Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Pumpkin Tree

September 30, 2009

Our very busy summer kept me from "controlling" the garden in the manner to which I am accustomed . All that means is that I usually grow my vegetables on the ground. This year however, when I turned my back for just one New York Minute, some of my pumpkin vines headed for freedom. They got as far as our evergreens but could not make it past so they just went UP and UP and UP.

We hoped the season would stretch out enough to allow a few small pumpkins to actually grow in the higher altitudes but did not expect to see the bounty that greeted us yesterday. Several of the Blue Moon variety not only grew but THRIVED. Not sure how we'll harvest them. Fork lift ? Firetruck ? Might have to wait till Christmas when we can cut the whole tree down and just bring it inside with its unusual ornaments already attached.
The pictures make the fruits look quite green but they are really more of a gray blue. For you more traditional types , I also grew Sweet Pumpkin Pie Pumpkins which only grew to weigh about 2-3 pounds but made the most wonderful pie and pumpkin cake. All I had to do was cut the guys in half, bake at 350 for 30 minutes, let cool, then scrape out the seeds for more roasting. I then scooped out the tender innards, pureed it in my food processor and used it like canned pumpkin. The taste though was not to be compared with canned. Like Charlie Brown, we love pumpkins.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Spence Farms September Feast

September 28, 2009

Last night Keith and I spent the evening at Spence Farms located in Fairbury Illinois. Kris and Marty Travis, founders of Spence Farm , its foundation and the group "Stewards of the Land" hosted a fabulous get together between well-known chefs and the local farmers who have been growing food for those restaurants. We are two of those farmers. Check out their mission and foundation at

The evening was warm, the fields were still full of produce and the setting was beautiful. Only 200 tickets were available for this event and all were sold. Live music played by the trio "November Mondays" made the evening more special while we attendees went from booth to booth sampling the most unbelievable creations of locally grown food. Did you know about Chocolate Chip cookies with BACON in them ? Man O' Man was that a taste sensation out of this world.

Our own personal highlight of the night was watching "our chef" Paul Kahan (Check him out at...
and his partner Chef Mike Sheerin, prepare the hog we had donated to the event. Oh for the love of God and all that is succulent ! Those two men prepared a charcuterie from that little piggie in such a way I swear people swooning in line just from the wafting aroma alone. At one point I saw two grown chefs, who came from another booth, clenching a half eaten pig leg in their mouths and growling like pit bulls. !

We also met many other wonderful chefs including Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo Chicago, Chad Morrow from Bacaro in Champaign and Chris Pandel from The Bristol also in Chicago. I was so proud of my non-risk taking husband who tried every dish offered including Chef Shermans poached egg with shell bean and bell pepper ragout. The other local farmers also had their produce prepared by these talented chefs and wonderful new tastes were erupting all over Marty and Kris farm.

We were able to do quite a bit of networking as well and found the market for pasture raised pork in the Chicago area is rapidly growing. We expect to pick up two more restaurants this week who want our farms products.

The evening closed with a fundraising auction to further support the hard work and education done by Spence Farms. The auction took on a life of its own as local character and Spence Farm Foundation member Jack Kennedy assumed the roll of auctioneer. He sold everything originally up for auction and some things that weren't, like the hat of his best friend. Oh, we farm folk are a laugh a minute. Jacks best work though, was selling a primo quart of Spence Farm Honey for $130 !! Not THAT was one sweet deal.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Purple Haze

September 23, 2009

A long time ago in a land far away (Cullom Ave, Chicago) one of the Ruet boys used to work in a plastics factory. Sometimes when one of the machines would act up, strange and wonderful shapes were produced. These piles of molten, misshapen plastic with their bright 1960's flower child colors, would perch on the Ruet boys dressers as the pieces of psychedelic art they were. They obviously made an impression on my 8 year old brain because today, when I found this object, I knew it would be one far out picture. Can you guess what this is ? The first correct guess will receive an 8 x10 glossy photo suitable for framing and placement under that old black light you know you still have in your basement.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One Bride for One Brother

September 22, 2009

The wedding of our youngest son Kyle went off without a hitch, well I guess Amanda and Kyle got hitched but other than that...Here are some highlights

Kyle and Amanda just seconds after becoming man and wife. Yes, they are young but their commitment to each other is strong. We parents were very proud that day. The Minister Nick performed a simple but very meaningful ceremony.

Just before cutting the cake. Check out that cake topper ! Way classier than the Mr and Mrs Potato Heads I had on my cake.

The wedding party from the left, Jessica (sister of bride), Jenna and Sam (friends of bride), Amanda (beautiful bride), Kyle (handsome groom), Colton (brother of groom), Jason (brother of groom), Isaac (cousin of groom). Flower girls are Allana and Nicole (nieces of groom). Wesley the ring bearer grew tired of picture taking and was last seen driving Kyles car to the park.

Here I am the, Midlife Farmwife with my "Patience of a Saint" daughter Raven who had THREE little kids to keep dressed, keep clean and keep interested in all the wedding activities.

Nicole and Allana trying once again to contain the little brother Wesley who was unimpressed with his mini-tux. The suit was WAAAAY to big and was held together with safety pins, sticky tape and gorilla glue (What else would you use to hold a monkey suit together ?)

Me and my "seesters" . From left, Mary, me, Peg and Teresa. My brother Tom and brother in law Dave giving his opinion of the cake.

Our oldest son Colton and our First daughter-in-law Tab. Married 7 years this month, Colton has a birthday Sept. 27 and Wesleys birthday (age 2) was the day of the wedding. So many blessings in one month !

Friday, September 18, 2009

Child O' Mine

September 18, 2009

Tomorrow our youngest child, son number three, Kyle, AKA "Kilalan" ,is getting married. When Kyle was 3, his 5 year old brother Jason would slur Kyle's first and middle name together. So instead of Kyle Alan, he would call him "Kilalan" One of those nicknames that stuck over the years.

So here we are many years later and Kyle has grown up and is making a wonderful young woman, Amanda, his wife. They have their whole future in front of them. Not so long ago Kyle was quite unsure of what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. The road in front (and behind) him seemed overwhelming.

His climb towards independence was on the slippery side and he felt he wasn't getting anywhere very fast BUT he persevered .

He would slip and loose patience and he had to try a different route than what he originally planned..

But he found his direction and his partner to help him
the rest of the way. We're proud of you son and love you very much. Now onto the wedding and lots of DANCING !!!!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Camera which vexes me

September 17, 2009

Last year on our family's hay rack ride, I spilled some hot chocolate on my camera. I wiped it off immediately with a diaper wipe, then my hay caked shirt and then some ones old jacket but some reason it just has not worked well since. Sometimes the lens shutters open right away, other times not at all. Sometimes it opens half way. Sometimes I notice it and open the shutters with my fingers while other times I am oblivious until I download the photos to my pc and get a lot a pics with dark bars over them. What's that ? Get a new camera you say ? Seems extreme when all I have to do is spend a little extra time retaking pics, editing pics, aborting a perfect shot in order to check the shutters. And if I did all that I might miss a shot like this one where the half opened shutter makes the photo that much better.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Roly Poly Pigs Head

September 15, 2009

Last week Keith and I delivered 2 whole hogs to 2 Chicago restaurants. Keith is the map reader as he is the one with a sense of direction. I am the driver as I am the one with the sense of adventure. We found the first establishment with little trouble. The sous chef hopped into the back of our redneck meat delivery truck, our old Chevy with freezer loaded in the truck bed, and in the fashion of Charlotte's Web muttered something positive like "some pig!" Upon this anxiously awaited for approval, Keith pulled out the two hogs heads wrapped individually in clear plastic and set them aside. The chef, an assistant, and Keith pulled the first half hog out and then lowered it onto the chefs shoulders who with no trouble at all, carried it into the restaurants cooler. They repeated this pork ballet with the second half of the hog. Finally Keith handed the chef the pigs head and we headed on down Fulton Market Street on our way to restaurant number two.

Several blocks and three turns later I pulled up to a busy intersection. Suddenly I heard voices yelling at me. Not the ones in my head, different ones this time. I just assumed I cut someone off with my rusty intercity driving skills so I ignored them. The yelling continued. Louder. Reluctantly I looked towards my husbands side of the car and there was a large yellow City of Chicago truck next to us. The drivers window was down and it became obvious this was the source of the yelling. Preparing to take it like a man I told my husband to go ahead and roll down his window.

The yelling became hysterical laughter as the truck's driver kindly pointed out to us that we were in the process of losing our head. Our PIGS HEAD that is. The one Keith left on the back of the trucks tool box. Fortunately, my starts, stops and turns were not enough to dislodge it from its place of honor perched high above the truck bed staring out through wide open eyes at the drivers all around us. Keith quickly jumped out of his seat, thanked the City of Chicago worker, grabbed the head and sheepishly stuffed it inside the freezer with the rest of its portly parts.

Color us red. At least when the truck driver went home to his family that night and they asked him how his day was he would have something different to tell them. "Well you see...there were these goofy pig farmers ..."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Allanana grows up

September 9, 2009

For the last 5 years we have had our granddaughter Allana at the farm 2 full days of every week. Her mother, our daughter, worked Sunday and Monday nights (as well as others) as an RN . So on Monday and Tuesdays, Allana Marie or "Allie Mae" as I called her, or "Allana-na" as her 2 yr old brother calls her, was ours to indoctrinate as we saw fit. She rode her first horse at 8 months, witnessed the birth of kittens, calves and goats, and drank warm milk fresh from a cow before she was a year old. She gardened with us side by side and the summer she was three; that girl would eat only raw broccoli that SHE had to pick from the garden. She was often barefoot, barelegged and sun kissed. We napped together, baked together ("we are messy bakers aren't we Yaya ? " ) and read the book "Grumpy Bird" over and over, because everyone knows Allie Mae is not a morning person. She chased chickens , collected their eggs and scolded them for not producing. "You are a Laaaazy chicken !" I used to bathe her in the kitchen sink and the picture I took of one such bath won us a Best of Show ribbon at the Melvin County Fair. Did you hear me ? THE MELVIN FAIR !

Allana meets cow at age 2

Then, before I was ready , she was 5. This meant kinder garden full time 5 days a week. The first week was just an annoyance. The second week was a true ache. The third week I found myself showing up at the school two hours early , Wesley napping in my arms, just waiting for her to be released to me. The fourth week...I looked at Wes, who was in the middle of demonstrating how the new puppy looked even better with blue marker on his face, and realized we had yet ANOTHER grandchild to coerce, I mean encourage, into the farm life. I felt better. I sat down with him and showed him how blue AND red marker can make some bright purple spots on the dog.

Wesley, first grandson, now 2

Nicole age 7, Allana 5 and
Wesley age 2 painting a gourd

Flashback (I do often, come join me) to Warrenville, Illnois 1969. I was 10 and my mother did not like what she saw. "You're growing like a weed, I'm going to put a brick on your head!" The poor deranged woman had 5 other children younger than I , three still in diapers, yet she wanted to keep me little awhile longer. She must've snuck that brick on my head at night as I never got over 5'1", yet even though vertically challenged, I still grew up. If we are lucky, we all grow up.

Gigs and Poats

September 8, 2007

We have goats. Four of them. They are Purdy, Lucky, Sugar and Princess. We used to own over 20.Those were the days when we had 3 young men very involved in 4-H who attended many a goat show. Now those fellows are all grown and living away from home. So we kept just 4 goats for pets. Two weeks ago we noticed the pigs pasture getting a little sparse while the goat pasture was overgrown. So we combined the two species. I was only a little concerned that the pigs might push the goats around or the goats might head ram the pigs and damage our future bacon . That did happen a little on the first day, but after that the pecking order, I mean ramming order, was established and all went well.

What the goats hadn't eaten in the pasture the pigs dug up. Under those plants the pigs found grubs and worms and other great delights. When I brought scraps to the goats, the pigs ate the leftovers of those as well. They plowed through each others manure spreading out any parasites. What a symbiotic relationship ! (That was the only word I remember from 8th grade science , I was too busy making eyes at a basketball player named "Buzz" , which I think had something to do with his hair but may have had something to do with his mental state. It was 1971 after all.)

While watching them with grandson Wes, he called them "gigs and poats" Reminded me of the time my then 6 year old niece Jordan asked us all to come to Thansgiving dinner dressed as "pigrims and idiots." Funny, it wasn't all that hard coming up with an idiot costume.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Daffy Duck vs Alfred Hitchcock

September 6, 2009

Normally gardening is just plain hard work. The other day we found it mildly amusing when we dug up this red potato. Sorry, that's all I have this Sunday morning. Working the night shift yanks the creative writing right out of me.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cows on Parade

September 4, 2009

Cows have an internal clock to be admired. They know when it is milking time, well at least their udders know. Here are our girls heading toward the barn about 6 AM Central Time. It was cool and misty this am and my feet were soaked after I took this picture, another reminder of the super amount of moisture we've had this summer. Our pastures have benefitted greatly and the cows are well conditioned, healthy and producing well on their 100% grass fed diet. We had many doubts when other dairy farmers questioned our choice. We fed so much grain for so long we had visions of our herd shriveling up before our eyes. They have not. In fact, they are thriving.

I was impressed with their calmness as they meandered towards the barn this am. Like Alfred E. Newman they seemed to be saying "What ? Me worry ?" Unaware of all the changes their farmer caretakers were experiencing, unafraid of the future , they had the ability to enjoy the RIGHT NOW of fresh grass, fresh water, room to run and a farmer who cared about them.

Our future farm plans are still up in the air. We've had two strikes now in regards to a market for our organic milk. The first strike being the loss of a potential buyer in Indiana after 5 months of talks and the second being the inability of utilizing a nearby dairy's bottling plant to bottle our milk. The owner of the bottling plant was wonderful to talk to, honest about his needs to secure his own new business before taking a risk with ours. Disappointed in his answer, we were grateful for his honesty and forthrightness. So back home we went for more introspection and idea gathering.

This morning after chores we held an emergency corporate meeting for all the head honchos of Green Acres Farm (that would be Keith and me.) We drank two pots of coffee, developed another plan, made more phone calls, sent more emails, did more research. We know God has a plan for this farm. One day he'll show it to us. In the meantime we'll do all we can to help ourselves and try to enjoy the journey with as much peace and confidence in our Caregiver as our cows enjoy the same type of peace and confidence in us.

"Have I not commanded you ? Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" Joshua 1:9

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dog with a bone, I mean tea

September 3, 2009

My husband Keith left a bottle of tea on the ground the other day fully intending to return to it. While gone, our new puppy Freddy, found the tea. He knocked the bottle over and tasted the tea. He liked the tea. He licked the tea out of the bottle. Over and over again. Can you imagine having nothing to do all day but get the tea out of the bottle? No calls to return, no calves to feed, no laundry, no bills, no blog, no family to visit, no shopping, no dishes, no chickens to feed, no meals to cook,no diapers, no gardening, no mowing,no toilet scrubbing, no wedding planning, no scrubbing of horse water tank, no garage sale preparation, no discussing bottling milk vs selling it direct vs making soap out it to supply all the hostels in Ireland. None of that. Just tea. Sweet tea at that !

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dissolution of a Dairy

September 1, 2009

On the way home from work again this past Sunday AM I noticed this classic barn. Maybe someone just hauled it in from Wisconsin and plopped it down alongside the road I've driven hundreds of time, but I doubt it. More likely its always been there and for some reason I am just now noticing it. Maybe its because our own dairy is facing changes. Maybe its because I drive slower when I am tired. Maybe its because the sun shining through the wall openings caught my eye. Its hard to say what caught my attention this time but now that it has, I feel obliged to find out more.

Take these weathered boards for example. Were they originally red ? Were they cut by hand or machine ? Why is this one board going horizontally when there are no such boards across the other windows ? Why can't I find this perfect shade of grey at Menards ?

These metal pieces are the old stanchions. Cows ready to be milked would step up, sticking their heads between the bars and then lowering their heads to savor fresh grain or hay on the other side. Eventually the dairy farmer, or hired man , or the farm owners child would reach over the cows head, pulling the pipes together in a simple latch lock to keep the cow from backing out before the allotted milking time was complete. You can almost see the little Jerseys, named Martha and Moonbeam, swishing their tails at the flies, stretching their necks into the next cows grain pile.

And then there were these letters written up high on the inner wall. WOM 1930. I couldn't read the third row of letters from the ground. Was the barn built in 1930 ? Or did the two randy brothers just show up with the paint can on that date ? What does WOM stand for ? "Way Out Milk ?", "Watch out mom ?" "Where's Our Money ?"

This last pic was from the west side. It appears as if someone is carefully dismantling the barn. Maybe to be rebuilt on the set of a new Western ? Perhaps to resell the planks, the beams, the doors and hinges at an antique store ? At least its not been burned or bull dozed. I'm becoming increasingly more fascinated with this barn even now as I blog about it. What was its past ? Does it have any kind of future ? Or will it disappear into our Central Illinois plains like thousands of hard working barns before it ? Emblems of our farm heritage gone forever.

Challenge to self : Make a few phone calls, especially to the older wiser group of farmers still in our area. Explore the history of this barn, the process that is striping away its foundation and the reasons why. Then keep a running commentary about such on this blog. Ok . I will.