Love letters to Kansas City

I wasn't able to join 800,000 of my friends for the Royals World Series victory parade today. I followed the festivities on television and radio. Every channel and every station celebrated the Royals plenty, but most of the coverage amounted to love letters to Kansas City. That was fine by me. There's a lot to celebrate about Kansas City.

I approach Kansas City with the zeal of a convert. The beautiful thing about Kansas City, the thing that converted me in the first place, is how willing it is to accept converts. I'm a fan of the Royals, but I'm even more of a fan of the city that I found after roaming from the Ozarks to the east and then to the west.

My wife and I were surprised when, after so many moves, the move to Kansas City stuck. We arrived back in the dark ages before fast Internet connections and years beginning with a "2." We've limited ourselves to local moves ever since. I'm happy to count my few acres near LFK as part of the Greater Kansas City area.

When I travel, I always tell people that I'm from Kansas City; after I tell them that, all too often I have to explain where Kansas City is. I've been able to explain geography to people on three continents, but I've never been able to explain Kansas City to anyone who didn't already know the place.

There's more here than baseball and soccer and barbecue--wonderful as those are. Kansas City isn't just the City of Fountains or Paris on the Plains. Kansas City is more than a place where an itinerant hillbilly can find a welcome and build a life, even though that's been plenty for me.

Kansas City is a place where, according to a caller to one of the radio stations I listened to this afternoon, a little boy in a wheel chair will be helped over curbs and to the front of the ocean of blue along the parade route. Kansas City is a place where women and men, boys and girls, people of all races and ages, can celebrate together wearing a most lovely shade of blue with scarcely a problem even though they are packed in cheek-to-jowl. Kansas City is a place where you do your job and keep the line moving so that the people coming after you have a chance to do their job. Kansas City may be flyover country to some, but it's home to me.

It's also home to the World Series Champions. That's pretty cool.




One night this past week, I took off my wedding ring as I was helping make dinner. Who wants the juices from raw meat coating your symbol of a lifetime of love and devotion? I didn't think to put the ring back on after dinner was finished, so when I went to bed it got dumped with my change instead of assuming its regular pride of place beside my bed. The next morning my ring wasn't where it was supposed to be. In the dim light and the short time of the morning before work, I left the house with a naked ring finger on my left hand. I'm too old and too married to worry too much about the rings worn by women I meet during my days. I'll notice a change on someone I see often, especially a showy change that makes me recall my great-grandmother's chiding "the bigger the diamond, the littler the love," but I'm not trolling town for prospective life-partners. Without my ring on, though, I noticed a little bit more about who did and didn't wear a ring of their own.

The day in question wasn't a day I spent bunkered at the office. I had need to be about town and interacting with people I don't normally see, people I do not already know--people I am apt not to see again. In stores and in meetings there were plenty of people with and without rings on their fingers, people of all ages.

Were the ringless women of about my own middle age maybe a little more friendly than I am used to? Was their eye contact more meaningful? Did their conversations last a bit longer, did their laughter come a little easier? It seemed like it did to me.

People usually like me well enough, and that includes the female people I interact with, so I can't really say that there was a change when I went out with the left hand of a bachelor. Maybe my bare finger marked me as a prospect and women looking for a prospect treated me a bit different than usual. Maybe I keenly felt the absence of my wedding ring and saw what I expected, or maybe I saw what I hoped would be the case.

Maybe a few women were flirtatious, or maybe it was me.

Toasters and Farm Kids

The Benton Compound's toaster broke over the weekend. It's nothing major. The little plastic bit that you push down to start the toasting broke off of the metal arm that goes up and down. The toaster still works fine--you just have to press the plastic piece onto the end of the metal arm when you push down. I can still toast my bread, no problem. The kids struggled with the damaged toaster. They didn't have a knack for feeling the way the mechanism engages when it locks into place to activate the heat and to hold the slices of bread in place. They would stop pressing too soon, and the lever would spring back up and launch the little plastic handle back at their faces.

I'm lucky: in many ways, my kids have had an easy life. By the time I was their age, necessity had taught me how to repair hay balers and cattle chutes and tractor carburetors and wire stretchers and everything else on the farm that could break. Things would always break as far from the tool shed as possible. Nothing teaches improvised mechanical repairs quite like a broken hay rake miles from the barn.

By the time I was the age my younger daughter is now, the Farm Crisis was in full swing and I was the primary farmer (and hence principal repairer) since my dad was working off the farm. I never would have dreamed of buying a replacement for something that could still be used or repaired. Enduring or fixing trouble costs less than replacing the cause of the trouble.

I learned my lessons in improvised mechanics well. I've managed to cobble together the toaster well enough over the past few days. The kids have grumbled a little bit, but they've figured out how to operate the dodgy mechanism.

I'm still going to pick up a new toaster when I'm at the store next.

Laughing at your own comedy of errors

I bottled my first batch of all grain beer this weekend. It ended well, but went poorly.  Rather than buying a brewing kit, I decide to use what I had for equipment and then buy what I lacked one piece at a time. I used an old food-grade bucket we had around the house as a fermenter. I figured I'd use my old Little Beer Keg from the Mr. Beer kit as a bottling bucket. That meant I needed an auto-siphon and some tubing to make the transfer. Of course I didn't buy the right tubing for my auto-siphon. A working auto-siphon would have made the transfer easy. Hell, I'd watched videos about how to do the transfer. I knew what I was doing, at least in theory--but I hadn't bothered to do a trial run, so I didn't know much in practice. I spent a long time looking at my bucket in despair with the useless auto-siphon in my hand. It was a comedy of errors, but I made myself laugh at the humor and learn from the experience.

I wound up sterilizing a ladle and dipping nearly 3 gallons of beer from my bucket-fermenter to my LBK-bottling bucket one scoop at a time. It all eventually worked out. I added my priming sugar to the LBK and I now have twenty-some odd bottles of brown ale getting bubbly in my basement. Assuming I didn't contaminate the beer with my ladling, I'll have beer to drink in a couple of weeks. 

Even if I don't like the beer in the end, I'm pleased that I learned something from the experience. Mostly, I now know I need to buy more tubing.

The clawing cat

Don't be fooled. She's vicious.
Don't be fooled. She's vicious.

We've all heard of squeaky wheels: we know that those are the wheels that get the grease. Even though most of us don't deal with carts these days, the squeaking wheels we deal with tend to be of the human variety. One of my feline friends here in the Benton Compound doesn't want to be greased, so she doesn't squeak per se--but she does want attention, so she does what cats do. When I am, say, trying to write an overdue blog post or (worse yet) do work for money, this fluffy little brat will plant herself on my keyboard.

I've tried to physically block the cat from my computer, of course, but the cat has learned to just claw at what ever part of my body she can reach until I pay some attention to her. That attention may be pitching her out of the room, but she'll take that.

I try not to be a proverbial squeaky wheel in life. I definitely don't want to be a clawing cat.

Bottle Washing


I may have mentioned once or twice that I've taken up brewing beer. There's plenty of pleasure and joy in beer making. The drinking it part is the most fun, of course, but watching the pot boil and smelling the malty-hoppy aroma is pretty fun, too. Planning out the next batch--that's pretty awesome. Reading about beer is also really cool. Truth be told, though, the biggest part of brewing beer is just sitting around and waiting for yeast to do what yeast naturally does, and most of the rest is janitorial work. I have a batch of brown ale downstairs fermenting away. It will be due for bottling in another week or so, but that means I need to have bottles to put it in. Turns out, while you can buy empty bottles to use for bottling your homebrew, for just a little bit more money you can instead buy bottles filled with actual beer. You just drink the beer to get an empty bottle, which is kind of like winning twice on a single play. The problem with using emptied beer bottles is that you have to clean the empties (which is one of the many examples of the janitorial aspects of homebrewing). [Warning to those trying this at home: the dish soap by the sink in the picture above isn't what I used for the bottle-cleaning, and it isn't what you want to use either--Oxiclean is a better bet]

Washing bottles isn't glamorous or exciting, but it's something you have to do if you ever want to drink your beer. It's the little tedious jobs like washing bottles that make the exciting jobs like boiling your wort pay off with actual drinking of yummy beer.

I think that principle may apply more widely than just making beer.

Labor Day Labors

Labor Day is a great day to take a break, enjoy a three-day weekend, and maybe enjoy a drink while mourning the passing of yet another summer. Labor Day is also a day to pause to think about how much better Americans' lives are because of the labor movement in America. Thanks to the miracle of education, I went from being a hillbilly to being an overeducated hillbilly. By virtue of a some fancy pieces of paper, I suddenly had job options beyond farming in the Ozarks or working construction. I did plenty of manual labor growing up and on my way through college; I've honestly been covered in more pig shit than most people have ever smelled. Upon graduation, though, I passed through the veil from the land of those who shower after work to those who shower before work. There's honor and dignity on both sides of the veil, but I'm here to tell you: life is a hell of a lot easier on the side I now inhabit, not the one I came from.

I only got the privilege of getting an education because my great-grandparents decided that some branch of their family tree was going to have a better life. Grandpa joined the Teamsters, and together he and Grandma put part of those union-wages away to send at least some of their grandchildren off to college. That started the wheels of fate machine turning, and now you have me here blogging at you across the interweb.

It's dangerous to romanticize the past, and I know my great-grandfather was no saint. Still, I believed him when he told me about the working conditions he had endured. I felt the injustice of him being swindled out of wages he had earned by a wealthy man in town. I appreciate what he did for me down through the years. He and other men and women worked hard to make our country a better place, and a fairer place.

On this Labor Day, remember those who labored to get us here.


Expecting the unexpected

I had to deal with a flat tire yesterday. Changing a tire wasn't on my plan at all. Flat tires aren't usually a big deal, but problems with the spare turned this tire change into a much bigger adventure than anyone would have expected, even if you were some hyper-prepared person who expected the flat tire. With a bit of improvisation, a couple of stymied would-be helpers, and crawling around in a dusty gravel pit alongside the road for an hour or so, the automotive situation was at least acceptable.

When we made it home, I hopped into the shower and watched puddles of sludge form around the drain. The afternoon of kicking around town with my wife had turned into a bigger adventure than I'd bargained for. When I emerged fresh-scrubbed and unsure what to do with my evening, I saw Kelly had left an opened bottle of beer for me without me even noticing.

The unexpected beer made all the crawling around in the dirt and gravel okay. We don't always need to expect the unexpected. Sometimes we can just roll with it.

First loves and flings

We all remember our first love. I met mine not long after I arrived at a fancy-schmancy college out east. I was too young, but that wasn't the sort of thing a college kid worried about back then. More than a thousand miles separated me from the only home I had ever known, and distance wasn't the only veil between me and the Ozarks just then. I was open to a new experience, and did I ever get one.

Few of us stick with our first loves exclusively. Other loves come along soon enough--at least they did for me. After that first time, my eyes were opened to exotic possibilities I'd never dreamed existed. Some were just flings, really, brief dalliances that left me the better for the experience even if the relationship had no chance to last. I regret none of them.

Tonight I am returning to my first love, at least as far as beer is concerned. I had no idea how good beer could be until I had my first bottle of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The beer my high school friends had worked so hard to lay hands on never seemed worth the effort to me. I would drink one or two to get along with my pals who had put so much effort into acquiring it, but I was never tempted to drink enough of that pale, tasteless stuff to get drunk. Sam Adams was different. It had flavor and smelled oh so good that I wanted to keep drinking it at a rate I soon learned was higher than advisable.

I was in love with beer, for the very first time. I've tried a lot of different beers since then, and I've even brewed my own. Truth be told, I've drank beers better than Boston Lager, but none of those other beers will ever replace my first beer love.

I picked up a six pack on the way home tonight. For old times' sake.

Waiting for a train

I got stuck at a railroad crossing on the way home today. I texted my wife to complain as I watched shipping containers roll by. As I sat there fretting about the minutes of my evening slipping away with the boxcars, my mind drifted to a story of a train ride my great-grandmother used to tell me about, a ride she made when she was younger than my daughters are now. I thought of the man she found waiting for her at the station. When she was a girl back before prohibition when the 20's were just beginning to roar, Grandma's parents owned the saloon in town. A drinking establishment on a railroad line was a good business in those days. Grandma's folks were as blue-blooded as hillbillies get, coming from the decidedly better stock in town. As the only child of a well-to-do family, Grandma was expected to marry well.

When a rough farm boy "won her in a fight," as she described it, her mother disapproved. Grandma, though, she liked that farm boy. He'd bloodied a fancier boy's nose to win her favor, and that counted for something back then, at least as she told the story. When her mother forbade her from seeing him anymore, the young couple hopped a train to elope to a bigger town a little further down the line.

The young lovers got off the train at their destination, and Grandma's heart sank when she saw a man with a star on his chest waiting at the station. She knew her mother must have called ahead, the tavern being one of the few places in town with one of those new-fangled telephones. She and her lover tried to dodge around the constable in the crowd, but the lawman walked right up to them. He asked if they were eloping. Grandma's farm boy answered yes, as brave as he dared.

"Well then," the officer said, "I'll take you down to the courthouse for the paperwork."

Turned out, in those days there were so many young women from little towns in the hills marrying boys without parental approval that the justice of the peace had someone meet every train at the station. That way, there was someone to show the young couples to the court house. I guess it wouldn't do to have young couples from the little hamlets in the hill wandering around lost. Grandpa and Grandma were married that very day.

I only knew my great-grandparents when they were an old couple puttering around the house they'd built with money earned from hard years of farming and working in factories. Prohibition and vindictiveness had left Grandma without an inheritance. The years of toil had stooped both of them by the time I came along, but I like to imagine them as they were once, back when they hopped a train without thought to who would be waiting for them.

This evening, I gave my wife an extra squeeze in memory of my great-grandparents. I didn't bloody anyone's nose, though.