Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pressure is On.

October 28, 2009

Last week I joined NaNoWriMo, which stand for National Novel Writing Month. It is a "fun seat of the pants " way to write a novel in one month, by Nov. 30. The goal is 50,000 words. The only thing that matters is output not quality . We are to write write write. We are not to edit or rewrite or send for review. That sort of non sense will be done AFTER November 30. To date their are 86, 724 writers signed up to participate from all over the world. Each writer chooses a home group for all their word count to be credited towards. (See, like that sentence there, normally I would edit it so it does not end in a preposition, or I would Bing it to see if indeed that sentence was ending in a preposition, or I would stop writing and go back to last months issue of Writers Magazine and reread that article about how the English language is changing and ending sentences in prepositions may not be so bad, but Nooooooooo, not today, today I am just writing as if naNo Wri Mo had already started)

I chose Galway Ireland as my home group ,for many reasons. Mostly because I feel so cool getting emails from Galway but also because they only had 27 writers who chose Galway as their "home". Chicago, Champaign and Bloomington had plenty of us fools so I gave myself to the Best City in the West. That's just the way I am . All sacrificing. All the time.

The cost of joining is free (donations needed and accepted) minus of course a few writing tools. Such as a new laptop, my first, and a cordless mouse and of course a carrying case in todays popular blue and brown colors. I HAD TO BUY THESE THINGS. I couldn't hardly enter my word numbers to be counted towards my home group via paper and pen and the snail mail of the post could I ?!?! And besides I'll use the laptop for business on the road, and recipes in the kitchen and cow records in the barn and and and. Rationalization over.

My story line is set in my head. The characters are evolving. Now where to find the time ?
50, 000 words divided by 30 days is 1, 666 words a day. If the average page has 300 words then I am to write 6 pages a day. SIX PAGES A DAY ?!?! Oh Good Lord ! (cry for help) What have I done? Why did I not do the exact math earlier ? This is obviously impossible . Its only 4 days till we start. I'm much too busy for this, too important, too many people need me, I have children, grandchildren, and elderly aunt, a job, two jobs, a husband, a farm, dirty laundry, horses. I have eczema for crying out loud.


Maaaaaaybe, I could do less of all the things no one really knows I do or asks me to do anyway. Maaaaaaybe, I could be less of a martyr and more of a writer.
Maaaaaaybe, I could actually do this thing called NaNoWriMo. I mean, its just such a cool name and all. I really would like to be able to say, "done that, been there, got the t-shirt."

Fine. I'm doing it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The unibrow nun

October 23, 2009

Yesterday, we delivered another fresh "kill and chill" hog to Jared Van Camp at Old Town Social Restaurant in Chicago. We appreciate Jareds business so much especially the time he spends with us showing us all the great things he makes out of our pork. Yesterday I learned all the herbs, spices and hang time that go into making Pancetta, a dried and cured product made from the belly of the pig. Some people refer to it as Italian bacon but it soooooo beyond bacon.

Afterwards I drove my husband father north on Ashland Ave. to see the neighborhood I grew up in as a child. I attended Our Lady of Lourdes School from 1964-1967, through kindergarten, first and second grade.

Next to the school was the convent where the sisters lived and next to the convent was our apartment building. My sister Mary and I were quite mobile at the time and we loved the city primarily because our father made it such an adventure. However, when he was at work Mary and I made our own adventures.

While mom was busy tending to all the babies she had in our dinky 4 room apartment (Bernie Jo, Tom and Peg), Mary and I would on occasion, scale the chain link fence that separated our concrete jungle backyard from the grassy patch in front of the convents grotto. A grotto is a place of worship, a cave like structure often build of stone where in the Catholic faith statures of saints would be placed and benches were built for prayer and reflection. Cubby holes were notched out of the stone work to hold candles, flowers or rosaries.

My sister and I viewed it as the coolest, biggest Barbie House EVER !

SO when the bell rang at the convent announcing indoor prayer time and the nuns would leave their yard duties to go inside, Mary and I would drag Barbie , Skipper, Madge and Ken over for some far out party time with Mother Mary and the Infant of Prague. Totally innocent, we played "house" with them. Sometimes the Mother Mary stature was boss of Ken, other times it was Skipper, just depended on our mood. I will tell you though, Ken was never boss at any time of any thing.

Then the inevitable. One day we were caught by Sister Mary Gerard who generally was a very loving and attractive nun with the exception of this large unibrow that extended pretty much from temple to temple, a caterpillar of doom it seemed on that particular day. She said nothing when she grasped our ears (capital punishment was very "in" with the sisters in the 1960's) and escorted us back to our 3rd floor apartment. She did not speak but you could FEEL her anger all the way thought the 12 layers of long brown skirts, slips and leggings and all other medieval garb. (If I had to wear that much clothing all the time I'd be irritable too.) She knew EXACTLY which apartment we lived in. She presented us to our mother throwing out that word we'd heard too often, "hooligans" and needless to say our mom was once again...not amused.

But yesterday, when I was able to see again that apartment building, those tired sidewalks, the convent (now turned into a private residence), and the school (converted into a heath care education facility) I was filled with happy memories for all of us involved in those times. And Sister Mary Gerard ? Like many of my religious teachers at that time, she was tough but she was fair. She taught me to read and write and do arithmetic. She taught me how to respect other peoples property. She taught me that a plastic Ken doll and the Infant of Prague really are not of the same social circle.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Equine Moonshine

Its an addiction. Like alcohol. Like drugs. Like food. Like fill in the blank. The love I have for horses runs deep in my veins and mucks up my head. My first affair was with a horse named Redfawn, owned by childhood friend Meg. Redfawns' buddy was a shetland pony named Quincy. We rode those animals EVERYWHERE. Through fields and pastures, other peoples yards, down streams and into lakes stretching out our bodies lengthwise along the top of the horse while they paddled as best as non- webbed animals can. We usually rode bareback, sometimes with just a halter and some rope. We ran those horses up and down all terrain. We fell off. We got back on. Sometimes we'd pile up a bale or two of hay behind the horse and hop on like lunatic gymnasts. Once we tried to teach the new priest at St Irene's (who had literally just gotten off the plane from India) how to ride. He fell off. We put him back on. That was the exact moment God started calculating the amount of time I would be visiting Purgatory before I get to Heaven.

When I was 12 I bought my own pony for $25. I asked my parents not. I just showed up with a black pony named Lightning. We lived in Warrenville and the tiny little lot we had in town was no place for a pony. It did have a chain link fence around it therefore I saw no problem. My father was amused at my moxie. My mother ? So very NOT amused. But I pouted and I got to keep it. We did move to another home near Elwood Illinois with 5 acres. My father helped me build a stall in the old barn. My mother growled at me whenever I passed. A month later while riding Lighting in a frozen field, bareback and bareheaded, I fell off backwords and knocked myself out. When I awoke on hard ground, my mother took me to the hospital. The EEG done the next day on my pea brain was "slightly abnormal". Mom said "Tell me something I don't know" and took me home. I was shocked to discover she had sold the pony. I was gone less than 24 hours !No grass or unruly ponies ever grew under that womans feet.

That only slowed me down a little. In the next 4 years I purchased 4 more horses. Earned the $ with various jobs, selected the animals myself , paid for several of them on a layaway plan then begged trailering from whomever I could. When I left home at 16 I'm sure my mother was thrilled to see the horses go too. I went without them the next 17 years. When I married Keith, a man with a barn and a little land, I promptly bought Johnny Walker the king of backyard horses. A Morgan crossbred ,I owned him for 14 years. He taught all of us how to ride. Kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. He walked slow for the babies and picked up speed for the teens. He never complained, he was always willing. He needed no warmups to ride. I just got on and took off. He was my horse hero. Last summer I made the decision to put him down. At age 27 he was thin and weak and tired. It was his turn to rest. I miss him every time I come up our drive as he is no longer in that front pasture, running alongside my car .

So at age 50 I am now entering into a new phase of my equine addiction. After giving my mare Sally to my niece Bridgette last week, I can now concentrate on the two horses left. Gus and Nora. And today was the beginning of a new and improved horsey girl. I rode Nora bareback. (but my head, the one that holds what little braincells I have left, was covered with a helmet) She did not run away with me, I did not fall but still I knew that out there somewhere my mother was watching. Half smiling half smirking. Her best look.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Red Rover Red Rover Send Wattles on Over

October 19, 2009

Our lives are moving at breakneck speed since we made the decision to expand our pork business. I actually caught myself watching me sleeping and wondered why I was being so lazy when we had so much to do !

Last week while in Indiana for the Covered Bridge Festival, we also ventured over to Morgantown Indiana to visit with Dot and Brian Jordan of Kiss My Grass Farms. They very graciously showed us their farm and herd of registered Red Wattle Hogs. Now ordinarily a pig is just a pig but these pigs were the cream of the pork chop. These big porkers were not just pretty they were friendly too. Walked right up to us, shook our hands and introduced us to their offspring. Mama sow with her litter was not one bit disturbed by our visit and daddy pig was first in line for some ear scratching. We had read about the friendliness of these pigs but to see it with our eyes was amazing ! We hope to be buying our first "family" (2 females and one male) of Red Wattles from Brian and Dot soon.

Keith and I were very happy the hogs were so friendly as they were quite big. My husband is 5 foot 11 and you can see by this picture, the Red Wattle sow is longer than he is tall. This means we have some serious hog houses to be building in the very near future.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cross this Bridge at a Walk

October 15, 2009

Keith and I spent the last 2 days at the Covered Bridge Festival in Parke County Indiana. It was cold and rainy, gray and sad, but we had no chores to do so we were happy happy farmers on a break. (Again let me say, if you really want to get to know someone, go on a road trip with them. A person's driving technique will tell you everything you did and did not want to know about them ) And Keith, if you are reading this I really do love you.

Back to the years past when I have gone I spent too much time shopping and not enough time touring. This year Keith and I followed the Black Route and saw several covered bridges, The tourist traffic was almost nill due to bad weather so it was easy to park the car and walk across and under bridges to check out the awesome construction that has kept these bridges operational for over 100 years. Even more amazing is how solid they feel as you drive your car over them. ! We went to the 3 main towns, Rockville, Mansfield and Bridgeton but Rockville was our favorite. Most of the booths there are folks with handmade goods and freshly made food. The key site to see in Bridgeton is the mill where flour and cornmeal are made the same way it was in the late 1890's.

We finished our trip with a side pass through Billie Creek Village. an entire little town set up as it was in civil war times. Old churches, general stores, print shop , horse drawn carts, and ice cream shop with homemade blueberry cobbler. We bought a huge bag of kettle corn from a towns woman in a long skirt. We ate all of it on the way home and made ourselves sick. Always a sign of a good road trip.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The mind is a terrible thing to...lose.

October 10, 2009

In the last 3 weeks I have lost my car keys, my debit card, my WHOLE ENTIRE PURSE and one other thing I can't seem to remember but I know it was really important. Empathetic friends and family have pointed out the increased stress in my life related to additional farm work, increased needs of my elderly aunt and wedding plans of our youngest son. Having always felt that "stress" is just a poor excuse for one not being organized, I have pridefully argued against the possibility that I could possibly be stressed or that the life I have chosen might be a little much for me and that God forbid (!) I might actually ask for a little help. Instead, like so many other goofball midlifefarmwives (as well as non midlife, non farm wives and just plain ol' women) I load myself up with self-important duties and responsibilities and then after weeks of piling on the crud I then EXPLODE in anger, frustration, fatigue and oh yeah, memory loss.

So, I swallowed (some of) my pride and "allowed" my sister to look for the debit card. She found it immediately in my car where I had of course already looked several times. Then I asked my husband to help me look for my purse even though I didn't know what the point of that was as I already looked "everywhere". He found it outside next to our fire ring. What was I thinking ? I haven't kept kindling in my purse since 1974. Back then you never knew when you might have to start a camp fire, on the side of the road, to get some truckers attention. Aaaaanyway...the car keys have not at this point been found and neither was that other thing I lost.

Research ( states this kind of memory loss is expected after age 50 and clarifies it is one thing to lose your car keys and another thing all together to forget you've ever driven a car. So children of mine YOU STOP LAUGHING AT ME ! Your day will come and I fully intend to be around to mock each of you, because that is the kind of caring, loving, mother I am.

To console myself I went to my favorite therapist Professor Ebay, and purchased the Easy 2 Find Kit. Consisting of one transmitter and 4 receivers , I attached the said receivers to things of importance: purse, camera, checkbook and some other thing I can't recall. When you press the blue dot on the transmitter, the item with the blue receiver beeps. So cool. (Yes, as a matter of fact I did have to write down what color went to which item and your point is ?) My husband suggested I might want to attach a receiver to my own head. That's so funny I forgot to...forgot to...oh %$!#!* how does that go again ?

Where are the Red Wattles ?!?!

October 9, 2009

The above piglets are Duroc crosses we just purchased from an organic farmer friends of ours. This group represents the first group of piglets to be grown in the fall on our farm. In years past we've just grown a few over summer for ourselves and family. First there were 5, then 10, then 15 and this last year we raised and sold 20. Still not nearly enough to meet the needs of the restaurants who've heard of our farm. So this next years goal is to raise 50 pastured hogs for market and we want RED WATTLES. A heritage hog breed which was near extinction 20 years ago, we've researched them and decided they are the future for Green Acres Farm.

Next week we are planning a trip to visit a Red Wattle breeder in another state. We've heard these gentle giants, which can easily reach 1000 lbs, are great meat producers and good mama's. That means we have a lot of work ahead of us in building of hog huts and fences. Thats a good thing since with winter just around the corner I was afraid we might run out of work to do. !

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


October 6, 2009

My sister Mary forwards me some article from some paper about some folks growing some food for some restaurant. (What can I say, I don't retain information like I used to.) Yet, I read the article, which peaked my interest, contacted "some folks", who turned out to be interested in what we were doing on our farm, and next thing I know four very famous people are in our dining room drinking coffee and eating my pumpkin cake. Ok, not household names yet, but they will be, mark my words. Right now, with a highlighter, right here on your monitor screen.

The group (from left to right above) was Stu Hummel, Ken Myszka, Nanam Yoon Myszka, and Mike Mustard of Epiphany Farms Enterprise and their story was told in the Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) last week. I'll just water down their vision and energy if I try to retell the story here so best to go directly to their web site at

Our meeting today was one of those "What do you do ? What do we do ? How can we help each other ? meetings that are the scones and butter of sustainable farmers. We all have this common desire to make the best of the land, the animals, the produce we've taken responsibility for , leaving something even better and more viable in its place. And oh yeah...none of us would mind making a decent living at it either. Keith and I learned much more about the restaurant business and hopefully our new friends learned a little bit about organic dairy farms. It was a great way to spend a cool rainy day, asking questions, exploring options, trading resources and soaking up the excitement of four obviously hard working, forward thinking, coffee slugging entrepreneurs. AND I also learned a pigs bladder is an excellent receptacle for steaming a Guinea hen. Just one more thing to add to my own personal Bucket List.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Yes, Deer.

October 5, 2009

On the way home from my Aunt Bernie's 91st birthday party, I spotted this deer out of the corner of my right eye. It was running parallel to our car on the other side of a windbreak of evergreen trees. I actually heard it breaking off the dried soybeans in that field before I saw it. Deer rarely are out and about alone so I slowed the car looking for its mate. There was none. Concerned this lone deer might double back in front of me and hoping to maybe get a picture, I stopped my car. The deer immediately stopped too , turned and looked directly at me. It did not move for several seconds while we just stared at it. It did not move when I rolled the window down. It did not move when I reached over Keith to get a good picture. However as soon as the photo shoot was over, he took off. Cooperative subject that one. (That's our barn in the upper left hand corner)

Friday, October 2, 2009

"He's not heavy, he's my porker"

October 2, 2009

Another successful trip to Chicago and Old Town Social Restaurant, where chef Jared Van Camp is making good use of our pastured all natural pork. The drive is 106 miles one way from our farm but that sure beats the average 1500 miles most food must travel that is served in restaurants. In addition only 5% of the restaurants in our country make an effort to prepare and serve locally grown food. Hats off to Jared as well as the many other chefs in the Chicago, Champaign and Bloomington area who have made it a priority to work with small sustainable farms like ours.

The kitchen at Old Town Social was a chefs dream (or at least a farmwife cooks dream.) All that stainless steel, counter space, organized work areas (oh how I love clipboards) and cool gadgets galore.

Jared makes sausage and other great morsels from our pigs. This is the special cooler where those items are stored. Who knew our humble little farm swine could rise to such heights ? We are so thankful for all these recent opportunities.