Thursday, July 31, 2014

My New Landscape

Before Landscapers Arrived
I am slow posting today's blog, but it has been a wonderful day.  Several days ago, we discovered a nursery in Kingman, KS whose owner, Roy R. Riggs, is the third generation of his family to operate the business begun by his grandfather.  John W. Riggs was born in 1887, and Roy's father, C.W. Riggs was a late in life baby born of John's second marriage, so it is almost as if the business has been owned for four generations, based on the number of years that it has existed.

We have enjoyed several beautiful yards, some of which we inherited when we bought a home with an existing garden, and others of which we designed and planted ourselves.  But, until today, we had never had the nursery do the landscape installation.  At 7:45 a.m. Roy called to say he would arrive late morning to begin installing the plants I had carefully selected with his assistance.  I had done the design, but I needed his advice about which plants would work best in my sandy loam soil and the sunny and shady conditions of our yard.  I was already working in the yard, getting ready for his arrival when he called.  I have just come inside from my day involved in the landscaping, and after 12 hours I am tired but delighted.  I decided I would share my day with you.

As you can see from the "Before" photograph above, I have spent many days plugging Bermuda grass from our existing yard into the new area, also building the stairs and raised bed in the picture, as well as installing pavers for the sidewalk and small patio area.  I was ready for some help!

Taking a lunch break
Roy arrived at noon with J.L. and Joseph, ready to unload the plants but inquiring about the closest restaurant.  They had counted on The Hornets' Nest, a wonderful cafe in Byers that has closed, so Larry offered to go to Macksville to get their lunch and bring it back to the farm so they could get started.

By the time he returned, the crew had set all the plants where they were to be installed, and they were ready to take a break before beginning to dig!

My objective was to select plants with colorful foliage, different textures, and a significant number that would retain their leaves or needles year round.  I chose bald cypress trees, two colors of bayberry, two different yews, a spruce and a pine, two different euonymus plants with yellow and green leaves, and two flowering deciduous shrubs--crepe myrtle and hydrangea. 

At day's end
I am thrilled with the result! you can see from my smile as I posed with the crew at the end of the day.  I told them what a pleasure it was for me to stand with my hands on my hips and watch someone else dig, after all my days of sodding the yard.  Actually, it was an even greater pleasure to watch their professionalism and their genuine effort to do a good job and make sure I was pleased.  What a joy to experience a crew who worked so hard to make sure their customer was completely happy.

No, they don't know that I am posting this blog about them, and no, I am not getting a discount for praising their work and their beautiful plants.  But if you want a nursery with over a century of experience and a determination to make their customers happy, you may want to visit Southwestern Nurseries in Kingman, KS...or, (for all my international and distant blog followers), you may just have to wish you lived close enough to be able to do that!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do You Like Isaac?

Isaac loved Shakespeare
There are a few writers' blogs that I follow occasionally, and one of them is "Live, Write, Thrive."  Recently a post there was titled, "Make Me Like Your Protagonist or I'll Stop Reading."  The advice was directed more toward novels, but I had fun applying some of the advice to my history of Isaac and the Populist Movement.

First, the suggestion was that the character has to grow and change, perhaps learn a life lesson by the end of the book, a technique sometimes called a Character Arc.  I'm going to give Isaac points for his constant belief in the importance of learning.  While he did most of his learning from books, he also learned how to work within his community, directing his attention toward helping others as much as he sought to help himself.  At the end of his life, the lesson that he learned was that even an independent, solitary man must sometimes accept help from others.
Catalpa blooms like Isaac's

Second, the character must have a clear goal.  Double points to Isaac on that one.  His personal goal was to make a success of his farm, and he created a farm described as one of the best in the community.  His social goal was to work with his community through the Farmer's Alliance and the People's Party to make better lives for working people, and while he and the People's Party declined at about the same time, they left accomplished goals behind.

Isaac's friend "Doc" Dix
Third, don't make me wait to like your character.  That's a little tricky, since I start the book with Isaac's funeral.  Yet, the friends gathered at his grave are those who cared about him, who knew the good things he had done for the community, and who would miss him and his thoughtfulness.  Readers won't meet Isaac until the next chapter, but they will get to know him in the Preface through the eyes of his friends.
Isaac's Gravestone

Last, make your character sympathetic by showing his passion, needs, and vulnerabilities.  None of you has read the manuscript, but as you follow this blog, I have showed many sides of Isaac, and I hope by now you are invested in his life and find him a sympathetic man.  You cannot answer whether I have done a good job in the manuscript of meeting these suggestions for developing the main character, but from reading the blog, I hope you can answer the question at the top of the blog!  Do You Like Isaac?

Isaac was not a character that I created in a novel.  He was a real man, with his talents and his flaws, his intellect and his idiosyncrasies.  But, in the end, I've enjoyed spending the last few years in his company.  I definitely like Isaac and I hope you do too!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bibliomaniac vs. Collector?

Bibliomania - a disorder involving the collecting or hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged...characterized by the collecting of books which have no use to the collector nor any great intrinsic value to a more conventional book collector. 

Having just spent several days boxing up some of my precious books to be stored while we are remodeling, at least part of which construction is motivated by the need to have more bookcases for my books, I might seem to some people who read less seriously or who have converted to reading e-books to be a candidate for the above-defined disorder.  However, I do read the books I buy--or at least intend to read the books someday--and except for the fact that I save paperbacks whose contents are worthy, even if the yellowing pages and dog-eared books are not, my collection does have intrinsic value recognized by other serious bibliophiles.  I think I am still relatively sane in that regard!

Sample of Isaac's handwriting from his journal
I also believe that Isaac Werner acquired books worth collecting.  (See "Isaac's Library," blog archives 2-2-2012.)  His journal from his mid-20s describes how he planned space on his bookcase for future acquisitions, and he consulted a particular book and other publications for recommended reading.  He approached additions to his library very seriously.

Thanks to Marcia Brown, past director of the Pratt County Historical Museum, I now own a book from Isaac Werner's library!  Her sharp eye and amazing memory spotted three books in the recent deacquisition sale at the public library, and she bought them for me, delivering them to me the afternoon of the Filley Grand Opening (See "Arts Thrive on the Prairie," 7-3-2014), making that special day even more special for me! 

All three books bear the library's inventory bookplate reading: "Presented by Dix Collection," and the book titled Among My Books by James Russell Lowell, copyright 1870, bears the inscription "I.W. Werner, Rossville, Ills., May 29th, 1870," a date consistent with Isaac's years in Rossville as the proprietor of a drug store.  I assume that Dr. "Doc" Dix, a close friend of Isaac, may have bought these three books at Isaac's Estate Sale following his death.  Isaac's probate records document the sale of many titles from his library with the name of the purchasers; however, there were so many books in his collection that a large portion of his library was boxed and sold in lots, without the specific listing of titles contained in each box. 

All three books bear copyright dates prior to or during the years Isaac lived in Rossville, when he was doing his most active collecting (having more disposable income as a young druggist than he had later as a struggling farmer on the prairie).  One of the books is McGuffey's New Juvenile Speaker:  Containing more than Two Hundred Exercises for Reading and Speaking, published in 1860, at a time when Isaac was still a student in Wernersville, PA.  Isaac mentions in his journal referring to books on grammar and elocution in his library, which also supports the possibility that this particular book could have been owned by Isaac when he was a young scholar.

The third book is Recent British Philosophy, by David Mason.  There are penciled notations in the margins
A margin note from Philosophy book
on several pages, as well as at the back cover.  I have examined samples of Isaac's handwriting to compare with the margin notes in this book, and many of the letters appear very similar to the style of Isaac's penmanship.  However much I would like to be certain that this book did belong to Isaac and the margin notes are his, I cannot be sure.  You may make your own comparison from the journal sample above and from the sample of Isaac's signature at the opening of last week's blog.  (See "What's in a Name?" archives 7-3-2014.)  

As I shared in earlier blogs, prior to beginning to write the manuscript about Isaac and his community, I bought several books that I knew from his journal that he owned, and I attempted to buy the editions near the time of his acquisitions of the books.  I wanted to see what Isaac was reading in order to understand more closely who he was, and it was obvious to me that Isaac's education did not end with his formal schooling.  His curious mind explored history, art, literature, medicine, and other serious subjects.

In the Commencement Address I delivered this past spring, I told the graduates, "Learning doesn't stop when you leave school, and if each of us isn't learning something new every day, we just aren't trying."   Isaac obviously agreed.  (See "School & Community, Then & Now," blog archives 5-21-2014.)

I suspect there are still Isaac's books to be found on book shelves in his old community, and thanks to Marcia Brown I definitely own one of Isaac's books.  If you have some dusty old books on your shelves that were published in the late 1800s, check to see if Isaac's signature is inside.  I know there must be more of his library to be discovered!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What's in a Name?

Like many prairie settlers of his generation, Isaac B. Werner had ancestral roots in Germany.  Although his surname was Werner, it was apparently pronounced Verner, judging from that spelling having been used occasionally in newspaper references to Isaac.  His signature employed his initials, but newspaper references used his given name of Isaac.  There were apparently some who called him Ike, as he quotes in his journal the words of an acquaintance who referred to him with that shortened version of his name.

We have no control over the names our parents choose to give us, and recent choices are sometimes quite unorthodox.  When the Social Security Administration revealed the most popular names given American babies in 2013, Noah and Sophia topped the lists.  However, the SSA also shared unusual names that were used, including the number of babies given those names.  On the girls' list, 63 babies were named Vanellope, with Happiness (8), Envie (7), and Rarity (7) apparently expressing the emotions of the parents.  Ransom, Sierraleone, and Snowy were each given to five little girls.  Boys were also given unusual names:  Jcelon (10), Tuf (8), Charger, Forever, Kyndle, Power, and Warrior each having been given to 7 little boys.  Sometimes vehicles seem to play a role in the naming, with 5 little boys named Subaru.  We recently met a young girl named Ramsy, who told us she was named after a truck.

Studies have been done on the impact a person's name may have on their character or their future success.  Of course, if a person is so unhappy with the name they were given, it can be legally changed later, but most people adapt to their unusual names. 

Sometimes our names are modified by others.  Laura becomes Lori; Sarah becomes Sally; Barbara becomes Barb; Charles becomes Charlie, Johnathan becomes Jack; and Nicholas becomes Nick,--names shortened, lengthened, and transmogrified by friends and family, with or without the concurrence of the person whose name is altered.  In the past the identity of women nearly disappeared, as for example when Miss Hillary Rodham married and became Mrs. William Clinton.  Those tracing their family's genealogy know how quickly the identity of female ancestors disappear because of that older tradition.  Today, women often retain their maiden names, whether as a middle name, a hyphenated combination of their maiden name and their husband's surname, or as the surname they retain for themselves.

Informally, I prefer to be called Lyn, but for official documents and publications I use my formal name, consisting of my given name, my maiden name, and my married name.  Uncle Sam and some businesses seem to disapprove, insisting on changing my maiden name to an initial, a modification I find irritating.  As an attorney, I had to prepare affidavits to clear title to land (and for other legal matters) when people took title in one version of their name but conveyed the land using a different version.  I want to be consistent about my informal and my formal name to avoid that problem!

Kansas Governor John Pierce St. John
Many governments around the world are inclined to tamper with the naming process.  Among the naming restrictions in several countries are:  prohibitions against using names that imply a title (such as Prince, Princess, King, Major, Sargent, and Knight), unisex names that do not make the gender of the person obvious, names of products or surnames as given names (such as Isaac's middle name of Beckley which was his mother's maiden name), shortened versions of a name (such as Tom rather than Thomas or Tomas), spellings that indicate ethnicity or a religion different from the national majority (such as banning Sarah, which is the Hebrew spelling but authorizing Sara, which is the Arabic spelling).  Some countries oppose names from nature, which would present a problem for several American celebrity babies, such as Apple (Gwyneth Paltrow), Sage Moonblood (Sylvester Stallone), Bear (both Kate Winslet and Alicia Silverstone's sons), and Birdie and Cricket (Marc Silverstein's daughters).  The daughter of Bristol Palin's ex, Levi Johnston, was given the name Breeze Beretta, combining nature and weaponry, while Kanye West and Kim Kardashian named their daughter North West!  (Maybe their next child will be named three-one-five, the compass point for northwest, or maybe they will choose South West for their second child!)   The United States concerns itself more with name changes for concealment of identity or deception than with creative choices by parents.

The city of St. John, KS (Isaac Werner's former County Seat) had been struggling for years, trying to end the practice of the United States Post Office changing their name to Saint John.  St. John was named after Kansas governor John Pierce St. John who served in office from 1879 to 1883.  The official name of the city was never Saint, and the use of "St." is not an abbreviation of that word!  Because of the USPS misuse of the city's name, the error had been picked up by others, such as businesses and schools that did not know the origin of the name.  You might think it would be easy to simply let the USPS know of their error in order to get the practice stopped; yet, that had not been the case.  However, an online petition succeeded quickly when other efforts over the years had failed.  One week after the petition was started, the U.S. Postal Service agreed to change the name in its data base, the only omission being the period after St., because the data base does not include periods.  Bravo to the internet, where voices were apparently heard after the sounds of real human voices and letters had been ignored. 

As it turns out, "What's in a Name?" is not an easy question to answer.  I hope some of you will add a comment to this blog, sharing unusual names among your family and acquaintances.  If you are a grandparent adjusting to an unusual name given your grandchild, maybe you will take comfort after reading this blog that your descendant isn't named Moonblood or Beretta!

Arts Thrive on the Prairie

While my blog of 6-18-2014 declared that "Isaac Would Have Been the First One Inside the Door" when the new Vernon Filley Art Museum held its Grand Opening on June 29, 2014, he would have needed to have lined up early to have been the first visitor!  The crowd began to gather well before the 2 p.m. ribbon cutting, and when Mimi Filley arrived, applause filled the air.


Awaiting Mimi were Stan Reimer, who had worked with her for nine years to establish the museum in Pratt, and two members of the Filley Foundation Board, Chris Himmelwright and Lu Sherer, who were waiting with a festive red ribbon.

As the ribbon was cut, the Brass Ensemble announced the moment with their fanfare!  Musicians were Abby Giles, Peter Weinert, Steve and Brittany Novotony, and Blake Lee.  The crowd formed a line to await entry into the museum, eventually adding their names to the guest book, a document that will forever evidence the huge support the community showed their new museum on opening day.

By the end of the day, estimates of the crowd attending the Open House ranged from 500 to 700 visitors.  Not only had they filled the galleries to enjoy their first opportunity to view the Filley Collection, but they were also treated to entertainment by harpist, Julie Rewerts, from the Stafford community, just one of the communities in the surrounding region served by the museum.  A trio of young fans particularly enjoyed the music!

It was overwhelmingly apparent that support for the new museum is strong.  The museum is located at 421 S. Jackson Street in Pratt, KS and will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday - Friday and from 1 to 4 on Saturdays.  Regular Docent Tours will be available for the public without prior reservations at 1:30 the first Saturday of each month, and arrangements for planned Docent Tours may be made by calling the museum at 620/933-2787 or e-mailing INFO@VERNONFILLEYARTMUSEUM.ORG.  Classes for children and adults are now available, and rental opportunities of the museum are also available by contacting the museum.  Volunteers to help in many capacities have already been of great benefit to the mission of the museum, and more volunteers are welcomed!

In addition to revenue received from memberships and rental of the facility, financial support from individuals and businesses is important.  On Saturday evening a dinner in the museum lobby was held to honor Mimi and to show appreciation to the generosity of early supporters.  A member of the Filley family said that nothing reflected the community support more clearly for her than the willingness of members of the community to loan their fine China for the table settings.  In the background of the image at right can be seen the harpsicord that was used to entertain during the evening.

  At the close of the evening, Mimi Filley and Stan Reimer shared a private conversation, undoubtedly relishing the occasion marking the fulfillment of Mimi's childhood dream and the years of hard work it had taken to make her dream come true.  You may read more about the museum at

(Remember, to enlarge the images, you may click on them.)