Yesterday for lunch, I enjoyed a turkey sandwich. For dinner—or supper, as we call it on the farm, I had a juicy burger in a soft bun. I savored a sliver of single crust raisin cream pie for dessert.

Last week, our family had take-home pizza, and we enjoyed every bite. I made a cake for dessert, and today, we plan to partake of a loaf of whole-wheat take-and-bake bread.

All these goodies are made possible courtesy of wheat, the staple crop of Kansas.


Yesterday, after I enjoyed that turkey sandwich, I took off for my annual trip to the harvest field. My brothers had an afternoon of cutting left; harvest took place this year in between the rains. I was worried they would finish before the weekend, but there were a few hours of harvest left for me to enjoy. I haven’t missed a harvest since 1990. It is the high point of the year on the farm, the time of year that brings back my fondest farm-girl memories.

Along with our four brothers, Gail, Suzanne and I grew up on this farm in north-central Kansas. It is now a fourth-generation Kansas family farm, and this heritage gives me untold pride. Two of our four brothers continue to demonstrate stellar stewardship of our family legacy, and I cannot express in words how grateful I am to them for that. Our nephews show promise to maintain this legacy in the future, and this sense of family attachment to our parcel of the Kansas earth is something that will continue to give me a secure sense of home.



The house we grew up in–the house that built us, was over 100 years old when we lived there. It housed us all for many years, but it was time for it to come down. It’s spirit lives on, and one of our brothers lives on with his family in a new house built just up the driveway from where it stood. A garden now occupies that spot, a fitting tribute to the plot of land that grew our family.



At the crest of the hill that slopes down on one’s final mile to our farm, the panoramic view is one that never fails to warm me. It was already 90-plus degrees, but I welcome this kind of warmth, no matter what the temperature is.


Much of our family’s land lies “over west” from our farm, the term we have always used to refer to the farm ground several miles west of our farm. Today, however, the remaining wheat was within view of the farm; I don’t remember a trip where I was able to enjoy the proximity of the farm for my afternoon in the harvest field.   The two combines worked across the road from each other, and the two semi-trucks were kept busy being filled and refilled.


I hopped into my brother’s combine when I arrived; his son ran the other combine across the road. This time in the cab is the best view of the action, as the reels comb the wheat into the header to begin the process of separating the wheat from the chaff.



The tractor-driven grain cart allows the combine to continue cutting without stopping to drive to the semi.  The tractor pulls up alongside the combine, moving forward along with the combine as it simultaneously dumps a load and continues to fill the bin.

A local farmer once told our dad the story of his city-slicker relative who came to the farm for harvest, and, upon observing this sight, commented:

“It’s amazing how that reel pulls the combine through the wheat.”



Amazing indeed if that were how it worked, but it’s more complicated than that. Life is usually never as easy at it looks to the unaware eye, and this situation is no different. In the end, though, the wheat is separated from the chaff, carried to the bin and awaits its turn to be dumped into the truck.

Some of the wheat is stored on the farm in a bin as seed wheat for next year’s crop,


Business decisions between the farmers are made at all phases of the harvest.

and the rest is transported to the elevator down the road.

The other half of my harvest agenda is a trip in the big rig to the elevator.

The truck is first weighed and the driver identifies the account,


Then the wheat is dumped from the truck into the pit.


The hopper is wide open to dump the wheat down into the pit


Where it awaits its vertical trip up into the elevator and is eventually hauled away by train.


The elevator hand closes the hopper, and we’re off for another weigh-in to determine the amount of grain deposited.

And then we head back to the field to do it all over again multiple times. Except this year, there was only one more load remaining. My brother informed the elevator hand he would be back only one more time; their harvest work is almost done this year for my brother, and for most area farmers.

This year, unlike any other year I can remember, I got to savor the sweet smell of fresh-cut alfalfa, as the farmer they hire to swath this beautiful and fragrant livestock feed did his rounds in the field next to the wheat field we were in.


My brothers don’t own a swather; it is one of the few jobs they hire out.

Our younger brother took a panoramic video of our farm from atop the grain bin:



Knowing that my family—and that grilled burger will be waiting for me for supper, I head out after the elevator trip. Not, however, before I make a cruise through our small hometown.

The long hill to town marks the ascent out of the beautiful valley our farm inhabits.


At the top of the hill, four miles away, our hometown pops into view.


The warm memories of my youth flood back as I see the school we all graduated from,


The church we all grew up in,


And our parents’ final resting place.


Our childhood home may no longer stand, but this community—the community that built us—still stands. Despite the demise of much of Small Town America, Tipton, Kansas has continued to survive and thrive as the even-smaller-than-it-was-when-we-grew-up-there dot on the map, but as a community, its members know the importance of keeping it alive.

I will forever be grateful for our beginnings in this town, and to its current members for sustaining its legacy with hard work and pride.


Even though I grew up on a farm, I am helpless to drive a combine or truck. For the most part, our four brothers helped Dad, and the girls helped Mom. I can, however, still make a mean cherry pie and fry up a big chicken dinner on command.

Gail, however, was the Swiss Army Knife who could do it all because she had to. She could probably even figure out how to haul wheat in that big rig if she had to; she learned how to drive a smaller grain truck that is mostly phased out of most modern farm operations. She doesn’t have a CDL that would allow her to legally drive it, but in a pinch, Gail’s resourcefulness would surface. I wouldn’t get near that driver’s seat, but Suzanne reports she did drive a short distance on a dirt road with a lot of assistance from our brother in the passenger seat.

The high-tech combines of today may confound Gail, but I know she handled the older ones with ease.  Both Suzanne and I attempted a quick spin in the combine several summers ago, but again with assistance right next to us in the cab.  Another one of our brothers dutifully and gladly takes a harvest leave every summer from his gig as an airline captain to pilot that behemoth machine, which is much appreciated by our farmer brothers. While he has an autopilot in the cockpit, the combine requires hands-on attention at all times.


Some of the big cottonwoods still stand on the farm,


And the woods behind the house where we explored, hiked, built forts and sometimes hid out still stand.


Our farm-girl heritage still stands within each of us. We still know the value of hard work, we aren’t afraid to answer the call in nature if we have to—our house had one bathroom for nine people, and we know where our bread comes from–and the work involved in bringing it to us.

I have to wrap up and enjoy my Sunday dinner. My Mark-of-all-trades husband cooked up a steak lunch for us—dinner, as it is called on the farm—complete with a loaf of take-and-bake bread.

I know where it came from.







It once was the symbol of the Great American Farm.

It once held a  hay loft, as well as memories of our years as farm kids.

It once stood as a beacon on our family farm, just like so many other farms.

The red barn on our family farm lived a long and full life, and in the name of moving forward, it came down.


Gail, Suzanne and I spent Easter Saturday on our family farm with three of our four brothers, and all our respective families.   Our oldest brother lives in another state, and wasn’t able to join us.   It was a day of visiting, eating, and reminiscing.  Like every time we get together, it was a memorable day.


We grew up on this now-fourth generation family farm, and while the original house we all grew up in and the barn have since come down, the memories remain.  Our brother John and his family are caretakers of our family’s heritage, parceled into a farm on the Great Plains.  For their stewardship to the land and our legacy, I will be forever thankful to them.  I treasure the opportunity to have grown up as a farm girl, even though I chose not to stay there.


The iconic red barns appear to be a thing of the recent past, and metal buildings are appearing on many Great American Farms as their replacement.

Wooden barns, John tells me, are no longer the most efficient and effective structure to have on one’s farm.  He, along with my husband, who has erected many of the metal ones–including helping with the one that now stands in place of the barn, tells me the metal ones are the wave of the present and future farm.  Perhaps a few fully-functioning barns remain, but they are likely on smaller, hobby farms.  They are costly to repair and/or maintain; the metal buildings are less so.  Some classic red wooden barns have been repaired, refurbished or renewed, but most working barns have been replaced by metal buildings.


I have many fond memories of time spent in that barn in my childhood.  John, who has always been industrious, had a wood shop just inside the front doors.  He built many wooden projects there, and I recall lingering behind or beside him as he toiled with his craft.  I was fascinated, made a few feeble attempts, but never engaged as a carpenter myself.

Perhaps that is one reason why I was drawn to my husband, the builder extraordinaire.  But that’s another story for another day.

As long as I could remember, we always raised cattle on the farm.  John, somewhere in his teenage years, decided to start a small swine operation in the barn as well.  Suzanne and I were reminiscing about the lessons taught by Mother Nature when, no matter the hour, we would hurry up to the barn to see the baby pigs being born.  Once in a while, we even saw a baby calf come into the world.

John continues to raise cattle on the farm.  They once came in and out of the barn, but their new home is this metal building.  He no longer raises hogs.


The barn had an upstairs hay loft, where many of our memories were created.  I didn’t realize the new cattle “barn” had a hay loft as well.  The small, rectangular hay bales are not as common as they once were; but John stores some in the loft now, just as we did in the barn.  The much-larger, round bales are the most common type now.

For those of you with no farm history, the hay bales are tightly bound wrapped bales of the wheat straw that remains after harvest.  The grain is harvested and sold, and the straw is baled for livestock feed and bedding.  These bales were stacked in our barn, both upstairs and downstairs.  There was a large, sliding door on the ground floor of the barn, the one traditionally painted with red and white stripes as shown in the pictures.  The smaller door upstairs slid open sideways, and a long bale elevator was used as a conveyor to move the bales from the ground to the upstairs through this door.


Our younger brother Ryan with Kate, Gail’s first-born enjoying the view from the upstairs door.  The striped door below was the front door to the ground floor.  Circa about 1987.

We built many forts out of these bales, and it seemed our brothers always possessed superior architectural and building skills that made their forts “cooler” than any we could construct.

There was a square, hinged “trap door” in the back of the barn from the upstairs to the downstairs.  We spent many hours jumping from the upstairs to land in the loose hay downstairs, not caring one bit about the hay that ended up in every crevice of our clothes and bodies.  It was good clean—but dirty—fun.  Suzanne and I commented that now, we would likely land with a few twists and sprains.  Gail, however, probably would free-fall in such a way to avoid that.  She always seems to land on her feet, literally and figuratively.  As a little sister, I am still watching her, still looking up to her to learn how to do so many things.  Recall from her birthday post that she has zip-lined…as Suzanne has as well, but not me–yet.  And did I mention, she also bungee-jumped just a few years ago?  She holds that singular honor among us three.

The steps to the upstairs of the barn began to show their age in their last years.  I recall holes in the steps—some large, some small—that needed to be avoided in order to make a safe ascent.  Several steps probably weren’t safe to step on, but I don’t recall any fall-through injuries.

Those steps were well worn not just from our family, but from an old tradition of “Barn Dances.”  Our parents spoke of earlier years when our grandfather would host other couples for a dance in the upstairs of our barn.  The music was provided by local musicians, and I am quite sure fun was had by all.

The upstairs in the barn was also an indoor playground for us.  There was a basketball goal and modified half-court.  Gail recalls the days when our oldest brother hosted frequent Sunday afternoon basketball games with his friends.  The group was large, as our barn was apparently the hot spot on Sundays.   She recalled, and I do too, that caution had to be taken to not get too close to the edges of the floor near the walls, as they weren’t always reliable.

Ryan turned what would have been the back half of the court into his work site with his Tonka tractors, graders, and other equipment as well, farming the loose hay.   There were some cabinets and other older, perhaps antique furnishings and small equipment stored in the back as well.


Gail, Suzanne and I visited the new “barn” last weekend.  Instead of cattle and hay, it now houses the machinery that plants and harvests the crops, as well as the other necessary implements and machines that keep the farm running.





Gail was the only one of us three girls who learned how to operate the farm machinery.  Recall that she has always been a Swiss Army Knife.

I recall the good-natured argument between farm kids regarding the best color of farm machinery:  red or green?  My family has always been red, and probably always will be.  Those color allegiances tend to be passed down to the next generation, although I did spot a few small pieces that looked green to me…

When I meet retired farmers who are now my patients, I always ask:  red or green?  Typically, it sparks a good-natured discussion, and sometimes well-intentioned banter and boasting.

The barn, with its resident hogs, was a smelly place.  To add to that, Suzanne recalled the family of skunks that took up residence there as well.  I don’t remember as clearly as she does, but when she was perhaps ten, there was a mother and about four babies that kept her away from there for months.  I probably didn’t go near it for a while, either.


The barn came down in 2008.  The house came down last fall.  Some things, while they served a purpose and were well-loved at one time, are not meant to last forever.  That’s how things in life are.

Sticks and stones.

Moving past the sentimentality and emotional attachment can be hard, but sometimes a small gesture and/or token can ease the pain enough to move forward with the good memories, and leave the pain of loss behind.



John’s wife, Lara, rescued several small pieces of the barn wood after it was torn down, as it was headed out to be burned.  She took a picture, put it on a barn-shaped piece of this wood, and created a Christmas ornament for each of us–and other relatives as well.  It is a treasure, one I display year-round.  This small token, this actual piece of our farm’s history is all I need to keep the good memories alive and leave the loss behind.


Thank you, Lara.

Thank you, John.  You and your family are keeping Our Great American Farm alive and well.


Dad, posing for his high school graduation.  The barn lives on in so many pictures, and in so many memories.



Dad’s legacy–and progeny, too, lives on–in the same place he was raised.

Long live the farm, and the farm girls of The Sister Lode.


When I chose the format and  title picture for the front page of my blog last summer, I was drawn to the barn picture featured on the opening page of THE SISTER LODE.  Hmmm…

SWHEAT GIRLS: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff




No trip is shorter or more meaningful in our family history and heritage than the one Suzanne and I took today.  It is a mere 72 miles from my home; I could drive it with my eyes closed.   Suzanne moved to my small city about six months ago, so we enjoyed the ride together. Gail wasn’t able to meet us there from her home several hours west of the farm.  So we persisted—without her.

Today, we drove to our family farm to partake of the annual wheat harvest.  I have only missed one harvest in my life; even a quick ride in the combine and/or the truck constitutes a visit.

That one harvest I missed was in 1991.  I was spending the year in suburban Philadelphia, fulfilling a one-year contract as a nanny for a couple with a 2-year old girl and a 4 year-old boy.

I was between degrees, and leading a gypsy lifestyle.  No real job, no real money, no real boyfriend, so I set out on an adventure.  (That “no real boyfriend” became a real boyfriend when I got back, and eventually my husband.  The story may or may not be covered in a future post.  Stay tuned.)

Mom, in her trademark thoughtful style, knew I was missing harvest, so she sent me a card with several heads of wheat tucked inside.  The kids and their mother were unimpressed, but the chemist father was intrigued.  He sat on the patio with a head of this wheat, examining, feeling and dissecting it.  After about 20 thoughtful minutes of inspection, he appeared to have a revelation:

“So this is what they mean when they say ‘separate the wheat from the chaff.’”


Therein lies the challenge. Keeping the good stuff, and letting the rest go.  And I don’t mean literally, as in what Suzanne is doing in the picture below:



Most of us—myself included—carry around too much chaff.  We hang on to useless, dirty, compostable refuse.  We think we need it—and I’m not talking about material stuff, although that describes me, too.   I’m talking about worries, concerns, stresses, hurts, regrets, sorrows, anger, illusions, fears and despair; you get the idea.  We don’t need any of it, but we cling on like a life raft.  Without them, we fear, we will sink.  We won’t know how to function.  They propel us forward, but only into a life of more misery; more of the same.  We hang on because we have always hung on.  Because it is now a habit.  Because we don’t think we have a choice.  Because we don’t even realize we are hanging on.


At the time of our parents’ deaths, our older sister Gail was owner and sole proprietor of a Daylight Donut shop in her small western Kansas town.  She toiled long hours with little sleep for many years, churning out donuts and other sinfully delicious pastries.  The glazed donuts were always the best sellers.

I used to get so mad at myself if I made too many glazed donuts, or not enough glazed donuts, because they sell the best and I never knew how many I should make.” 

Life changed for all of us after that day.  We were hanging close and comforting each other in the days and weeks after.  We took the time to open up and talk, trying to find ways to ease the pain.

“Now, I don’t care anymore about the ******* glazed donuts!”  You have to know Gail to understand the full emphasis of the expletive.

The metaphor was obvious.  In our heightened state of awareness, we realized, at that moment, that we still cared about other, equally unimportant glazed donuts.  We had just been given a hard-earned gift, a tool of insight that would allow us to measure any stress against the one we were all surviving.  In this comparison, every stress was as inconsequential as a glazed donut.

“It’s just a glazed donut.  Let it go.”  This became our mission statement.  It still is.


Harvest is the climax of the agricultural year.  The wheat that was planted nine months ago is ripe, and ready to determine the financial course of the next year.  Some years, it’s a make-or-break proposition.  It can be wiped out by hail, hammered down by high winds, flooded, frozen, or rendered nearly worthless by the Wheat Gods who determine the price.

Dad used to say that the farmer is the only businessman who doesn’t get to set the price for his product.  Dad was a very wise man.  Mother Nature and Uncle Sam are often ruthless relatives to deal with in one’s farming family.

On purpose, I didn’t marry a farmer.  Neither did my sisters.  One of our four brothers, as well as his two young sons inhabit our now 5th-generation farm.  They, along with help from our youngest brother who also farms with his father-in-law, are capable stewards of the land that is part of our family heritage, and will continue to build our farm family legacy as my two nephews have shown a keen interest to continue down this path.

I am so grateful.

The home I grew up in is set to come down later this summer.  Mold overtook it, and my brother, his wife and their three children built a new home close to it.  The house that built me will always be in my heart, even after it no longer stands.  Sticks and stones they are, but if they could, the walls would speak of sheltering this family of nine for four decades.  They would speak of a family history warm with love, respect and kindness between the seven children and two parents who inhabited it for all those years.  We had enough but not much extra in terms of material things.  We always had enough love.




Suzanne and I arrived in the harvest field mid-afternoon, and stayed for several hours—long enough to ride in the combine with our nephew, and for a trip to the elevator with our brother.


The air hung still in unlikely Kansas style, with nary a breeze.  The dust wafted straight up in small clouds and hung lazily.  The sun beat down hot and hard when it came out, and I loved it all.  I sweated, got dusty, dirty, scratched, greasy, stinky and fulfilled.  And, when it was all over, I truly felt like a swheat girl.


Traversing the hills is part of the adventure.  Hugging the right side of the road as the peak of the hill approaches is non-negotiable.  The vista from the top is beautiful, but until you get there, you must assume there is a truck or a combine coming at you from the opposite direction.  And, chances are that whatever you are driving, you are no match for either of those behemoth farm machines.



The roads often fork in this part of The Wheat State.  Should you go left, or should you go right?  Should you turn around?  Or should you just sit and think about it?  Sometimes the road more traveled appears to be the safe choice as below.


Or, sometimes it’s a 50/50 proposition.


So many decisions in life.  Separate the worthless from the valuable, the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff and the glazed donuts from the important matters.  Get rid of the chaff, just like the combine so effortlessly does.


After harvest” was the answer I frequently got from Dad when I asked him if I could have something—whatever material thing I thought I needed before harvest.  It always depended upon the success/failure of each year’s cash crop.  Imagine one paycheck a year, with no guarantee how big it would or should be, or if it would even arrive at all.  Such is life on the farm.  I learned to simultaneously respect and fear harvest, to love and loathe it at the same time.  I am so glad my brothers and their families love it.  Keeping our farm in the family is priceless, and I am forever grateful to them.

For myself, I decided to leave it behind.  I swore I wouldn’t marry a farmer, and I didn’t.  I never fell in love with one either, so who knows.  But I never want to miss harvest.  It is the culmination of one year of my brothers’ work, the annual peak of my farm-girl heritage.  It is what our economic lives revolved around for my first 18 years.

More importantly, harvest is a symbol.  It is the golden wheat, and I continue to learn to leave the dirty and useless chaff behind.  The glazed donuts are no longer a part of my life either.   Gail opened my eyes in her forceful, meaningful, expletive-rich statement, and I took it to heart.

Today, in the center of The Wheat State, Suzanne and I celebrate all that—as well as a golden day with each other.   And, of course, with Gail and her donuts—or lack thereof–in spirit. 19554420_1759936490687934_7965154539688390526_n[1]



Thank you for reading my blog.  My second-favorite holiday is approaching in two days, and I wish a safe and Happy Independence Day to all of  you.  Greater than that, may you make every day Independence Day as you leave the chaff–and the glazed donuts behind.