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After thirty-four years in Topeka (by far the longest I've ever lived anywhere), I continue to enjoy being able to live - with my husband, Ron  - on thirty-five acres of native grass and trees just west of Topeka. Our house is set back over six hundred feet from the road, separated from it by about fifteen acres of native grass (amazingly expensive to plant, but great when established). Ron is a psychologist, just recently retired from Washburn. As of mid-May 2009 I'm done with my own three-year phased retirement at Washburn.

This great Washburn ease-into-retirement program let us slow down significantly before we could really afford to quit work entirely. And what that showed us both is that we really enjoy working - some. Thus both of us decided, part way through our phases, that we wanted to keep on doing some teaching even once fully "separated" (WU-speak for retired). Luckily we were already well entrenched as online teachers, and so able to sign up to keep on doing online teaching.

But being part-time retired has also meant more time to travel together as well as just hang around our shared acreage.

Image: closeup of my husband, Ron
spacer.gif Image: Ron & me in St. Augustine, Florida April 2003
Closeup of Ron in his WU office, and the two of us Spring 2003 in St. Augustine

Image: Ron & Me at Pebble Beach, California January 2002
The two of us January 2001 at Pebble Beach, CA

Ron, on Brooklyn Bridge
Ron, Brooklyn Bridge mid-point, 2003

Sara, on Brooklyn Bridge
Sara, Brooklyn Bridge mid-point, 2003

Ron, Sara at Golf World Hall of Fame near Jacksonville 2003
Ron in Jacksonville garden
Ron in a Jacksonville garden 2003

Ron and Sara next to Davis California's famous giant tomato statue
Ron and Sara outside the Davis (CA) Food Co-op, January 2007
We're standing next to a piece of famous local bronze art -
"Portrait of a Plump Tomato" which, appropriately enough in a major
ag studies center, is botanically correct

Ron at Albuquerque station
While being there is always great, a good part of our west coast traveling fun
comes from taking Amtrak's Southwest Chief train. Here's Ron in 2008 standing
in front of the new Albuquerque train station - nice day for February!

Although travel is definitely exciting and fun, so is a lot of what goes on out on our land. Each summer we grow a good stand of grass and then in late summer a neighboring farmer cuts and bales it to keep down the danger of spring grass fires (he eventually takes the bales, and we get the cutting for free). Sometimes he also does a controlled burn of our fields in spring, which not only takes care of the danger of an uncontrolled fire, but also promotes better new grass growth.

image: wide view of distant house
Distant view of our house, taken facing north across bare winter fields

Image: View from our house, looking south across fields
Summer view from a front window, looking south across bailed fields 

backfire being started
Backfire being started, spring 2006, prior to main front fields being burned

front fields right after being burned
Right after the burn - view looking south down our driveway
meadow flowers closeup
Meadow flowers that came up lush after the burn - it worked!

I'm very much just an amateur photographer, but have fun trying to capture the different faces of our land. The first photo below is of our house just as the sunset was picking up the early fall color in some of the trees. The second photo, taken standing in the middle of our drive, looks just about straight west towards our neighbors, an electrical co-op home office. If you look closely you can see their high tower plus one of our area water towers. The low sun also highlights some tall grass heads. These are regrowths, following mid-summer cutting and baling, made possible by the rains that finally came after a summer of real drought weather.

Our house just at the beginning of sunset

Another sunset, looking west from halfway up our drive

Indoors we our incumbent cat is named Mrs. Muir. She was adopted March 1999 from our local Topeka Helping Hands Humane Shelter as a successor to my beloved cat Clio, who died earlier that spring at the venerable age of nineteen. From the beginning Mrs. M. showed every sign of having been a house cat, and certainly has made herself at home with us, both indoors and out, as the picture below shows.

Our big adventure 2000-2001 was adding on to our house to house a countercurrent exercise pool plus assorted other pieces of exercise equipment. Our theory is that we must exercise in order to crumble into old age more slowly, and the only hope for doing that is to have the necessary equipment right at hand. To read more about it, go to Building a "Pool Room".

Despite - or perhaps because of - all the excitements that it brings, country living is a continuing delight. Mostly we just plain like the extra elbow room. Beyond the front grass acres, our house is set among masses of well-established cedars, cottonwoods, elms, locusts, etc, plus a few oaks, redbuds, maples and flowering trees planted over the last five years. Thanks to all these trees, once at our house we can't see neighboring people, and they can't see us. This gives us all the living space that you can't get in the city, but we've still got modern city-style easy living thanks to a septic field, a propane tank, city water plus electric and phone lines.

Because we provide both year-round ice-free water in outdoor fish pools and multiple ground and hanging seed and syrup feeders, we get a very good variety of wild visitors that are fun to watch. These include all sorts of birds plus squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, deer, coyotes and less commonly badgers, skunks and even a few sightings of bobcats. Winter is especially good for coyote-watching as they come to where we pile seed at the edge of the woods (about 150 feet away), but sometimes also to a ground-bird feeding patch only 50 feet from the house.

Image: 3 coyotes eating seed through snow
3 coyotes at a seed patch, winter 2000 spacer

4 young coyotes eating seed summer 2002

Image: closeup of raccoon family feeding
5 raccoons gather to eat seed fallen from hanging feeder

Deer and raccoons often come during prime daylight viewing hours.  Above is a May 2001 photo of two who came up quite close to the house. The picture was taken through our breakfast room window, which is just about the only one without a screen, thus permitting clearer photos  The closer of the two deer is eating right out of a hanging feeder. This is despite the fact that there is usually lots of seed also available on the ground.  She then also paused to drink out of the birdbath that shows up just behind her.

Meanwhile deer continue to offer photo opportunities. I finally managed to get a shot of a little deer drinking out of the birdbath (above, left).  A day or two later yet another deer obligingly posed in a patch of sunlight in front of what is almost always the deers' first stop, the most distant seed patch located right at the edge of the woods. All of these deer probably were born and have lived all their lives in and around our acres. Over the years we've seen lots of fawns brought by their mothers to eat at our feeders. We look forward to seeing them come back as yearlings, either on their own or still in company of bigger does. This cycle keeps us trudging out, year round, with buckets of seed plus occasional other goodies.

Raccoons continue to be some of our other most frequent visitors.  They are always fun to watch interact with what are officially bird feeders, but regularly serve also as raccoon feeders. Below are a few summer 2003-2006 photos of raccoons busy eating seed at various feeding places around our house. 

Despite all our wild animals we're also only minutes from the interstate and by it, fifteen minutes from just about anywhere in Topeka. And for occasional escapes from Topeka, Lawrence and the University of Kansas are just a half an hour away, while KCI airport is just eighty-five miles away and Amtrak trains stop right here in Topeka, if you don't mind catching one in the middle of the night (which we've now gotten used to).

This is all a change from my pre-Kansas days. I started out a "city girl," growing up mostly in the Washington, DC area, and before that Chicago, Minneapolis and Durham, North Carolina.  But I'm also reclaiming my roots. My Tucker grandmother grew up just north of the Kansas line on a farm outside of Falls City, Nebraska, while my Jones grandmother came from a very small town (Grafton) in Ohio. Plus I've been heading west into the center of the country for quite a while as I went to college in the small town of Oberlin, Ohio, and to Indiana University (Bloomington) for graduate school. And I wouldn't change any of it!

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