Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On the 4th day of Christmas

And so, Dovey and I have returned to the farm after a very fast Christmas holiday at our city house with Jerome and Mya. The girls totally enjoyed being together again. So many darn cute photo ops, but they've learned the sounds of the camera coming on and zooming in. I have to sneak up on them or risk a great shot getting blurred. Ha! try sneaking up on 2 cats, not so easy. Even so, here are a few sweet ones I managed.

The perturbed look in Mya's eyes in this first one is directed at me for disturbing their privacy. Dovey's inner eyelids are showing.
Here Mya is demonstrating how far she's come in trusting Jerome, and loving him right back, don't you think?

Though each cat spends the night on the bed of the human they live with, while Jerome and I shared our city bed the girls rarely joined us, preferring to snuggle up with each other.

And then there was the novelty of having trees in the house.
Here's Mya in front of the city tree. Anne and Jerome surprised me with it on Skype the night she spent with her dad before continuing her drive to Ohio. It smelled lovely and was just the right size. They put on lights and a few ornaments and left the rest of the decorating for my visit. I was sitting on the floor on Christmas morning trying to get a few shots of the cats with the presents. Mya looks like a cardboard cutout standing in front of the tree!

And here's Dovey sitting on the back of Anne's antique sofa in front of the farmhouse tree.

Before the first measureable snow here, Anne and I picked out this sweet little tree across the road on our "license to farm" property. It was growing in a tight cluster of several trees so it was a good choice for harvesting. The night before she left for her visit to Ohio she and I trudged through the knee deep snow with shovels and a tree saw and carried it home. Its trunk is so narrow it needed braces in order to stand up in the tree stand I bought at Dent, Bent and Beyond in Coon Valley. It was pure delight choosing and bringing in a tree from our own property, a joy I hope to repeat every year for the rest of my life.

Our holiday was filled with family. I have 6 brothers and sisters and all of them have children of their own. My eldest sister is a very young great grandmother and all four generations were at the Christmas eve dinner and gift exchange. We squeezed into her son's tiny duplex, had more food than anyone should eat in one sitting, and tried to visit among the chaos. It was snowing heavily by the time we left, roads bad, traffic heavy. Music on the car radio.
Christmas day Jerome and I shoveled snow and shared our gifts with each other quietly, enjoying the company of the cats. Just past noon we left for dinner with Jerome's family and were amazed when his brother and sister-in-law from Arizona arrived as a surprise to us all. There are new babies born and expected, new spouses joined and engaged. The family is growing! Coming home we drove into lake effect snow showers as we got nearer to home. The next day we shoveled and snowblowed our own sidewalks and driveways, and then those of several of our neighbors. We were joined by the retired fire chief down the block and soon we had our entire end of the street cleared. Lovely.
This was, however, the very first Christmas since my children were born that Jerome and I were not with either one of our kids. We had seen Phil Christmas eve for too brief a visit and we did Skype Anne and Matthias a few times, but that isn't quite like having them safely snug under your roof to greet in the morning. Life is ever evolving.

I arrived back at the farm yesterday late in the day to find that my snowblowing angel had cleared our driveway while I was gone. What a blessing. Fortunately, while I was shoveling today I spotted him leaving his drive across the road and gave him a huge wave. We had several inches of snow while I was gone. You can see that Eloise is now truly up to her neck.

I managed to shovel just a path from the garage to the back porch stairs yesterday so I could unload the car. Today I cleared the front brick walk, and all three porches. What a glorious day. First we had heavy fog and what I thought was frozen fog. But as the air changed and I could actually see out the windows clearly I discovered something new, the phenomenon known as hoar frost.  When  the sky cleared the scene was unbelievable.

Since moving to the driftless region of Wisconsin, I have seen frozen fog several times. It disappears the moment it's touched by the sun. This is something quite different and it lasted for several hours after the sun chased the clouds away.
There are new beauties to discover every day. In fact, some within the house as well. I was gone from Monday to Monday but in that time my houseplants did some amazing things.

The paper whites grew!
The orchids added length to their flower stalks.

And the lipstick plant flower buds swelled.

I had set the house heat at 59 degrees while I was gone. I guess these plants at least didn't mind. They all needed a good drink though when I got back.

Well, Anne arrives tomorrow and Jerome will be drive up on Thursday for a few days to celebrate the new year. And as the old year comes to a close I will once again be thinking on those things I had hoped to accomplish and did and those I did not. But those are thoughts for another day.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

sun low in the sky casts deep shadows and more

In small ways or large, life is beautiful here daily. Mother Nature offers a continual feast. This past weekend she has provided our first visions of spectacular snow art dazzling at every window, and some remarkable drifts in this the driftless area of Wisconsin!

It is often breezy up on our ridge, and at times enough to rock the house. There are bells hanging over the lower deck from the trim of the upper story and they often sway and peal out frenetic rhythms. Whole sections of fencing have needed repair. Screens have been pulled out of their window frames. We recently lost the candy-cane striped cushion that had been tied to Anne's red metal loveseat on the front porch. I've seen leaves and corn husk remains and blowing snow move across the meadows and fields surrounding us. Holden was once blown off the road while we were walking him despite the wind storm in October that broke a record here for the lowest barometer reading ever. But even knowing the winds are at work I had not anticipated nor even imagined the visual delights of the sculptress that is Mother Nature.  There are enormous mounds in places and fragile layers in others. We've been blessed to have clear skies and merely moderate breezes following the storm's departure. The sun shines at deep angles, as it moves low across the southern sky just days before winter solstice allowing subtle shadows to become visible in the white on white tapestry. And on the snow's surface tiny rainbows of color wink at you in the sunlight.

It's also been cold! Last night the coldest yet. Knowing the early morning hours of December 14th offered the best viewing of the Geminid storm, Anne and I were peering out the windows before dawn. Not brave enough to wrap up and stand outside on the upper deck as I had earlier boasted I would do, this wimp was rewarded even so. I was lucky enough to spot 2 "falling stars" through my western bedroom window. With little light pollution here the night sky staggers the mind. (I really mean this, as I cannot comprehend it all!) Last night when I turned off the reading lamp the half moon and Jupiter were traveling along companionably just above the cafe curtain in my bedroom. This pre-dawn Venus was singing an aria gowned in liquid silver just outside the bathroom curtains.
Our sunsets can be almost too beautiful to describe. But our sunrises could be called visible chi. This morning the colors along the horizon just before sunbreak reminded me of a scarf drawn protectively around one's throat. Soft tangerine tinged with terra cotta along the woolen grey at ground level, softening marine blue above. Twice each day, just before and just after the sun's power overcomes the eyes, there is the briefest moment in which you can literally inhale Creation's healing energy, all the more powerful for its brevity. Since moving to the farm I have found it impossible to ignore these benedictions.

Just now I paused to look out the sewing/computer room French doors and noticed four large deer running swiftly along our western meadow, heading for the protection of the trees across our road. These are the first I've seen since the hunting season. I read that over 200,000 were taken in Wisconsin alone this fall. Just imagine their total numbers! We've seen their footprints, and those of other wildlife, since the snows. Fun to find their calling cards each morning. We've trapped 18 mice so far, and know there will be more since we have put out so much food for the birds. I am not in the least troubled by mice outside, just as long as they stay out there!  There are still shield bugs and Asian beetles that find themselves alive, awake, and on the move every once in a while across the floors or our sewing tables, or some other place of surprise. We've become more relaxed about the various company we find sharing this old farmhouse. Of course I never tire of the birds.
Yesterday there was a pair of these beautiful woodpeckers, but I wasn't fast enough to get a clear photo. This shot, however, delights me, as so many of the birds are willing to wait their turns for a chance at the fruit and nut cakes.

The table is always set. Remember to partake of the banquet.
And so another morning has flown and I must move along to projects waiting.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

deep winter

Days that dawn with single digit temperatures, snow that crunches under your feet with the sound only tightly packed snow came create, clear nights when even the stars look shivery, shadows that are so deep at 3:00 in the afternoon the pine 100 feet from the house casts its shadow on the porch, it must be winter. This morning Anne called my attention to the chickadee all puffed up at the feeder looking rather chilly in the early daylight. I jokingly said maybe we should crochet little perch covers for them to stand on. I actually made one for the gear shift of Jeromes' 48 Buick when we were dating. Now there's a memory. Our forecast is for subzero in the days (nights) ahead. Our little farm house is being put to the test. And our farmgirl characters!
Perhaps you've noticed my blog's new banner? Thank you to Anne and Picasa. I'm having a blast learning how to manipulate my graphics. Haven't settled on a temporary type font for sallymomsprouts to use until I  finalize a design of my own. I'll probably keep fiddling with that too. Fun, fun, fun.
I received a message from my favorite "local" quilt shop back in Illinois, Quilters Destination. They have just created a blog of their own. I love this technology! I'm also enjoying adding links along the sidebar. I began this blog as a way for me to keep track of the days here at the farm and to share these with my Jerome so we can feel closer. It has been a wonderful side benefit that I receive comments from you.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

shortening days are full days

Burrr, it is cold today. But happily the sun had dispersed all the clouds by the time we set off for an Old-Fashioned Christmas at Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center in Coon Valley. Now Coon Valley is one of the loveliest little towns just at the bottom of a deep downhill run of Rt. 14 northwest of Viroqua.  You have to admit the scenery alone is worth a drive on a frigid, snowy Sunday in December.
We had no idea what to expect of the center or the event. We began by walking across a wooden bridge to a recreation of the Bekkum Homestead, buildings moved from their original location and restored as part of the living museum here.

We were greeted by a lady who began by telling us of the tradition of putting the family Christmas tree in the middle of the parlor so everyone could walk around it enjoying it from every perspective. She later sat down and tried her best to get this lovely reed organ to play Christmas carols. It WAS very cold in the room despite the wood fire in the very large wood stove, but try as she might pedaling away, very few actual musical tones were produced.

More successful at her endeavors was the sweet lady in the kitchen of this home, making lefse (Norwegian potato flatbread) and obviously at home on a big old wood fired cook stove.
The room smelled marvelously, not because of the rather bland lefse,  but because this lady was also cooking an enormous ham to take home for her dinner. It was from her own hog at her own farm. As we chatted we learned that it was her husband and her horses that were giving the wagon rides. Before we left to take a ride I took a moment to capture the simple magic of crocheted snowflakes in the homestead's parlor windows.
And now for a quiet ride across the snow and a chance encounter with some nice folks from Viroqua!
Cold, cold, cold it was but the company was warm. A young woman, her husband and 2 small children got on the wagon just after we did. We began to chat and I mentioned that I thought she was wearing a hat by my new friend Amy. Yes! She was a good friend of Amy's. I only recognized the hat's design because I had seen Amy's hats at the Holiday Faire the day before. This young woman and her husband are owners of Kickapoo Coffee! We had a nice chat with them and before we knew it the ride was done!

We spent a bit of time walking to some of the outbuildings and found displayed in the barn the tradition of giving Christmas gifts to the farm elf who keeps evil spirits away all year.

I chatted for a bit with a sweet old chap, Monroe Johnson,who had his Acanthus carvings on display in a tiny log home nearer to the visitor center. His carvings were very reminiscent of rosemaling.
In the visitor center Santa was sitting in a sleigh talking with children and posing for pictures. Down the hall people were eating and listening to the music of an accordian. I did not see the musician but Anne did, a little old fellow enjoying himself greatly. I had moved down the hall in the other direction and spoke for quite a while with Hjordis Helgestad who was displaying her gorgeous Hardanger work. This is Norwegian embroidery named for the town of its origin.
After leaving the center we drove into Coon Valley and stopped in Donna's Daughters where Anne bought the rose edged "silver" tray repurposed into a chalk board that she had seen there on our first visit this autumn. Then we stopped in Dent Bent and Beyond, a shop just down the street where I bought a Christmas tree stand, 2 brass bells for my collection, an absolutely adorable smocked jumpsuit, overalls and a denim jumper for my new grand niece all for the sum of $15.32. Anne bought two boxes of tea and a vintage table cloth for $2.96!
On the way home we discovered that Ole and Lena's in downtown Westby was closed so we motored on home for a late lunch. Anne decided it was a good sunny day for building her first snow figure, though the snow was not of the good packing variety today.

Her poor chilly fingers couldn't open the sipping chocolate canister when she got back inside! But she was able to catch our newest diner at the feeding station.
This fellow did NOT want to share! It was Dovey who called our attention to the feeder.
After warming up Anne worked on her new crochet bracelets and played fetch with Dovey. Poor Dovey was so pooped she fell sound asleep as we were working on our blogs and making dinner. Fortunately we were able to enjoy a lovely sunset today after such a fine Sunday.

While we're working on our blogs we're also talking with our husbands via Skype. I'm so glad for the technology of the day. I cannot imagine the isolation without it.
So that's it for today. We're about to settle down with our afghans and tea and a seasonal movie. For a short sunlight day it has been a full one and quite fine, quite fine.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

our first real snow

Since Anne's been back with me at the farm our time just flies past. We spent a good deal of time yesterday cutting greens for our urns. We wanted a variety of textures for the display. We cut my old green coated chicken wire into 4 pieces so we could stuff it down into the empty urns to hold all the branches in place. We also did a little tree hunting on our acreage across the road and found the sweetest tree for our Christmas. It is growing in a cluster with several others and they would never all survive so close together. It's not very tall but has a lovely shape. It was amazing just how many baby pines are over there. They are so easy to spot now that the summer plants have died back or fallen over. There will be many young ones to transplant from the north side of our road to the south side this coming spring. While we were on the cell tower acreage we introduced ourselves to the fellow who maintains the cell tower equipment who happened to be there for his monthly check. His name is John.
We strung our lighted garland on the front porch railing yesterday too. It looks really nice out there.

We also have 3 light candleabra for each of the upstairs windows and one for the living room. If I can find more just like them I'll buy some for the other first floor windows. I have always liked their simple look. Perhaps a lighted wreath and that will be all we need outside this year.
We went to see Harry Potter at the local theatre in the afternoon. The space we were in was rather small and the volume was so loud I wore my earmuffs throughout the showing. There were only 5 other people at that show besides the two of us. I really enjoyed it and was not happy when it ended. How can I wait til July for the ending?? I was so engrossed in the movie I totally forgot the candy I had brought. When we left the theatre just after 6:00 the snow had begun and we needed to dust off the car. Good timing, we were back home in time for dinner and before the snow became a nuisance.
This morning we woke to a wonderland.

Fortunately once we went out to begin our cleanup the wind was almost non-existent and the sun was beginning to come out. Before lunch we tackled all we could with brooms and shovels.
And Anne took the time to bless the farm with her first snow angel. She actually made 2 of them.
Just before we finished the shoveling our neighbor across the road, Steve Clark, came over to ask if we'd like him to plow our drive for us. After introducing myself, I thanked him and told him we would do it ourselves today since we needed to learn how to use our new snow blower. I asked him for his phone number in case we needed help another time. He seemed like a very nice fellow.
After lunch it was time to try the new Toro. It's big, it's mighty, it's fun. We laughed so hard tears were rolling down our cheeks and the endorphins were flowing big time. No matter which way you're walking, the snow likes to blow right back at you. Poor Anne was plastered with it. I tried, when I could catch my breath laughing so hard, to tell her that her dad always said the snow blows back at you. Her comment was that she must be doing it right then! Here she is handling the machine just fine.

We didn't do the neatest job but a good one for our first time. We have the skids adjusted high because of the gravel driveway, but it does a really good job on the grassy areas set the way it is.
After finishing we put on dry clothes and quickly drove over to the holiday craft fair at the Waldorf school in town. Our friend and neighbor Amy, whose son Jae attends, had told us about it and let us know she would be selling her things there. She was set up right next to another new friend of mine, Robin, who makes lovely herbal products. Both were glad to see us and each gave me a big hug. I introduced Anne to Robin and we made a date with Amy for her to visit us next week.
So now we're back home, each drinking a delicious mug of sipping chocolate from Trader Joe's and working on our blogs. I can't wait to see Anne's photos. I'm sure we'll be able to see at least some of them on her blog.
Life is good.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy first of December

It doesn't seem possible that we're beginning the final month of the year. It's been snowy and blowy here all day. There isn't a lot of snow on the ground for all the flurries that have been about, but enough to be wintry outside the farmhouse windows.
I've spent much of the day preparing for Anne's return tomorrow, cleaning, decorating, caring for the houseplants. I've had a lovely time changing out the display on my large shadow box shelf in the dining room. It was made for me by my brother David many, many years ago.

For more years than I can count I've dreamt about having a front porch that I could decorate for the holidays! And this year I finally can. I have two garlands strung with lights and decorated with pinecones. I used to use them around our city house front door and front double window. When we had our windows and front door replaced there, we lost the wood trim and the hooks that held the garlands in place. So they've been in storage for several years back in Illinois waiting for the a new lease on life out here on the farm.  They still look good, and what do you know, the lights still work! There's one of them around the doorway between my living and dining rooms. The other longer one will go on the front porch railing.
I brought back my box of pinecones and a large armful of pussywillow branches, the pussies still covered by their lovely red sheaths. I'll use them along with the beautiful red twig dogwood branches from our garden and greens from trees out in the yard to fill the cement urns we inherited when we bought the farmhouse. Oh, and the big bold osage oranges Terri brought me when she visited last month will go in there too. I'll show you the results later.
But right now, here's a photo of my new grand niece Zuzu Lolita. Who could resist those cheeks?!

As for another little sweetheart, Dovey's having a well-deserved quiet day today after all the mouse excitement yesterday. This morning I found an injured, stunned mouse in the living room hiding under the bottom shelf of a plant stand. It barely resisted my removing it from the house, but did leave a small smear on the wrapping I picked it up with. Had Dovey managed to wound it in the night? Who knows. She did spend much of the morning on patrol but I'm glad to see she's taking a little break from defending me and the farmhouse right now. Good girl, Dovey.

Well, it's mid afternoon and time for a fresh mug of tea. And to get to that front porch garland...