Tuesday, July 31, 2007

new technology

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I remember many more antique stores in Galena when we visited 10 years ago. There didn't seem to be as many. But I was taken with the display in this window.

Unfortunately I'm old enough to remember when television was the latest technology and we owned a TV just like this one. You can't see it in this shot but this TV was actually working and tuned into one of the major networks!

Other items in the window bring back memories - Sea Monkeys for example. There's a Moses Action Figure and a Rosie the Riveter figure too.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

historic preservation

When we visited Galena about 10 years ago it was apparent that time had taken it's toll of many of the old and historic structures. Preserving history and restoring properties takes time and money. On this trip to the town it was apparent that good fortune has allowed investors to invest both in projects aimed at saving and upgrading the older buildings.

Galena is not in need of a fancy fitness center because historic preservation can be hot, body building work.

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Of course you realize I do not, as a rule, post photos of partially clothed men, but this was the scene as a building was being restored. My point is that this work is actually healthy for you, so call today and get involved in a preservation project near you.

Another reason why there's no need for a gym in this town lies in the lay of the land. No stair stepper is required when groceries need to be carried up this sidewalk.

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Here is a glimpse of the streets, preserved in time. First is a brick street appeared:

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... this is the cobblestone, which had to provide quite a ride in a horse-drawn wagon.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

who's buried in grant's tomb?

Galena was once home to General Ulysses S. Grant. He was born in Ohio and arrived in Galena in 1860 after retiring from a military career. The plan was that he would join his father and brothers in business, but Grant was not a shopkeeper. In 1861 he left to command troops in the Civil War and upon his return the citizens of Galena presented the General and Julia Dent Grant a fully furnished home on the east side of the river. They made this town their home until 1868 when Grant was elected President. As she left for Washington, Julia Grant vowed never to return the what she considered a rough-and-tumble, uncivilized town.

The house was left standing with only sporadic visits by General Grant. In 1904 their children donated the home to the city with the stipulation that it be maintained in memory of their father. Grant's home is unusual in the fact that it is filled with original furnishings, down to the salt shakers.

Follow the link to view the home. For some reason I didn't take a photograph! It is a modest home in comparison to some of the ostentatious mansions overlooking Galena from the hillside. Here's one of the beautiful examples of Galena architecture:

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This hints at the challenges facing homeowners on a day-to-day basis.

The answer? No one is "buried" in Grant's Tomb. Ulysses and Julia are "entombed" in Grant's Tomb in New York. There was a possibility that he would be buried in Galena as it was one of the spots he requested. His wish was to be laid to rest in one of three spots but NOT Washington.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

galena territory

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Last week I visited two different Mississippi River towns. On Wednesday and Thursday I joined seven of my neighbors on an excursion to Galena, Illinois. Although technically not on the Mississippi it still qualifies as a river town.

As a midwesterner, with the mindset that we're the middle child, it's difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that we were once considered America's far northwest territory.

Galena is named for the ore and lead ore is what drove it's growth. The town stands along the Galena River which connects to the Mississippi a few miles west. Steamboats would dock in Galena to ship the ore to farflung places.

The fortunes of Mississippi River towns have risen and fallen, mirroring the flooding and drought along the river. Ore was discovered and played out, leaving the community scrambling to reinvent itself many times over. Some of the river towns have not fared so well, but Galena and Hannibal, Missouri laid claim to some famous residents and a thriving tourist trade was nurtured.

There's an energy that pulses through these communities and I found myself having difficulty describing the feeling. Luckily I picked up the most recent version of Mark Twain's biography, edited by Charles Neider. Neider sums it up pretty well in the introduction to the book:

"(the book) .... is the product of a highly original yet representative mind and it brings back the tone and flavor of an America which was young and optimistic, a homespun, provincial America but an America with greatness in its heart. Thoreau's America may have contained many lives of quiet desperation. Mark Twain's decidedly did not. The midwestern and western frontiers were not the America of Concord and Boston."

Here's a portion of the main street. The white building on the left is made of cast iron, the pieces brought up river from St. Louis.
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Saturday, July 21, 2007

in search of the perfect piece of pie

As I have said before, here at the farmers wife we spare no expense to provide you with an authentic midwest experience.

Earlier in the week I spent two days in historic Galena, Illinois along the Mississippi. Today I am in Hannibal, Missouri, the boyhood home of Mark Twain. We must pack in enough experiences to last us through the long and cold winter and create fair weather memories while we can.

Sorry, there's no way to post pictures at this time but be assured that there are some interesting things to report and see from here on the mighty Mississippi. River towns seem to share some qualities.

We had dinner this evening at Lulabelle's Restaurant and B & B. It was once a bordello and now provides hospitality of a different nature. The bus boy was a curious person, wanting to know where the diners were from. He talked about the growth of St. Louis, 100 miles to the south, and stated his hope that some of the development would reach his little part of the world. I suggested that he enjoy the lovely and peaceful little town that he calls home. But you know what they say about the bright lights of Paree.....or Chicago.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

big boys - big toys

It's my belief that everyone needs a hobby. Heck, I have one, or two. Around here there are some boys who have big toy hobbies. Not far down the road is a landing strip and staging area for the Fox Valley Aero Club. They fly impressive radio controlled aircraft of all kinds. Their hobby isn't quite as impressive in size as the steam powered boys. We'll visit them again later this summer - with their behemoth coal-burning, steam spitting tractors, steam shovels and threshers.

This gentlemen is making last minute adjustments to his plane before takeoff.

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Most of the planes are rigged with their own miniature crew.

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This plane is shaped like a yellow bird and comese complete with a tiny tweetie bird pilot with a scarf around his neck.

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We were impressed with the jet. Yep, sounded like a jet and was fast, fast, fast.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

pied piper of barbecue

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There's not much that can pass for barbecue north of the Mason-Dixon line and even less in this part of the midwest. Here's an authentic entry into the barbecue world not far from my house.

I was driving down La Fox Road when I detected the aroma of hickory wood smoke - yep, I smelled the operation before it came into view. It's hard to miss Larry Hopper's custom made barbecue trailer - it's BIG RED. The truck's red too, as is Larry's shirt, which can only mean one thing - he's a Razorback fan. The farmer and I knew immediately that we were in for an awesome pulled pork sandwich. I know, I know, those of you from Houston or Kansas City will argue with me but my Tennessee and Florida panhandle roots proclaim and pulled pork is the grail of barbecue.

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Here's Larry himself, lifting the lid on his specially made, water-cooled smoker grill. I'm so hungry just looking at this image. Hopper's also serves the Texas variety of barbecue - beef brisket. Some Texans, relocated here during a company merger, have already sniffed out his operation and become good customers.

Within the next few months Larry and his crew will build out a storefront in Campton Center, the location of yesterdays farmer's market. He needs to work fast because I cna't imagine him cooking barbecue in our winter conditions.

We stopped for barbecue on the way through Wasco on Sunday. The pulled pork wasn't quite ready yet so I made good on my promise to myself to try the brisket.

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I apologize to all the Texans, whose judgment I doubted. WOW - I think I'm a convert.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

farmers market

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We're deep into the farmer's market season. Almost every town has a market or two and this one is just starting up at Campton Center in the little town of Wasco west of St. Charles.

There were only 3 or 4 vendors this day and they were being challenged by the high winds which were threatening to launch their canopies airborne. Unfortunately that left them at the mercy of the sun and one woman's beautiful chocolate covered strawberries were soon in meltdown mode. Locally produced, hormone free beef was also available at this market so if you're in the area check it out on Saturday mornings.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

field of dreams

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We haven't checked in on the corn in awhile. It's progressing nicely and surpassed the traditional benchmark of "knee high by the 4th of July". The recent heat was needed for the development and there has been a good amount of precipitation to keep things green.

My stepfather was quite a character, traveling the back roads of the U.S., always in search of the perfect piece of pie. His mother experienced every farm woman's nightmare when, at age 12, he fell into a threshing machine and lost his leg. His life was a series of physical challenges. As a chemical engineer he was severely burned in an industrial accident.

At the end of his life he loved nothing more that to sit in a chair on the porch of his home in Coal City, Illinois and watch the corn grow.

"Quite meditative," he would say.

I agree.

Monday, July 09, 2007

cool down

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It's a good thing there were enough photos from the barn sale to last a week. The weather had turned stinking hot and I had no intention of venturing out to take photos or do anything else for that matter.

Heat gets on my nerves and I wonder how I survived four years in Texas with a car without air conditioning!

Thankfully big black clouds approached from the north this afternoon. A cold front swooping down from Canada perhaps? Thunderstorm soon broke out, sending the Chihuahuas skittering in all directions with each thunderclap.

This was the beautiful view from my office window, looking like a watercolor painting. And yes, the air is now as cool as the view.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

barn sale treasures

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There were lots of treasures at the barn sale, including lots of bikes parked in the barnyard.

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Stacks of skis lined the walls of the barn, versions for snow or water.

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Inglenook Pantry from Geneva provided food and drink for the busy shoppers.

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This end table is one of those "should have's"....should have bought it for my daughters college apartment.

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Here's another item I pondered over - a container of Tinker Toys. Fortunately the Tinker Toys found a good home. Later in the day I spotted a former customer of mine (an octogenarian) clutching them on his way to the checkout tent. Larry was surprised that I remembered him. It wasn't difficult as he was the only customer to ever sit at my desk and quote poetry!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

pitching in

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Everyone pitched in to make Garfield Farm's Barn Sale a success. Here's Jerry Johnson (pictured on the right), Executive Director of the farm, helping a customer load furniture.

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Assistant Site Manager Thomas Hillier took time away from his responsibilities at the farm to help at the sale. He's just carried a large box of books to the checkout for a customer. Thomas is always cheerful and willing to answer questions.

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The staff and volunteers were happy as customers lined up to pay for their items. The customers were equally happy to find special treasures. This woman found a large jar of marbles and her husband got a globe.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


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On the day of the barn sale Chuck Bauer helped out directing cars into the grassy side yard that served as a parking lot for the day.

He probably looks familiar to you because he's been pictured here before, working in his capacity as a teamster, for the Garfield Farm Museum. In the context of the museum and Chuck's duties a teamster is an ox driver and not a a member of a labor union. Garfield Farm was originally a teamster's inn.

He saw the cameras around my neck, figured out my identity and introduced himself. We were able to chat a bit between the rush of cars and I learned that although one man could drive the oxen it too two people working together to actually plow a field.

It's amazing to watch Chuck in action. The combined weight of the oxen is thousands of pounds and the teamsters direct them with voice commands and a goad. The goad does not serve as a whip, but a visual or touch clue that supports the voice command.

If you ever have a chance to watch a teamster in action, don't miss it. Even better, check out Garfield Farm's calendar and make plans to participate in the ox driving class next year. A urban dweller who took the class a couple years ago said that it was on her list of 100 things to do before she died!

Monday, July 02, 2007

making things happen

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Somebody once said to me, "If you want to get something done, ask a busy woman to do it."

Here are two busy ladies that make things happen. On the left is Donna Neiler, a board member for the Garfield Farm Museum. She got plenty of energy and I was amazed at her ability to keep the hoardes of shoppers behind the orange cones until the magic 9 o'clock hour. This is unheard of in the annals of garage/estate/barn sales. The early birds are very persistant, but Donna runs a tight ship! She's got alot of good ideas and the ability to put together a team to bring those ideas to life.

On the right is Denise Morgan, who was the person in charge of sorting, displaying and pricing. Her and her volunteers worked up to 12 hours per day and put together a very well organized sale. The original plan was to display all the merchandise in the machine shed, but with the flood of donations the sale spread to the cattle shed and horse barn also.

More than one person at the sale had wonderful things to say about Denise's efforts. She impressed alot of people.

Next we'll meet some of the volunteers, including a teamster who is not a truck driver.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

ten dollars and twenty-five cents

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Here's what $10.25 bought me at the Garfield Farm Barn sale.

Three beautiful vintage tablecloths. The fourth one eluded me as a woman snatched up before I could grab it.
A nice white embroidered handbag. I have plans on further embellishing the bag.
Seven hand etched crystal champagne glasses. Yes, seven is an odd number but I can fill in with the 40 or so other hand-etched glasses I own. Did anyone say obsession?
A vintage aluminum donut maker in it's original box. Made in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. I promised Garfield's education director Patty Kennedy that I'd make her some donuts.

It has occurred to me that "the farmers wife" is filled with images of barns and cornfields and lacking in photos of the people who work hard to make our community what it is. Check back tomorrow when I introduce you to the people who organized the sale and some happy customers too!