Dear Jean & Richard, Thanks so much for letting us stay on your farm this week, it was especially kind since you weren’t here for most of it. Sorry we kept getting delayed by vehicle issues, we did know you had to go to Peoria to help look after your newest granddaughter, Zhi Yu, who was adopted from China. She had cleft palate surgery last week, and needed full-time care to recover. Well, we’ve had a great time on the farm. Doing the chores you left us – feeding the cats, dog, sheep, horse and fish (hope we didn’t leave any out) and walking down the lane to the roadside mailbox – was fun and allowed us to be pretend-farmers. Thanks for asking someone else to do the pigs!! Sophia fed Gus about 25 dog treats per day, so he’ll probably be pretty spoiled by the time you get back. It’s great to see her enjoying all the things I used to love doing here as a child. She has really embraced farm life and particularly loves taming this year’s crop of cats. Daniel spent most of his childhood in the countryside, so he is loving spending so much time outdoors and observing nature. For me, it’s the quiet things that have been best: being back in same home you’ve always lived in, watching dust clouds rise up from the gravel roads from the rearview mirror, looking across endless fields of corn and soybeans towards a horizon miles and miles away, listening to the chorus of crickets at night, admiring pink and purple fried-egg sunsets in the evening and then skies powdered with stars and planets by night, and sleeping deep slumbers brought on by full days in the fresh air. And, it’s the first time I’ve gotten to see the crops yellowing and browning towards harvest-ability. From the garden, we picked fat, juicy tomatoes, dug crisp potatoes, plucked tiny lima beans and selected a few choice yellow and orange marigolds to display on the table. As instructed, we helped ourselves to all that you left in the fridge: - The homemade things: pickles (kosher dill, bread-and-butter, cinnamon ones), grape jelly, strawberry jam (like sticking your nose into a just-picked super-ripe strawberry), - More garden things: chunked kohlrabi, unpeeled baby carrots, cucumbers, the onions Sophia told you we like to eat whole and raw - The leftovers: creamed corn, slow-cooked beef, ham, the green beans (yum!) and the Jello salad - The things you bought for us: lettuce, peaches, apples, bananas, black olives, peanut butter, beer - And your special hot chocolate mix! I remember using that recipe when I was growing up, and want to make it again here so we can take it on our trip – very helpful, since we’re struggling to get Sophia to drink milk As far as how we’ve occupied ourselves, we’ve explored many small towns in this rural part of northern Iowa – Klemme, where you live, Thornton, where you and my mother grew up, the resort town Clear Lake, prosperous Garner, local metropolis Mason City, and Forest City, the home of Winnebago. We went to your mechanics in Forest City, Danny at Lichtsinn Motors for the truck, and Ken at Ken’s RVs for the Airstream, and were pleased with both the level of service and price (and the bags of popcorn offered at Lichtsinn’s). To keep us busy while the vehicles were being looked at, we did the Winnebago factory tour, visited the hardware store (we are really looking forward to trying out the hand-powered mini-mixer), bought a few things for the trailer at the going-out-of-business antique shop and twice had coffee at the Cabin Coffee, which is friendly and seems to have big hopes of expanding throughout the Midwest. Eldridge and Gladys, your cousins who live a few farms over, hosted us one afternoon and showed us the family book they had compiled – amazing to hear about relatives born in 1875. It’s been fun talking to you on the phone each day and telling you about what we’ve been up to in your absence. Sorry we’ll miss you by just a day, and my parents by two. And thanks for having enough love, space and generosity for so many people. Love, Claire, Daniel, Sophia & Lulu
Ps. Enclosed is a photo of the watercolor Daniel did of your house and the farmyard. He’s experimenting with a new style of painting for our American trip.
Claire – On maternity leave from career as editor of monthly finance trade magazines, and occasionally a freelance translator. Half-American/half-English, raised in the suburbs of New York, has lived in London for almost nine years.
Daniel – Furniture designer/maker based on London’s Columbia Road flower market, for ten years, also an aspiring painter and DIY supremo. On one-year career break to reconsider options. English by birth, but mother is half-American and spent part of her childhood in Bronxville, New York.
Sophia – 3.5-year old spitfire who loves school, singing, swimming and being a big sister
Lulu – Born May 8 of this year, a model baby who eats, sleeps and gurgles.
Special guests – American, British and international friends and family who drop in along our trip to see whatever part of the country they fancy. They’re welcome to travel in the car with us and sleep in an adjoining tent.