Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Three reunions

The boys have been in Kansas through July, while Meg went east to visit a brother and nephews in Mississippi, then still farther east to visit friends and attend her 20th high school reunion.

By coincidence, Joe's high school reunion was the same day. It wasn't a round anniversary for his graduating class, but various movers and shakers had gotten together and planned a reunion for all years. So, while he graduated with a tiny class of 30-some students, the reunion swamped the tiny town of Spearville with hundreds of alumni and their families. They had a huge festival, dinner and dance, with smaller side events for individual classes.

Meanwhile, back in Maryland, less than 100 of the over 500 graduates of Eleanor Roosevelt High School Class of 1990 met at a bar for an evening of drinks, snacks, and lots of laughs and hugs. Ours was a Facebook-based meetup, with only a few people attending who don't use Facebook and had learned about the event from friends.

Joe's reunion was organized primarily through mailings, word-of-mouth, and old-fashioned networks of written and telephone correspondence with friends and relatives. There were some e-mails and even Facebook communication, so the broadcast signal was across all traditional correspondence and modern networking bands.

The contrast in attendance between the reunions wasn't solely an effect of the information channels used, but it does suggest that social networking sites aren't anywhere close to replicating the value and effectiveness of our real-life networks. And it really shows the power of virtual networks to practically exclude large segments of our communities from the social reinforcement of rituals and other shared experiences.

The third reunion is tomorrow, when Meg flies back to Kansas to meet the boys who were so much younger at the beginning of the month.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Kinsley, KS

Now that we have no house near Spearville, we were challenged to find somewhere to park our home while we're visiting for the summer. There aren't any state park campgrounds close enough to be practical.

As summertime temperatures are regularly over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Western Kansas, we needed to be hooked up to electricity so we could use the air conditioning. For a month-long visit I prefer to hook up to a spigot, instead of filling and re-filling the fresh water tank. And when we're using more than a tankful of water, a sewer hookup keeps us from having to pack and move just to flush the tanks. So it's just as well that we had little choice but to stay at a commercial RV park. (Commercial campgrounds more consistently offer "full" electric/water/sewer hookups).

The nearest RV parks are about 15 miles west, in Dodge City, and about 20 miles east, in Kinsley. Since Kinsley is a much smaller town, and we'd passed the RV park and thought it looked nice, we went east. Four Aces RV park is grassy and has a few nice, shady back-in spots as well as ten pull-throughs with concrete pads. The folks there are friendly as all get-out, and the rates are reasonable, with weekly and monthly discounts. Yes, we had to drive some 20 miles to Spearville to meet up with friends, but we combined all errands into no more than one daily trip (as we usually did when living in the country).

Kinsley is about twice the size of Spearville and well under one-tenth the population of Dodge. You can walk around most of the town in half an hour. The grocery store is open seven days a week and has a bit more of a food selection that the Merc in Spearville [though it is primarily a food store, without the "little bit of everything" department store half that distinguishes the Merc].

We enjoyed the Kinsley library and appreciated the town's always-open recycling drop-off point. They accept a variety of cardboard, paper, plastics, glass and metal. Dodge City also has a drop-off recycling program, and Spearville has a once-a-month drop-off. It's nice to see rural communities addressing the problems of resource depletion and waste and with programs like this.

Like many of the old towns on the railroad, downtown Kinsley is a mix of empty storefronts and active businesses. One rather crumbly but lovable little treasure we discovered is the Palace movie theater, where they show current movies for a reasonable price, on a tiny screen. The seats are terribly worn and the decor is vintage, if a bit sad. It's pretty sweet all the same.

Spearville, Kansas

Joe grew up in the country a few miles outside of Spearville, Kansas. We lived for a few years on a nearby farmstead that had been in his family a hundred years ago. And Billy started kindergarten at the grade school in Spearville.

When we became full-time RVers, the kids were anxious to know how they would keep up their relationships with friends in Spearville. We decided we should return for a couple of months a year to the closest thing they have to a hometown.

Summer in western Kansas doesn't really fit our overall travel scheme of following the fine weather. It's hella hot at harvest time (June-July). But other considerations make summertime in Spearville the logical choice. The town kids are available for play in all the hours they'd normally be in school or doing homework. Harvest is kind of exciting. And the pool is open.

The boys learned to swim at the Spearville pool, and their love of the water is a big part of what makes beaches and warm springs so fun to visit all winter long. There are same-age kids that Billy, Leo, and Karl can each relate to and have fun with, and all the kids drift into and out of mixed-age groups in their play. It's a great scene for informal acquisition of social skills and interpersonal awareness. Joe gets in some relaxation and socializing, bringing the kids for at least a few hours almost every day. Sometimes Meg comes along, though she usually opts for walking around town, visiting the library, or just staying home. (The place we're calling "home" for these weeks is the subject of the next blog entry.)

Spearville has a handful of businesses and services, including our beloved Windmill Restaurant, two sole branch community banks, the township Library and the Spearville Mercantile ("The Merc"), which serves as our primary source of groceries when we're in town. The Merc is half grocery, half old-fashioned department store, with toys, hardware, fabrics, and jewelry. I've often been surprised at the arcane items they carry -- we once needed a replacement weight for an older-model pressure cooker, and there we found it, neatly filed with the other pressure cooker parts.

Spearville is also home to a wind farm, built in 2006. Joe was so absorbed in the construction and start-up of this project that anytime we were in town (almost every day of the week, that is), he insisted on driving a wide circuit to the various sites where the turbines were being anticipated, stored, assembled, and tested. He still can't take his eyes off the windmills for long -- our game on the way to town is always "Guess how many windmills are turning!" (Usually at least 2 or 3 are being serviced.)

With alternative energy the hot topic it is these days, little towns like Spearville are popping into the spotlight, becoming the subjects of board meetings, hosting community information sessions, and spawning activists for and against the boon or curse of proposed wind farms. The towns that succeed in attracting wind farms earn grants and income from the companies that harvest the rural wind to power the urban machine back east.

It was rather disappointing this year to see that no progress has been made on the second phase of the project, which would double the size of the wind farm. Sadly, the windmill towers, generators, and blades were delivered over a year ago, and here they sit, a huge investment in materials awaiting funding and scheduling to become productive.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Right and wrong and sphere of influence

This may be a rant. I had been considering a blog post about a recent "teachable moment", and the perfect counterpoint story has dropped into my lap. So out it comes.

The Friendly Atheist blog recently discussed a commentary on the Christian site called WorldNet Daily. The blog and the commentary address the recent vandalism of a billboard in North Carolina that originally said "One Nation Indivisible". The vandalism added the words "UNDER GOD" and an insertion arrow.

Chrissy Satterfield's commentary on WorldNetDaily is titled, "My kind of vandals". She calls the anonymous vandal a hero, and thanks others who have vandalized "atheist" billboards. But I don't have to cherry-pick her post for its approving, nay, admiring tone to shine through. Please click to it and read it.

Now, here's my story of another vandalized sign:

Driving from Kinsley to Spearville one morning, we saw that someone had vandalized a campaign sign for congressman Jerry Moran. A bright orange "o" had been sloppily sprayed over the "a" on the simple "Moran" sign. I blush to admit that in the first moment, our reactions were as though someone had made a joke. But immediately I realized that I didn't really find the altered sign funny, and I owed my kids the truth. I apologized for my crass example, and then we talked about vandalism, making fun of someone's name, and creating ugliness.

Vandalism = stealing
Someone paid for that sign. Ruining the sign puts the owner in the position of having to replace it, repair it, or accept its alteration. In effect, the vandal has stolen the sign from the owner (and likely trespassed on the property where the sign is displayed). Stealing, as we all know, is illegal and morally unacceptable. Vandalism is equally illegal and wrong.

Making fun of someone's given name
It is mean to make fun of people's names. Our names are personal, we have them for a long time (usually our whole lives), and we identify closely with them. Hurtful wordplay on someone's name helps no one, and only reflects poorly on the teaser. The same is true of any ad hominem attack. We grew up in a culture that allowed and encouraged that kind of nastiness. We try to curb it in ourselves and in the kids by talking about it every time it comes up and reiterating that it has no place in a civil society or in a mature personality.

Leaving an ugly mess
The original sign was nicely done. The vandalism made it ugly. Even if the person who vandalized it had originally purchased and erected the sign, and even if it hadn't used malicious humor playing on a person's name for its message, it would have been trashy looking! This may seem like a minor nitpick, but I think it is important, after the other points. If you're going to make a statement, make a beautiful statement, not an ugly one! Make a classy statement, make something to be proud of. Ugly gets attention, but it eats at our happiness. Don't litter!

If you want to express your disagreement with a politician, buy your own dang sign, express something with substance, and do it with a speck of art. If you choose this vandal's method, you're being a clumsy, childish criminal.

Finally, we highlighted the irrelevance of Jerry Moran's importance and our opinion of him. The crime was a crime regardless of politics. The offense was an offense against society.

I'm just a mom. I made a point of using this crime to teach my kids something about right and wrong.

Chrissy Satterfield is a commentator on a huge Christian news and information site, and this is how she uses her position of influence:
Never would I encourage vandalism, but in this case I think I'll let it slide.
I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the man or woman responsible for this vandalism. I appreciate the action you took. 

How many of Chrissy Satterfield's readers will feel encouraged to commit and condone crimes against atheists and their property? How many will extend that "logic" to crimes against gays, muslims, jews, or any other group or individual that dares exist, that dares speak? Perhaps she will belatedly apologize for her crass example. But at her volume, the damage is already done.

I'm teaching my kids morality and ethics. What are you teaching yours?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kansas State Parks

We spent a few weeks in May at Crawford Lake State Park. The campground was shady, grassy and spacious, and there were lots of places to throw in a line. There was a good road all the way around the lake, with nice farm and lake views, deer grazing, frogs croaking - perfect for riding bikes or walking every day. Since school was still in session across the state, and the park is out-of-the-way, it was fairly empty and extremely peaceful. It's our new favorite Kansas campground.

Crawford is proud of its CCC heritage, and has a nice memorial and interpretive stations with grand statistics and amusing slice-of-life accounts of the community that built the dam. A lot of the state parks we've stayed in were originally CCC camps. We always enjoy reading about the lives of the men who lived and worked there, and seeing the architecture that remains.

There were loads of birds, too. Most prized were the scissor-tailed flycatchers, first in what turned out to be the "spring of scissor-taileds" -- we saw more than we've ever seen this year, while roving around eastern Kansas. Here's a list of most of the birds we saw at Crawford, with apologies for any non-standard nomenclature:

Canada goose
Bald eagle
Red-tailed hawk
Great blue heron
Ducks (no idea)
Common nighthawk
Orchard oriole
Northern oriole
Red-bellied woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker
Red-headed woodpecker
Swifts and swallows
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Eastern kingbird
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Eastern wood-peewee
Eastern bluebird
Blue grosbeak
Yellow warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler
Black and white warbler
Black-capped chickadee
Tufted titmouse
Brown thrasher
Wood thrush
Summer tanager
Grasshopper sparrow
Tree sparrow
Carolina wren

We also spent a few nights each at Hillsdale Lake State Park, and Clinton Lake State Park. We met up with friends for a camping weekend at Clinton Lake Recreation Area (Corps of Engineers side). Mostly we just relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful spring.

Frugal tip: If you camp in Kansas more than a few weeks out of the year, it's worth buying an annual camping pass for Kansas State Parks (in addition to the annual state parks vehicle entrance pass). It pays for the basic camping fee, so that you only pay campsite premiums (for season and/or prime location) and electric/water premiums. This means that after the first twenty nights or so, we were camping for free, or for a few dollars a night when we got crazy and wanted to use the vacuum cleaner.