THE SEASON TO CELEBRATE

THE SEASON TO CELEBRATE

It’s that time again, and I don’t like it.  I don’t like the cooler temperatures, I don’t like the shorter days, and I don’t like the thought of cold weather returning.  Call me crazy, but I am in my element when the mercury is in the triple digits. 

I have tried for over fifty years now, but it does no good to be upset about it.  Fall still comes, and behind it, winter.  I try a little harder every year to embrace it, and I think perhaps, I may be just a bit more successful each year.

I am sitting on my porch at 8:40 p.m., feeling the cool breeze.  It is 69 degrees, and I cannot deny that it feels nice.  But with the cool evenings and mornings come the cooler days.  We have had temperatures in the forties this week, and rain for four days straight, no sun.

The backyard pool must come down, and this breaks my heart. 

However, I am seeking out the other joys that arrive only as summer begins to depart.  Like the sunflowers.  For about two glorious weeks at the end of August/beginning of September in Kansas, our state flower is in full bloom in the wild.

This year, my husband planted some in our yard, so we have our own personal blooms to savor. 

I cannot deny that I immensely enjoy this part of late summer.  When it becomes obvious that summer will soon wind down, the state flower steps it up and shows off its unparalleled beauty to remind me that nature’s splendor remains in other ways.  I simply needed to take another look.

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Not that sunflowers aren’t beautiful and grand, but Gail and Suzanne have other, more exciting reasons to celebrate. 

Gail was together with her four children and her two grandchildren two weeks ago.  Her second-born lives in Michigan, and their visits are not frequent enough.  Her grandsons live there with their mother, so these visits are an incredible highlight for all of them.

But Gail, as you already know, can make a celebration out of pretty much nothing.  I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad day or a wasted day in her life.  She chooses to let the bad roll off her back, and focus on the good.

I want to be like her when I grow up.

Both Gail and I have been married for twenty-plus years, and have lived in our homes that long as well.  Both our husbands and our homes are nothing new, but they are tried-and-true, and we are still very much smitten with both.  There are no big celebrations planned at this time, but there is no need for any.  Every day is a gift to be savored.

Suzanne has quite the opposite news.  She is getting both a new house, and a new husband.  This is super-exciting news not just for her, but for Gail and me as well.  Her husband-to-be got a 127% approval rate from both of her sisters, and while Gail has not yet seen her new house, I gave it five stars.  My husband the builder gave it five stars as well when he checked it out for her.  (This never happens.)  Guys aren’t much into approval rates, but I know he finds his future brother-in-law at least as favorable as the house. 

In the interest of her limited self-disclosure, that is really all I can tell you, and that’s enough for you to know she has a lot to celebrate right now.

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If you recall, one of our mother’s many nuggets of wisdom she shared with us was this:  Always have something to look forward to.

In this year of COVID, our excursions have been greatly limited.  Last weekend, however, my husband and I ventured out to western Kansas to see some of our Sunflower State’s natural beauty that we had not yet taken in.

Topped off by an overnight stay at Gail’s house—along with patio sitting, we had a lot to look forward to last week, and none of it disappointed.

This week, I am anticipating a long-overdue trip with a dear friend.  No details at this point, but suffice it to say that even though our backyard pool came down already, my time splashing in the sun is not done yet for this year. 

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Two years ago this fall, I featured a group of six sisters we know who take annual sister trips—all six of them, which makes us look like amateurs, which we are.  This week, they have been celebrating in Michigan, very close to where Gail’s daughter lives.

May their annual celebrations continue to inspire us, and hopefully you, too.  They set the bar high for making it all work, but when family and fun are priorities, they show us that the sky is the limit. 

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I am sitting on the porch again, this time I am savoring the sunshine and 80-degree temperatures.  The weather is simply splendid, even if it lacks perfection by 20 degrees in my book.  The humidity, however, is a breathable 44%, and I cannot deny I do love that part. 

I am working harder than ever to savor every beautiful day of the fall, even if I know that means the cold will be here soon.  I am working on savoring the cold days, too.  Life is too short and too beautiful not to at least try. 

Kansas has four beautiful seasons, and each one is distinct in its gifts.  The hardest gift for me to accept—no matter which season—is the blessed/cursed Kansas wind.  Gail and Suzanne call it blessed, I call it cursed.

Suzanne’s new house is tucked away on an almost-secret street in our small city, surrounded by trees.  I don’t think she realized until I pointed it out to her that she would not have full benefit of the wind.  This may have been a small downer for her, but the wind, along with all the other simple things to celebrate, are always able to be found somewhere.

Sometimes, we just have to look a little bit, and sometimes, we have to look at them differently in order to call them celebrations. 

But they are always there.

THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

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THE SIMPLE KANSAS SUNFLOWER

According to popular, but erroneous national sentiment, Kansas doesn’t have much to offer.  “Fly-over country,” we’ve been called.  As if there’s nothing to see here.

We—the sisters of The Sister Lode—are here to tell you differently.  Kansas is our born-and-raised home state, and we aren’t backing down on our stand that there’s plenty to see here. 

But this is not a post about Kansas tourism.  That would require a blog of its own.   This is a post about one simple thing–Kansas’s state flower:   the sunflower.

Our mom liked sunflowers.  And, like the topics of so many other good memories of both Mom and Dad, the sunflower has been elevated in status for all three of us.  It’s timeless beauty, and classic, iconic face have made it a favorite for so many people–not just Kansans, and not just us.

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They are still in bloom right now—although nearing the end of their annual fashion show, so now is a perfect time to extol their virtues.

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 “Weeds are nature’s graffiti.”   J.L.W. Brooks

The sunflowers gracing the fields and ditches at this time of year are primarily a weed.  They are very common across the United Sates—except for the Southeastern U.S.–and parts of central Canada. They grow well in soils of dry to medium moisture, as well as sand and clay.

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I don’t care that they are classified as weeds.  As A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh states, “Weeds are flowers, once you get to know them.”

While there are sunflowers planted as crops,

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this blog is not about them.  I recall that Dad did try to plant sunflowers as a crop once or twice, but he didn’t make it an annual thing.

A common misconception is that sunflowers follow the sun across the sky every day.  While this is true for young, immature sunflowers, the fully mature plant will continue to face east throughout the day, as its head is too heavy and the stalk has become too inflexible to move.

Because the young plants follow a circadian rhythm, they will turn from east to west even on cloudy days.  They re-orient themselves overnight to the east to begin the process over every day.

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The plants are harvested for their seeds, of course, to be used not only for human consumption, but for birdseed as well.

Sunflower oil is also an economically important product of the sunflower.

Because I am enthralled to learn new, useless trivia, here is some I learned online about the sunflower, just in case you, too, may enjoy such trivial matters:

*The sunflower is the only flower with “flower” in its name.

*There are 67 species of sunflower and multiple varieties of each species.

*Sunflowers can be used to extract toxic ingredients from the soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium.  They were used to help clean up the area after the Russian Chernobyl disaster.

*The earliest examples of domesticated sunflowers in the U.S. were found in Tennessee, and date to around 2300 B.C.

*Among Zuni people, the fresh or dried root is chewed by the medicine man before sucking venom from a snakebite and is ceremoniously applied via poultice to the bite.

*The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.

*Sunflowers were worshipped by the Incas because they viewed it as a symbol for the sun.

*Once the sunflower heads are empty, they can be converted into scrubbing pads for tough jobs.

*I may, or may not, have a wheat tattoo to honor Dad.  I may, or may not get a sunflower tattoo to honor Mom.  (That wasn’t from the web.)

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I like the sunflower because it reminds me of Mom.  Gail and Suzanne show it proudly as well.

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But I like it for other reasons, too.  I, too, live by the sunlight, and if I could, I would follow the sunlight every day.  Unlike Gail and Suzanne–who like any and all weather–cloudy days bring me down.  It reminds me of the sun; it is named the “sunflower” not only because it follows the sun, but because its face simply looks sunny.

I realize I am like the sunflower in that I like to follow the sun from east to west every day.  I get a certain high from taking in a beautiful sunrise from my porch.

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And an equal high from watching the sunset—this picture was taken just last night facing west from my driveway.

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We are extending an open invitation to anyone who would like to discover why Kansas is not fly-over country.  It is drive-through-and-around country, it is drive-here-and-discover country.

Kansas is our beautiful home, and the sunflower is our beautiful, iconic cover girl.  It will soon be past its splendid prime, but Kansas will stay beautiful in its own right throughout the year.

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Don’t just fly over.  If you do, you’ll miss not only the sunflowers, but the sunrises, the sunsets and everything beautiful in between.

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Mom’s tastes were simple.  The sunflower may be a simple weed indeed, but she knew that sometimes, simple is best.

KISS:  Keep It Simple, Sunflower.

 

 

 

 

THE SUNFLOWER STATE

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THE SUNFLOWER STATE

Because one should never miss an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons, I decided to celebrate our fine state when life handed me Kansas instead of Colorado.

Every Labor Day weekend since 2010, I have savored the Rocky Mountain majesty of Cripple Creek, Colorado.  Minus Suzanne last year, she and Gail have done the same.  This year, however, duty called Gail and Suzanne—and family festivities called as well.  It was not meant to be.

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A throwback picture from our Labor Day 2014 trip.

Soon, however, it will be meant to be.  And I will tell you about it in a future post—at least, what we want you to know about it.  We never tell all.

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Every Labor Day when I return to Kansas after savoring the natural beauty of Colorado, I return to savor one of the many natural beauties of Kansas:  sunflowers in full bloom.

As well as living up to its title as The Wheat State, Kansas is also known as The Sunflower State.  It is our state flower, and it is simply and timelessly beautiful.

Mom loved sunflowers.  I have always liked sunflowers, but in an effort to further a small part of her larger-than-life legacy, I grew to love them after she was gone.  I keep them in artificial form in my home throughout the year.

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And, I gather a bouquet of fresh-picked ones and bring them indoors every Labor Day weekend.

IMG_20180902_172507692.jpg I preach about them, too.  If you grew up in Kansas and were hammered with Kansas history every January 29th in grade school to observe Kansas’s birthday—we celebrate our statehood since its inception as a state in 1861—you’d better be able to tell me why I am wearing a gaudy sunflower pin every year on that date.

No excuses if you are a native.  Know your Kansas history, or get out of my way.

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Suzanne will confirm that I am a purveyor of useless, but (sometimes) interesting information, so I won’t disappoint her today.  I wanted to know more about sunflowers and why they are our state flower, and here is what I found:

*The sunflower was made the official state flower in 1903 after a lawmaker observed many people wearing them to identify themselves as Kansans.  George Morehouse is the one to thank for that.

*Less than a decade before that, it was declared a noxious weed, and other lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to eradicate it.

*It was chosen as a state symbol to represent our frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairies, as well as our bright past and future.

*Sunflowers grow in the wild, in planned gardens, and as a crop.

*They can grow up to nine feet tall.

*Sunflower oil is a valuable resource from the plant as a crop, and the seeds are enjoyed as a snack food, as well as in breads and salads.

*True to their name, the cultivated sunflower  typically turns to face the sun, mostly before they are in full bloom.  Because I am a word nerd as well, I want you to know this is known as heliotropism.  Wild sunflowers face in all directions.

Our dad planted sunflowers for a few years, but he apparently deemed it not as successful as he had hoped.

In the wild, sunflowers grow in large bunches,

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small bunches, or they may grow in single plants.

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Any way they grow, they are simply beautiful.

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While we are on a roll here with important Kansas information, let me share more of The Sunflower State’s vital official details:

The Ornate Box Turtle is the state reptile, and just in time for this post, one made a guest appearance in my neighbor’s yard this morning.

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“Ad Astra Per Aspera” is our state motto.  “To The Stars Through Difficulty,” is the translation from Latin.  Along with the sunflower, it is featured on our state flag:

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We had many cottonwood trees on our farm, leaving me with warm memories of the soft cotton floating through the air in the summer time.  It is no surprise that this tree is our state tree.

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The Western Meadowlark is the state bird.  It is also the state bird of Nebraska and Wyoming.

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So there you have it.  You are all prepared to celebrate Kansas’ 158th birthday next January 29th.  You’re welcome.

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I have a love/hate/love relationship with Kansas, and love always wins.  I love that this state has been our lifelong home, with my exception of a semester of college on an exchange program in New Mexico, and a year–less one day–of suburban Philadelphia as a nanny.  Gail, Suzanne and I spent our first 18 years in the same farmhouse, and we treasure that heritage.  We grew up on a farm, learning the Midwestern farm work ethic, values and morals.  We weren’t exposed to crime or drugs, just rock-and-roll.

I hate the winters—now.  As kids, we enjoyed frequent afternoon-long sledding expeditions in the hilly pastures behind our farmhouse.  The snow came up to our waists at times, and the drifts could bury us if we weren’t careful.

We loved it, but we rarely get snow like that anymore in these parts.

Now, just when I think the interminable winter—without beautiful snow– is going to bleed my soul into complete and irreversible dehydration with its icy and windy gray-ness, the beautiful green leaves appear on the trees, and I know I have survived one more year.

I love the summer heat.  June, July and August are my three favorite things about Kansas.  I’m not even kidding.  Bring on the 100-degree plus temps.  I savor them.

Call me crazy.  Go ahead.  I know you want to.

Now that it is September, those three glorious attributes are behind me once again.  Even if the temperatures exceed 100 degrees in September—which they sometimes do, it’s not the same.  I know it’s time for fall to arrive, and I won’t be fooled.

And, to confirm that I am indeed crazy, I don’t even like fall.  Just bring on the freezing temperatures already, and get it over with.  Don’t jack around with these “beautiful” 80-degree days in October.  Give me sub-freezing weather.  I like the extremes.

But so does Suzanne, so if you call me crazy, you have to call her crazy, too. She loves the extreme temperatures.  Again, because I love trivial information, I want to enlighten you with this fact from weather.com:  among our 50 states, Kansas ranks 31st in temperature ranges.  A range of 161 degrees has been documented, all the way up to 121 degrees, and down to 40 below.  I would have guessed we would be closer to #1 than #50.   Hawaii is #1, ranging from an unexpected twelve degrees, up to 100 degrees, and Montana is #50, ranging from a balmy 117 degrees, down to minus 70.

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Log on here to get more (useless, but interesting ) information.

As much as it pains me to write this, I have to reiterate that both Gail and Suzanne love the Kansas wind (Weather Girls, January 28th).   I hate the wind. Detest it. Loathe it.  Am I making myself clear?

The name Kansas comes from the Native American Kansa tribe of the Sioux.  Ironically, it means people of the south wind.  Go figure.

One thing we all agree on without a doubt:  we love Kansas because (most of) our family is here.  We love being close to all of them.

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Kansas has a bad rap for being “fly-over” country; best observed from above at 30,000 feet-plus.  We know this is the impression, but we disagree.

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I picked this up last weekend on our getaway.  Along with several other stickers, I put it on my new computer.  Might as well laugh along with them, because the joke is on them.

Our sunsets offer unparalleled beauty.  We’ll put them up against any other state’s sunsets, even this one my family saw on the beach last month.

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Sorry, Florida.  I love you and your sunsets, but we’ve got you beat. 

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Any Kansas girl who has ever traveled out of state and let on that she was from Kansas has had to endure the worn-out and not-even-funny Dorothy jokes.  I fought that in New Mexico and Pennsylvania.  The joker always thinks they are the one who came up with it, and it is funny only to them.  I know several women named Dorothy who are actually from Kansas, and they have had more than their share, I’m sure.

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Greater than the summer heat and the splendid sunsets, I love Kansas for one simple reason:  it is home.  Home is in one’s heart, and Kansas is in ours.  And, just like Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

 

A gift from Gail to me.  Its home is in a chair in Fort Kathleen, my favorite all-my-own space in my home (A Space of Her Own, October 15th).

 

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Suzanne and I spent the afternoon together today.  We longed to be together with Gail in Colorado, but it wasn’t meant to be.  So we turned the lemons into sunflowers.   Her shirt was a complete coincidence; no hidden messages to be inferred.  You can think what you like about my headwear.  

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DEDICATED TO MOM AND CARLY.  I KNOW THAT FOR THEM, HEAVEN IS FILLED WITH SUNFLOWERS.

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Thanks to my friend Gwenna Reich for this picture, the photographer extraordinaire.