One Fish Two Fish, Green Fish, Blue Fish…or something

I tried, I really tried.

paint table

I attended the reunion of my husband’s family from the Nordic side of the tracks. This happens every three years according to family lore. This year it was held a mere half hour from our farm. This meant that after the calves were fed and the herb garden was given a fine haircut, we were able to hop in our chalopy and make out for the gathering. I wish to make it clear that this is no random gathering of souls. It was thoroughly planned with historical exhibits, a raffle drawing for family artifacts, musical entertainment, a reflective speech, and various outdoor activities. Oh, and food. Lots of food. Good food.¬† No wonder it occurs every three years. This takes fine-tuned planning to pull off something of this scale.

Being that my husband’s family is from Norway, there is the looming possibility that Lutefisk may be on the menu. I was a little worried about that. I can eat sushi, but I finally gave up on trying to be friends with the Lutefisk. I can’t do it. But I enjoy and respect those that can. And if you like it, you really like it. And if you don’t like it, here’s what you do instead:

Paint a Lutefisk:

Lutefisk Head

One of Pete’s relatives had the brilliant idea to cut fish shapes out of wood, and have a table where kids can just go crazy and paint a Lutefisk fish fisk…fish. You get the idea. Paint it, don’t eat it. Yes!! I quickly gravitated to that table, slapped on an apron and was determined to get crazy with the Lutefisk. Only to find that I was outdone by the Lutefisk children who know better how to get crazy with the fishies:

Lutefisk dreams

How do you do that Children of the Lutefisk??! How do you manage to integrate color, design and imagination in such a glorious way without preconceived notions! You are free to create according to your own desires. I found that I was held hostage by my own adult constraints:

one fish two fish

I’m not unhappy or displeased with my results, but I do recognize that I wasn’t letting myself loose. I did One fish, saw how controlled I felt, and went back to do Two fish, and still felt controlled. Argh. Really!!? I still can’t throw off my adult inhibitions and get Lutefisk-crazy like this Child-of-the-Fish did?:

Red Lutefisk

It’s good to realize when one needs to pull back, cut the tight rubber band and go boing!! There was a time, and there are still times when I do a drawing that comes spontaneously, and it just works. This was one good Lutefisk exercise to bring that concept of spontaneity back home. I have to keep remembering that, I have to once in a while go boing. And not worry about constraints. Just go with it. Why did it seem so easy when I was younger? I suppose as an adult I’m constantly making to-do lists and checking items off accordingly. Unfortunately it’s affecting my approach to art. I need to walk away from the lists, and walk towards the crazy Lutefisk. And just get all, Go Fish Go.

fish heads

Soggy Saturday

Spring graced us with yet another lush, wet, soggy Saturday;

Rain Gauge

Sage Plant in Window

It was a nice day to stay inside, or stand on the porch and watch the weeds grow. Weeds that I had just trimmed a few days ago. Or a week ago. Okay, a week ago. The point is…they’re fast growers and they mock me with their upward mobility:

Chute with weeds

The plants are going a little crazy now too. The Dianthus and Chives have exploded in bursts of pink and purple. It’s like watching fireworks go off at ground level;

Dianthus

I love watching all the greenery unfurl while under the influence of rain. Even the run-away lawn. We can try to tame it but I don’t mind seeing it run a little wild just to remind us of its true nature. There’s only so much we can control. Best to keep in mind, we are ultimately not in control. Unless I brought in professionals. But what’s the fun in that? There’s something romantic and wild about lush gardens running amok against the textured background of the farm;

Peonies

hanging plant

Looking out from my porch that soggy Saturday, the wild garden movement of the late 19th Century Victorian time period comes to mind. I’m here to bring that trend back. It works for me, there are no crisp lines, no perfect strokes. I’ll let nature guide the design with a few little tweaks on my part. It all sounds like an excuse to save me a little time and work, and it partly is, but I notice this spring I feel a lot less harried about it all than in the past. Which means I can spend more time to simply enjoy it. A fine trade-off from my point of view.

Bistro Set

Tractor Tales; The New Allis

Spring is here, and along with the onset of blooming flowers and invasive weeds, tractor training has thus begun. Let’s give a warm welcome to the Allis Chalmers WD-45, or the new Allis as we refer to it:

Allis Chalmers Tractor

It is this new Allis upon which I will be learning to drive a tractor. The old Allis is the tractor that Pete has been driving since God created man. Or close to it anyway. He purchased the new Allis to supplement tractor duties when needed. This is where I step in, or hide according to mood. Ha, no really, I do want to learn to drive a tractor. Partly because as a farmer’s wife, I think it’s a good skill set to have, and also I just like the sound of the engine and build up of power as the tractor leaps into life. It’s a rush.

Sexy Allis

Both of our Allis tractors are from the late 40’s to early 50’s. The new Allis was rebuilt prior to our purchase, so its origins are a little mixed. Sort of like that mixed breed puppy that we all gush over. I’m trying very hard not to gush over this one because in all seriousness, this is a machine and that means safety first. So I must pay attention and resist the urge to just stroll over and turn the key and take it for a spin.

Starter Key

Fortunately I have enough healthy fear and respect for this machine to not do anything as foolhardy as that. Plus, I have a patient driving instructor in Pete “The Clutch” Farm Guy:

Pete on Allis

So for my first lesson, Pete drove the tractor out and cleared a 5-mile radius of buildings, animals, people and productive crop. I kid, he didn’t really clear the vicinity but he did drive the tractor out to an area giving me enough radius within which to practice. I did notice however that the barn cats steered clear of the area during this time. Smart cats. Good cats. Very much alive cats.

Some of you who have grown up on farms must find driving a tractor second nature. Not so with me. I wish it were so, but holy crap, this is not like driving my car. Sure there’s that key to start it, but there’s this wire that one pulls to really get it going. Once pulled, the engine roars to life and my heart leaps with excitement, fear and anticipation. My car doesn’t have that little trip wire.

Allis Choke Wire

Understand that Pete “The Clutch” Farm Guy made sure to walk me through the mechanics before I even sat in the seat. But it’s one thing to walk through the process and see him do it, and another thing to plop my butt down on the seat and commence engines on…and realize that 1) I can barely engage the clutch entirely, and 2) THERE’S TWO FREAKIN’ CLUTCHES! My car is a stick shift and I prefer that mode, so I’m good with clutches and shifting. But this was a challenge reaching the clutch and engaging the gears. That’s going to take more practice. And muscle. And longer legs!

Allis Chalmers Gears

You know how people say they can feel muscles ache that they’ve never used before after doing something new? I felt muscles ache that had no business aching after clutch and shift exercises on this tractor! This is embarrassing but I was breaking into a sweat just trying to shift gears. I need more arm muscle. Or the tractor simply needs to get more use. Cue me. This has left me with an incredible and invigorating feeling, and with more practice hopefully I will become more confident in taking the helm. But before this first session closed, I had to learn to reverse, back up, turn, and ultimately, drive the tractor into the garage whose doors seemed unusually close together upon my approach. I questioned Pete about whether the doors should be pushed wider apart but he said that they were fine. Fine. Just fine. And this is where I realize I have to just go for it. Be scared but go for it. My god is Pete a trusting fellow. I could’ve very well driven the tractor straight through the garage into the calf pen next door. But either that guy has a tractor remote tucked in his pocket, or he has great confidence in me.

Allis Chalmers

Either way, I’m breathing a sigh of relief that I got that tractor in the garage without tearing down the property. And now, I have a hint of that bond one must feel for a tractor he or she utilizes on a regular basis. Just getting to know the nuances and particularities of Allis on this one day has already drawn me closer to it. I can’t wait for more Allis days!

Siloscape

Siloscape

The wind has been really knocking things and me around these days. Though it’s been pleasantly warm, I feel like my head is spinning within Lady Vortex. I need to lie down. No I don’t, so I went outside instead and ended up in the barn. I forget why, most likely checking on the barn cat situation. Everyone present and accounted for. However a persistent banging of a reckless door drew my attention, which led me into the belly of the beast known here as the silo. It’s not a place I oft go into but the siren call was clear, and I heeded it. Idiot.

silo vestibule

This is not a safe place. This is hard hat territory. The vestibule leading into the silo is slowly crumbling within itself, the roof sadly sagging. But I went in mostly to quell that banging door with a cinder block pushed against it. Once that was done, I couldn’t help but poke around a bit more.

Silo_VestibleRoofingI don’t spend a lot of time in silos, but there is something captivating about the engineering and in this case, the slow sense of decay. (Much like our basement I might add) It’s whispering its past history and sense of usefulness in my ear. I never quite understood exactly how the mechanism of a silo works until I crept into this one. But apparently, this cable seen below was cranked from within the vestibule…

Silo Cable

raising or lowering this unit to follow the level of the silage stored therein. Cat not included. (Can you see the cat?)

Silo mechanismAs silage is needed, it is then that a “window of opportunity” is opened, again within the vestibule, and the silage pours down the chute into a waiting wheelbarrow or some such mode of transport below:

Silo windowsGad, that looks like a subway tunnel but really I’m looking up, so think vertical here with those rectangles being windows. It’s not just the wind that was making me dizzy at this point. Being a little afraid of heights myself, I don’t envy the fellow who had to ascend the silo ladder on the outside for whatever reason.

Silo ladderPete has actually used this silo way back when he first purchased this property, but when I showed him this picture, he was kind of puzzled about the missing bottom half of the ladder. Where did it go? I say someone just didn’t want to go up there anymore and lopped it off in the dark of the night. That’s what I would do.

Meanwhile, the silo sits. And next to the silo sits its sister silo. Two silos in the same state of quiet crumble. But they are such icons to an era gone by that they remain along with so many other silos sprinkled across our Wisconsin landscape. They are so familiar here that there is no horizon without one. Ours are staying until time takes them down. But if we could, we would somehow repurpose them. Wouldn’t that be interesting! I’m thinking a Silo Bed & Breakfast perhaps, or a multi-level restaurant…how is that for farm to fork?! Or how about just a simple tack room albeit with a very high ceiling. Of course we’d have to get a ceiling, cause right now…eh, no ceiling:

Silo interiorSo if you can think of an interesting way to repurpose an old silo or two, I’d sure like to hear it!

Gate Watch; With Horns

Gate LockMarch is in like a lion and out like a lion. No lamb yet. Still cold, blustery and icy with a little bit of tundra on top. But that is no match for me I thought. The roads may still be icy, but guess what? I still have my snow tires on. So screw you post-Winter weather. I’m still going out to run my dumb errands. So I stepped out the door, and stepped right back in the door. Icy, icy porch. Where are my crampons? Where are my big girl pants? I guess I have to find them out there on the icy road because Pete wouldn’t let me back in the house without them. Thanks guy, next time you need a gate watcher we’ll see what happens.

One hour later, “I may need you to watch the gate for me.” Good thing I found my big girl pants out on the icy road.

Hay man strawBut this is no problem. We’re just above the freezing mark so I’m comfortably numb. No freezing. In fact I went without gloves. And along comes the straw man. So, I ran to the gate and opened it feeling like this is a breeze. Just unlock the gate, usher back the steer, let in the skid steer, Pete and myself, lock the gate, stand in the pen and watch. As usual it took me a few seconds to really secure the lock before I looked up to observe. And when I did finally look up:

Big Horn 16 Holstein SteerOh shit…I mean, hello Sir. Mister Sixteen sir. Crap. Okay, who forgot to take the horns off of this one?? I mean I know he’s not a bull, but if you’ve got horns you’ve got balls. Or pretend balls anyway. So I just figure let’s not play games here. Nod politely and don’t look him in the eye. Oh crap, too late:

Big Horn 16 pen, HolsteinWe locked eyeballs again. I couldn’t help myself. He looks quite proud with his unshorn horns and tuft of unruly hair crowning his poll. One might even say he’s handsome, once one gets over the fright of standing eyeball to horn with him in a locked pen. I wonder if he knows just how handsome he is. And I wonder how he managed to slip by without getting dehorned. A clever ruse I suppose. I asked Pete last night how that came about. I don’t think I got a solid answer. I do think I got an eye roll. No matter, it’s nice to see a Holstein with props and a little attitude. Check you later Mr. Sixteen.

Spring through a window

Spring Window BootsI’m feeling that faint blush of Spring in the air. At last. Maybe I can peel off a layer if I dare. Not sure yet, it’s still early March and we can still get a blizzard. It’s not unheard of. In fact, I still have my snow tires on for just that reason. But I did put away the heavy duty, insulated, I-feel-no-cold-or-limbs overalls for the season. That should put a knife in winter. And if that doesn’t, then putting in the spring window display at the Hydro Street Brewery is a good start.

Hydro Street Window BloomersThose of us on the Hydro Street Window Committee put our frozen brains together and came up with a laundry line, rain boots and umbrellas theme. Because that is what Spring is to us; the crisp snap of bloomers on the line, puddle-splashing boots, and dancing umbrellas performing a duet with raindrops. Why do I feel like I should be breaking into a song here? I won’t. Can’t hold a note. But we took the bloomers and aprons to the line and dressed the window in a spring sonnet. So put that in your bonnet!

Hydro Street Spring WindowJust like Spring though, the window is a work in progress. We intend to fill the space with a flowery field of rain boots, if we could find enough boots. Seems it’s a hard thing to pull the boots off of people’s feet. They actually want to wear them rather than display them. There ought to be a city-wide ordinance; if you have rain boots, you must have a secondary pair for display. It’s all for the good of Spring people!

laundry line birdsLike any good laundry line, a few birds came to roost. I’m very encouraged to hear the Spring sing-along-song of birds announcing milder weather. If they say so, then it must be. Still, I’m not ready to pull down the draft drapes yet as March always has a few tricks up its sleeve. Until then, we look forward to Spring while¬†glancing back over our shoulders with a Winter-weary eye should we need to layer up again.

Meanwhile, watch your boots, these gals may try to grab them off your feet for the window display, and you don’t want to mess with them. Best to just hand them over, and have a beer!

Hydro Street Window Committee

Steers’ Night Out

Yesterday, a delightful, fluffy snow fell throughout the day, topping off the snow that we had already received the other day during our mini-blizzard. That’s Winter’s version of icing on the cake. It was beautiful. As I drove (carefully) home from work, all I could think about was how I’d love to run around and play in it. But that night I had to be the responsible adult and attend a very important meeting. Which included wine and pizza. Most serious. No snow play for me that night. Winter RoadSo off we went to our meeting, carefully wending our way through white-wrapped roads to our meeting and pizza. And wine. And beer. As a side note, this meeting did take place at a brewery so that explains that. Meeting and pizza done, we got home in the flurry night and started winding down for the evening. All is calm, all is white. I had just gotten into my pajamas, the dog was in his nesting spot, the cat was waiting for popcorn, and Pete was in his jammies…when the phone rang. “Your barn door is open” “No really, your animals are out” That wasn’t really how the conversation went, in fact all I heard was, “this isn’t going to be good”. This is where I went into my invisibility-mode, wherein I squeeze my eyes shut very tight in order to not be seen by humans. Cats okay. Dogs okay. Farmer rustling steer at 10:30 pm…not so much. No, I jest. I did not do that though I may have thought about it, but I must say, I was game to go out in the snow. Didn’t I say I wanted to play in the snow earlier in the evening? And if it means playing with a bunch of wandering steer, game on! So the hell, I just pulled my jeans on over my jammies, pulled my Carhartts over my jeans, accessorized with a pair of winter farm boots and puffy coat and I was good to go. {And oh by the way, I did not take pictures of the events. While I may have been having fun, my husband was stressed. It just did not seem appropriate to whip out a camera while I should be helping. So I only included a couple that I had taken in the past couple days} Onward, The animals in question were up at the home farm, a mile up the road. So we hopped in the truck and drove through the fresh, snow-covered road until lo, hoof marks. Lots of them on the road. Drat, so it wasn’t just a few little calves that got out for a little romp, but rather the big guys. Lots of big guys judging by the hoof marks. Sure enough, as we drove past Pete’s cousin’s farm, we saw a couple steer wandering near there. Okay, drive on to assess the situation. We pulled into the barn drive …steer. Just steer, hanging out in the garage, hanging out in the machine shed, all nonchalant like nothing happening here. Just us dudes hanging out, go back to bed. Ooooh nooo you don’t. Because that’s when the big guns came out swinging a lantern! That’s right, Lucille came out, and so there were three of us to coax the steer back in. And let me tell you, Pete’s mom knows how to let out a good whoop to get cattle moving. All “HOOOOO HEEEEY” and that. Me, I’m a pip squeak. I was all, “c’mon, let’s go, c’mon, good boy”. Sure, that’ll move ’em. But they did go taking their attitudes with them. So that was done, now the second part was to go back down the road and retrieve the rest. Lucille stationed herself at the end of the driveway to hand out road maps back to the barn to any wayward cattle, while Pete and I hopped in the truck to go half a mile down the road. Truck parked in road (okay, I could never do that in Chicago!) we dashed onto his cousin’s farm, gosh no one awake, and ran through powdery, fluffy snow amidst dark, lurking machinery and implements, trying to discern steer from stationary object. I was having a blast! I loved it. Loved running around in the powdery snow, and breathing in crispy, clear air, enjoying the game of Find The Steer. It was seriously like a game of hide and seek. And as it turned out, there was more of a herd there than just the random 3 or 4 I was expecting. Which presented a few logistical decisions. Once we felt we gathered them all together, we then had to herd them to the road. Then the plan changed when the steer decided going field-wise was the way to go. That plan changed again when they decided the road was indeed a better route. That decided, Pete herded on foot, and I ran for the truck and slowly inched along behind. Once the steer reached the driveway with Lucille there handing out road maps, they took a sharp left and headed for the pen in a somewhat orderly manner, obeying all traffic rules and yielding when appropriate. Gate locked, Pete did a final check while Lucille and I stood in the snow and talked of how simply beautiful the night was for a cattle round-up, and how it sure beats working out in a gym any day. So I guess I did get my wish that night to run and play in the snow. I just didn’t think it would be in my pajamas/jeans/Carhartts. But I’d do it again. And there’s a good chance I will! Blustery Holsteins

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