Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tree of Happiness Award!

Gosh, we haven't gotten a blog award before, what fun! Thanks Karen for the honor! And don't worry, I think we have just the "spot" for you.

Ok, so now I'm supposed to list 6 Things That Make Me Happy...

1. Beautiful sunrises with the new morning sun filtering through the hedgerow. Doesn't matter the time of year, this view always starts my day with a smile.

2. Long, straight rows of beautiful, healthy vegetables.

3. Sharing our lives (and our produce) with people who are interested and/or excited about them.

4. Amazing friends (with their beautiful hand-made gifts) who support, cajol and more importantly, laugh with me whenever I need it.

5. Most importantly, my family. Especially Sean who's willingness to give up exciting lives in the big-city-theatre-world was a good idea. And all the rest of our family who's support and willingness to jump in and help has made our lives here on the farm possible.

6. And finally, crystal clear nights with the moonlight so bright that it seems like day.

So now I'm supposed to tag other blogs that make me happy...oh the choices!

Adventures in Wonderland, because Maggie is a wonder-woman who always has such great things to say about life in general

Miss Effie's Diary because Cathy is one crazy, creative woman who knows her own mind

My Total Perspective Vortex because they are true life adventurers and their daughter has names for all the fairies and brownies living in their new house.

The Beginning Farmer another new farming family that approach life's challenges with thoughtful reflection.

High Hopes Gardens Blog a creative farming family with a sense of humor and great photos

I would have tagged Is this Heaven? No its Iowa! but Karen beat me to it. You are one popular blogger Claire!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Glimmer of Understanding

A quick disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with the farm.

It has to do with Facebook, of all the bizarre things in the world. I truly had no understanding what these "social networking" things was all about. I only knew that Obama used them to great advantage in his campaign and that high school and college students seemed to spend way too much time on them.

Then earlier this week my mom asked, "Have you seen your sister's Facebook page?"
No, I didn't even know she had one. So being ever-curious, I hopped online and looked her up. Well, duh...before you can look at a Facebook page, you have to not only join, but actually set up your own page. Fine! I don't tend to be a signer-up kind of person, but for some weird reason, I followed it through to the end and ...holy cow! There's a whole universe out there!

In the succeeding days since, I have amassed a whopping 50+ "Friends" (including my sister) and I have been spending an alarming amount of time in front of the computer, just checking in with people, some of whom I haven't seen in 20 years! Besides the somewhat humiliating part of the experience when you have to contact someone and "ask them to be your friend" which reminds me a little too much of junior high, its been great fun and at the same time, it is absolutely mad! Who thinks up this stuff?

If nothing else, its been a lot of fun just touching base with a bunch of people that I used to spend time with, from all across the country. And I now have some understanding of why certain age groups find this such an interesting pastime. Evidently, I fall into at least one of those age groups. Who would have guessed? I should have titled this post, "Facebook Ate My Brain!"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bloggin' Blue

Since I know that our farm has a certain number number of followers who are mostly just interested in Blue, I'd thought I'd give her a day on the Blog. For those of you who've never met our Blue, she's the 2 yr old Blue Heeler/Australian Shepherd mix who runs the farm. Her parents lived on a neighboring farm and she came to live with us as a 10 week-old puppy in January of  2007.

      January 10, 2007  She was one cute puppy!       
To keep from losing your favorite ball,just tie it to another one.
Early on there was some questions as to exactly what Blue's job was...this wasn't it.
A sign that your dog's bowl is too big
Blue's current favorite toy and general companion, she drags it all over the farm.
 In its previous life it was a bathrobe.
After a long day of herding vegetables, Blue like's to kick back and relax a bit
After an afternoon of cutting wood, we like to have a little fun...
really, the hill is better than it looks!
But no matter the season, Blue is always hard at work, watching over the farm.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Snowy Seeds

Snowy days always seem to bring out the seed ordering fool in me. So since we got about 3" yesterday, it seemed to be the perfect time to finish out the seed orders for 2009. Its always a hard choice, trying to whittle all the options down to a realistic plan. I am the ultimate sucker for glossy seed catalogs. I'd probably be better off if all the companies just did text-only .pdf files like Fedco does.  But then what ever would I do with all that extra time that I currently spend drooling over the "sexy" new pepper and tomato varieties? Ha!

The total crop list for this season numbers right at 200 different items, including 5 different kinds of beans, 6 different sweet peppers, 15 tomato varieties, and more than 40 items that go into our salad mix. Whew, makes me tired just thinking about it! Think I'll retire to the living room for a little hot tea and spinning break.

A variety our current of seed/plant suppliers

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Five Minute Replay

The "Five Minute" bread adventure continues. The third loaf seemed to be coming along pretty well, other than getting a little darker than I would prefer. That loaf went along as part of a traditional housewarming gift...

  • Bread - that this house may never know hunger.

  • Salt - that life may always have flavor.

  • Wine - that joy and prosperity may reign forever.

The fourth and final loaf of the first batch of dough was baked in my cast iron dutch oven instead of on the baking tiles. I like this method because I don't have to mess with the pan of water for stream. The crust was perfect, crisp and chewy, but the texture inside was still pretty dense. I think I'm having a problem with the dough needing to rise a little more, which is a challenge in our rather chilly house.

Before I even baked the final loaf, I started a new batch of dough. This one I replaced one cup of the white flour with some King Arthur wheat flour. We'll see how the new twist affects the loaf. I think I'll make an effort to give it a warm place to let it rise a bit more.

Blacktop Time Warp

During the winter I take interpreting assignments that I wont even consider during the growing season. Every Thursday this winter I leave around 6am and as long as the weather is agreeable, I hop off the highway and strike off across the countryside on county blacktops. It isn't a relaxing drive, too many deer moving around at that time of day. But parts of the route are beautiful, and watching the sun rise up over the rolling, southern Iowa hills is always a sight to behold.

Not long ago I was tooling along when I noticed a large herd of dark brown cattle grazing in a pasture. Something seemed strange, but it took me a minute to realize that they weren't cattle, but bison! Holy cow (ahem), a huge herd of bison...right there beside the road. Luckily no one was behind me, because I came to a complete stop. It was hard to comprehend so many of these animals, there were hundreds of them, bulls, cows and calves...all just grazing in the cool morning air, just as they must have hundreds of years ago.

I was just blown away, and totally disgusted that i didn't have a camera to record this amazing sight. I went on to my assignment, but over the succeeding weeks I tried to catch a photo, to no avail. Either I forgot my camera, or the bison had moved to a new pasture, or the weather was miserable. Regardless, I always watched for them, and was occasionally awarded with a good view of them. I became a bit obsessed, and through some high-tech gumshoeing I finally discovered that I was driving past Tall Grass Bison, here's a blurb I found about them:

Tall Grass Bison, the largest bison producer in Iowa, maintains their herd of over 300 grass-fed bison on 1000 acres "as close to natural conditions as possible." The animals are free-range and graze on native prairie grasses; no corn or other grains are fed. Herds are managed for natural family order, an evolutionary development that minimizes stress, the precursor of pathogens, illness and tough meat. Healthy stress-free lives mean they have never needed nor been given a shot or antibiotics in their life.

So this has become my Thurday "moment" and finally this week the camera, the elements and the bison all came together...

The photo quality isn't very good, and doesn't really represent the massive size of the individual animals or the scope of the herd as a whole, but they do show that yes indeed, here on the rolling prairie there are still remnants of what one might have seen so long ago.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Five Minute Bandwagon

I put it off as long as I could, but I finally had to jump on the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes" bandwagon. I haven't bought the book yet, but there was an article with the basic instructions in the December Mother Earth News that gave me the jump-start I needed.

I mixed my dough on Monday, then made my first loaf yesterday...

It wasn't beautiful and the texture was pretty heavy, very fine grained with few large air pockets. I fussed around for a while and finally figured out that my over was running 25° low. Grrr...that would explain the funky rise and weird texture. But, needless to say we ate it anyway, I mean, its bread!
Then today I tried it again, with the oven temp corrected...

Hmmm, a definite improvement, though not too sure what caused the little blowout on the bottom. The texture is much better and with the extra day, the flavor is developing as well. Sean thinks it a little "yeasty." But I wouldn't mind a little more flavor still. Will see what the next loaf brings...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Finished Objects

I finally finished and gave the last of this holiday's homemade gifts, so now I can write about them in the blog.

Earlier this winter I finally took the plunge and learned to knit with double pointed needles (DPN's) and made my first hat (which Mom got for Christmas.) Then I decided I should learn to make these amazing felted slippers, just like the ones super-friend Maggie made for me. Thanks to online tutorials and Maggie's guidance, I was able to get over my fear of the dreaded "turning of the heel". So Mom and Sister got Fuzzy Feet for Christmas, luckily they fit!

Mom's humongo slippers before felting

Mom's Fuzzy Feet after felting

Sister's Fuzzy Feet

Then the next challenge was to make hackles for my fiber friends. A hackle is a ferocious-looking tool used for blending fiber before spinning. It has been replaced by the more popular and much more expensive drum carder for most people. But we are not most people and I wanted a low tech, low cost tool that we could add to our fiber adventure days.

I didn't take picture of the process, but I started with a rough board of walnut harvested from our farm. My 93 year-old great uncle was kind enough to plane it down for me, which was lucky, otherwise I'd still be trying to sand it smooth. Then using pictures of various hackles I found on the web, I planned my design and went to work. Each of the hackles has 69 metal spikes, made from finished nails that I sharpened on a bench grinder. Finally after much drilling, pounding and glueing, the hackles are finished and have been gifted to their new owners.

Here's a picture of the mine, all ready to be put into service..

Generous and ambitious friend Terri has already tried her's's her picture of her loaded hackle with the fiber being pulled through a diz into roving.

Can't wait to see how it spins up!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cooler Salad

I should have titled this post, 'colder than-all-get-out' salad! Its a nippy 3° outside, but with the sunny afternoon today, the high tunnel was downright balmy! It is supposed to get down to -15° tonight, so I will likely loose what's left in the high tunnel. Ah well, it's about time to freeze it off anyway.

However, I want to take salad to the Prairie Spinners party on Friday night, but temps like this call for special harvesting techniques. Basically it means taking a cooler out to the HT, letting it warm up to the inside temperature and then harvesting directly into the cooler. Before leaving the HT, I sealed the top and bustled back to the house. Without some serious insulating, the salad would have frozen by the time I got back inside. Its kind of a goofy process, but it means we will have green salad with swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, beet greens, baby beets, carrots and violas for Friday. For fresh greens at this time of year, I will do just about anything.

Salad 'a la Coleman Cooler'

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Full Wolf Moon

As I've mentioned before, I have a thing for the traditional names given to the various full moons. I don't know how other people celebrate full moons, or even if anyone else pays much attention to such things, but I am a big fan. If nothing else, it reminds me, at least once a month, to stop... look up into the night sky and breath deeply.

Tonight was particularly spectacular, the night was cold and crystal clear, and the moon shadows were stark against a fresh blanket of snow. The moon was encircled by an enormous halo caused by the refraction of ice crystals high in the sky. It was quite a sight.

Photo courtesy of

Blue and I took the opportunity to do a little sledding by moonlight. And as it should be, the sledding was followed by a steaming cup of hot cocoa for me and a "cookie" for Blue.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Gift of Warmth

I've been meaning to get this posted, for a week now. When we returned from Colorado there was a box from Texas waiting for us. It was a gift from some dear friends who had spent a week with us on the farm last summer. Inside the box was a huge warm, afghan they had made from some wonderful soft green polar fleece (I LOVE polar fleece!). I've been trying to get a photo of the note that was included, but can't get a clear shot against the dark green paper. The note is as special as the gift itself. It is written in a 9yr old's hand and reads as follows:

Dear Ms. Jill,
Thank you so much for letting is stay at your farm last summer! We know it's cold and icy in Iowa, and we hope this blanket will make you have warm thoughts. It should also warm your toes. We made it long enough for Mr. Sean too! It was made with violin music over it! Have a warm winter!
Wishing you a warm winter,
Kayleigh ____
Alyssa ____
and Donna ____

Mission acomplished girls...I am warmed from my heart down to my toes! Many, many thanks from frozen (but cozy) Iowa!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Good Morning Sunshine

It was a balmy 15 ° when I woke up this morning, but one look out the window compelled me to throw on my coat and boots run outside, climb over the icy gate and stomp into the now-barren hayfield to snap this photo. I know the focus isn't great, but the color was just too vibrant to pass up.

We finally managed to celebrate Christmas with my family last night and much fun was had by all. Among the many fun and very generous gifts was a new sled for me (woohoo!) So I have a sledding date later today with my 3 yr old nephew "Z" on the one remaining snowy slope that leads out onto the lower pond.

In addition to our holiday celebration yesterday, we spent the late morning installing the remaining ribs and center purlin for the new high tunnel...big celebratory cheer!! We may actually have the silly thing ready for April planting after all. Huge thanks to my dad and BIL Sean for their continuing help on the HT project.