Friday, December 31, 2010

End of 2010 and our Farm Christmas Tree

I wasn't going to put up a Christmas tree. Hazel's too young to understand it, and she and I went to visit her great-grandparents over Christmas anyway. But some time toward the beginning of the month, Ryan decided we needed a tree. So what do you think he did?
If you know him, you guessed it. He went out to the scrubby timber behind our house, and found us a gangly female cedar tree. I have to say, the minute I saw it I loved it. 
It's scrawny.
It's gangly.
It has about 2 ornaments per branch.
It was free.
And it's great. 
We may never spend $40 or even $25 on a Christmas tree again!

Just add this to that list of things that are kind of fun about owning 40 acres with scrubby unkempt timber in the middle of nowhere. Weeds become Christmas trees.

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Local, Organic food is too expensive...right?

Fair warning: I'm in the mood to rant again. I just saw one of the Iowa Minute commercials sponsored by Farm Bureau on the evening news about food pantries and the affordability of food. I really dislike those commercials. But anyway, it talks about people who are unemployed using food pantries more and how Iowan conventional farmers are growing cheaper food for the world. 
Putting that whole argument aside, I just wanted to say something about how the food this farm grows is so expensive. It's true, we know that we cost more than the grocery store. I also know that we calculate a reasonable profit margin without any labor rate. But here's the real point I'm trying to make: 

Local food can be available for barter. 

I know there are people using our local food pantry, and we donate our small eggs to our local pantry for those people. However, I think people who were willing to come barter with their local farmers for food would be surprised how flexible we are. If you're an out of work accountant, offer to help us with our books. If you're an unemployed welder, I'm sure we can find something for you to weld around here! Even just offering babysitting at the going rate in exchange for that value in product could probably be arranged. I know I am blessed to still have my in-town job and certainly hope that continues to be the case. And I'm grateful for our core customers, who understand why we charge what we charge for food. I just want to say sometimes the out-of-the-norm thinking can benefit everyone involved.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Maw, the Cows are Out

City people don't get calls like I get at work in the middle of the afternoon. When you live in a city, your husband calls you at work and says things like

"Can you pick up some milk on the way home?" or
"I think a light burnt out in the kitchen today" or even (if you're really lucky)
"What do you want for dinner tonight?"

But no, I live in the country. And my husband is full-time stay-at-home-dad as well as full-time farmer. I get calls like this.

"The truck died. I'm 3.5 hours away from you and have a full trailer full of just-processed frozen chickens." 

"I never did get around to chainsawing today because there are 3 fire trucks here from my unplanned prairie burn"

2008 Unplanned prairie burn

or this last Friday at 3:30 pm
"Everything got out. Cows and sheep, and I can't get them back in. I need more manpower!"

At that last one, echoing in my ears I heard with a nice hillbilly drawl, "Maw, the cows're out." 
This isn't our land, by the way. This is our neighbor's land. 
Did I mention it was freezing cold out? 

This is what they did to the portable netting when they got out:
They snapped the support post. Sigh. 

I keep thinking that after a few years, I won't get these phone calls at work anymore, but I'm beginning to think they are just part of the deal. 

I'm still glad he calls me when he needs help.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What makes a Country Man?

I was listening to a country music radio station today (yes, I do that sometimes) and the song Country Man by Luke Bryan came on. One of the lyrics lines says "I can wrestle hogs & gators with my two bare hands," and it got me to thinking. I know a few country men, and none of them wrestle hogs or gators. I've had the privilege of watching Ryan turn into a country man in the last couple of years, and so I have my own definitions. Ryan went from this:

To this:
in three years. Now, it's subtle I know. But there are some major differences in these two men. These pictures were taken at the same time of year. So here's what would make a Country Man if I were the type to write song lyrics about being a Country Man (but I'm not).

A Country Man...
1. Wears jeans. Always. To almost everything, except church. A country man is uncomfortable in anything else.
2. Comes back from a trip to Target in the middle of a weekday grumpy because there are "too many people."
3. Can't be picked out of the crowd at a farm estate auction.
4. Walks funny on concrete. (This is the one that always strikes me when we go somewhere like the state fair. Ryan walks on concrete like he expects it to roll under him like his pasture, and then it's like his feet are surprised when it's totally completely flat.)
5. Swears at his livestock at the top of his lungs. Ryan's proficient at this one.
6. Leaves little bits of grass and seeds all over the house as they fall off his jeans. See #1.
7. Has firm shoulders. mmm, mmm, but I like this one. Oh, sorry. I'll move on.
8. Can back his livestock trailer into its parking spot. Not just the skill level in getting it into a specific spot, but the fact that it has one.
9. Has a pair of shoes just for going out into public in.
10. Could carry around a tape recorder with the message "Sorry I'm late, chores took me longer than expected" ready to go for every occasion.

I admit, I do love my country man.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lullaby quilt & the Stuff that makes a Marriage

The turkeys are all done now, and just in time! We had a nasty rainy couple of days and wind from the northeast (our least sheltered direction). A fellow farmer friend of ours lost a bunch of her turkeys last night, and Ryan commented that we got done on the right day. Now it's just a few short days to Thanksgiving and we can settle into winter.
I finally finished another quilt, this one is a blue version of a green one I made for my niece about a year ago. I hand quilted this one with an all over design that is the sheet music for Brahms' Lullaby. 

I do like the design idea, but again I continue to quilt complicated all over designs on top of non-wholecloth quilts. I should just save those designs for less complicated patterned quilts. Someday I'll learn.

So tonight I went to do a load of laundry and our dryer was making a funny noise. It was heating, but not spinning. Ryan immediately surmised it had lost a belt (Mr. Fixit) and we googled it for confirmation. So we pulled out our "tools" in the house together, and took the top off the dryer.
This is a wrench set Ryan used to have in his very first car. Even though we have all kinds of tools from Ryan's grandfather, this is what he grabbed. 
So as we're pulling wads of lint out of the dryer, Ryan comments that this is what it's like to be an old married couple. We spend Saturday night pulling lint, both ours and someone else's (we bought the dryer used for about $50), out of a dead dryer. 

I told him these are the things that make a marriage. And they are. 
Meanwhile, Nermal enjoyed playing with the broken dryer belt.

He's helping.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Keep to the forest, stay out of the trees

Ryan's working on fencing still, and in this case it involves clearing some trees. I think he's learned a few things from the last time he tried to burn a pile of timber, so this time he hooked up the hose first. And he watched the fires.
Of course, he still had a few going at once. I saw three.
When he came inside later he told me there were seven. 

Ryan also went to visit his grandmother last week (she lives about an hour's drive away), and she gave him her mother-in-law's leftover quilting fabric.
This is Ryan's great grandmother, Hazel's namesake. There's actually an almost-finished quilt here. It's even a pattern I thought about making some day. I think I'm going to finish it. Here's the thing: all of this fabric is amazingly ugly. Deliciously ugly, even. 

As I unpacked it I was talking to my mom and telling her how ugly the fabric was. So she asked me why I want to finish this quilt. I never knew this woman. But she was important enough in my husband's world that I named my daughter after her. And she's the only quilter in either of our families (in the direct lines anyway); I feel a connection to her. So I laid out the quilt to take a look at it. 
Then Ryan, beer in hand after coming in from burning the piles, mentioned that the quilt isn't so bad as a whole. He told me not to focus on the individual, ugly fabrics; focus on the overall picture. I also admit it's already growing on me. Even the individual fabrics don't seem as ugly to me as when I first unpacked them. 

 Someday if I leave a half-finished quilt behind, even an ugly one, I hope my great granddaughter-in-law picks it up and finishes it. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mother Nature is Naked

Warning: this post is likely to be preachy! I'm in that kind of a mood...

Mother Nature is naked. I love the fall, but I do kind of hate this time of year because it's harvest season. I just think that all that dark bare earth seems wrong. Last Wednesday they combined the soybean field across the road, and this is what our living room light looked like that same evening:
All those little black spots are the Asian Ladybeetles. As I think I've mentioned before on this blog, the little bastards were created to control some other soybean pest and now are a pest themselves. Stupid bugs. They've invaded our farm now and nothing eats them. Nothing! I'm sure they taste terrible because they do smell terrible. 

Anyway, our farm is still very green, and it seems like a shame to strip the earth every fall of her protective cover. How much topsoil do we lose this way!? I know, the scientists have calculated it, but it still seems to me like they shouldn't have to get out there with rulers to realize that stripping the earth bare is a bad idea. 

For anyone who is interested, we have had about 2 weeks without any rain, but our yard is still a swamp. It's a new ecosystem! Last week, I actually saw a woodpecker land on the stalk of one of our swamp plants and peck at it for bugs. That's how big the things are! I didn't have my camera anywhere nearby, so I didn't get a picture. You'll just have to trust me on this one...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Quilt Step Three & Applesauce

This is the third step in a quilt design for me: drawing it on graph paper to scale. Although I admit, I have been known to whip out a 2D CAD program during my lunch break and design quilts that way too. For the fellow geeks out there: yes, this is engineering paper. I design most of my quilts on engineering paper. I think it's mostly because I'm comfortable with it and I have some left over from my college days.

So yes, when I tell people that quilting is like engineering, this is one of my reasons! My scale drawing helps me figure out how to lay out and cut my fabric when it comes time to do so. 

Part of eating locally is definitely storing food. Whether that be freezing, canning, drying, whatever. So I have a friend who has an apple tree (or 6!), and we also have an apple tree that is old enough to give fruit. We have several others as well that are getting there that Ryan planted, but our orchard is not really up to full swing yet. So one thing we've taught ourselves to make is applesauce. Now, I say "taught ourselves" because we do some things more of a "cheater" way due to our lack of patience and our lack of a food mill.
Step one is to core and cut the apples into largish pieces. We don't peel them because we don't mind the taste of the peels and that is where all the nutrition is!

Step two is to throw the apple pieces into the food processor and chop fairly finely.
The raw chopped apples

Step three is to put the apples in a saucepan with a little water or apple juice and some lemon juice (a couple tablespoons of each of these). Then you simmer it until the apples are soft, it takes about 15-20 minutes.

Raw apples in the saucepan
Step four is to add some sugar (I used brown sugar, about 2 Tbsp or so) and about 1/2 tsp of cinnamon (obviously the cinnamon is optional). If I'm feeling like it, I'll thrown in some ginger and/or nutmeg too. Then I simmer it 2-3 more minutes to get it all combined.
The completed applesauce: Ugly but yummy!
Voila, applesauce! Sometimes I can this, (like 2 years ago I did) but this year I just filled quart-sized ziploc bags and stacked them up in the freezer. We did about 6 rounds in the saucepan and got about 5 bags as well as another 3 cups or so for the fridge for the next few days' eating. If you wanted to, the warm applesauce could be pulsed in the food processor to make it finer. This is how you're supposed to do it, but I don't like dealing with all that hot, sticky applesauce. 
The applesauce assembly line in process

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Quilt design step 2 & tree frogs

I'm kind of obsessed with our clothesline. 

It's true! 

I was taking diapers off the line today and pondering this fact. The truth is that the clothesline makes such a good metaphor for how my life is now. Do I put all my laundry on it? No. Is it hard to motivate myself to get out there and stick stuff on the line instead of into the dryer 3 steps away? Yes. But my cooking is like that too. I try to source local foods, but I don't succeed 100% and I fight the urge to cook out of a box. So like the clothesline, I forgive myself and move on. Ryan holds me accountable for both of these, and I think that makes the difference.

Summer is fading, but we still get little web-footed friends everywhere. Here is a tree frog climbing on my kitchen window. 
Ryan also rescued one from our sun room yesterday. Our sun room floor is covered in pet hair, and as I walked by the door I saw Ryan with a little glass dish full of water. I asked him, "Did you just give that tree frog a little bath?" 
He replied, "It was covered with cat hair. I just wish washing the dog was this easy!"

I also worked on step 2 of designing a new quilt today. This quilt has color-fade fabrics, so the placement is very key for the design. I pulled out my colored pencils and started sketching alternatives.
I asked Ryan if he had a preference. Can you guess which one he liked? Which one pops out to you? I'm betting you guessed it: he likes the one in the top right corner. I admit that on paper it really pops, but I may yet change my mind on this one. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Livestock & Deadstock and the Birth of a Quilt

"If you're going to have livestock, you're going to have deadstock." Those proverbial words were spoken by our previous landlord when we were renting a farmhouse and few acres. 

It was funny at the time, but of course, he's right. 

I think Ryan is planning on posting our full tally for the season so far, but I just know he called me at work to tell me another ewe died. He called her Awesome II (he's great at ewe names, by the way) and is fairly disheartened about it. We're also down to about 60 of our original 260 turkeys. They simply refuse to stop dying, mostly of cold and/or wet. 

On a happier and more cheerful note, I thought I'd post a picture of the "first step" of most of my quilts. 
In this case, I actually have fabric to go along with the doodle. Usually I don't even have that. But the only difference between this sketch and 90% of my other quilts in the beginning stages is that this one is not drawn on engineering paper...

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Special Guest & It's still wet out here

Sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time. This happened to us on July 30th, when we took Hazel to her first Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) field day.
Hazel's first PFI field day
So while we were standing around with some of the PFI staff, one of them mentioned that Temple Grandin was flying in a day early for her field day on Tuesday and they didn't know what do with her on Monday. Of course, I joked that she was welcome to visit our farm. Next thing I knew, she was coming to see our farm on Monday and I was feeding her dinner! Ryan's mother was reading her book at the time and came down, and so did a fellow farmer of ours who found out about it. We ended up having 8 people for dinner and a lovely time. Moral of the story: go to PFI field days!
Ryan, Temple, Janice, & Hazel

Have I mentioned before it's been a wet year here? 

Oh, I have? Well, it has. Very wet. We're just now starting to make the news, but I took some pictures even before Ames went under. 
Our yard. The "creek" was a path once
We have springs forming in our lawn.
By our old well housing
Note the flowing water. And the sand. 
Looking at the compost pile
If the picture looks "foggy," it's because the lens of the camera is fogging up due to the heat and humidity. Makes for a really quality picture doesn't it?
Our whole yard
This is the whole yard from the front porch. Again with the fogginess. Spot the cat says hello too. 

When I was looking through pictures the other day, I found one from 2008.
Yard in 2008
Yeah, remember 2008? Our other record flooding year? Someday, perhaps it will look this way again. In the meantime, watch out for the cattails.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hard day's night & My new favorite fabric website

Don't get pregnant and try to keep a garden. Remind me of this the next time I get pregnant!

But seriously, I'll probably do it again anyway. 

Back to business. This is what I did today. Here is the before picture with lovely model included:
Note the scale: most of those weeds are taller than I am.

And here is the after picture (no model this time, since I took the picture):

You can see our steps! You can see our sliding door! I even hauled off all the piles to the compost pile. I considered leaving Ryan to do that, but decided to have mercy on him. 

So for those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you now know why I don't have any lily pictures on here for this year. It's because they were choked out by vines and other crud until now.

I have also discovered my new fantasy website, called Spoonflower. You can design and print your own fabric! Yay! It's really expensive, but you can get an 8" x 8" test swatch for $5, and this is PERFECT for my I Spy quilts. These are quilts where you play the I Spy game with children using the quilt, and I've been gathering fabrics for one that has a different plant or animal block for every letter of the alphabet. The only problem is that "X", "Q", and "N" are really hard to find fabric for! 

Can you believe N is hard? I know! But think of animals and plants that start with N. You've got nuthatches, newts, nighthawks, and none of these have fabrics dedicated to them. So I have now created fabric using photoshop for a nuthatch and an x-ray fish, and will have to make one with quail on it. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

5-a-day, odd bugs, and sustainability synergy

I have now finished my first quilt since Hazel was born, I call it "5-a-day." I created it for my quilt guild Block-of-the-Month and it is all paper-pieced blocks. I do like how it turned out, I've been wanting to use the Farmer's Market style fabrics ever since they came out. I actually have the pattern started for this and am working on finishing writing it up and getting it in digital format to distribute. I don't know if it would sell, but I'll try. I also tried using a different free motion filler in the background of each block, as you can see by my tomato close-up here. 

It's a long way from perfect, but I'm satisfied.

When I created the "peas" block, I expected it to be a hard block with lots of different pieces, but it ended up being fairly easy. It surprised me which blocks were harder or easier to design and sew.

We've also recently been invaded by some strange little bugs. They don't seem aggressive, nor do they bite, but they like wet places. This is the first year I've seen these little suckers and I just can't identify them. Can anyone help? For those of you who are not so much a fan of bug pictures, sorry!

I just want to say one more thing about sustainability synergy. We use cloth diapers with Hazel during the day and a disposable at night (so that she's not waking up because her diaper's wet). But I find it interesting that cloth diapers dry much better and easier on the clothesline than they do in the dryer. They always take 2 rounds through the dryer, and it doesn't get out stains. On the line it only takes them a little while in the sun to dry and the sun bleaches out the stains. This is not the only "sustainability" thing that is this way, but they always fascinate me when I find them. 

On a follow-up note, we had a big storm last night and the leaning tower of Reasnor stands no more. It will have to be re-erected.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Breezy Blues & the Leaning Tower of Reasnor

My best friend from college called me almost 2 years ago to tell me she got engaged (it was inevitable, and we all knew it was coming, but I was excited nonetheless!). So I immediately decided I was going to make them a quilt for their wedding. I called her and asked her what she wanted for a quilt. She talked to her fiance and said "Pinwheels and Blues." So after I spent a couple of weeks doodling ideas while in boring meetings, I came up with this pattern. I did hand quilt it, and I finished this quilt in March of '09 because I was so excited to work on it. Ah well, better to be done early than late! It is a throw sized quilt, and I paper pieced all of the pinwheels so I wouldn't lose the points.

Did I mention it's been a wet year? I think I may have...
Ryan did not take this picture on an angle. I'm going to rename our wren house "the Leaning Tower of Reasnor." Apparently the entire base is rotten, which is sad because the wrens were actually using it! Although I do love how the prior owners felt they needed a sum total of 3 posts just to hold this thing up.

Then again, maybe they were right.