Sunday, December 30, 2012

Velveteen Lop rabbit in our kitchen

There's a new girl in Papa Bear's life.

She's young and sweet and oh-so-cute.

He likes to stroke her back and nose.

And I don't mind one bit.

She eats hay and pellets and if startled, may leave a pellet or two in her wake.

She is an as-yet-unnamed, 17-week old female Velveteen Lop.

Velveteen rabbits LOVE hay!

She was supposed to arrive as a surprise in mid-November but work schedules got changed and suddenly we had to wait another 6 weeks and spend 12 hours in the car to get her.

We both think it was worth it.

She seems pretty happy too, hippity-hopping all over our kitchen.

Zoey is not sure exactly what this rabbit thing is

The cats are not amused, but they never do like sharing the house with other critters.

I'm sure they'll get over it.



Her color is "blue torte," but to us she's peach covered in grey covered in adorable.

If you didn't already have 45 reasons to visit our farm, now you have 46.

Hippity-hop on over here and stay for a spell.

We'd love to see you, and so would Velvet.  Or Bunny or Hunny or whatever her new name is going to be.

Cheers -

Monday, December 24, 2012

black walnut bowl

Most folks might think Santa's workshop is at the North Pole and is run by a fat man in a white beard, but for my siblings and I, we knew that Santa's workshop was on the North Shore, the barn shaped structure just a few paces past the garage, and Santa looked an awful lot like our dad.

From within the cozy walls of Santa's workshop, if one was lucky enough to sneak a peak, you would find hand crafted items in a variety of stages of completion, each one being meticulously tended by Santa himself.

Santa's magic bowl cutter

I had a chance to wander through Santa's workshop just this morning. It was quiet in the shop, no elves scurried about, surprising given it was Christmas Eve.

One piece of walnut

Several black walnut bowls were in various stages of completion - one on the lathe, one cut out but not yet glued, several finished, the walnut grain beneath their varnished surfaces gleaming as if lit from within.

the rings, stacked and ready to glue

It amazes me how a 10" square piece of walnut can be transformed into a bowl via a method of cutting concentric circles at an angle, then stacking them upside-down into a conical shaped bowl.

sanding the bowl

Gluing, sanding and varnishing follow and the finished product is a very lightweight and beautiful bowl that anyone would be proud to display at the center of their table or anywhere else in the house.

After the wood bowl tour, our attention turned to the workshop ceiling, where various model airplanes hung, their wings carefully removed and hung along the rafters, one with a wingspan of 12'!

one of Santa's many RC airplanes

(You didn't know Santa was an RC modeler now, did you?)

Props and engines and other parts are all carefully arranged, an art form of itself. 

parts and pieces, all carefully arranged

Flights aren't always successful, and evidence of a few bad landings can also be found.  We are just grateful Santa's reindeer never seem to have problems with their landing gear.


Looking at all the airplanes makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop, even though I have no idea how to fly one.

I remember as a small child when Santa's workshop was in our basement. I liked to go downstairs and watch Santa work his magic, whether it was putting together cabinets for a family in town or building a press to make cross-country skis for our family, each ski tip carefully stenciled with our first name in red block letters.

one of Santa's many RC model airplanes

I still have my pair. The bottom layer of wood has been worn nearly off with use so they have retired from active service, being used now as decorations, a place to hold my childhood memories of wax and cork and snowy outings with my family.

Santa holds an airplane engine for his newest creation

Despite the hours I used to sit and watch Santa work, sadly I never did acquire any wood working skills. Nor did I ever take shop in high school. My tools with a hammer and saw are limited to cutting firewood and hanging photos.

If I had the time and talent, there are so many things I'd like to create with  my own two hands:

These wool combs
This top bar bee hive
A rabbit condo for our new Velveteen Lop bunny
A chicken coop carved like a Norwegian stabbur

But alas, all I can do for now is put all of this down on my Christmas wish list and hope that I've been good enough that Santa will bring them to me next year.  Or the year after that.  I'm pretty patient when it comes to waiting for Santa's handmade goodies.

In the meantime, the lure of Santa's workshop calls me to visit every time I am home.  Once inside the magical room I stand quietly, taking in the smells of sawdust and glue, in awe of what can be accomplished with a handful of tools, a skilled hand and a head full of creative ideas.

Cheers -

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Molly in her hay mow

This is Molly.

She is not our cat, but she lives on our farm.  Last June when we moved here, we saw her from a distance around the fringes of the property.  She seemed pretty skittish and in general she stayed far away from us.

Our cats don't like her around, so that was part of the reason she stayed so far away.  Any chance they get, they chase her as far as she will run.

Late in the fall, before it had started to get cold, she suddenly started coming around our house in the evening, after the cats were inside for the night.

She was tentative at first, coming within a few feet of Papa Bear or I, sniffing our hand, rubbing against a boot, then taking off.

And then one evening she decided we must be OK.  She stayed on the back step all night, meowing.

She didn't want to come in.

Turns out, she wanted food.

Molly of the golden eyes

Every night thereafter, she came to the back door after dark, meowing for her dinner.

Of course, PB and I being totally pushovers trainable, complied with her request demands.

Sometimes she would hang around long after the kibbles were gone.  She seemed just to want some company, a scratch on the cheek, some.... love.

Fall was mild and warm. Then the pre-Christmas blizzard hit us.  Snow was coming down hard and winds were fierce.  Over 12" of snow fell that day, some of it drifting 3' or higher in the winds. There was no sign of Molly as dusk fell, nor any sign of her long after dark.

I was, I will admit, worried about her.

We thought she was pregnant - her sides had been bulging out and of course that insatiable request for dinner every night.

A pregnant cat alone in a blizzard.  I had odd thoughts about Mary and the baby Jesus on a long, cold winter's night in a crude cave-like stable roughed out of the rocky hillside.  The baby nestled on a bed of sweet smelling hay, his young, exhausted mother worried but gazing lovingly at him along with the cattle and sheep.


Molly's haymow

After my last round of chores, buttoning up the chicken coop and making sure everyone had unfrozen water and lots of hay, I took one last trip past our haymow, thinking if I were a cat, this is where I would be living this winter.

I had been getting hay from this haymow every day since our first snowfall, and had not caught sight of her in there yet.

But tonight, as I walked up to the stack of round bales, she came darting out of the tunnel made between two large round bales.

She was here!  Alive and well.  And startled as heck that I had found her.  She obviously was not expecting me. 

So of course I went and got her food (she followed me out into the snow and wind to the back door) then I lured her back to the hay mow where she could eat sheltered from the howling winds and swirling snow.

From that day forward, being completely trainable as mentioned before, we bring her food and water to the haymow.

We've been looking for signs of kittens, but nothing so far. The tunnels between the hay bales go back pretty deep.  If there are kittens, it may be weeks before we catch any sight of them.

Every evening I put down her food, giving her pets and scritches and she purrs like crazy rubbing all over my hand and knee then dives into the kibble. 

I know I shouldn't be encouraging stray felines to live here.

But I have a soft spot for calicoes.

Or maybe just a soft spot for kitties.

Or maybe just a fondness for the philosophy that "no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

Thanks, Aesop.  I'm bound to have a haymow full of kittens for the rest of my life now.

Cheers -

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Grass-fed lamb in our pasture

For those of you who have been following our progress this year, most of this will be a repeat and you have my permission to skip this post.

But since we still receive a fair number of questions from friends and family such as, "Why did you decide to move to Michigan?" (we're in Wisconsin actually...) we thought a little 2012 recap would be nice for those who'd like to catch up on the missing pieces from the past year.

Our 2012 story actually begins in Dec. of 2011, when we stuffed everything we owned into three storage units, tucked our chickens, 'pacas and cats into various homes and farms across three states, and moved to a Hawaiian coffee farm for the winter.

If you're extremely bored over Christmas vacation you can read all of our Hawaiian adventures here.

We returned to the mainland  in mid-Feb. and spent two weeks madly catching up on farm bookkeeping and taxes.  On March 4th we loaded up our 3 cats into our old Suburban and put Old Yeller on our 16' flatbed trailer.

One flat trailer tire, one pet-friendly hotel, two days of driving, four states and 916 miles later we arrived a bit disheveled but intact in Southwestern WI, lodging at our friend's farm, staying in the very same bunkhouse where I spent most of last summer interning and shopping for a farm.

Alpacas grazing up near the ridge overlooking the farm

On June 1st we signed the papers on our very own farm near Kendall, WI, population 476.

A 100-year old crooked farmhouse and 40 acres of paradise that I still can't believe we actually own.

By this time in addition to our flock of chickens, three cats and four alpacas we had also accrued a flock of 13 market lambs.

{I just did the math... that's 11 chickens + 4 alpacas + 3 cats + 13 market lambs = 31 animals... before we even had a farm!}

New peeps in a stock tank brooder

The rest of the summer was spent in a craze of farm-related activities such as:
  • shearing alpacas
  • trimming hooves and treating foot rot in the lambs
  • {insert the above statement between every statement below} 
  • hauling water by hand from a faucet on the house in 5-gallon buckets
  • {insert the above statement between every statement below}
  • ordering electric net fences and solar fence chargers for moving the lambs around the property
  • mowing fence lines for new paddocks and moving the lambs to a new paddock every other day
  • {insert the above statement between every other statement below}
  • building another mobile chicken coop
  • opening Serendipity Bakery
  • selling cheesecakes, alpaca products and other farm goodies at the Cameron Park Farmer's Market in La Crosse every sweltering Friday afternoon all summer long... 
  • building a mobile chicken tractor for pastured broilers
  • shearing lambs
  • making hay 
  • running up to the ridge after a rain to catch a huge rainbow covering the sky over the farm, or running up there in the early morning to catch the fog still down in the valleys
  • moving the chicken coops every day and moving electric netting for the day-ranging chickens every week 
  • being startled by the intensity of the stars in a place with almost no light pollution
  • raising a batch of 64 newly hatched Jumbo Cornish Cross broiler chickens (moving their pen 2-3 times/day)
  • raising a batch of 18 newly hatched laying chickens
  • raising a batch of five Guinea fowl 
  • raising a batch of four turkeys 
  • enjoying the unending chorus of summer frogs and cicadas
  • losing my job (layoff)
  • panicking about losing our new farm
  • getting a new job with Pathway Health (electronic health record consultant and software trainer)
  • listening to the mournful howl of coyotes at night, and trying to remember if I tested all the electric fences that day
  • sweetie going back to work for Accenture in Minneapolis after an 8 month LOA 
  • sitting on the back porch watching the light fade and contemplating my perfect life
  • learning how to butcher and skin 64 broiler chickens and the security of having a year's supply of locally-raised, grass-fed meat in our freezers
  • canning a year's supply of spaghetti sauce
  • selling cheesecakes, alpaca products and lamb meat at the winter Cameron Park Farmer's Market in La Crosse through mid-December
  • watching orange winter sunrises and pink winter sunsets
  • collapsing into a heap and sleeping through January
Kali and sweetie

What has surprised me the most after this crazy, busy year is not the convoluted way in which we both arrived at the realization that we belong on this farm.

Nor the crazy, convoluted way we're learning how to run things on this farm. 

It is rather, after four decades of restlessness, two decades of moving on average every two years to a new home, always feeling like I was still looking for "something," I have finally found what I was searching for.

A place to sink my hands deep into the soil and my roots deep into the land.

A place to finally and, hopefully forever, call Home.

Cheers -

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Blue Slate turkey in full display

It's been weeks since I've been able to capture my toms strutting in full display.

The mornings I hauled my camera down to the chicken yard, no strutting.

The mornings I forgot, lots of strutting.

But this weekend I happened to have my camera with me when they started their dominance dance.

I love watching them dance.

Gypsy Farmgirl tom turkeys in full display

The first sign of the dance is the lifting of all of the tom's feathers along his back and fanning out his tail.

This maneuver appears to magically double his size.

The fanned out tail is tipped towards the object of his attention (sometimes the other tom, sometimes the girls, sometimes me).

In addition to the feather lift, he drops his wings until the tips drag along the ground. 

tom snooed elongated for display strut

Tipping his chin down, his head, usually pale white and light blue, flushes to a deeper blue.  His pink wattle and caruncles flush to a darker red and his snood elongates, nearly covering his upper bill.

{Don't you love turkey lingo?}

He circles his object of attention (usually the other tom) and as they circle, he keeps his tail feathers tilted.

The dance may last a few seconds or several minutes. 

No blood, no violence, just a fashion show and dance off.

We could all learn something about resolving our differences peacefully if we would take our cues from the turkey.

Here's a very short video of one of my tom's strutting.  

Happy Thanksgiving ~

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Guineafowl - rather suspiciously Seuss-looking

That is the only explanation I can come up with for the ridiculous character that is the Guineafowl. 

Here's how I think it happened.  This was waaaayyy before Dr. Seuss was born, so obviously his spirit was hanging out with God as God was creating the creatures of the earth.

Dr. Seuss:  "Hey God, what's shakin'?  You've been awfully busy this week, I see you created an entire planet!"

God:  "Yo, Theodore, nice to see you!  I'm glad you're here - Yeah, I've been burning the candle at both ends with this new project, and I'm getting exhausted coming up with all these new creatures to inhabit the Earth.  I need to take a tea break.  You wanna take over for a minute?"

Dr. Seuss:  "Sure.  Let me handle this one.  What are we creating?"

God:  "Some kind of ground-nesting, seed and insect-eating bird for Africa."

Dr. Seuss:  "No problem, I'm on it.  Go enjoy your tea."

*** 15 minutes pass... but who knows what a "minute" was before there were man-made clocks? ***

Male Guineafowl at Gypsy Farmgirl's farm

God: "Hey there Theodore... how's the creation coming along?"

Dr. Seuss:  "Fine, just fine.  Came up with a dandy this time I think!"

God: "Polka dots.  Nice touch."

Dr. Seuss:  "Thanks!  Took me awhile to figure out how to apply that layer, so that's why they're necks are a different pattern."

Whachu lookin' at, Willis?

God: "Um... what are those things on its face?"

Dr. Seuss:  "Wattles.  Duh.  I thought you knew everything?"

God:  "Oh, right, of course.  And... why is it bald? With a crest?"

Dr. Seuss:  "That's its helmet.  So that it looks tough.  This is Africa, right?  Gotta be a tough bird to live there."

Guineafowl on the coop roof being LOUD


Dr. Seuss: "Oh, well, that's the sound they make whenever they're startled, happy, sad, bored or roosting."

God:  "Yeah... well, I better get back at it.  Thanks for your, um, help today."

Dr. Seuss:  "No worries, Mate.  Call me anytime. I have a great idea for a Zinniga-Zanniga tree!"

Cheers -

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hello, cutie!

Boy meets girl.

Boy flirts with girl.

Boys, girls, what next?

Girl flirts with boy.

Boy shows off to impress girl.

Boo shows off for the ladies

Girl 5 months pregnant decides flirting is all boy will get.

Boy disappointed.

Monet walks away

Electric net fences remain intact and in place.

Cheers -

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grace & Brigid watching Kali

There is something incredibly meditative about sitting with farm critters.

Whether it's helping my girls into a new paddock (they were fascinated here watching Kali), bringing the boys alfalfa pellet treats, sitting down for a rest after scooping poo and having a cat crawl into my lap, or sitting in the chicken yard with a Tom turkey sleeping on my knee, it is one of the few places I can get "out" of my head/thoughts and into the present moment.

Boo & Monet enjoy the Zenset

Time slows and often, stops.

I don't worry about work, the house, the farm.

Could turkeys really be any more adorable??

I just sit.

I recently found out it is as good for your health as you've no doubt already intuited it is.

Mojo practicing Grounding

But I don't need a book or website to tell me that this is something I need to do on a very regular basis in order to feel happy and sane.

I already know it.

And I hope you know it, too.

Zoey recommends Leo Babauta's book, The Power of Less

Oh, and Zoey says she practices Zen by reading Leo Babauta's book, The Power of Less.

Good choice in reading, Zoey.  That explains a lot. 

I'm a day late, but participating in this week's You Capture photo blog hop.  Please join me there.
Cheers -

Saturday, November 10, 2012

in the old oak tree

There is a Zen saying, "Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water."

I don't claim to be enlightened, but I do know one thing - I carried a lot of water this summer.

And now, wood cutting season has officially begun.

working on the big oak

Last weekend, with the help of our friends, we began dismantling a big oak that came down on the property last summer.

With the few daylight hours we had to work with, we managed to get two pickup loads cut and brought up to the house.

working the big oak

That was enough for these non-wood-carrying muscles to deal with.

After that we celebrated by eating pizzas and watching a movie, sending the kids into the bedroom to watch their own movie.

hauling wood

The day was exhausting.

And lovely, with perfect, nearly 70-degree weather and sunshine.

a rock, a hill, sunshine.  what more could a kid ask for?

In November!

I only hope the weather holds out a bit longer as we continue the process of downing the big oak.

a little imagination makes a tree a house, a hillside a castle

So that all winter long I can feel grateful for the extra warmth this supplemental heat will provide.

Because as much as I love the Midwest, and farming, and doing chores...

helmet head

I hate being cold.

Cheers - 
Gypsy Farmgirl hauls wood

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