Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Country Life

You know you live in the country when...

1. One of your close friends (and bowling league teammate) runs for town mayor.

2. And all it takes for him to get his name on the ballot goes something like this:  Joey and I go to the town hall building.  We walk into the one-room building.  Close friend (and bowling teammate) is sitting at a desk with another guy (presumably someone on the town council).  We sign our names on a sheet of paper and join friend's wife and mom in the row of folding chairs.  Another buddy walks in, signs his name, and joins us.  We're the only ones there. Meeting is called to order, other friend makes a motion to put friend's name on ballot for mayor.  Friend's wife seconds motion.  Meeting is adjourned.

3. Everyone who works at the town bar knows you would like a Coke before you even sit down in a bar stool   And probably a grilled cheese sandwich.  The girls at the gas station next to the library know exactly what you like on your sub sandwich.

4. You eat sandwiches from a gas station.

5. Someone brings one of your library regulars a box of homemade holiday candy and he gives you the peanut brittle because he doesn't have any teeth.  And you don't even think twice about eating homemade candy that was given to him by someone you don't know.  And it was good.

6.  You can't go to the Wal-mart half an hour away without seeing someone you know.  And of course, you have to stop and have a conversation with them.

7.  Being the town librarian makes you kind of a celebrity.

8.  More than once there has been a full color photo of you on the front page of the local paper.

9.  The local paper publishes the entire conversation of the little old ladies that get together for breakfast once a month.

10.  Your neighbor likes to spend his weekend riding his four-wheeler up and down the street and doing donuts at the end of your driveway and then relaxing in front of a toxic smoke bonfire of an old couch and pvc pipes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Still Playing Catch-up

I know it's a little late, but this chalkboard sign still adorns my dining room.  Not a single Thanksgiving dish was eaten in there; we went home to eat two Thanksgivings with our families.  And we left our heat off for four days, so it was really cold in our house when we got home after our long weekend away.  It's a good thing we packed on an extra layer of stuffing, grandma's mac-n-cheese, and pumpkin pie to insulate us against the chill.

I'll probably create a new sign this weekend.  We're thinking about getting our Christmas tree.  The funny thing is that we've picked our tree out of a tiny grocery store parking lot the last two years we've lived in the country.  When we lived in the suburbs, we would drive to the country and chop down a tree on a farm.  Now we live on a farm and we have to get our tree from a grocery store.  

The chickens cleaned out all the old tomatoes left in the garden.

Joey and Millie the pony enjoying a warm November day.  Millie walks very nicely on a lead rope.  I like to walk her around the yard.  She likes to eat the grass.  I like to braid her mane.

Jip is such a happy dog.  Even when I won't let him in the kitchen because I am sweeping.  His favorite thing is to walk through my sweeping pile and re-disperse the dog fur and dirt.

That's about all for now.  It's almost December.  The sheep and pony are eating lots of hay and grains.  The early sunset makes me very sleepy in the evenings.  I think I am going to have to learn some vegetarian crock pot recipes so that I can put dinner together in the morning before I leave for work.  I read somewhere you can make lasagna in the crock pot without even cooking the noodles ahead of time.  I may have to try that.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Early Christmas Surprise

Alternate title: a little girl's dream come true!

Tuesday, this week,  Joey called me at work around 3:30 pm to let me know he had just gotten off of work and was going to the city about 25 minutes away (and by city I mean it has a Wal-Mart and a Farm-King) to do some Christmas shopping.  I was a little confused/nervous because:

1. It is November (not even Thanksgiving yet!)
2. Joey hates to shop 
3. I hadn't even made a Christmas list
4. He said he wasn't going to Wal-Mart so I was pretty sure that my present was coming from Farm-King
5. He bought my birthday present at the hardware store

After work, I went to go vote and then went to bible study and forgot all about Joey's shopping trip.  The next day, Wednesday, Joey said he couldn't take it any longer and really wanted to give me my gift.  Since he was so excited about it I decided I wouldn't mind opening my first Christmas gift of the holiday season.  All of this was agreed about half-way through cooking dinner.  I told him I would finish making dinner and then I would open it.  He said that it wasn't at our house, that we had to go to it.  At this point, I was pretty sure I was getting some kind of farm machinery.  

So we put a lid on supper, locked the dogs out of the kitchen so they didn't pull a Bumpus-hounds (Christmas Story, anyone?  The Bumpus hounds break in and eat the Christmas turkey and the family has to go to a Chinese restaurant), and got ready to go see my questionable mystery Christmas present.  Joey actually made me wear a blind-fold so I wouldn't know where we were going.  I could feel where we were driving for about the first two turns and then I got completely turned around and a little carsick.  So basically if I was ever in a blind-folded hostage situation I would not be able to figure out which direction I was taken by counting turns.  After Joey drove around in circles for a while to throw me off and got a chuckle about imagining another car pulling alongside us and wondering why the passenger was wearing a bandanna over her face, we pulled onto gravel and stopped.

Joey left the car running and then led me out (was he was going to get back in the car and leave me in the middle of nowhere to walk home?) and let me take my blindfold off.   

I was standing in our friends' barn.  

And there was a pony!

Joey got me a pony!  Even though I had never asked for one, he must have known deep-down that despite all the riding lessons I took as a girl and all the My Little Ponys I collected over the years, there was still I pony-sized hole in my heart.  

When I was younger I used to ask Santa for a pony.  My dad insisted that Santa did not bring live animals (what about all the puppies with red bows under the tree on TV, dad?!)

I know it's kind of silly.  I'm pretty sure I am too big to ride her, but she is very cute and I can brush her and braid her mane and feed her carrots and say that I own a pony.  And that's what all girls really want, deep down.  

And she didn't come from Farm-King.  Joey didn't even go to the city he said he was going to.  And the neighbor's trailer had a flat tire so he actually put her in the back of his pick-up with the topper on.  

The pictures are pretty bad since they were taken at nighttime.  In a barn. 

Her name is Millie.

She likes carrots.

She's so fluffy!

And I have no idea what to get Joey for Christmas. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Busy Harvest Season

It's been a busy harvest season, it's time to catch-up!  

Let's go back to the last weekend of September.  My dad and sister came for a visit, we borrowed a friend's trailer, made a big pot of vegetarian chili, chocolate chip cookies, and a bonfire pile, and invited some friends over to help us pick our acre of pumpkins.

My sweet friend, Anna.  She had her own little pumpkin the next weekend, a beautiful baby boy.  My new friend Jess is in pink.  This is the second time we've had her and her husband over.  The first time we had a make-your-own pizza party.  Apparently you can't come over to our house without being put to work, and being 8 1/2 months pregnant won't get you out of it.   

Anna's son, Noah.  He's Joey's buddy.  He dressed up as Joey for Halloween.

My Dad on the tractor.  

My sister is a prairie farm girl.  She picks pumpkins in style.

Watch out for flying pumpkins!

Pumpkin crew minus my cousin and his girlfriend, who had to leave early (and missed out on delicious chili and cornbread served with my dad's honey and our friends' homemade goat cheese.)

This pile was maybe about 1/3 of all the pumpkins we picked.  The field is still dotted with orange pumpkins a week after Halloween.  I definitely think we grew too many.  And I definitely worked on my upper body strength this fall moving pumpkins from field to wheelbarrow to truck to farmer's markets.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Farmers Market Pumpkins

Alternate blog post title: How Many Pumpkins will fit in a Toyota Matrix?

I filled up my little car with pumpkins last night (in the dark, no less) so that I could take them to the farmers market this morning.  I got up at 5:45 am to get to the market by 7 am.  I parked on the town square and set up my little folding tables (fortunately I remembered to put those in the car before the pumpkins) and waited.  And waited.  The temperature on the bank sign across the street said 49 degrees.  And it was soooo windy.  And I had wet hair.  (Complain much?)  

Notice that it is light outside in this photo.  This is what my car looked like after the Farmers Market. 

It is Homecoming weekend for the university so there was a parade around the square.  I was hoping this would be good for the pumpkin business.  It was not.  Five hours and many marching bands later, I made $39.50 and had to load all those pumpkins back into my car.  

So what did I do when I got home?

I went out to the field and picked more pumpkins.

Pie pumpkins, to be exact.  They were the only thing I sold out of today at the market.  I also sold some mini gourds and wee-be-little pumpkins.  

Here's hoping the next few weeks of pumpkin sales improve...  There's hundreds more pumpkins in the field!  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Foggy Monday Morning

It's a slow-moving, foggy Monday morning after a weekend filled with activity.  On Saturday, I dressed up as Rosie the Riveter and drove an American flag covered farm 4x4 through a 175th anniversary homecoming parade.  Out here, homecoming is a lot more than a dance at school.

Yesterday, we celebrated the upcoming arrival of our friends' baby boy by throwing a backyard baby shower.  The weather was perfect, the food was tasty, and the gifts were bountiful.  The neighbor even had 3 newborn lambs running around in the backdrop, adding to the idyllic scenery.

Now it's the beginning of another week.  Joey's working hard harvesting corn and soybeans.  We've got lots of pumpkins turning orange so we're hoping to sell them at the farmer's market next weekend.   Here's to busy weeks, and even busier weekends!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Into Fall

I can't believe it's September already.  I've been caught up in the torrent of summer activity, both at home and at the library.  I was finally hoping to catch my breath and come up for air after a crazy summer and Joey's terrifying accident.  I couldn't believe it when he told me the other night that it had been exactly a month since his crash.  He thought it felt like a longer time than that.  To me, it could have been a couple days before.  I've realized this week that I am not quite over that scare yet.  Telephone calls from unknown numbers still send my heart to the pit of my stomach.  Filling out his insurance paperwork today made my hands shake.  Sometimes I can't help but reach my hand out to feel him beside me, to know that he is solid and still there.  I imagined him as the young prisoners of war as I read Lauren Hillenbrand's book, Unbroken.  I cried when we watched a 9/11 documentary and the wives of the men who had fought the airplane hijackers told about their last phone calls from their husbands aboard the plane.  Joey's trauma may have been physical, but mine is definitely emotional.

But life goes on.  And now we are transitioning from a whirlwind summer into a just as packed fall.  Last weekend, I celebrated my longtime friend's wedding as a bridesmaid.  This weekend is the homecoming celebration for the town I work in and I am preparing the library for the event.  I also have to prepare my float for the parade.  Only in a small town does a librarian get to drive an American flag-bedecked four-wheeler through the homecoming parade.

It is now harvest season and Joey is back to long hours in the field.  Most nights he works until 9 or 10 pm but last night I brought him dinner and rode in the tractor with him until 10:30.  I rode with him a couple times last fall, keeping him company, but it wasn't until last night that I remembered that we had sat in a similar tractor seven years before, dreaming of what our future would be.  John Deere tractors are built in Moline, Illinois, right down the street from the Augustana College campus, my alma mater.

On one of the very first weekends that Joey came to visit me at school freshman year, we visited the John Deere museum where the newest tractors and combines are on display.  You can climb up inside and sit in the cabs and marvel at how far the little green tractor has grown over the years.  Last night, I remembered sitting in the cab of a brand new combine with an unfathomable price tag, on the little fold-down seat next to Joey.  He had just started his degree in agriculture and the only tractors he'd ever driven were from the 1940's.  Somehow I completely forgot about sitting in the little seat imagining what our future would hold until last night when I was in that seat again.  We never imagined that we would move to a small town 25 minutes from Joey's university, or that we would raise sheep and chickens, or that just a few years later Joey would drive those big tractors, then sell them for half a year, and then be back again in his favorite place, behind the wheel of the John Deere.

You never know where you'll end up in life.  I never dreamed I'd be a small town library director when I was painting in the art building at Augustana.  I'm so happy we landed where we are.  And that we landed here together.

Our sunflowers have bloomed!  Just in time for the backyard baby shower I'm throwing for a friend this weekend!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Love part two

Continuing yesterday's post on Joey's semi-truck accident...

Joey was moved from the Emergency Room to a surgery floor private room about 45 minutes after I got there.  By now, it was around midnight.  I wanted to stay overnight in his tiny room, but my mom suggested we go to a nearby hotel and try to get some real sleep instead.  I hated leaving him again after being so terrified of losing him but he had been under a pain-medication induced sleep for about an hour now and would probably not wake up during the night.  Also, nurses were supposed to come in during the night to take blood tests.

So my mom and I and Joey's parents (Joey's dad got to the hospital about 10 minutes after us-he drove 85-95 miles an hour to get there!) went to a nearby Holiday Inn.  We got settled into the room about 1 am and I set my alarm for 5:45 am.  I wanted to be back at the hospital as soon as I could in the morning.  I didn't sleep much, my mind kept replaying all that could have happened as well as creating frightening new scenarios about what could happen to him overnight without me by his side.  I woke my mom up early and we headed back to the hospital around 6:30 am.  Joey was awake when we got there and starting to feel hungry.  My mom picked up a bunch of food from the hospital cafeteria.  He was having a tough time eating because his jaw was so sore from where he hit his head when the truck flipped and I could barely eat still from being so nervous and shaky.  After a few hours, his parents arrived and the nurses asked if he could try walking around a little.  A few doctors came to check on him and go over his x-rays and CT scans.  He had suffered a concussion and bruising on his bones on his left shoulder and arm from the impact and his CT scans showed a little bleeding on the brain, but besides a lot of pain, a nasty black eye, and scrapes from broken glass, he was otherwise healthy.  Just in a lot of pain, and looked pretty beat up.

My mom and I left to go buy Joey some clothes to go home in since his clothes had been cut off his body.  She made me eat some lunch since I had not eaten since lunch the previous day.  The president of the board at the library called me to let me know that she had called the two other librarians to fill in for me for Monday and Tuesday so I didn't have to worry about being at work.  Friends called and asked what kind of casseroles we liked to eat and what they could do to help.

After a few more hours in the hospital, I helped Joey gingerly put on his new pajama pants and Cardinals t-shirt and we took a little stroll around the halls.  They released him in the afternoon with a prescription for pain medicine and advised to make an appointment with his personal doctor in the next couple days to see how he was healing.  He was wheeled to the car in a wheelchair.  We hugged and said goodbye to his parents at the hospital and my mom drove us home (about an hour and 20 minutes from the hospital.)  I was so happy to be going home with my husband in one piece.

About 20 minutes from our house, we had to drive past the spot where the accident had happened, about 20 hours before.  We were pretty silent when we drove past, each retreating into our heads and hearts and thinking about what could have been.  The only evidence of the accident was a little bit of cattle feed piled by the side of the road.  We learned later that they were able to scoop up almost all the feed and put it into the other semi to deliver.  After we arrived home, a couple of our friends, Brian and Carri came over with a tuna noodle casserole and cupcakes.  We asked if they could hang out with Joey while my mom and I went to the pharmacy to pick up his prescription, get some groceries, and pick up my car from the train station.

Brian and Carri left to eat dinner with his parents, My mom stayed for dinner, and then got ready to drive back 3.5 hours to Naperville.  I hugged my Mom and thanked her for being there for me.  I don't know how I would have survived without her in those terrifying hours.

And then we were alone.  And I was so happy to be the two of us again, with our dogs, in our little house that we've made our home, so happy that this little world still existed.  And I knelt next to the couch he was laying on and sobbed into his chest.  We fell asleep around 9 pm that night and didn't wake up until 9:30 am the next morning. I reheated some casserole and we had a picnic in bed and watched episodes of Friends on my laptop and fell asleep again until 3:30 pm.

The next few days consisted of Jell-o, pajamas, watching three movies a day, and answering phone calls.  Joey had so many phone calls from friends and old fraternity brothers. I heard about the details of the accident over and over again.  And every time a little detail came to light, like learning that the paramedics had to break the windshield to drag him out of the wrecked truck, tears would spring to my eyes.  I could picture it in my head.

After the long weekend, we set up an appointment with a doctor closer to where we live.  He prescribed physical therapy for Joey's left arm and shoulder, which were still very painful and he was reluctant to move them.  Since then, he has seen the physical therapist four times and is doing exercises at home.  He is improving daily.  He still sports a little shiner and the blood vessels in his left eye are broken.  His arm is scabbed over. He went back to work yesterday because he was going stir-crazy sitting in the house (the dogs loved it, though!).  His arm is still painful, so he is taking it easy.

I am so grateful that he was not injured more than he was.  I am grateful for the support and help from our family and friends.  We have lived in our small town for a little over 2 years now and it is so nice to feel that we have made some amazing friends who are there for us in times of need.

So that's what is going on in our little world right now.  A little pain, a lot of kindness, much grace, and a better appreciation for the little things.  Thanks for listening, it was a hard story to tell.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Love part one

I know, it's been too long.

I've been busy.  But I've also been avoiding writing on this blog.  Usually I share the funny little ordinary things that happen in my everyday life.  Sometimes I share my emotions; how my dogs can drive me crazy, how disheartening and discouraging a drought can be to anyone whose livelihood depends on farming, the frustrations of home-ownership and living hours away from my family.  But I usually don't bare my heart and soul, reveal the things that make me cry, or share much below the surface of everyday emotions.

But this blog is about my life: as a librarian, a shepherdess, a dog-wrangler, a city-girl in the country, a wife, daughter, and friend.  And something scary happened in my life.  One of those "step back and appreciate what you have" kind of things.  An event that gives you perspective, makes you wonder what life would be like if things had turned out differently, makes you question luck and timing, makes you want to say "I love you" everyday to everyone you love.

Here's what happened: the story that brings tears to my eyes every time I have told it this last week and a half.

On Friday, August 10, I woke up early to catch a train from Macomb (20 minutes away) to Naperville (my hometown and a suburb of Chicago) about 3.5 hours away.  I was going home for the weekend to go to my family's annual steam show and threshing bee (which I wrote about last year here.) I took the day off of work to be there and Joey was going to drive back with the dogs (and give a ride home to my cousin) in the evening after he got home from work.  My mom picked me up at the train station around 10 am and we went to get my bridesmaid's dress fitted for my friend's wedding in a couple weeks.  We went out for lunch and then made our way through the countryside to meet my dad and sister at the threshing bee.  After a few hours at the bee, Joey called me from work.

That day he was driving the semi truck from the town where we work up to Peoria, about an hour and a half away, to pick up a load of cattle feed from a plant up there and then drive back to deliver it to the farm.  Most days, he can only make one trip because the line of trucks waiting to pick up feed is hours long.  He called me around 3:30 in the afternoon because he was bored and frustrated that he had been waiting for hours.  He knew by the time he got his load in the truck and dropped it off that he would not be home and ready to leave for Naperville until later than he wanted.  I was tired from waking up so early to catch the train and wasn't making much conversation.  He was frustrated with me so he said, "well, you're not really talking so I'm gonna go, bye."  I didn't really think much of it, I knew he just wanted to get home.

After leaving the show, my mom and sister and I stopped by my grandma's house to say hi and then made our way back to my parent's house.  As I was driving, I could hear that my phone was ringing but couldn't answer it because I was driving and my mom couldn't figure out how to answer it.  I heard the tone that meant I had a new voicemail.  I waited a few minutes until we had pulled into my parents' driveway to listen to my voicemail since the missed call was from a number I didn't recognize.  After the first few seconds of the message my heart sunk to my stomach and I started to shake.  It was a nurse from a hospital near our house saying that Joey had been in an accident and that I needed to call her back.  Before I could call the hospital, my phone rang.  The caller id said "Joey" and I was hopeful for a second until I answered the call and it was not Joey on the line, but his boss instead trying to describe the accident to me.

He had been driving back from Peoria with a full load of feed when the semi that he was driving flipped over onto the driver's side.  He had been going about 10 miles an hour around a turn, made the complete turn and was beginning to drive up a hill when the whole thing tipped over for some reason.  His boss said that the paramedics thought he was o.k. but that I needed to call the hospital.  I called the hospital back immediately and the nurse told me that the were just about to put him on the life-flight helicopter up to Peoria because they did not have the specialists and equipment there to run the tests that he needed.  That's when I lost it.  Life-flight?  The nurse reassured me that he was stable but they wanted to run some more tests on his neck and back.

My mind went into overload with the possible outcomes.  I was terrified and I was almost 3 hours away from Joey.  I was still sitting in the car.  My mom ran in the house to grab an overnight bag and my sister went in to make some peanut butter sandwiches for the road.  I didn't know what to do.  I just wanted to be there with him as soon as I could.  I went inside and tried to get directions to the hospital on MapQuest.  My hands were shaking, my sister rubbed my back and hugged me while I bawled and tried to type in St. Francis Hospital.

Within minutes, my mom and I were back in the car, my dad had just gotten home and he squeezed me and kissed me through the car window and reassured me that everything was going to be alright.  We picked up Joey's mom on the way to the highway and started to make our way back to central Illinois, to my poor husband.  About 20 minutes into the ride, the helicopter medic called me to let me know that they had arrived safely and that Joey was about to see some more doctors and receive medicine for the pain.  I asked him if he could tell Joey that I was on my way and he promised he would.

Joey's boss' wife, Brenda and our friend's dad, Bob, made it to the hospital before I did and called to let me know that they were there with Joey.  Brenda reassured me that he was doing alright but she wanted me to be prepared for when I saw him because he did not look good.

When we finally got there, he was still in the ER but I was allowed to go in a see him.  He was laying on a bed, hooked up to monitors and IVs.  His left eye was blue and swollen shut and the sheets around his arm and shoulder were bloody from were they picked out shards of glass from the shattered window.  He woke up when I came in but he was on some pretty powerful medication so he was pretty out of it.  I kissed his forehead and told him how scared I had been and how I had tried to get there as fast as I could.  He told me he cried when the emergency room nurse asked him if he had a wife and if I was on my way.

A nurse came in and handed me a bag containing his "personal belongings": a pair of jeans that had been cut off of him and a similarly shredded pair of boxers, and a still intact belt.  No shirt.  No favorite baseball cap.  I cried again when I saw the blood and bits of glass on the back of what used to be his jeans.  I wondered why they even bothered giving these back to me.

 I'll end the story here for now, as it is already getting too long, and I am tearing up in the library. I wanted to tell the whole story, as much as it is painful to keep remembering how scared I was, it is important to remember how lucky he was as well.  And to remember all the important people in my life and the friends who gave us their prayers, phone calls, and tuna noodle casseroles. I'll share the rest of the story soon, but don't worry, Joey is home and recovering.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Farmer's Market

Two Saturdays ago, Joey and I brought some of our garden produce to the local farmer's market.  We borrowed a pop-up sun tent from a friend and set up two folding tables on the town square, in front of the courthouse.  

I picked vegetables before work on Friday morning and then Joey washed them in the kitchen sink on Friday night.  We set our alarm for 5:30 am Saturday morning and Joey had to practically drag me from under the covers... (not a morning person).  I picked some zinnias, he fed the sheep, and we loaded the car up to make it to the market by 7 am.

We had never taken produce to the farmer's market before, so we had no idea how to set prices.  So we told people to pay what they thought it was worth.  This idea kinda freaked some people out.  But others thought it was reasonable.  Some just asked us to name a price and some thought it was an interesting idea.  I read about a restaurant that didn't set any prices.  You get the occasional cheap-skate but most people were more than fair.

We didn't have as much as the bigger farmers who go twice a week, but we made up for it in presentation.

Those carrots were snatched up right away.  They were beauties.  The cherry and lemon drop tomatoes sold out too.

We even brought some of our wool and got into an interesting conversation with a hand-spinner from Scotland.  She and a few other spinners in her Scottish village bring their spinning wheels to the pub.  How quaint does that sound?  She bought the orange wool roving on the left.  And a few people took the new cards I made to advertise our wool!

My cousin and his girlfriend (and their puppy!) met us at the market and we went to celebrate our first market day with Mexican food!  Yes, those enchiladas cut into the profits, but it was so worth it after getting up at 5:30 am and sitting at the market until 1 pm!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Heat and Relief

Heat.  It's all I can think about these days.  It's been a long, hot, and dry summer.  And it's not over yet.  All week long Joey works in the heat, I escape it in the library, and then we return to our hot house and try not to make it any hotter by cooking, washing dishes under hot water, or even moving.  My legs stick to the leather couch.  When I don't know where the dog is I find him sleeping in the bathtub.  Maybe it's cooler in there.

Our pasture, corn field, gardens, yard, and checking account have been dried out and squeezed within an inch of its life.  Every weekend has been full of weddings and running back to the suburbs.  Too much concrete, too much heat, and too much money.  I am grateful for the time spent with family and friends.  But I am also ready to spend more than a few days at my own house, work a full workweek, tend to my parched gardens.

Last week, we got a little respite in the form of a long weekend vacation with some friends, a couple and their little boy.  We drove 12 hours through the night after work last Wednesday, out of the state of Illinois, through the North Woods of Wisconsin, to catch the 7:30 am ferry to Madeline Island on Lake Superior.  We spent the next few days kayaking, canoeing, and relishing many hours swimming in the cold, clear waters of the Great Lake.  We walked barefoot in sand and green grass, made sand castles, and threw a tennis ball into the water for Jip to retrieve, over and over again.  We lounged on the screen porch and finished good books, ate baked beans out of the can cooked over a campfire.  I ate two grilled lake trout, with lemon and tartar sauce.  I slept in an cottage with 5 screened windows and a lantern for light.  I took a solitary bike ride.  I became closer to my friend Anna.  I watched Back to the Future with her nine-year old boy who had never seen it before and then talked about time travel.  I came home with tan lines and bug bites.

And a little bit of clarity.

True, our air-conditioner is broken.  But our energy bill was waaay lower than usual.  And I guess it was low enough so that I still haven't found the time to call a repair man.  Plus, we need the extra money to pay for all the water we're giving to the sheep and the gardens.

Yes, our acre of sweet corn that we were hoping to sell at the farmer's market looks like we are growing baby corn for Chinese restaurants.  But, our hungry sheep have willingly been eating all the corn stalks we can give them.  (and broccoli plants and green beans...)

No, we haven't seen any rain for weeks going on months.  But, I haven't had to use my dryer to dry laundry once this summer (another reason our energy bill was low...and maybe also the fact that we've been gone more than we've been home this summer).

So you take the good with the bad.  Also, I bought myself a pair of flip-flops on vacation that are made out of yoga mats and they are so heavenly comfy I can't feel bad when I'm wearing them. :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th!

Happy Fourth of July!  This is one of my favorite holidays, probably because I spend every 4th of July with my family at our cottage on Lake Superior.  This year, I am sadly still in Illinois while my parents and sister celebrate in Wisconsin because our friend is getting married on Friday.  But, this morning I got to walk around our little farm and think about how great it is to live in a country where two 25 year-old kids from the city can own their own farm and some sheep, work at jobs we love, and shoot off fireworks over a soybean field to celebrate.

Joey's latest project.  And yes, he saw something like this in a movie where the people lived in a commune.

So that's a little slice of my American pie.  Can't believe it's been three years since Joey proposed on the 4th on our dock on Lake Superior, under the glow of the moon. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Good Things

1. It rained!  Hallelujah.  Nothing like the wild storms other parts of the country (and even state) have been getting, but we'll take what we can get.  Our pasture/sheep/garden/pumpkins/sweetcorn was thirsty!

2. Today is like a Friday (I know, it's only Tuesday) but the 4th of July is tomorrow so the library is closed and Joey is in a wedding on Friday back in our hometown so we are driving home tomorrow for a nice little stay at home.  Yay, two-day workweek! (boo, lousy paycheck!)

3. My parents have a pool.  I'll definitely be getting my swim on in suburbia this weekend.  Funny side note- we bought Jip and Daisy a plastic kiddie pool earlier this summer to splash around in and last night I was standing in the backyard and looking at the garden and realized that instead of one kiddie pool, we now have two of the exact same pools in our yard.  Neither one of us know how we got an extra pool; it hasn't even been that windy lately.  And the funny thing is that I'm pretty sure that there have been two pools for a couple days and we've been too busy/stressed/distracted with work and livestock that neither one of us even noticed.  Oops.

4. I get to see one of my best friends this weekend!  I've known her since we were in kindergarten and we've been best friends since we worked on a project together in 5th grade.  She was one of my bridesmaids and now she is getting married in September.  She has her final dress fitting this weekend and I get to join her and say hello to the seamstress that fitted my wedding dress more than a year and a half ago (has it been that long?)

5. I got a new car!  With all the craziness lately, I forgot to mention that I bought a new car a couple of weeks ago.  It's a used Toyota Matrix and so far, I am loving it!  It really takes stress off my back to have a reliable car again!

6. We're going on vacation next week!  Since we couldn't make it up to my parent's cabin on Madeline Island on Lake Superior for the 4th of July this year (1st time not going in 14 years = major sad face), we decided to invite some of our friends that we've gotten pretty close with in the last two years.  We're going Thursday through Monday and it basically takes the whole day to get there, but it's sooo worth it.  I'm excited to share our favorite place with our friends.

I've been stressed lately, so I decided to appreciate the little things.  I stopped and smelled the roses.  And they sure smelled nice.  Hope you have some exciting things going on in your life as well!  Can you believe tomorrow is already July 4th?!?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Learning the hard way

Our pasture cannot support our sheep.  There's almost nothing there for them to eat.  They have eaten the grass down to the dirt and without any rain, it can't keep up.  We don't have any hope of the grass growing unless we keep the sheep off it.  Which means moving them onto someone's pasture or fencing them up by the barn and paying for hay and grain.

So far, we've moved the rams to a fenced-in, filled-in pool in our friends' backyard.  We've moved wire fence panels around our backyard for the ewes and lambs.  And now we've tried moving them to pasture in the next town over.

Every day, on Joey's drive to work, he noticed an empty fenced pasture filled with overgrown grasses.  He found out who it belonged to and asked if we could pay to keep some of our sheep there for awhile.  Luckily, the guy who owned the pasture didn't want any money for the use of his pasture, so it seemed like a pretty good deal.  Joey spent a couple nights last week walking around the fence and looking for weak spots or holes and yesterday, he bought some new fence posts and wire and worked in the hot sun for 4 hours, fixing the fence so we could bring the ewes over to stay for a few weeks.

We borrowed the neighbor's sheep trailer, loaded the 6 ewes, and drove them to the new pasture.  Unfortunately, there was no way to get the trailer close to the pasture gate because of trees and toys in the guy's yard.  And the sheep aren't halter-broke so we had to try to push each sheep individually towards the pasture gate.  And when they didn't cooperate, Joey carried them.  We were very afraid of them getting away from us, not only because they are flighty, but also because the pasture is next to the county highway and we didn't want the sheep running into the road.

After carrying two over, we could see that the barbed wire fencing was way too far apart for our small sheep.  And a minute later, one ran right through the fence and bolted.  After a couple of frantic minutes chasing it around the trailer, we finally got it back inside.  Joey carried another ewe to the pasture, hoping that if they were all in together, they would stay put.  At this point, we were drenched in sweat, exhausted, and starting to feel all the work had been in vain.

I know that Joey was frustrated from working on the fences all week and all that day, but I didn't want to risk the sheep getting out.  I was pretty sure if one jumped out, they all would follow.  He told me it was my call and I felt pretty terrible about making a decision because he had done so much work, but we decided to take them all home again.

So after many wasted hours of maneuvering sheep and trailers, we're back to square one again.  And we're running out of options.  Hay is expensive because it's been so dry.  We have too many sheep on one acre.  And we haven't made a single dollar of profit in the two years we've had them.  The are beginning to feel like a very expensive, back-breaking, heart-breaking hobby.  I guess this is farming.  And we are figuring things out the hard way.  It's not for the lighthearted and empty-walleted.

We might have to sell the lambs sooner than we thought.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Life

Last weekend, we went back to our hometown again for another wedding.  On Saturday morning, as we were leaving town, Joey got a text from the chicken hatchery that said our chicks had been shipped, so we assumed they would be at our post office on Monday.  Saturday evening, at the wedding reception, Joey get a call from the main Peoria post office (about an 1 hr and 20 min. from our house) and that we could pick them up on Sunday.  So we drove home a different route and stopped to pick up our chicks.  The dogs were very curious about the peeping box in the back seat. 

When we opened the box, we counted 27 chicks, all doing well.  10 were for our friends who ordered black and white silkie bantams.  The minimum order was 25 chicks, so we ordered hens to split with other friends and one rooster.  They gave us a free mystery chick (she's the grey-blue one right about the white one) and an extra rooster for free.

We gave each of them a drink of water and put them in a plastic storage tote while we set up a big cardboard box with newspaper in the spare, unfinished bedroom upstairs (where it is nice and warm without a/c!)  Jip watched over them.

We was a little nervous about the little fluff-balls but also curious.  So far, he has been very gentle.  When we had the laying hens in the coop outside, Jip loved to sit outside their run and watch them scratch in the dirt.

Outside, our pumpkins are finally emerging!  The time spent planting each seed by hand has not yet been in waste! I have 750 more seeds waiting for me to plant when I get home from work tonight and then I think we will be almost done with the acre.  Hopefully planting an acre of pumpkins proves to be a profitable scheme.  If not, there may be some punkin chunkin at my place this fall.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

No rain, new car?

Rain clouds all morning and no rain.  The guy on the radio this morning reported that skies would become clearer and clearer as the day progressed, as if that was a good thing.  Maybe if you were trying to get a tan. Not if you're trying to feed 13 sheep on a dried up pasture.  Or have an acre of pumpkin seeds that haven't sprouted.  We need a summer storm.

In other news, I'm looking around at used cars right now.  And I hate to do it.  And I can't seem to find a good mechanic.  And I just want a reliable car that will work when it rains and can haul 2 dogs and 50 lb. bags of chicken feed and gets good highway gas mileage.  Am I asking for too much?

And I kind of have a deadline.  Joey and I are taking a trip up to my parent's beach cottage on Lake Superior on July 12.  The trip is more than 500 miles from our house and takes about 12 hours.  And I don't think either one of our cars can make the trip.  So is it worth it to put $2,000 in repairs into my car that is paid off?  Or should I get a new car payment but save money with better gas mileage in a newer car?

Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Warm Summer Morning

Here are some photos from this morning around the farm.  It's only 8:30 and it's already hot.  It's about time to close the windows for the day.  Since our air conditioner isn't working, we've been living with open windows and ceiling fans and a window air conditioner in our bedroom.  It hasn't been too bad yet.  And I got our energy bill yesterday...and it was so much less than usual, it was totally worth it. :)

My mom grew these gorgeous flowers.  She decided she wanted to learn how to grow fresh cut flowers  to sell at the farmer's market and the vegetable farmstand where Joey and I worked growing up (my sister works there now.)  So she asked the farmer who owns the vegetable farm if she could use some of his land and in exchange, he could keep the profits from the sale of the flowers since she is only figuring things out this year.

He gave her half a high-tunnel (a long, plastic-sided hoophouse), as well as the use of his water drip lines.  So she started thousands of flower seeds in flats in her basement in January and February with grow lights and then transplanted them into the high tunnel.  She direct-seeded a couple rows outside of the tunnel as well.  And now she has the most beautiful garden of zinnias, sunflowers, black eyed susans, snap dragons, just to name a few.

She has really worked so hard at being at the farm everyday, watering and weeding, and picking her flowers, on top of working at a pharmacy, a university, and taking care of my dad and sister.  Her hard work has paid off, the flowers are gorgeous!  And they look so good in my kitchen.  Too bad we live four hours away. :(

Despite the lack of rain, our tomatoes have exploded.

Our empty chicken coop.  Needs more raccoon reinforcements to prepare for our new chickens coming next week.

One of the gardens with the sheep pasture behind.  A little rain last weekend made it a little more green but it is still not doing very well.  Yesterday, Joey bought a few square bales of hay for the sheep to eat so that the pasture can recover a little bit more.

This garden has onions, lettuce, green beans, hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, basil, and marigolds and zinnias.  The spinach and the snap peas are finished for the season and have been ripped out to make room more dry beans.  The sheep enjoyed eating the pea plants.

2 acres where our sweet corn, popcorn, and pumpkins are planted.  The sweetcorn is in the foreground and the pumpkins are being planted in the middle.  We planted another row by hand last night and we have about 5 more rows to go.  None of the pumpkin seeds have sprouted up yet...keep your fingers crossed all this planting is not in vain.

Our other garden.  Red and yellow potatoes, broccoli, carrots, green beans, beets, cucumber, zucchini, summer squash, cantaloupe, eggplant, dry beans, and indian popcorn are growing here.

We've gotten so much broccoli already.  This is the first time I've grown broccoli and it has been a great producer.  I bought four small broccoli starts from Wal-Mart and we planted them in the garden and then placed the cold frame over them and they have done really well.  I have harvested big heads of broccoli from each plant and now we are getting side shoots.  We've eaten a lot of fresh broccoli in salads, pasta with broccoli and pesto, in vegetable fried rice, and last night I added broccoli to noodles with a chinese peanut sauce.  I've been trying to freeze some too so that we can eat it in stir fries this fall and winter.

We're starting to get little blossoms on the green bean plants.  We planted dry bean seeds early in the season and they never germinated.  We looked all over the area for dry bean seeds and couldn't find any so I ordered some online and they arrived yesterday.  We planted two rows of beans that will be dry to add to soups or rice.  I've never grown dry beans before but I am really trying to grow things this year that we can put away for fall and winter.  

Are you as glad as I am that there is fresh produce again?  I didn't realize how badly I craved fresh fruits and vegetables until I started eating fresh peas and lettuce from my garden and the juiciest peaches from the farmer's market.  I gave my dad a jar of the maple syrup we made in February and March from our backyard tree for Father's Day and we ate it on blueberry pancakes.  Sweet.