26 June 2008

Honours for The Boy

Today was the last day of school for The Boy. We went to the awards ceremony, and were pleased to see that he received the Award of Excellence with Distinction, meaning he had grades of over 80% in all his core subjects. We are proud of him!

The surprise of the day was the results of the Royal Canadian Legion Poetry Contest. Not only did his poem win at the Branch level, but he got second place at the Area level too!

He wrote this back in the fall, with no help whatsoever from anyone.

I Miss You

I sit here in the rain
as I write to you,
remembering the things
we used to do.

In this freezing world
my feet are ice cold,
my body wet.

There are bombs expliding
a big threat.
The enemy planes overhead,
searching for the dead.

but I feel a bit safer
in this fox hole I made,
with two of my buddies with me,
the rest are all gone.

I'd like to see our baby girl
and hold her in my arms.
Tell her that I love her,
I miss our peaceful farm.

This is a very lonely night,
now I have to go back
and join the fight.

24 June 2008

Independence Days Update

My updates are unfortunately rather haphazard ... but we are done travelling now and home for the rest of the summer (insh'allah) so perhaps we'll get a bit more organized.

Hey, there is always hope.

So, what have we done lately?

Planted Definitely we've had activity in this category! The garden is now fenced in and it's clear which seedlings or transplants didn't take, so there are 'known empty spaces' to be filled. Some seeds were replanted (I had no luck with several of my herbs and a couple of pumpkins and tomatoes succumbed to one disaster or another). More carrots were put in, some wheat (that's an experiment ... if it grows, it'll be good winter chicken food), and I tried again with some of the herbs. We'll see if they take.

Harvested Today I harvested the first things from our garden! I got enough tiny radishes to have them with dinner. See below for what I did with them. :)

Preserved Hmm ... nope, no preserving. That'll come a bit later.

Prepped One of the people at work had a bag of clothes for a girl a fair bit older than Princess Girl, but thought I might be able to make use of these clothes. Absolutely! There are coats and shirts and tights and skirts ... mostly they won't fit for several years, but there's a jacket that will probably fit this winter and a purple satin cap that's already been worn. :) The rest will live happily in the Bin downstairs until there is need for it.

Managed Reserves I have been terribly remiss in handling the reserves this past while. The pantry is just ... there. At the start of July I'll make a special grocery trip on the sale Tuesday to stock up on some of the things that are getting low.

Cooked something new I tried something new with the radishes! I had no idea you could eat radish greens. I sliced the radishes, sauteed them in butter until they were golden (okay a bit more than golden, I was distracted) and then tossed in the greens and sauteed them too. It wasn't exactly a big hit, but it's highly nutritious, I mostly liked it, and nobody had a big problem with it. I'll keep trying, I saw a recipe for making soup from the radish tops, with onions and potatoes. Given the way the potatoes are growing, we should have lots of those!

Reduced waste I think I have finally gotten my family trained to use the reusable shopping bags. On our vacation, we stopped at a grocery store to get some bread and fruit - the kids and The Reluctant Farmer went inside and I was getting lunch ready. I realized after they'd gone that the reusable bags were all still hanging by the door! Oh brother, I thought, he'll come back with plastic bags. Just as I thought this, I looked out and saw each person carrying something ... and not a bag in sight! The Reluctant Farmer said the cashier offered a bag and he said no, she'll throw a fit if I come out with plastic! I have lots of helpers, we'll just carry it as it is. Yay!

Learned a new skill While we were on Vancouver Island, we realized that The Boy had forgotten his belt. He's very skinny and any jeans that are long enough to fit are too big in the waist, so this is a problem. His grandfather offered him rope, but he declined. I had just purchased a book on various needlework and fibre techniques, so I used some of my wool to make a five strand braided belt. I'd never done five strand braiding before, so that was new. The belt worked, mostly, although it was too narrow to be ideal, but it was a good experiment. I saw instructions for 8 strand braiding too ... now that'd be neat.

I think this next bit might fall under 'prepped' ... or maybe 'practice runs for times when things don't work'. Our hot water heater controller has bitten the dust - the thing was buzzing disconcertingly when we returned from vacation, and eventually stopped working altogether. Our hot water is heated by the boiler, but the tank has electronics that control the heating ... so no electronics, no hot water out of the tap. We will be able to replace the controller widget, but it takes time to order one in. We've been washing dishes with water heated on the stove, and bathing in the swimming pool (heated by the amazing solar heater - thank goodness it is summer).

Just this morning, The Reluctant Farmer said "You know, we do have a hot water tank. It's in the motorhome." So, tonight we showered in our home away from home ... at home. It's a backup of sorts, and my goodness am I glad to have it!

The Reluctant Farmer has been investigating passive solar water heating systems. We think we'll add one of those to our list of 'good things'. :)

A really super cool birthday gift

A couple of days ago, I recieved a parcel in the mail from my sister, who lives in Lithuania. Inside was a plastic bag filled with raw sheep's wool, and a postcard from Ireland, inscribed very simply "Happy Birthday".

Surely something was missing.

Where was the story?

I mean ... I knew she and her husband had gone back to Lithuania from Canada via Ireland ... and I knew there were sheep in Ireland ... but ... that's just not enough pieces to build a cohesive narrative.

Today, I got an email from my sister with the rest of the tale:

Yup, there's a story! It was supposed to be accompanied by pictures, but we have searched all of our memory cards and can't find the photos from our stop. I was really* hoping we'd find them, but it looks like something went wrong (like, just maybe there wasn't a memory card in the camera at the time - oops!).

So...I had really really wanted to bring you some Lithuanian fleece for your birthday when we came to Canada. I hunted and hunted (and hunted), but couldn't find any, or anyone who could tell me where to find some. Most of the sheep places are further to the east, and without a car and a grip on Lithuanian agricultural language, it was impossible to work something out. Anyway, my second option was to find some fleece in Ireland. This seemed at least linguistically manageable, so as soon as we were off the plane, I started looking for places. I did some asking around, and a nice lady at a woolens shop suggested that I ask a sheep farmer.

While we were driving around the winding back roads of Ireland, we passed a big sheep farm, and I made Nathan turn the car around and go back (not easy on those one-lane, skinny roads!). It looked like the kind of place that raises sheep for a living - lots of big sheds, and tons of pasture. I went up to the front door and knocked, waited, and knocked some more, but no one came. I was sooooo disappointed, but I think Nathan was relieved. "Are you seriously going to ring their doorbell and ask them for fleece?" Hey - I was on a mission.

The next evening, while we were headed out for supper from the castle tower, we drove around yet another bend in the road, and lo-and-behold...there were two kids and two guys out wrangling sheep and doing the shearing! There was a small dip at the edge of the road, so I told Nathan to quickly pull over. We got out of the car, and I ran across the road to the fence where the guys were working. The older guy, who I think was the owner, was directing sheep traffic and watching as the other guy wrestled the sheep and sheared them. They were inside a small fenced area, and he had the electric clippers hooked up to a tall metal rigging. The owner guy was super friendly, and said "hello" even while I was on my way over. I said "hi" and asked how the shearing was going. They had just gotten started, and the worker guy was fighting to keep the sheep he was shearing on it's back. I told the owner guy that I had a weird question, and wanted to know if he had any fleece for sale. I told him that my sister in Canada has a few sheep and does her own carding and spinning. He hardly even blinked, and just said "oh, sure" and walked over to the fleece that was piling up as it came off the sheep the shearing guy was holding. He scooped up a handful, then wrapped it around a few times until he had a bunch, came back to me and said, "is that good?" It was *fresh* off the sheep - I saw those bits come off! I asked him how much, but he just said "bah" and waved me away. We watched the sheaing for a few more minutes, and they smiled for the camera (man, I wish those had worked out!). The sheaing guy had a big grin on his face the whole time - I think he was getting a kick out of it, and he was super nice to us. The owner guy told me they were Suffolk sheep, and the farm was just outside of Navan, Ireland. The area was beautiful, with rolling green hills, and lush trees bending in archways over the road. I'm pretty sure those were some very happy sheep!

Anyway, that is what I was determined to get you for your birthday, and I am sooooo glad that it made it to you! We mailed it from a little post office on the edge of Dublin (also no easy feat - traffic in Ireland is crazy!). I saw the post office, and yelled "stop!" I had my Tim Horton's cup in my hand (did I tell you we found a Tim Horton's coffee-from-a-machine place at a gas station outside Dublin? Too cool!), we parked illegally at the gas station, ran across the road, stole a box from the stack of unpacking that the lady at the convenience store was doing (well, I think she was tossing them anyway), bought a role of tape, and packed it up on the floor of this little convenience store/post-office place. We smelled like sheep, but it was worth it!

Hope you enjoy your fleece - we had fun getting it!

Now isn't that quite the story?

My sister is a stunningly talented writer. She is also stubborn and determined to accomplish what she sets her mind to ... and how lucky for me that this time, she set her mind to acquiring European fleece for me to spin!

I have already washed, carded and spun some of the wool. It's delightfully crimpy, and is working up into a lovely midweight yarn. I think I'll make it into something with Aran cables. After all, it's Irish wool!


23 June 2008

I have a smart kid

The Boy got his Provincial Achievement Test results. All scores are out of 50:

Language Arts 41
Math 47
Science 44
Social studies 44

That's an average of 88 percent.

Good job, Boy!

20 June 2008


I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Yes, I know, that'll get me in trouble. Still.

I think about garden. I need to fence the garden so the chickens don't eat everything, and I want it done soon because once it is fenced, I can move the netting out of the way and get the trellises up for the beans. Oh right, I need to build the trellises for the beans. Should I use teepees this year, or string? I am leaning towards teepees. I have lots of long saplings that would make good supports, and I'm planning on moving the raised bed next year, so I don't want to go to much trouble making permanent supports where it is.

If I am putting in fencing, how big should I make the garden area? I need to make it big enough to enclose all of what I want to grow. So, what do I want to grow? Well, some berry bushes, maybe a crabapple tree in the northeast corner, more raised beds, and an arbour to hang things from (like tomatoes in buckets). Oh, if I put up an arbour I could put the compost piles under the arbour, if I put some supports around the sides to hold things in. That'd be convenient. I could make a few piles, and if I put it right next to the fence, dumping kitchen waste into it would be simple.

Mulch ... right, I need to mulch around the garden beds. I have some mulch around the potatoes (the potatoes are doing wonderfully well, especially given that they were started from store bought taters that grew eyes sitting in the storage bin for too long). Bunny Bedding makes really good mulch: it's mostly wood shavings, with some nice bunny manure added for fertilizer. Perfect!

Now if I could mulch the entire area I plan to enclose, I can kill off the grass and not have to fight it in the new beds I make for next year. I made a deal with The Boy to haul waste hay over to use for mulch - I'll pay him $1.50 per full barrowload of hay, plus after ten barrowloads, he gets a box of Life Cereal that he can eat any time he wants. Normally he can only have it for breakfast, so the opportunity to eat it for snacks too was a key factor in his agreeing to haul hay.

Ah, the garden. Things are coming up nicely. The tomatoes aren't growing very fast, but they are growing. Maybe I'll move some into buckets ... once I have the arbor up. Then I'll have more empty squares. Come to think of it, the garden has some empty squares now, where things didn't take ... what should I plant there? I think I'll need more carrots. Oh, and if I remember to buy some onion sets, I could plant those. I wonder if I should try growing wheat in a square? I suppose the chickens would like to eat it, even if we don't grind it up for ourselves. I could harvest it in the fall and feed it to them over the winter.

Once the fence is in, I want to plant morning glories along the outside of it. I love morning glories. I know my grandfather said they were only meant to grow up the side of an outhouse, but I think they're pretty. I wonder if the chickens will eat them if they are growing on the fence.

Yes, this is what it's like in my mind these days. I do a lot of garden-stream-of-consciousness thinking.

It must be a sign of spring. :)

Home again

Ah, it is good to be home again.

We travelled to Vancouver Island last week to visit family and have an early summer holiday. We took the motorhome, which is indeed a marvellous way to travel with small children: everyone can sit at the table and have books and games, and meals or quick bathroom breaks can be addressed simply by pulling over to the side of the road. Of course, a motorhome is hardly the most fuel efficient of vehicles ... but with five of us travelling, there are at least some economies of scale that kick in, particularly when combined with the fact that upon arrival we were staying in an RV park anyway (my parents live in a beautiful Park Model trailer in a very nice park that has permanent and rental sites ... and a pool and a hot tub!).

It was great to see my mom and dad and to finally see where they live: their trailer is very spacious and beautifully set up, with a gorgeous deck that they've worked hard to build and decorate. There's a fountain and a fire pit, climbing roses and ivy on arbours, and the obligatory tomato plant in a hanging basket (yes, tomato plants will grow hanging out of the bottom of a bucket).

We also got to visit with my uncle, who is not well, and my aunt and my cousins. During one of our visits, we were surprised to meet some of the crew of the Coastal Messenger. My uncle has worked with the Coastal Missions team over the years, and The Boy has spent a good deal of time with some of these fine people during his trips to the Island, so it was very nice to meet them in person at last.

We did lots of fun things while we were on the Island: we saw the stunningly beautiful birds at the Pacific Northwest Raptors centre, met up with friends who are opening a new Serious Coffee outlet in Victoria, dug for polished stones at Mineral World in Sydney, visited the cows at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, spent a day at the Parksville beaches, enjoyed the marine festival at the Ladysmith Marina, and went sea kyaking from Transfer Beach.

It was a good trip. With fuel prices on the rise and all the changes in the world that seem to be headed our way, we may not get to do something like this again, so that made it especially good. We enjoyed every day to the fullest ... but boy, it's good to be home. :)

08 June 2008

Independence Days Update

What with the wedding and all, things have been a little chaotic ... this update will have to cover the last couple of weeks!

So, let's see:

This is the biggie: I got the garden in! As this is the first year for the garden, this was a bigger job than it'll be in the future. I built two long beds from scrap construction lumber (16x4) and divided into 1 foot squares marked off with nails and yarn (we are doing Square Foot Gardening). The raised beds were filled with four bags of potting 'stuff' purchased at Canadian Tire - a peat moss/vermiculite mix - and some black garden soil I had been given by a friend who had excess from his landscaping adventures (lovely dirt which has sat in a sorry, unused pile for two years). The resulting garden mixture is very light and holds water well, without compacting. The soil underneath is mostly, and won't grow much beyond pasture grass, so it was worth it to invest in a good growing mix to start. We'll amend with compost every year, and build up some good dirt so we can have more garden beds in the future.

The garden beds are spanned by hoops of leftover water tubing jammed onto leftover chunks of rebar pounded into the ground at intervals, and the hoops are draped with bird netting to keep the chickens and other critters out. I can also make shorter hoops and cover lower to the ground in spring to make a hothouse out of part or all of one bed. We will fence off the garden in the future, but the hoops will be useful even inside a fence (some of our chickens are good at flying!).

It's a bit early for harvesting things here yet. Well, there's lots of dandelions but I'm not yet quite sure how one eats those ... so I'm letting the sheep eat them.

Oh, I did harvest several fleeces: I sheared three sheep yesterday. The fibre is skirted and bagged and waiting for sale to handspinners - there's a lady nearby who is interested in some, and I'll be posting details of the rest for interested fibre people.

Nothing in this category until later in the year.

Stored & Prepped (I'm combining these this month)
We actually used some of our storage this past month: we had been purchasing things ahead of time, as they were on sale, knowing we'd need a lot of food for the wedding. So, we had crackers and condiments and such all in the pantry, ready to go when we needed it. We'll be restocking as things show up on sale over the next while, but we're still well set. That's such a good feeling.

The Boy was digging through his dresser the other day and found a pair of swim trunks that are too large - he took them downstairs to the Red Bin which has clothing of various sizes and is kept for 'when it's needed'. The Red Bin actually turned out to be useful this past weekend - my sister and her husband came to visit from Lithuania, and attended The Boy's 4-H Achievement Day with us. Luggage limitations meant they had no 'play clothes' for such an event, and the Red Bin turned up jeans and t-shirts for them to wear for the day!

Cook something new
Hmm, can't think of anything. We've been pretty busy. Does chili made with ground pork count as new? Oh, The Reluctant Farmer made his own taco seasoning from scratch. We had none of the premixed kind, so he went online, found a recipe, and made up a delicious home made seasoning from other spices we had on hand.

Local food systems Well, I built my own garden, and that's as local as you can get! :) I am also working on being part of the local food system as a producer: I called the butcher to get prices for having sheep processed, and it's much more reasonable than I expected ($63 per sheep, and that's with everything all cut and wrapped and ready for the freezer). A friend of mine gave our name to her physician, who has ordered two lambs from us - they're booked in for July, so we'll have our first meat sales this summer! We will also be having a few lambs prepared for our own use - nice to eat meat that you know was raised well and fed nothing but grass and alfalfa! Anyone got good lamb recipes?

Reduce waste
We purchased something second hand, so perhaps that counts in this category. We were given some money for a wedding gift, and put it towards a swimming pool. :) We all love the water, and we think we'll enjoy having our own pool, even if it isn't really big. This also has the handy effect of providing substantial amounts of water storage, just in case! ;)

Learn a skill
Nothing comes to mind ...

We are travelling next week, something that is unavoidably resource-intensive. We'll take our motorhome, which in this case is probably more efficient than any of the alternatives: with five of us going and all of us needing meals and a place to sleep when we get there, even with the cost of fuel being what it is, this makes sense. I realy like the fact that even on the road we get to eat from our own kitchen, and that clothes aren't stuffed into suitcases but are on shelves and hangers, easy to get to if someone needs a change of clothing en route. Besides, trying to feed little kids in restaurants is really impractical for any length of time - they are only hungry enough to eat half of any given portion, and then they're hungry again in three hours ... yup, a kitchen on wheels is definitely the way to go. :)

Bear Sighting!

Our honeymoon was a week of doing absolutely nothing in Kananaskis. We're not at all accustomed to doing nothing, but we did figure out how it worked after awhile. :)

While we were there, we kept having bear sightings though! Kananaskis is Bear Country, after all.

There was this bear reading my book ...

... and then we saw him looking at us from a tree ...

He even tried to eat our dinner! The Reluctant Farmer gave him a french fry and, pacified, the bear handed over the fork and let us have our meal in peace.

The Wedding

The wedding was everything we had hoped it would be. :)

We rented the entire Paintbox Lodge in Canmore for the weekend. This provided us with plenty of space, accommodations for most of our immediate family, and a kitchen so that we could be our own caterers. It was like having an open house in a big house that wasn't ours, and came with maid service!

On Friday we did our grocery shopping and got things ready, visiting with family and friends as they came in. My mom brought enough baking to feed three times the people we had there and every bite was delicious. Friends of mine did a big Costco run for us, and brought snack food and lunch meat and buns and condiments, and M&M meats provided all our hot food. The ability to have food available for anyone who stopped in (and for us, too, of course!) during the whole weekend was one of the big reasons we chose this location, and it worked out beautifully.

Saturday's weather was beautiful and sunny, and during the day people checked out Canmore's main street: the kids quickly found the dollar store and the ice cream shop! The cooks busied themselves in the kitchen, putting hot stuff into the oven and transferring it into borrowed crock pots to stay warm until the reception, and ensuring everyone had cold drinks and snack trays were kept full.

The ceremony itself was simple and brief - everyone gathered in the main room, and our new family stood on the stairs. In the Quaker fashion, we gathered in silence until the moment felt right to say our vows.

Our promises were made in simple words that say all that needs to be said:

In the presence of the Light and these our family and friends, I promise to be to you a loving and faithful partner for as long as we both shall live.

We signed the marriage certificate, and my mom made a very moving speech wishing us well in our new life together as a family. After that, all our guests signed the certificate as well (an old Quaker custom) and then it was time for food and visiting!

The Boy blew bubbles from the upstairs balcony:

Princess Girl visited with everyone:

and Dinosaur Boy made short work of Gram's cookies:

And, of course, it wouldn't be right to forget Soft Bear! He helped in the kitchen, and managed to sneak a cookie or two for himself.

For those who don't know, Soft Bear has travelled far and wide with various family members: he's had his photo taken at a fire hall in Texas, at my cousin's wedding (where he was hidden in the foliage on the church platform during the ceremony no less!), and then later in the crib with that same cousin's new baby! Watch for him in future posts. :)

02 June 2008

Happily Married

We are back from a lovely wedding and will post pictures and more soon. Just wanted you to know we're indeed happily married and back home!

Today is 4-H Achievement Day, and thanks to the wonders of wireless interent, this post is being made live from the scene of the event. :) The Boy has finished showing his sheep and did a very good job with all of them.

Pictures and more updates coming later!