29 January 2009

Flu Season

It's flu season here. I did get my flu shot, but some virus or other seems to have knocked me on my backside, and I'm tired and achey and my stomach hurts, although it doesn't ever seem to object more loudly than a stubborn ache and a vague queasiness (for which I am grateful).

I have, however, finally come up with a herbal tea that seems to ease the stomach cramping and queasiness. I'm not a doctor, I don't play one on TV, and all I know about the herbs I'm using I have discovered from various books and other sources so ... this is just a description of what has worked for me. For heaven's sake, if you have food sensitivities, strong plant allergies (hay fever), or are pregnant or nursing, do not try any sort of unknown foods or herbal remedies - that's just plain common sense. Now, for the rest of us, who have had enough Pepto for the day and want to try something else, here's the recipe:
  • 3 parts yarrow flowers
  • 2 parts calendula blossoms
  • 2 or 3 rose hips
  • a generous sprinkling of powdered ginger, or a chunk of ginger root
  • a very slight sprinkling of dill

Steep all that in boiling water, strain, and add as much honey as you need to make it taste okay (it's not bad, but it's not anything you'd drink just for the flavour), and drink about a cup of it. Yarrow needs to be used in moderation, so probably no more than 3 or 4 cups in a day, but I find that one in the morning, one at lunch and one at dinner seems to really help.

Yarrow grows wild here, as do wild roses, so we are able to harvest those ingredients quite readily from the land around us. The calendula that I grew last summer was an amazing success, so we have plenty of that now as well. Dill is on the list of things to grow this summer ... but ginger .. hmm, I don't think that even grows in this climate. I'll have to do some research, I do enjoy it and it'd be a great addition to the garden (if it's possible, that is!).

And the winner is ...

We had to do a random selection from the names submitted ... we just couldn't decide!

The random number generator turned up ... Elvis!

Elvis is doing very well, although I think he is impatient for the other lambs to show up ... he was chasing the chickens the other day. :)

21 January 2009

Lambing Season

The Icelandic sheep are very seasonal breeders, meaning that they generally time things so that lambs arrive close to Easter. The Columbia and Hampshires, though, are nowhere near as particular - probably because they hail from Great Britain where spring comes a good deal earlier and when it does arrive, it's really not all that much different from winter ... unlike spring in Iceland ... or Canada for that matter. Regardless, the Columbia and Hampshire sheep tend to lamb earlier in the year, although they're not quite as hardy in the cold as the Icelandics are.

If we were sufficiently organized and had adequately sturdy fences, we would keep the rams away from the ewes in the fall in order to time the arrival of lambs in the spring. While we did make an attempt at this last fall, our fences proved to be inadequate barriers to the determined efforts of the rams who sensed ewes in dire need of their services and did all they could to address the situation.

The first result arrived this morning, in the midst of a (thankfully) very warm spell we've been having.

He is a lovely large ram lamb, born to our purebred Columbia ewe (the biggest sheep we have here), and it looks like he was fathered by our Southdown ram, most likely (look at that little smile, that's a very Southdown grin). He arrived some time in the night with no noise from the dogs, no fuss from the sheep, and no intervention from the humans. The Boy found him when he went out to feed the sheep this morning ... this little guy was up and walking around, chasing his mama around the pasture quite happily. That's a great way to start lambing season!

This year is an "E" year, meaning all the lambs will get names that start with E. This little one hasn't got a name yet ... please give us some name suggestions in the comments, for him, and for the others still to come!

The Competence Project

Like it or not, there are some things you just have to learn how to do yourself.

Today, I learned how to change a tire.

As I pulled out of the parking lot at work, I noticed a very unpleasant thumping sound from the back of the vehicle. I pulled into the nearest safe driveway, the hospital entrance, and got out to take a look: sure enough, the back tire was squished totally flat.

There was no driving on it, not even the two blocks to the tire place. I phoned home and The Reluctant Farmer told me where to find the necessary equipment in the back of the car, and gave me the basic instructions. I made an attempt to undo the bolts, and there was no way they would budge. In frustration I phoned AMA to come rescue me, and went inside to use the hospital's public loo.

Sitting in the car, waiting for the AMA guys to arrive, I thought "this is boring." So, I got out the tools again and gave the bolts another try ... this time, they moved! A few more attempts and everything was loosened. I got the lift under the frame in the spot marked by the little bites out of the metal (also helpfully indicated on the diagram on the jack itself), and little by little, up it went. The wheel came off, the car rolled off the jack, and at that point I remembered that I was supposed to have put the emergency brake on. Did that, put the jack back under, and got the spare tire attached.

I called AMA to cancel the call and the lady at the other end said "way to go, girl!" :)

I drove home slowly, knowing that the bolts were not necessarily on all that tight and that spare tires don't really appreciate highway speeds, and received the hearty congratulations of my family as well.

It seems a small thing, I am sure, to anyone who has done it before. Still, never having done this, it was a bit scary at first. Knowing the AMA guys would be there if I couldn't solve the problem myself helped give me the courage to make an attempt, and the boredom of the wait gave me incentive to succeed.

So, that's one more thing I can say I know how to do.

12 January 2009


The new puppy finally told us his name: he is Caleb.

Caleb means 'devoted companion', according to some of the baby name lists I have seen. Caleb was the guy who helped Moses during the Exodus, along with Aaron and Joshua. Our Caleb seems to be the calm level headed sort (well, for a puppy...) and the name just seems to fit.

Besides, when you holler it across the pasture it's got good enunciation and doesn't sound at all like Bob or Mac. :)

He's adapting quite well to our routines - he plays like mad then crashes and sleeps ... and then he's up and at it again. He is not at all food-insane like so many dogs, he is friendly to absolutely everyone, and he is really interested in all the animals but hasn't chased any of them yet. He has an understandable desire to play with any wool I leave lying around, which we are working on ... but really, he is about as good and calm a puppy as one could hope for.

He is figuring out the potty training thing, adapting quite well to the crate, given how little time he actually has to spend in it, and overall, fitting in nicely. We are glad we have him. :)

05 January 2009

A farm dog

At some point working with livestock, you start to realize that a lot of things might be easier with a four footed helper. We have friends whose dog can be sent out to round up the horses and bring them in, and have watched dogs keep sheep from going through gates at a word from their owners. I've seen dogs follow their people around, just happy to be with them, and happy to do as they are asked when a job shows up for them to do.

Now, a dog like that takes a lot of training and work and love. But then, you get a lot of love and companionship in return, as well as the practical help.

Since Duggan went over the Rainbow Bridge, we've been missing an inside dog. Well, okay, some of us have been missing an inside dog ... The Reluctant Farmer is pretty reluctant to have dog hair in the house again, and I can see his point. But, The Reluctant Farmer is also pretty reluctant to spend any more time than necessary chasing stubborn livestock, so, he's been convinced that a farm dog would be a good thing for us.

Besides, as much as we love Bob and Mac, a dog that lives in the house and plays with the kids (without knocking them over inadvertently) is something we'd all really enjoy.

So ... I started looking. We wanted a dog with one of the herding breeds as part of it's genetic makeup but balanced with something a little more laid back, in an effort to reduce the intense herding need that some working dogs have.

Today, we found him.

This is our as-yet-unnamed 8 week old puppy. He is half lab, one quarter border collie and one quarter heeler. His mother is the collie/heeler and very friendly. The puppy has been very well taught by his littermates and previous owners not to nip and seems very quiet and happy.
He cried for about a minute and a half when I put him in the crate to drive home ... then quit and went to sleep. Once we got home, he wagged his tail at everyone, wandered around the house, followed us, sat on our laps, snoozed with The Reluctant Farmer for a bit, and managed to go to the bathroom outside!
He is, understandably, pretty wrung out with all the changes. He is tucked into a crate at the moment and resting fairly quietly. He cried for several minutes when we put him in, but we moved the crate so he can see us and he seems to have relaxed. Of course, it is all very stressful when your littermates are suddenly gone, and you can hear big dogs barking outside, and everything smells weird.
It's been a long time since I was involved in puppy training, but I do remember what all is involved ... and this little sweet heart certainly shows all the signs of being worth the trouble.
Now we just have to find out what his name is. :)

02 January 2009

So, why does ribbon curl, anyway? (or, the wonders of internet search engines)

The Boy found a piece of ribbon today from a Christmas present and was playing with it, pulling it through his fingers and scraping one edge over his thumbnail to make it curl up.

"Why does it do that?", he asked.

Well, I have no idea, but I know how to find out.

I did several searches, and found a few answers ... but I wanted an answer from a reputable source ... I mean, I wouldn't want to be passing on inaccurate information, now, would I?

Well, fellow enquirers, we are in luck: Scientific American has an article posted about this very subject. (I admit that SciAm is not exactly a peer-reviewed journal, but for our present purposes, it'll do).

A Harvard physicist named Buddhapriya Chakrabarti actually did experiments on the optimal method for curling ribbon:

The popular belief is that pulling faster and with more pressure yields tighter
loops, Chakrabarti says, but their experiments proved that "if you hold the
tension constant and if you make it go slower, it curls even more." More
pressure, in the form of heavier weights, did not tighten the curls, he adds.
The researchers found that the pressure only had to exceed a certain threshold,
which they are set to report in March at the annual conference of the American
Physical Society in Denver.

Chakrabarti says the ribbon curls because its outer layer stretches and, therefore, expands, more than the inner layer that is pressed against the rod or scissors. "Even when you're doing it with a pair of scissors, it's not absolutely flat—you're not pulling it flat," he says. Putting the ribbon on a table, for example, and rubbing the scissors across it does not work very well, he says. (Not to mention the possibility of damaging the table.)

The ribbon must also be taut, Chakrabarti points out, possibly so the molecules in the plastic get pulled apart. He notes that whatever the microscopic details are, pulling slower allows the plastic to relax into a curly state, because it cannot easily snap back into its old, flat one. Do not try the scissors method on satin strands, he says, because it will not work. The reason: stretching does not break the material down in the same way, because satin is woven and not a continuous sheet.

There you go. Another mystery solved.

01 January 2009


The world moves in cycles. The holidays of the year help us to find our place in the larger circle, giving us reference points that focus our attention on things that come around again and again, each time the same, yet each time different than the last. It is a spiral moving forward, yet still turning around and around, back to the same point it was last year at this time ... but futher forward in the larger scheme of things. Christmas and New Years come to us in the midst of the dark winter, every year giving us a chance to celebrate the return of the Light and to awaken hope for a better year ahead.

We are in the middle of winter, now, a time of cold and chill, a time when the weak succumb to a snow-blanketed eternal slumber. This particular winter has seen quite a few things fall into that deep frozen sleep: our collective belief in eternal economic growth; our confidence that it's safe to accumulate debt because well, we'll just pay it off later; our certainty that all we need is a 'good job' and we'll be set for life; and our certainty that the future will look much like the recent past, only brighter ... all of these things are fading into the darkness. These are big losses, big changes in our world, and the chill of their passing has hit many of us already ... the frostbitten breeze that blows in their wake is bound to send shivers down many more spines before it settles into quiet at last.

But the world keeps turning, and with the death and darkness of winter there is also the festival of the return of the Light, and the festival of hope for a new and better year ahead. There is a new beginning in every ending, and the changes we face now are no exception.

The old vision of economic growth is dying, and the markets are still reeling from the fallout. This is all bound to take some time to unravel, but in the end, perhaps we will begin once again to define growth as activites that truly create value, rather than just the shuffling of numbers from one column to another. We all know the creation of value when we see it: a farmer coaxing seeds into vegetables for the table, a carpenter building a comfortable bench where you can sit to change your shoes, a barber trimming your hair and making you look presentable again. That's value. When more of it happens, that's growth. It would be good for us to 'officially' define things that way.

For years now debt was okay, because we were certain we'd have no trouble paying it off later. If we wanted to go on a big holiday, we'd access the equity in the house. That's why it's there, right? But as the US housing market tumbles into chaos and global credit markets unwind, we see that later sometimes comes much sooner than we think. As Canadians, we may be able to learn from our southern neighbour's mistakes in time to avoid the worst of the crisis here ... but we, too, are part of the global economy and we will not be exempt. Besides, we too are in the habit of being in debt. Thankfully, the idea that 'debt is no big deal' is dying this winter, as we see the consequences of that belief playing out so painfully across the world. This is reason for hope, though: if we resolve to live within our means, and make every effort to get out of the mess we've created as quickly and safely as we can, we can move into the future with confidence, knowing there is no sword of debt over our heads, waiting to fall. This might just be the wakeup call we need to get our financial houses in order.

We have long believed that a 'good job' is the basis for a secure future... you didn't really need to worry about contingency planning, because a good job would see you through. Now, with the auto industry in crisis, Ontario alone is losing thousands of jobs, despite the 'stimulus package' ... and those were 'good jobs'. Working for GM was a guarantee of a lifetime of employment and a good pension but that is disappearing, and taking manufacturing and service industries along with it. Oil prices are down, and the boom in the Alberta oil sands is slowing. Projects are being delayed or cancelled. Where is the hope in this dark time? This is harder to see. Many families will suffer greatly from these changes, and few will have had contigency plans in place. However, for those who accept right now that there is no such thing as a secure job and make plans for coping with job loss before it happens, then there is a cushion created at the bottom of the fall, and it won't hurt so much. We can all reach out to help one another, realizing that we are not immune, and next week, it could be us in need of help. We can share what we have - food and a spare room for a friend unable to pay the rent, knowledge of how to cook cheap but healthy meals from scratch for someone getting by on EI, a spare can of tomatoes dropped in the Food Bank bin at Safeway. There is hope, even in this.

The death of our belief that the future will look much like the recent past, only brighter, is perhaps the most difficult loss of all. We who are parents dream of a future for our children that is even better than our own past. In Canada at least, that past has been free of large scale catastrophes like famine or war or economic disaster. Store shelves have always been stocked, anything we want is a short drive or a quick phone call away. However, it is plain to see that our children will inherit a world much different than the one we grew up in, and vastly different from the one we would have hoped to bequeath to them. Right now, we can't even predict what things will look like in the next few months. Even planning your fuel budget is a gamble: will gasoline cost 78 cents a litre next month, or $1.65? What will 'economic recovery' actually look like? I don't think anyone really knows.

Despite all the uncertainty about the future, though, this is where hope shines brightest. Our children have open minds, and they can learn new ways of living. They can, indeed, teach us old-fashioned grownups new ways of seeing the world in all of it's beauty and wonder. Have you ever watched a little child play with a cardboard box and wondered why you spent all that money on the toy when all they really wanted was the box? Maybe now we will come to realize that simple pleasures are, indeed, the best. We can take this chance to see the world through the eyes of our children.

To a child, it is very cool to eat carrots you grew in your back yard all by yourself.
Why not try it?

To a child who has known nothing different, taking your own shopping bags to the store is normal, and getting plastic bags is weird.
Why not get into the habit of keeping cloth bags in your car now?

To a child, it is easy to care about the polar bears losing their ice, and to care enough to want to do something about it.
Why don't you drive a little less, turn the heat down a notch,
and reduce your contribution to global warming?

We grownups are tempted to say, "Oh, nothing I can do will make a difference." But you see, it can. It does. Your one choice may not make enough difference to tip the scales back over, that's true. But the scales are affected by every choice that is made, and every wise choice is a declaration of hope in a dark winter.

Light the candles. They are hope in the darkness.

Make yours shine as brightly as it can. It matters.