Mr. Hans and his little brother Rainy are our two wonderful barn cats in-residence. They are both friendly, engaging, and for the most part, gentle. But today, Mr. Hans left me both proud and surprised. He single-handedly defended his and Rainy’s territory with much bravery. This from a cat that prefers zero confrontation, and an easy-going lifestyle. (Gets carried to the barn for his dinner)
Mr. Hans came to us as a wee kitten, brought over by Momma Cat from a neighboring farm where she gently deposited him and his siblings in our barn. Hans, as he was then known, was the one kitten that simply had to be near or with humans. He would desperately scale me like a mountain, peaking on my head, or cry and come running when one of us was in sight. I was worried that he was a little needy and questioned his survival rate. But lo and behold, he was the one of the litter that lasted and stuck around. Through pluck, luck and a farmer that dotes on him, Hans became Mr. Hans.
Life was a little lonely for this companion-loving cat, so we were lucky when Rainy dropped in on the scene. Again we suspect that Momma Cat deposited him on our property, just at a time when Mr. Hans needed a little brother with whom to play. They became inseparable. And like true brothers, they have their little spats, and it’s usually Mr. Hans that backs down. Rainy can be a punk sometimes.
But today, Mr. Hans did not back down. It was a beautiful, unusually warm morning for February. I was sitting out on the porch about to have a cup of tea when I could hear intense growls coming from the garage. This did not sound like a normal Mr. Hans vs Rainy spat but something more serious. So I chucked the tea and pulled on my mud boots and hit the ground running. Out of the garage streaked a tomcat followed closely by Mr. Hans! Round the corner we all went, and out front of the steer pen, a cat fight of major proportions played out in front of my horrified eyes. I did not want to see a cat torn to shreds, or make an emergency vet run for one or two cats. All I could do was scream “Stop! Stop!” which did nothing of course. After about 30 seconds of fur-flying terror, they disengaged and Mr. Hans stood his ground and issued low growls while the tomcat slunk slowly off. I did not interfere figuring it’s best to allow them to cat-communicate amongst themselves as long as no one was hurt. Later Pete told me that this same tomcat has been trying for a territorial takeover and that I should’ve run him off. While in theory Pete may be right, I have a very hard time running off another cat if it needs a place to stay. But if such a cat were out to harm Mr. Hans or Rainy I may have to reevaluate that stance. Meanwhile, Mr. Hans did quite well doing the chasing off himself.
The waning days of 2016 ushered in a pile o’ lumber to our humble barn amidst frigid temperatures and a craggy, ice-bound skating rink/driveway. This did not stop our intrepid team from delivering the goods. Heather from WS Ag Center spear-headed the delivery operation with much enthusiasm.
Heather has been an indispensable wealth of horsey information, helping us with the stall schematics, schooling us on important barn prep for our equine guests, and in general, gracing us with her upbeat personality and team of helpers. Which just so happened to be her husband and son in this case.
Action Figure Pete and I joined in on the lumber party. I’m not afraid to admit that while Heather’s son was bare-handing it, and her husband felt most comfortable in shorts, I encased myself in Carhartts on top of Carhartts. Just slightly exaggerating. Those guys have Wisconsin grit. While I, as I’ve often told Pete, am but a delicate flower. Phhht. That never goes over well. I still have to get out there and pull my weight such as it is.
So piece by piece we hauled in the lumber. It was a two-man/two-woman tag team back and forth from trailer to barn. Until some smarty-pants decided they could start doing a one-man tag team. My, aren’t we strong Mr. I-Got-It- All-On-My- Own. And then everyone started hauling boards of lumber in by themselves. Except for me. Because I am but a delicate flower. And was taking pictures. And maybe playing with cats.
And those dutch doors!! They look all nice and shiny now, but I’m looking forward to the wood taking on an aged look, which they should over time.
As I had mentioned, the doors are custom-made. Pete used wood taken from original horse stalls that had existed on this farm and used them for the crossbars. The center piece of each crossbar is a left-over corner accent piece original to our farmhouse doors and windows. If we need more, I’m going to have to get a crowbar and start prying them out of our house. Or start prowling salvage shops which seems to me the better and wiser option.
While all this flurry of activity is exciting to us, it is leaving our barn cats bewildered and beside themselves. I’m sure they’ll get used to it once everything is all put together. Let’s face it, because of all this upheaval, they did get new, fluffy beds to replace all the old straw bedding. And indeed the “Kit Kat Lounge and Dance Hall” still stays in place with its exceptional dinner service twice a day. Hang in there Mr. Hans and Rainy. Wait, why is there just one cat in there? Mr. Hans? Where’s Mr. Hans?? (Don’t worry, he’s up in the hay loft, waiting to be carried to dinner. That’s just the quality of service we provide here at Shepard’s Barn and Bed!)
Ha! Thought you were going to see a horse right? Nope, still steer. But wait…some day there may be a horse or two visiting us. We’d like that very much, but before that happens, we need horsey stalls! Let’s get to work!
Back when Pete bought this piece of property, the barn was in serious need of repair. Originally built in the late 1800’s, there was a bit of sagging, leaning and general barn loneliness when he came on the scene. Over the years he worked on shoring it up so that it was once again structurally sound. Later, we zeroed in on the hay loft, making that area a fun venue for the Cajun Fest, thus banishing any loneliness that the barn may have been experiencing. Music will do that to you!
That done, we now get to focus on the ground level which used to house the stanchions for the milking cows and the farm’s past life as a dairy operation. We had to clean up years of matted straw, old wood, and other detritus. That meant sweeping, hauling, sweeping again, and more hauling, all just to get the space cleaned up and shipshape for spanking new horse stalls.
We’re getting there. It’s been slow work but progress is evident. We now have room cleared for an initial bank of 4 stalls. The schematics have been done and the supplies ordered. Once the pieces of the stall puzzle arrive, it will be time for assembly. In the dead of winter. What fun.
I jest. It will be fun! I’ll just add another exclamation point to make that clear!! There we go! Off to the races! Really though, this is for whenever someone is coming through town for the carriage classic or to ride trails. They can board their horse or horses here overnight, and stay in the upstairs guest suite steps away from their beloved beasts. I’m sure that the barn will be very happy to have some life in it from top to bottom.
All of this has been a bit disruptive to our resident barn cats; Mr. Hans and Rainy. Where did all their hiding places go? Who took away all the nice piles of straw in which they burrowed? Don’t worry, we provided them with some brand new, fluffy cat beds and they still have the Kit Kat Lounge and Dance Hall. Things are getting feisty around here!
Harvesting is underway right now. The fields are alive with the sound of tractors humming deep into the night. Billows of dust indicate combines making their way up and down golden fields. Our very own Action Figure Pete is busy digging his fields. What is a girl to do on these fine autumn days while our local action figure is out digging?
I always have plenty to do, but today, I’ll do a little digging myself. Back into the 1970’s where I’ll grab a book about baking bread the groovy way, with my own naked hands. Let’s get elbow deep in dough. Yeah! Sounds like fun, right? Well, when you’re working with a book whose front cover features a doughy type face, you can be sure it’s going to be down right, back to the earth, funkadelic fun.
Pete bought me this book when we were first dating. I think he bought it at the Antique Mall. It’s copyright is 1976 which means it has about 60 more years to go before it is a true antique. By then, I will be a true antique as well! So I’m going to hold on to it and see who lasts the longest. Me or the doughy-font book. Anyway, I was still living in my tiny apartment in Chicago when doughy book came along. I was then just starting to practice a form of domesticity. I had a few bowls, I had a few baking implements. The dough book presented a challenge that the small kitchen and I were ready to meet. On its terms. In black and white.
It seemed to me a real throw back in time. But it also gave me a reason to stop time just for a day. Pulling that book out meant that I was checking out for the day, it’s just me and the dough making something happen in my lovely, dinky, downtown apartment kitchen. Gradually I learned to knead dough into some form of a basic bread, and finally into a Cinnamon Raisin Spiral bread. That seems eons ago. I haven’t pulled that book out since I’ve moved to Wisconsin and the farm. Finally today I stopped time again. Slowing the pace and saying halt. I’m not sweeping the barn today Pete. But you’re getting some fresh bread, from a funky book that you gave me that I’ll cherish, because you bought it for me. And I never knew I could bake bread like that, kneading with my own hands.
I know that there are online recipes and current bread-making books to be had, but this one is just special to me. Maybe because its simplicity is endearing, and actually it’s quite easy to follow. It even tells me when to clean my work space! I know when to clean up, but I appreciate that the book reminds me to do so without Siri chirping in my ear. The book is more quiet that way. A little unobtrusive and kindly. Thank you doughy book.
So while Action Figure Pete was out digging in the fields, me and doughy book stopped time this afternoon and made some bread. There is always the tense time when I wait for the dough to rise once, and then twice. And then there are the moments telling the cat to walk quietly so as not to disturb the rising while I bang away in and out the door forgetting my own admonitions. But finally, after about 6 hours of kneading, referencing dough book, rolling, waiting, wondering, there finally is a bread that has risen. Hurrah!!
So, this is my first Wisconsin-made bread using the wonderful, funky, 1976 doughy type font book. And it worked. Thank you doughy book for once again stopping time. I’ll pull you out when I “knead” you again!
One day at work we sat around brainstorming the fall catalog’s cover concept: an inspirational shot of a table topper sewn in beautiful tones of harvest gold, red and orange. Our art director had a splendid idea in mind for showing this table topper in its harvest mode; surround it in a field of golden wheat loaded with succulent cheeses and breads. Sounded yummy to us. Now to find an available wheat field which wasn’t already being harvested. The thought bubble popped up above my head right then, “winter wheat, back 40.” So I grabbed my thought bubble and showed it to everybody and we dove into action. I called Pete to see if the wheat was harvested yet and if not, when. As it turns out, we had a window of 2 weeks to plan an off-site cover shoot on Pete’s wheat field.
Two weeks may seem like a lot of time to plan, but it went by fast, and there were a lot of preparations to be made for this off-site shoot. The calendar was consulted along with the extended weather report. Props were gathered. In fact, some of the team were assigned specific props to gather, such as Gouda cheese, wine, crumbly delicious bread, and a most beautiful Autumn floral display. Timing is a crucial thing. For one example, once the shoot date was set, the floral display had to be ordered at such a time as it wouldn’t dry out too soon. And it seemed that stormy weather was threatening before and after our scheduled shoot date. After each storm, I’d go out and check the status of the wheat. Each time good. Hurry up and shoot already!! This wheat wants to go!
After some studio test shots, the day finally came bright, clear and super hot! Time to hit the tractor road with gear and props. And the table topper. Don’t forget the table topper, that’s the whole reason we’re here! That, and our “after-shoot field picnic” where we get to eat all our delectable props! The whole process of the shoot was much like painting a canvas. It happened layer by layer. Once we got on site, a spot was picked out keeping in mind where the sun was and where it will be within the span of time it takes to “paint the canvas”.
Once a spot was chosen, the layering began. First up, place the table. Watch the wheat, don’t crush it!!
Then the subject of the shoot was placed on top of the table. Hello table topper. And so the primary layers were in situ.
Let’s layer some more, cue the first layer of props. We added some rustic wood elements. Ah, just look at those golden hues coming out already, and see that wheat just brushing up against the table giving the topper a little tickle. It’s blushing.
With each layer, a few shots were taken to check positioning.
Wait, who’s that coming up the tractor road? In that heat it was hard to imagine anyone wanting to walk out to the field, but lo, it is Action Figure Pete! With water! And a very smart-looking hat I might add. Naturally he wanted to come see what the heck is going on in his field of wheat.
Now we are ready for another layer of props. Ze food! Bring it on. Our lovely creative director Donna is arranging the bread, apples, grapes and cheeses. (Sorry about the low grape count Donna, I thought they were snacks for me to eat) Notice with what precision she works. Nothing is simply thrown on but rather carefully arranged. Some things are placed, and then taken out or shuffled around till the right arrangement is achieved always keeping in mind that the table topper is the hero of the shot.
Now it is time for the next layer, the beauteous floral arrangement. Like everything else on set, the floral arrangement was very carefully pulled together with the type of flower and color in mind for the autumn season.
Ah, phew, the arrangement has safely landed. Next our art director and photographer fussed over it for awhile. Its placement cannot overshadow the table topper but instead it should enhance it. As you can see, nothing is sitting directly on top of the topper. And no, the SUV will not be in the shot!! Gosh darn it, who parked that thing there anyway?!
Meanwhile, it looks like somebody found a job to do. Realizing the intensity of heat, Action Figure Pete leaped in to provide shade for Donna. Fortunately Marilyn, one of our graphic designers, caught this heroic moment with her camera. I was too busy eating grapes.
Well, let’s get back to business here. Final touches were made on the set before and during the final round of shots. Not one shot is taken, but rather several to fit all formats and allow us several takes from which to chose. When we were satisfied with all the shots taken, we broke down the set and headed back to the farmyard to eat the props. Except for the flowers. We kept the flowers intact. But we had plenty of cheese, bread and wine. A delicious repast was had.
After all that fussing around, the end result is a 2016 Fall cover featuring a gorgeous table topper:
Oh, and Marilyn once again captured Action Figure Pete, this time frolicking in his field after the shoot was done. He is truly outstanding in his field! A few days later the wheat was harvested and baled. Done!
Whitewashed, glass-tiled, cool in the summer, cold in the winter. That is the milkhouse that has become my studio where I hope to get back to my basic roots of drawing, painting, and at some point, printmaking.
And just in case you think this is all about my artwork, I'll be posting about daily life on a small, working farm as well. And since I didn't grow up on a farm, and have no idea what to do in many cases, you may find a few amusing anecdotes as I grow accustomed to life here.
This will be an evolving, and in all probability, ever-changing site as I figure things out. So stick around and let's see what happens!