Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's the Bridges of Madison County, Heffa...

                                                        Wild Women: Becky and Super-Heffa, Dawn

There is a certain advantage with staying at the home of kind people, along this peculiar route of mine. And that is, you will learn so much about your hosts, people in general, and the lay of the land, than staying at a sterile hotel.

Unless you like that sort of thing. But for me, I will rough it on various couches, air beds, and other sleeping quarters. I will eat along the lines of what other people eat (home cooking all the way, or eat out), I will talk about a million ideas and I will try to see what they see, everywhere.

And in this way, I am blessed, for there is so much to see and learn in all of these places I've stayed. I have ridden in electric cars, wrangled horses, seen small curly feathered geese, visited with Midwestern bees, gotten dirty--and loved it. These might be off-put by some folks, but they are as legitimate as any other life. All are different, all are beautiful, all are happening right now, whether someone cares for it or not. The variance of life is what makes it exciting, and I say this from a place where even I thought certain ideas, and people too wild for me.

Dawn Torrents-Suarez might just be one such whirlwind, possibly more outrageously unconventional in living than I am, and rightly unashamed of it. For who is the master of the rules of their lives? No one but each individual, and individuality is Dawn's forte.

To be fair, I should have seen it coming--I'd known Dawn from my previous trips to Iowa--a massage therapist/henna artist/hooping instructor, she has mad a good living from these unconventional endeavors. And while Iowa is the land of bartering, she may be the ultimate queen of this trading, having traded food, clothing, fuel--heck, I was waiting for her to tell me her mortgage was bartered (it wasn't, but why not, Big Banks, I say?) Plus, she earned my respect for running with the New Yawka word "Heffa," and made me a cute bracelet with the slang term, which I shall treasure forever.

But that was just the beginning--Dawn owned a stunning piece of land--10 acres with a pond, long and luscious stream, woods, and a large field. She tilled it wearing dresses, ran the creek with the fury of a true nature mama, rescued what seemed like every downtrodden beast in the vicinity (three dogs and five cats...or was it six? And some chicken and ducks. Sidenote: favorite chicken name of the bunch has to be Li'l Kim) and changed her mind, and schedule on a whim. She was clearly her own person, and I admired her for it.

Perhaps more admirable is her love for her husband, which is tempered by the fact that he is a Gulf War veteran. I'm not really sure what makes sense to write, here, but I will say this: it is so easy to dismiss the horrors of war by the people ravaged by it, but the American government chooses to do this. I will say this apologetically.

I daresay we, as a society, may find more concern with the latest celebrity, tech gadget, or other fancy, but meanwhile, there are people who truly have gone out of their way, have their lives (and their family's lives) near shambles with what they have seen and done, in the name of  "the good war". My summation of thought is this: very few soldiers have fared well because of war, very many warmongers have.

Dawn is a brave and patient woman, with a loud laugh and unpredictable spirit. There is something to be said about a woman who will get three hives, find out she is allergic to them, and STILL KEEP going with them, anyway. We spent time dodging bees, swimming in her calming pond, dodging ticks (this city girl is NOT used to them at all!) and planting all sorts of trees and bushes on her acreage (I told you I didn't mind getting dirty)!

Probably the funniest time? When she kept egging me on to drive one of her cars by myself, should I want to go anywhere. Mostly, this worried me because I'm no good at driving in places I've never been and---who nelly--I'd never driven on stoned gravel roads before. Give me a blacktop highway, or the soft, sandy, Southern dirt roads, and I'm  great (well, let's not go into the rainy season and dirt roads) but the dusty, dinging gravel..that was another story. Eventually though, I did manage to buckle up and drive over gritty and smooth roads. So thank Dawn for making me an independent Iowa driver!

Dawn lives in Winterset--which is surprisingly famous, for two reasons: It is the birthplace of John Wayne, and it is home to most of the bridges of Madison County.

The Dukes house is actually nearby the main downtown area...which is charming in it's own right. Here are a few bits and pieces of Downtown Winterset:

                             Old pictures of Winterset actually grace a building in downtown Winterset...

Which is actually the side of the Ben Franklin Store...a popular "general store in Iowa's towns (consider it a precursor to Walmart, with way more character, to boot!). Notice the cute nursery plants outside...

                            The domed clock-tower of city hall in the center square of the town...lovely!

And here is the home where John Wayne was born. It's a sweet little sort of hexagonal home. Alas, no one was allowed in to visit...

Beyond that, there were the bridges of Madison county. Amazing luck! Dawn literally lived a couple of roads from the one called Hogback Bridge Road. So on the last few days of my stay, I rustled up my newfound  Iowa driving skills and rumbled over there.

Call it my own New York expectations, but I was used to a "famous place" being so...quiet, serene. Not that I was complaining in any way, but it was a pleasant surprise, a welcome quiet. Meditating and calm. The bridge is one of several covered bridges in Iowa, the only ones left in the United States. You can read a bit more about them HERE.

Hogback bridge was simply there waiting, off of a curvy road.  Like the girl in the simple dress at a party, she didn't ask for much. She just was what she was, take her or leave her, but underneath the exterior, there was tons of history.

Hogback showed off her red attire, and once inside, there was the truth: tons of graffiti--how old some of it was, I don't know--but there were tags and sentiments on all of the old buttresses and historical working--tag scars for this old gal.

But she was beautiful, still...stretching across the river channel she was placed over. Call it my imagination, but there was a still sense of reverence, the idea of old ghosts still jangling around this place. I could almost guess who drove here, and the days gone by that the old Hogback had seen....

                                     Old wood floors with the original tree contours still intact...

                                                   Opposite view, from inside the bridge...

A lovely surprise--on one side of the grand walls of this elderly bridge---a "sign in book" which said "how does this make you feel"....I never did know if this was something official, or whether a whimsical soul had decided to create this on the spur of the moment. But you know I loved it!

And indeed, it is this unconventional way of thinking, being and doing, that keeps drawing me back...who says Middle America doesn't have wit, courage, ingenuity, and creativity that the big city folk brag about. What rubbish thinking is it that has led us to close our eyes to all of our courageous and genius friends and neighbors!

Welcome to America, Heffa, land of wonderful people and places....

TOMORROW--- a well known, wild-haired horse and wagon riding sort of gal talks about MOVING TO PENNSYLVANIA! Yep!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Little Heartaches...

You may have heard that I have a certain affinity for animals (and if you don't know, then Call My Father), and while I'd like to think I'm the only one with this particular malady, I've found that others share this curious and gentle love for creatures great and small.

It's a tough thing, loving animals but, as I've mentioned before, there is a certain vulnerability that you crack yourself open to, because you must first guess what these beasts are trying to convey to you, you must learn to interact with them, and ---hardest of all--you will understand, profoundly, mortality and grief when you lose them.

In many ways, this has been the largest defining aspect for me--this juggling around between love and death, the constant questioning about "The Way The World Works," this brief, sometimes frightening stay on the planet--this knowledge of how very fragile we all are.

It is a peculiar thing, I suppose, to even think such thoughts, but there it is. I wonder if animals understand this, this fragile stay on the planet. Do cows, pigs, chicken, do they know that they are destined prey animals for so many other animals. Do they fear for the sake of fear, or do they run because they understand death.

Yes, such ideas are a profound and heart-wrenching soup to swallow, I guess. To love an animal is to open oneself to compassion and the bitter and sweet. Such are the tiny tales I now tell.

My friend Jenny is one such Midwestern chapter of this novel. Jenny B, as she is fondly known, is a beautiful and intelligent soul who works with her husband, administering Eastern medicine to help others. Her "secondary job" is as a bird rehabilitator for the State of Iowa. And Jenny was ONE SERIOUS rehabber. On this go-round, I had come to see Jenny's hive at her home. She had been a previous participant of both of my organic beekeeping classes and, therein, I felt there was nothing more to teach her. However, she had asked me to come "double check" her hives, and I was happy to do that, and see her.

Upon picking me up--I was greeted not only by my lovely friend, but by a mad cacophony of shrills, screeches, and chirps. Then entire trunk of Jenny's SUV contained covered up cages--all of wailing baby birds that marked the beginning of Spring. I was enthralled. I had known a few rehabbers in New York City, but this was serious dedication. Jenny took the baby birds with her everywhere so she could feed them roughly every 2 hours during daylight hours. She would feed them between her husband's clients, and more--it was quite the scene. The cages contained baby starlings, a few baby sparrows and grackles, a bird that was not native to New York, but which reminded me of a very small and streamlined crow.

As we traveled to various clients homes, and then finally to Jenny's house, she would hop out at stops and feed the babies formula with a small syringe:

                                                        Baby starlings are very hungry....

While this job can be very rewarding (especially releasing a fledged adult back into the wild), there are heartaches to be had around every corner. My visit was no exception. On the way back, we were met by two people who had brought birds with them. One fellow had found a young crow, but even as he gave it to Jenny, the pitiful thing, barely clinging to life, went stiff and dull--no fight left in him. I've no idea what happened, but could only stare a sleek jet black feathers, amazed at it's stunning attributes, even without a trace of life in them.

Worse still was the other "foundling," a baby killdeer. If you don't know what one looks like, here's a reference point:

                                                          Image: dadintheheadlights

Often, Jenny explained, since killdeer make their nest on beach shores (they are a shoreline/wading bird), they will lure away predators by pretending to be injured. However, many people find baby killdeer and assume it is orphaned, when the truth of the matter is that the parents are off looking for food or trying to lure away predators. And this is where trouble happens--often people scoop up the chicks, assuming the parent is dead, and might bring it to a rehabilitator like Jenny. And, she added, baby killdeer rarely do well under human care.

She told me this as she fixed an incubator cage for the little brown and white fuzzball that was probably slightly bigger than a golf ball. Only a heart of stone would be invincible to melting at the sight of this helpless little soul. AND, I was holding the tiny being as Jenny prepped its "nest"; after she prepped the incubator she put a wool hat in to simulate the nest. In the meantime, it was all I could do to hold myself together as the wee thing keep trilling a plaintive cry, burying its little head into my hand, and crying again. We would leave it in the darkened quiet room, it's peeping echoing in my ears for some time after we made our way up the stairs from her rehab room.

I could not imagine why and what in the Universe is compelled by baby animals dying so soon after taking a first breath, but then who am I to ask such things?

I couldn't have known about the Little Heartache when I visited my friend Rebecca Brandow, either. If you've kept up with this little tale, you'd know that I stayed with Becky on my second journey to the Midwest. She is an amazingly talented potter and passionate farmgirl, so much so that much of my stay at Becky's involved "llama shopping." Indeed, we visited a couple of places that bred and sold llamas, and I have been about as close to llamaflesh as one could get.

Since then, Becky's 7 acre farmstead had exploded in all sorts of animal species:


                             Yes, Llama's are at the homestead! I believe this one is named Starr....

                                                   More llama goodness. Carlos and Foo...

                                                       Brownie the sheep checks me out..

AND THEN...there was this little princess!! She was the newest addition to the farm, a heifer calf named Penny (short for Penelope, I think)....

And while I was visiting Becky to check on her bees, too, we all knew it was to see this new lovely addition!

Becky feeding baby...

                Zan feeding baby...note: we are both still in our beekeeping outfits, post bee inspection...

 I had never been this close to a calf. She was beautiful, right down to her deer toes and endless eyelashes..

I am no farmer, but I wondered aloud why someone would allow a pretty Jersey heifer--a worthy farm animal as a milker--to be sold. Becky said the farmer told her that the calf was a runt. But, the baby was away from the mother, and was living alone in a big pen.

Ominously, Becky mentioned that the baby was the smaller of twins. Twin GIRLS. But the worry was that if she was a twin with a male, that she would be a freemartin--which means enough testosterone would have gotten through her system as an embryo to render her sterile. However, Becky said the farmer assured her that she was one of two females.....

The rest of the day was spent relishing this cute baby, and the beatiful farm shared by Becky and her husband Brian. I would not know that the next day, the calf would be unresponsive, would not eat, and would eventually become lethargic. I didn't realize until later that Becky, an animal loving mother Virgo like me, would rush the baby into the vet's. I wouldn't know that at first, the vet thought the baby dehydrated, but then actually DID suspect the baby to be a freemartin.  And that because of this, perhaps some of the little cow's organs weren't working. And worst of all, I couldn't have guessed that a couple of days after my visit, this little cow would be dead.

It was shocking, all of it. I could weep for Becky, because I fell in love with the mooshie face and everything. I can't know all of what happened (and her own explanation is far more complete), and I'm not even sure if I should be writing this deeply personal love story between all of these people and their animals--or rather, the animals that have shaped their lives. But whether this is printed on paper, into cyberspace, or as a thesis, it wouldn't matter.....

These stories have been here for millenia, this fascination between human and animal, despite all of the little heartaches.

Tomorrow--The Tornado Woman, and A BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Quiet(er) Farmgirl

                           Friends Tanya and Maggie, last year
This tale sometimes unfolds at cyclone speeds; there is no use but to try to get in as many details as possible. Often, however, I will miss a few scenes, even a few people, in the fray.  This is sometimes the unfortunate aspect of "too much of a good thing," though I wouldn't trade those good thing for all the treasures in the world.

I daresay this post finally highlights one such friend, who I do believe I've mentioned in past posts, in passing, but who I am now happy to spotlight. To be fair, she is a quiet, kind sort, probably far too practical to even care whether she shows up in such stories, but nevertheless, she is quite story worthy, indeed.

As we left off in yesterday's post, I had finished up visiting fellow wild-haired, creatrix Maggie Howe, and had met up with another long time friend, Tanya Hermann. She had been there from the beginning, from that very first trip to Iowa, and I remember meeting her at a house concert thrown by yet ANOTHER fun Iowan, Jen Heins.

Tanya is what a loud and wild spirit like myself might consider an "introvert," but again, this might simply mean her life is tuned to a less outrageous volume. Fair faced, with a shy smile, there is a sort of quiet confidence about her...and an air of mystery. She is succinct with words, and from what she has volunteered I know she works in Des Moines, has a blind horse, has rescued and fostered animals, is active in the many activities in and about her community, likes canoeing and nature and...I suspect, has a sort of dreamy life that she would like to undertake...but again, this is my assumption based on the sparse words dropped here and there, about it.

For these recent travels, Tanya was sweet to to drive me to various sites in Iowa after my visit with Maggie and her mother, and I am always amazed at what I DON'T KNOW about this countryside which is so easily dismissed as simply "one big state full of corn fields."

Indeed, there is a wealth of beauty and culture here--a bastion and motivation for this strange, velcro love I have to this place.

We started off by going to Maggie's recommended spot, a nearby acreage called Two Sisters Garden, located the next little bucolic town over. Actually, we drove right past it, though Tanya immediately guessed that we had done so--and indeed, the unassuming sign had been blocked from view by fauna on the property. It was an ideal little place, with a enchanted red farmhouse and sweet sloping hills...picture perfect.

There an older woman with character, a wry smile, and a farmer's hat, and a younger, goateed gent (her son?) stood at a humble little farm stand which faced the road, at the front of the property. They were selling a few things common to the season which, unfortunately, consisted of mostly lettuces and green onions, but there were also a few jars of jams and fruit butters available.

More popular, though, were two sweet goats in a small pen nearby. The proprietress had several goats for milk, it turns out--and by all accounts, there would be more farm fun further into the season.

Also popular, several metal cactus sculptures that the owner seemed to be using as decor on the farm stand table and at the front of the farm. Tanya seemed drawn to these, and mentioned her mother also had an affinity for such sculptures.

I was sorry to leave such a sincere little spot, and wished them well. Truly, small farms are the backbone of this country, and you can just see the determination within each farmer. It's a mighty and lofty gamble, tilling the Earth and negotiating with Mother Nature, but it is an honest and necessary covenant, I think.

Our next stop would be...far more exotic. Swinging down a few streets, Tanya had wondered: had I seen the Hindu Temple out in the cornfields?  I probably stared at her boggle-eyed for a moment. I wanted to blurt out: "say what?"

So of course, off we galavanted to the very spot. If I could have rubbed my eyes for clarity, I would but indeed, as promised, there stood the Ashram that Tanya spoke of!

                                           Complete with white guard elephant sculptures!

The entire thing was a stunning display of skill, dedication, craftsmanship. I tried to keep from gaping, but truly, I couldn't have imagined such quality in India, much less in proximity of "The Middle Of Nowhere!"

Tanya mentioned something about a famous guru who taught and resided in the area, of the Hindu community there too, of the building process of this monolith...but it all sounded so blurry in my awe-stricken state.

Nevertheless, Tanya managed to take a picture of me in front of this work of art...

After that, it was off to another exciting place...yes, this would be our foray into various towns to see antiques. You do remember I have an uncanny antique fetish, don't you? I may or may not have brought a few sweet little kitchen items but we'll never know since we wouldn't want a certain Significant Other knowing whether or not I've brought MORE antiques into the house. Eegads, this might be worse than bringing a stray pup into the fold!

Many thanks to Tanya, and all of the other Introverted Farmgirls out there--for friendship is both loud and quiet, and needs no words!

TOMORROW--Tiny Animal Tales!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Back To The Beginning...

A bucolic scene, and baby goosies, at Prarieland Herbs

People, if you are to know the truth about this whole two-year-boomerang-love-story between the Midwest and I, know this: the whole thing was the work of two strange-haired girls conspiring amongst themselves.

Oddly, Maggie was only a friend online, and a writer for our other site, The Renegade Farmer. There, I was not only impressed with her writing, but with it's content--which chronicled her farm life, but with a totally different spin. Besides mixing up farm skills in a new and totally different way, she hooped, danced in long striped socks, changed her hair color on a whim, and also happened to have a humble but successful herbal product business on acreage she and her mother owned. The products were excellent, her unapologetic yet kind and joyous spirit was infectious.

I wouldn't have guessed all of this would manifest itself into on long ride out into corn-and-bean country. I casually mentioned my plans to her and immediately, she suggested I come out and stay with her. No hotels, no worries. She even advertised the class at the farm's onsite classroom. And she didn't want anything in return. At the time, I thought this was some sort of fluke of spirit, an overgenerous offer. I later learned she was practicing a near universal principle amongst those good people in Iowa....and Illinois, and I will never forget such lovely gestures.

And so began the journey, a year ago, and nearly a year later, I stepped on that same sweet little patch of soil called Prairieland Herbs. It is a little oasis where Maggie and her mother, Donna, grow herbs, teach classes, and prepare some seriously fine beauty and health products. And while you think it's biased, I will say that I find their products exceptional, a favorite. But darn it if Donna STILL doesn't let me pay for things I WANT to buy from there when I go to stock up! This spirit of generosity is felt all around this peaceful little green spot, surrounded by so much big agriculture all around them.

My visit coincided staying with my newest host, Dawn, who lived a few towns over in Winterset, Iowa. With enough prodding, I managed to drive Dawn's rollercoaster SUV over to Woodward, where I would be watching Maggie spinning wool in a demonstration.

However, there was a detour to see the latest addition to Prairieland Herbs. There were already  several cats and dogs at the farm, as Maggie and Donna were avid animal lovers. There was even a wily rabbit or two amongst the lot.

But these munchkins...were a whole 'nother ball of trouble altogether!

                                                                Sebastapol goslings!

Two three month olds and a smaller one month old. Adult Sebastapols have "curly" or "frizzy" feathers that make them look like giant puff-balls. They are very unique geese. These young babies are here for, I assume, bug control and "unofficial greeter" status!

They were very friendly and sweet. The oldest ones seem to like snacking on my shiny ringed fingers...

Afterwards, it was off to see Maggie and her sweetie, John, who were at an event hosted by another Iowa friend, author A.R. Miller, who created  the event at Woodward Library: "Authors, Artists, and Artisans."  Maggie was there showing off her wares, and using a spinning wheel. John is a talented photographer...he's way in the back of the next photo, learning Gaelic. Yes, folks, this is Iowa, for sure.

No idea why the following photos are a blur, except that the camera, I believe, is trying to focus on the spinning wool and sort of went haywire.

Maggie and her dyed wool

The lady on the other side of Maggie, selling spice blends. I believe her company is called the Spice Shed, and their "gimmick" is selling mild and hot spices, named "Tickle" and "Slap," respectively. It was funny to be asked to be "Slapped and Tickled" when asking for samples. Again, just your average day in Iowa..

And the day wasn't over, yet....

TOMORROW....The Introverted Farmgirl

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Godspeed and Hares...

How do you say goodbye to people who mean so much? It is not an easy feat, and I do not ache to become an expert at it, particularly with my Midwest friends. This is my third foray into this beautiful rolling land, and it's wonderful, straightforward residence, and so this is the third time I would get practice at leaving. Alas, I am still rusty at it.

Cathy, her honey husband, and the many friendly faces in her neck of the woods are a hard lot to remove oneself from. It's all their faults, really. When you are so kind, so generous, full of advice, jokes, laughs, stories--well, who can remove themselves from this bunch? I do not hesitate to call them family, and I suspect, since they have tolerated me THRICE now--including during their crucial PLANTING season, that they might call me family, too. I can only hope....

I owe these people everything. They have listened to my funny, if scary, New York stories. They have listened to my plans and fears, they have fed me, and as so many Midwesterners tended to do, they have refused to take my money for just about any endeavor. I have told them (as well as most of Iowa and some of Illinois) that they have an open invitation to visit ME, but I somehow don't feel this will suffice...

I worry that I might not see this group again for some time. I don't know how often one can go back and teach organic beekeeping, or cooking or..well...anything, really, without seeming tired, old, uncool. The bloom eventually goes off the rose, I suspect, and I may not have too much interest in the coming years to keep me coming back. While I pray this isn't the case, I cannot take for granted any of these short, enchanted trips...

I will miss Cathy's infectious laugh and large gestures and larger-still personality. I will miss her husband's quiet humor and creative tenacity--the man can build just about anything and do it in a uniquely charming way. I will miss the shared love of cooking--and eating!--those two, and I, have. I will miss large and colorful chickens and even more colorful eggs. I will miss an enchanted tea-cup tree, fuzzy-faced cats, and antiques 'round every corner of the inside of one special house.

I decided, as a small token of gratitude, to make a garden sign for them. Since Cathy's farm is an enchanted flower farm, one can find signs everywhere. Since it is a wood-based sign, it felt a natural way to continue with SOME folk art of mine, and a wee gesture of my humongous love.

Cathy cleverly uses signs from literary places, and asked me to create a Watership Down sign. If you are familiar with Watership Down, it is a parable involving a warren of rabbits. I thought it best to make the sign LOOK like a rabbit, so Honey broke out his jig-saw and cut the sign into a hare's shape....which is not unlike so much wooden folk art I've done....

                                                                            In progress.....



How I will miss you, Miss Effie!

TOMORROW -- More Iowa tales...AND, stay tuned for a big announcement early NEXT WEEK!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Band Aid Diaries

There is always a moment of time standing still. While this road is long, I distinctly remember such moments, and they usually involved someone asking--seemingly out of the blue--how I was doing since losing my father.

It never failed to stop me, and rattle my nerves a little--not because those questions brought any pain, or because I felt anyone was rude to ask. Simply put, grief for me is a confusing grey area, mired somewhere along lines of behavior I wasn't sure I should or shouldn't be doing, and feelings that went from pure flooding, to guilt, to happier days that I didn't KNOW if I should feel guilty about, or not.

Frankly, I am a rank amateur at reacting to this massive loss, and I dare say I wouldn't wish anyone become an expert at this sort of thing.

I'm not even sure I should be writing along these lines--I'd guess most folks don't want to sit next to the weepy girl at any party--and a place for dreamy journeys might not be the best showcase for deep, scary, philosophical musings. But this is a true story of a JOURNEY in all of it's forms..happy moments, triumphant moments, mistakes, funny moments--all of this I promised to document, the perfectly imperfect real life I have. And so here is a place to answer those of you who have asked--found it funny, perhaps--that there is the one stand alone post of such sadness, and then no more mentions.

Truth is, I am slowly going through this long process--and there are times I've cried into strangers' (and friends')  pillows whilst traveling, and times I have laughed heartily at the beauty and wonder of it all. I have savored everything longer, and been less demanding on myself because life is too short to be so disheartened. And, there are also days I've inexplicably been panicked, at a loss for's all a large jumble of thoughts, indeed.

Of course, my healing IS this journey. I've said it time and again: there is something about the kindness of the people in The Midwest that has been a balm. Along this journey, know that each soul I have met here has extended such kindness in their everyday lives as to provide some comfort...

And then some...

This is a prayer blanket. I was shocked when it was waiting for me, neatly folded into a brown paper bag, while staying at Miss Effie's.

This was hand made by a  beekeeping participant of mine, Beth Johnson, a woman I had met once with her sweet little boy, who took my first ever beekeeping class with Miss Effie's a year ago. This woman has adopted several children, and gives generously to her community. How could she have time for me, a person she met once? How could anyone care about a person they barely know? And how bitter it is to know that I, and so many like me, have gleaned by so many people in our lives that meant so much more?

How humbling to hold such a does one thank someone for such a tenderhearted gesture?

Other friends have simply helped me by--being themselves...I've had new friends, like Cynthia Wilkinson, regale me with funny stories about her farm, her llamas, and more on a huge shopping trip with Tamara Houseman.

Others have been kind by giving me a chance. Such is the case of Linnea Crowther. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this witty, funny dame here, and if I haven't, that's a darn shame on my part. Because EACH time I've traveled over to Miss Effie's side of the pond, she's welcomed me with open arms and encouraged me to teach COOKING classes with her organization, Slow Food Quad Cities.

It's a brilliant concept, truly--cooking the way people used to--over stoves...yes, Slow Food is the antithesis to "Fast Food," and therein lies the charm--teaching classes on specific themes, and then inviting mad chefs like me to give it a whirl. Mind you, before Slow Food, I had taught perhaps one cooking class in all of New York. So for Linnea to keep asking me out is both mind blowing and humbling, to say the least. It does not help that I have had some very "human" moments during my cooking (can we say "exploding sesame seeds" for Indian cooking class?), but she has been funny, and her passion for the food is infectious.

Alternately, for each of my classes, I am humbled by ALL of the students who have come out.

               Brian Dinges, sweet husband to Renee, who showed up in her stead for bee classes!

For the many curious new beekeepers, for the lovers of my cooking classes, even the few art classes that I have taught in Florida...each. and. every. one. of you has bolstered my confidence as a teacher, has made me smile, has made me feel important in teaching you, and made me feel lucky in knowing you as a person.

For all of your kind, concerned questions, I am grateful. And that is this journey, large and small, band-aided by one and all....

TOMORROW--More Iowa adventures!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Relearning the ABC's

As I mentioned yesterday, there is nothing quite predictable on the enchanted acreage of Miss Effie's in Iowa...thusly, one must relearn many a thing in the way of events and life-living, whilst on tour with the fabulous Effie herself, Cathy Lafrenz. And so, we spent our days this way, conveniently punctuated in alphabetical order...

AMISH ~ whilst most folks might think that the Amish reside amongst the postcard perfect flowing green hills of Pennsylvania, the Amish have strong communities throughout America, and this includes Kalona, Iowa. Kalona is home to both Amish and Mennonite societies and a historical village. I have always respected and waved a certain amount of curiosity at this sometimes secretive and misunderstood group of plain folk, and I did look forward to being amongst them, though I don't know that I was necessarily more the wise to the origins of the Amish and Mennonite orders. If you are interested in learning more, you may find information HERE. For me, it is the simplicity of their lives, their work ethic, strong religious and cultural traditions and, of course, the use of horses and old-fashioned workings in their lives that hold my respect.

We managed to drive to Kalona, firstly to visit the fabulous Amish/Mennonite supply store--an amalgamation of all sorts of food, bulk sweets, endless spices, flavorings, old clock parts, herbs, cooking paraphernalia, jam making supplies, sewing accoutrements, various frippery and miscellany and, of course, whoopie pies (which I have an unreasonable weakness for). There is also a produce section and one for meats, and dairy...all at amazing prices..a wonderland of amazing items. Actually, this would have been my second go-'round, as I was first quickly introduced to this place LAST year when Maggie, my first host, dropped me off to Cathy--I actually met Cathy--a whirlwind of laughter and hugs. Some things never change.

Alas, because the Amish are typical camera shy, and because I was reluctant to show disrespect by even considering shooting a picture, I simply managed to get this shot of a tied horse and buggy during the whole trip...

We also went to the "Bent N Dent," which actually was a store with a different moniker, but for the life of me, I can't recall it, since "Bent N Dent" seemed so..well...apt a name. The store basically takes items that fell off trucks or were otherwise damaged en route to regular sale, and resells at rock bottom prices. There is something strangely twisted about this slate of bad luck into treasure, I suppose, but one couldn't help but be curious, anyhow. Turns out, most of the shelves were covered with--yes--dented cans, some slight, some comical in severity. There were boxed goods with some scrapes, and some packages looked unscathed altogether...very interesting overall.

Finally...across the way from the Amish goods store, there was a giant cheese barn. We went in for cheese curds, but the whole place was a palace of various cheeses, chocolates, and other farm tastiness.

Overall, a fun, festive, and feast-ful day.

BIRTHDAYS ~ I should probably mention, should you be unaware, that Miss Effie's is in fact Cathy's beautifully charmed farm, which you can see more of HERE. Besides selling flowers, eggs, and handcrafted beauty, the place is magical enough to host wedding, birthdays, and gatherings. Luckily for me, I managed to glimpse a small birthday gathering which--coincidentally--was held by an online friend for her grand-daughter! It was quite fun to meet Aprillynn in person, as well as a bevvy of lovely mothers and magical children!

                              The Birthday girl and Right, the resident farm tom cat...

                                                           Fairy wings and dreams....

                                                         More cute kitten holding....

                                                             Party Pretties..........

                                                          Pretty Princesses...

I didn't stay too long outside of taking a few photos as I didn't want to disturb this cute celebration, but don't think I wasn't a tad envious of the birthday setup--how do I procure such a fun and festive birthday setup??

CANDY ~ But before you feel too sorry for me, know that one of our excursions out was to Wilton Candy kitchen. Apparently, it is the oldest continuous running diner in America. The inside was pure 50's kitch with old-fashioned malts and sandwiches. The owner of the shop is "Pop" Nopolous and he is 92 years old. He's still got the hots for the food, though his age makes him more talkative than fast with the orders for Cathy and I, but he was still sweet and had pizzazz! I was sorry to hear that his children are not so keen on keeping up this family owned business, but I hope in some way that this sweet old-fashioned establishment will keep on rollin'! In the meantime there were sweet shakes, and sandwiches to be had!

And that, my friends, is the joy that is Miss Effie's...

TOMORROW --more Iowa excursions...we will continue our Vagabond Tales daily until next week, in order to catch up with some BIG NEWS!