Monday, 9 December 2013

Baby, it's cold outside!

You know it's cold outside when you have ice on the INSIDE of your windows.  There's no denying it - that's COLD.  When the temperatures dip below -30C outside, we always end up with frozen condensation on the INSIDE of the doors and windows.  We had temps well below that over the weekend and when we factored in the wind chill, it felt like -43C.   That's just nasty!  

This airborne moisture (humidity) condenses into water droplets on the window glass which then freezes if it's cold enough...    and it certainly has been!  I thought you Aussie gals might get a kick out of it :)   

Thankfully, we have a reprieve today - it's much milder and the ice has melted for now...   One of my winter morning chores is to wipe all the condensation from the windows.  If that isn't done, it can pool and get mildewy very quickly.

On to happier things...

In our quest to have a less "spendy" Christmas with a focus on people and experiences (rather than gifts),  we have a list of things we'd like to do together.  One of those activities is making and decorating  gingerbread cookies.  Our granddaughter, Penny joined in on the fun this weekend and much sweet enjoyment was had by all!

Paige likes to make her gingerbread men look like they are wearing clothes, so she spends lots of time arranging candies to look like trousers and shirts...  The icing decorator in Paige's hand is by Kuhn Rikon.  We love them!  My set was purchased here

Uncle Ian and Uncle Reece always are a source of great fun...  Penny is a very lucky girl to have doting relatives to keep her laughing (and give Mom and Dad a short break!).  

It's important that we work at making lasting seasonal memories for our children and grandchildren for they are the future of our family!  I want them all to have a rich history of traditions and memories  to draw from as they go on to have their own families.     We also want our children to feel a strong sense of family and have a connection to past generations, so our next activity will be writing a group letter to an elderly relative who lives in another province.  We all miss him and know that he will thoroughly enjoy reading a newsy letter written by all of us.  

Have a great week and those of you in the north ~ stay warm!

Monday, 2 December 2013


If you live in a part of the world where you receive regular snow in winter, you'll know what I mean when I say it's hard to pull out of of rut when you're driving.  It's WAY easier to drive on snowy roads when you stick to the ruts that are already there.  Trying to forge a new path requires that you drive up and OVER the ruts which can net some pretty wild results!  The car doesn't respond to your firm steering corrections - those ruts take over and really, you're just along for the ride until you get over the hump.

I've been in a cooking rut these past few weeks, relying far too often on familiar no brainer soups to use up leftovers.   No effort (just autopilot) sticking to the same old safe recipes.   A rut so to speak.   That's all fine and well on a particularly busy day (or even for a whole week when life takes a chaotic turn) but man, a whole month of same old same old?  Blerk.   It took a gentle prod from my daughter to snap me back to my senses.  She asked ever so politely "I wonder what ELSE we could do with this leftover chicken broth"?  Ummmm, you mean YOU don't want to eat that same old chicken stew either?   A tentative squeak of a "not really" was all I needed to jack things up!

We abandoned all previous chicken soup versions and sought to shake it up in a big way.  Predictable no more!   Homemade chicken broth was the base, but there's nothing sedate and quietly soothing about this meal...  After a right and proper fridge raid, we chopped and sautéed heaps of onions, kale and garlic which instantly lifted my spirits.  Who can be cranky when the mouthwatering aroma of sautéed onions and garlic fills the kitchen?   After adding red lentils to the fry pan (and a splash of wine before we covered it), we let that simmer and soften.  To the chicken broth, we added homemade tomato sauce from the freezer, a generous quantity of fresh picked herbs from the windowsill, some honey to tame the acid and cooked carrots, brown rice, peas and kidney beans from the fridge (all leftovers).   Then, cumin, curry and my husband's favorite hot sauce was added along with pasta.   I tossed in a parmesan rind from the freezer once it was all cooked through and (just before serving), added a can of organic corn from the pantry and cooked chicken (also leftovers).  An energizing, warming, flavourful and filling soup chock full of nutrients and fibre.  A winner for certain!

Flash pictures are mandatory at this time of year...  so sorry!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Sustainable Shopping - Low Gift Miles

Everywhere I go, nearly everyone asks me the SAME question.

"Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?"

Mass "Holiday Retail Mania" has commenced!   Flyers and email notifications began to arrive weeks ago as retailers jockeyed for position to vie for our dollars.  Now, more than ever, the "push" to spend is at an all time high (and not just for gift giving)!  Decorations, housewares, kitchenware, clothing, furniture and appliances...  I've seen all of those things advertised as necessary for a merry and bright holiday capable of making all our dreams come true.  Hogwash!

As a family, we have been breaking away from that "spendy" path, choosing to make gifts or support local artisans and local producers instead.   Hand making or buying a gift made with quality local ingredients or materials (usually with a story behind it) is meaningful and enjoyable beyond what any imported, factory made purchase could ever be.  The trend toward a local, low food mile diet is really picking up speed here ~ why not extend that thinking a little further and make 2013 a low gift miles holiday?

Just last weekend,  I attended a fantastic barn sale at Alberta Rose Alpacas.   It was a PLEASURE to meet such a lovely couple and see their gorgeous (very healthy looking) alpacas and shop for beautiful, one of a kind locally made gifts so close to my home.  Amid natural decorations, I shopped for handmade goodness and had a terrible time choosing!  After a very pleasurable sensory overload of touch, I was thrilled to have picked up a few gifts for some special people who I know will appreciate the soft warmth of handmade alpaca goodness.  Also available was ultra soft alpaca wool in many beautiful colours (which has motivated me to practice my knitting so that I can create something useful with it!).  

In addition to buying gifts, I'm so pleased to have purchased this beautiful hat and matching mittens just for ME!   My old mitts were so worn after 15 years, they were no longer warm.  These new ones are toasty warm and so soft.  The hat doesn't itch and is the PERFECT size and shape for my head.   What a great morning - I left poorer in dollars, but richer in warmth and appreciation, excited about gift giving and seeing the look of joy on a special person's face when the gift will be opened and touched for the first time.    That kind of shopping feels GOOD.  Keeping our hard earned dollars IN the community by supporting a local couple directly feels right to me.   Had I bought a hat and mitts at "the store" for myself, I'd be sporting high miles winter wear likely made overseas (by a child), shipped halfway around the planet by container ship, rail and truck (all totally dependent on fossil fuels).   No connections there, just buying strictly to fill a need.  At the farm, I SAW the alpacas (of all colours), MET their attentive owners and CONVERSED with the knitter.  Total community connection and relationship building, not to mention snapping another piece solidly into the "local goods" puzzle.

This holiday season, I encourage YOU to find a way to support your local producers be it for food, gifts or personal supplies.  Nearly everything you need can be sourced locally,  but you may have to go looking for it...  it's worth the hunt!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Stretching the Limits

This bright green baby lettuce is a sight for sore eyes!  It's looking very frosty just now (I just trudged out in the snow to check on it).   I hope that it survives the cold snap we've had - I'll report back in a day or so.

Everything is white outside ~ the only green is of the pine and spruce variety and even those are laden with their share of white, too.

We've been waffling between snow, melt, then snow and melt again for quite some time, but now, it's white (and white it should stay) until we crawl out of "hibernation" in Spring.  We are under heavy snowfall warning for today - the perfect day to tuck into some sewing.

Inside the greenhouse, nestled in cold frames, are seedlings, trying as hard as they can to grow to maturity.   It's a very slow process that won't end well I'm afraid, as I can't seem to keep up with brushing snow off the roof (which blocks the sunlight needed for growth).

Apparently, this weekend we are to enjoy temperatures ABOVE zero which just may aid my snow clearing efforts enough to keep these lovelies growing a wee bit longer.  Micro greens?  How about microscopic greens!?

The hens are fully in the coop at the moment as temps are simply too cold for them to be outside.  just last week, they enjoyed the last of the spoiling apples.  I've processed enough for this year, and it's so lovely to share with feathered friends ~ they savour them as much as we do, most especially as their diet has changed so much in recent weeks.  No outside greens here!

We cleaned out the coop's deep bedding recently, and the resulting pile of "compost in the making" is cooking along nicely!  I LOVE this compost thermometer because it helps me make higher quality compost much more effectively.  I'm still learning, so this guides me in my efforts...  I want the pile to be good and hot for at least 10 days to kill off any pathogens and weed seeds, then it will settle in the active zone for a few weeks and finally, drop to steady...  this pile is now totally buried under snow, but I'm going to brush it off to check the temp today.  

Notice the varied material below.  The bulk of it is coop bedding which of course has plenty of hot chicken manure, but also, a large amount of wood shavings and shredded paper plus a little bit of peat (great for soaking up moisture in the coop).   Now that we use wood shavings in the coop vs. straw, the smell is WAY better when cleaning out the deep bedding.  Also, straw tends to mat something terrible in spite of all our efforts to reduce capping.  Wood shavings are THE way to go!  Straw can be added to the mix when we layer to create a compost pile (which adds more diverse carbon sources).

In layers, we dump wheelbarrow loads of the bedding layered with plenty of leaves, kitchen waste, garden trimmings, spent greens, chopped up shrub/tree prunings, shredded cardboard, and (most importantly), duff from the natural wooded area in our windbreak tree line.  This inoculates the pile with healthy soil biology, so necessary for good finished compost.

Here the pile will sit all winter under the protective cover of cardboard and snow and will hopefully be ready for use in Spring.  I'm already dreaming of top dressing my garden beds!

I'm reading more now as the snow falls and winter settles in for good...  I have book list a mile long since taking my Permaculture Design Course and am slowly making a dent in the stack.  Our instructor recommended SO many good books during the course but as it was Spring and Summer, time for reading was slim, indeed.  Too much to do out of doors!

Additionally, I'm learning how stellar nutrition can make a tangible difference in the health of our hens.  Suzy at Chiot's Run posted about fermenting chicken feed and all I can say is WOW!  

We started soaking our hen feed and their egg production has gone up dramatically in spite of our frigid temperatures.   I'm thankful for the extra eggs, but I'm more concerned about our chickens' health during winter when they have no access to the ground to forage for insects and greens.  They rely on me entirely for their nourishment, so it's important that I am providing them with healthy, varied food to stay warm and healthy all winter long.   With soaking, we are going through less feed and I'm hauling less water as the hens seem to be getting moisture from the grain.  

I'm told that sprouted grain is higher in protein and also, is better for gut health.  Combined with worms from our thriving worm farm and greens and herbs sprouted in the garage under grow lights (the next project for the weekend), the hens should come through winter in good health.  If you haven't tried soaking your animal feed, give it a whirl.  You'll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Lastly, I've been putting away oats and lentils for winter storage.  I barter my time with a local couple who farm organically (John and Cindy Schneider of Gold Forest Grains) in exchange for the crops that they grow (wheat, spelt, barley, oats, rye, lentils, buckwheat & flax).   I'm thankful for the opportunity and am glad to be helping out a hard working local couple (albeit in a very small way).  

I'm also slowly working on an urban design project and am learning so much in the process.  What a great way to come face to face with what one doesn't know!  That old saying about having to know something well enough to teach it really proving true.   I'm forced into filling those learning gaps and although that's quite a challenging process, it's very rewarding, too.   Hopefully, the homeowners will like my design and at least implement some of it.  I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Winter Preparations

As I type, there's snow on the ground and more is falling.  No matter, we were ready!  October was mild which gave us plenty of time to get ready for "old man winter".  My intentions of growing rye as a cover crop in the main garden didn't go quite as planned as the chickens got in and ate most of it, LOL!   I admitted defeat and let them all in to finish it off - lucky girls :)  Plan B is heavy mulching but I wanted a different material from what I used last year (straw), so I hauled over a hundred bags of leaves from the city to use as mulch on the garden this year.  I didn't make a special trip, I just grabbed the bagged leaves from the curbs in town when I was already there taking my daughter to school.  It astounds me how people can't wait to get their leaves picked up by the city to get them off their property.  They are such a great nutrient source for mulching or for compost fodder!

The chickens happily obliged in spreading all the leaves out for me, picking through to eat seeds and bugs...    Those spoiled hens also indulged in frost damaged pumpkins, squash AND some apple drops from our son's yard.  Soon, I'll start sprouting wheat for them to add greens to their diet during the lean winter months.  The Wormery will (fingers crossed) be able to supply the hens with worms through the winter as well.

 A peek in the greenhouse shows that the fall rye is flourishing in there!   I seeded one side to rye and planted the other side out to (light) frost hardy greens.  I've set the sawhorses in place now to avoid trudging through the deep snow in Spring to get them set up for my seasonal seedling tables.  I did that last year which was one too many times :)

The greens are coming along in the cold frames IN the greenhouse.  The nighttime temps have been well below -10C already, so the extra protection of the cold frame covers will HOPEFULLY buy me enough time to harvest these as micro greens before we have temperatures too low for anything to live in there.  The kale on the far left will likely never make it to harvest (even as micro greens), but you just never know until you try, now do you?

These baby pac choi (below) are directly in the greenhouse soil with no cold frame so that I can compare how they fare with the ones that are protected.

Thankfully, these lettuces (below) are nearly ready to grace the salad bowl - they were started several weeks earlier than the tiny spinach seedlings next to them.  

 With winter on the way, it was time to give the chicken coop a good clean out in preparation for a new start with the deep bedding method.  We LOVED the deep bedding method lat year - it kept our hens warm all winter without any need for supplementary heat!  A fresh addition of carbon at regular intervals (wood shavings, shredded paper or cardboard, etc) kept the smell down and balanced the nitrogen nicely to make a dynamite compost kick start!

All inspired to lay an egg in a fresh nesting box!  Under those shavings are sage and oregano plus a sprinkling of tea tree oil to keep any mites at bay.

The compost bays got some loving pre-winter attention (namely turning and watering).   The left bay is a pile built a few weeks ago from spent greens, leaves and garden waste.  The middle pile is the new pile created from the coop cleanings,  leaves and greens and the right bay is all set to add fresh material to it while the other piles cook.  

I brought some of our garden herbs inside for the winter...  cilantro, sage, mint, rosemary to name a few.  So lovely to have fresh herbs for cooking - what a difference that makes to winter meals.

Last but NOT least, our darling Grand-daughter, Penny celebrated her VERY first birthday!!!!  

She LOVED the card and listened VERY intently when her Daddy read it to her :)

Then she slowly relished in opening her gifts...  one little paper rip at at time,

she savoured every single tear!

Such a darling - we love her so much!  Penny, you have brought much love and light into our lives and we are so thankful for you, precious girl  XO

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Balance. Work vs. rest

Balance is ever elusive, isn't it?  It's the one thing that I don't feel like I'll ever truly have a handle on.  Maybe if "life" stayed the same day after day, I'd have it figured out, but like you (I'm sure), life is never stagnant.  Each day brings new challenges and new learning which means that adjustments are made on an equally daily basis with regard to balance.  It's an ongoing quest.

Our mornings are frosty (above), but the afternoons are sunny and warm which allow me the total luxury (in October!) of sitting on the newly built front verandah for an afternoon cup of tea.  There's a brilliant little microclimate up in this corner thanks to the glass panes at the front, the dark cedar decking and the house reflecting heat back behind the chairs.   It's a good deal warmer here than any other place outdoors and the cat knows it (he often naps here in the afternoon).   I still sometimes feel guilty for taking my afternoon break here, but I'm getting over it :)   When I look after myself, I am more productive and am truly a nicer person to be around.  It's hard to put ourselves first sometimes when there's a million and one things we could be doing right that VERY minute.

Those way nice adirondack chairs are the ones we picked up through freecycle many months ago.  They were in sad shape (looking very forlorn, actually) and needed a total sanding down, priming and 2 coats of paint.   That took a while!  While I dreamt of a snazzy colour, I had oodles of white paint leftover so it made sense not to waste it.  White they are and I'm glad of it, now.  They are soothing and restful which is just what I need when I'm savouring a hot cup of tea mid-afternoon.  I wonder how long I can get away with such indulgences before both the snow and the thermometer begin to fall?

In the kitchen, I've been trying to use up every scrap of food that we've grown and because my family isn't as wild about squash as I am, I have to "doctor it up" a bit before they'll gobble it down.
This combination went over reasonably well on top of white scallop (patty pan?) squash - bread crumbs, tomatoes, onions, herbs, parmesan and good olive oil with a generous dusting of sea salt and black pepper.

In other not so tasty news, we completed "The Wormery"!  You do remember that when I say "we", I mean "He" right?   I am married to the MOST amazing man on the face of the planet.  He can make anything out of anything.  Seriously!  This (not very old) freezer packed it in and we just couldn't bear to trot it off to the scrapyard when it was the PERFECT size for a worm farm.  Kelly and Mitchell hauled it out of the basement and placed it up on blocks in the garage (to facilitate drainage).  There's a false bottom about halfway up made of mesh and landscape fabric.  On top of that, bedding and the worms.   The screws drilled into the top edge of the freezer prevent the lid from closing all the way which allows for ventilation.  Excuse the horrible looking walls - it's an old garage and many moons ago, there was a leak of some sort from above which left unsightly water marks.  The worms don't mind, though :)

At the bottom left corner, you can see the hole that Kelly drilled.  Eventually, the worm wee will drain out and this will be really useful for a liquid fertilizer when diluted.    I've been saving toilet rolls for months because when pulled apart and moistened, they made good bedding material for a worm farm.  I keep this bag on the nearby shelf so I can add more as needed.

Because you KNOW you want to see inside, here's what it looks like, complete with some food scraps.

Yummy, right?  If you were a red wriggler worm, you'd say yes :)

I've since covered the whole mass with fallen leaves which insulate well, but breathe.  I was fortunate to receive the worms as a gift from a friend who has an overabundance, so the total cost was a big fat $0 for this project.  NICE.  We're extremely happy to have The Wormery operational now before winter sets in as it's going to be much more convenient to put our compostables into this worm farm rather than out in the frozen, snow covered compost pile.  Additionally, we plan to harvest some of the worms to supplement the hens' diet through the winter when they have no access to insects of any kind.  Worms and insects are a vital part of their diet and contribute greatly to their gut health.  A win, win all around as long as the worms are happy and healthy enough to reproduce at the rate that I've been told that they will!  

What have YOU done for rest today or has your balance gone way off kilter?  If so - stop now and take 5 just for you.  XO

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Been awhile...

My intended brief absence from this space stretched into quite a long one, didn't it?  Such was the way of things here this early Autumn.  I kept telling myself that it was just a "season" in life, but good heavens, one busy season seemed to lead directly into another!  I think I've caught my breath, so let's get re-acquainted with one another :)  

I'm trying hard to find beauty in the darkness.  Sunrises grace our eastern sky well after breakfast now and accordingly, the nights envelop us soon after supper.   I adore Autumn for it's colour and the crisp freshness in the air (both of which invigorate me like no other season), but I do truly struggle with the shorter days...  

Harvest was astounding this year!  These green tomatoes are from the last ditch pick the night before a hard frost several weeks ago. 

They've been ripening slowly and every other day, I roast up a big batch with onions and herbs.  So delicious.  The freezer and pantry are now full of richly flavoured sauce that will coat our pasta through the winter.  

We made pickles (for the first time) with our cucumbers and have been savouring the results with our lunches and snacks.  My fav is definitely the bread and butter pickles (wish I made more).

The hens' offerings have been filling the basket each day ~ aren't they beautiful?

Sauerkraut was made to store some local cabbage (sadly ours were devoured by cabbage moth larvae). 

We dug our potatoes.  My, what a year for them!

The new shed has a roof and is almost tar papered...  siding and rain collection to come next.

After pulling the last of the greenhouse tomatoes, I found the cold frames and plopped them inside.  I'm conducting an experiment to see if I can grow greens until Christmas with this double protection.  Previously, by late October/early November, the uninsulated greenhouse was frozen solid!

The main garden was mulched with leaves and those hard working hens have been ever so busy tilling them in for me.  

In other news, I recently took a 3 day weekend (alone!) to travel to a friend's place in the foot hills of the Rocky Mountains.  It was glorious!  On our day out together, we travelled here:

to a beautiful heritage site that now houses an art gallery/studio.  The building sits atop a hill that overlooks the most stunning landscape I've ever seen.

The photos don't do it justice, really - the snow capped mountains were clear as day but in the picture they look insipid and wan.  They weren't!

180 degree views of rolling hills, prairie grasses, leaves turning, majestic mountains and a moody sky ~ it was so incredibly beautiful.  We hiked all over the site and once back at her place, we walked the rocky river bank where I found much peace (and this heart shaped rock).   How fitting that it's beat up ~ I deeply miss living by moving water and have always been a little heart sick for home.

I arrived home from that weekend away refreshed and energized ~ ready to shift gears and embrace the season change.  I cleared the house of summer things and brought out warming harvest colours in preparation for Thanksgiving.

Pies were baked (by Paige!)...

stuffing and coleslaw were made 

and root veggies were prepared for roasting.

Son, Mitchell (pictured below with his daughter Penny) went hunting on Saturday and graciously contributed 2 duck to our feast.  It was all divinely delicious!

We have much to be thankful for here in this country (and indeed, in this home).