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.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

2 Geese

Our younger daughter Cadence is currently living in Bogota, Columbia. Recently she called to tell us that she and her friend Javier had done something they hoped they wouldn't regret. Oh dear, they got married, I thought! No, they had purchased two goslings from a man they met walking down the street with a gaggle of geese (whew!). The goslings are an unidentified variety that has a funny-shaped beak and a crest on its head. Cadence emailed us this photo of the goslings before their feathers started growing out. She says she hopes to bring the geese to our farm when she returns to the U.S., but I suspect that could be quite a challenge.

Last week, Cadence informed us that she and Javier had rented a restaurant, which they were cleaning, painting, fixing up and would name "Dos Gansos" - Two Geese. The restaurant has an outdoor courtyard where the geese will live. Those of you who know Cadence and her vagabond ways might wonder how she could possibly afford to open a restuarant - but apparently it is much less costly in Bogota.

Javier is a professional chef and Cadence is an amazing baker, so we know they will serve exquisite food. (Here is Cadence at home in Minnesota last summer, cooking.) Dos Gansos was planned to be open for the first time yesterday -- Cadence and Javier, we wish you success and many happy, well-fed customers. We hope we someday have the pleasure of dining at Dos Gansos!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wovel Love

Finally! During the night we got enough snow so I could try out the Wovel this morning! First I had to add the "gravel wheels"--they raise the shovel part above the ground slightly for use on gravel driveway or paved patios. Admittedly, there wasn't a lot of snow- under two inches - but it was that heavy, sticky, wet kind of snow that is especially annoying and tiring to shovel, and the wovel performed great.

The wovel is a large shovel scoop that pivots on a lever on a wheel - you wheel along scooping up the snow and push downward on the handle to flip the snow off. We woveled our long driveway (I paced it off -it's about 335 feet from patio to road), the parking area by the garage and the patio in under 45 minutes. Ordinarily after shoveling my back is wincing--but no problem at all this time. I did get warm, though- woveling is not entirely effortless, but it was fun. And quiet. And fast. And created zero carbon emissions.

This photo depicts the two ingenious wheels of our farm--the windmill and the wovel. Rog conceded that if we don't get an unusually heavy snow this winter, we could probably get by without a snowblower at all, just a wovel (or two, so we don't have to take turns!) He was so impressed he said maybe we should see if we can invest in the company.

If any friends are interested in trying a wovel, feel free to stop out whenever we have snow, we'll let you test drive it. If you decide to buy one, please let us refer you and we will get a $15 reward from the Wovel company (which we can put toward wovel #2.)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Truck Success and Birdfeeder Mystery

Yesterday Rog was finally able to get the fittings he needed for the Willys truck and installed the hose, and started right up! Woa- is it loud! (Must need a muffler). We only drove the truck around the farmyard because it really needs brake work, but Rog says he'll leave those to the professionals. He was beaming about his mechanical accomplishment, though.

When we got up this morning we had deer out in the yard, which made the dogs go bonkers with excitement. The deer must have been hiding out in our yard because of hunters on the neighboring land. We finally let our dogs out when we thought the deer had departed, but I was worried about them getting out of the yard and hunters mistaking them for deer, so I dressed Cocoa in an orange t-shirt and Nutmeg in a red tank top. The shirts were a bit too large, but the idea worked pretty well, so I will look for some kid's-sized bright orange shirts at Salvation Army this week.

Our bird feeders suffered some mysterious vandalism during the night. One of the shepherd crooks (the one with the feeders containing black oil sunflower seeds and with the squirrel-deterral device my Dad made) was bent all the way down to the ground. I don't think we have bears...could raccoons get up there somehow and do that?

Friday, November 7, 2008


This morning when we woke up the world was turning white with snow - this was the view out the window. Although part of me dreads winter, I always feel giddy excitement with the first snowfall. After breakfast I went out to take some photos. The tree on the left is a burr oak (a native prairie species) which Rog has named "Burr Oak Obama."

Rog's jack o'lantern is still hanging in there. He looks especially crabby about the weather...

but the dogs were overjoyed, racing around the yard and pastures, snuffling and tumbling in the snow.
My concrete head sculpture seemed to appreciate wearing a stylish and cozy hat - actually a willow decoration our friend Judy made us for our patio.

The windmill was gently turning in the light breeze.

One tree is still stubbornly clinging to its leaves. I am so pleased I got my future garden all ready for winter in time (it's in the foreground and right of the fence).
Still have to get these hoses stored away, though.

I'm thinking one of the reasons farmers traditionally paint their outbuildings red must be to have some color to look at in the winter.

While checking out a branch that broke off in last week's winds, I noticed a deerstand in a tree in our back yard. I discover something new here every day!
The path to the woods looks inviting, but the bright green understory gives an indication of our invasive buckthorn problem. Buckthorn stays green into winter, so it's easy to identify this time of year.
Cocoa grazing on some birdseed dropped under the feeders. I worry the dogs consume more birdseed than the birds do.
When I came in, Kittywampuss had found a cozy spot in the kitchen to snooze. Both our cats become lazily dormant in winter.

I'm feeling kind of lazily dormant in this weather, too-but now must get back to work!

Monday, November 3, 2008

I was anticipating the usual freezing drizzle and blustery, blasting wind that begins around Halloween, but it was a gorgeous Indian Summer weekend. The ladybugs and box elder bugs that had finally dispersed with first frost reappeared. Even grasshoppers revived, hopping around the pasture. It was our chance to tackle the deep carpet of leaves that covered our lawn, driveway and pasture.

The lawnmower, lawn sweeper and I worked in partnership all Sunday. I started out thinking I needed to sweep the leaves before mowing, which took forever because the sweeper filled up so fast and then the leaves blew out. Then I figured out it was MUCH more effective to just mow through the layer of leaves and sweep them and the grass clippings up. Plus, this way, the leaves and grass clippings are automatically blended (green + brown) for my garden. I am a bit stiff today from bumping along on the mower for 6 hours and emptying umpteen loads from the sweeper, but it was satisfying. And fun. And now the entire farm looks civilized and ready for winter...

All except for a little unmowed patch by where the Willys truck was parked, where some gasoline spilled while Rog was siphoning out the fuel tank and we didn't want to risk any sparks nearby. Rog worked on the truck all weekend. He cleaned out what seemed to be a clogged fuel line, so maybe that will do the trick - we will find out tonight.

When we bought this place, the little garage was totally lacking garage doors, which we deemed a necessity. Last Monday (a cold, snow-flurry day), the garage doors were installed. It was quite challenge for the installer; nothing was square or level or standard or consistent. But the new doors look great - they have the look of carriage house doors but are economical, overhead doors. One of my weekend accomplishments was to prime and paint the trim. I decided to also paint the adjacent doghouse to match. Now, if I can just convince Nutmeg or Cocoa to use it.

The other key thing on my To Do list was to assemble the Wovel, a crazy shovel on a wheel that is supposed to be three times faster than a regular shovel and save your back. It took about an hour to assemble; afterwards I tested it out in the house on crumpled paper towels. Something about this tool tickles me--I cannot wait to try it in the snow! It was kind of pricey ($169, including the optional attachemnt for using on a gravel driveway) but I intend to write a newspaper review about it so that will cover part of the investment. Rog insists we still need a snowblower, so when we get that, I will challenge him to a contest. I bet when the snowblower won't start or runs out of gas, my wovel will save the day.

Rog taught Sara how to make his sourdough bread and they baked two loaves of yummy whole wheat sourdough in the pizza oven. We also roasted half of a gi-normous hubbard squash in there. It was quite dark, now that daylight savings time ended, but warm enough with the firepit to dine on the patio last night.

Our final accomplishment last week was to get the invisible dog fence hooked up. Rog had an ingenious idea, to hook up the dog fence wires to the existing electric horse fence wire that was strung around half of our property. It worked! We don't have all the wires buried yet but we are already using it with dogs. I hated to resort to these zapping collars, but the dogs had become more and more naughty, going into the woods and not coming when called, and risking encounters with skunks or hunters, or getting onto the road. We tested the collars on ourselves and we found them to be very startling and uncomfortable(but not cruel)--they would certainly deter me! It is hard to see the little warning flags because of all the leaves along the woods, so we are teaching them the word "fence" as a reminder. A couple of times they have suddenly bolted toward the woods, maybe after a deer or other animal, and when we yelled "fence!" they veered away and stayed in the yard. Whew!