Matsuri in Illinois!

Lucky us! We got to attend the 20th Anniversary of Japan House at the University of Illinois. The celebration began at the Krannert Center Theatre. A three and a half hour performance of all things Japan: a tea ceremony, Japanese instruments, several bands, traditional drumming and of course a kimono fashion show! People attended from all over the world to participate in the excitement.

The next day, there was a Matsuri (Japanese Festival) at the Arboretum outside the Japan House on campus. Food vendors (YUM!), and all things Japan were sold, both handmade and Japanese products right from Japan. We wanted to bring EVERYTHING home with us, but only chose a select few items to remember the day by.

It was a super fun weekend and made is appreciate Japanese culture even more than we already did!!


Fresh Press Research Studio…

One of the ways we started off our school year was by touring the research space of Fresh Press Studio, co-founded and run by Eric Benson, Chair of the University of Illinois Graphic Design program. They are making paper using unused agricultural remains. Eating soybeans? They are using the ‘extra’ parts of the plant that humans or animals do not consume, currently harvested from the Student Sustainable Farm on campus.

While we were there, we toured some of the spaces that included the custom machines (many of them are hand fabricated by David Reina in New York!) that are used to grind, flatten and squeeze the dried plants into paper. Some of the research they’re doing is to help preserve books better – if you leave regular paper in the sun it will yellow and over time, decay. So they’re finding ways to create a more sturdy and sustainable paper. One of the things that was pointed out while we were there is that it would more environmentally friendly if we did make paper in this way because trees are useful for many different things besides paper (such as oxygen, habitats and food) all of which, are very necessary. We ended up getting some paper from their reject drawer which we used later on to make some really pretty water color paintings (which y’all will hear about in further detail in a future post!).

The studio works with the engineering lab to determine the tensile strength of many of fiber combinations they use and they document the recipes of each batch they make. Different plant properties are used for different purposing. Eric showed us paper made from soybean plants, eggplants, coffee bits, wheat, peppers, prairie grass and rye fibers which were the strongest of all… They are always experimenting! We were gifted a sample of one of their batches of fiber to make our own paper here at school. We will surely share out what we learn once we get all the needed supplies to make it!

We loved this place. It was really cool to see how far a sustainable perspective can influence a manufacturing process. Just when a farm thinks the crop is harvested, there is more that can be done to keep our earth happy!

A big thank you to Eric for having us as guests to the research Studio. It was super interesting and we can hardly wait to make some of our own!



An electron microscope of some of the plant fibers. COOL!


We have ‘Egg’straordinary News!!

After 7 months of hatching, choosing, feeding, watering, coop building, holding, singing, walking, admiring and loving our small flock of chickens, the first eggs have been laid! They are tiny and absolutely perfect!! We are so proud of our little hens and lucky to have them as part of our family. We love our feathered friends!


A comparison of a standard hen egg and our little banty egg!


Back in Time in Arthur, Illinios…

Last week, we were immersed in experiences to learn about in central Illinois, many that I plan to post on in the coming week. We spent a day in Arthur, Illinois where there is the largest community (about 4,000) of Amish people in Illinois.

At first, it didn’t seem that different from our Grandparent’s farm, about an hour North of there but after driving around and stopping at many locations, including some Amish homes, it became more and more interesting that their lifestyle was very different than our own.

First of all, you should know it was about 93 degrees the day we went. Too hot!!! Some of the most noticeable difference were the black buggies and wagons. Many of the men wore black and white clothing – keep in mid how hot it was! Yikes!

It seemed like a peaceful way to live. Simpler in many ways but harder in others. We visited a home where they had 100 chickens, 7 children and were heading off to town (not with the chickens!) piled into an uncovered wagon, half the size of our minivan. We stopped at a quilt shop that was in a lovely Amish woman’s home. Her name was Vera. We went to a fabric shop and a local store, Beachy’s, where everything was sold in bulk.

Before going to Arthur, we researched their culture and beliefs so as not to offend them while visiting. Happy we did. We learned that we shouldn’t take any photos of people’s faces. That they don’t listen to or play music. That they all dressed similarly from the time they were children. All of these things are to keep them from standing out from one another – individuality is not something they celebrate as a culture. Generations of families live near one another, which we thought was very cool since we live 3 hours in either direction of any of our relatives.

I liked how it seemed like time stood still there. It was a relief that no one had a phone in their hand, checking the weather forecast or news. Olive says she’d be interesting in trying it if she could find a cooler place to live. Central Illinois can be brutal when it’s hot!

We enjoyed being able to peek in to another culture. We left with many more questions than we arrived with but think it is awesome that they have kept their traditions alive in such a fast moving world!


Sending Messages through Flight…

Imagine this…. 500 carrier pigeons in one place. Near a corn field. Raised and raced by a lovely man by the name of Reed. Now imagine that once they are born in that location, they will forever be able to find their way back after they are about 6 weeks old. Drive the one of the birds south to Georgia 600 miles and once released, it will appear in that same backyard in Michigan where it hatched. Crazy, right?

We had the lucky chance to visit this magical place! While we were there, we saw hundreds of birds both flying and in very spacious houses, experienced holding birds that were born that day to pigeons that were adults! It was soooo cool! We also watched Reed put bands on the freshly hatched chicks (5 days old) that will stay on their leg permanently.  Any older and the bands wouldn’t fit. Before we left that peaceful place, we took a pit stop in his garage to see some racing birds that evidently can do some pretty cool flips and dives in the air!

How do they bring messages back and forth, you ask? Well, they only fly home, not back and forth. We learned that carrier pigeons were exchanged in boxes long ago (and can still be used this way today if you don’t have email ;0) ) between 2 people or communities. Each person would take the other persons bird(s) home with them and wait until they needed to send a message. Then they would attach a message to its leg and release the bird and, you guessed it, home it flew – to it’s original birth place. It really is INCREDIBLE!

A special thank you to Reed for sharing his lifelong hobby of raising carrier pigeons. For a family of birders this was a super exciting opportunity we won’t forget!!


it may not look like it in the photo, but those coops are very luxurious!


See all of  the black on his chest?  Thats all food.  Someone’s being fed very well!


This little guy had just hatched within 24 hours of us meeting it. SO tiny!!!


Butter Bots!

Please read in a British accent (it’s a critical part of comprehension)…

“It is very well known that one of the most thrilling ways to enjoy summer is to go out  into the stunningly crowded world to eat breakfast. The risks we take are immeasurable and quite satisfactory, especially when you get your favorite booth! And to ensure power over the (probably) inferior tables, our family constructs butter bots out of Plus-Plus toys and little butter pats! The little plastic pieces fit together to create the perfect vessel for the butter and perhaps a become a transport vehicle for the butter to find its appropriate spot upon a steaming stack of flapjacks or the ever enticing slice of sourdough bread.

Our contest was based upon who’s creation could hold the most pats. I leave you to decide who may (or may not) have won the challenge! Cheerio and a pleasant summer to you!”


The Scent of Summer!

This summer we found a hidden gem by the name of Summerhouse Lavender Farm in Fennville, Michigan. What a beautiful place! We missed the summer harvest but were fortunate enough to have the owners, Carol and Dan take us on a tour of their Japanese inspired farm. They showed us how they harvest lavender and shared the process once the flowers made it to the drying barn. We now know how to make lavender simple syrup and they gave us ideas on how to incorporate lavender into baking! We are excited to try it :0)

As we completed the tour, Dan shared how they distill the lavender into oil. We were AMAZED how many flowers it takes to make a teeny bit of oil. What a patient process. They partner with other local makers to create soaps, lotions, candles and if you time it right, they will even have lavender honey right from their beehive!

A special thanks to Carol and Dan for showing us around your peaceful and bountiful farm – We loved it!