A Pastel Pumpkin Field and My Rib Shack

Illinois Pumpkin Fields Canned Pumpkins

So my wife and I went on a mini road trip a few weekends ago to visit an apple orchard two hours from home and then another 45 minutes to The Bar-B-Q Rib Shack in Galesburg, IL. On our way between the orchard and the rib shack we were surprised to pass two huge fields filled with what barely looked like pumpkins.

The pumpkins were so pastel I couldn’t believe it. I had to pull the car over and go in for a closer examination. How could someone mistakenly planted a huge field full of an unseemly variety of seed. My wife suggested they were for canning, which made more sense. But had we stopped our adventure right there, I’d have seen just about everything.

Pumpkins for Canning Illinois Fields

But we didn’t. We continued on to the rib place I’d talked up to my wife since we met but only fantasized taking her. Now the time had come, I imagined, where she might appreciate the unique charm of this place. When we first met, I was relatively certain, however, that she’d have found the neon sign, the mere idea of ribs, and the community seating a little more than off-putting.

To me, this rib shack is just about everything. The food is phenomenal. And the seating, unique. The small town picnic table seating, when packed, has you enjoy your meal side-by-side with complete strangers or soon-to-be new acquaintances.

The Rib Shack Neon BBQ Pig Sign

I was a little nervous. I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to everything I remembered and relived since I’d eaten there last. I was really hoping that their glory was real and not existent only in my head created by time and wishful thinking. The Rib Shack Galesburg IL Community Seating

Luckily, my fears were completely unfounded. It was everything I’d remembered and more. The lady who waited on us made us feel at home. The ribs were beautiful. Succulent, zesty, and not a bit greasy. I was proud as a peacock that my baby lit up and enjoyed herself thoroughly. She loved the slaw and she loved the ribs. I don’t think she would have appreciated The Rib Shack when we met but it made me feel good that she did now.

BBQ Ribs The Rib Shack Galesburg IL

B-Q Rib Shack on Urbanspoon

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Meeting Our First Dunlop/Talalay Latex Mattress and A Symphony of a Sunset

So my wife and I went up to Madison two weekends ago to do a little research on getting a new mattress. We’d been fantasizing about getting a natural latex mattress since my wife and I read a blog post three years ago of a young couple who wrote about, and then revisited, how much they loved their new natural dunlop latex mattress. We thought it was time to check one out for ourselves.

Natural latex is supposed to be really supportive, last a really long time, not release Volatile Organic Compounds–as petroleum based mattresses do–and not retain the body heat of synthetic latex mattresses. They are made from curing white milky liquid of the rubber tree into either dunlop latex or talalay latex.

I’d been researching them online and it seemed like a lot of people were pretty happy with them. The downsides I found were the cost and the odor. The cost for a queen starts around $2500 and apparently natural latex gives off a rather strong sweetish latex smell. Some say there is no odor, other say it goes away, and others say it doesn’t.

In Louisiana we’d been sleeping on a sketchy mattress that we bought of craigslist knowing we were most likely only going to be there a couple of years and didn’t have much money. Back here we’ve been sleeping on my wife’s double mattress from adolescence. It has a terrible permanent sink in the center of it. A good night’s rest is impossible.

So to Madison it was to try one out for ourselves. The sales people were kind and helpful. We took our time and tried out a number of different mattress firmness configurations. The most comfortable configuration was a layer of dunlop firm on the bottom, followed by a layer of dunlop medium, and then topped with a soft layer of the talalay latex. Online, they say to order the layers of the mattress softer than you’d think you’d like. I like a firm mattress, so I was surprised to find one of their softest combinations to be plenty firm for me. I can confirm: definitely err on the side of soft.

In fact, the softest possible layer topping the mattress left it even a bit too firm for me. When they added the 4″ think wool mattress topper to the bed, that’s when we were really talking. The wool made it the perfect supportive yet soft bed.

We were sold. On the mattress at least. We weren’t quite sold on spending the money, if there was any way around it. We decided to wait on making the purchase. Maybe we’d do some scouting on craigslist now that we knew it was something we wanted.

 

We drove the two hours back home right through a symphony of a sunset. We were surprised to see a wind farm had gone up in Stephenson Co., IL since we’d moved to Louisiana. I was offended to see the giant robotic force invading the landscape.

But as we got closer and the sun sunk into it’s magenta bath, the light silhouettes of the turbines worked in concert with the fields and sky. The sight was suddenly more beautiful than offensive. In that moment, I saw how they too might become a comforting symbol of land and home.

Summer Froyo In The Berg

So Galesburg, Illinois is one of currently struggling midwestern towns that had formerly been brought to glory by the railroads. What distinguishes it from other railroad towns is that in Galesburg you can set your clock to the many trains that still bisect the city day and night.

Though the town’s reinvention remains uncertain as it struggles to survive in a post-Maytag era, Galesburg has more than a couple things going for it.  In addition to being the birthplace of the American poet Carl Sandburg and home to Old Main, the only remaining structure from the Lincoln-Douglas debates, it also claims a handful of great fooderies. One of our favorite is the seasonal frozen yogurt stand we’ve been pinning for   for the last three years. Coming back from a wedding in southern Illinois a weekend or so ago, we had the lucky chance to nab a couple cones at our little Kastle Kreme.

Whatever the flavor, chunks are speckled throughout, giving the cone texture, body, and flavor. Though lighter and smoother than ice cream, you wouldn’t guess it’s yogurt. And a whole cone leaves you full.

My wife lights up for peppermint. And no peppermint makes her light up better than the beautiful little flakes of peppermint throughout the smooth, creamy, tasty peppermint froyo at Kastle Kreme. In the pic above it doesn’t look like much, but it is. Other places would add the artificial color necessary to signal to your eyes what your taste buds are in store for, but this place serves it it up as-is. And as-is is pretty amazing.

I love the berry. Be it the raspberry in the top picture or blackberry or pineapple, all boast beautiful chunks of fresh fruit mixed right in the machine and twisted into the cone. Whenever we have the rare pleasure of finding ourselves down in The Berg, we enjoy a little froyo at Kastle Kreme.

Kastle Kreme on Urbanspoon

Twentysomethings Back at the Farmstead

So my wife and I moved in with her grandmother at the old family farmhouse. Its a neat old house whose blueprints may or may not have been purchased from the Sears Roebuck catalogue in the 1910s, I’ve heard but been unable to confirm. Though her grandmother hasn’t had to keep up the land, she has remarkably kept the farmhouse going for the last two decades largely through her own toil and the paid help of a couple local handymen.

And here we are. Officially boomerangers for the second time. Twentysomethings back on the old family land. Corn to the south. Soy to the north. Rolling Wisconsin hills and the Mississippi River palisades not too far off. As far as Illinois goes, it doesn’t get much more beautiful than this.

When we last lived here for a little over a year before we got married and moved south, we never really made it feel like home. At the time, we had my little eclectus parrot. We made room for the parrot cage in our bedroom, but didn’t feel we had the authority to move any of the antique furniture. We made do around it. The solid footboard of the antique farm-bed came inches too short for me to lay straight. Only the parrot, anxious to chew on the hardwood any chance she got, didn’t feel imposed by the massive turn-of-the-century secretariat lording over both the room and our existence.

This time, looking at living here for the foreseeable future, my wife and I made a pact to do everything we could to work to gain the hard-earned consent of her grandmother to move furniture and free up a bedroom closet, in order for to have at least a minimum of space our own.

It took two days of moving furniture out, our stuff in, and squirreling away the remainder in the basement and attic. We moved the antique bed and secretariat across to a bedroom used for ironing. The twin beds from there, we wrapped in plastic, and carried to the attic. Our bed and reading desk were in. We pulled an oak dresser out from the attic, moved the old marble topped dresser to the corner of the room, and kept a retro teal 70’s reading chair in front of the window. I hung my contemporary Maya oils and my wife’s yearly inspirational collage and we were in business. It makes for an eclectic combination. Best of all it feels like us and it feels like home.

An Unexpected Trek North

So my wife’s mother was unexpectedly in the ER for two blood transfusions for reasons she hasn’t quite made clear to us. We thought it was a diabetes medicine side effect but now she says no. Anyway we decided to make an unexpected trip north to Illinois to check in and make everyone’s day. We told my wife’s 92 year old grandmother who immediately made a date for us to have a roast. To avoid the hassle, I convinced my wife to tell her mother only when we were halfway through the 2 day drive.

We got to spend some time at my wife’s grandmother’s farmhouse. It was built at the turn of the century as one of the first homes in the area with electricity and updated with new carpet in the 70’s. Her grandmother is a riot. She is a tough old bird who is damed and determined to keep the whole place running if it kills her.  We enjoyed the couple days together had the obligatory midwestern meat and potatoes dinner and pancake, bacon, and eggs breakfast. It amazes me how a meal is meat and refined grains. All else is peripheral .

My wife’s father and I have a slightly awkward relationship. After meeting my wife and I lived with her parents for a few months two separate times during the first two years before we got married. He’s not particularly religious but he is a little traditional. He didn’t want us sharing her room, so we played the charade awhile until her mother, in a proactive move to try to ensure we’d never move away, cornered her husband and let him know we could sleep together.

I never asked him if I could marry his daughter and we asked him to “bless this woman to be married” rather than give. Subtle change of semantics and values. I don’t know if he notices or thinks about it, we don’t talk about it, but my being uncomfortable make me analyze it and wonder.

All this to say he offered to make breakfast before we left. I was inclined to politely refuse but knew he was being nice and we’d eat it so I said that sounded good. Well he pulled some pancakes right out of a magazine like I’ve never seen before. Perfect shape color texture. I was impressed.

On the way back south we pleasantly and accidently found ourselves around some surprisingly harrowing bends in some quite thick forest. Life-long Illinoisans we were surprised to find ourselves in Illinois in such a foreign un-flat land. I quickly surmised we might be in the fabled Shawnee National Forest I’d heard existed north of Cairo. Only now, googling, I learn that I was correct, we were specifically in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge skirting Devil’s Kitchen Lake. We stopped at the lake for a quick moment to catch the peace of the shying sun. The only thing the picture doesn’t quite capture was the cold. It was cold.

Just south of Memphis we stopped for a burrito. If you’ve never been to the south. You have to go to a chain here. It’d funny how chains have their standards that are tightly followed nationwide ensuring a universally uniform product. Well it doesn’t work in the south. In the south people have values.

Take Subway. Southern value: Sandwiches have meat. Result: You will get a Subway sandwich that has more lunch meat than four Subway sandwiches ordered anywhere else in the country.

Our northern Mississippi Qdoba experience was true to form. Meat like you’ve never seen packed into a burrito with so much cheese and sour cream, it reached the point I couldn’t quite enjoy it. Anyway I think the pictures and the phenomena are worth appreciating, if only to chuckle the subtle undermining of corporate efforts at homogenizing America.

We stopped again outside of Jackson, Mississippi with my baby just about pooped. We managed to rally for Barnes and Noble, got a fresh salad, and finished the drive back home that night through Port Gibson and Natchez, Mississippi.

Seem to be places we definitely will have to take a weekend to explore. Port Gibson was sketchy at night but going through it during the day, on the way up, was beautiful. During the Civil War, Grant said it was too beautiful to burn. Another day, another adventure, another beautiful, interesting place. The hard part is waiting.