Monday, December 17, 2012

Winter Wonders

Christmas is a mere 8 days away now – I’m not done shopping or making presents just yet, but I’m closer than I was when I started my week of vacation.  I am back in the office tomorrow for three days and them am off again until Boxing Day – so I still have plenty of time to get things done.  Shopping is interesting this year – am trying very hard to do a combination of bought gifts and made ones (money’s tight) and some of what I make will be cooked goodies – so I will get seriously started in on that stuff Friday when I resume vacation time. I can’t show pictures of one of my Christmas present projects just yet (I have to admit, it's up there on the really cool list though) but promise to describe it in detail and post pictures after Christmas is done.
In the mean-time, though, winter has made a beautiful show for us here on Vancouver Island.  We had a huge wallop of snow dumped on us last night.  It started before dark and continued on through the night. 
Back yard - last night
What I woke up to this morning was roughly nine inches of clean crisp snow and clear skies.  It’s been gorgeous and sunny most of the afternoon and Jasmine has LOVED being out playing in it.
Back yard - this morning

Side fence this morning

Looking across the street - snowy paradise!
Days like this make me wish I had a second Groenendael – they are so much fun in the snow! 
Beautiful happy dog in the snow!
With love across the waters,

Monday, November 19, 2012

Right Now The Bear is Winning…

… But not for long.

On Saturday morning I got up for work as usual.  Let the dog out.  She came straight back in.  Cat wanted out.  She turned around and also came straight back in.

This is not usual, but on Saturday morning it also wasn’t wholly unexpected either as we were in the midst of what on the Island of Jersey (Channel Islands) is known as a Right Hoolie (not to be confused with a regular Hoolie which just blows the rain around and makes things generally miserable.  We were having gale force winds combined with rain so heavily pouring down that visibility was being impacted. I didn’t force the outside issue as I could let the cat out the front door to a covered (if windy) front step & Jasmine and I would be going out for our regular walk later on anyhow.

After the walk I actually had to strip at the door (inside, not outside) so as not to spread puddles of water all around my living room. Into the shower and ready for work I then got.

Last pre-departure pee time outside for Jasmine and what do I see, but a whole section of my fence lying down in the alley AND one of the walls of my marvellous compost bin lying on the ground with compost pulled out on top of it.


When on my breaks I looked up how to repel bears from compost and also bear proofing fencing. FYI, bear-proof fencing sounds scary as hell as the best ones are electrified with high voltage as it takes a lot more than a simple electric fence to stop a determined bear.


I stopped on the way home to pick up some more zap straps, some 2.5’ screws and some groceries for me (I found mint flavoured rosebuds!!) and while looking for the zap straps and screws I also asked about purchasing some lime. Evidently it helps break compost down faster AND it masks the scent of anything a bear would consider to be “yummy”.  None to be had, but the gal I was speaking with DID offer an interesting suggestion – cayenne pepper.  Bears don’t like to smell it (having taken a big whiff when I was dousing my compost pile, I can understand that) AND the taste makes them think twice about eating.

All items in hand, I came home and went outside to prop up the pulled down panel and douse everything with pepper.  It was actually more fun than it sounds.

I spoke with my folks that night & Dad will be coming up to help me repair/replace at least the back section of the fence (which actually has no posts sunk into the ground – no wonder the damn thing just fell over) in a couple of weeks time, but my job for yesterday was to go outside and shore up the fence and compost bin.

While it wasn’t terrible work, it was raining and so it was damp.  Everything was even still in place this morning when I got up, so maybe the cayenne pepper is still working even though it’s wet out!

Today’s projects are more domestic.  Some leaves raked and into the compost bin, bread in the oven baking now and cookies planned as well. I also needed to make a couple of calls to find out where I could get something called “navijack” which is a composite of sand and gravel used to make concrete.  Great news, there’s a big gravel pit not too far from my home that sells it either by the yard, or at a $20 minimum – so the half yard I will need isn’t going to cost as much as I thought it would – woo hoo!

Anyhow, for your reviewing pleasure, here’s what I was working on yesterday…

Propped up

Yes, this is a corner. That's right - that "corner"post
is mostly gone and wasn't actually in the ground!

Look at the right side - yes, that's an 8-foot length
of re-bar, bent at a 90* angle!

With love across the waters,

Monday, November 5, 2012

On Being The Ant

Remember Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ant…?

Once there lived an ant and a grasshopper in a grassy meadow.

All day long the ant would work hard, collecting grains of wheat from the farmer's field far away. She would hurry to the field every morning, as soon as it was light enough to see by, and toil back with a heavy grain of wheat balanced on her head. She would put the grain of wheat carefully away in her larder, and then hurry back to the field for another one. All day long she would work, without stop or rest, scurrying back and forth from the field, collecting the grains of wheat and storing them carefully in her larder.

The grasshopper would look at her and laugh. 'Why do you work so hard, dear ant?' he would say. 'Come, rest awhile, listen to my song. Summer is here, the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine in labour and toil?'

 The ant would ignore him, and head bent, would just hurry to the field a little faster. This would make the grasshopper laugh even louder. 'What a silly little ant you are!' he would call after her. 'Come, come and dance with me! Forget about work! Enjoy the summer! Live a little!' And the grasshopper would hop away across the meadow, singing and dancing merrily.

Summer faded into autumn, and autumn turned into winter. The sun was hardly seen, and the days were short and grey, the nights long and dark. It became freezing cold, and snow began to fall.

The grasshopper didn't feel like singing any more. He was cold and hungry. He had nowhere to shelter from the snow, and nothing to eat. The meadow and the farmer's field were covered in snow, and there was no food to be had. 'Oh what shall I do? Where shall I go?' wailed the grasshopper. Suddenly he remembered the ant. 'Ah - I shall go to the ant and ask her for food and shelter!' declared the grasshopper, perking up. So off he went to the ant's house and knocked at her door. 'Hello ant!' he cried cheerfully. 'Here I am, to sing for you, as I warm myself by your fire, while you get me some food from that larder of yours!'

The ant looked at the grasshopper and said, 'All summer long I worked hard while you made fun of me, and sang and danced. You should have thought of winter then! Find somewhere else to sing, grasshopper! There is no warmth or food for you here!' And the ant shut the door in the grasshopper's face.

It is wise to worry about tomorrow today.

Yeah – I always thought that the ant was a little bit sanctimonious – I would like to think that instead of shutting the door in the grasshopper’s face, she would  offer some food, but still – the moral of the story cannot be argued – prepare for tomorrow today.

I’ve spent the last couple of months playing at being the ant - harvesting, doing yard work and, most recently, getting the yard and garden beds ready for winter.  Today I gathered leaves that have come down and piled them over top of some of my garden space.  Next weekend I’ll do more of the same, only this time pile it up into the compost bin to let it gently rot down through the winter until, in spring, I can use it in my vegetable beds.

Garlic is planted & has set up shoots – I have mulched more leaves on top of that bed to keep them healthy and feed them come spring.

Canning is complete – I ended up with more than sixty jars of applesauce, pears and peaches and enough fresh apples and rhubarb to make up six crisps. I also made up plum jam (which is more like plum syrup) and rhubarb ginger jam. 

The last of my apples went to my brother’s home a couple of weeks ago where we ground and pressed apples to make juice - I came home with apple mash which was dug into the garden bed and a couple of gallons of the juice (both of which are gone now) it was delicious!

Putting the garden and yard to bed for the winter makes me think of the ant – getting ready for next year’s planned crops, gardens and enjoyment.  I will have a proper vegetable patch this year – fenced off and planted with things like beans, snow peas tomatoes, squash, courgettes, lettuces and carrots. When I was over on Jersey, my neighbour had an utterly brilliant way of growing courgettes and squash – she would buy a bag of soil, cut a hole or two in it, and plant her plants directly into the soil. These bags sat on her patio. At the end of the growing season, that bag of soil was used to fill and seed lawn or to augment garden beds. I figure I will do as she did and plant squash and courgettes in those and then cover the rest of my garden space with other items…

This coming year’s garden will be smaller – eventually I want to have a larger section of my yard – all the way back to my compost bin actually - fenced off for vegetables.  Being able to plant, grow, harvest, preserve and then, through the winter, eat the foods I have grown myself is my eventual goal.

For tonight, though, I will have a dinner of roast chicken and trimmings (stuffed with bread I made myself) and a yummy desert of baked apple and rhubarb crisp. If a grasshopper shows up at my door seeking food and shelter I won’t be slamming the door…

With love across the waters,

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Damson Plums: Jam and Drunk

My Damson plum tree had a bumper crop last year and again this year – and then at the end of the ripening season it seems to have died back.  The whole thing isn’t dead – there is still some greenery on it, but as a result of the die back (which I can only hope is normal and not disease or something like that.) I can’t count on getting any plums next year.

 Last year’s plums were picked and processed just before I moved into the house.  I boiled them down, removed the stones and (most of) the skins and then froze the results – which I processed into a batch of applesauce this year.

This year’s plums were picked and frozen with a plan to make jam.

I did, however, puncture a bunch of them, fill a mason jar and cover that with vodka and some sugar.  The resulting item was then shaken daily for about a month and then put into a cupboard to sit until today when I decanted that…

But first, the jam:

I did some online research and located a very simple looking recipe for plum jam using damsons.  Plums, water and sugar (no pectin as I am told that plums have plenty of pectin in them & don’t actually need it to be added to make it set.

We shall see about that.

Anyhow, last night I pulled the plums (and the rhubarb) out of the freezer, put the plums into my big stock pot to boil down today and then let them sit out overnight to thaw.  After grocery shopping and lunch, I came home and turned the heat on low to start getting the plums ready to make jam.

De-stoning and de-skinning plums is not as simple as it was with the apples. The food mill may have worked, but I ended up letting the mass cool and getting jelly bags through which to smoosh the glop and get the juice and flesh without the added stones and skin.

VERY messy (you’re actually supposed to just let gravity do its thing, but I’m not patient enough for that and so I “helped” – thus the messy and no pictures. What also didn’t help the process for me was that every time I got my hands in to start smooshing, an animal was at the door wanting in or out.


Anyhow, once smooshed I ended up with roughly 16 cups of processed fruit to make jam with. Added sugar boiled boiled and more boiled and then into the sterilized jars, sealed and processed as per the instructions on the recipe.  I am now listening to the lids pop and praying the jam actually sets.  One site I reviewed said that:

If you don’t want to invest any additional work in that jam, all you have to do is change expectations. If it’s just sort of runny, call it preserves. If it’s totally sloshy, label it syrup and move on with your life.

I love it and am stealing the thought. I’m hoping I end up with Jam, but if I don’t preserves and / or syrup will also work ha ha ha! There is, or course, suggestions for what to do with it if you can’t live with preserves or syrup, but I’ll just use whatever it happens to turn into and gift it as such (grin)

On to the drunk plums. I also decided to decant them while I was being all messy and had my hands wet from washing off previous goop. This I let drip out while I was getting my chicken into the oven. I’m having roast chicken tonight, chicken pot pie tomorrow and making soup stock so I can make soup before I go back to work.

All I can say about the drunk plums is W-O-W. This is a taste that has to be experienced to be believed. It’s mostly liquid and I don’t anticipate trying to thicken it up (and ruin it) so I am thinking this will be something to be tippled lightly with and maybe mixed into ginger-ale for fruity-boozy goodness.

With love across the waters,

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Apple Tree

I’ve been in the throes of processing apples for the last couple of days and through all of this effort I have determined that I have a tiered system for sorting my apples.

Tier 1: Compost. This is the group of apples that have been damaged, bird pecked, fallen and been badly bruised (or used by a gorgeous Belgian Shepherd as a ball, and therefore generally chewed, slobbered on, chased and barked at) or otherwise not suitable for any other type of processing I may want to look at.

Tier 2: Juicing. Weirdly shaped or just generally far too small to bother with. I have a small box of these which I will take to my brother’s house in a couple of weeks when we have their “family juicing day” and just add them to the gleanings from their tree.

Tier 3: Keepers.  These are the ones I have been processing -  generally of good size, relatively blemish and bruise free (unless I dropped while picking) and suitable for eating, making into applesauce, slicing up and freezing for winter pie and crisp baking and giving away.

As I come to the end of the tree (well, the end of picking all of the fruit off of it) I look at what I have processed so far, what I have readied for autumn, winter and spring consumption (if I have any left by summer I would be very surprised) and I am thrilled with what I have managed to glean from it this year. There has been very little in the way of compostable (or juicable) apples from the tree – which I partially credit to having thinned out the fruiting spurs this past spring.  

For such a small tree, it’s sure given me a big supply of nourishment for the next few months!

All right – I should get back outside, get the ladder and get the last of the apples off the tree.  Frost has been making an appearance in the mornings this week and I think I would be best served by finishing this project. You know, before I start making the jam!

With love across the waters,

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sumac Begone!

Today marks the official end of the epic tale of me versus the Sumac Stump. I know I will have future sumac-related tales for you – there is, after all, a second sumac that was planted on the property – I cut it down and have been fighting with its runners this summer as well, but the bulk of my fight with the sumac was because of the big one that was directly outside the back door when I moved in.

Overgrown sumac with clematis tangled up in it
About Three weeks after I moved in, Mum & Dad came up for the day (and brought Grandma with them) to have a visit.  Dad also brought work clothes with him and helped me cut back the sumac tree to a stump.  This spring and summer I have spent time pulling up roots, digging out roots, hacking at the damn stump with my mattock and generally making a dent on it.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to dig out around the thing (and promptly punctured a perimeter drain pipe I had no idea was there!) and got to the point where I found out that although it does have a tap root per se, the tap root on this sort of shoots off to the side and up under the concrete slab poured some time ago for my current patio.

The Stump.  At the right of the stump is the rhizome.
On the left is the punctured perimeter drain pipe.
I came inside and Googled sumac trees (thank God for Google!) and learned that (like irises) sumac actually grow from a rhizome. In addition to that (also like irises) they shoot up new trees out of the length of rhizomes they send out – so a single planted tree can sprout up hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of additional trees.


At that point I went back outside, hacked at the rhizome a few more times (it was  about nine inches around), gave up, filled all of the dirt back into the hole I had created and vowed to slap any human I know who voluntarily planted a sumac! I called Mum & Dad that night and sounded off to them about it as well.

Dad told me they would come up again in a couple or three weeks’ time and, if I dug out AROUND the root (and under it,) he would bring his chainsaw up with him and we could cut through the root with that.  Knowing they were coming up today, I dug out around it yesterday.  All my hard work a few weeks ago was rewarded in that digging around it back out today was easier as the soil was nice and loose - and since we have has almost no rain; it is also dry and light.

I did, in the process, come across all sorts of pieces of broken pottery and glass, some old nails; a plastic child’s toy grenade (that nearly made me pee myself in that split second it took me to realize it was plastic,) a chunk of what could possibly original clay pipe and what looks like the corner cap from a very old cook stove. I also discovered that, contrary to what I once thought, I could NEVER be an archaeologist. I do not have the patience to sit in a hole and slowly unearth things one layer at a time. Last night and this morning confirms this newfound revelation as I have extremely sore muscles from digging while contorted into awkward positions.

The state of the stump, however, was better.  I had dug out around and below it to the point where I think I may have also discovered a very old layer of brick. I chopped and hacked at yet more roots discovered (and filled yet another wheelbarrow load of the damn things!) and left the stump in a state where it reminded me of a loose tooth.  I could wriggle it around without too much effort.  The rhizome being, I believed, the only thing still holding it in place.

It was!

Mum & Dad arrived, Dad changed into work clothes and pulled out his chainsaw… down into the hole and whizzed through the Rhizome in about three seconds flat… Rhizome cut, the stump fell over! How cool is that!

Rhizome cut, stump flopped!
A little more digging done, Dad pulled out a few more roots for me and then we hefted the stump into my trusty wheelbarrow, ran some water through the perimeter drain pipe to ensure that all of the additional dirt I lodged into it was flushed, covered the holes back up and then all three of us pushed the dirt back into place. Dad did comment to me how impressed he was at the depth I had dug the hole.  I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with myself over that – it was a deep hole!

Dirt back in place, hosed patio and then lattice to prevent
Jasmine from using it as a motorway. At the top of this
picture is my covered over garlic bed. 
Wheelbarrow full of stump and more roots
and Dad's gloves crowning the pile! 
Mum & I also got my garlic planted – 16 cloves - then we headed out for another gorgeous lunch at Mar’s on Main – I stuck with what I had last time (Greek wrap with calamari) and we came back for cake and coffee. I made an applesauce cake with my own applesauce last night and have, woo hoo, discovered a recipe I can bake, cool, and freeze!

Mum & Dad also brought up a whole pile more canning jars gleaned from my Grandpa’s basement.  A good wash out & sterilize and I’ll be ready to can up more applesauce!  I’m going to try to get out there and pick more apples this afternoon and get some more applesauce onto the stove and cooking… I’m thinking I should be able to get the applesauce cooked down and get at least one batch canned tonight before bed – the rest I will baggie up when it cools and freeze.

What’s next to be done? My Damson Plum has died back and my pear tree is overgrown, so some serious tree pruning will need to be done.  I also have shrubbery in the back yard that is now WAY too tall for me to properly enjoy – so the next Mum & Dad Day’s projects will include some much lighter work in getting these things done.

All in all, it’s been a productive weekend so far and, since it’s only 2:00 in the afternoon, I still have time to get more done!

With love across the waters,

Friday, September 28, 2012

Happy Anniversary to Me!

 Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of “all hell breaking loose” for me. One year ago yesterday I:
  • Started my new job (and the associated training program – which just finished last week,)
  • Took possession of my new home, and;
  • Moved into my new home (and out of the townhouse I was renting)

When I look back over the past year (as is, I think, appropriate to do right about now) I can see I have accomplished a lot both on the job and around my house…

At work I have made a good change for myself – am now involved in a job I like – one that interests and challenges me and, for the most part, one I can leave at the office when I go home at the end of my day.

At home I have made a start to the renovations inside (and the removal of 17 different kinds of wallpaper)

And am now surrounded by clean lines and light colours:

I made a start to the changes in the back and front yards.  I hacked back a lot of this:

Removed all SORTS of strange and interesting crap:

And am left with this for now:

No more jungle out there but still a ways to go.

Where renovations to the house itself are concerned, I have also learned that I need to use some temperance in getting things started – or rather, taking on only one project at a time and seeing it through to completion BEFORE starting a new one.

I have learned how to water-bath can food and am in the throes of preserving as much of the current bounty of my space as I can before winter sets in. Next year I hope to have an actual garden and to produce (and preserve for myself) even more of what I can grow.

I still have a long way to go, but looking back, I’m pleased with my progress.

With love across the waters,