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Popsicle Recipe

12 Oct

I know we are headed out of popsicle season but since my kids love these so much we will be making them for a few more months.  I experimented with yogurt, fruit and different juices but this ended up being the biggest hit.

Get ready for a very complex and time demanding recipe:

2 cups orange juice

2 cups vanilla coconut milk

Mix these together and then pour into a popsicle holder or a cup with a stick taped to the middle.

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I promise you, these will be a hit.  I believe these are the most delicious frozen treat I have ever tasted and the kids love them just as much as those sugar infused, dye loaded popsicles you can pick up at the grocery store.

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In the above picture this is Aleah in the middle of saying, “Woah! This tastes good!”

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.

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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Paws to Read

10 Jul

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We have a wonderful library program here in Cook and the theme this year is “Paws to Read.”

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I have volunteered to be the project/craft lady.  Go me =)

As slightly overwhelming as this is, I am also excited about making some pretty neato things.  My main goal is to make things that will not immediately go into the trash can.  Things that the kids are excited to make and things that the adults will be glad their kids made.  We will be making useful and awesome stuff this summer!

The first week we made bags for the kids to carry their library books in.  I looked on amazon.com for some bags that we could use that were also fairly priced.  No such product existed since the ones that were about a dollar each had terrible reviews, I guess you get what you pay for.

Sooooooo, I went to our local thrift store and they kindly donated a bag of t-shirts.

I then sewed the bottoms of the bags shut and cut off the arms and neck of the shirt.  Then the kids got to stamp on the shirt and perhaps their library books will get back to the library since the kids are so so so excited to be able to use their new book bag.  That is the hope at least =)

The next week we made a dog toy out of t-shirts:

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Then we stamped on dog tags:

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Last week we painted rocks:

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This morning we made a mad lib timeline!  It was very fun and the kids maybe even learned about adverbs and adjectives.  Their craft is now hanging in the library, to show off their beautiful work hopefully get more kids excited reading.

So if you are local, come on over the Library at 10:30 and lets get crafty!  Next week the awesome and funny DNR guy is coming to teach us about the kind of prints that animals make.

We even get to climb trees!

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Egg Hunt – and It’s Not Even Easter

31 May

By Jared

In the last few weeks we noticed a sharp decline in egg production from our 12 laying hens, and since our blue eggs had all but disappeared, we assumed our Araucanas had begun moulting (an annual phase in which a hen’s egg production slows down for several weeks while their feathers are replaced).   We thought, “Oh well, we’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got.”

Then, two nights ago, when I went to close up the coop after the chickens had gone in to roost, I only counted 11 birds.  We were missing Torrealba, one of our favorite birds – a bright and friendly Araucana!  I wasn’t too concerned, though, because we had seen her pecking around the shed around 7:00pm while the girls enjoyed their ice cream cones on the swings before bedtime.  I assumed Torrealba had simply found somewhere else to roost, and would return in the morning.

When Aleah and Sophi awoke the next morning, I reported to them, “Torrealba never came home last night, we need to go look for her in the woods and bring her home.”

Aleah responded casually, “No problem Dad, I’ve got good eyes and I can see through those woods real easily.”

So off we went.

DSC_0036I encouraged the girls to check near the shed, since that was the last place we’d seen Torri.  They crouched down to look in the small area beneath the shed, and then began yelling, “Dad, come here, we think there’s an egg down there, it could be a golf ball, but we’re pretty sure it’s an egg.”

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Sure enough, it was an egg.  A beautiful, blue egg. And as I used a stick to roll the egg toward me, out of the shadows came Torrealba! Hooray!  She had spent the night under the shed, laid her morning egg, and all is well!

But as I lay on my stomach and nudged her out from under the shed, my eyes beheld a wonder that sent my sunburned lips stretching from ear to ear.  It was as if tiny, winged-fairies danced across streams of light singing Handel’s Messiah as they flew from a heavenly bassinet overflowing with blue eggs! DSC_0017

And then the fun part.  The girls and I (well, mostly them, since they were small enough to crawl into the tight space beneath the shed) slithered our way in the cool, damp dirt as we retrieved our beloved bounty.  Caitlyn, holding Hudson and watching our feet dangle out from beneath the shed, was wise enough not to mention spiders, while I snapped pictured of the girls passing eggs back from the nest.DSC_0020

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Mystery solved!  We collected over 20 eggs and they are all still good as they’ve been in a cool, dark place awaiting discovery.  Thank goodness for brave little girls and adventurous summer mornings!  DSC_0021

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Greenhouse Gaffe

2 Dec

On late fall gardening, masquerading, and social media angst…

DSC_6909As we had hoped back in May, our greenhouse allowed us to continue growing vegetables well into the month of October!  And this was, in fact, quite an accomplishment. Up here in the Northland we actually experienced sub-freezing temperatures during a cold snap back in August, and overnight low temps were periodically below freezing throughout September and October.  However, once the cold hit, we moved our plants into the greenhouse, which provided plenty of heat during the day to keep our peppers and tomatoes growing, and a few small heat lamps protected them from the frost during cold nights.  By all accounts it was a successful first experience with a greenhouse.DSC_6906

…or should I say, by most accounts.

See, several weeks ago, Caitlyn had been urging me to do a post about the greenhouse.  Many of my pepperoncini, jalapeno, and serrano peppers (all of which I planted way too late in the summer) were burgeoning during the extended growing time in the fall, and I was anticipating a decent harvest that would have never been possible without the greenhouse.  I was proud of our success and was looking forward to sharing it with you all.

And isn’t that how it goes? We do something nifty, or think of something clever, or disclose something humorously self-effacing, and all of a sudden we’ve got an invigorating number of blog hits and followers, or an inspiring number of ‘likes’ under our status.

This is an undeniably significant process for most of us interacting on social media, and it’s become the standard by which our thoughts, experiences, and lives are deemed valuable.  There’s an increasing awareness in our culture that rendering one’s life “likeable” has become the existential quest (and subsequent crisis) of the social media age.  Thus we present ourselves in such a way that we will be “liked” (or “unliked” if one’s persona is to play the foil), and therefore feel fulfilled.

DSC_6907So the greenhouse was moving right along in October and I had big plans for a blog post.  And then it got cold.  Fast.  And I overestimated my greenhouse’s ability to hold off temps in the low twenties.  And four months of growing is no match for one night of a hard freeze.  And plants that are meant to grow in hot, humid climates, pretty much just roll over and die once it becomes clear that no such weather exists for them.

DSC_6908So in spite of our valiant effort at prolonging the growing season, it was a total loss.  Dark brown basil, frozen peppers, iced tomatoes.

And, of course, I considered not blogging about it at all.  But then I thought, “What the heck? Why not pull back the curtain on the façade often purported by blogs like ours and share something that didn’t go so well?”DSC_6910

Now, I understand that losing a few peppers isn’t actually that big of a deal, and I’m therefore not breaking any ground by “coming clean” about my loss.  Furthermore, I understand that most blogs aren’t written to be transparent representations of one’s life (that would be creepy).  Conversely, many online personas thrive on over-sharing in a way that, ironically, still perpetuates the problem, as one’s life is projected like a sort of reality drama in which we are all invited to comment and console.

So I write this only to say that, yes, we love our family’s life together and we enjoy sharing it with you all.  And yes, we often make mistakes or things don’t go so well; losing a few peppers is merely a blithe example of this.  But if you find yourself disoriented by the infinite world of comparison, self-advertisement, and desire to be “liked” in the social media age, let this post remind you that we all fall far short of the personas we project.  And that’s okay, because we are always so much more.

And to put everything into perspective, how about some pictures of cows…

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Greenhouse Project: A lesson in reuse, upcycling, and gardening in the northern zone

27 Jun

We mentioned a while back that we built a greenhouse this year.  We’ve had a blast this summer watching our hot-climate plants grow and flourish in the sun-filled, sweltering space beside our house, and we look forward to extending our growing season into the fall.  Here’s a little synopsis of how we built it and what we’ll be using it for.

DSCN1165-1We obtained the walls in the early spring (when the snow was still 2 feet deep) from our good friends who disassembled their screen porch as they prepared for an addition on their house.  We gladly took the walls and then waited impatiently for another month and a half before the snow finally disappeared from the land.  After that, it was pretty simple.  I formed a perimeter base from railroad ties and then set the walls onto the railroad ties.  We created a lean-to design by using the gable end of the former porch, split down the middle, so that each half of the gable wall could form the end-walls of the lean-to.  I secured the walls, nailed cross-braces, and built the roof rafters using lumber cut at another friend’s sawmill, deep in the woods along Pelican Lake.

DSCN1215I spent a little time researching options for greenhouse siding, weighing the benefits of plastic, corrugated plastic sheets, and glass.  I finally decided on high-quality greenhouse plastic ordered through Farm Tek Supply, and once it arrived I was able to attach it rather easily.  I won’t bore you with the details, but note that the front wall of plastic is fastened securely with construction staples, while the end walls are secured with removable clips so that I can roll up the plastic like drapes when I want breezes and fresh air to blow through the greenhouse.

DSCN1166-1The sign above the door is a beautiful cedar board cut by the sawmill, but its particular shape allowed the saw to leave a few natural edges and waves.  The painting is compliments of Grandma Barb working patiently alongside our two artistic girlies.  We love it!

DSCN1216The greenhouse sits on the south-facing wall of our garage, and its sun exposure is limited early in the day by that lovely oak tree perched beside it.  This is actually a benefit on hot days as the shade helps regulate the excessive heat, and in the fall, when the leaves fade, the greenhouse will be enjoying every drop of sun the day can give.  One of our aspirations for the greenhouse is that it extends our growing season into October.  Many of our plants will be in pots this summer with the hope that when the frost hits (and it hits quick here, usually early-mid September) we can pull the tomatoes and peppers into the greenhouse for a few more weeks of fresh produce.  We’ll keep you posted on how it goes.