Saturday, December 31, 2011

The last mill

Several days ago the Swany White Flour Mill in Freeport, Minnesota, burned to the ground.  To most folks who buy their flour at the grocery store, this news is of no great import.  To those of us who try their best to buy local, small farm food whenever possible, this news is immensely tragic.  Swany was the only independently owned flour mill left in Minnesota.  And now it's gone.  The owner says it would be too costly to rebuild.

I've always loved mills.  Whenever we go on a trip I find myself drawn to them.  Grist mills, water mills, woolen mills.  They are a glimpse into the past, a wonder of workmanship and engineering and optimism.  They were an investment in a community's future, a promise of hope.  From the farmer that grew the wheat to the miller that ground it, to the grocer that sold it to the baker that kneaded it.  The Swany Mill was a piece of living history -- built in 1897, it had been running ever since.

It was a convenient place for us to stop on the way to or from St. Paul.  I loved walking into the sales room, looking at the old flour sacks hanging on the wall, smelling the old wood and the particles of ground grain that hung thick in the air.  The mill sold just about any kind of grain, whole or ground, to be found in the state.  Normally I'd just buy two 25 lb sacks of organic flour, either white or whole wheat.  At my last visit I splurged and bought something else--five pounds of organic barley. 

We drove home from St. Paul on Wednesday, the day after the fire.  We took the Freeport exit and drove past the mill site to pay our tribute.  The only thing standing was the chimney and the old miller's house.  The entire milling structure, all of that lovely grain and flour and wood and history, lay broken in a heap of charred rubble.

Today, New Years Eve, I made stock from leftover holiday turkey bones.  Tomorrow I'll add the turkey meat, some carrots and celery and potatoes from my garden, some herbs and seasonings for a heartwarming pot of turkey soup.  And I will add some Swany White barley, and savor the memory of a lovely old mill gone before its time.

Blow wind, blow!
And go mill, go!
That the miller may grind his corn,
That the baker may take it,
And into bread make it,
And bring us a loaf in the morn.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


It doesn't feel like winter.  Daytime highs are still in the 20s and 30s.  Just Sunday we had a high of 50, melting the few small patches of snow leftover from November.  The ground is brown and bare and the sun shines bright in the sky.  Not that I'm complaining, mind you.  It's just, you know, odd.  And mildly unsettling.  Like winter is saving all of its gusto for January, when we'll be decked with storm after storm, buried in five feet of snow and ice.

Last year at this time we already had one major blizzard under our belt and another one on the way.  This year, it doesn't look like we'll get any snow before the weekend.  So much for a white Christmas.

We've had a gamut of Christmas programs this month at the boys' school.

Graham was a mouse in a Christmas play.

Owen is taking band this year.  He plays the trombone.

And I have been busy making Christmas gifts.  My sewing plans went awry when I discovered my 20-year-old sewing machine didn't have the right stitch that I needed to complete a project.  So I had to come up with Plan B.  No spoilers!

Two more days to get everything finished and wrapped and packed up before we go to Grandma and Grandpa's house for the holidays.  The kids can hardly wait.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Eye on the ball

A tradition with all of my boys -- playing ping pong with Grandpa. 

Nobody likes a skinny Santa

Hubby made cinnamon roles for the park's muzzleloader hunt earlier this month.  Of the dozen that I brought, the hunters took six.  The following week I ate the rest.  I couldn't let them go to waste now, could I? 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dry spell

Yes, another blogging dry spell has hit us.  No real cause this time, just general putting-it-off-ness.  The kids got sick the week before Thanksgiving, then the holiday weekend stretched out into a very busy period at work, culminating in a muzzleloader deer hunt at the park the first weekend in December.  Then my car broke down to the tune of a $1400 repair bill (sorry kids, no Christmas presents this year!).  Gah.  Writing out that check caused me real, physical pain.

Other than the above, I haven't done anything remarkable during the last three weeks.  One thing I have done in my leisure time, however, is read.  Quite a bit actually, and not just my traditional circle of authors (Ellis Peters, Louis L'Amour, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchet).  I decided to go through and reread all the old fantasy novels I used to adore when I was a youngster.

I started out with David Eddings, then jumped into a bit of Barbara Hambly, and am now going through some Anne McAffrey.  I think I'll head into either Raymond E. Feist or Stephen R. Lawhead next.

Reading these old books is like traveling back to my childhood.  Although I do find myself being more critical of the writing itself.  Some of the authors are as good as I remember (Eddings).  Some, not so much (Hambly).

Sometimes I find myself thinking, 'hey--I can write better than that.'

When I was in eighth grade I started writing a novel.  A fantasy novel, with main characters that I fashioned after the alter egos of six of my friends.  I worked on it passionately for several years, writing and rewriting and tweaking words back and forth.  But later in high school, my priorities shifted.  I tried out for plays, made new friends and got a social life.

Somewhere along the line I set the book aside.  It was packed away in a cardboard box, and as I went through college it moved with me, from my parent's house to my first apartment, to my next apartment, to my first house and then finally to this house.  Right now it is resting high on the shelf in my eldest son's bedroom closet. 

Rereading these fantasy books has got me to thinking.  A tiny seed has been planted inside my brain.  I've begun to think about hauling that old box down--maybe just to take a look through the old typewritten pages, say hello to the characters again and refresh my memory of that world.  See if anything sparks to life.

I think about doing this, and then I laugh.  Like I have the time to devote to writing again.  Writing a novel like that is an all-encompassing thing, eating hours from the day and taking over large portions of your mental energy.  I don't have time to write out my Christmas cards, let alone start working again on that novel.

But, like I said, a tiny seed has been planted.  Maybe there's not enough water or sunlight for it to grow right now.  But at least I know it's there if I want it, ready to break dormancy if the opportunity presents itself.