Tulip Time

Even though your garden may look a little bedraggled this time of year, it’s time to think tulips … planting them, that is. Now’s the perfect time to sow these little beauties for a beautiful border of springtime color.


Photo by John O’Neill via Wikimedia Commons

You’ll want to get your tulips in soon before you experience a heavy frost; optimum time is 4-6 weeks before the ground is frozen. You can find step-by-step sowing instructions on the National Gardening Association website.

But did you know that tulips were at one time as good as gold? Even though more tulips are now said to be grown in the U.S. (than in all of Holland), just 300 miles from my farm, in the Skagit Valley area of Washington State …


Photo by Alistair Wressnigg, Skagit Valley Tulip Festival photo contest honorable mention

at one time, they were so rare, they resulted in the first-ever economic bubble (when asset prices widely deviate from intrinsic values) throughout Europe. This speculative madness even had a name, Tulip Mania, that is still used metaphorically today to refer to any large economic bubble. Tulip Mania occurred in 1637, at the height of the popularity of this relatively new and extraordinary flower.

Tulips were introduced to Europe nearly a hundred years earlier from the Ottoman Empire, but it wasn’t until 1593 that a Flemish botanist experimented with plantings and found the tulips to be hardy and tolerant of the harsh growing conditions of northern Europe. By 1636, tulips were the fourth leading export of the Netherlands (after gin, herring, and cheese).

Their brightly colored petals were rare in flowers of the time, and because of a virus that made unusual stripes and color variations in the flowers, they were considered rare status symbols, gracing the grounds of manors and estates across the continent.


Photo by Taxiarchos228 via Wikimedia Commons

Trade and futures speculation reached a peak in 1637, when a single tulip bulb could sell for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman!

Fortunately, tulips are now a common garden bulb, but they retain their uncommon beauty and the ability to transform your spring garden into a riot of colors. Plant some this fall and enjoy the bounty next spring. And for a real treat, plan a trip to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, where you’ll join hundreds of thousands of people in western Washington from April 1-30 and get to view millions of tulips in full bloom, as well as visit demonstration gardens where you can buy rare bulbs at a cost nearly anyone can afford.


poster, Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

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ghostly sightings

Have you seen these spooktacular specters billowing around the Internet?


Photo courtesy of Shadow Manor



Photo courtesy of Wacky Archives

Oh, the chills, the thrills!

I love the “Wandering Woman” crafted by blogger Lori Nelson of Shabulous Creations:


Photo by Lori Nelson via Shabulous Creations

Crafted of good ol’ chicken wire (poultry netting), these ghostly figures and free-floating dresses are perfect decorations for frightening farmgirl fun on Halloween. Just imagine hopping on a hayride or wandering through a pumpkin patch at dusk …


Photo by Visitor7 via Wikimedia Commons

When suddenly you spy strange, ethereal figures drifting through a darkening field …


Plowing at Dusk by Leon Bonvin, 1865, via Wikimedia Commons

Gives you the shivers, doesn’t it?

Whether you have enough acreage to host a hayride or are nestled on a tiny townstead frequented by trick-or-treaters, your visitors would be delighted to find fabulous femmes fatales twining though the twilit shadows on Halloween night. And, you have just enough time to rig up a few ghostly gals using the basic technique in this tutorial from P. Allen Smith (leave out the rebar and pumpkin heads for a simpler project):

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Move over, Frank … it’s Pumpkinstein

In a laboratory deep in the heart of Fillmore, California, a mad scientist named Tony Dighera gave a face to a monster pumpkin … literally.


Photo by Tony Dighera

Tony’s monstrous pumpkins are organic, but that’s not the reason they’ll fetch up to $125 apiece. That’s because these pumpkins aren’t carved, they’re grown into little likenesses of their muse, Mr. Frankenstein himself. Tony came up with the idea to create plastic molds that fit around the pumpkin plant when the fruit’s still small.


Photo by Tony Dighera

But his vision wasn’t … small, that is. He grew over 5,500 pumpkins in his first season on his 40-acre organic farm near L.A. For over 30 years, Tony worked as a tractor operator for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. But his real love was farming, and in 2003, he bought his small farm and struggled to make ends meet as an organic farmer. Then, inspired by a photo of a square watermelon grown in Japan, Tony got the idea to grow his vegetables in shapes, starting with square and heart-shaped watermelons, then imprinting logos onto melons for Whole Foods, then trying his hand at creating a monster. And that’s translating into a monster business … Tony sold his entire crop to suppliers for $75 apiece. Let’s see, roughly 5,000 x $75. Monster math, I mean, monster mash. Continue reading

Fried Maple Leaves?

Fall is certainly one of the best times of the year for basking in the brilliant kaleidoscope of nature’s colors. I’ve spent many a recent morning doing just that, but as each sunrise grows chillier than the one before, my thoughts turn from the basking to the raking. With leaves on my mind, I went searching for alternatives to my annual raking and was intrigued to discover a snack craze in Japan, whose tradition is purported to be over 1,000 years old and provides an escape from autumn clean-up.


In Minoh City, Osaka, a concentration of beautiful Japanese maple trees have inspired shopkeepers to turn the flaming foliage into food. Leaves of the Momiji (Japanese for this type of maple tree) are collected and cured in salt for about a year, then dipped in a slightly sweet tempura batter and deep-fried until crispy. The leaves supposedly have no taste, but lend an interesting color and nice shape to the batter.


Photo of maple leaf snacks via Lens on Japan, lensonjapan.com.

Sounds interesting to me, but upon further pondering, I might just stick with the raking. Crunchy leaves in my mouth don’t sound quite as delicious as the crunchy leaves on my body when I fall into a freshly-raked pile of autumn softness. Continue reading

A Different Kind of COWpanion

You know how I feel about backyard milk cows. Something a little, oh, like this:


Photo by Darian D. Smith, State Library of South Australia, via Wikimedia Commons

Go ahead and call it an obsession. I’ll own up to that. I mean, I did establish Heritage Jersey Organization, after all. There’s no denying my devotion!


But, would you believe that there are farmgirls in Russia who are just as passionate about milking …


Photo by Veronika Ronkos via Wikimedia Commons


Nope—I’m not pulling your leg. You might say that a moose has a face that only a milkmaid could love:


Photo by Alexander Minaev via Wikimedia Commons

The woman above is a bonafide moose milkmaid with her favorite cow (yes, moose “cow” is the correct term) at Sumarokovskaya Farm (formerly called Kostroma Farm) outside the small village of Sumarokovo in western Russia.


Photo by Alexander Minaev via Wikimedia Commons

What a lineup!

Living here in rural Idaho, I’m not unfamiliar with moose. They pass through now and again, jumping into my pond, nibbling spring shoots, and trying to get at my fruit trees …



but I must say that I’ve never really entertained the notion of milking one. Moose, as you may know, have a reputation for being more dangerous than bears when they’re feeling cantankerous—and a momma moose doesn’t take kindly to trespassers in her territory. “Territory,” I’m assuming, includes her udder (wink).


Photo by Alces_alces via Wikimedia Commons

Throwing caution to the cold north wind, a battalion of brave and enterprising Russians set out to domesticate moose in the 1930s. At first, they eyed these large animals as potential cavalry for use during World War II. That idea never really took off, but an experimental operation called Pechora Farm was established in the late 1940s with the goal of breeding moose for milk, meat, and transportation.


Photo of moose as pack animals in Pechora-Ilych Preserve, 1953, by O.I. Semenov-Tyan-Shanskii via Wikimedia Commons

Alas, the clever and wary nature of the beast thwarted attempts to employ it for meat or a consistently reliable mode of transit. Surprisingly, though, farm-raised moose conceded to milking without much of a fuss, and more farms soon undertook the mission.


Photo by Alexander Minaev via Wikimedia Commons

Kostroma Farm opened in 1963, starting with just two calves (it now has about 30 moose). The farm’s milk is primarily purchased by the nearby Ivan Susanin Sanatorium, an alternative therapy retreat for people suffering from gastrointestinal diseases.

“This pine-scented delicacy is renowned in the area as a cure for peptic ulcers,” explains Tyler LeBlance of ModernFarmer.com. “High in butterfat (usually coming in at around 10 percent, compared to cow milk’s average 5 percent), loaded with double the amount of essential amino acids as cow’s milk, and chock-full of lypozyme—an enzyme that kills ulcer-creating bacteria—the slightly acidic milk has been used by [the sanatorium] as a treatment for an array of diseases and disorders for over 30 years.”

According to Alexander Minaev, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences who oversees the Sumarokovskaya Farm, the facility serves an equally important role as an ecological education center. “It gives the unique opportunity of immediate intercommunication between people and these intelligent forest animals,” he says. “But it is also a center of conservation, it allows reproduction, resettlement, and number restoration.”


Photo by Dieter Wirz via Wikimedia Commons

The Sumarokovskaya Farm offers guided tours seven days a week, 365 days a year. “During a standard guided tour, you will see moose of various ages and hear a guide’s narration about moose farming,” says Minaev. “All the rest depends on a season, an occasion, and your luck. The guide will take a pack of clean, cut carrots for you to entertain adult animals. Moose like carrots and usually wait for you to feed them.”

If you can’t rush over to Russia any time soon, take a virtual vacation via the many marvelous visitor photos at TripAdvisor.com.

And, if all this talk of moose milking is making you want your own pet moose, well …

As for me, I think I’ll stick with my gentle Jerseys. Although now I know I really can bring a friend or two indoors for a bit of TV, maybe a bite to eat before bedtime IN A BED.

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Goodbye, summer …

While those of us up north bid summer a fond farewell with a tear or two (goodbye, swimming; goodbye, picnics; goodbye, sleeveless dresses and summer sandals), we’ll have to try to switch our focus to the fun of fall … autumn leaves, snuggly sweaters, Halloween, pumpkin pie.

Or how about a pumpkin cow??


Photo by Jucker Farmat via Wikimedia Commons

But, first off, why do we have two names for this season? Is it autumn or is it fall? As far as I know, there’s only one way to have spring fever or celebrate summer solstice.

Did you know that fall (or autumn, if you prefer) and spring are relatively new seasons? In ancient times, there was only one season: winter. People referred to the passing of the year as so many winters (think Beowulf, the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language, where Beowulf rescues a kingdom terrorized by a monster for “12 winters”). Over time, the year became two seasons: winter and “sumer,” an ancient Germanic term for “half” (denoting half the year).

It’s interesting to note that the more poetic Chinese also had only two seasons, but theirs were spring (regeneration) and autumn (adversity).

By the 12th century, Middle English had added “lenten” for springtime and “haerfest” (harvest) for fall. Two centuries later, “lenten” had become “spring” and “haerfest” was replaced by “autumn,” a Latin term meaning the season of abundance. “Fall” came into use much later, in the 17th century, as a poetic complement to “spring.” (It looks like poetry really does have more historical significance than you might think.) But, did you know that “fall” is primarily used only by Americans? The Brits have always tended to look down their noses at the term (think Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson imperiously observing a tipsy dinner guest), preferring the more proper term, “autumn.”

Now that we know we can call it “fall” unless Great-aunt Beatrice has come to visit from Derbyshire, let’s think of all the fun we can have during this bountiful, beautiful season …

  • Leaves. Take a rambling, fall drive to experience the beauty of the season. Back home, rake them up and jump in them! Find a one-week, 700-mile fall foliage tour at DiscoverNewEngland.org.

Photo by aiko99ann via Wilimedia Commons

  • Pumpkins. Horse-drawn wagons meander through acres of pumpkins at Vermont Farms. Visit them or find a pumpkin patch in your area. Take ‘em home, bake ‘em up, carve ‘em, decorate with them! (Did you know the smell of pumpkin pie is a natural aphrodisiac??)

Photo, Vermont Farms

  • Aurora Borealis. Fall is the official season to see the spectacular “northern lights.” Visit “A Guide for Watching Earth’s Auroras” to see if you can get a glimpse of these unbelievable beauties.

Photo by Polarlicht 2 via Wikimedia Commons

  • Apple Cider. Did you know it takes about 36 apples to make a gallon of cider? If you’re feeling frisky, ferment that a little and you get a heady concoction known as “hard cider.” (Here’s one you won’t find in the history books: President John Adams drank a glass of cider every morning (the hard kind) as a “health tonic.” And it might have worked—even with the stress of being the very first Vice-President for two terms and our second President for one term, Adams lived until 90, in an age when the average lifespan was around 40.)

Photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

So take a drive, pick some pumpkins, and look up in the night sky while drinking a large glass of old John Adams’ cider—you might just chase away those goodbye-to-summer blues. Continue reading

Dishing (slightly) Dirty Fun

Abe’s Market, an online organic and natural products retailer, has come out with a new ad campaign that’s raising eyebrows … and getting them noticed. The new campaign, called “Dishing Dirty: The Filthy Truths of the Modern Woman,” pairs a photo of a woman, often in ’50s fashion, with a witty headline like “Toxins … I’m saving those for my cocktail,” and a factoid/commentary like “Women are exposed to an average of 128 unique chemicals daily through use of approximately 12 skin-care products. Isn’t it almost better to go out naked?”

Here are a few samples to tickle your funny bone:





Abe’s plans to upload a new ad weekly. Get your weekly dose of fun and facts here. Continue reading

To gel or not to gel?

Before we knew about the unsavory animal origins of traditional gelatin (a gelling agent made from boiling the skin, tendons, ligaments, bones, and even hooves of cows, pigs, or horses), we might have picked up a box of Safeway’s “Jell-well” gelatin dessert.


Savvy shoppers now choose to use my innovative ChillOver Powder—it’s vegan, but ends up like gelatin, sets up in half the time gelatin does, seals in flavors more quickly, and doesn’t melt at room temperature. (It’s fantastic for making jams, far superior to pectin, etc.)

But being a Utah native, where residents eat twice as much gelatin as anyone else on the planet and a staple of every community potluck was “gelatin salad”—a concoction of lime gelatin with grated carrots and celery trapped inside, topped with Miracle Whip—I’m genetically inclined to wax nostalgic about all things gelatin.

Like my propensity for collecting vintage gelatin molds:


… and decorating with them:

lily-7_1297lily-6_1296And, if you have any idea of how hard it is to choose and trademark a product name (I was once told I couldn’t use my own name on my magazine because of Mary Jane candies (read more about them here) and Mary Jane and Friends bread, a southern grocery-store brand), you’ll know I was amused to learn this bit of trademark history:

In 1927, when Jell-well tried to stop Jell-X-Cell from using that name as a trademark, they were overruled by provisions of the “Trade-Mark Act,” which forbade registration of words or devices “which are descriptive of the goods with which they are used, or of the character or the quality of such goods.” In the case, the judge ruled that “One of the prime objects and indispensable qualities of the substance is that, when it is changed by manipulation and the addition of water into a form available for use as an edible substance, it must ‘jell.’ To my mind, the words are so plainly descriptive of a natural and necessary quality of the concoction as to relieve the question of any doubt whatsoever.” He went on to say, “With the whole field of possible coinage before them, it is strange that merchants insist upon adopting marks that are so nearly descriptive.”

I was finally able to trademark MaryJanesFarm by removing the apostrophe and smooshing it all together in one word, thereby stylizing it and making it a recognizable logo instead of merely a name. (Important life lesson: If you’re persistent and imaginative, there are usually ways around the “rules.” It helps to be a Taurus—we’re known for our persistence, sometimes called “stubbornness.”)

If you’re gaga for the good old days of gelatin schmaltz too, how about this retro kitsch t-shirt from Zazzle.com?


Or this morsel of Utah lore:
Utah residents like gelatin so much that when Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, one of the official pins was a green gelatin jiggler in the shape of the state.

Or this fun appearance of gelatin in the movies:
In the 1959 movie, Some Like It Hot, Jerry, played by Jack Lemon, says with awe when watching Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, played by Marilyn Monroe, “Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs. Must have some sort of built-in motor or something.”

Comment below with your favorite gelatin anecdotes … and tell me how you like my non-gelatin ChillOver Powder! Continue reading

Retail Therapy

With the kids back in school, I’m wondering if you heard my big sigh of relief? It was awesome to have enjoyed a wonderful summer focused entirely on them, but I look forward to getting back into the school routine. Even so, as a mom, I think it’s impossible not to miss them and wonder if they’re eating their lunches and hope they aren’t skinning their knees on the playground, etc.

Looking for a good distraction, my best girlfriend and I saddled up her SUV and went for a drive.

Destination = Glorious Small-town Antique Shops!

2014-08-30 12.22.14 HDR

Doesn’t this just make you smile? Especially when you find the sweetest owner inside and she just happens to be canning peaches in a kitchen attached to her antique shop. Of course she was! Even better, she had a faded Wave If You’re A Farmgirl bumper sticker on her door. And, of course, I found the perfect cast-iron Christmas tree stand (in August).

2014-09-02 12.28.05-2

Feeling all sunshine-y and wonderful, we hit the road again and happened upon a sunflower field. We don’t really have sunflower fields around here, so this required us to stop and jump the creek for a selfie. Is it still called a selfie if your BFF is in it, too?

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“Tell ‘im I get wings.”

If Georgie White Clark and I had crossed paths, I have a feeling we might have been fast friends …


Photo of Georgie White courtesy of Adventure-Journal.com

I encountered Georgie the other day, quite by accident. Catching a glimpse of the photo above, I immediately thought, “That’s my kind of gal.”

You see what I mean, don’t you? Bare feet, brash smile, white water … and that hat!

So off I went in search of Georgie, and I could hardly wait to introduce you to my new pal from the past …

The first thing anyone should know about Georgie is that she made her last raft trip (of many) down the Colorado River in 1991, at age 79, wearing a full-body, leopard-print leotard.


Photo of Georgie White courtesy of The Canyon County Zephyr

Love it!

The second thing you should know about Georgie is that her love affair with the Grand Canyon and the wild Colorado River bloomed in 1945, taking root in the seemingly barren soil of heartbreak. The year before, Georgie’s second marriage was failing when tragedy struck: Her 15-year-old daughter, Sommona Rose, was killed in a hit-and-run accident while riding her bike. Seeking escape from her grief, Georgie joined a friend named Harry Aleson on a river excursion. With no money for a boat, the pair opted to swim.

In a river running at 48,000 cubic feet per second, that sounds like lunacy, right?

But, somehow, I imagine the challenge of swimming the river made Georgie’s trip all the more cathartic.

“They jumped in at Diamond Creek, wearing windbreakers, tennis shoes, and life jackets, and carrying backpacks packed with watertight tins for food,” writes Heather Hansman for Adventure Journal. “They were swept 60 miles down to Lake Mead, and Georgie became obsessed with the Colorado River.”

It was an obsession that Georgie likened to marriage, declaring, “I fell in love with the river, married it, and I don’t plan no divorce.”

Georgie’s immediate and unshakable passion for the river inspired her to launch her own commercial raft guiding company, Georgie’s Royal River Rats, at a time when women were rarely seen running the river, much less guiding. She expanded her guided trips to other rivers as well—the Green, Snake, and Salmon—as well as rivers in Mexico. The Grand Canyon was always sacred to Georgie, though, and it’s said that if you made it down the river with this rough-and-ready river guide, she’d dub you an official “rat” by cracking an egg on your head!


Photo courtesy of NAU Cline Library, Special Collections and Archives, Colorado River Plateau Digital Archives NAU.PH.

Even without meeting her, I can say for certain that Georgie did things her way.

“Georgie’s trips had no frills. She was known for surviving on beer and a few vegetables, and she didn’t bring much else,” explains Hansman. “Because of her bare-bones way of doing business, she charged much less than other outfitters and undercut their rates, upping her traffic. But she innovated the way people ran the river, too. She pressed the BLM for an organized permitting system and she invented the G-Rig, three boats strapped together with an outboard motor on the back.”

G-rigs (or “thrill rigs,” as Georgie called them) were the precursors to modern sweep rigs, stable rafts that allow bigger groups of people to travel downriver together.


Photo courtesy of NAU Cline Library, Special Collections and Archives, Colorado River Plateau Digital Archives. 1955. Call # NAU.PH.92.17.1

After 45 years on the river, and two years after her last raft trip in the infamous leopard-print leotard, Georgie sold her company and died in Las Vegas, leaving a bit of a mystery in her wake.

“For all her notoriety, Clark remains something of a mystery to even those closest to her. Evidence discovered at her home the day of her funeral raised the possibility Clark fabricated portions of her past, giving rise to a new element of the Georgie legend,” reports GrandCanyonTreks.org. “While the theory is discounted by several associates, there is a faction of friends who are puzzled by connections that suggest Clark was in fact Bessie Hyde, who vanished in 1928 along with her husband, Glen Hyde, while the Idaho couple were on a honeymoon adventure floating the Grand Canyon in a wooden boat.”


Photo of Glen and Bessie Hyde on November 17, 1928, courtesy of Northern Arizona University

GrandCanyonTreks.org continues, “Speculation about Clark’s connections to Bessie Hyde began when friends were going through her personal effects following her death … for starters, her birth certificate showed her real name was Bessie DeRoss, not Georgie. Clark, as well as another surname she sometimes used, White, were the last names of divorced husbands. While her 1977 autobiography waxed at length about a childhood in her native Chicago, she was actually born in Oklahoma and raised in Colorado.”

Friends also found a copy of the Hydes’ marriage license and a pistol that may have belonged to Bessie DeRoss in Georgie’s lingerie drawer.

Truth? Fiction? Really, who’s to say?

But I’m looking forward to learning more about Georgie’s life and legend in her biography, Woman Of The River: Georgie White Clark, Whitewater Pioneer by Richard Westwood.

In the meantime, I know you’ll enjoy watching this rare clip of Georgie on the river in 1989 as much as I did:

Life Magazine pegged Georgie perfectly in a 1961 article, calling her a “new kind of iron-nerve mermaid.”

Indeed, she was.

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