Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chicken Gear

Yesterday was my birthday and Rog and our two daughters showered me with chicken-gear birthday gifts! My birthday present loot included: Chicken wire, brooder lamp and infrared heat lamp bulb, poultry waterer, manual for constructing animal housing, and 2009 Farmers Almanac. Oh -- and the most exciting of all: a certificate for 25 chicks and 2 goslings!
I can't wait for spring when our chickens arrive! I'll have to be patient for a while yet. Earlier today we had nearly pea-sized styrofoam snow (shown here as it first fell on the steps) and now for the past hour we have had huge, heavy flakes swirling down, turning the world fluffy and white. Winter can be so beautiful -- consolation for having to wait so long for spring.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Walk in the Woods - Dec. 28th

When I went out to the barn today I was surprised to find a woolly bear caterpillar curled up on the ground in the snow. I wasn't sure if he was alive, but when I held him in my warm hand he began moving. Perhaps he fell off the barn when I opened the door or maybe he had just revived in the sunshine (It was about 30 degrees F today.) I set him down next to the barn in some dried leaves and he began crawling in very slow motion, presumably to a warmer slumbering spot.
Then, when Rog, Cadence and I went on an exploratory tromp through the woods we scared up a deer. I wasn't fast enough with my camera to capture him, but I got his tracks. There were deer tracks and trails and trampled places where they had bedded down all over the place.
A well-constructed little nest has survived the winter so far in the sumac patch.
A decrepit old chicken coop stands in the woods, surrounded by raspberry brambles--kind of cute, but probably not salvageable for housing chickens.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Silent Sentinels of the Snow

Such crazy weather. It warmed up to 42 degrees today and the snow got heavy, wet and sticky--perfect for building snowmen. We built four snow figures along the knoll on the south side of the driveway. Each is over 6 feet tall. The bottom balls were so dense it took three of us to roll them into place and even working together we could barely lift the middle ball onto the bottom layer.

These snowmen are absolutely silent because I am afraid they do not have mouths (yet.) This evening the fog rolled in and the row of snowmen looked very mysterious looming over the crest of the hill.

Xmas Paella

Our dear friends Anne and Jon, their daughter Camille and exchange student Felix celebrated Christmas Day with us. I was inspired to make paella -- not a traditional holiday meal for us (I have only ever made it once before), but it sounded rather exotic and beautiful. I used the recipe from the cook book "Loving Food" and included chicken, shrimp, spicy Italian sausage, lobster tails, clams, and mussels.
Rog tested out his new chainsaw (a Christmas gift) cutting up some wood for firing the pizza oven. He made foccacias sprinkled with rosemary in the wood-fired oven--yum! Cadence made pistachio gelato and pecan shortbread cookies, and Anne and Jon brought a spectacular salad and Jon's homemade wine and mead. What a feast!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dogs of Solstice

Wahoo! Starting tomorrow the days grow longer!
We received 6 inches of snow yesterday, plus 6 inches Friday. This morning dawned clear, windy, and and brisk (-7F, but about -25F windchill.) Sundogs glowed on either side of the sun.
This afternoon as we drove home from town the sundogs were spectacular- iridescent rainbow arcs - but by the time I got home and got my camera and drove a mile or so down 60th to get an unobstructed view of the sundogs they had nearly set.
Nutmeg and Cocoa reluctantly posed for one more (humiliating) "Dogs of Solstice" shot. The things they have to endure for a biscuit.

NOTE - Why I haven't blogged for a few days:
My dear Canon Rebel xti camera is kaput. Happily, I purchased the 4-year service plan and Best Buy has sent it in for repair. Unhappily, it may take over a month to get back. How can I blog without my camera?! AND it is the holidays AND my daughters are home! Happily, they have a loaner program. Unhappily, I had to PURCHASE another camera (a Rebel xsi, because they no longer make the xti)but I will get a full refund when my camera comes back. What a pain, but at least I have a nice camera to use!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


This morning it was a balmy 40 degrees F and snow had melted enough to reveal bare patches around the yard.(Good thing we got our cross country skiing in yesterday.) The sheet of snow on the barn roof was sliding off - I risked being dumped on by a small avalanche to take some photos.

Then this afternoon, the wind suddenly switched from southerly to northwesterly, the temperature dropped 20 degrees in an hour and continued to fall. Now it is zero degrees and extremely windy, which feels especially cruel after our spring-like morning. I'm not complaining, though; my relatives from Montana, North Dakota and northern Minnesota are in the grips of a true blizzard.
Here it's just darn cold.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Morning Ski

A couple years ago after of one of Rog's garage-cleaning sweeps we donated our X-C skiis to the thrift store. We hadn't had enough good snow to be able to use them more than a couple times in the dozen years since we moved to Rochester. And they were quite old-- I had purchased my red Epokes in 1975 with money from my after-school job. They were first generation fiberglass skiis and had absolutely no camber left.

Of course now that we live in a place where we can just step out the door and ski off into the woods, AND we have gorgeous snow, we wished we still had them. So yesterday, Rog suggested I keep my eyes open for some skiis when I next was at a thrift store. I took this as a directive and went straight to Salvation Army, where I had great success: I found 5 pairs of skiis (for everyone in the family, plus a spare in case one pair was crummy ($5/pair) and poles ($2/set). We had to go to Play It Again Sports for boots where we found decent used ones for Rog but I had to get comfortable, cozy, stylish new boots. (Too bad!)

As soon as we had swigged our morning coffee we took off on an early morning ski. It was predicted to get warm and melty this afternoon and we didn't want to miss our window of opportunity.

We skiied the perimeter of the pastures, then bushwhacked off into the woods. It conjured up memories of many good times skiing through the woods at Rog's parents' house on Stocking Lake when we were first married. Except that today it wasn't 20 below zero, and we were mostly skiing through tangly sumac and undergrowth rather than a nicely groomed trail cleared by Rog's father.

Next we skiied along the road and through the village of Douglas to the Douglas trail, a wonderful State bike/ski trail. We took it a mile or so before heading home. There was a strong, warm southerly wind and already the snow was becoming very sticky.

We probably lost about half of our snow cover today. Let it Snow!

Friday, December 12, 2008


We noticed the full moon setting in the northwest at 6:31 a.m. this morning, just moments before it slipped behind a heavy bank of clouds rolling our way.
Yesterday morning I totally missed the moonset--I guess I was too distracted by the sunrise in the southeast.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wovel-Snowblower Face-off

Our snowstorm only dropped about 6 inches of snow - although it's hard to tell exactly because it blows and drifts to such varying depths.
Rog and I had a Wovel-Snowblower competition in the driveway and parking area, and I hate to admit, the snowblower won(but only by a small margin). Each technology has its pros and cons: the snowblower does better on our very long stretch of driveway because it is fenced on both sides with hardly any room to pile the snow. And it leaves such perfect, tidy edges.The wovel is much more maneuverable near the house, doesn't blow snow back in your face and is quiet so it doesn't wake up the daughter who is still lazily still sleeping at 6 a.m. In a city setting, facing off with a smaller snowblower, I think the wovel would have the advantage.
The snowstorm has ended but it was still very gray and cold out today and I wasn't inspired to take photos, so I will post a few I took last weekend when it was sunny and warm enough that icicles formed along the roof of the barn.

Monday, December 8, 2008


It has been quite windy the last few days and the little 3-foot lighted tree I planted in the top of my big concrete head sculpture blew over. Now he bears an uncanny resemblance to Lyle Lovett.
We are in the midst of a snowstorm tonight and may have as much as 11 inches of snow tomorrow morning. Rog will get to really put his (new used)snowblower to the test. I'll get out my wovel and we'll have a snow removal face-off!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


After a lo-o-ong day sitting through a grantwriting workshop today, I was driving home in the late afternoon sun and noticed the wind had created beautiful flowing forms in the fresh snow along the ditch. The minute I got home I pulled on my boots, hat and scarf and headed out with my camera.

The air was brisk, but I didn't really notice until I returned home, numb-faced, into the wind.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

When It Rains, It Stores

Rog noticed this wonderful oak wine barrel set out by the dumpster behind Andy's Liquor store when he was picking up a bottle of wine the other night. He asked about it when he was checking out and was told that they wouldn't mind if it just disappeared...so we loaded it in the back of our little Vibe and took it home to the farm. It's going to make the most lovely rain barrel next spring!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Neighborhood Farms

Yesterday after my parents headed back to Bemidji, Rog and I decided to go for a walk to counteract some of the effects of Thanksgiving feasting. We followed a 4-mile loop--west through the woods and along the road to the village of Douglas, then southeast along the bike trail to 60th, and back north toward home. It was a fairly warm but very gray day. Walking along 60th I took photos of the neighboring farms. This farm is on the corner along the bike trail.
The next farmstead to the north and across the road has two huge pear trees that were loaded with fruit this fall. They also have gorgeous gardens. I can't wait to meet the owners!
A view of the restored prairie and wetlands next door, 90 acres that were once part of our original farmstead. Last August this area was spectacular, full of coneflowers, blazing star, goldenrod and butterflies.
The dairy farm across the road has 150 curious cows and hundreds of acres of pastures, corn and hay. All fall this family has been working every day from before dawn until very late, by moonlight and tractor lights. I bet they appreciated today's snowstorm so they had an excuse to relax a bit.
Home again, to our sweet little farm.

A Few Things For Which We Are Thankful

My parents drove to SquashBlossom Farm from Bemidji for Thanksgiving. It was their first visit because my mom has been recovering from a seriously broken ankle. We are thankful her ankle has nearly healed. The trip was not without misadventures--their transmission went out about 30 miles north of here. We are thankful it happened so close and that our AAA membership enabled us to tow their vehicle here and for them to rent a car to get home. We loved having them visit and had fun playing scrabble and whist. Friday afternoon my mom and I browsed antique shops and TJ MAxx while my dad and Rog burned piles of brush. My mom (who is afraid of chickens and a bit dubious about us raising them next spring) gave us a sweet ceramic chicken dish as a farm-warming gift--part of the breakfast table setting in this photo. Thanks!

Precisely a year ago, our friends Anne and Jon came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner and while the turkey was roasting, I drove Anne out to show her this wonderful farm we had just looked at. We had already fallen in love with this place, but realistically didn't expect we could ever move here. It took 7 months of negotiation with the sellers to come to an agreement, a month to sell our house, and another month to close and move, but here we are a year later, miraculously celebrating this Thanksgiving on our dream farm! We are so thankful to have this opportunity to pursue a dream.

Friday, November 21, 2008


This morning there was that granular frost that crystallizes on the grass stems like raw sugar, so I went out to take a few photos. The air was brisk--despite my knitted hat, my eyebrows got so cold I got an ice cream headache.

Throughout the prairie are a network of trampled-down deer paths and nest-like areas where deer have slept in the tall grass. This morning I could hear grouse grousing. The branches were outlined with glittery frost.

Our 10-acre farm straddles a small hill. The more domesticated five acres on the east include fenced pastures, my gardens, a large lawn and a grove of trees. The western half is a little piece of prairie (becoming overgrown by sumac) outlined by tall pines --windbreaks that were planted 30 or 40 years ago.

Several rows of tall white pines separate our land from the spectacular restored prairie of our neighbor. (He owns 90 acres of the original 200 acre farmstead.) I am grateful for the wisdom of past owners of this place who so cleverly planted rows of pines and deciduous trees to cut the wind, mitigate snowdrifts,and provide wildlife habitat, shade, privacy and beauty.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November Morning

Our dogs are our alarm clocks--waking us up promptly at 6:30, but usually we can put them off for a few minutes (well hey, it's cold out there!) Rog and I alternate days getting up to let them out. This morning it was my turn, and my reward was this lovely sunrise.

When we moved here at the beginning of September the sun rose in the northeast corner our yard. Now it is rising almost in the southeast corner.

Tonight we attended a public meeting about the planned future road development. When it happens, we will lose a wide stretch of our yard to right-of-way and we'll gain a 4-lane expressway. Fortunately, it sounds like our stretch of road is about 20 years hence, and a lot can change in 20 years.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Radishes and Wreaths

The Rochester Farmers' Market has moved into the Horse Building at the county fairgrounds for the season. We met some friendly new vendors yesterday and found several new veggies to try, including this large, gorgeous heirloom radish the farmer called "Beauty Heart" (It's in one seed catalog as "Chinese Red Meat." ) Not only were these radishes spectacular when sliced, they tasted fabulous. I definitely want to grow them!

Today was yet another gray day, but not too cold, so I decided to make a wreath. Our farm's previous owners must have cut off the top of a nice spruce for a Christmas tree last year, and the bottom was still growing. I pruned off a bunch of those branches and gathered up snips of juniper, white pine, sumac,pinecones and highbush cranberries from the woods. I had saved a 48-inch metal hoop from last year's wreath, to which I attached the boughs and decorative snips. Other than the hoop and the ribbon, the entire wreath came from our land.

While I was making the wreath, Rog was firing up the pizza oven to make bread and two small pizzas. He is getting to be really good at this! Here is the lovely pizza just before we devoured it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Amazing Art Finds

Yesterday I made one of my all-too-frequent Salvation Army Thrift store stops (my secret source for great gardening books) and had one of my favorite finds--original art! I always feel a bit sad for the artists, who probably never envisioned their creation ending up in a thrift store, but I also feel so lucky when I have the opportunity buy interesting original art for a song. Plus, it is a mystery and a challenge to try to find out something about the artist.

This large watercolor of lilies is signed by Jane Boyd. Is anybody familiar with her? It was customed framed by Major Art in Davenport, IA, possibly in the 1970s, judging from the frame style. It looks lovely hanging above our piano!

This one is a miniature landscape painting in oil I found a few months ago. I can't quite make out the signature (Selient?)but on the back is written "Paesaggio" ("landscape") and it was apparently sold at "Botteghina d'Arte" in Naples, Italy--someone's souvenir perhaps? I also love the frame; it's 8 x 10, which gives you an idea of how tiny the painting is.

Here is my most mysterious painting, purchased at Goodwill last spring. It is casein, in a huge, black and white wooden frame. On the back is scrawled in pencil:"Christian Art and Spiritual World" "September 1957" and "Dedicated to Bishop Heidiger." It is signed by R. Zimmerman, which I like to imagine might be Robert Zimmerman...could Bob Dylan possibly have created such a painting in high school?

We have talked about turning part of the barn into a gallery(someday). Maybe it should be a second chance gallery, for underappreciated art that was relegated to the thrift store.