28 November 2009

A wonderful thing happened to me today!

For my birthday, my awesome husband gave me a $20 gift certificate for the local yarn store. Today I finally had a chance to go in there and wander around: I knew I could find something to spend my money on ... some new circulars for a project I want to do from Knitty (a lovely cowl called Ice Queen – last week at the thrift store I found this amazing cotton/acrylic/mohair yarn that'll be perfect for this), more row counters (always need those), and some lovely purple merino silk blend rovings to spin up.

As I was standing there pondering knitting notions, I heard a conversation between the shopkeeper and a lady. The lady said "oh, and I have this Ashford wheel ... I've had it for 15 years figuring I'd learn to spin, but I haven't, and I figure it's time to sell it. Could I sell it here, maybe?"

Well, you can bet your boots I spoke up right then!

"A wheel?? Did you say you have a wheel for sale?"

I explained I've got my PVC Babe wheel, but have been coveting a wooden one for awhile. However, I've only got a bit of money to spend so I was looking for a used one.

"Well, how much have you got?"

I told her I had $150, totally figuring that'd be way too low.

Her eyes got big - it was more than she thought she'd get for it, clearly!

The shopkeeper and I asked her some questions to figure out which model of Ashford it was, and in the end we weren't quite sure, but it was either the Traditional or the Traveller. Even knowing that new these go for $400 or so, she was quite happy to make the deal with me, and I picked it up this afternoon!

And … it *is* the Traveller (single drive) - which is EXACTLY the wheel I wanted! I wanted a castle wheel (I just love 'em, the look, and the space, and ... I dunno, they just suit me. Maybe it's from working on a Babe for so long!) ... she was THRILLED to have it go to someone so excited (I swear I was bouncing in my seat on the way home, this is just the cooooolest thing to have happen!) and the yarn store lady thought it was just awesome that we were both happy! Way cool!

The wheel was bought brand new and never used. It's sat, untouched, for 15 years in a corner, just looking pretty.

A good coat of Old English lemon oil on all the pieces (it'll need another coat or two, the wood's a bit thirsty - we have a very dry climate, so we're quite accustomed to that kind of maintenance), some penetrating oil squirted on the bearings, a new drive band (the original had disappeared somewhere, and a hunk of this ... whatever it is that works really well for weaving warp ... seems to be working great), and it's treadling smoothly!

I'm about to check the instructions on the Ashford site, then get some fibre and try this baby out ... I am sooooo excited!

So if you need something to feel happy about, I have enough happiness to share! Wherever you are, feel free to jump for joy right along with me!

23 November 2009

Spaghetti Squash Soup

Spaghetti squash is an odd sort of vegetable. This sturdy, almost-impossible-to-cut-open yellow squash cooks up to reveal stringy insides that can substitute directly for pasta. It just isn’t at all what you expect when you hold one in your hand.

I bought a spaghetti squash at the grocery store a year or two ago and cooked it up for dinner (as I recall, we had a vegetable pasta sauce thing to go over top of it, and we ate it as though it were actual spaghetti). Everyone liked it, and I saved the seeds and planted them in the garden.

This year, we got quite a few squash from the plants that grew from the saved seeds – and this is not a small thing, given how generally awful our garden season was this summer. The squash are now piled in a cool spot in the house, and I peek in on them every so often to make sure none have gone soft or started to mould. So far, all is well in the squash pile. :)

Today I had a craving for a nice warm soup for supper, and so I took 2 of the larger squash, cut them in half (with a really big knife and some pounding), then set them cut side down in a lasagne pan filled with about an inch of water and baked them until they were soft. (After I started, I read that you can also stab them with a fork, cook them whole, and then slice them after they’ve cooked to a softer state … hadn’t thought of that!)

Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook has an excellent recipe for pumpkin soup which basically involves sautéing an onion in oil with some ginger, then adding the cooked squash and a chopped potato or two, topping the pot up with vegetable broth and simmering with pepper and a couple of bay leaves until it’s all cooked. Once the potatoes are soft, the soup is run through the blender, then reheated with a bit of milk. The recipe says you can substitute any yellow-fleshed squash for the original pumpkin, and spaghetti squash worked out just fine.

The resulting soup is delicious – very gentle, not overwhelmingly spiced (although there is another variation with curry which I may try on a cold winter day), and nicely comforting with a loaf of home made bread.

I made sure to set the seeds aside to dry out for next year’s garden: any vegetable that keeps this well and cooks up into a meal perfectly suited to chilly winter days is definitely on my to-grow list!

15 November 2009

Pea Soup for Supper

Whole green peas (dehydrated from the garden), about a cup
Yellow split peas, about 3/4 of a cup
Dehydrated red peppers, a small handful
Dehydrated celery, generous pinch
Dehydrated and powdered zucchini, about a tablespoon
Two small onions (from this year’s harvest), chopped
One potato, chopped

Place all ingredients in big pot and cover with water. Season generously with cumin, Watkins soup and vegetable seasoning, and a little bit of coriander. Add a tablespoon of Knorr vegetable boullion powder.

Heat until the peas are fully rehydrated and the potatoes start to fall apart. Let it sit on the wood stove for an hour or so to meld flavours.

Bake a loaf of bread to go with it.

Voila - supper!

11 November 2009

Climate Change – the small version

Every year, we go through rounds of climate change.

Summer is warm, and we need the windows open to get the air circulating through the house. If the upstairs window is open, the cooler air actually gets drawn in the downstairs windows as the rising heat pushes air out of the upstairs window, in a sort of passive ventilation scheme. All that sunshine really heats the house, though, so in the summer we tend to spend more time in the North Wing where the building is shaded and the rooms stay cooler, especially with the heavy dark drapes pulled to block the warming sun.

The rest of the year, though, those big south facing windows are a delight, and we spend more time in the South Wing of the house, soaking up the precious natural light (of which there is less and less as we approach solstice again), and the concomitant warmth.

However, as fall turns to winter, those big panes of glass also have a downside. They bring in sunlight and warmth, but boy, oh boy, do they leak heat. The glass is icy under your fingers, and much of the lovely warmth from inside is transferred outside in accordance with the unbreakable laws of thermodynamics.

So … we deal with the annual face of climate change with our annual climate change mitigation strategies. :)

Today, the bubble wrap insulation went up on all the windows. The light still comes in, and we still get lots of warmth … but the transfer of warm air to the outside is impeded by thousands of tiny plastic bubbles stuck to the glass.

We also need to replace the light weight summer curtains with heavier, chill-blocking ones – but with so many windows, that’s a substantial investment in fabric. I’ve got some thoughts about weaving some curtain fabric from the rather substantial stash of wool I have here … but if I find good curtains on sale before then, well, one way or the other, we’ll get warmer drapes in place before too long.

The last mitigation strategy we need to put in place is the expensive transparent plastic thermal barrier for the upper windows – they are too high to reach without an extension ladder (and even then, the very top is a long way up), and we want a more permanent heat-transfer solution for those windows – something that is ‘once and done’. The see-through stick on thermal barrier material from Home Depot works really well, but we’ll need several rolls to cover those windows. Still, for the savings in heating costs, it’s probably worth it.

I think I’ll schedule a trip this week as part of my small scale climate change mitigation strategy. :)

08 November 2009

One way to make a difference in the world

This is a guest post written by my sister, who lives in Lithuania and works with the local church there.

Shuffling her way through the front door of the hostel where she lives, few people would pay much attention to the elderly woman as she clutches a bag of groceries. In fact, not long ago Renata was one of society’s forgotten; her makeshift home a collection of discarded trash at the garbage dump, and her food scavenged from the filth. Twice a month, however, a van would come carrying loaves of bread, hot tea, and sometimes a candle for lighting the darkness. The van also brought a priceless gift: hope. As the team handed out food and poured tea, they also talked about someone who loves us despite our filth. Through the concern demonstrated by the people in the van, Renata slowly grew to trust that they truly cared for her, and learned that Jesus loved her. When they warned that the dumpsite would be closed and urged people to move into the city to find work, Renata listened. The investment made by the church group who used to take food to the dump has developed into a lifelong friendship, and the chance for a new life. The church supported Renata through the difficult days of transition to life in the city, giving her food when she had nothing, and welcoming her into their church family. Today, Renata does odd jobs like cleaning, and picking mushrooms or berries to make enough money to pay for her place at the hostel. She visits with the people from the van at church on Sundays, and though sometimes she leaves with a bag of groceries in her hand, she always leaves as a friend.

Helping the poor and homeless is often a long process that requires commitment and generous amounts of patience. One church in Klaipeda is working hard to make a difference in the lives of people who are caught in the grip of poverty. A single bag of groceries can be the difference between complete despair, and hope for another day, and the impact of the relationships built can last an eternity.


The work my sister is a part of is just one way of helping. No matter who is doing the work, though, small acts of service and sharing like this *do* make a difference. Please consider making charitable donations a part of your Christmas: it’s the perfect gift for the person who has everything!

If you don’t know where to send your dollars, I can tell you that supporting the work in Lithuania definitely ensures your dollars are well spent: for instance, the local soup kitchen in Klaipeda has a budget of only $200 CDN for the winter – that small amount is enough to see their services through the worst of the cold season, although they could use more, to be sure. A donation of $20 will fill a bag of groceries for a homeless person in Klaipeda, and it’ll be handed to them, no strings attached, by a person who genuinely cares … quite possibly my very own sister, who truly embodies living as God’s hands in the world.

You can read more about my sister’s life and work in Lithuania on her blog, and donations to the food project she is a part of can be made through their missions group, the EFCCM. Just fill in your information on the first page, and on the second, where you can identify the project you wish to donate to, enter “A Step Up, Lithuania: 2-2862GB”.

03 November 2009

City Chickens in Windsor, Ontario

This just in from CBC News!

A new city committee will study the possibility that people in Windsor, Ont., should be allowed to raise chickens in their backyards.

City council decided at a regular meeting Monday night to strike the committee in response to local resident Steve Green's 15-page letter extolling the virtues of urban chickens.

The benefits Green listed in his letter dated Oct. 19 include better food security, increased access to protein and reduced greenhouse gases due to reduced food transportation costs.

Also, Green wrote, "Chickens make great pets."

I sure hope Mr. Green is successful: chickens really are awesome critters, and with nothing more complicated than a chain link dog run, a dog house type shelter and a couple of Rubbermaid-bin nesting boxes, they can be kept quite easily in a city back yard. They’re quieter than dogs, easier to contain than cats (not exactly *easy* to contain, but really, not too bad if you’ve got decent infrastructure), and … they lay eggs in return for their food!

A frequently mentioned concern is that their food will attract mice – but mice like dog and cat food, and nobody complains about that. A garbage bin for feed storage solves the problem nicely, anyway. Then there’s the manure … again, no worse than what dogs and cats leave behind, and in fact, it’s easier to deal with since it can be composted and used on the garden (not something you want to do with pet wastes).

Best wishes to Mr. Green in Windsor … Apple Jack Creek’s rooting for you!

02 November 2009

What I did today: an Inuit-inspired needle case

Today, I embarked on a bit of an experiment. The experiment was designed to solve a recurring problem, namely the fact that I can never seem to find my metal wool needles (the big blunt tipped ones you use for sewing up or weaving in ends). It was also designed to use materials I had on hand.

Inspired by an Inuit needle case design, I worked out a strategy for creating something similar.

First, I needed a hollow bone. I have some from the lamb bones that we got back from the butcher, so I cleaned one thoroughly and filed and sanded the ends so they were smooth, and I soaked it in vinegar to get rid of the smell.

Then I needed two toggles: one that could serve as a loop for a strap, if the case was to be hung somewhere, or perhaps worn on a lanyard, and one to serve as a ‘stopper’ at the bottom. I had a lovely red bead that would be a great stopper, and a small chunk cut from another bone made a loop and stopper all in one.

Last but not least, I needed something to stick the needles through. The Inuit used a strip of hide, but that’s not something I have in ready supply. I do, however, have plenty of wool, so I knit an i-cord double the length of the bone. It’s very narrow at the base, so that it will fit through the hole in the red bead, then widens for the section that will be inside the bone, to give lots of room for poking needles through it. At the top, it narrows again to form the extension that leads up to the round loop/stopper.

The finished needle case, in closed position:


And open, to give access to the needles inside:


Yeah, I know I could buy something to suit the purpose … or I could keep my needles in the drawer (I actually do that, most of the time) … but this was a neat thing to try and I think it’ll be quite handy.

I even have enough materials to make another one, just for fun. :)

01 November 2009

Chatelaine of the Household

Chatelaine was, in ancient times, the title for the mistress of a large household. Her role carried the responsibility for making sure all the stores were in order, everyone had enough clothing, and otherwise managing all the things necessary to keep the household running smoothly. It was not a small job!

Fortunately, in modern times, we have options about how we spend our days and nobody is relegated to scullery maid or squire by virtue of gender and family status. Still, the work of making sure the stores are in order, everyone has enough clothing, and the household still runs hasn’t gone away – we just have options of how that work gets done.

Whenever I find myself doing some of the sorting and organizing work, I tell myself it’s my chance to be the chatelaine. I think of the mistresses of great households in days gone by, counting barrels of apples and beer, hoping to have enough for winter … and I count myself very fortunate to have Save On Foods as my backup plan.

One of today’s jobs was to sort and organize the pantry. It’s a very small pantry, at this stage of the game, but it is still extremely useful: a full pantry means you can probably find the ingredients for just about anything you want to make for dinner, and if you aren’t able to get to the store for a few days … well … there’s still lots to eat, even if the options dwindle a bit after a week or two.

The pantry also helps us save money: whenever I see things on sale that I know we use frequently, I pick them up and add them to the stash. Part of today’s job was organizing the stash so that it’ll be easier to rotate our stock and use up the older things before we start in on the newer stuff.

We also buy in bulk to reduce packaging and costs, and so the other job for today was organizing the bulk purchases into more efficient packaging. Several baggies of baking soda are now in a large food-grade plastic jug, and enough elbow macaroni for a few mac-and-cheese casseroles is packaged into another jug just like it.

The final mission for today was clearing out the 'ancient and questionable’ items that have collected over time. The chickens feasted today on old stale pasta, grains, and dried fruits of uncertain provenance: they can eat what they like out of the pile, the rest will compost in place over the winter. Hopefully, with better pantry organization (including labels on the shelves and a strategy for incoming items), we won’t end up with such a stash of old and outdated food in the future.

We do have plans for a cold room downstairs, but given the length of our existing to-do list, it might be a year or two before it is implemented. In the meantime, I need to remember to ‘be the chatelaine’ now and again so that we can make the most of our little pantry and keep track of our stores.