December 25, 2017

A Very Merry Christmas!

I want to share a story about the gifts my wife and I exchanged this Christmas (2017). I hope our readers will appreciate the back stories that make our gift giving meaningful and memorable. And if any of this inspires your gift-giving, then I really have accomplished my purpose. 

Big Picture: My wife (Mary Alyse Butler-Smith) and I exchanged branding irons this Christmas. I commissioned mine this Fall to be made by a welder/friend in Beagle, Kansas near PeCanaan Land. Then it dawned on me I needed to find a brand suitable for the Missus! I found Ferrum Studios in Colorado who went a thousand miles above and beyond to create a memorable, personal gift. Now, enjoy the back story.

[Message from me to the Krems, owners of Ferrum Studios - fabricator of snowflake brand. I sent this message to them just after ordering the brand.]

I'd like to tell you a story about brands that I hope will encourage you in your
My dad worked his own brand
out of his initials - CAS.
In this case, he hand carved a Texas cowboy boot
and wood burned his brand in front.
work. I was born and raised in Alaska to parents who were both from Texas. My dad loved to collect brands (just the symbol, not actual branding irons) of ranches in Texas. I wanted to be like Dad. As a six-year old child, when we traveled down to TX, I carried a 3x5 card and pencil with me. When I would see a "long, tall Texan" (basically anyone wearing a Stetson hat and cowboy boots), I'd walk up to him and ask for the brand of his outfit. Dad eventually made a small box for dominoes and wood burned our brands all over it.

The brand my dad
designed for me.
My initials are CHS. Dad pondered for a long time how to form them into a brand. Finally, in the last few years of his life Dad figured out an elegant solution - he arranged the letters as if they were three slices of pie.

I use the logo extensively in print and in some of my online work, but it never dawned on me to actually make a branding iron out of the logo. A month ago, I asked a welder friend to fabricate one for me. I'll pick it up this week. My wife gets to claim credit for it and is giving it to me for Christmas.

I'm left looking for a great gift for her. She loves snow. So, I scoured the
My dad worked my initials into a logo/brand
and then carved them into the top piece
of this small "grandfather clock".
internets and found your branding iron.

Matching branding irons for Christmas! So glad I found you guys. I'll be promoting you on my Facebook page... after Christmas. Sorry, can't let the cat out of the bag before then.

Wish you the very best!

[Message from the Krems to me]

Hi Clark!

What a nice way to start our morning...I read your email while sipping coffee and just had tears streaming down my face. Even my husband was so touched. Your touching email sparked an hour long conversation between us (my husband and myself) reminiscing about my husband’s late father and what he treasures now and even what he treasured as a young boy.

What a touching story and we love, absolutely love hearing these poignant and sentimental stories. Your brand is absolutely stunning...just stunning. Even more special your father created it.

We have made the snowflake for your lucky wife. Given the sentiment of branding irons, we took the artistic liberty of upgrading her handle. I hope you don't mind but given there is sentiment smothered all around this Christmas for you, we wanted to put a little dash of you into her brand. The fact that Texas was such a big part of your upbringing, we had a handle forged out of a horseshoe into a heart. Texas...Stetson hats...cowboys...I can only imagine there were a few horses there somewhere.  I hope you don't mind but we wanted to do something nice for you, for her and to pass something special on.

Hope she absolutely loves it! We're shipping it out first thing tomorrow so you should have it by the end of this week.

If you were here I'd hug you. You truly made our day that much more special.

Stacy and Kurt Krems

[My message back to the Krems]

Well, guess who's crying now? I'm so touched. I'm sitting beside my wife in our living room, gasping, and all I can say is "I can't wait for Christmas!" Thank you so much for listening to my little story and understanding what is important to me. You captured the sentiment perfectly. Yes, there were horses involved!

I was born when my dad was 45. I went away to college and rarely saw my folks until my dad passed away at age 72 in 1986. In a lot of ways, I feel like I am finally discovering my dad through these shards of memories and unique experiences. Obviously, you fully understand how these branding irons are a long, strong hug with my dad. He would be so proud of me.

Thank you again, very very much.

Can't wait for Christmas!!

And now... the branding irons:

Alyse with snowflake branding iron.
Note the horseshoe heart handle!

CHS with CHS

May 6, 2017

One Kansas Farmer

For almost forty years, the Kansas Agri-Women Association has honored the Kansas farmer by
This sign is typical of the 1999-era signs.
erecting highway billboards across the Sunflower State.

When the billboards were launched in 1978, one Kansas farmer was feeding 55 people + YOU! 

By 1999, it was up to 128.

By 2012, the Association undertook a new round of updating the signs, this time to 155!

The ever-increasing productivity of the farmer is a tribute to the ability of the farmer to adapt and employ new methods - often using fewer resources (seed, water, fertilizer, etc). Today, even though the number of farmers has dropped dramatically over the last few decades, their ability to feed a hungry world is an amazing, praise-worthy accomplishment.

We encourage you to celebrate the Kansas farmer… who feeds 155 people + YOU!

We're fortunate to have a reproduction of the classic roadside sign painted by a friend of mine, Rebecca Gabriel. It proudly hangs in our kitchen, overlooking the fabulous fare Kansas farmers have provided us.

Now, for the last chapter in this story, I was tickled silly when I got a personalized license plate with my favorite theme!

For more spiritual insights on the importance of this sign, please visit my blog post "Pray For Rain".

March 7, 2017

Winter Is Work!

Although the trees, the bees, and the flowers are all enjoying a long winter nap, there is still work to do at PeCanaan Land. We bought a mower in December.
Yup, that's a mower. And even at five feet wide it still takes a long time to knock down 12 acres of undergrowth. Without animals grazing down the pasture, nature wants to take over and return the land to a plot full of woody plants with no real value. We need to mow to keep the land from reverting to forest. The mower is slow, but there is a faster way...
You can always set the place on fire! ACCIDENTALLY. The winter has been dry and a cozy little campfire became a prairie fire in no time at all. The wonderful men of Miami County Fire Department came out and saved our behinds.

Back to mowing...

The creek is in the middle of the mowed sections and there's not much to do about the brush along the banks. But you can see where we've mowed. There are patches of wild roses and thick willow saplings that have grown up to 2" thick. The mower is knocking 'em down and making the place look beautiful.
Looking back the other direction. New shooting range installed. But all is not work at PeCanaan Land. We must occasionally take a break.

January 14, 2017

The Beginning of a Great Tradition

As I mentioned in my last post, on PeCanaan Land we are dedicating a tree for each of our children and grandchildren. The day before Thanksgiving 2016, all eleven Smiths made the first pilgrimage together to PL.

We pre-selected Enoch's tree because it was ideally suited for a big-boy swing which was patiently awaiting his arrival.

Noah and Tiffany selected a beautiful tree near-by for Annalyse.

Isaac and Heather picked a tree for Caleb that overlooks the creek and is ideally suited for treehouse.

Farther out in the main meadow is a small grove of four trees that will be designated Isaac, Noah, Joshua, Gideon. And later this year, we'll begin to name The Elders, a special row of stately old pecans that watch over PeCanaan Land day and night.

November 20, 2016

PeCanaan Land 2.0

If you're new to this blog, drop down and check out a couple of the recent posts. This post is just to share some of the activities and "progress" we're attempting at PeCanaan Land.
We love our bees. Two hives produced about 150 pounds of honey in the 2016 season. Can't wait to see what the girls will do next year! Oh, and they love the Union Pacific train, too! Next, suited up for beekeeping.

The Autumn harvest. 45 pounds of very floral, aromatic honey.

The bees love our PeCanaan Land because of all the wildflowers.
A few years ago, the owners cleared a lot of random trees on the property. There were pine, hedge apple, cedar, oak, and some other (as of yet) undetermined species. All that is left is Pecans! (And a couple stray cedars and black walnuts that are about to get axed.) Unfortunately, the dumb-dummy owners had the timber piled up in three ponds on the property. So, our quest has become clearing the ponds. And that means a LOT of work. 
We bought a Ford 8n tractor to help with the heavy lifting.

We call this "base camp". No telling what will evolve here over time, but this is the place of fire and that means this is where we will gather and starting making memories we hope will bless our generations farther than we can imagine.
Last entry. Along the southern edge of our PeCanaan Land is a 350 foot long line of giant, old pecan trees. There are 14 trees spaced from about 25 to 40 feet apart. The "average" tree in the rest of PeCanaan Land is not more than 3 feet in circumference. The trees in this southern grove range from 7 feet all the way up to 11 feet around!! (The largest in Kansas is 15 feet.) These giants look out north over the rest of their progeny like guardians, sentinels.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet The Elders.
They will each be named for loved ones and dear friends who have benevolently watched over and blessed our lives.
(There is a total lack of scale and perspective in this photo. The tree in the foreground is the oldest and largest. 11 feet in circumference. I'll work at getting a proper image.)

September 27, 2016

PeCanaan Land

Note the beehives in the background!

We just adopted a little plot of land near Beagle, Kansas,
and the property is full of pecan trees.
There is a place in this world, a place called Canaan, Canaan Land.
That land was described in the Bible as "flowing with milk and honey".
Our place is PeCanaan Land... flowing with ilk* and honey.
(* - ilk... "of our kind")
And beside the pecans and family, I land is buzzing with beez, honey beez!

July 10, 2016

Wheat Center

WHEAT CENTER mural in Hoisington, Kansas

In 1984, I saw an exhibition of Grant Wood paintings in San Francisco. For me, it was breathtaking. Wood's subject matter and unique composition were completely new to me. As an Alaskan/Texan, I saw the self-reliant, industrious American Midwest for the very first time. (I didn't know yet, but at that very moment, I had fallen in love with the Midwest.) 

In recent years, my wife and I began to express our love for the Midwest (and Kansas, in particular) through weekend jaunts across region. Photos and local diners are our rewards for our journeys. They can be yours, too, if you'll get out there!

Among the many treats that Kansas holds for us is what is generally known as "Post Office Section Art", large murals installed in post offices and other public buildings. These murals celebrate the local culture and were intended to inspire and uplift folks slogging through the Depression. 

As soon as I discovered that the murals existed and I began to explore them online, the Hoisington mural stood out. Titled "Wheat Center", the mural shows a community working together to finish the wheat harvest. There is both urgency and celebration to be seen in this mural. All the wheat is cut, threshing is going smoothly, the end is in sight. The regional economy is safe... this year. Faith and hard work are rewarded.

The mural was painted by Dorothea Tomlinson in 1938. The beauty, the genius of  Tomlinson's mural is in it's composition as well as it's subject. The hot-air-balloon's-eye-view captures the broad scope of a region's industry. Where have I seen that technique before? Ah, in San Francisco at the Grant Wood exhibition! Tomlinson's style is clearly similar to Wood's... and it should be. In 1932, Tomlinson studied under Wood at the art school he founded - Stone City Art Colony. Dorothea Tomlinson is the beautiful link that connects my adoration of Grant Wood and my love of agricultural industry of Kansas (and the Midwest at large).

If it possible to make the experience even more special, I took this picture of the mural on July 9,
2016. At the very moment I took the mural picture, the skies all over western Kansas were tinted the color of wheat chaff. The wheat harvest was in full swing, just as depicted in the mural, only mechanized.

Postscript: I took the mural photo at about 6:00pm. The late summer sun splashed off the sidewalk and flooded onto the left side of the photo. It is far from ideal. The sad thing about all these great murals across Kansas and the Midwest is that there are not many "professional" images available (not online, anyway). I am happy to send you a 2meg file of this image if you request one. If you know of a collection of large format images, or even a coffee table book, please email me.

Thank you for sharing this treasure with me.

March 14, 2016

March 2016 Update

Thanks for dropping by my site.

I find March to be a period of hopeful anticipation. The holidays are over and Alyse and I have quite an ambitious agenda of travel lined up for the coming months.

But first, we have to "finish" working on the house. We began remodeling upstairs bathroom, hallway, and stairs... oh, back in September. We are both babies of the family, great at making plans and staring projects, but terrible at finishing the job. Trying to sweep up the details in March.

Isaac and Heather (and baby-to-be) are coming in April, then we have a number of destinations around Kansas and Missouri to visit. Along with art fairs and air shows scattered across the Midwest this summer, we have a trip to Utah planned and the soon-to-be-famous California Sip-N-See Tour to meet our two new grandeez - one in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco.

If you haven't already, find me at Facebook and let's be friends.