The Fair is Not So Fair Anymore

Yesterday was the last day of the Northwest Montana County Fair. I like county fairs. I remember going to the Lorain County Fair when I was growing up and how much fun that was. I haven't been a regular attender at our county fair because a) it happens during the third week of August, when it is typically very hot, dry, dusty, and windy; and b) the husband does not like to go, so unless I find someone to go with, I have to go by myself. I went with Margaret a couple of years ago and that was a lot of fun. 

DD#2 and I found ourselves at the fair yesterday afternoon. It hasn't been quite as hot as it might be otherwise because all the smoke from the wildfires is keeping the temperatures down. We thought it would be fun to have a corn dog and some lemonade and look at the quilts and pet some sheep. 

If ever I needed an indication that things have changed drastically in the 25 years since we moved here, I got it at the fair. It was a big disappointment. We got our corn dogs and wandered over to the home ec building, where there were only about a dozen quilts on display and perhaps 1-2 entries in each home ec category. (I didn't see a single apron.) The 4-H clubs had some very respectable displays, which was gratifying. Our local 4-H club, in particular, had a lot of sewing projects on display. Other than that, though, there wasn't much. I did see a sign on a table for the Alpine Spinners and Weavers Guild, to which I used to belong, but the table was empty.

We then wandered through the commercial building. Once upon a time, I could get a free yardstick from Plum Creek Timber's booth. I have probably half a dozen of them around the house:

Plum Creek was bought out by Weyerhauser, though, and Weyerhauser doesn't give away free yardsticks. They don't even have a booth. The most entertaining thing about the commercial building was the Republican Party booth, where one could get a picture taken with life-size Mike Pence and Donald Trump cutouts. (That has not changed; Flathead County is still very Republican.) 

Pigs usually take up most of the real estate in the animal building, but all of those pens were empty. I guess the organizers didn't want to wait to start cleaning up. All the sheep on display were meat breeds, which makes sense as most of them were 4-H projects. We petted a few of the friendlier ones. I was surprised at how many rabbits had been entered. I suppose they make good pets and 4-H projects. The chickens were fun to look at, and a couple of people had even entered turkeys. 

And that was the end of the fair. It had taken us a bit more than an hour to see everything. I suppose it's possible that there was more there earlier in the week, but I just think fewer and fewer people are entering anything anymore. I have no room to talk—I certainly don't participate, but some of that is because this is one of my busiest times of the year and it's enough to juggle a full-time job with farming without trying to get fair entries ready, too. If it weren't for the 4-H kids, however, I am not sure we would have enough to justify even having a fair. 


DD#2 heads back to Spokane today. Our air quality is not great, but the air quality in Spokane is well up into the Hazardous range. Fortunately, she has air conditioning in her house and she's still working at Nordstrom, so she doesn't have to be breathing the worst of it. I was a bit concerned about having problems with the smoke after my bout with pneumonia back in February. I can't say that I have noticed much of a difference, though, from any other year when we have had a lot of smoke hanging around. My lungs seem to be functioning normally. 

A front came through last night with a lot of wind. It's still pretty breezy out there. The wind will scour a lot of the smoke out, but it will also increase the fire activity on the existing fires. 


I think we solved the mystery of the giant pumpkins. Our neighbor, Elysian, had given us some seedlings back in the spring, and one of them was a variety of pumpkin. The husband put the seedlings out in the garden one weekend when I was traveling, and that seedling got planted with the rest of the squash. Obviously that plant is happy out there and producing giant pumpkins. 

DD#2 went with me out to the garden yesterday. We brought back a whole wagonload of produce, including the first watermelon:

I had a conversation with the garter snake, which was hanging out next to that watermelon. DD#2 thought that was very funny. She and the husband were commenting over dinner on my habit of conversing with wildlife. He said that I talk to all the animals around here: snakes, deer, turkeys, birds, squirrels, ground squirrels (I yell at them), chipmunks (I yell at them, too), mice (I yell at them when they are in my house), toads, pigs, chickens—I am that crazy lady wandering around the yard in the red velour bathrobe and muck boots in the morning with my cup of coffee. 

For those of you who come here for the sewing content, I promise I will get back to that soon. This marathon push to get through food preservation season won't last forever. It's got to snow sometime. 


Apples and Squash

These are just some of the 25 quarts of apple pie filling that came out of my kitchen today:

Susan actually had two crates of Yellow Transparents and I am glad I only took one! This was a good day's work. The husband will have plenty of apple pies next winter. And if I find myself with more time, I can always get more apples and make more pie filling. It's about time to move on to tomato sauce, though. Ideally, I'd like to be done with canning by the end of September. 

I thought we were done with zucchini, but there were two varieties out there. The majority of the plants were a variety called Black Beauty. They were the ones I used to make the zucchini bread. There were also some Grey, though—the variety I usually plant—and they are just now starting to produce. I am trying to get those picked while they are still small and tender. Ali and her little guy took some of this big ones this morning so they could make some zucchini bread. Truly, I think my idea of having one person in the neighborhood be the designated zucchini farmer makes a lot of sense. Zucchini are not difficult to grow here.

The variety of pumpkins we usually put in is called Cinderella. It's a wonderful pie pumpkin. It's also an heirloom variety and should breed true every year, unlike hybrids. The pumpkins are normally flat, like this:

They turn orange when they are ready. However, I've got a couple (that appear to be on the same vines) that look like this:

At first I wondered if we had accidentally planted some old Hubbard squash seeds but I am pretty sure these are pumpkins. Oh well. DNA is funny like this sometimes. 

The cabbage heads are filling out nicely. 

And I cannot believe the size of these acorn squash. I should have put something down there for scale. Imagine the size of the acorn squash you see at the grocery store and then make them 1-1/2 times bigger:

This variety is called Table King. I got the plants at the nursery after the Great Chipmunk Apocalypse. We usually grow Table Queen, which is similar, but smaller. 

The squash plants were just abuzz with pollinators. It makes me happy to see such a thriving ecosystem. We're swimming in cucumbers, too—I've been passing those out to our neighbors. The grapes still need a few weeks to fill out but the vines are loaded. 

The Spokane Conservation District hosts a Farm & Food Expo every year on the first weekend in November. They open registration in August (but they won't say exactly when in August) so I am obsessively checking the website a couple of times a day. The last few years, by the time I went to register, all the workshops were sold out. I want to make sure we get into at least a couple of them this year. 

I spent most of today in the kitchen, so I already told the husband that I'll be sewing tomorrow. Probably pillowcases or something simple. 


The Walls Get Poured

Toad update: The husband informed me this morning that when he got home from fire training last night, the toad was sitting on the bridge from the driveway to the porch. The last time the toad was here, I had picked it up and moved it from the porch to the herb garden, which is on the other side of the house. This is one determined toad.


The husband was busy yesterday—he and the crew poured the walls for our garage and then hurried off to another job after lunch to pour footings again. 

The boom truck with the hose was back again:

It was overcast yesterday, which was unexpected, but that did keep the temperatures down. When it's brutally hot, sometimes the husband will schedule concrete pours at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. That is early for my night-owl husband.  

They'll strip the forms and the foundation will get backfilled. I am not sure what will happen after that or when the husband plans to pour the garage slab, but this in itself is a big step forward. 


I had a visit yesterday from a young couple that just moved into the neighborhood. They are renting a house down the road and Smokey told them we had eggs for sale, so they stopped in to introduce themselves. (Smokey and I have the same philosophy about community. He keeps me apprised of new developments, so this was not unexpected.) This young mom homeschools their kids. I offered to put her in touch with another young mom I know who also homeschools and has kids about the same age. 

In another couple of weeks, the husband and I will have lived in Montana for 25 years (we moved here in September of 1993). While the only one of us who can claim Montana native status is DD#2, I think we've been here long enough to be considered old-timers. Smokey's son-in-law, who also lives in the neighborhood, told us one time that whenever he meets anyone new to our community, he tells them that they have to get to know the husband and me. There is just something very comforting to me about the web of interconnectedness that holds us all together. One of these days, I would love to host a big neighborhood potluck gathering in the meadow down the road (it belongs to another friend of ours and I am sure he would let us use it for that purpose) so that everyone we know can meet everyone else we know. For a couple of introverts, we have a really wide circle of friends. 


A few weeks ago, I made beef and broccoli in the Instant Pot and the husband liked it so much that he has been asking me to make it again. We have a very respectable crop of broccoli out in the garden. It's not quite as big as last year's crop, but this is a different variety. Still, I have enough for a couple of meals, so yesterday I went on an archeological dig in one of the freezers, found some beef, and made beef and broccoli in the Instant Pot for him for dinner. 

We are expecting DD#2 home for the weekend. Some of the spaghetti squash are ready to pick and they'll go back to Spokane with her. I've got some rather strange looking pumpkins out there, too. 


Toad is My Spirit Animal

When the toad showed up on the porch for the second time in as many weeks, the husband suggested that perhaps it was trying to bring me a message. You see, the toad just didn't casually hop up to the kitchen door. The porch is a foot or so off the ground and the only way onto or off of it is either by one of two sets of steps or by the "bridge" that connects the porch to the driveway. The toad had to very carefully and deliberately—in the dark!—hop from the driveway across the 3' wide by 6' long bridge to get to the porch. (I doubt it came up the steps.) That took some planning. 

I looked up the meaning of toad as spirit animal. The consensus seemed to be the following: 

  • You have reached a crossroads in your life and the toad is cautioning you to wait. Stop and think.
  • Toads are great at camouflage; be silent about your plans (if you have figured them out after waiting and thinking).
  • Toads have 360-degree vision. Look around and watch what is happening.  
  • Toads are about transformation and renewal. 

That's about as specific as the message gets. Stay tuned for updates. I don't feel particularly as though I need transformation or renewal right now but who knows. Mostly I think I just need to get back into my sewing room. If the toad can help me with that, it can be my spirit animal. 


I stopped in at the local sew & vac place in Kalispell yesterday. I don't frequent this store; like a lot of sew & vac places, they aren't interested in old sewing machines. They want to sell you a brand spanking new one, preferably at full retail. 

This store also sells fabric, so I do wander through there occasionally to see what they've got. Yesterday, I happened to notice a Union Special serger sitting on one of the tables in the fabric area. I was looking it over when a young guy (I've now reached the age where a 30-something guy is "young") came over and said, "Have you ever seen one of those?" I responded that I had only seen them in pictures—that model is on the short list of industrial sergers I've been considering—and asked if it was for sale. Unfortunately, it wasn't. It belonged to a guy from Eureka (a town up near the Canadian border where we take the pigs for processing) who fixes wall tents with them and had it in for routine servicing. The guy I was talking to was the service tech. 

[Notice that sentence about fixing wall tents. That's a serger meant for canvas.]

We chatted a bit more about vintage industrial machines. He was surprised I had a Necchi industrial. "They didn't make many of them and they are hard to find," he said.  I know, believe me. He has an industrial Pfaff from the 1940s and says he wouldn't give it up for anything. 

He went to help another customer and I moved over to look at the collection of other vintage machines they had in the store. From my previous interactions, I knew that at least one of the salesmen used the vintage machines as "bait" to convince prospective customers that they really didn't want one of those "old pieces of junk" and should consider a newer, fancier, more expensive machine. Sure enough, I was minding my own business, looking at the old Singers and Pfaffs and Berninas, when an older gentleman came over.

"Are you interested in buying a machine? We have tons of these old things. There are a couple hundred more behind that wall"—he indicated the wall to his left—"and behind that wall"—and waved his hand at the wall in front of us—"and we're trying to move them out of here. What kind of stuff do you sew?" I explained a bit about what I make and what I was looking for and right on cue, he trotted out the hard sell. (I was still salivating at the thought of all those "old things" hidden behind the walls.)

"You don't want one of these old things. The newer machines are much more capable. Come over here and let me show you what we carry." 

I stood my ground and said that I wasn't interested in a new machine. He then countered with every argument against old machines that he could think of, and I countered back with responses to indicate that I knew what I was talking about. I told him which machines I already owned and what I used them for. (I confess to listening to myself and thinking that I really have a lot of sewing machines for one person, but that was only a momentary observation. And it's not like I'm not using them.) I wasn't going to play dumb and I dislike people telling me what they think I need. I am perfectly capable of figuring that out for myself.  He also made statements about machines that were patently wrong. I finally mentioned how intriguing that Union Special serger was and he said, "What do you want a piece of junk like that for?" and I said, "For my husband's canvas work clothes."

[How do you argue with someone who says she wants a serger meant for canvas for working on her husband's canvas work clothes? You don't. He finally gave up and left me alone, which was what I wanted in the first place.] 

I was still looking at the vintage machines when the young guy came back over. He was obviously very excited about his ability to get the older models running again, so we chatted for another five or ten minutes. 

That visit was not wholly unproductive. It seems that if you can get past the wall of resistance and make it clear that you're only interested in old machines, you might be able to find a treasure or two. Craigslist is infinitely easier, though. 


The guys are pouring walls at 11:00 a.m. today. They spent most of yesterday putting up the forms:

Progress. This makes me happy. 

My friend Susan gave me a whole crate of Yellow Transparent apples from her tree, so making apple pie filling is now on the list of tasks for this weekend. I gave our friend Smokey the last of the zucchini from the garden; he gives them to another friend of ours who lives down the street and she makes zucchini bread for him. (His wife died a few years ago and he lives by himself.) Ali came and got dill from the garden yesterday so she could make a batch of pickles. The neighborhood trading system is alive and well and that also makes me happy. 


Footing Pour

I knew the husband was planning to form the footings for the garage yesterday, but apparently someone else in the neighborhood was also pouring concrete. The guys hustled and got our forms done so they could coordinate the pour with the concrete and pump trucks that were already heading this way:

The pump truck showed up:

And then the concrete truck that connects itself to the pump truck:

The pump truck's boom has a long hose attached to it so they can place the concrete where they want it. This is the husband and one of our employees. I love that the kid comes to work in cowboy boots (he's a good worker):

The pump truck operator—back there in the fluourescent yellow shirt, operates the boom with a remote control:

The husband places the concrete and then the crew comes behind and smooths it out:

Vertical pieces of rebar went into the concrete while it was still wet. These will become part of the wall. They also got capped for safety—nobody wants to come out in the morning and find a deer impaled on a piece of rebar:

I had a hard time staying inside working while all this was going on. I was here when we poured the foundation for our own house, but that was 22 years ago and the weather wasn't so nice. It was fun being out there watching the husband work. They guys will be back today to form the walls and hopefully get them poured. I probably won't get pictures as I have an appointment in town and they don't plan to pour until late in the afternoon. After today, they have to get back to working on other jobs. The last week of July and first week or two of August always slow down—it's been that way every year that the husband has been in business—but things pick up again when people realize that it's almost fall and they only have a couple of months to get foundations poured and houses framed and dried in before work shuts down for the winter. Getting this done is huge for us, though, as it means that the framing can continue as the husband has time. He was a framing contractor before he started doing concrete, so he'll do all of that himself.


I made the last batch of zucchini bread after dinner last night. I think I only made 24 loaves this year, not 36, but that's still a respectable amount and enough to keep the husband fed this winter. We've got cucumbers and a few tomatoes; they went into the salad we had with the BBQ spareribs. 

No sewing happening. I've got appointments and meetings today and tomorrow. DD#2 is coming home this weekend for a few days and I'll have to clean her room out so she can sleep in there. 

The bear seems to have moved on, or at least gotten better about not parading around where people can see him. The giant toad was back on the porch last week—the husband's theory is that the toad is my spirit animal and it's trying to deliver a message to me. There may be a blog post on that soon. 

And sadly, that fire in the park burned a bunch of structures Sunday night, many of them historic old cabins. The pictures that have been circulating on Facebook are pretty dramatic, especially if you know that area. We're heating up again and some dry thunderstorms are in the forecast for this weekend. I will be so happy when it finally snows.