Abandonment Issues

I know I’ve been a terrible blogger this summer. Our dear readers have been feeling neglected, and so has our rural property. We did visit the farm in mid July, but it was so overgrown, and our car was so swarmed by flying pests, we literally put the car in reverse and headed back to the beautiful bug- free twin cities. Shortest. Farm. Visit. Ever.

in August we managed a few visits, and some nice upgrades. After some (ahem, 4 years) of nagging, I finally got Steve to order a new seat for the tractor. No more spiders biting our rear ends while mowing! And the mowing was quite the endeavor, after 6 weeks of neglect.

Here we go! Time to tackle the wilds of our driveway. The tractor also got new ball bearings (whatever those are), and a new gas cap that tells us how much gas is left in the tank. I requested a cup holder and MP3 player, but but I guess those will have to wait.

I had ambitions to grow cantaloupe, broccoli, carrots, sunflowers, zucchini and pumpkins this summer. Back on Earth Day, Ivan and I planted seeds. We got them into their nicely fenced-in space, and then let nature do her thing. That means we didn’t do anything. Surprise! We got a healthy crop of weeds and grass- completely untouched by pesky deer. Lucky us.

I thought we planted some vegetables here somewhere…

At least we got one sunflower. I guess that’s something. I weeded, but I suspect it was too little, too late.

Garden of broken promises

Upon mowing the driveway I spotted some fruit growing on some trees in the woods. What on earth? I consulted with the mother-in-law and she confirmed: Wild plums. Doesn’t that sound exciting?! But they are all yellow and tiny. MIL insists they are ripe, but Steve and I were not convinced. Steve had a new power hedge trimmer, so he cleared some brush so we could harvest those tiny plums- we filled a bag and brought those babies home.

A quick internet search turned up some promising-looking plum jam recipes. I also considered this an opportunity to try canning for the first time. Steve got canning supplies for Christmas a few years back- was it finally time to dig these out? I peeked into my bag of plums and guess what: they had ripened to a lovely red color!

Whoa! These aren’t yellow any more!

Allison’s Beginners Guide to Canning Wild Plum Jam

1. Wait for plums to look more ripe.

2. Rummage through drawers to find mysterious canning related supplies that you received several years ago.

3. After failing to find the book you got, rely on short YouTube videos for information on canning. Disregard ominous warnings such as “inevitably steamy and hot work”, and “burn potential” as you prepare to do canning.

4. So some prep work while your child is at preschool, so he can be “included” in “making the jam” at a later stage.

5. Purchase jam jars, pectin, and wax (because who knows what you might actually need).

6. Begin recipe. Boil plums and then let cool. Remove seeds. I found using my hands worked best.

7. Add sugar and pectin. Cook and test for thickness.

8. Realize you were supposed to boil your cans so they would be sterile. Quickly try to boil a huge pot of water. Invite Steve to take cute pictures for blog while you wait.

It’s boiling!

9. Fill jars with plum jam. Invite child to “help” by watching.

10. Lower cans into boiling water. Marvel at the lack of burns on your hands, and your brilliant thinking to turn on vent fan and open windows in advance. Such a pro!

11. Celebrate your success by inviting your “helper” to pose for a photo. When he refuses, use iPad to achieve desired snap. And there you have it! Canning plum Jam in 11 moderately challenging steps!

Pumping up the jam

I didn’t find canning to be too difficult. Maybe I’ll do some more.

Let’s make jam that no one wants!!

We are headed into apple season- I hope you all have a smooth back-to-school season. We now have a kindergartener here. More to come…



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The glaciers have retreated!

It’s been the longest winter in recorded history. We experienced record snowfall of nearly 2 feet just a few weeks ago- in late April. The harsh weather conditions have prevented us from making spring trips to the farm. Now, at last, spring is here. We’ve managed 3 trips to the farm.


Just a few weeks earlier we couldn’t even leave our home in the Twin Cities…. but there were some sure signs of spring. One of my favorite cabin-opening rituals is bulk buying of wonderful meat products from my favorite butcher shop (shout out to MacDonald’s meats in Clear Lake, MN.

A good place to drop $125 on frozen meat.

On Earth Day we planted some seeds for the garden. This year we are trying sunflowers, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, and our old standby: zucchini.

Back at the end of April, we arrived on a 55 degree afternoon with hearts filled with optimistic trepidation. Please let the water pipes be intact. Please let there be no signs of rodents. Please, no fallen trees or signs of break-ins. We hadn’t been here since New Year’s Eve, so who knew what the place would look like.

At first glance, the driveway appeared to be snow free. But then we hit some shady spots where it was still a foot deep. Even with my AWD, we still had some dicey moments just trying to get back to the house. But we made it! More good news- the water turned right on and it appears there are no burst pipes this year. Whew! And also noteworthy: not a single sign of rodent activity, squatters, or bugs!

At least somebody digs the snow…

After a hearty breakfast, we spent the first weekend cutting down tree branches and pruning the fruit trees.

Cut branches were repurposed as firewood. We also managed to play a few rounds of kubb. Can you tell I recently learned how to make slow-mo videos? And you thought a cabin renovation couldn’t possibly go more slowly than this one… joke’s on you!

oh sure. That looks safe.

Mother’s Day

Fast forward a few weeks- it’s Mother’s Day! The snow is all gone and leaves are coming out.

Steve and Ivan worked hard on my Mother’s Day gift- a fence to protect my little garden. After toiling away, the fence was up and I was ready to plan our little seedlings.

After a nod of approval from the master gardener Mother-in-Law, we planted those babies and gave them a thorough watering. Then I got to sit and admire our hard work. I give these seedlings a 50/50 shot, considering we won’t be back for a couple weeks.

Memorial Day Weekend

Up here, the long weekend marks the start of “cabin season”. The temps were unseasonably warm in the 90’s, so we planned for an upgrade: AC. Steve did a little research and purchased this beauty:

But in the end, we were too hot and tired to install it this time. Actually, the trailer stayed pretty comfortable, and wrestling with the sprinkler also provided some relief. But we will be ready next time!

As predicted, about half of the baby plants survived. We completely missed the apple blooms, but it looks like the trees had a lot of flowers, which is promising news. The grass appears to be incredibly healthy: knee high well before 4th of July! This weekend brought the inaugural mow and the season’s first bug spray/sunscreen dousing.

We wish you all a lovely long weekend and start to your summer. Nature has made her comeback after a brutal winter.

Cheers to you-

Allison and the somewhat apathetic rehabers (dibs on this as a band name)

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Inundated by apples

It’s harvest time here in Wisconsin. We are back to school, and taking weekend jaunts out to the farm. On our last trip we picked apples and hazelnuts. The hazelnut bushes were overflowing and I happily picked baskets full, my head spinning with dreams of vodka gimlets, homemade Nutella and baked goods.

From left to right: pea, smaller hazelnut and shell, large hazelnut and shell, penny, 50 cent Euro coin (for metric comparison).

Several rounds of dehydration later, I ended up with 2 quart-size bags of hazelnuts. When cracked open, tiny hazelnuts made me feel I had been duped. That’s a lot of work for such a small nut!

More apples….

How many things can one make with apples? I’m in the process of finding out!

2 weeks ago we picked apples from the old trees and from a tree that was looking distressed. While the apples seemed too small, they came off easily. We weren’t sure they’d make it another week or 2, so we filled bags and the basket.

8 things to do with apples:

1. Give to friends and family. This is the fastest way to turn your massive haul into a seemingly more manageable pile.

2. Apple sauce is easily made in the crock pot. More difficult is the peeling, coring and chopping. And then there’s the convincing family to eat applesauce at every turn.

3. Apple crisp has been a hit every time I make it. Awesome.

4. Apple chips- these were pretty easy- peel and core apples, dip in cinnamon sugar mixture and put in the food dehydrator. No one else liked these but me.

5. Pie filling- labor intensive for delayed gratification. Into the freezer they go!

6. Apple dumplings- made with pillsbury grands dough. So yummy!

7. Rotten Apple compost (this one takes literally no effort)

8. Go and pick more because guess what! There’s another tree that’s ready!

Yep. This week we again enjoy a beautiful

Fall apple-picking day. Just like in this sweet book we bought from scholastic book order.

Ivan was pretty helpful, once I let him re-enact scenes from the book. Up he climbed, and it was pretty adorable.

Apples comin’ your way.

Then I made apple dumplings in the toaster oven. That was a total win!

The apple dumpling gang…

So now the harvest is complete! And my hands are getting calloused from peeling and coring apples. Pour me a gimlet!


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Go nuts!

We haven’t been able to spend a lot of time at the farm. We went out in mid-July, with newly sharpened mower blades.

sharpening the mower blades

But when we arrived, it was so buggy we decided to try out the industrial oil fogger and mysterious anti-bug oil we found in the basement. What was that stuff? It looked pretty professional. So Steve suited up for our most serious bug repelling yet.

Hazmat timea fine mist of doom/snake oil

We waited for the oil to dry, and headed outside. But wait. What are ALL the insects in Wisconsin doing in our yard? It was insane. We couldn’t be outside for more than a few seconds without surpassing the 1 liter max blood donation-per-day threshold. While the oil and fancy fogger had seemed promising, we came to realize it had definitely lost its effectiveness. So much for better living through chemistry and biohazards. After sitting in the house for a couple hours, we decided to vacate and try another weekend. The only problem was that there weren’t any more free weekends for about 5 weeks.

In the intervening weeks, I taught a summer class, we went to a family reunion, spent some time up at the Swedish Language Village, and I lead a 2-week study abroad program in Sweden and Denmark. On my first full day home, we headed straight to the farm to see how it was faring. No better way to get over jet lag!

Upon arrival we were greeted by tall grass, ripe hazelnuts, and loads of apples!

Harvesting the hazelnutsHalf a bushel, or is it a peck?

After a quick taste test of 2 types of apples, I decided we could start picking some apples. They came off the trees easily, and many had already fallen to the grass below. So we picked about 25 of the biggest ones and will leave the others to keep growing.

Ivan wanted to take some pictures of me mid-forage

I’m not yet sure what kinds of apples these all are, but it appears we have three different varieties. The two types that were ready for picking both turned out to be excellent eating apples.

The other crop that was ready for picking were the hazelnuts. It seems about 20% of them were ready to be picked! And my food dryer is standing by, ready for action! But first I have to remove all the nuts from their husks.

The riper the hazelnut, the more easily it is extracted from its husk.

Huskar du?

Steve got the mower blades reattached, and gave the lawn a trim. As daylight started to fade, my beautiful new solar lantern that I saw in a Danish magazine and immediately went out and bought began to glow.

solar powered lamp by Eva Salo

The next morning, I did some more research on what to do with the hazelnuts. It sounds like I was supposed to let them dry out in their husks. Oops. Luckily I only husked half of them (and thousands more are still on the bushes for next time). So I set up my new food dehydrator and got started. I have two trays full of husked nuts, and two with the husks still on.

The dryer is full, and set to 104 degrees Fahrenheit for the next 48-72 hours. We will see which method proves to work best.

So now back to those apples. Referencing the University of Minnesota Extension Service website, I’m thinking we’ve got some delicious Zestar apples, and maybe some Haralsons that are ripening a bit ahead of schedule? The oldest trees at the farm are heavy with the Haralson-looking apples. I guess harvesting some now, more later might make life a little easier- less pressure to figure out what to do with all of these at once.

Late summer is a fine time to enjoy our farm with fewer bugs, and lots to enjoy. We hope you’re enjoying your August as well.



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Happy Solstice!

Oh my! The days are long and the nights are buggy!

Most of my update has to do with agriculture this time. I apologize if you were hoping for hilarity- this post is mostly just pleasant, with a little bit of impending doom mixed in. Plus a lovely new furniture item addition for those who read (or scroll) all the way to the end. 
The orchard is flourishing on this midsommar weekend. We were here a couple weeks ago without enough ado to warrant a blog post. I did snap a couple shots of what looked to be tiny apples. 

I also noticed that my new Honeycrisp tree looked quite sad. A colleague with lots of apple growing experience warned me that honeycrisps are notoriously difficult to grow, so my goal is just to keep this guy alive. We will make do with those 4 remaining green leaves for now. 

 I watered all the trees like crazy on our last visit, and was pleased with what I found this morning on the farm. While the Honeycrisp looks about the same, the apple trees were absolutely covered in pretty little green and pink apples. 

Check these out!

It’s clear now that the pruning made a real difference. There’s one tree that looks denser than the rest, and guess what. Almost no apples. 

Thriving and healthy…and infertile?!?

Contrast that tree with the one below. Apparently air and light flow really do make a difference. How you like them apples?!?

But sadly, one of the cherry trees has taken a turn for the worse. We’ve had good rain, so I’m not sure what is causing the issue. So now two baby trees are in serious, but hopefully stable condition. 

The cantaloupe seeds have done well, and it doesn’t appear that animals are interested in them. 

Melons. Minnesota Midget variety.

I also saw lots of little hazelnuts and I hope to figure out when and how to harvest those this year. 

Inside the house, the temporary cabin is nearly completely outfitted with all the desired creature comforts. I’m hoping to finish up the entryway with some storage and a cute bench.  There’s a bench from Target’s awesome spring collection that I’ve been eyeing for some time. Yesterday I saw it was marked down from $99 to $29. Yes!!

Beautiful bench!

Modeling the bench

The midsummer flowers made for a lovely bouquet on our midsummer table. Too bad there so many bugs we had to pack up and eat indoors.  The prevalence of ticks should start winding down as mosquitoes and deer flies replace them. Isn’t nature delightful?

We will back in about 10 days, and I hope those apples and ailing trees can hold on for one/ten more days. Enjoy this blast from the past:



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A Burning Desire….

It’s Memorial Day weekend and our goal is to install a fire pit overlooking the orchard. This was also the first mow of the season, and we were quickly reminded of the various repairs that the tractor needs: new seat, sharpened blades, general engine maintenance. We mowed out the fire pit area as best we could. The grass was about 18 inches tall and full of ticks. Nice. 

Can you spot the tractor in the grass?

The next step was digging out the pit. We found a random metal ring in a junk pile and decided it would serve our fire pit well. 

Pogo stick or pit digger?

Once the pit was about 10″ deep, we filled it with some sand. 

Getting that beach feeling

We weren’t quite ready for a fire yet, although things were looking promising. 

Steve insisted we couldn’t light a fire until we completed the ring with rocks. We grilled some marshmallows over the grill and contemplated where we might locate some basketball-sized rocks in the property. 

Baby’s first s’mores

As we drifted off to sleep, Steve remembered throwing a bunch of rocks in the old silo many years ago. So we set off on a rock hunt the next morning, hoping to score big in the silo. 

The old silo at the end of our driveway

Steve warned us that it would be gross, and indeed it was. The silo had become a garbage dump. But sure enough, among the piles of junk and random jars of mysterious content were tons of suitable rocks. Steve descended into the abyss, and we waited to receive our treasures. As he slipped out of sight, my thoughts went to the an intriguing sight I had glimpsed earlier on the drive towards the farm. A few miles down the road, an old silo is getting a makeover. What an adorable renovation! That porch! That roof! What will they put inside? Could our silo be that cute??

Giving an old silo a lot of love

Steve looked pretty happy going in there. He told us to look down, and in doing so, my silo renovation dreams were dashed a bit. I guess we could do something along the lines of a “jungle ruins” theme….

Be careful in there!

The silo full of crap and treasures!


As the rocks were passed up, we rolled them towards the waiting car. Moss definitely grew on these Rolling Stones!

On a roll….

Will that be enough?


The critical question was “how many?” We initially guessed that 15 would be the magic number, and as the back of the car filled, and Steve felt the years being shaved off his life, we called it good and drive back to the (other) pit. 

This could be a Subaru ad…

I started placing the stones, and we worried we had underestimated how many we needed. 

Placing the very first rock

We placed stone after stone, and 15 turned out to be just the right number! Hooray!


And finally, the moment of truth! We got some sticks aflame! 

The weekend’s chores also included some gardening. Last time we were here, I planted our sad-looking seedlings. This weekend, they appear to be dead and gone. And only deer hoof footprints remained in the bed. 

Did they die a natural death?

But I’m not giving up yet! I planted some rainbow carrot and cantaloupe seeds and I’m still hopeful. I think I’ll get some seedlings from the local garden shop in a last ditch effort to make something of the 2017 season. I also planted a blueberry bush. Even as my plants shrivel and die, my ambition remains strong!

We hope you enjoy time with friends and family this Memorial Day! Maybe you’ll enjoy a fire and some s’mores, or perhaps you’ll kill some plants? No matter what you do, remember that even a crappy old silo can yield a much desired treasure. 


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Kid tested, mother (and father, and stepmother, and mother-in-law) approved! 

It’s Mother’s Day and the weather couldn’t be more delightful! The landscape had changed so much in these couple visits. The last few weeks have brought visits from all of our parental units! First was a visit from my dad and stepmom. This was their first visit to the farm, and they came with hiking boots, bug spray and a machete for Steve! I wonder if we could use that machete to trim Steve’s crazy hair?!

My dad is a Civil Engineer, and he brought some surveyors tape. We are looking to forge a new path back to the river. We hiked through the woods, marking our path. This worked way better than bread crumbs! The grandparents were real troopers. The terrain was treacherous and involved some mud, but we did finally make it down to the river. And we found our way back too. 

Down by the river…

After that exhilarating hike we needed some libations. We enjoyed some beer sampling at the Leinie Lodge in Chippewa Falls, WI. I really like their new grapefruit shandy. I may new to stock up on that. Cheers!

Last weekend my mom came up, also hoping to get to spend time at the farm.  It was just not meant to be, sadly. My car started acting up and had to spend some time at the mechanics. Steve’s mom came to our place so she and mom could finally meet.   We enjoyed a lovely afternoon on the deck. How do you like my new Marimekko table cloth?!?

This weekend we were able to get back at it, and lo and behold- the apple trees were in bloom! I’ve never seen flowers on these trees before! And most impressive is the tree I thought was basically dead. Wow. And standing under them you could hear the happy bees doing their thing. I feel proud that our little orchard is supporting these local pollinators. Maybe, just maybe we will have apples this year?!? And the baby trees all seemed to be doing quite well too. We also noticed that there are quite a few choke cherry trees around, as they were covered in white flowers too. 

Cherries! Ok,  not really. I found these at the grocery store, but imagine a few years from now… 

Bedtime! I got the veggie bed hoed and ready for the baby plants. Unfortunately our seedlings were pretty sad looking by the time I got around to planting them. I’m trying some new crops this year: rainbow carrots, broccoli, and cantaloupe. Below are my sorry little zucchinis, cukes, and a pumpkin plant. 

We could’ve gotten more done, but we spend half our time doing tick checks these days. Yikes. There are a LOT of ticks in the north woods. We also saw a snake, and some very evil tent worms in an apple tree. We’ve heard coyotes at night, and I think I saw a bear. It’s quite the wildlife sanctuary out here. But it truly is nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Minneapolis and enjoy the fresh air and vibrant colors of early summer. 

It was a good Mother’s Day for me. I enjoyed cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and got to spend time outside on a beautiful day. I got many hugs from little Ivan. And to top it all off, Steve bought me some Leinenkugel’s grapefruit shandy at the gas station on the drive back to the cities. Cheers!


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