Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Just Another Day

Today began with sleeping in.  Andrew and I stayed up too late watching catch-up episodes of some of our favorite shows.  Once he left for work I ran into town to drop off some donations at our towns re-sale shop.  I love taking stuff there.  The staff is kind and always has a moment to share small talk.
When I brought in my couple of boxes one of the ladies came over to take them.
"Are they heavy?"
"No, it isn't heavy," I said, as I handed the boxes to her.
"Yes they are!" I quickly helped her put them on the ground near a sorting table.
"Sorry,  I didn't think they were that heavy."
Another staff member came toward us, "Don't worry about her," she said with a smile.
"Oh, I forget that sometimes I lift more than others without thinking about it."  My family has a nickname for me, Powerful Katrina, a nickname from my grandfather.  He first called my mom Powerful Katrina, eventually I took on the moniker.
I thanked the ladies and returned home.  Here is the view I had as I drove up:Item Thumbnail 

I never seem to get tired of looking at the farm as I drive home.  My phone doesn't have the ability to take the shots my eyes see.  The sun was shining behind the barn, illuminating the snow on the tin roofs.  The red paint on the outside of the buildings stood out in sharp contrast.  I could have stayed on the side of the road for a long time looking at the property.  There is something about coming home, it settles my spirit, bringing instant contentment.

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Some of our pine trees near the house.
 For dinner tonight I made an amazing meal.  I took chicken breasts and cut them into chunks, cooking them in a bit of olive oil and butter.  I put a tablespoon of Mrs. Dash's original blend and some salt and pepper in with the chicken.  After the chicken had cooked a while I added a 1/4 cup of red wine, some caramelized onions and baby carrots from a previous meal.  I let that cook over medium heat and turned to the potatoes I was boiling.  I used The Pioneer Woman Cooks cookbook I just bought for the mashed potatoes.  I put in butter, salt, pepper, and about 2/3 cup of sour cream.  (I didn't have the cream cheese she had in her recipe).  I loved the heartiness and simplicity of what I made.  Sara Lee's Banana Cake was our dessert.  Sara Lee's Banana Cake is my ALL TIME favorite cake-ever!!  My grandparents' house was near Sara Lee and we could smell all of the baking goodies during the summer--yum!

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Look how creamy my potatoes are!!
I can't wait to find more goodies in my new cookbook.  In the meantime, I will enjoy my banana cake.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tom and Huck

The kitchen sink is under two windows that look toward our barn.  I love washing the dishes by hand, setting them to dry in the dish rack.  There is something simple, wholesome, and even sacred about doing dishes this way.  I remember doing dishes in my grandmother's kitchen when I visited.  She had a large dish pan, an aluminum bowl actually, that she would use and then discard the dishwater outside when she was done.  Doing dishes this way makes me smile, it is like therapy to me. 
One morning while doing the dishes I happened to see my two sons, ages 10 and 11, walking side by side, each with his BB gun slung over his shoulder, heads leaning in conspiratorially toward each other.  They were walking toward the lane that goes behind the barn and toward the fields.  I don't know what was shared, but it made my heart happy to see them this way. 
We live on 160 acres, with 40 of it wooded, complete with a pond.  My youngest son, has a bit of Arliss from Old Yeller in him.  If there is an animal to catch he will try to do it.  We seem to be over run with toads, frogs, salamanders, and the occasional garter snake.  I often have to remind him to let the animals "be" and not try to keep them all. "But Mom, I just want to hold it for awhile." I often hear as a response.
The eldest, who sometimes thinks he is 16 instead of almost 12, has been known to disappear and explore yet another place that only a boy would want to discover.  
I often think about what it would have been like to have a girl.  I am grateful for the nieces I have, but all in all, I am blessed to be the mom of boys, even if they seem to possess bits of Mark Twain's rascals....
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Arliss and Travis off to explore the woods

Our Animals

Item ThumbnailThe cattle are gone now, the family that keeps them here took them in the late fall and we won't have any again until spring.  So for now, our animals are simply dogs and a guinea pig.  Well, two guinea pigs, Arliss' class has a guinea pig and we "won" the pig for all of Christmas break.
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Rover waiting to be chased
Our dogs are 5 years old and 2 1/2 years old.  Rover, our Brittany, is 35 pounds and five years old.  He is orange and white, with greying eyebrows and an insatiable desire to chase anything that moves, even a little.  I mean even a couple of inches.  If his chew toy falls off the couch he MUST get up off the couch, pick it up, chew on it, parade around the room to make sure we all see that he has his chew toy, then maybe he will get back up on the couch and lay down again.  Or maybe he will chew on it a little, until Rufus, our black lab, comes along and steals it from him.
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Rover after a romp in our pond
Rufus is 100 pounds of puppy adolescence.  He believes he is a lap dog and cannot understand why Andrew doesn't want him to be on the couch with him.  Could it be that Rufus is big enough to take over the couch?
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Rufus in the hay field 
Rufus likes whatever chewing item is in Rover's mouth.  He doesn't think it is necessary to find his own, instead he knows he needs to have Rover's toy.  We buy two chew toys every time, but as anyone with two toddlers knows, the younger one wants whatever the older one has.
Tonight as I put the dogs' food into their dishes, the guinea pigs started to squeal.  Apparently the sound of dog food going into a dish made them think they needed some too.

Our guinea pig, Katie Bug, is a fat and sassy pig, she loves hay and carrots and will squeal when she thinks she needs more attention.  The classroom guinea pig, S'mores, is a sleek haired pig, with a lot of energy.  She is commonly found on top of her igloo house instead of inside of it.  She likes to squeal whenever she feels like it.  Arliss told me she likes to squeal during spelling tests.  She must think that she needs to make noise when the class is too quiet.

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Rufus taking his first swim in our pond
Rover and Rufus were raised in the suburbs.  Their only experience has been a fenced-in backyard.  Coming to a 160 acre farm has been quite the lesson for them.  We don't have a fence around the farmhouse (kind of hard to fence in a farm), so we tied clothesline to a tree and the dogs can be outside, but not run off.
For a time I allowed the dogs to run outside as long as I was with them, so they could get a taste of their territory.  I don't  do it often and I certainly don't do it at night.  We have coyotes around here and they aren't afraid of humans.  One afternoon I opened the door to let the dogs run and Rover went out like a streak.  I caught a glimpse of brown running near the cornstalks.  Rover was running at a deer's flank and keeping stride with it.  The deer had no idea what to do, by the time I realized what was happening Rufus was out the door as well.  I looked up and down the road to make sure no cars were coming, because Rover was still determined to catch this "thing" that was in his yard.  Across the road, into the neighboring soybean field the dogs ran, suddenly another deer started to run, now Rover and Rufus were after three deer.  There had been two in my yard and another had been waiting in the soybeans.  By the time I got the dogs back in the house, I was out of breath and didn't know whether to beat the dogs or laugh.  I could see the headlines now, "SUBURBAN DOG CATCHES DINNER."
Oh well.  I do know that between Arliss, Travis, and the dogs I will never be bored.  I just wish I could find a way to keep the red hair I have from turning totally white before I turn 42, I know the boys and dogs won't help me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Day With the Menfolk

Today my love announced that we were going shopping.  Our family has been hanging around the house for the past few days and we needed to break out.
The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl [Book]Arliss and Travis had some Christmas money to spend and we wanted to get a few things as well.   Our favorite shopping place begins with a W so we hit there first.  After-season shopping is a tradition.  We've found new dishes, candles, candy, tablecloths, you name it, in the clearance aisles.   This year we found four-wick pine candles that really smell like pine, not that fake wanna-be stuff.  My husband is originally from Colorado, he only wants "real" pine.  My big find was The Pioneer Woman Cooks cookbook.  The Pioneer Woman is one of my favorite websites to visit.  Her cookbook is full of real recipes; not ones full of boxes and cans, but recipes with a cup of this and a teaspoon of that.  I started to read it while we drove to the next store.

The next place we went to was Farm and Fleet; my husband had a late Christmas present in mind for me.  I love Farm and Fleet.  As we walked inside two farmers were leaning against a display catching up with each other.  " So,  did you get that land you put a bid on?"
"Well, no we didn't.  I put a bid of..."
Carhartt Denim Bib Overall / UnlinedAndrew walked straight to the jeans section and stopped in front of the overalls.  Turning he smiled, "So, what's your size in men's?"  We found a pair that works, with the kind of pockets I like.  I prefer the bib to have a large single pocket.  We walked around the store and found a few more goodies.  Andrew found a Farmer's Almanac calendar for me, as well as my favorite red-raspberry candies.  I love red raspberries, they are my favorite fruit of all time.   God could have stopped with red raspberries, oranges, and maybe blueberries.

Anyway.  After our last store it was time to eat.  We found a restaurant called The Machine Shed--think Cracker Barrel with a farming slant.  The lights hung from the ceiling by yokes that once held horses. There were blacksmithing tools hanging on the walls.
Poland-China pig Clipart  On the wall by our booth was a picture of a Poland China Sow, dated 1910.  We spent our time trying to guess just how much this "Lard Brand" sow weighed.  If you can find a Machine Shed restaurant I highly recommend it, the food was amazing.  Arliss and Travis devoured the ribs and I ate most of my chicken-fried steak.  Andrew surprised us all and ordered two 32 ounce root beer floats.  We ate as much as we could and brought home the left-overs.

After coming home I started putting away all of our new treasures and put on my new overalls.  They fit like a glove, Andrew made sure I had all of my tags removed,  I have no desire to look like Minnie Pearl.

It has been a good day.  I always enjoy doing errands with my menfolk.  It makes it even more fun when we find goodies to bring home along the way.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quilting, Quilting, Quilting, part 2

My best friend, Dawn, has been quilting for years.  She made my wedding quilt and Arliss' and Travis' baby quilts.   About a year ago she began making a number of small hexagon pieces of fabric.  For Christmas this year she shared her treasures.  I am now addicted to English Paper Quilting.  In less than a week I have put together over 100 pieces.

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Item ThumbnailTo make the pieces is very easy if you are interested.  The hexagon is called a one inch hexagon; meaning each side of the hexagon is one inch long.   I take a piece of fabric and pin the hexagon to the back side of the fabric.   Once it is pinned I cut the fabric to a little larger than the hexagon.

Item ThumbnailItem ThumbnailI do a stitch that holds down each corner so that the fabric now fits the hexagon shape.  Once I finish I take out the pin.  After I have a number of these hexagons I whip stitch the edges together until I have a larger hexagon.
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Dawn gave me some "wild" fabric so that my pieces would pop with color.  I am not sure how large I am going to make this, but the idea that I could make it to be as big as I want or as small as I want is kind of liberating.

 I can make five a day or twenty-five a day.  It is fun and a great way to feel like I have accomplished something.
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If you are interested in starting your own Paper Piece Quilt go to Thumbnail

Monday, December 20, 2010

O Little Town of Smallville

Item ThumbnailItem ThumbnailToday I put together our goodie packages to mail to family far away.  After packing up ginger snaps, sugar cookies, cardamom coffee cake, carmel corn, peanut brittle, and caramels, into the various boxes we were off to the post office.

Item ThumbnailOur post office, as I mentioned before is a 2 person window.  My husband dropped me off at the door and circled the block for a parking place.  The line parted allowing me to come into the building.  At least 15 people were waiting patiently for their turn to drop off packages and letters.  I smiled at those in line and began listening to the conversations.

"You know, there is a post office in A-------------."
"I know, but a friend just texted me that she waited in line for 45 minutes.  So much for the larger post office being faster."
"Yeah, you won't wait 45 minutes here.  Maybe 15 at the most."

Another person came in and saw my arms full of packages, "I'm sorry, I didn't bring a table for you to put your boxes on while you wait."
"That's okay.  I don't mind holding it."  I smiled at the older woman.  She had soft blue eyes like my grandmother's.

"Mom,  are Ty and I the only two children in line," asked a precocious four year old.
"Yes, Bella."
"Ohh.  Can we go to the library when we are done?"
 "Maybe, we'll see."
"Do you have my library card with you?"
"Yes, I have your library card."
"Do you keep it with you always always?"
" Yes," the mother shifted the weight of her son's car seat from one hip to the other.
"Is it my library card or do we share it?"
"It is your own library card."
"You mean we each have our own library card, they are separate?"
"Yes, they are separate."
"So I don't have to share mine with you at all?"
"No, you don't have to share it."
The little girl smiled with empowerment.

A few minutes later the little girl turned to her mom again.  "Mom, am I being good?"
"I am?"  More empowerment.

The waiting line continued to move forward and soon I was only a few people from the counter.
"Does rocking the package help?"
I turned around, "Excuse me?"
"Does it help rocking the package," asked the same lady who apologized for not bringing a table.
"Oh, I didn't realize I was rocking.  I think it is left over from when my kids were little.  They are older, but the rocking hasn't stopped."
The lady between us smiled in agreement.
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Farm Sweet Farm
My table owner smiled,  "I had forgotten so much about when my kids were little.  That was 48 years ago."  Her memories flitted across her face.


I stepped forward, "Hi, I'd like to mail these packages and I need a roll of stamps."  A few minutes later I was on my way home.

Where else but in a small town can you get a lesson in patience and a new acquaintance as well ?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Winter has come with a vengeance to the Midwest.  Our area has been hit with snow, rain, frigid temperatures, and more snow.  Somehow, each weather pattern brings its own style of beauty.  I thought I would share some pictures of our farm.  I love the way light plays on ice crystals.  Enjoy !
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The corn field at rest
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One of many pine trees on the farm
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My lilac bush at rest

Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Tis the Season

Item ThumbnailThe day after Thanksgiving is not known for shopping here at the farm.  For us, it is the first day of the Christmas season.   Arliss and Travis help get the Christmas boxes up from the cellar and we begin to put up the tree.  Every year we make sure the lights go on first, then the wooden beads that look like cranberries.   The next big decision is which ornaments will be used this year.  I have ornaments given to me from friends and family; enough to fill three trees.
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Arliss pressing sugar cookies

Once the tree is up we begin the baking. I make sure I have Great-Grandma Ellen's cardamom coffee cake, a staple on my mom's side of the family.  From my dad's side we have to make Gram's ginger snaps and sugar cookies.   This year Travis made Gram's ginger snaps and Arliss made the sugar cookies.  I took on the cardamom bread, a braided sweet bread.
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Travis dipping the dough balls in sugar

Over the years the cardamom bread was made by my Great-Grandma, then my grandma, my mom, and finally me.  I took over the bread making when I got married.  The first year, my husband and I lived in an apartment with an electric oven.  I had grown up with a gas range.  My first attempts were not the most palatable.   We have a convection option on the oven here at the farm and it makes the best bread ever!

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Great-Grandma's Cardamom Bread

Travis loves this bread and will do almost anything to get it.  Today he tried to hide an entire loaf from me, hoping I would forget how many I made.

My childhood family would spend Christmas Eve with my mom's folks.  My grandfather would greet us by saying "Gud Jul," which was Swedish for Merry Christmas.  His mother had made the cardamom bread.
My uncle would read the Christmas story from the big King James Bible before dinner.  We would open the presents after dinner and then attend the candlelight midnight service.  I remember waking up one Christmas morning full of excitement, only to remember that we'd opened all the presents the night before.

On Christmas Day we would go to my grandparents' farm.  My aunt, uncle, and cousins would be at the farm when we got there.  My cousin, Cindy, and I would go upstairs and catch up on what was going on with us.
Item Thumbnail Gram would have Cindy and I set the table with her wedding china and the other special dishes from the china cabinet.  Sometimes, Gram would find a prayer written in the newspaper.  She would cut it out and set it next to my place; it was my duty to lead the family in saying grace.
When it was time to open the presents we would gather in the living room. The pine scent from the blue spruce filled the air, mingling with warmth of the fire.  The presents under the tree seemed to overflow.  Of course with five grandchildren and six adults, the tree was pretty full.

Gram and Gramps are gone now.  Their farm is but a memory.  Every year as the boys and I make cookies, and breads I am filled with memories of all of the laughter, fun, and family time we shared.

And now for another piece of cardamom bread before Travis eats it all.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Love from the Kitchen

This past Saturday Arliss and I had the house to ourselves.  Traditionally my husband is in the kitchen, but with him at work, it was my turn.  Fall brings out the baker in me.  I love to make hearty soups, breads, cookies, etc.
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Arliss wanted to make cookies and I wanted to make some squash soup, so we each took our positions at the counter and got started.  Arliss collected eggs, vanilla, sugar, flour, butter, and baking soda for his sugar cookies.  He was taught how to read recipes by his dad a few years ago.  While he put ingredients in the KitchenAid mixer, I cut up spaghetti squash and acorn squash into chunks.  Once the squash was in a saucepan to cook, I collected the other things I would need.  Arliss said he wanted carrots and celery in the soup too, so I rough cut these and put them in to cook with the squash.
I put the cooked squash into the blender to make it smooth, adding a cup of milk for a creamy texture.  Once the squash was mixed, I put it back into a 4 qt. pot to simmer.  A little salt and pepper and dash of pepper flakes were all I needed.  I found a recipe in a Williams-Sonoma soup cookbook for any other inspiration.  One recipe recommended putting shredded cheese in the soup.  I shredded extra sharp, white cheddar cheese and some Romano cheese, adding about 1 1/2 cups total to the soup.  While this simmered a bit longer I helped Arliss roll the sugar cookie dough into logs on wax paper for cooling in the freezer before he baked them.

As I dug around in the fridge I found apples, pears, and plums that were getting overripe.  The spiced pear jam I had made during our canning week was running low, so  I decided to make some more.  Arliss helped to peel and cut the fruit for the saucepan and soon we had more amazing smells wafting through the house.  I added a few cups of sugar, 1/2 of what the recipe said--6 cups seemed a bit much, then added a teaspoon of cloves.  I continued to cook the fruit down and prepared the jars for the jam.
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Some of the goodies from the canning week
Arliss and I ate our wonderful soup for lunch and started on the cookies while the jars of jam cooled.  I showed Arliss how to cut the dough into coins and place them on the cookie sheet.  He asked for sprinkles and began meticulously placing the sprinkles on the cookie dough.  I smiled at his focus and finished my tasks.

When our afternoon was finished we had 3 1/2 pints of spiced fruit jam, a quart of squash soup, and nearly 3 dozen sugar cookies.  Proud of our work, we set some aside to share with my folks when we visited them that night.  At bedtime, Arliss said how much he enjoyed our day together.  I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wood cutting

On a farm it is a fact of life that trees will die and eventually fall down.  Here at our farm the cow yard tends to be very profitable when it comes to potential firewood.  The trees in the cow yard are old and established.  Some of them may very well be as old as the farm itself.
Item ThumbnailMy dad came out last Saturday to cut some firewood for his house which has a fireplace and a wood-burning stove.  Ironically, our farmhouse does not have a fireplace.  He chose to come when the boys were out of school for the weekend so they could be a part of it.  I sometimes wonder who enjoys their time together more.

After checking the cow yard for any potential tire hazards (we've had flat tires in the past due to hidden items), my dad pulled his truck up to a fallen red oak and started assessing the branches.  The tree had a number of good sized branches that I measured out for him since his wood-burning stove has a length limit for the logs.  I used a paint stick to measure and a small bricklayer's hammer to mark the tree.
Item ThumbnailArliss and Travis were busy finding branches that could be used for forts and looking for whatever treasures might be hiding in the grass.  My dad and I talked about how he was going to approach the tree and what we would need to do first.
Arliss and Travis were put in charge of stacking the wood into the truck bed; a job their father had when he was growing up in Colorado.  Travis decided that Arliss should be in the truck bed and he should be the one collecting the logs once they were cut.

Because of the way the tree had fallen my dad had to make sure he didn't cut a branch that was supporting the tree's weight.  As he cut the branches I would toss the logs to Travis who would give them to Arliss to stack.  The job is more about the fun of being together than the task of cutting enough wood for the winter. My husband has said he prefers this way of wood cutting to the way his dad would do it.

My husband's family lives in the mountains of Colorado where the only heat comes from wood burning stoves.  My father-in-law would go out into the forest to cut wood, felling the tree and then cutting it into rounds that my husband would load onto the truck bed while my father-in-law would go in search of the next tree.  This was not a fun way to spend many a weekend.

Item ThumbnailBy the time the tree's large branches were cut and a few rounds of the lower part of the trunk were cut, the truck bed was full.  The afternoon was in full swing and it was time to call it a day.  The trunk itself will have to wait for another weekend.  In the meantime Arliss and Travis have found hollowed out tree stumps which make great hideouts.Item Thumbnail

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Turkey Dinner

My grandparents' church held a Turkey Dinner every year on the third Wednesday in October.  The Turkey Dinner was as sacred to our family as Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Grandma would call up and say, "I'm buying the tickets how many do I need to get?"  Our family of four would attend, meeting Grandma and Grandpa at their church, where we would meet our cousins, and then all of us would wait until our number was called on the church P.A. system, like customers at the deli counter.

The Turkey Dinner had originally been a chicken dinner I learned from my grandma.  "The church has been having the dinner since before Grandpa and I were married,"  she said.  "Your great-grandma would help out too."  Before the fellowship hall had been added the turkeys were cooked in people's homes and they would bring the turkey to the church when it was finished cooking.  I could only imagine how glad everyone was when the turkeys could be cooked at the church.
My grandfather would come to the church earlier in the week to shred the cabbage for the cole slaw.  He wouldn't let anyone else do it because he was afraid someone would cut their hands on the homemade mandolin slicer.  The mandolin had belonged to his parents and eventually he donated it to the town historical society.  Once a year he would go to the historical society and take back the mandolin to shred the cabbage.  I can hear him now, warning someone in the kitchen, "Now don't monkey with this thing.  I'll do the cabbage so no one gets hurt."
My grandma would serve a shift in the cranberry sauce and cole slaw station.  While I was in college I was able to help her serve at the dinner.  Every time someone would finish their cole slaw or cranberry sauce the empty serving dish would come back to the church kitchen and we would refill it.  I loved this time with Gram.  I could ask her questions about her life with Grandpa or anything else, it was just us together.

"Number 72," the voice would call.  Our family would stand up and say farewell to friends we had been visiting with in the church sanctuary to go into the church fellowship hall to find our table.  The fellowship hall would be decorated with a Thanksgiving theme complete with gourds, pumpkins, and pilgrims.
The room would be filled wall to wall with banquet tables that sat 10-12 people, each table set for dinner.  The tables would have a pitcher of water, a pitcher of coffee and styrofoam cups, butter and rolls, cranberry sauce, and cole slaw.  A server would come by our table and ask if the kids would like milk and away they would go to get the main course.
Two or three servers would come back with bowls of mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and of course the turkey on a platter.  Our family would immediately decide if we were going to pass the dishes clockwise or counter-clockwise.  With a few false starts we would begin passing the dishes to one another.  As soon as the server saw we were low they would come and replenish our platters.
When my grandfather was at the table person after person would come by to say hello.  Most of the time the person would come and give Grandpa some good natured teasing, which he easily gave back.  The visitor would greet our family and ask how we all were doing, often commenting on someone's red hair, how much someone had grown since last year, etc.

I loved the Turkey Dinner.  My grandparents' church had been established in 1845 and was the first Protestant Church in the area.  On the walls in the fellowship hall were pictures of confirmation classes and church activities from years past.  My two favorite things on the walls were a painting depicting church members arriving for a Sunday service and a bicentennial quilt with a square dedicated to each of the families who had been members of the church.  Each block had the family's name and the years they attended the church all the way back to 1845.  Our family had nine different blocks for the various branches of our family.  I would read each block carefully trying to absorb the history.
The Turkey Dinner would end with a slice of pie.  We all knew I would have the pumpkin pie, my dad would have the apple pie, and my grandpa would have a slice of cherry pie.   I sometimes wondered if the ladies who served the pie kept a slice of cherry pie off to the side for Grandpa.
As we would say our goodbyes in the church foyer we would be reminded to buy a raffle ticket for the quilt that would be awarded to one lucky winner at the church bazaar in two weeks.   The church bazaar was another tradition in our family among the women.  But that is a tale for another time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Welcome to the First day of November

Each morning on the farm I have woken up to a sunrise that has been startling and amazing.  I wake up each day and wonder how God is going to paint "Good Morning" in the sky.  This is how He painted the sky on the first of November, 2010.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Family Pictures

 When I would visit my dad's folks I would often stop in my great-grandmother's kitchen to stare at the wall.  My grandfather had put our family tree on the wall using photographs. 
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Grandma and her uncle
 I could trace my grandfather's side back to his grandparents and great-grandparents.
  My grandmother's side was represented as well.  I could look at pictures of my grandmother when she was six and her thick, naturally wavy, chestnut-red hair went to her shoulders.  Even in a black and white picture it was obvious that her hair was red.  I inherited her red hair, as did my dad, and three of her great-grandsons.  

I loved looking at those photos on Grandpa's wall, it gave me a sense of belonging.  I was a part of something that was bigger than me, something that came before me and would continue after me.  
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My grandfather was the family historian, not just through photography, but with the written word.  He wrote his family's history on an old Smith typewriter, pasting the stories into photo albums.  I would spend hours looking through these books, trying to understand who was connected to whom and how did they connect to me.
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Over the years I have collected copies of my family photographs.  I now have my great-grandmother and her sister, my great-grandparents', and a picture of my great-great-great-grandmother on what was probably her 80th 

I have new photos too.  Photos of Arliss and Travis through the years, photos of my husband and me when we got engaged.  Photos of my husband with his recently found, biological family. 
All of these different pictures, with so many different generations hang on our walls.  I love the history they represent, the rich tapestry that I am a part of; that Arliss and Travis are a part of too.  
Someday, when I am only a photograph on someone's wall, I hope my great-grandchildren will look at my face and see the similarities we have, maybe even the red hair.  But I also hope my great-grandchildren will see his or her history, his or her part in the bigger picture, and that they too will smile and know they belong.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New in Town

We've been here at the farm for about four months but I haven't taken the opportunity to just drive around and get my bearings.  Today while the boys were in school I drove to the Goodwill nearby and found some books on quilting, perennials, bird identification, and a couple other "home/craft" books.  I was excited to find them and only pay between $.50-$1.80 for each book.
On my way home, I went by a quilting store and decided to stop in.  I was immediately welcomed by the staff who gave me some suggestions to try as a beginning quilter.  I found a card for the local quilters' guild and had my name put on the contact list for the quilting class that will start in a few months.  I look forward to learning how to quilt from others who are more advanced than I am.
I finally went to the Village Hall to get some "official" information about our new town.  I was given a village newsletter and directions to the Chamber of Commerce offices where I could get even more information about my town.
Turning onto the road that goes through town I turned right, only to find that I had gone to the Park District offices, not the Chamber of Commerce like I wanted.  A nice gentleman at the Park District gave me directions,  I was less than a quarter mile from where I wanted to go.
After I told the lady at the counter that I was new in town she gave me a "Welcome bag" full of advertisements and coupons for the area businesses.  I now have a bag of goodies that include church brochures, insurance information, coupons for restaurants, hair salons, and the like.
I wish I had thought of going to the Chamber of Commerce when we first arrived, I could have used some of the coupons already.
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A new home brings a new perspective each morning.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Pond

Item ThumbnailI took Arliss and Travis on a walk to the pond on Saturday.   The weather was perfect for a leisurely stroll/hike through the fields.  We brought the dogs along for the adventure and a basket for any unexpected treasures.  

The boys rode their bikes up to the gate which marks the beginning of a field and the lane for the cows.  Leaving their bikes, we began to hike through the recently harvested corn stalks.  The golden shafts stood in silent attention, marking the places for each row.  Occasionally the boys or I would find an ear of corn that the harvester had missed and we would add it to the basket.
Rover, our Brittany, ran ahead, behind, around, anywhere but with us.  Arliss kept trying to call Rover to us but Rover would have none of it.  Rufus, our Lab, stuck close to me, often just on my heels.  Finally the field came to a barbed wire fence which meant we had to climb over or go under.  The dogs found the spot to crawl under and the boys soon followed.
When Travis got on the other side he looked at me and said, "How are you going to get over?"  I smiled and dropped to my knees, crawling under the wire just as they had.  Sometimes it's good to surprise your kids.  After the boys finished laughing with me at the silliness of it all, we continued through the cow pasture toward the woods.
Item ThumbnailThe pond is surrounded by woods and wild rose bushes.  It has been years since the cows were allowed to roam back to the pond, so the grass stands at least four feet high in some places.  Rufus and Rover followed the boys through the woods and were quickly investigating the pond.  I discovered some wild walnuts and put them in my basket for later.
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By the time I got to the pond Rover was black with pond muck from his belly to his feet.  Rufus was wet from trying to swim for sticks.  I had to smile as I watched Rufus learn to swim in the pond.  He did not know what to do when the water was deeper than he could touch, but soon he was paddling around and around like a pro.

Arliss and Travis went to work digging in the muck and mud for any treasures they might find.  My basket soon held snail shells and the boys shirts and caps, as they grew too warm with all of their "work."  The old dock was dilapidated and no longer extended out over the pond.  The 2 x 8 planks lay on the shoreline, a worthy future task for the boys to tackle.

Someone had built a duck blind on the edge of the pond.  The floor boards have rotted out, but the 2 x 4s that made the frame of the blind were still solid.  I sat on the corner of the blind and took in all that surrounded me.   The wind was blowing through the trees; sounding like a roaring waterfall.  The warm sunshine gave the rustling grasses a golden glow and the birds that chirped and sang as they perched in the tree branches made the whole moment idyllic.
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Some of the animal prints on the shoreline proved that this was a common watering spot for deer, raccoons, and various birds.  The boys explored further past the pond, discovering areas where animals had bedded down.  Arliss pointed out the red-tailed hawks that circled overhead.  We called excitedly to each other as the hawks screeched and swooped over the fields.    Our necks were strained from trying to keep the hawks in sight as they climbed higher and higher only to dive toward the earth.

Finally, it was time to go.  We called to our dogs, who would be needing a thorough bath, and headed back toward the house.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

An Old Farmer's Advice (author unknown)

* Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight, and bull-strong.

* Keep skunks, bankers, and lawyers at a distance.

* Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.

* A bumble bee is considerable faster than a tractor.

* Words that soak into your ears are whispered ...not yelled.

* Meanness don't jes' happen overnight.

* Forgive your enemies.  It messes with their heads.

* Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.

*  It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.

* You cannot unsay a cruel word.

* Every path has a few puddles.

* When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

* The best sermons are lived, not preached.

* Most of the stuff people worry about ain't never gonna happen anyway.

* Don't judge folks by their relatives.

* Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

* Live a good, honorable life.  Then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time.

*Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't botherin' you none.

* Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

* It's a pretty thin piece of paper that only has one side.

* If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.

* Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

* The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin'.

*  Too soon old, too late smart.

* Always drink upstream from the herd.

* Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

* Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in.

* If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.

* Live simply.  Love generously.  Care deeply.  Speak kindly.  Leave the rest to God.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Estate Sales

  I went to an estate sale a couple of weeks ago.  The farm was being sold and the owners were gone, leaving adult children to handle the sale.  Parking the car I approached the house with a silent reverence.  The property was lined with  old chairs that could no longer hold a person, beds that were in pieces waiting for a new home, and empty planters that once held prize flowers.
I entered the house and was greeted by items I could have found in my grandparents home.  The walls were lined with spice drawers, decorative plates, and old stitch-work written in German.  Pie safes, cabinets that preceded refrigerators, were against the wall in the kitchen long since without a pie to keep safe from pests or sneaking fingers.    
The kitchen led into a dining room where the table was laden with dishes that were available for purchase.  I wondered how many meals had been eaten at the table using those dishes.  How many celebrations, Sunday dinners, and Christmas meals were eaten there.    
To the right of the dining room was the entry hall that also served as a front parlor.  The floor was covered in various braided rugs and older hook and eye rugs that would have kept feet warm during the winters.  A music room was off to one side of this room, complete with a square grand piano.  I have only seen one other square grand in my life, at a living history museum in Cimarron, New Mexico.  The square grand in front of me what almost as large as a pool table and equally as heavy.  The walls were decorated with mandolins and sheet music waited on a side board to be used again.
The mistress of the house once had a sewing room on the other side of the house.  There was a table that was filled chest high with yards of fabric, patiently waiting to be made into something useful.  The wall above the peddle sewing machine had various pictures on it.  One portrait was very dear to me.  During the turn of the last century it was common to have a picture hanging in the home that depicted a person clinging to a cross while a storm surged around them.  Two of my great-grandmothers had a picture like this in their home.  I now have them hanging in my home.  It comforted me to see that someone else, unknown to me, had been comforted by the same picture.
As I walked through the rest of the home I found two old hymnals available for purchase.  I love hymnals as much as I love old Bibles, so I picked them up.  The two books cost me $1.50.  I wondered how many evenings were spent around the piano singing hymns from these books.  Radio was often a luxury and families would have to create their own entertainment long ago.

As I left this farm I was reminded of my grandparents' estate sale in 1986.  People came from all over to walk through their home, pick up their stuff, look in their rooms.  I was greatly bothered by these intruders who had no knowledge of our family's heritage and probably didn't care.  I watched my older cousins help the auctioneer sell off items that had been in the family for almost 100 years.  It pained me then, it pains me now.  

I was raised to respect my family's history and to honor those who had come before me.  When I entered this farm estate sale I gave it the same respect.  I hope that someday if I someone enters my home they will give it the same respect.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Harvesting and Fallow Soil

harvest |ˈhärvist|nounthe process or period of gathering in crops helping with the harvest.• the season's yield or crop a poor harvest.• quantity of animals caught or killed for human use a limited harvest of wild mink.• figurative the product or result of an action in terms of science, Apollo yielded a meager harvest.

Harvesting has begun!  Within four and a half hours, six semi-truck loads were harvested from the corn fields.  Arliss and Travis were doing their best to keep track of the number of times each truck left full and returned empty.  It was impressive to see such efficiency and speed in the whole process.  I was reminded of a picture of my grandfather standing beside a team of horses.  How long did it take him to bring in all of the corn?  I know he was aware of the progress in farming when he retired, but somehow when I compare the size of his Farmall H tractor to the "new" machines, it's a wonder it didn't take "forever" to get the work done.
Once the fields are empty our dogs, Rover and Rufus, are going to have the added room to run.  My dad said, "Just wait until the dogs see the geese in the fields."  Rover has already tried to catch a white-tailed deer, I can only imagine what he would do if he caught a goose.  Or what the goose would do to him for trying.

fallow 1 |ˈfalō| adjective
(of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplusproduction incentives for farmers to let the land lie fallow in order to reduce grain surpluses.• figurative inactive long fallow periods when nothing seems to happen.• (of a sow) not pregnant.
An empty field serves a purpose, just as much as a field in the middle of the growing season.  A field that stands empty is actually replenishing itself.  Farmers have learned the wisdom in letting the soil rest.  That's one of the reasons farmers also rotate crops.  If a farmer only planted soybeans in a field each year, eventually the nutrients the plant needs to grow would be depleted.  Corn is actually a tyrant in this case, notoriously pulling every nutrient from the soil and leaving it empty for the next growing season.   The Bible says in Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything and a season for every purpose under Heaven.  Being still has a season, just as activity has a season.
Winter is a time to rest for the fields, the animals, all of creation.  I am looking forward to the season of rest after a very busy season of activity.  I am ready to curl up with tea and a good book and be still for awhile. Until that season begins, we will be busy counting semi-trucks.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Canning Recipes

I thought I would post some of the recipes I used for our canning marathon last week.

Wash, stem, and core peppers.  Slice them lengthwise into this strips.  Blanch them in steam for 2 minutes, then plunge them into ice water to cool them quickly.  Drain.
Pack the cooled strips into hot, sterilized pint or half-pint jars and cover them with a hot syrup made from 1/2 part honey and 2 parts vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar). Leave 1/4-inch headspace.  Process half-pints and pints for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath.  --From Stocking Up  by the Editors of Organic Gardening and Farming

4 quarts chopped, peeled, cored tomatoes (about 24 large)
1 cup chopped celery (about 1 stalk)
1/2 cup chopped onion (about  1/2 medium)
1/4 cup chopped green pepper (about 1/4 medium)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt

Combine all ingredients in a large sauce pot.  Cover; cook 10 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.  Ladle hot vegetables into hot jars, leaving 1-inch headspace.  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process pints 15 minutes, quarts 20 minutes, at 10 pounds pressure in a steam pressure canner.  Yield about 7 pints or 3 quarts.
From Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing, and Dehydration   Ball Home Canning Products, Alltrista Corporation, Muncie, Indiana

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups vinegar (I use cider vinegar)
1 tsp. allspice and cloves  (or mixed pickling spices, put in cheese cloth and tie --take it out when finished cooking)
1 thin slice lemon (optional)

If using fresh beets, Cook until tender-cool and skin.  Slice or quarter your beets, pour pickling juice over beets and simmer for 15 minutes.  Put in sterilized jars and seal.
You may use the 16 oz. canned beets-I use half of the recipe per can.  I use some of that juice and cut down on the water.
From My Grandma's recipe book

2 quarts crushed, peeled, pitted peaches
1/2 cup water
6 cups sugar (I had very sweet peaches so I cut the sugar by a third)

Combine peaches and water in a large saucepot. Cook gently 10 minutes.  Add sugar, stirring until dissolved.  Bring slowly to a boil.  Cook rapidly to gelling point, about 15 minutes.  As mixture thickens, stir to prevent sticking.  Remove from heat.  Skim foam if necessary.  Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.  Yield: about 4 pints.
From Ball Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing, and Dehydration

I used the PEACH JAM recipe and added 2 teaspoons of cloves to the pears as they cooked.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Week in the Life

A sampling of our work
My husband, Andrew, and I have canned from Tuesday through Friday.  It has been a long, tedious, exhausting, and satisfying process.  We have grape jelly, sweet peach jam, spiced pear jam, hot salsa,  sweet pickle relish, dill pickle relish, beet relish, stewed tomatoes, pickled beets, and pickled sweet peppers all put up for the winter.

I cut the grass here on Thursday.  It has been cool enough here that it had been 3 weeks since I last cut it.  I am hoping this will be the last time I cut it this year.  Maybe next year I will have a riding lawn mower that works, we'll have to wait and see.

Our town has a used book store and I finally took in the books in that I wanted to donate.  I get store credit that covers half of the book price so I used it to buy The Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, the author of the Inkheart series, and The Last of the Plainsmen by Zane Grey.
My cousin was kind enough to lend me some running clothes and I found them in a box still unpacked from the move.  I ran into the post office; a two person counter, with sweet ladies who take the time to talk with you, not just process your mail. I mailed off the clothes and a note to give an update on how we are doing.
My next stop was the library to return the farming books I mentioned in a previous post.  I checked out some movies for Arliss and Travis, and classic black and whites for me.  The library has a used book corner that sells books for cheap prices and I walked away with a copy of The Odyssey, by Homer.  It is one I read in college, but would like to give it another look without the stress of a paper to write in the end.
A friend had minor surgery this week so I went to sit with her for a while, taking along my craft bag of crochet and cross stitch.  She showed me her octagon quilt piece and the new paint job in her bedroom.  Her decorating style has evolved over the past 20 years and is presently channeling a Tuscan villa.  I love what she has done.
I went by a farm that was having an estate sale.  I will give it a separate post, but I did buy two old hymnals, one dated 1928, for $1.50.
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Today I cleaned the wood floors, hung laundry out to dry (it's wickedly windy here today), and put away the unused, but clean, canning jars.  The weather is officially getting colder so I took out the screen from the front screen door and put in the storm window.  Just another sign of changing seasons.

Our dear Mr. H. came by this week and shared his crop of pumpkins and gourds.  We now have 6 large pumpkins and over 20 different gourds, including one that looks like a goose neck that can be dried and made into a birdhouse.  Arliss an Travis immediately took it when they heard it could be a birdhouse.   Mr. H. mentioned that he still had hot peppers to be picked.  He asked if we'd be interested so I sent the boys over to pick some today.  They came back with a full bushel basket of peppers; bell, jalapeno, habenero, and others.  Travis said, "We'll be eating mexican food until we die."
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I still have more work today, cutting the grass at our old house and visiting my folks.  Our dogs are sound asleep on the couch, looks inviting, but the sun's still up.  Tomorrow is Sunday, a day of rest I intend to enjoy before a new week begins.