Farming after the Fire

18 Sep

The Pajari Sisters Press On after Last Summer’s Tragedy

(Originally Published in the Cook News Herald; Sep. 17, 2014)

By Jared and Caitlyn

The question was never if the Pajari Sisters would continue to grace the Cook area with their friendly laughter and quirky entrepreneurship after the loss of the Cook Dollar Barn, but when. And now we know the answer. With roughly fifteen months behind us since the tragic loss of a historic Cook building containing two businesses and eight apartments, Lois and Laura Pajari are back at it – this time with a real barn and plenty of other animals alongside their two beloved Corgis.

The farm that hosts one of Cook’s newest businesses – Cook’s Country Connection – is actually one of the oldest places in the area. And even though they officially opened on August 28, 2014, the Pajari sisters’ family has been working that land since the beginning of the 20th century. The farm and homes of Lois (husband Steve Gams) and Laura (husband Paul Williams) sit on part of the original homestead of their Great Grandmother Augusta, just atop the hill north of Cook on County Road 24, and now a brand new sign welcomes visitors to share in the history and happiness of their beloved haven.

imgresOn June 17, 2013, the Pajaris experienced what experts refer to as “a life-altering catastrophic event” when flames and smoke filled the summer sky above Cook on an otherwise beautiful summer evening. Our town watched in horror, not just at the loss of homes and businesses, but at the thought of losing one of the truly charming places in Cook. Lois explains that after working through the mountain of paperwork post-fire, and hauling away the mountain of rubble sitting on 114 S. River Street, it was time to think about something new.

“It was time for me to find a job,” she laughs, “The problem is, I didn’t want one.” See, the sisters had always joked that they were not running the dollar barn to make money, but to make friends, and while the fire destroyed a building, it certainly didn’t destroy the spirit of the two ladies who had succeeded in making so many friends along the way. The sisters weren’t about to settle for just another job, they wanted something that could keep them woven deeply into the fabric of this community. As Lois explains, “I am so thankful that I took the time to heal and wait for the ‘right something’ rather than the ‘next something’”.

And it just so happens, this “right something” includes pygmy goats, giant bunnies, a rafter of turkeys, and plenty of other goofy critters and friendly livestock that’ll keep you grinning as long as your visit will allow.

DSC_0538As you turn at the sign off County Road 24 just north of Cook and head west along the beautiful, tree-studded drive, you’ll soon see the original homestead barn, a relic that has earned their home a “Century Farm” award from the Minnesota Farm Bureau. On one of our visits, someone from the gang of turkeys had just laid an egg in the middle of the road. “Yeah, turkeys aren’t too bright,” Lois jokes.

DSC_0506You’ll soon want to descend the hill and greet George and Ruby, a species of rare KuneKune pig who are sure to roll over along the fence for a belly rub as soon as you beckon. Keep some change handy and buy treats for the animals from the dispensers posted along the various pens like gumball machines.

DSC_0512The ponies and donkeys will shyly lick snacks from your hand, while the alpacas – Maddox and Madelyn – will have you wondering if the farm keeps a professional hairstylist around.

Anthony Vito, one of the many young people who help at the farm, saved up his money for two years and now is the proud owner of Lily, a miniature Scottish Highlander, whose long fur and cute horns always attract admirers. You might be lucky enough to catch Pixie and Pepper, the humorous pygmy goats, going headfirst down the slide on the plastic child’s play equipment in their enclosure.DSC_0516

DSC_0525A wonderful playground fills the grassy yard and can keep kids busy for hours, along with a giant sand box full of vintage dump trucks and excavators to spark imaginative play. Children and adults can also spend time in the new barn, with the kids coloring pictures or working on crafts while the older visitors investigate the impressive history of the old homestead.

When one considers the recent journey the Pajari sisters have been on, the story of this farm becomes all the more profound. A good home should always be a place where one can recover and heal from life’s toughest blows, and the old homestead has certainly been that for Lois and Laura. But now, the same ladies with whom we shared so many smiles and laughs at the Dollar Barn are now ready to share their home with us – helping us all connect better with the community and land that we love.

Cook’s Country Connection is open for businesses, welcoming guests Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through October. The cost is $6.00 per person, with special group rates available. Children under two are free, so bring out the whole family this fall and enjoy the petting zoo and farm. Find out more at Cookscountryconnection.com.

Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins

16 Sep

I have a wizz bang recipe for you wonderful people.

The reason why it is so grand is that you can let your kids eat 7 of them at once and they won’t go into a diabetic coma!  Hooray!  I think there is less brown sugar in these muffins than they demand on their oatmeal in the morning.

Jared’s dad is coming from Colorado with some of his friends to camp in the Boundary Waters so I made them some of these beauties.  What a better way to start a camping trip then with some healthy yet tasty muffins.

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Look at those giant blueberries!  When the girls went picking with us they called berries that big “chunkers!”  They are so silly.

This recipe comes from an old friend and her blog over here.  Whenever I am at a loss about what to make I head over to her blog and I know whatever recipe I choose to make will come out delicious because her recipes are tried and delish.

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The recipe:

1 1/4 cup flour

1 1/4 cup oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 Tablespoons oil

1 egg

3/4 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Mix it all up and cook it in muffin liners at 375 for 15 minutes.

Thanks Bethany for your blog and wonderful recipe!

Dancin’ the Summer Away

12 Sep

By Jared

Originally published in the Cook News Herald; September 10, 2014

DSC_0501Perhaps you heard the playful hum of the accordion tumbling across Head-O-Lakes Bay on a still summer evening, but couldn’t quite identify the noise. Maybe you caught someone out of the corner of your eye shuffling their feet in a polka step through the frozen foods aisle at Zup’s. Or maybe you saw the happy, candy-apple red sign at the entrance to White Eagle Resort announcing the “Barn Dance” on Thursday nights throughout the summer, but the mention of a “barn dance” summoned silly pictures of large, wooden farm buildings convening in a giant field for a waltz.

As fascinating as that would be, it’s certainly not what the red sign outside White Eagle Resort was advertising on summer evenings. Rather, a barn dance typically refers to a folk-style dance accompanied by live music and a “caller” who guides the participants through a variety of group and couples dances. On Lake Vermilion this summer, the rec hall at White Eagle was full of people trying their feet at traditional polkas, jigs, and marches as head musicians and callers Jim Ganahl and Carol Booth tutored the community in folk dancing.

The idea for these summer dances originated while the lake was still locked in 3 feet of ice and heavy snow caked the spruce trees at the resort. The Lantry family, owners of the White Eagle Resort, were inspired to begin folk dancing after being invited to a dance in the Twin Cities last year. Then, a chance encounter with Jim and Carol at the Cook Credit Union suddenly provided the perfect occasion to continue dancing here in the Northwoods. So, while the snow and ice piled higher and higher around the Lantry home last winter, they hosted several dances for friends and family in their beautiful log living room while Jim and Carol initiated the group into the steps and rhythms of the various dance forms. Even though those early dances were fraught with bumping, tripping, and flailing, the hope was that when summer arrived there would be a number of skilled dancers who could guide the guests of the resort while they hosted weekly dances for vacationers and community members.

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Those winter dances seem to have paid off. On any given Thursday night this summer, if you happened to take a right off County Rd. 24 at the candy apple “Barn Dance” sign, you would have stumbled upon a room filled with the laughs of people sliding and shuffling their way across the dance floor. Jim could be seen squeezing the accordion while calling out the commands, and Carol oscillated between her keyboard and the dance floor where she demonstrated steps or filled in for exhausted newcomers. Early in the evening, children as young as 3 would flutter in and out of the circle as they imagined themselves various species of birds in the famous “Bluebird” dance, or they’d tap their toes and clap with their partner in the clever “Patty-Cake Polka.”

As the sun sank into the western horizon of Vermilion, the dances intensified. Children cuddled on the couches that bordered the room while the adults tried to navigate the more complicated contra dances, which involve frequent transitions between partners with various combinations of steps and maneuvers. Depending on the number of musicians, a fiddle might harmonize while couples drifted across the floor in one of the many waltzes, and an Irish pennywhistle might animate the room while dancers high-stepped the Irish jig.

DSC_0485The Lantry siblings Tom, Anne, and Ranae, have worked hard to nurture a deeper sense of community and culture at their family-run lodge. They frequently provided homemade meals to their guests on Thursday evenings before the dances, and folks of any age and skill level were invited to participate. All of this, of course, was enabled by Jim and Carol’s experience with teaching these dances in the northland for almost two decades. After moving to the area in 1997, Jim and Carol soon formed the Home on the Range Community Dance Association; and by January of 1998 they were hosting folk dances in places stretching from Grand Rapids to Ely. Their folk band, FriendsOnTheRange, has seen musicians come and go, but the love of music and dance has never wavered.

They offer various styles including Scandinavian waltzes, New England marches, Appalachian fiddle tunes, and Irish jigs. The band this summer was often comprised of a pair of fiddlers, Lois Weeks and Susan Hoppe, and Joey Lee occasionally came up from southern Minnesota to play the flute and Irish pennywhistle. With the musicians happily flourishing their instruments and the dancers playfully stepping across the floor, the White Eagle Resort was a joyful place to be this summer.

The summer guests have all gone home and the leaves slowly collect in our lawns, but that doesn’t mean the dancing has to stop. The Lantry family, along with Jim and Carol, will continue to host dances for our community throughout the fall and winter. You can come try your feet at traditional folk dancing the first Saturday of the month through the end of the year (Oct. 4th, Nov. 1st, Dec. 6th). All dances begin at 7pm, and all are welcome at the White Eagle! Find out more at Whiteeagleresort.com.

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Diving for Clams

17 Aug

Yes, my posts have been few and far between this summer.  I guess you could say we have been outside enjoying every minute of the sunshine.  I think the goal of people living in Northern climates should be to get as much vitamin D as possible before we don’t see a lick of it for 9 months.

One of the aspects of living up here in the “wild” is that we still get to do live off the land, pioneer style activities.  Things like berry picking and also diving for freshwater clams.  We were on another one of our adventures when we noticed these beauts sticking up out of the sand.  After collecting them for about 20 minutes we had a pot full.  Being the proud owners of our dumb (not smart) phones we could not google the best way to cook clams, so we had to improvise.  We boiled them over the fire until they magically opened on their own and then after trying them- decided they needed some extra help in the flavor department.

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We found that clams do not have much flavor but take on the flavors around them and have a very interesting texture (interesting in a bad way).

So, we looked at our supplies and decided to fry them in some shore lunch.DSC_0389

Perfection.  If you deep fry anything the kids are sure to love it =)

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And if they aren’t fans of the deep fried clams they can always make grass, leaf, pinecone soup.

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Berry Picking

4 Aug

The blueberries are out in full force.  They are big and juicy and wonderful.  I love that we live in one of the only places in the world where they grow wild.  How lucky are we?  This is one camping morning where we headed out in search of the gems.

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I think Hudson looks like a baby bear, happily sitting in this berry bush.

DSC_0359 DSC_0360 DSC_0362 DSC_0368 Happy Picking!

Camping: Good Thing Its Free

20 Jul

We want to make the most of this fleeting summer so we headed north to Crane Lake to get in some family camping time.  People drive from all over the country to camp and enjoy this untouched part of nature and we only have to drive 40 minutes.  We have everything loaded up in the boat and the kids are ready and rearing to go.  We hop out of the car and Jared launches the boat.

Jared is leading the boat over to the dock when a part of the cement retaining wall collapses and Jared falls into the water while flinging his wallet into the lake.  No big deal, just reach down and grab it, right.  Nope.  Not exactly.  He reaches down and cannot feel it anywhere.  He searches for about 20 minutes and then he takes over kid duty while I search the iron rich depths.  Nope, nowhere to be found.

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How in TARNATION can a wallet disapear that fast?  Just so you know a leather fossil wallet feels a lot like the bottom of Crane Lake.  After searching for close to two hours we decided to cancel the credit cards and head on our journey, the girls were happy to be finally heading out.

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Fortunately he had no cash in the wallet (he had just spent his last $4 on fishing bait) unfortunately we have no credit cards at the moment and Jared’s really nice Fossil wallet is gone =( Sad, sad day.  Oh yeah and the worst part… he has to go to the DMV to get a new driver’s license- arg.

It is a good think that camping and these views are free.

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Rock Climbing

13 Jul

We headed out on a wild adventure:

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with our fearless and hilarious leader:

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I cannot believe my four year old and six year old daughters went repelling off an 80 foot drop and then climbed back up.  They are my heros and  I could not be more proud.

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The icing on the cake of this incredible day was wild blueberries all around to snack on and a waterfall to swim through.

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