• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Trusses and joists

January and February were exceedingly cold, and Tom’s apprentice was off for two months for his courses. So Tom used the time to catch up on a variety of smaller indoor jobs, and paperwork, including completing our environmental farm plan. We also had our annual organic recertification application, which always takes awhile.

A few weeks ago, we took delivery of our roof trusses and floor joists.

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We also ordered the windows for the house, since most window companies run sales in the winter.

Other things we’ve been busy with — lots of curling, skiing (twice), 4H public speaking (all of the kids went to Districts, and the boys are headed to regionals with their presentation), and watching the Olympics. Laura and Daniel took a 15-hour driver’s ed course (10 more hours each to come, behind the wheel). And Laura has a summer job lined up already, at the local Ag Society’s office, prepare for the fair in July. Daniel has taken up welding, which he enjoys.

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And Laura made panna cotta, twice, which was lovely; she used the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which you can also find here. And chocolate macarons, which tasted better than they looked, so we’re looking forward to more and more practice sessions. Just to be helpful, of course. The boys’ 4H presentation is on how to make sausage, so they’ve been making — and we’ve been eating — lots of sausage, mostly Italian style with fennel seed, but there’s talk of venison sausage with dried cranberries, too.

Oh, and we had a new baby, considerably earlier than all the rest, which should start to come later this month.

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Adding to the walls

The basement walls will be nine feet high, so Tom added wooden “parapet” walls to the poured concrete walls to raise the height.

Some of the parapet walls under construction (all photos by Davy),

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The tower parapet wall  is made from a recycled corrugated steel granary, modified in size (pressed down from 19 feet to 14 feet). Tom started by making a template from plywood, which he set on an OSB base,

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Putting the tower parapet wall in place with our telehandler,

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Some of the walls in place,

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Next up: construction of concrete footings and frost walls for the garage, covered veranda, and covered deck

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Over the holidays, we had periods of lovely weather (around 0 C, even slightly above freezing) including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, alternating with bloody cold -30 C (not including wind chill), wind, and snow. We had some nice weather last week, but the weekend was frigid again, and after a cold day outside, we enjoyed the warmth of the house with a viewing of “Slap Shot”, venison sausages with red cabbage,  twinkling lights on the tree, and the faint jingling of the Swedish angel chimes. The next day I started the undecorating, including removing each and every piece of contraband German lead tinsel, for re-use. Here’s to a new year and the promise of warming later this week…

“McCracken, also known as Dr Hook for his scalpel-like prowess with the stick, has been known to carve a man’s eye out with a flick of the wrist. There’s a carnival-like atmosphere here. The crowd is gathered and, well, you can feel it, there’s an air of expectancy.”

Merry Christmas

from our (farm) house to yours.

'Bringing Back the Tree' by Angela Harding

“Bringing Back the Tree” by Angela Harding, a greeting card reproduced from a lithograph; also available directly from the artist, and available as a tea towel, too

(For the first time in years, we didn’t head north to cut down a tree. I thought we’d save some time, with busy weekends and daylight so brief, by buying a tree. I found a lovely one in a store lot on the day we took the chickens and turkeys to be butchered, and the kids loaded it up for me.)

Squash tian (aka casserole)

One of my new favorite recipes — a squash/pumpkin casserole. I found the recipe at The Kitchn; Faith Durand adapted it from Rosa Jackson, a Canadian-born food writer and cooking teacher based in Nice and Paris. The original recipe, Tian de courge, is at Rosa’s old blog; don’t miss Rosa’s current blog, Edible Adventures. This is a lovely dish for a cozy, lazy autumn or winter meal. It can be doubled easily, you can use any sort of squash or pumpkin you can find, and is perfect for a potluck. It goes great with a ham, roast chicken or turkey, or beef or pork roast.

I’ve made some changes, which I’ve highlighted below. I made it last weekend, to accompany a ham at a Christmas potluck, with a smallish butternut squash and a large Kabocha squash. I’m making it again for our big family Christmas eve turkey dinner, with a butternut squash and two acorn squashes.

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Butternut Squash Tian with Herbed Bread Crumbs

Recipe adapted by Faith Durand/The Kitchn from Rosa Jackson. Serves 4

2 to 2 1/2-pound whole butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1/4 cup short-grain or arborio rice (I use short-grain)
2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
Provencal breadcrumbs (recipe below)

Heat the oven to 375° F and lightly grease a 1-1/2 to 2-quart baking dish (such as a deep pie dish) with olive oil.

Peel and slice the butternut squash. You should have 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds prepared squash flesh. Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the squash in the olive oil with a sprinkling of salt until it softens and starts to disintegrate, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cover for most of the cooking time to speed the process. (I sauté the butternut, but bake the Kabocha/acorn squash)

While the squash is cooking, heat a small saucepan of salted water over high heat. When it is boiling, add the rice. Cook for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Place the cooked squash in a large bowl and combine with the rice, Parmesan, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and generous dashes of pepper and nutmeg. When it has cooled slightly, mix in the eggs quickly so that they don’t scramble. The mixture may seem on the liquid side, but this is fine.

Pour it into the prepared gratin dish, top with the herbed bread crumbs (recipe below) and a generous drizzle of olive oil. (If desired, you can prepare to this point, cover and refrigerate for up to two days. When ready to serve, bake as directed below.)

Bake for 35 minutes or until slightly toasted on top and set. Serve warm.

This recipe doubles very well; I (Faith Durand writing) use a 4-pound squash and bake the tian in a 9×13-inch casserole dish.

Herbed Bread Crumbs
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1 big handful flat-leaf parsley, leaves only (I use what the supermarket had, which often is only the curly variety)
Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs of thyme or rosemary (I use a mixture of dried thyme and rosemary)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, blend together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Add the olive oil and blend until the breadcrumbs are soft and green, adding a little more oil if necessary. Season well with salt and pepper. (I don’t use a food processor. I use a rasp for the garlic and cheese, my knife for the parsley, and I sauté the garlic in the oil, then toss in the breadcrumbs to coat, sauté for another few minutes, then stir in parsley to coat. I like the flavor of the sautéed garlic, and I like not having to take apart and clean the food processor.)

Basement walls and damp-proofing

The house, looking to the north (rounded tower wall at top right),

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Daniel and damp-proofing,

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The sub-garage, for the cistern and cold storage room,

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Davy’s long shadow (Solstice, here we come…),

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The sonotube concrete forms, for the front porch support pillars,

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Inside a sonotube,

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Sticky toffee pudding

This has become our favorite winter dessert this year. I bake it in a square metal pan, grease it well, and put home-canned pear halves on the bottom before I add the batter, and then serve it with unsweetened whipped cream and chopped candied ginger on top. We had a version with the pears, sort of like a pineapple upside down cake, when we were living in the West Indies about 10 years and it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten. Here’s another version with pears, though these are fresh and unpeeled. I would imagine apples (peeled) would be good, too.

The version below is from the Hunter’s Head Tavern, an “authentic English pub” in Upperville, Virginia via Bon Appétit magazine. Nigella Lawson has a very good version as well, but it calls for self-raising flour, which is hard to come by in this part of the world. It goes without saying that Farm School is Team Nigella.

Sticky Toffee Pudding (from the Bon Appétit website)
Serves 6

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1-1/2 cups flour, plus more for flouring pan
1-1/2 cups (6 oz) chopped pitted dates (I cut off thin slices with a serrated bread knife)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt (omit if you use salted butter)
3/4 cup sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 cup, we prefer it less sweet)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Sauce
1-1/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 tsp brandy (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350 °. Butter and flour pan. The online recipe calls for a Bundt pan, and the last time we used a Nordic Ware sunflower pan, which worked well.

Bring dates and 1-1/4 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan with tall sides (the tall sides are important because in the next step, the date mixture will foam UP). Cook the dates until they are sludgy, and use a potato masher if necessary (if you didn’t chop/grate them finely enough).

Remove pan from heat and whisk in baking soda (mixture will become foamy). Set aside; let cool.

Whisk together 1-1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt (if using) in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend (mixture will be grainy). Add 1 egg; beat to blend. Add half of flour mixture and half of date mixture; beat to blend. Repeat with remaining egg, flour mixture, and date mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out almost clean, 40 minutes or so (start checking at about 30 minutes). Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert pudding onto rack. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Sauce
Bring sugar, cream, and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in brandy, if using, and vanilla. Can be made up to 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm gently before using.

Cut cake into wedges. Serve with sauce and whipped cream, and garnish with chopped candied ginger if you like.

We have basement walls

We have basement walls, but we’ve also had more frigid temperatures (-30C), high wind chills (well below -30), arctic winds, blowing snow, and icy roads. So my hopes of all the insulated tarps coming off for better overview pictures are postponed for now.

But this is what I have,

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Aha, cured concrete:

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Our dog Lady guarding the new walls,

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Cattle not very impressed with the weather either,

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Basement walls, part I

We postponed pouring concrete until yesterday — last week’s highs were in the -20s C but they started to warm up on the weekend, with daily highs just under freezing. Much easier on the people, not to mention the concrete. It was an all-day project, from about 10 to 5, and then checking on the heaters and tarps.

All photos by Davy with his new camera (the old one had spots on the lens from within somehow), which explains why he’s not in any of them.

One of the concrete trucks arriving Monday morning. All together, three trucks came with a total of six loads,

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Laura and Daniel,

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Daniel in the chute helping to clear it out,

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The concrete starting to dry,

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Laura in the turret section,

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Davy took this under the tarps and between the forms and excavation,

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Covering the concrete with insulated tarps,

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Icicles

It’s been bloody cold here this past week, in the low -20s without wind chill, which has been considerable. And lots of snow and ice. We made a hair-raising trip to Edmonton last weekend for building supplies, more or less skating the entire way. Not nearly enough sanding trucks on the road, and too many vehicles spun out or slid into the medians and ditches.

These icicles, however, are purely decorative and lovely.

"Icicle Splendor" arrangement by Julie Mulligan; photo by Julie Mulligan from her blog,

“Icicle Splendor” arrangement by Julie Mulligan; photo by Julie Mulligan from her blog, Petal Talk

I found the idea last December on a flower blog I read, Julie Mulligan’s Petal Talk, and Pinned it, and shockingly it’s one of my most popular pins, passing 300. The arrangement is supposed to be for New Year’s, but it’s a beautiful winter idea, especially if winter comes early in your part of the world. Julie calls it “Icicle Splendor”, and says,

I absolutely love the way it looks when the bare tree branches of winter become covered with ice. You can easily create that same dramatic look in your home using birch branches and acrylic icicles. First, I filled the cylinder with a strand of clear lights and pinecones, before I inserted the branches, which gives this arrangement even more impact.

I have the clear glass vase, the birch branches, pinecones, and clear lights (warm white, since I can’t stand the bluish cool white ones), but the icicle ornaments have been harder to get my hands on in this part of the world. We have a trip to the big city in about 10 days to the orthodontist for braces installation, so am thinking a Michael’s store might be the way to go.

I’d love to know if any of the 300+ pinners have made their own versions of this, and what it looks like.

Winter into Spring

We’re enjoying and making the most of the longer days, especially since we’ve started calving. Tom built a new portable calving barn, which has already earned its keep because March came in like a lamb and has turned into a lion. Spring seemed on the way until winter redoubled its efforts — the last few days have been down to the -20s C again and blizzardy, with wind and snow.

Inside though we’re thinking of spring and getting ready for the Music Festival. And happy to have 4H public speaking behind us, including Laura’s stint as a master of ceremonies at Regionals. Laura and I also managed a trip to the college’s open house for its environmental science department (Laura is considering the wildlife and fisheries conservation program), and the annual naturalist society sleighride and snowshoe outing.

Work has begun on the new oil pipeline across the way. All sorts of trucks and machinery, including what the boys told me are Argo all-terrain off-road vehicles, which look like mini tanks, arrived, and a good portion of the trees and bush were cleared. The three dozen deer who call the woods home seem a bit discombobulated, missing the trees but also enjoying the new cleared terrain and playing on the new snow-covered mounds.

The household hyacinth (my grandmother’s favorite spring flower, as soon as she saw them at the store in February or March, winter was over for her) — please excuse the chamber pot,

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On the way to check the cows one evening, Laura took this picture of a Snowy Owl,

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February fun

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We had a full weekend here — a six-hour hands-on calving course for the kids at the local agricultural college (which meant missing 4H district public speaking, which no-one minded because the class was likely the much more educational endeavor, and good fun to boot). They were the only kids registered, along with four adults, only two of whom made it. The instructor had a fiberglass model of the back end of a cow available, one cow in the college herd conveniently calved during the class, and there was also an actual cow’s reproductive track on hand, provided by the local butcher (it’s kept frozen in between classes). The course also covered some medical procedures, including injections and tubing a calf, and artificial insemination. Kids found it all fascinating and helpful.

Also dogsledding with the 4H Outdoor Club (Sunday afternoon), and the Men’s and Ladies’ bonspiels at the curling club from Friday evening to Sunday evening.

Tom and the kids had planned on curling together in the Men’s (girls and women can curl in the Men’s, but men can’t curl in the Ladies’); they curled together Friday night, and during the kids’ class he found two substitutes. But Saturday evening, after the big dinner, Laura was “borrowed” to curl on one of the ladies’ teams. Tom and the boys, and Laura and new team all made it to second place after curling two more games on Sunday afternoon. Tonight the kids are in the finals of the junior league playoffs.

Next up with the Outdoor Club — building bird houses for the local Habitat for Humanity project to use as a fundraiser.

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Family Day fishing derby

Tom and the kids made it home after 10 pm last night, with fish, all sorts of prizes (jackets! ice fishing tackle! exercise equipment! tape measures! a toque!), and leftovers from a very tasty dinner. The weather was lovely, just above freezing, but it made for very slushy, very wet fishing. About 200 people at the lake altogether.

Davy had the best luck, catching two northern pike (known as jackfish in these parts), both over three-and-a-half pounds, the smallest of which won the prize for smallest fish by the youngest angler in the 11-15 age category. The prize for biggest fish caught all day went to a 4 lb, 11 oz jackfish. Davy of course arrived home quite excited and ready to go ice fishing again. Very soon. And fish on the menu here very soon, too.

All photos by Laura, except for the last one (two fish), which is by Davy,

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Winter

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After lolling and lazing about over the Christmas holidays, it was back to work for the New Year. We took several of our finished steers to the packers for customers who wanted organic beef. We’ve been selling halves and whole steers, and also combination packages. The kids helped us with some of the packages and we got a proper assembly line going. Have also sold some of our broiler chickens, and a trailer is coming for a dozen or so finished steers this weekend. Laura’s pullets, which arrived as day-old chicks in August, started laying last month and everyone, family and customers alike, are all happy that our egg drought is over. More January stuff:

:: Lots of curling. The kids have after-schooling curling on Tuesday afternoons, junior league curling Monday night (the three are curling with a friend and doing well, they start playoffs next week), and curling with Tom on Wednesdays for the men’s league. And various bonspiels on the weekend; we just had the local junior bonspiel, and the boys won the junior high division curling with two friends (and got second place overall for points), and Laura got second place in the senior high division. More curling up between now and mid-March, and my mother-in-law won some tickets to the Brier, so Tom and the kids will probably be going to at least one game in the big city.

:: Getting ready for 4H public speaking in two clubs. Laura has two speeches, one on antibiotic resistance in beef and the other on her time at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop last summer. The boys are doing a presentation together for one club (How to Make Jerky), and speeches for the other (Daniel on M. Bombardier and his snowmobiles, Davy on the history of root beer).

:: I wear two hats for the music festival, promotions co-ordinator (getting information packages with syllabi out to families and teachers) and mother. Registration went well the other week (numbers down a bit), and after 4H public speaking is done, the kids will hit the memorizing hard. I’m going to use Laura’s help again with promotions — last year she baked some chocolate chip cookies which we delivered to the local newspapers with the press releases.

:: The big library remodel is done and it looks wonderful. The library hadn’t had a facelift of any sort since it was first built in the early eighties, so this was long overdue. We were lucky to have a librarian and staff with vision and determination to take this on. I’ve been on the board for years and have thought every now and then of stepping down, but am so glad I stuck around. Well, except for the part about being on the policy committee and starting a review of all our policies this month. Ugh.

:: Planning meetings for the fair for three of us. Committee budgets to approve, hall booklet to change, sponsors to sweet talk.

:: Laura was invited by her aunt to the season home opener of the Edmonton Oilers, great fun even if they didn’t win…

:: I had “pre-ordered” (nasty term) the latest Flavia de Luce novel, Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, for Laura, and it arrived last week. I also bought her the dvd of the documentary, “Birders: The Central Park Effect”, since we don’t have cable/satellite television, it’s not available on YouTube in Canada, and there’s no chance any of the libraries in our library system will bring in such an American item.

:: latest documentaries for school: “Bowling for Columbine” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

:: latest reading for school: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which I think the kids are all ready for. I’m using my old copy of The Orwell Reader, which I bought because of the introduction by Richard Rovere, the subject of my senior history thesis in university. Happily, The Reader is still in print. I think along with the essay we’ll read this recent Guardian article by Steven Poole, and Frank Luntz’s recent Washington Post piece, “Why Republicans Should Watch Their Language”. And why citizens should watch very carefully when politicians start to watch, and change, their language.

Another book on the list, Mrs. Mike, very Canadian, very gritty, very plucky…

:: More in the learning to be a good consumer department: we’ve started watching a few older TV shows at lunchtime — last month CTV was airing episodes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Til Debt Do Us Part” and then switched over to “Princess”. Quite eye-opening for the kids on the evils of credit and spending more than you make. Followed up with “Property Virgins”, where no-one seems to have heard of starter houses and everyone wants stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

:: The college in town is celebrating its centennial and as part of the festivities they organized what’s hoped to be a Guinness world record giant toboggan run; the toboggan itself was 36′ long (that’s Davy at the top of this post, tucked in just inside the front curve of the giant sled) and had to slide 100 meters. Tom was asked to take official measurements and the kids went along for the fun,

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The kids with the giant toboggan,

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Coming up later this month:

:: dogsledding as part of the 4H Outdoor club

:: a hands-on six-hour calving course for the kids, at the local agricultural college

:: annual organic farming recertification, aka a pile of paperwork, sigh…

Recent nifty discoveries:

Paper roller coasters

Bar Keeper’s Friend; I had used this before moving to Canada but until last fall never saw it on Canadian store shelves, at least not on the prairies. I spotted it at Home Depot a few months ago, and it’s been the best thing for my kitchen sink, which after 14 years, had some pretty stubborn stains after cherry and berry season.  It’s also the best, easiest, and least toxic cleanser I’ve found in 18 years to use on rust stains from our well water.

It’s light out now until at least 5:30. In December it was getting dark just after 4 pm. And sunrise is now around 8 am instead of an hour later, and by the end of the month the sun will be up before 7:30. Hooray!

Blueberry Oatmeal Squares, from CBC’s show, Best Recipes Ever; Laura made these twice in three days, doubling the recipe the second time. The perfect way to use the gallons of blueberries etc I froze last summer.

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Autumn

Winter arrived suddenly and unexpectedly — especially after last year’s mildness — in October. We’ve had snow, ice, and below zero (way below zero) temperatures since then. Yesterday we drove to the little city for Laura’s orthodentist consultation in a whiteout. My scariest time yet in a vehicle, ever.

A few snaps from this wintery autumn:

In October, we received our last box of BC apples,

McIntosh apples

Paperwhite bulbs,

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The wasp nest the kids found at the new pasture,

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Peppers from the greenhouse drying,

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Our all-but finished window seat; the only thing remaining is to finish the plywood strip underneath the cushion with a wooden band (stapled, not sewn, with foam, plywood, and fabric); Laura and I love to sit here for our reading and writing — we watch the birds at the feeders and in the past two weeks have had fun watching a weasel, all white already, and a little shrew gathering fallen seeds,

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In early November, Laura led a 4H hike through the Provincial Park; I went along to the be adult in charge, but mostly I lagged behind, making sure we didn’t lose any kids and taking photographs of things like rose hips in the snow,

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Bringing up the rear (yes, this was early November),

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We have a busy December with lots of activities (4H meetings and field trips, curling for the kids and Tom separately and together, theater), Christmas dinners and parties. The library renovation continues, over budget and behind schedule as these things go, but we’re all excited for a refreshed building. Planning for the music festival.

Davy turned 12 at the end of last month and has been enjoying reading through one of his presents, Why There’s Antifreeze in Your Toothpaste: The Chemistry of Household Ingredients by Simon Quellen Field. He and his brother are making use of another present, some camping lantern lighters, to retrofit their potato gun.

On the strength of her bird blog and other writings, Laura has been asked to write some articles for the American Birding Association’s newsletter, to help add some Canadian content, and also to be a contributor to a new Canadian bird blog. Needless to say, I’ve pretty much quit giving her writing assignments since she’s getting enough from other sources.

 

Field trip

A week ago today we all went, along with Tom’s dad, on a field trip to the site of the CN train derailment not too far from here, near the hamlet of Fabyan. The bridge, which is 195′ tall, is the second longest steel trestle bridge in Canada, at 2,775 ft. long. It was built in 1908 over the Battle River by the Grand Trunk Pacific. We’ve walked around the valley and under the bridge in the summer, and so were interested to see what the site looked like today.

The road to the bridge was of course closed to all but official vehicles — CN, Transportation Safety Board, etc. — and we were waved along in the opposite direction. So we parked in an approach to a farmer’s field, and hiked through the snow and grass until we reached a point overlooking the bridge. Here are some of the photos the boys took, a few of which were published in a local newspaper.

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A trackhoe getting ready to tow away one of the derailed grain cars (photo by Davy); we stayed long enough to watch the car get pulled around the bend out of sight,

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CN workers repairing damaged track (photo by Davy); we believe this is the where the derailment began,

*  *  *  *

Scaffolding near the support structure with damage visible (pieces of steel bent and broken), as a result of falling train cars (photo by Davy),

*  *  *  *

Some of the train cars after they fell to the ground below (photo by Davy),

*  *  *  *

A Hitachi track hoe with mechanical jaw righting one of the fallen cars (photo by Davy),

*  *  *  *

Lifting a derailed grain car with two cranes; spilled grain visible on tracks (photo by Davy),

*  *  *  *

Another shot of lifting a derailed car off the tracks with two cranes (photo by Davy),

*  *  *  *

Working on the tracks above and in the valley below (photo by Davy)

Daybook: January 23

Outside my window…

It snowed a bit Saturday but we’re still far away from a usual snowy winter, with only about 2″ on the ground. Thankfully, the snow accompanied some warming temperatures, and we’re out of the cold snap for now at least. Yesterday was -3 C, later this week we get just into the plus temps. So what little snow we have will do some more shrinking.

We’re enjoying an irruption of common redpolls, with about 40 who’ve taken up permanent residence at Laura’s feeders. There are usually four or five birds feeding, one sitting on top of the feeder, and 10 or so on the ground below the feeder cleaning up the fallen thistle seed. We learned from a display a few months ago by students at the local college that redpolls can survive in severe cold, down to about -67 C (-89 F below zero), and cope with warmer weather in part by pulling out some of their feathers. This is definitely feather-pulling weather in the redpoll world.

I am thinking...

about creating a new binder for organizing. I’m finding myself overwhelmed with various programs, internships, and such for the high school years. Every time we turn around it seems there’s something good to consider. Laura is putting together her application form for a birding internship due in April, I’ve been mulling over Encounters with Canada since the fall, the 4H exchange program to Finland sounds appealing, and friends with a daughter a year older than Laura have been passing along all sorts of interesting post-secondary information for Alberta.

I realized I need a place to keep everything, and think I’m going to start a new binder, arranged chronologically, by minimum age, and within that by month. I can print out information pages and application forms, add empty plastic page protectors with reminder Post-It notes for recommendation letters on their way, and so on.

I’m not sure if anyone else with older kids would find something like this useful, but coming from a position with local programs to more far-flung ones involving considerably more paper, I think this idea will help Laura (and later each of the boys) and me stay on top of what they’d like to do, the various options and deadlines. I’m also old-fashioned enough that I think I’d do better with something in a binder rather than something online, something we can flip through together at the kitchen table, though I’m sure for some families an entirely online version would work as well.

In the kitchen…

Apple Sharlotka (see previous post)

I am going…

on a bit of an expedition today. We heard on the news that a CN train with grain cars derailed on Saturday about an hour south of us. Seventeen cars left the tracks, and 11 cars plunged off the tracks into the valley below, with some damage to the bridge. It’s a little valley we know and love, and Tom wants to see what the damage has been.

And we went, from Thursday to Saturday, to the annual Farm Curl. Tom and the kids were a team, and did very well, winning all three of their games, getting fourth place, and winning some nifty prizes to boot. All capped off by dinner and a dance last night.

Upon arrival at the dinner last night, Davy wanted to inspect the prize table (as each team is announced, winners get to pick their prizes from those provided). He spied some earrings donated by the local jewelry store, and asked me if I’d like him to pick a pair when his turn came. I was touched, and told him to pick something for himself he’d enjoy. So he picked an angle grinder instead when his turn came.  It’s those little moments that continue to prove to me we get what we put in.

The kids and Tom, together and separately, have a few more bonspiels between now and early March and they’re all looking forward to the fun. Laura has been asked to curl with a high school team for next year, which she’s mulling over. It offers the possible opportunity of curling in the provincial championships.

A few plans for the rest of the week:

A library board meeting (getting a long overdue facelift underway), a bit of time to rest for the music festival now that registration has been completed (we adopted a different method this year and it seems to have been successful), kids working on 4H speeches and presentation, and I’m going to get started on our organic farming annual paperwork since I just had notification that the deadline has been moved up from April 1st to March 1st. Oy.

Warm apple dessert for a cold January Sunday

On the menu for today, along with pork roast — smitten kitchen’s Apple Sharlotka, via Deb Perelman’s Russian mother-in-law. The perfect way to use up the last of our case of Macintosh apples from BC, though I will probably go with 3/4 cup of sugar…

Apple Sharlotka

Adapted from Alex’s mother, who adapted it from her mother, and so on…

Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing pan
6 large, tart apples, such as Granny Smiths
3 large eggs
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
Ground cinnamon, to finish
Powdered sugar, also to finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Peel, halve and core your apples, then chop them into medium-sized chunks. (I cut each half into four “strips” then sliced them fairly thinly — about 1/4-inch — in the other direction.) Pile the cut apples directly in the prepared pan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in vanilla, then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick.

Pour over apples in pan, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter so that it covers all exposed apples. (Updated to clarify: Spread the batter and press it down into the apple pile. The top of the batter should end up level with the top of the apples.) Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of batter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on rack, then flip out onto another rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it back onto a serving platter. Dust lightly with ground cinnamon.

Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar. Alex’s family eats it plain, but imagine it would be delicious with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped or sour cream.

Am very much looking forward to the Smitten Kitchen cookbook coming in the autumn. I have countless SK recipes saved in my email, printed off on loose sheets of paper, scribbled on yellow lined pads.

January daybook

A very happy belated new year to all.

I have to admit I’m glad to see the back of 2011. I had high hopes for it being better than 2010 — I didn’t have any more parents to lose, after all — but in the end it seemed I spent most of the year hostage to lawyers, accountants, bankers, and two executorships. And worrying as Monopoly-like amounts of money went flying about to pay bills and taxes. Soul sucking and exhausting.

For such a long time until last year, our days, weeks, months always seemed to expand as necessary, magically, to fit our various activities or adventures. Whenever it seemed we were, or I was, at a limit, that limit would move out just a bit, like a favorite pair of sweatpants. But in 2011, I learned that life is not an endlessly expanding pair of pants. There are indeed limits to limits, and the elastic snaps like a rubber band, which smarts and also sends a whole bunch of things flying in the process. This year, I need to get out of the hostage situation, by any means necessary.

Outside my window…

it looks more like spring or autumn than winter. There’s no appreciable snow, thanks to an unseasonably warm December and January, with temperatures just around freezing. Today was 5 C above zero, and last Wednesday the temperature climbed up to 11 C (52 F) which was, unsurprisingly, record-breaking. The kids spent some of the holiday days skating on the frozen slough (pond) across the road, but in general the boys are quite unhappy with the lack of snow, going to bed every night with hopes of waking up to a blizzard for proper winter fun. It has been great weather, however, for adults, especially adults who need to drive.  And with the solstice, a wee bit more of daylight every day, which is most welcome. But this is Canada, so I’m assuming winter will be here soon enough, and I’d rather have my snow in January and February than May and June.

I’m thinking…

of my father, who died two years ago this week. It doesn’t seem like two years, but then a year ago we were preparing our cross-continent odyssey. I thought of my father often last month as we baked cookies, because the workhorse of the kitchen is the Kitchenaid mixmaster he gave us for Christmas five years ago. Especially handy for double recipes of my grandmother’s Viennese vanillekipferl, ground almond crescents, without which it isn’t Christmas around here.

And of Tom’s uncle, who is dying of kidney failure. Our holiday preparations and festivities alternated with hospital visits. Tom’s uncle, wanting to end the pain and misery, had originally refused to continue with dialysis. But the doctor persuaded him to continue through Christmas, for the sake of his family. We sit and wait, but we also tell stories, remember, and laugh.

I’m thankful…

for our relatively peaceful Christmas at home. It was lovely, and much needed. We went off to the woods for a tree, which the kids put up by themselves and then decorated. They had great fun planning Christmas gifts for us and each other, and put much thought into their choices. Laura made a lovely quilled (paper filigree) picture of two chickadees, Daniel ordered a lovely pair of blue and white earrings from Etsy for me, and Davy picked out the perfect pair of beeswax tapers for our silver candlestick holders. Much thought, and much love, in evidence.

Laura sang beautifully two of the songs she’d been practicing all autumn, “Gesù bambino” (in English) and “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” (some verses from “As You Like It” set to music), at her December recital, and also at a women’s holiday breakfast, the annual Christmas dinner at the nursing home for residents and their families, and the town’s Christmas dinner for the public. While Laura sang at the town dinner, the boys helped deliver meals for shut-ins.

Laura also had a table at one of the December farmer’s markets in town, to sell her quilling (greeting cards, ornaments, gift boxes, and some framed quilling pictures) and also birchbark candle holders. I had seen some on Etsy and told the boys I’d love something similar as an early Christmas present. We had a birch tree that blew over in a storm, and the kids became so proficient and had so much fun turning out the log candleholders for me that they figured they could make some to sell. The candleholders proved so popular I wasn’t left with many for myself; here are a couple I managed to pinch, with cedar from the garden,

In the kitchen…

things have slowed down considerably. We made braided loaves of Christmas fruit bread, mince tarts, kipferls, rum balls, thumbprint cookies. Laura made several batches of gingersnaps, for her voice teacher and the library staff. Davy made brownies with crushed candy canes for the guitar teacher. Although we had turkey on Christmas Eve at my inlaws’ house, Christmas Day dinner was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding here. For New Year’s Eve, we had our usual hors d’oeuvres buffet, with devilled eggs, hot crab dip, smoked salmon, crudites, and more.

Chili and rice tonight. I’ve been smitten for the past few months with my new Le Creuset 5.2 liter red enameled cast iron Dutch oven, though Le Creuset of course would prefer it to be known as a French oven. I had no say in the size or color, since I got the lovely heavy beast for Air Miles in the last chance/clearance section. Just when I had become despondent about finding anything I liked and could actually use, after sorting through the entire Air Miles rewards website, I found the magic pot and grabbed it immediately. It arrived almost as quickly, and we have been making good use of it every since — chili, baked beans, soups, stews. I can finally see what all the fuss is about for such an expensive pot. Not only does the pot make everything taste better, but it is ridiculously easy to clean. With its layers and layers of enamel, there is, apparently, no such thing as “baked-on grime”. Truly magic.

I’m wearing…

a brown Fair Isle cardigan and sweatpants (elastic intact, thank you very much)

I’m creating…

a bit of order. We spent several days over the holidays at Home Depot for in-stock, ready-to-assemble cabinets for the dining area, and then assembling them. It took us three trips, including one to the big city after exhausting the supply of the HD in the little city. We had bought the Ikea butcherblock countertops over the summer.

Now I’m deciding where to put what. I’ve already put away all the board and card games, which used to live on the floor under the roll-top desk in the living room, and the kids’ home school books and things, which I used to keep in plastic dish tubs on the kitchen floor under the china cabinet.

Speaking of creating, last month I made an advent calendar for the kids, which is about as crafty as I get. We would usually get the German paper kind, with a glittered woodland scene (no candy), the same sort I’d had as a child. From time to time I could find them in the drugstore at Christmastime, but it’s been getting harder. And I decided it would be nice to have something we could reuse, and also something particularly fun for the kids, considering our holidays of late. On a number of blogs I’d seen the kind made with muslin bags, so I decided with the help of Etsy, a hot glue gun, and rubber number stamps, to try something different,

A few bags had candy, but most had things like Christmas kleenex packages (from the dollar store) and mini Christmas crackers and nutcracker ornaments (from Loblaws). Great fun.

We also hung snowflakes from the windows in the dining room. I found some lovely laser-cut wooden ones I found on Etsy (here and here) and at Chapters, which Daniel spray painted white for me,

I’m going…

slightly less crazy, I hope.

I’m reading…

Death Comes to PemberleyP.D. James’s Jane Austen confection, just perfect for the holidays; I was so keen to get a paperback edition rather than hardcover that I didn’t look carefully at the cover on the Chapters website and ended up with the large print version, which made me laugh when I opened the parcel and realized what I’d ordered. But it’s perfect, very easy on my old eyes, and delightful to read without drugstore reading glasses. The large print aspect is considerably more exciting than the actual mystery, which isn’t one of James’s best. She’s worked well around the constraints of the very basic early 19th century policework, but Darcy and Elizabeth are, sadly, both stiff and anemic.

For Christmas, I gave Laura the latest Flavia de Luce novel, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, and as soon as she’s done with it, I’m going to borrow it to read. In the meantime, I’ve started it on audio CD from the library, and was delighted to find that reader Jayne Entwistle appears to be channelling plummy-voiced Joan Greenwood when voicing the character of British film actress Phyllis Wyvern, who has come to Flavia’s run-down house, Buckshaw, to shoot a movie.

A few blogs, including Alicia Paulson’s Posie Get Cozy and Lisa’s Amid Privilege. I’ve long been a reader of Posie, and this year had been following along as Alicia and her husband came very close to the adoption of a baby they had long hoped for, only to have things fall apart at the very last minute, after the baby’s birth. It has been more than a year of waiting followed by heartbreak and dashed hopes. In her year-end blog post, Alicia wrote,

Almost twenty years ago I had a panic attack on an airplane in mid-air. Tears streamed down my face. I closed my eyes and was back in my grandma’s spare bedroom, in the warm dark with the night-light left on in the hallway, my grandparents sleeping in their twin beds on the other side of the wall. Safe.

I’ve conjured that place several times this past year, trying to find purchase in my life and in what has, at certain times, felt like being in free-fall. I think that’s how most of life is, in a lot of ways. You step forward, and step forward, and then you touch back — everything still here? Still here. Okay. Forward again (then). Life pulls you forward, even when you feel tired. I never was an adventurous person, in my own opinion; I always had big plans but only for little, mostly prosaic things. I always was and still am happiest in slow, mostly quiet places, with long, mostly quiet days. Winter suits me. When I look back on 2011, I am, I have to admit, still sort of bewildered and shaken, not sure what happened or even what to do next. I’m trying to be at peace with that gauzy, half-blurred feeling, and on certain days think it is easy to just — let it go away from me, a long piece of crinkled muslin tossed up and carried off into the wind. On other days I seem to wear it, spiraled and close, like a scarf. Maybe I’ll just lose it somewhere, and not even notice. Leave it on a bench or a bus. I won’t mind.

I kept nodding as I read this. The last year has been one long panic attack, it seems, with safety on the other side of the door but for some reason so many hurdles, probably banker’s boxes full of files in my case, in the way of that door. I too, am happiest in slow, mostly quiet places, with long, mostly quiet days. Of course, my version of quiet days includes a number of extracurricular activities for the kids (two 4H clubs, what on earth was I thinking?) and various volunteer projects for Tom and me. But it works for us. Or at least it did, until all sorts of other things got tossed into the mix. I’d love to leave the lawyers, the business, the house, on a bus. One going fast, and far far away from here.

At Amid Privilege, Lisa wrote the other day,

Only a reminder that in the New Year, we can resolve to enjoy, again, taking care of those we love. To revel, again, in all the ways learned to fold laundry, change sheets, and make Nina Simmond’s Chicken Hot And Sour Soup. At 55, years of good work give us the right to ease up, but we can also serve without obligation. Teasing out those specifics is the greatest privilege of our later years.

Yes, we can resolve to enjoy, again, taking care of those we love and I shall. To borrow from Emily Dickinson, hope isn’t just the thing with feathers. Hope is also the thing with fabric swatches, with a full soup pot, with another chapter in the math book, with new green shoots.

That’s my amaryllis Limonia (cream with yellow throat) coming up, in an old chamber pot. And the new Ikea butcherblock countertop in the dining room, with the original Ikea finish. I’d hoped to sand it off and try some Waterlox, but Tom was too fast for me. We’ll see how it holds up. I may yet try Ikea’s own Behandla.

I’m looking forward to…

finishing up the dining room. We still need flooring, as you can see in the pictures below. And cushions (probably no-sew) for the window seat, though I did order some blue fabric, Waverly’s Barano Indigo, which is on the way,

Tom wasn’t too crazy about the idea of window seats but the kids and I insisted; it’s a wonderful place to sit and read, drink a mug of something hot, eat a bowl of soup, and look out the window and watch the birds in the spruce tree at the feeders. I can’t remember which one of us came up with the idea of using the Home Depot in-stock over-the-fridge cabinets, they are just the right height.

Ignore the little ghostly squares from the picture frames in each photo, and apologies for my poor picture taking. The plants (you can see the banana in the top photo, far right, and the Boston fern on the window seat) are some of my greenhouse refugees. The rest are in my bedroom, the office, and the basement. The ones in the second photo are sequestered on old cookie sheets so the butcherblock stays dry and undamaged.

You can see just where the remaining drawers need to go. As spring approaches and the sun gets stronger, we’ll need bamboo blinds on the east and west windows, because, as we learned last year, the sun is blinding at mealtimes.

Oh, and Tom is still working on our new farmhouse table, which is still in the shop. The new table will take up much more floor space, especially width-wise between the cabinets, but am sure we’ll be able to manage.

The hardboard placemats, below, we found in Hereford on our honeymoon 17 years ago, and had lived in a closet until Tom put them up the other week. The blue and white transferware prints by Australian artist Kerri Shipp I found at her Etsy shop early last year, just after our return from NYC to clear out the apartment; I was in need of cocooning and retail therapy, and I thought the prints would be a fun nod to our Spode and Burleigh plates. Laura was very impressed with my taste when the prints arrived just before some others by Kerri appeared in a Spring issue of Martha Stewart magazine. It’s wonderful to have some of our favorite things up where we can enjoy them every day.

Around the house…

One of my favorite things…

A Christmas present, for the dining room of course, a new-to-us old clock, via Etsy. Made in England, c1940-1950, I think,

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Back to school, as well as music festival work, a 4H meeting, lots of curling, getting started on 4H speeches and presentations, a visit to the orthodentist, some hospital visiting.

I suppose if I were blogging more regularly, this wouldn’t be such a giant post, would it?

We have walls

for the kitchen addition.  Well, we’ve had the walls built for a while but just haven’t been able to stand them up until the -30C blustery weather and snow stopped.  For good, we hope, considering the date on the calendar, but who knows this year. Snow we expect through the end of the May, but -30 is usually a thing of the past by now.

Apologies for the pic quality, I took these from inside the house, which gives the best view.

Our telehandler helping out,

The west wall going up,

West wall attached; there will be built-in shelves with the window in the center (it was either that or two very narrow windows on the edges) with the countertop and cabinets underneath, as a sort of dining room/school room hutch.  There will be one “hutch” on each side, east and west,

The east wall going up,

The north wall; Laura was just telling us the other day that it’s time to get rid of the swing set, so we’ll pass it on to some friends with young children,

Next up, literally: trusses.

This and that

I’ve apparently forgotten how to blog, as evidenced by the post title above.

It’s -23 C here with wind chill in the minus thirties (tonight the forecast is for -32, with a windchill of -47, which doesn’t even bear thinking about). It snowed over the weekend, including all day yesterday and last night, and overnight blew in so badly that Tom and the kids got stuck in the truck in drifts six or seven times on the way to do chores this morning and would have been stuck on the way out had the grader not come by.  Am quite safe in saying we are thoroughly sick of winter in two countries, through most of the Canadian provinces and several US states.

However, I’ve been able to avoid the worst of the weather today since I’ve been stuck in bed surrounded by a sea of receipts, checkbook registers, and other papers spread out in piles , trying to figure out for the lawyers and accountants:

total funerary/memorial expenses for my father

total funerary/memorial expenses for my mother

total expenses fixing up the house in the Caribbean we don’t want and apparently no one else does during a recession either

If I concentrate on just the numbers, I don’t think as much about the parents those arrangements were for, or the house as paperweight-cum-albatross.

The kitchen addition project continues.   Tom, his cousin, and the kids (occasionally) have been making good progress, first attaching the sheathing for the floor, and then, when it got too cold to work outdoors, building walls, which I believe are just about done.  We are recycling three windows from another job which the homeowner had ordered in the wrong size, those will go on the north end near the spruce tree, and will order two new windows, one each for the west and east sides.

Attaching the sheathing,

Sheathing all attached and waiting for walls,

And a couple of photos before we left New Jersey — Laura (age 13) and Davy (10) in the trailer, after shoving the last few items into the remaining top 24″ of space,

Back to the sea of paper.

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