess, over the years I acquired far too many Christmas decorations.  When we lived in cities, I did my holiday decoration buying the day after Christmas, when prices were drastically reduced and beautiful marked down treasures were far too tempting to resist.  That is why we always have at least two trees.

This year that required some negotiating with our cat Emerson.  We try to keep him off the furniture, without complete success I must admit, although we have negotiated a few rules.  This summer we brought in a wicker porch chair during a rainstorm, and Emerson laid claim to it for himself.  When we were putting the lawn furniture away for winter, it occurred to us that we might just leave the wicker chair in the house for him.  We even put it at a window so he could see out to the south.  That worked well to keep him off the other furniture at south windows.

The problem is that the south window where the second Christmas tree is usually placed is where Emerson's chair sits.  The negotiations were challenging, and the results are not entirely satisfactory for either us or Emerson, but he does have his chair and we do have a tree in the south window.  And best of all, it still keeps him off the other furniture.

Happy Holidays to everyone!  Stay safe and healthy, and perhaps our visits for the holidays in 2022 will not have to be virtual.


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Old Enough for Remakes

 Isaac Werner had a wonderful way with words, and among his clever expressions is one that I particularly like.  Isaac had made the effort to go to St. John to hear Mary Elizabeth Lease speak on a nasty winter night that necessitated his wearing layers of clothing and a veil over his face to avoid frost bite.  He found her program "splendid from beginning to end," but he was unwilling to face the freezing temperatures to travel to his farm when her program ended.  Instead, he chose to spend the night with a former country neighbor who had moved into town.  I describe that evening in Prairie Bachelor.  

From Prairie Bachelor:  "Unwilling to face the cold in darkness, he spent the night with W.C. Betzer, a former country neighbor who had moved into St. John when he reached his sixties.  His wife Julia left the two men talking politics until after one o'clock.  Despite Isaac's eagerness to start home early the next morning, his host was still talking." From Isaac's Journal: "Finally got away from old Betzer,' Isaac wrote in his journal. '...his only fault, he needs a Westinghouse Air Brake to stop him from talking when he gets started.'"

I love Isaac's description of needing "a Westinghouse Air Brake."  Most of us have been trapped in a conversation when we were in a hurry but couldn't seem to get away from our friend in the middle of a story.  We might even have been able to identify with Betzer's wife Julia, who slipped away and left Isaac alone to listen to her longwinded husband.  

Unknown May-Dec. Couple
Those of you who follow this blog, or who have read Prairie Bachelor already know that I researched Isaac's neighbors and acquaintances as part of authenticating the story of 'Isaac Werner and the Populist Movement.'  That included William and Julia Betzer.  I found them in the 1880 Census as husband and wife, living in Clear Creek Township, William age 53 and Julia age 30.  Also in the household was William's son Frank, aged 20.  In short, husband and wife were 23 years apart in age, and Julia was closer in age to her stepson than to her husband.  In the 1885 Kansas census they had a 6-year-old son, Franklin, who must have been born soon after the 1880 Census, and Frank was still living with them.  By 1900 Julia was widowed.  Isaac's overnight stay with them was in 1889, so although there was no 1890 census to consult, we know that in February of 1889 William was still living.

It was not unusual for older men to marry much younger women.  Joseph A. Cooper, a highly respected member of the community who had served in both the Mexican American War and had advanced to the rank of a Union breveted Major General at the close of the Civil War, had married his wife Mary Jane when he was 52 and she was 22.  My own Great-grandfather Beck, who also fought for the Union in the Civil War was 19 years older than my Great-grandmother.  Even Isaac made a tentative attempt at courtship of the younger Prohibition speaker, Blanche Hazelett. 

Sometimes these younger brides were widows, although I don't have reason to know that about the three women mentioned in this blog.  In other cases, these older men have achieved some financial stability that younger suitors might not have had.  Because of the Civil War, many of these men were older when they married because their lives had been interrupted by service to their country.  Whatever the reason, it was not unusual for these May-December Weddings to happen, or as my title for this blog reads, parties to the marriage were often 'Old Enough for Remakes.'

That brings me to my own surprising recognition that I am 'old enough for remakes!'  Granted, I was young when "West Side Story" was released in 1961, but I certainly saw it at the time of its release, staring Natalie Wood as Maria, Richard Beymer as Tony, Russ Tamblyn as Riff, and Rita Moreno as Anita.  I also remember the handsome George Chakiris as Bernardo, the leader of the "Sharks."  A bit of trivia for those of us who saw the original movie: among those considered for the role of Tony were   Warren Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Richard Chamberlain, and Robert Redford.  Even Elvis Presley was considered, but his manager Colonel Tom Parker turned it down.

I confess, when I learned that "West Side Story," directed by Steven Spielberg, was being remade, it came as a shock to see that I am old enough for remakes of one of my favorite films!  I grew up in an era of blond female movie stars, so brunette Natalie Wood was my favorite movie star.  Everyone behind the scenes in the making of that movie was a giant of my youth--Leonard Bernstein's music, Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, Jerome Robbins choreography--these were the giants of my time.  Yet, so is Steven Spielberg.

The pre-release reviews were great.  I was pleased that the casting now includes more accurate ethnic casting and less tan grease paint.  Spielberg has expressed his respect for the original film, and Rita Moreno is the executive producer on the new movie and a major character, switching from the young girlfriend of Bernardo to the role of Valentina, a gender and ethnic change to play the soda shop owner   in the new film.  Given all of those things, I could hardly wait to see Spielberg's "West Side Story."  

I must admit, like those Civil War Soldiers who accepted the fact that although they had postponed marriage to serve their country, they were not too old to make a delayed life with a young wife and children born when they were in their senior years--Old Enough for Remakes--I too have accepted the fact that I am old enough for remakes, and Larry and I went to see Spielberg's West Side Story.  It was fabulous!!!

As the last credits rolled, my husband leaned over and whispered, "What did you think?"  I replied, "I never thought I would say this, but it's better than the original!"

Go see it--whether you are young or old enough for remakes.  The overhead view of the demolition of old New York to make way for Lincoln Center will pull you into the movie and never let go.  For a moment you may not like Ansel Elgort who plays Tony, but only for a moment.  He is fabulous.  He owns the movie.  Adding Rita Moreno as Doc's widow running the soda-shop is brilliant.  The dancing is better integrated to fit the plot.  For those of you old enough for remakes like me, take Kleenex!  I'm not sure if Spielberg made me cry, or if some of those tears were for the real people who made the original movie, but I certainly shed enough tears at the end of the movie for both. 


Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Kansas Political Roots


My Great-grandfather was a Union Soldier, and he served for 3 years.  For the rest of his life, he voted republican, as many Union Soldiers did, for the republican party was the Party of Lincoln, and having served him for those three years as a soldier, it was because of Lincoln that he continued to serve his party.

He passed that tradition down to his son, my Grand-father, who did not serve in the army but who did serve in the Kansas House of Representatives as a republican.

Continuing the family political tradition, my father was also a republican, serving as a County Republican Chairman, and like his ancestors, voting republican.  Although my mother's family voted democrat, Mother accepted the Beck tradition of voting republication when she married my father.

Kansas was populated after the Civil War by many men who had served the Union during the war, taking advantage of a year's credit for each year of service for the Union toward the 5 years required to mature a homestead claim.  Like my Great-grandfather, many, if not most, of those men voted for the rest of their lives for the party of Lincoln, as did their descendants, down to the present time.

I do not know the ancestry of Bob Dole or whether he had ancestors that served in the Civil War.  What I do know is he bravely served his country in W. W. II and that he carried the physical consequences of that service for the rest of his life without bitterness, and with the desire of continuing service for his country.  That service was done as a Republican--in the House, in the Senate, as a Vice-presidential nominee, and as the Republican candidate for President.  His sense of duty to American Soldiers never waned, nor did his loyalty to Lincoln's Party.  In fact, many of his sayings share a strong resemblance to Lincoln's quotes.

Me with Elizabeth & Senator Dole; photo credit: Larry Fenwick

In honor of the passing of Senator Dole, I would like to share some of those similar quotes.

Dole:  "You don't go out and hurt somebody's feelings, we have opponents and not enemies in this business."
Lincoln:  "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

Dole:  "Those who cultivate moral confusion for profit should understand this:  we will name their names and shame them as they deserve to be shamed."
Lincoln:  "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

Dole:  "I think voters believe that when you become president of the United States, you have a higher obligation and a higher standard than anybody in the world, ...and if you violate that standard, they're going to remember it on election day."
Lincoln:  "Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow.  The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing."

Dole:  "Something is wrong with America.  I wonder sometimes what people are thinking about or if they are thinking at all."
Lincoln:  "America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

Although Senator Dole's sharp tongue and absolute commitment to the Republican Party sometimes led to criticism, this quote from Dole at the 1996 Republican Convention left no question about the Party in which he believed.

"The Republican Party is broad and inclusive.  It represents many streams of opinion and many points of view.  But if there's anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the Party of Lincoln.  And the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise."

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Memories from 1976

By now, those of you who follow my blog know that I love history. It is not just the history of a Kansas homesteader named Isaac Beckley Werner nor the Populist Movement of which he was a part.  It is also the history that I was present to experience. Some of the readers of this blog may not have been born in time to celebrate the Bicentennial of 1976, but many of us were.
If you were a young man in 1976, you may have had the poster of the beautiful Farrah Fawcett on your wall.  When my cousin, who went to school in Corpus Christi, Texas, told me that Farrah had attended her high school, I was very impressed.
If you watched the 1976 Olympics, you were probably among the countless Americans who cheered for Bruce Jenner as he crossed the finish line to win the gold for the USA.
And, although by 1976 Elvis Presley may have had a somewhat older crowd cheering for him, and there may have been a bit more of Elvis to love, he was still filling arenas.  

You may have enjoyed these memories, but you may be wondering why I am sharing these stars from 1976 with you.  To explain, a friend, who knows my interest in history, discovered a Wichita Eagle & Beacon newspaper following his father's death, kept for all these years.  After looking through the old newspaper, he passed it along to my husband and me.  I used the three personalities from the 1976 era to help transport you back in time before quoting a segment from the front page of the newspaper our friend shared. 

The Wichita Eagle and Beacon, Sunday, July 4, 1976, a Commentary by Davis Merritt Jr., Executive Editor:

"We have been working at it for 200 years now, this nation, and after another 200 it still won't be perfect. We've been through war (and victory), depression (and recovery), despair (and vaulting optimism).  We'll do it all over again as many times as it takes.

And it will take forever, if we are successful.  For self-government is not an arriving at a constant.  ...  
For 200 years now, we have managed to keep our national course running between the unchanging and deadly rock cliffs of oppression and the open, uncontrolled sea of anarchy.  We have done it arguing all the while over just where we were in that perilous strait.  Our national mood at this moment of 200th anniversary, for instance, is clearly not one of confidence that we are in command.  ..."

Near the conclusion of his Commentary, Mr. Merritt reminded his readers to consider the achievements of America. "And look where we have come since then, arguing all the while.  ..." 

I began the blog with personalities that may have recalled happy memories, but 1976 was not all pretty pin ups, gold medals, nor love songs.  Editor Merritt pointed out that never in our national history have we managed to reach perfection.  Are you curious about what was happening the year of 1976 when we celebrated our Bicentennial?

There was a gale that caused 82 deaths and cost the U.S. $1.3 billion in damages.  A Swine Flu outbreak began at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  The Teton Dam in Idaho collapsed.  The "Son of Sam" began his murderous rampage.  The yearly inflation rate was 5.75%.  And in Viet Nam, where so many American soldiers had given their lives and bodies, South Vietnam fell and North Vietnam declared their union to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In contrast, Apple Inc. was formed by Steve Jobs, Concord service began between London and Washington, D.C., and America's 'Viking 2' spacecraft landed on Mars, as America celebrated its 200th Birthday year.

Today, nearly 45 years since David Merritt Jr. wrote his newspaper Commentary, we continue to keep our nation "between the unchanging and deadly rock cliffs of oppression and the open, uncontrolled sea of anarchy" he described, but it isn't always easy.  As he warned, the genius of the American system depends on each of us to "have the patience and courage to steer that difficult course, rather than surrender to the rocks or the open sea."  As Thanksgiving of 2021 passed, perhaps some of us reflected on the troubled times of Covid, school shootings, and political strife and found thankfulness difficult.  Perhaps it will help us keep some perspective to reflect on what America faced in the year of our Bicentennial Yet, as Mr. Meritt reminded us, no one guaranteed that preserving a democracy is easy.  The challenges of freedom may be the very thing for which we should be thankful.   


Thursday, November 25, 2021

Reasons to be Thankful


Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

So many reasons to be thankful.  Wishing all of you an abundance of reasons for thankfulness as well.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Great Bend in Isaac's Time


           Larned and Great Bend

It has been such a privilege for me to be able to share the story of our ancestors with the help of so many local people.  Already, I have spoken in connection with four libraries, a history museum, an art museum, a trail center museum, at Rotary Club, at a book club gathering, on a virtual book launch, and on public radio.  None of that would have been possible without the efforts of many other people.  Those efforts continue, with several programs already scheduled for 2022.  I have tried to reach out and thank everyone for their support, not only those who helped plan the programs but also those who attended.  At a library program in June, I recognized two people who were attending their third program!  I know of others who have attended at least 2 programs.

Each program I prepare is different, with emphasis shown to the various topics included in Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader.  One of those attending her third program said, "I learn something new at each one."  On November 18th I am giving another program with a new power point and fresh topics.  The image at the top of this blog is included in the Great Bend Library program to be held at 6 p.m. November 18th.  

The image at left was taken at the Great Bend Library, with Prairie Bachelor eagerly awaiting the next reader to check it out.  Thank you to the library for featuring the book.

Speaking in Great Bend gives me the opportunity to share from the book a story about Isaac's trip with a neighbor.  The young man going to Great Bend to catch the train was entrusting Isaac with getting his team of 3 horses and his wagon back to the young man's homestead claim in Stafford County.

I am looking forward to a whole new program to share, with a new power point to accompany the information.  I am grateful for the generosity of so many people who have helped me share the story of Kansas in the late 1800s, and our state's importance to the most successful 3rd party movement in our nation's history.  It makes the decade I spent researching and writing Prairie Bachelor worth it.  My belief in the importance of sharing this story has been rewarded by comments from so many readers, both those who checked out Prairie Bachelor at a local library and those who bought the book.

Many have shared stories about their own ancestors who participated in the Populist Movement, or at least lived in that era.  Some have shared images that appear in the book.  One was pleased to discover the quote from Walt Whitman, her favorite poet, whose poem I used to introduce the story of a forgotten man.  

A Kansas City reporter in the 1920s wrote:  "Even historians don't understand Kansas.  I wonder sometimes if anybody except God understands Kansas and sometimes I think Kansas has even him fooled."  Quote from Craig Miner's Kansas.  That is why I wrote Prairie Bachelor for general readers rather than writing an academic text.  Kansas has an amazing history, and I wanted to share one important era that has become nearly forgotten except by academics.  It is my great pleasure to hear from those who fell in love with Isaac, or who learned more about the lives their ancestors lived, or who discover our State's significant past. I look forward to sharing with those at the Library, Isaac's trip to Great Bend almost a decade and a half ago, and I also look forward to the continued sharing of Kansas history with those who read the book and those who attend the programs!


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Sights to See Nearby

 In 1991 the Architectural Record published a list of the one hundred most important buildings of the twentieth century.  Twelve of those buildings were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  There is little dispute about the exceptional quality of Wright's work.  Feelings about his character vary.

Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick
This past weekend we spent an afternoon at the Allen House, a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Wichita built for newspaper publisher Henry Allen and his wife Elsie. Wright was commissioned by the Allens to construct their home in 1916, but it was not completed until 1918.

We are extremely fortunate to have this house in Wichita, refurbished to look much as it would have when the Allens lived there, with furniture also designed by Wright that has been acquired to provide the appearance of how the home would have been decorated originally.

We happened to be there on a beautiful autumn afternoon, and the leaves made a perfect background for the house and the grounds.  The picture taken of me, with my reflection in the Wright designed pond, offers a glimpse of the property.

According to literature provided on the website, "Architectural writers who have visited the house believe its living room is one of the great rooms of the 20th century."  The house contains more that 30 pieces of Wright-designed furniture, all of its original art glass, and several examples of innovations made by Wright.

This image from their brochure shows the exterior of the house from a different angle, and the abundance of windows.  Wright placed great significance in the harmony between the house and its surroundings, as the garden in this picture illustrates.  Wright utilizes nature in his designs.

I became interested in Wright because of a book titled "Loving Frank."  It is a novel based on a love affair Wright had.  I'm not sure how I heard about the book, but I bought it and promptly packed it in a box during a move.  Only a few weeks ago did I finally open the right box from that move to at last be able to read the book I had started long ago.  I was so intrigued that I immediately ordered another book titled "Plagued By Fire," which is more authentic.  Even that author, however, admits that getting the story of Wright's life entirely accurate is nearly impossible.  The imagination that made him a famous and respected architect was frequently put to work by Wright to elaborate reality.

The author of "Plagued By Fire," Paul Hendrickson, introduces Wright in the first chapter with these words:  "Mother-fueled, father-ghosted, here he comes now, nineteen years old, almost twenty, out of the long grasses of the Wisconsin prairie, a kid, a rube, a bumpkin by every estimation except his own..."  That tease by the author offers some clues to the charm, the brilliance, the selfishness, the neglectfulness, the generosity, the story spinning...the mythology and gifts of this man.  But what is certain is that he influenced and changed American Architecture.

What is particularly wonderful for us is that many of his homes have survived, and in our area we are fortunate to have one of his best examples.  USA Today has called the Allen House one f the "10 great Frank Lloyd Wright home tours" in the nation, and many of those who read my blog can travel to tour the house within an easy drive.  The guides are knowledgeable and friendly, and you cannot help but enjoy the tours, whether or not you are a fan of architecture.

If you go to their website at you can find the schedule of tours planned for the Holidays.   

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Monarch Butterflies & Marigolds


Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Several days ago, I spotted Monarch butterflies feeding on the marigolds outside the library in Macksville, and although I feared it would be nearly impossible to slip up for a photograph before I startled the Monarchs away, I decided it was worth the try.  In fact, the Monarchs must have been a little drunk from sipping, for I managed to get several pictures

Every year as autumn arrives I watch for the migration of the Monarch butterflies heading south to their winter homes in Mexico.  Although I was working in the yard this year a few days during that time, I only saw 3 butterflies.  After growing concern about the rapidly reducing numbers of Monarchs, in 2020 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finally acknowledged the peril, but they only declared the Monarch "a candidate" for endangered status, acknowledging that the Monarch meets the listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act, but that they needed to "focus resources on our higher priority listing actions."

Like our honey bees, these essential insects pose a dilemma for farmers.  Pollinators account for billions of dollars in crop production values, but some of the plants necessary to the insects are weeds farmers want to get rid of.  Since the mid-1990s Eastern monarchs native to Kansas had declined in 25 years by about 80%.  For the Western Monarch it was worse, at 99% in 40 years.  No wonder I am not seeing the same numbers of Monarch butterflies I once saw.  My photograph of Monarchs on marigolds takes on a new meaning.  I associated it with Dia de Los Muertos--the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Although the name might not seem appropriate for a day of celebration, it is in fact a happy celebration to honor loved ones who have died.  Rather than mourning their deaths, alters, called "ofrendas" are constructed and offerings are made to those loved ones.  Photographs, candles, food, and other objects with special meaning to the deceased are placed on the alters.  Family and friends may visit, and parades and parties may be part of the celebration.  The Ofrendas are decorated on October 31 and on November 2 public celebrations are held, which may include elaborate costumes.  The migration of the Monarchs that occurs at this time is often associated with the Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

In addition, so are Marigolds!  The Aztec believed that flowers help guide lost souls, and the alters or ofrendas are often decorated with flowers to help guide the souls of their loved ones to see what they have done for them.  Marigolds, with their bright colors and pungent odor, as well as their continued abundance in early fall are often used.

The Day of the Dead for 2021 was celebrated this past weekend, and perhaps the Monarchs I photographed in Macksville several days ago made it to Mexico for the celebrations.  Our own Memorial Day remembrances in my community are different, but they are also alike in many ways.  That weekend we also decorate the graves of loved ones with flowers, and many families use the occasion to tell their children about their relatives.  In some towns, bands march and flags are flown.  Some families still gather for lunches, and conversations turn to updates of family weddings and births and memories of loved ones.  It is also a time for fun.  Swimming pools open and families go to the lake or the beach.  Our traditions may seem different in the details, but upon reflection they share many similarities--particularly in remembering those we have loved and lost.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Inspired by Space--Authors & Poets

In Isaac Werner's time there was no television or radio weather report.  People paid particular attention to weather signs, alerting them to changes in the weather.  Isaac paid particular attention to the arrival and departure of migrating birds.  There were almanacs that offered some guidance, and many folk sayings that involved weather.  I still remember "Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning, red sky at night, sailors delight."  My father also had some saying about rings around the moon, but I don't recall that anymore.  Then and now, farmers look to the sky.

Wealthy men continue to be motivated to travel into space, however, authors and poets also look to the sky, particularly the night sky.  This week I will share the inspiration four authors and poets have enjoyed by looking to the sky.  While I am sure that lovers also look to the sky, it seems that most of the books inspired by the night sky are science fiction.

The books and movies with a space related theme are countless, but I have chosen two to highlight.  The first, Solaris, was published in 1961, and has been adapted for film three times.  It was written by Polish author Stanislaw Lem, and although it is science fiction, the philosophical story develops the premise of humankind's inability to comprehend extraterrestrial intelligence.  The story takes place in a distant future where humans engage in interplanetary travel, and the book has inspired popular music, theater, operas, a ballet, and a video game.

In contrast to the philosophical theme of Solaris, the second book is comedy science fiction that began as a radio program that became so popular it spawned novels, stage shows, comic books, a TV series, a video game, and a 2005 feature film.   The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was published in 1979.   The creator of this strange transformation from radio series to books (and many other things) was Douglas Adams, who once claimed that the title came from his  using the Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe in his travelsWhile lying in a field after a bit too much to drink, looking up at the stars, the idea came to him that someone should write a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.  Later, he admitted that he had told that story about the book's title so many times that he no longer remembers whether it is true.

Shifting to poetry, I will  start with the familiar beginning of "The Song of Hiawatha," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The stanzas are typed without line breaks.  

    The night is come, but not too soon; And sinking silently, All silently, the little moon Drops down behind the sky.

    There is no light in earth or heaven But the cold light of stars; And the first watch of night is given To the red planet Mars.

    Is it the tender star of love? The star of love and dreams? O no! from that blue tent above, A hero's armor gleams.

(I hope at lest some of you take the time to read Wadsworth's entire poem.  'The Light of Stars' in "The Song of Hiawatha" is such a beautiful example of inspiration from the stars.)

Perhaps some of you were inspired by the winter solstice in 2020, when Jupiter and Saturn appeared closer together than they had been since 1226. Like me, you may have stood in the cold darkness to see the planets seem to embrace.  The poet, Oliver Tearle, wanted to write "a sort of modern-day metaphysical love poem, in the era of social distancing, about the two planets thinking themselves an item..."  Granted, the two celestial lovers aren't exactly Romeo and Juliet, but the theme is romantic attraction... 

    We are not seen together during the day, keeping our distance, as one must.  We do nothing we should not, at least since centuries back. Such an alignment is best kept for the dark.

(I hope you find "Conjunction: A Poem," by Oliver Tearle online so that you can enjoy his entire poem.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Trees and the Hand of Man

Isaac Werner must have planted his peach orchard soon after arriving on his claim, for by the time he resumed writing in his journal, he was already enjoying peaches from his trees.  In fact, he admitted that sometimes he was so hungry for fruit that when his peaches finally ripened he was so greedy to enjoy them that he gave himself a 'tummy ache.'

He had melons from his garden, and he tried to add apples to his orchard, especially looking forward to sharing them with his horses, but the delivery of a dozen young trees was too late in the season and his attempt to wrap their roots for planting in the spring failed.  He does mention a single apple tree later in his journal, but whether it was the lone survivor or a different tree planted earlier I do not know.

This blog, however, is inspired by my favorite tree at the farm.  Its spiral-like trunk makes me smile every time I see it, and when we relax on our front porch, I never fail to look over at Mother Nature's own bonsai tree.

When we returned to the farm, there was more than just the old house in need of attention.  Trees had survived, but they needed pruning, and some needed to be removed. We did a great deal of work, but we also had to call in the professionals.

The little spiral tree was in a crowded maze of trees, and most of them were removed.  I can't remember who did the work in that crowd of trees, but thank goodness the interesting trunk was noticed and left to make me smile each time I see it.

Although Mother Nature trained my favorite tree, humans have many ways to alter the appearance of trees.  I found the website of Sudbury Design Group online and am using their definitions for the various alterations.  A visit to their website offers an enjoyable collection of images.

Believe it or not, the two figures at right are trees, an example of Pooktre done by the Sudbury Design Group, by gradually shaping trees into a desired form by starting with a cutting and working with the vine-like area on the branch behind the growing tip.  The new growth follows a wire form, and where it needs to divert, a graft is bonded, which continues growing until the shape is complete.


      Espalier and Pleaching have similar training requirements as well as similar purposes.  Espalier is training a tree to grow up a wall or other flat surface--decorative or to increase fruit production.  Pleaching is weaving tree branches that are aligned to create a mass of plant material, creating a knit look, tunnels, and arbors.  When we traveled to Canada once, we visited a garden in which pleaching had been used to create a path much like the one in the picture.  I don't know what type of tree it was, but its flowers were yellow, and the day we were there not only were the lovely flowers blooming in the branches, the blossoms had begun to fall, and walking through this tunnel of trees was like being rained on by gold.  It was one of those rare moments of being someplace at just the right time to experience magic.

Pollarding involves removing branches (6 to 8 feet high) to create a full top of foliage and branches.  The picture at left shows such a tree in winter, when it has no leaves, but in summer, when the tree is filled with leaves, it is like a bouquet of leaves held in the grasp of the bare branches below.  Pollarding helps maintain trees at a specific height, such as you might want to do with trees lining a street.

The last two examples of man's hand in the growth of trees demand artistry and patience--as Pooktre obviously requires as well.  Probably the most amazing display of Topiary I have ever seen was at Longwood Gardens.  Forms and animals are created by gradually trimming hedges to become a desired shape.  I once saw a picture of a lawn with a series of topiaries, in the lead a fox, and chasing the fox several topiary hounds running after him.  Of course, because hedges constantly grow, maintaining the shapes requires constant trimming. 

In contrast to the speed of growth that requires regular attention, Bonsai requires the opposite.  Growing a mini tree in a pot to mimic its shape in nature through special pruning requires patience.  Shrubs can also be used for creating Bonsai, which would allow a shorter time in which to reach a desired appearance, but shaping a tree grown in a small container to stunt its growth could take a lifetime.  The magnificent example at left must have taken years of careful training and clipping to give the appearance of an ancient tree along a rocky shoreline with prevailing winds constantly directing its grown inland.

I wonder if Isaac had ever heard of such manipulations of plants.  Perhaps his large library pictured such things, and if so, I would suspect his remarkable curiosity would have tempted him to give it a try.  He obviously had the skill to plant and nurture trees, which he writes about in his journal.  He was an inventor, and I find it hard to believe that if he had known about some of the ways to train trees mentioned in this blog he could have resisted.  Even if he had not tried topiary or bonsai, he might have experimented with  pleaching or espalier of his fruit trees to get the advantage of sunlight or protection from strong Kansas winds.  I believe Isaac would have loved the challenge!  

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

How Quickly We Forget

1.  Can you name this once famous New York Yankee hitter?

 I was shocked when I read that most people do not know their grandmother's maiden name.  Part of that may be attributable to the fact that today families scatter, not necessarily finding employment in the community, or even in the same state, where they were raised.  It remains customary for wives to take the surname of their husbands, but wives today are less likely to forego their given names to become a  Mrs. John Jones rather than Mrs. Mary Jones, using their own given name.  As an attorney, I sometimes had to prepare affidavits for women who had signed documents as Mrs. John Jones and who later needed to prove that Mary Jones was the one and only Mrs. John Jones, especially for women who survived their husbands and were left with no 'legal' name of their own.

For those doing genealogy research, it is often difficult to trace female ancestors because their maiden names disappeared at the time of their marriage.  If you wander through old cemeteries you will frequently find headstones of a woman engraved as Mrs. John Jones, providing you not only with no maiden name but also no given name.  In our region, where settlers sometimes moved on, the death of a young wife buried at a grave site at which no other family member was buried, provides no clue to who she was, and some of those headstones actually read, "Wife of John Jones," further ignoring her as a person.

2.  Remember this singer whose daughter also became a singer/songwriter?

You might try a simple test out of curiosity by asking a grandchild what his or her grandmother's maiden name is.  Surveys have shown that the majority will be unable to provide an answer, especially in today's world where families do not always remain in the same community of their parents and grandparents. 

However, it is not just family names that we forget.  Fame can be a fleeting thing.  If you were a sports fan who knew the names of every player the year they won the title, how many of those million dollar players can you name today?  Can you name the player at the beginning of this blog?   

If you were determined to get to the poles to vote in an important Presidential election a few decades ago, can you remember that name of his running mate, whether or not your candidate won?   

3.  This movie won 4 Academy Awards.  Can you remember the year and what the awards were?

If you and your sweetheart had a special song, or a movie that you saw together, what was the song or the movie called?  

History also falls victim to short memories.  My book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement is about the era that created the People's Party, the most successful 3rd Party in American history.  Yet, many people living today, even in the region where the party was so successful and even if their ancestors participated in the movement, have never heard of that once famous political event.

Mark Twain said, 'History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes.'  I'm not sure what the moral to this story is intended to be...whether I want you to realize that sometimes things that seem tragically monumental will gradually be overcome, or whether I am disappointed by how quickly we forget things that deserve to be remembered, things from which we could learn beneficial lessons.

Maybe both can be true.

Answers to the quiz  images:

1.  Bobby Richardson was the best hitter for the New York Yankees in 1962 when they won the World Series.  He had a lifetime 266 batting average, with 1,432 hits and 390 RBI.

2.  The wonderful Nat King Cole was popular from the 1940s into the 1960s, and his daughter, Natalie Cole achieved her own success.  With the help of technology, they recorded a duet that topped the charts in 1991, 20 years after his death.  Natalie died in 2015.

3. "Ordinary People" won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screen Play, and Best Supporting Actor in 1980.  Robert Redford won as Best Director with his Directorial Debut, and Timothy Hutton won best Supporting Actor as the young son.  

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

FHSU Homecoming 2021

When my husband and I attended Fort Hays State University, we scheduled all of our classes in the morning so that we could work 30 hours a week--afternoons, late Thursday evenings, and all day Saturday.  We watched the Homecoming Parade through the Duckwall and J.C. Penny plate glass windows.  This year we rode in the parade!

Because the recipients of the 2020 Alumni Achievement Award were honored virtually, we were invited to participate in the festivities for the 2021 recipients at Homecoming, including the parade.  What fun, and what support from the people who lined the street, despite the rain.  Mother Nature must be a FHSU fan, since the rain stopped just as the parade began.  I waved and smiled so much that my face hurt, and people waved back, even the children I disappointed by failing to remember to buy candy to throw.  I even got a hand bump from someone who ran out to tell me he was going to buy my book.

We were kept busy for three days, with more high lights than I can share, but among them was the ribbon cutting for the new Fischli-Wills Center for Student Success, a state of the art building located next to the Union, with a connecting walkway on the second level.

Those of us whose college days go back a few decades know that changes on campus are not just the new buildings.  The book stores we remember from our youth have changed with students using the internet to buy their books, and the former book store in the FHSU Union is now a wonderful shop filled with clothing and other collectibles.  

However, for one afternoon during Homecoming it was once again a place to buy books, as they hosted "Prairie Bachelor" for a book signing!  Thank you to everyone who stopped by to buy a book or just to say "hi."  There are still some books there available for purchase, and I signed some book plates in case you would like one for your book.

Those of you who are FHSUers, whether as graduates or as spouses, parents, or 'adoption by choice,' already know that once a Tiger, always a Tiger, even if you live far away and return to campus in retirement.  FHSU continues to grow and change, but the Tiger Pact that appears as you enter the new Fischli-Wills Center makes clear the goals the University strives to instill.