Monday, April 30, 2012

36.5 hours

900 miles, 4 states, 7 quilt shops! My first bus tour shop hop!

Back in early February, when I went to hear Jennifer Chiaverini, I learned there would be a bus tour of several quilt shops at the end of April. The nearest shop to my farm of the 8 shops involved is Olive Juice Quilts in Onalaska. If I decided to go I would register with them and join the group at or near their shop. I let that idea stew for a bit, and knowing everyone else who would participate probably would be with friends, family, guild members, or other gals they'd taken classes with, I decided to put aside my fear of going alone and registered.

This past Saturday, April 28, I had an appointment with this bus. When I spotted the name printed on the side of it I relaxed. I am not superstitious but I do believe in serendipity. Having a son named Phillip, I heard a whisper that all would be well. (Over the course of the next day and a half it would become evident that we were in especially good hands on this bus with our driver, Bill.) We numbered only 20 plus the 2 "bus moms" from Olive Juice.  Despite the rain and cold, we were a merry band and we traveled luxuriantly.
We were to meet the bus in the Woodmans parking lot in Onalaska, not much more than a mile or 2 from the quilt shop. The drive from the farm to Woodmans,  during the day in nice weather, is about 50 minutes. We were to be there by 6:15 AM! It was dark, cold, rainy and there are 2 rather steep descends into valleys to negotiate. And there is always the possibility of deer on the road in the dark. I gave myself 70 minutes to be safe. Good timing! Since we all arrived a bit early, we got an early start.
I had brought bottles of water, nuts, crackers, and granola bars. I knew all of our meals were included except Saturday night's dinner to be caught quickly at a Culvers en route. But there would be hours on the bus between. What I did not know was that there would be snacks provided nonstop on the bus and there would be a food table at every quilt shop!
Day 1:
Saturday morning: The Calico Shoppe in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Quilted Treasures in Rogers, Minnesota where we were given lunch.
Saturday afternoon: Calico Hutch in Hayward, Minnesota, dinner at Culvers, then Pine Needles in Decorah, Iowa where we had dessert.
We departed Decorah just before dusk, just before 8 pm. Our ride to Comfort Inn Dyersville, Iowa, would take about 2 hours.  On a stretch of road noted for its high deer population, a few were spotted. Then, unfortunately, one ran directly in front of our bus. Nothing could have stopped our enormous vehicle from hitting that deer. I am truly grateful that I did not see it because the sound and the vibration of this accident was enough to shake me, to shake us all. Bill controlled the bus with great skill and strength of mind then pulled over when it was safe to do so to examine what damage if any the bus had sustained. If that poor deer had hit the windshield we all thought.... The bus appeared stained but uninjured, the deer an instant fatality, thankfully. We drove at a rather slow speed for the next 45 minutes, many of the ladies talking about similar experiences they had had with cars and wildlife. Some mentioned hitting skunks and the resultant lasting effects. It took nearly all of that time and conversation for the sounds of that event to stop echoing in my mind.
Dyersville, Iowa was put on the map. so to speak, with the movie Field of Dreams. The most obvious difference between this town and so many others we had traveled through that day was the presence of several large motel chains. I had a large double all to myself since the woman who had been slated to room with me had cancelled at the last minute. There was a train track nearby, which had some late night traffic, but otherwise, the night passed remarkably quickly. After a full breakfast provided by the motel, we were off again before 7:30. We pulled into Manchester, Iowa about 8 am. What a sweet, neat, lovely little town. The ladies from The Quiltmaker's Shoppe were outside their front doors waiting for us. By the heavy buying and enthusiastic eating it was clear we were all well rested and more than ready for day 2. Our next stop was a good 3 hour drive, so back on the bus many of us plugged in our iPods and closed our eyes. We traveled through Dubuque, where we recrossed the Mississippi, this time into Illinois,  on this bridge.

Soon we drove through Galena which got us all looking out the windows and talking about our experiences in this historic town now a tourist destination. It was a quiet few hours as we made our way to our next stop and lunch.
The Quilter's General Store is one of my favorites shops in northern Illinois.  Before going in Bill used my camera and one other and graciously agreed to take a group photo.

Do we look like we're having a good time? Do we look cold (it was a brisk 45 degees)? Is it evident that several of the ladies would rather have had a chance to hit the lady's room before the photo??? (not everyone likes to brave a potty on wheels.)
Our last stop was to be Mill House Quilts in Waunakee, Wisconsin. Full from lunch and knowing our last stop was upon us, we settled back for a nearly 2 hour quiet time. Alas, along this busy highway  Bill couldn't help but notice that our bus could hardly keep the minimum speed up the slopes, gently told us we had a little trouble and that it was necessary to pull off and talk to the dispatcher for a confab. It was agreed we could drive, albeit slowly, the rest of the way to our last stop where we could stay if we had to until our bus was seen to or another could take its place. Mill House Quilts is an extremely lovely place to be delayed, so none of us was too concerned. It was just a hose that had to be replace in the engine and after saying goodbye to our last shop we settled back for the 130 mile drive "home," where we pulled into Woodman's lot just 36.5 hours after we had left it. Another large bus was in the lot exactly where we intended to pull in and a handful of people departed. We joked about whether they looked like casino folks and who we thought may have spent more on their bus trip. Bill was given a large round of applause, an fat envelope with our monetary thanks, and we all hugged our bus moms and said things like "See you at Olive Juice" and "Hope we travel together again soon."
New friends, rekindled enthusiasm, a treasure trove of purchases, a delightful time.

I forgot to mention that I won a bus raffle prize. And embarrassingly enough, I pulled my own name! I won a Moda Candy Bar. How much fun is that???

Thursday, April 26, 2012

a nomination

I'm tickled to be nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award by my new blogging friend, Laura. I've come to know her through Anne's  Handmade Joy Exchange. (In a future post I'll share more about both of my exchange partners.)
As a recipient of this nomination I am called to link to 15 others on my blog. I must confess that I don't read LOTS of blogs, but I do read some regularly. Links to the windows on the lives of these individuals are in the sidebar to the right. They are my refreshment when the soul thirsts.
I've also been directed to a few others, also participants in the exchange:

Another charge with the award is to tell 7 things about myself.
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois USA, I've had a lifelong dream to live in the country.
I am not brave but curious.
I wish I could make everyone happy.
I cry watching movies and reading books that move me.
I couldn't live without at least one cat.
My mind doesn't register my age though my body reminds me daily.
My cup is always at least half full.

Thank you, Laura.

Monday, April 23, 2012

trial and error

My Monday morning goal was to investigate just why I haven't been able to create a new banner for this blog. All it took was an investment in additional storage space.
Now the trick was to fight my way through the maze of Picasa. I hate doing things by trial and error. Give me a good old step by step tutorial.
Well, an hour after I began, I had created the banner you see here. Next time I'm taking notes.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth day every day

How am I putting earth day into every day?

Here's one totally enjoyable example.

Friday, April 20, 2012

vision to the blind

The window over my kitchen sink: I stand with this image before me uncountable times each day and how often do I really see? Variations of glass in deep deep reds, clusters of cuttings thriving in the east exposure while lustily sending out new roots, the rich and warm tones of the woodwork in window and cabinet, the expanse of our side yard, narrow pine shade garden and fields beyond,  daily sun rises and monthly full moons, storms moving past, wildlife visiting...

Vacancy of mind is fatal to the spirit. Shake it off, Sharon. Life is not a dress rehearsal.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

sweet solace

Sometimes little things truly mean a lot.

Like these lilacs and hyacinths : simple grace for a sad heart.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

they're back!

Yesterday Jerome arrived with a major goal for Saturday, bringing the birds home.
They look a bit rough around the edges after their winter away, but took to their old yard and house with gusto.

Our little punk rocker, now all grown up and definitely male, proved himself king of the barnyard despite the fact that Eli and Lovina's rooster outweighed him by about 50%. Now our big guy has a much reduced harem and Eli's fella has his hens all to himself.....

Along with our rooster we have one hen of each breed. These girls were wearing the bracelets I put on them last November, so it was easy to identify them.

Rosie came back to us in the handsomest condition. She has such lovely feathers and is a nice plump girl.

Amelia still has her crooked comb. She followed me all over the chicken yard yesterday whenever I went into it. I swear she knows her name, especially since she was the only one her winter family knew by name.

Phoebie got right to work checking out every corner of the chicken yard. While in the crate on the way home she busied herself pecking little critters off of her rooster's head, eating them with relish.
She enjoyed taking several dust baths under the chicken house, coming out from beneath there and giving her feathers a good shaking with clouds of dust flying like Pigpen in the Peanuts comics. I sprinkled a good dose of diatomaceous earth under their house, in their nesting boxes, in their bedding and even a little in their food. It serves to kill parasites without causing any chemical concerns to the birds.

Minerva looks really sad. Named for Minerva McGonagall of Harry Potter for robes of black with bits of green, was once a glossy black, shining deeply iridescent green in sunlight and heavy with inner and outer feathers. She is currently scraggly and skittish. I'm keen to restore her to her best health.

LadyHawk refused to stand still for a photo. She is our smallest hen, and also has lost much of her beauty along with her feathers. She enjoyed the dust baths greatly and perhaps can now feel more secure back at her old home.
It was touching to watch Lovina lean into the Jeep to say goodbye to the chickens just before we closed them in. So uncharacteristic of the Amish to show attachment to animals. I invited her to come visit them any time, and all the children too, as they all helped in their care since mid November. I know they'll miss the green/blue eggs LadyHawk produces.
All of the chickens greatly enjoyed the chicken yard they knew as young birds and neatly tucked themselves in at dusk, though all the girls were in the nest boxes and the rooster all alone on their night perch!!
We had a good heavy rain in the night with lightning and thunder. We needed the rain so badly, though the timing is not the best as I was hoping my friend Dave with the tractor would be able to stop by and turn the vegetable bed. Now it'll have to wait til the ground dries out. Also Jerome and I had many outside jobs planned. Some of that will have to wait at least another day. That's fine, as we have many inside jobs that are waiting too. Ah, farm life.
When I stood in the chicken yard yesterday watching and listening to the birds settling in, tears of joy sprang forth. A simple pleasure deeply felt.
Welcome home my fowl friends.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

wave petunias

In a previous post I mentioned that I had started wave petunia seeds under the grow lights in the basement. Should you like to try, here is a link that may help. I did use pelleted seed, which I purchased from Pinetree Garden Seeds.

My good friend, Al, owner of The Flower Basket in town, shared some information about petunia seeds. Did you know there are close to a quarter million per ounce? The commercial growers developed a machine with tiny tubes which are just narrow enough to suction a single seed. Even his patient and experienced wife/greenhouse partner, Kim, finds it difficult to sow these by hand. Whatever you do, Al said, "Don't sneeze!" while planting them. So though pelleted seeds are expensive, 10 for $2.95 from Pinetree, they made the sowing process easy. They need light to germinate, so you just lay them on the surface of the soil, keep them moist, and give them light.

I "planted" the seed March 1st.
March 6
Each of the packages from Pinetree contained a small plastic tube, 11 seeds inside though the catalog specifies 10. Germination was 100%.

March 21
I have begun to fertilize them once a week and seeing how they looked yesterday, I'm wondering if it's time to pot them up...
April 10
I'm happy to say there will be some to share.

Monday, April 9, 2012

stinging nettle revisited

Last week's harvest of stinging nettle yielded a jar full of dried leaves. My dehydrator worked like a champ.

I didn't dry all I picked. I saved just enough for supper: pasta, parmesan and nettles in butter with just a tad of salt and fresh ground pepper.

I think I'll add some to the pot tomorrow when I make my favorite tomato florentine soup.

Friday, April 6, 2012

good friday

Something nudged me out of bed this morning, as the sky was just beginning to lighten. This celestial body calling my name?

I had but moments to snatch up my camera and dash out onto the back porch, barefoot and in my pjs. Shiveringly unsteady, nonetheless, you can see the smoldering moon slipping out of sight, my neighbor's house light tiny through the pines. Her nearly full face shown white cold as she moved steadily across the night sky in the company of stars and planets as far as the eye could see. But now her countenance flushed warmly as her starry companions faded. So swiftly she slipped into that deep pool that is the western horizon.
This Good Friday reminds me of so many in my youth and young adulthood, as the wife of a church musician and a young mother, in my maturity and now, yearning for a certainty of meaning and an underscore to my faith. This morning's observations cast light on my soul as surely as solar illumination reveals peaks and valleys of the moon. I'll ponder this throughout the day.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

bright and cool start to April

Too often I become distracted, lose focus and end up squandering time, draining away energies. I sometimes feel as if I'm walking in my sleep. Trying to shake it off, I'm determined not to miss this early spring opportunity to get out and harvest a spring green that Mother Nature herself planted in neat crowds about the farm: the stinging nettle.

In my city garden I considered this plant an annoying weed. The spindly pale green versions I encountered there came out of the ground without a struggle, but since I rarely wear gloves in the garden I would be punished for removing them by a stinging sensation on my hands, as if tiny burning splinters had been embedded in the flesh.
What I've learned since is that these hearty greens, growing lavishly here in the more fertile soil, are delicious when steamed with a little butter and light seasoning, but are also beneficial when dried and ground into powder to be added to foods of all sorts throughout the year. In spring, when all of the new growth is concentrated in the top few inches, it is at its best. In autumn, when the strength moves back to the roots, they are the harvest worth seeking.
This morning the kitchen counter is laid with towels on which the rinsed nettles are drying a bit after their cold water bath. Then into the dehydrator. Later today I'll pick a bit more and cook it with some pasta and parmesan.