21 October 2009

Shop locally!

When is the last time that you supported a local and independent business? I challenge you to commit to the 3/50 project. What a fantastic idea!

Since I'm writing about local businesses, I'll share a link to Bill, our new neighborhood butcher. He's a serious character with dynamite meat-selection and marinade-creation skills. George and I just love stopping into his shop to buy some of his newest creation. This is also the man who is going to try to make my hamloaf dreams come true. That's right, folks: Grandma's hamloaf is coming to Washington!

18 October 2009

Autumn Wreath

The weather has turned cold and wet, and our trees are finally starting to change colors. Yes, autumn has arrived! To celebrate the change of season, I was inspired to make a seasonal wreath as soon as I spotted this wreath on Etsy. Success:

Here are some instructions in case you want to make your own:

  • First, I bought a plain straw wreath. They're available at most craft stores; this one cost less than $4.
  • Next, I covered it with scraps of muslin, left from a previous project, using some standard craft glue.
  • While the glue was drying, I ripped fabric into strips roughly 2 inches wide. As you can see, I started with eight fabrics, but I ended up using only four of them to make the wreath look less cluttered. In the future, I would use just a few colors, in more narrow strips, and maybe add ribbon to the mix. The inspiration wreath used wool, but I used simple cotton quilting fabric.
  • To make the design, I tied the strips around the wreath in a repeating pattern. I bought 1/3 of a yard of each fabric. Even though I only used half of the width of fabric, I'd buy a lightly longer piece in the future so that I could double-knot each piece. Although I figured out how to get the ribbon effect shown in the inspiration wreath, I didn't do it on my wreath because the ribbon I bought matched the strips of fabric I discarded but not the ones I adopted for the wreath.
  • Finally, I trimmed the ends of the fabric on the back and hung the wreath on the door with a piece of ribbon.
Happy Fall!

05 October 2009

A Few More Memories

Today, especially after reading my brother's comment, I remembered that I have some photos from the farm in digital format. Here they are:

This was one of our many Christmas celebrations in the living room (pre-1990's remodel). I'd guess this was taken in about 1988.

This is the day of the Seahawk...obviously before it exploded underneath Justin and Mason. For some reason, Kristi was cut out of the right side of the photo. This was taken in approximately 1992.

Once again, here are all of the grandkids gathered in the living room (post-1990's remodel). This was 1996 or 1997.

04 October 2009

End of an Era

On the day I married my sweetheart, I proudly wore a strand of pearls borrowed from my grandmother. The pearls were given to her by her sweetheart, my grandfather, on their 60th wedding anniversary in 2008. Just a few days before their 61st wedding anniversary, my grandfather suffered a stroke. Over the last six weeks, the life they knew previously has been altered beyond recognition. Next weekend, they will leave the 60-acre farm where they have lived since just before my mother was born almost 55 years ago and move into an assisted living facility. When I think about the farm, vivid memories flow through my brain like a heavy spring rain down their long driveway.

According to family legend, the driveway is a quarter-mile in length. I've walked and driven it many times but never bothered to check. My mom and her siblings have a gaggle of stories about the driveway; most of them start with "when I was a kid..." and continue with a tale of woe. My favorite is the one about my mom and aunt having to walk the driveway to catch the bus in winter during the pre-pants for women era. Because the wind and snow rip across the mid-meadow driveway, they'd each wear pants under their skirts and stash their pants in the mailbox for the return walk at the end of the day.

I've experienced the driveway myself. For many, many years, Grandpa and his dog (now Tip, before that Rocky, and probably many others before that) have walked the driveway at least once a day to get the mail. On several occasions, I've had the opportunity to join them...even as recently as this March. I don't remember any specific life-changing conversations coming of those walks, but I remember them nonetheless.

At the end of the driveway and across the street, the farm continues into a field and through a large woods. Many, if not all, of my grandfather's horses are buried in those woods. My uncle, cousins, and many of their friends have spent uncounted hours hunting deer, turkey, or whatever happens to be in season in those woods. I'd bet that all of the grandkids have swung from the grapevines that hang in those woods, and most, if not all, of us have spent the night in those woods during family campouts. In fact, the woods is the only place where I've slept under the starts with only a tarp and sleeping bag between me and all of nature.

Back across the street on the main farm, we have all enjoyed the great outdoors. For years, we had annual campouts that involved tents and a great bonfire in the field in front of the house. When night fell, all of the hotdogs had been toasted, and we ran out of marshmallows, the ladies headed to the house while the men went to the woods (hunting "snipe" along the way) and the kids crawled into the tents. In the morning, Uncle Gary would heat up the Dutch oven in the warm coals from the previous night's fire and treat us to something scrumptious. A campout was not complete without canoe or boat rides in the lake and a little fishing. I'll never forget when Uncle Gary caught a snapping turtle and proceeded to hang it from the big oak tree in the yard after it was dead...and it continued to snap.

There are many a family legend involving the lake, too. In the funniest tale, Aunt Sherry and Uncle Gary (the two oldest kids) lore my mom (the youngest) to the muddiest end of the lake. Just when she's stuck in mud to her knees, they run out and yell that the snapping turtles are coming for her. There were no turtles in the lake at that time, but that didn't change the terror my young and naive mother felt.

Between the lake and the house, you'll find the barn and pasture. In those pastures, my grandfather raised and trained many, many Arabian horses. Grandpa made sure that all of the grandkids were comfortable around horses, and I'd say that he succeeded...at least as far as I'm concerned. I remember Sun-up, Mazie, Smokey, and Lad, but I know there were many others. When the last mare was expecting her last foal, Grandpa got up every hour through the night to check on her until she gave birth to her colt, Lad, in the middle of the night weeks after he started his ritual of checking on the mare. The smell of fresh air and horse manure still conjures up memories of the farm; I can't help but think of the molasses Grandpa added to the horses' feed every time I smell or taste molasses.

The horses stayed in the lowest level of the barn, but there was plenty of action going on in the rest of the barn. In Grandpa's meticulous workshop, he crafted numerous gifts and gadgets. If there was a problem or a request, Grandpa would be the first one to solve the problem or meet the request. He was a true craftsman, rounding every corner until it was soft to the touch and reinforcing his work to be sure it would last the test of time.

I probably have the fondest memories in the barn from the top floor. From the highest beam, Grandpa tied a huge rope from which we could swing. I remember being both terrified and exhilarated as I'd tentatively climb up the stairs, grab the rope, carefully sit on the huge knot, and let my feet leave the steps for a great ride. Beyond the reach of the rope, Grandpa stored hay. The castle of hay bales was a favorite place for the barn cats to keep their young babies. I can't begin to count how many kittens I must have chased in the barn. Perhaps the best thing on the top floor of the barn was the space Grandpa saved for a basketball court. From the time that my brother, Justin, and cousin, Mason, could dribble a basketball to the time that they went to college, they played basketball against my uncle (at the time, my uncles) and Grandpa at every family gathering. I don't remember what Justin and Mason called their team (probably something that started with young), but I do remember that they named the older generation's team the Old Fogies. The Old Fogies almost always won.

I hardly know where to start with memories from inside the house. I can't begin to recall how many times I've approached the steps to find Grandma and Grandpa waiting at the door for their firm hug and pat on the back. After that, they'd take our coats, hang them on the railing to the stairs, and continue looking out the window above the kitchen sink for the next family to arrive.

Grandma was master of the kitchen. This is where she baked her award-winning pies, perfected her bread recipe, created new masterpieces, and packed Grandpa his lunch every day before he left for his mail route. Grandma used to create amazing meals for all of her kids and grandkids on a regular basis. Back in the day, she could single-handedly make a from-scratch, 4-course meal for 20 people at the drop of a hat. Into her 70's, she was still baking Christmas tea ring (sweet rolls) for every family household and pulling together huge family dinners made from scratch. She'd always say that she "just can't put together a meal like [she] used to," but we all knew that, even in her 70's, she could make a better meal than the efforts of everyone else in the family combined. Although Grandma has given me her tea ring recipe, her mixing bowls, and her philosophy of cooking by what looks right rather than straight from recipes, I know I'll never live up to the food from her kitchen or her hospitality...but that doesn't mean that I won't continue to try.

The kitchen and dining room have been the scene of many family meals and family comedies. When the grandkids were younger, we sat in the kitchen and entertained ourselves until we laughed so hard that we cried while the adults enjoyed (somewhat) peaceful conversation at their civilized table in the dining room. After the meal, the grandkids usually took over the dining table for games of paddle pool and the farm game.

When I visited Grandma and Grandpa over summer breaks from school, we'd always meet at the kitchen table in the morning where they would share a grapefruit, Grandma would eat Bran Flakes, and Grandpa would eat Corn Flakes. Most of the time, the table held a bowl of freshly picked pansies that Grandpa picked for Grandma on his way to the house from the barn. It was around this table that Grandma endured much tickling at the hands of Grandpa.

In the living room, we've held family slide shows, wrestling matches (much to Grandma's dismay), farting contests (also much to Grandma's dismay), and many holiday celebrations. No matter what year it is, Christmas always means piles of people and presents in the living room. We always open one present at a time and one person at a time. Most years, my youngest cousin, Kristi, and I get our way, and we open presents youngest to oldest. Every year, we say that we shouldn't get so many presents next year. Every year, we do it all over again.

I have many memories that took place in the guest room. It features a queen-sized four-poster bed and a large mirror on the dresser. Naturally, Kristi and I discovered that the tops to the poles can be removed and re-purposed into the world's best pretend microphones. This is also where we'd come to play dolls or review our Christmas presents or talk about our latest crush or compare our jean purses. I think this is where I told Kristi that Santa isn't real.

I slept in the bed in the guest room many times. I know exactly what the ceiling tiles look like (brick pattern of used-to-be white squares), and I always avoided the shades because I could never figure out how to retract them. I loved staying there in winter because that bed had an electric blanket. Best of all, while staying in the guest room, I could always hear Grandma and Grandpa talk before going to sleep. I never heard their words, but the loving tone with which they spoke to each other said all that I needed to hear.

Looking back, I am finally beginning to appreciate all that Grandma and Grandpa taught me on the farm. They are extraordinary people who have shared an extraordinary place with our family for all of these years. It's hard to say goodbye.


When George and I visited in July, I had a feeling that it would be one of my last trips to the farm, so I took some pictures to help keep the place alive in my memory.