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!
It’s happening again, another episode of Cajun In The Country! Not an episode really, and it won’t be on air, we just like to pretend around here. But Saturday, September 10th will be the third annual Cajun In The Country music event at our little farm. So preparations are being made. The barn floor has been swept, and will be swept again. The stage and dance floor has been mopped and will be mopped again. Signs and banners are slowly going up.
It’s looking to be a grand time. The weather forecast is in our favor, we’ve got some delicious Cajun food coming our way, craft beer, cider, soda and water will be available for purchase, and this year for the first time, there will be areas available for open jams. Dance lessons are going to kick off the event at noon, followed by The Cajun Strangers from the Madison area and then later, straight up from Chicago, the Chicago Cajun Aces.
Because this is a farm, and there are steer present, there may be some fabulous farmy odor. I hope people will understand that they will have a stinking good time. But to help the situation, we will be opening windows and doors on both sides of the barn to let in some cross ventilation and asking the steer to please go downwind. Should you dare to cross the Farmer’s Line though, you will be in for a bigger stinking good time than you may have anticipated. All in good cheer though. We’ll fish you out and scrub you down!
If you find yourself in Wisconsin on September 10th, come on by…if you want to learn more about this thing, go to the Festival Urban Ninjas’ Facebook page at ColumbusWiFun or to their website at columbuswifun.com
The steer say, “let’s get this party on….mooove it, mooove it”! Put on your dancing hooves and have some fun!
I’ve been living on this farm for 4 years and 2 months. It is only now that I have come up with a theory that is rocking my little ag-life world…
Action Figure Pete has a stunt double. I know, right? All this time he’s been leading a double life right under my nose. I go to work 25 miles due north assuming that he is hard at work mixing feed, feeding calves, mending fences, digging fields. But in reality, something else is going on. The clues began to add up.
If I happen to come home unexpectedly early, no matter what time of day…he is home. Taking a nap, watching HGTV, playing with the cat or just coming out of the shower. “And don’t tell me you haven’t been taking a nap Action Figure Sleeping Pete, I can see the indentation of your head in the pillow! And it’s still warm!”
Ach mein gott! It suddenly hit me, all clues point to Stunt Farmer Pete!! All this time, when I’m around he is all action-packed, industrious and hard-working…but if I step off the farm, in comes Stunt Farmer Pete so that Action Figure Pete can go home, hang up his cap, eat chips and pet the cat. (and no that’s not a typo, there’s no “e” at the end of cap. He has a baseball cap, not a cape. Although if he had a baseball cape, that would be interesting.)
Now that I know the ugly truth, when do I get to meet this Stunt Farmer Pete? The Action Figure one just laughed at me, denying this accusation. And then it happened, one day I was standing at the end of the driveway at the calf barn. He wasn’t expecting that I would be there. But I was. Waiting. Wondering. Where was Action Figure Pete? Just then who comes tearing down the road in his souped-up lawnmower but gasp! Stunt Farmer Pete in the flesh. No cap, no cape, just a maniacal grin on his face plowing up the road.
It was probably about 4 years ago that Pete took me to see my first Horse Pull. That’s not something I could see in my neighborhood in Chicago. That would be a little out of place. But here, beyond the bend in the road, past a few dusty buildings tucked amidst cropland, one of the first horse pulls of the season took place. 4 years later, the art of the pull started to sink in. Namely, that this is a sport, and these are equine athletes that train specifically for these events. And they are one hunk of sheer power in a bolt of movement.
Like any sport, there is an exactitude and science behind every movement. I haven’t figured all that out yet. I’m still trying to get beyond the awe of the horse’s massive musculature and sheer determination. There is a beauty in that power, sort of an homage to this beautifully engineered animal. Today’s event was only the beginning of the season, a demonstration if you will. A promise of the season to come. At first I thought it was all just fun and games, let’s see some horses pull some weights. But the announcer took the time to speak about the sport a little bit more. And this is what I learned, that there’s more to it than meets the eye. For example, there are hookers and pullers for each team. The puller drives the horses while the hookers, one on each side does just that, hooks the team in and they’re off. They’re not just pretty accessories those hookers, they have to be quick, deft and sure. And the puller, I am assuming here, needs to be able to communicate with the horses with absolute assurance. That’s gotta be a lot of training for everyone, horse and human.
One more thing, they go for the full pull.
That was what I kept hearing announced after each pull, “and it’s a full pull“! Again and again. I know the question marks were bouncing around like little cartoon drawings above my head. What the heck is a full pull?! And they don’t seem to be doing anything less than a full pull so what’s the big deal? Someone must have seen my overhead question marks bobbing around because Mr. Announcer said that a full pull is 27.5 ft. I’m trying to imagine pulling 7000 lbs 27 feet. Nope. But I did drive a heaping pile of concrete blocks for 6 miles in my car once. Not the same thing. And it was Pete’s car. And I wasn’t supposed to do that. oops.
Anyway, these are power horses no doubt. And they do the full pull and love it. You can see it in the way they hold their heads up high and prance off the arena. I want to see more. Maybe try to understand the art of the full pull. And maybe try to encourage myself to do a full pull when the going gets tough. Meanwhile, I’ll just look forward to seeing more of these beauties…
Friday evening we stepped out the door and on our way to dinner in town. A few steps off the porch I was hit with a distinct smell….not manure if that’s what you’re thinking. That happens too, but this was different. It was, soil! I’ve been living here 4 years now and I’ve never been gobsmacked in the face with such a strong smell of soil. In fact, I had to announce it to Pete. “I smell soil”. Someone must be digging. Sure enough, our neighbor of the field next to ours was out in his tractor churning up the earth, turning the soil and letting loose that delectable smell. It’s digging time.
Now the days get a little unpredictable. If the weather is good, any other plans are put aside and Action Figure Pete hits the fields running, engines on, full tractor speed ahead. Go man go. And that’s where I saw him yesterday while I was taking Bowzer B. Dawg for a walk along the tractor road.
Here he comes. Let’s take a Dawg break and watch Action Figure Pete tear up the field. Bowzer B. doesn’t really like taking a break when he’s doing some serious dog walking. He’s pretty goal oriented that way. I mean it took Bowz about 10 minutes before his butt slowly maneuvered into a true sit position. Sometimes he’ll hold it in mid-air for a long while in case I change my mind and do continue walking. But I held my ground and waited for the tractor’s approach.
Oh how nice. He stopped for a visit.
“No need to stop. Keep digging. I’m just walking Dawg.”
Nope. He’s still coming. “Don’t you have to keep digging? Don’t you have a deadline? Why do you look so serious?”
“‘Sup there tractor-boy?” Turns out tractor-boy had something to say. And it sounded like a pick-up line that I’d expect to hear in a night club,
“Look at my new drag!!”
Whaaat? Er. Okay. What’s a drag? Well, it’s a $5000 piece of equipment attached to the back of the tractor behind the disc. All gleaming metal and chains. A girl would be impressed. And I am. Looks pretty. What does it do, besides dragging that is? Well, it helps even out the soil that the disc just turned up and over. It kinda sounds like a paradox but okay. It smooths out the soil that you just took the time to dig up. Dig and drag.
After being duly impressed with the new drag, Action Figure Pete leaped back into the tractor cab to carry on. But not without first cracking the door open one more time so I could hear the radio cranked up high and filling the cab with classic rock, nice and loud, nodding his head to the pounding beat. Slamming the door shut, he bounced the tractor on its wheels up and down a few times like a souped-up ride before turning up the next row. That’s right, you bounce that field Pete.
Next time you’re driving along and you see a farmer digging his field, nod your head to the beat he’s got going. It’s soil baby.
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!