Saturday, March 31, 2007

Spring Fever

I definitely got spring fever this weekend. We decided we're planting a lot less than last year so I only started one tray of seeds this weekend. 20 determinate tomatoes(I think that means bush type) and 5 Butternut squash.

Organized all my seeds and found out I don't have to buy any seeds this year, though it is really hard not to pick up a pack or two every time I go to Canadian Tire. We decided we'll be planting tomatoes, carrots, beets, onions, and 3 variety of peas after seeing what we had on hand already. Still debating on whether to plant hot peppers again this year or not. Last summer was to cool and damp so I'm kinda skittish of planting them this year.

I couldn't stay out of the dirt so I loosened the thawed earth in the garden. Only 3 inches of thawed soil so far. The rest is hard as, well a block of ice. Pulled a few weeds anyways, and found a row of onions that survived the winter. We're hoping they will revive and grow into nice big yellows.

We created a mini coldframe using a small "greenhouse" that we picked up at CT last year before they closed the garden centre. It covers slightly over half of one of the raised beds and I'm hoping it'll warm the soil faster so I can get my peas started sooner; mid-may instead of mid-June.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Robins Have Arrived

Spring is officially here to stay. The Robins have returned from their winter feeding grounds and are fighting over territory, mates, and bugs in the back yard. Yep, it is finally Spring. Time to start planting seeds in the starter pots.

Each person has their own harbinger of Spring and for us, and many people in North America, that herald is the Robin. Each year around March 21st, they return from the southern feeding grounds to lay claim to new mates, hunt for worms, and strut their stuff around the slowly greening yards.

This year Sparrow Haven is home to four pair of Robins, or perhaps four male Robins all trying to impress the same lady. They have taken over the back yard and are loudly proclaiming their intent to nest. Being territorial birds they are also squabbling fiercely over the more choice nesting sites.

Along with the Robins, the other migrants are beginning to return. Starlings are the most common right now though the Red-Winged Blackbirds cannot be far behind. The Grackles will be here within the month, emptying my bird feeders almost as fast as I fill them. The Goldfinches and Redpolls will be needing their niger seed feeders filled soon enough too.

Our year round residents are beginning their Spring mating routines. Flashes of red and quick tweet, tweet, tweet from the Cardinals. The cheeky Chickadees are chasing the Sparrows through the hedge. For their part, the Sparrows have begun building their nests under the tin roof of the house. Their little squrit, squrit sounds as they move around under the tin driving the cats to distraction in the early morning hours.

Yes, Spring has finally Sprung and with it the promise of Summer gardens and Fall harvests as well.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Sad Demise of Little Red

If you've been with us from the beginning then you know we shared Sparrow Haven with a feisty Red Squirrel, affectionately known as Little Red. She has scolded us and the dogs, teased the cats, and made us laugh when we found her stash of peanuts under the hood of the truck.

Early this week, PeterC was taking the dogs for the afternoon walk and he found Red in the middle of the road. She had very obviously been hit by a car, then run over by subsequent passing vehicles. It was heartbreaking news considering the place she had in our hearts.

It is, unfortunately, one of the realities of living in todays world. Vehicles, and their drivers, race through the world with their destination in mind and ignore everything else. Many a pet have been hit by vehicles on this road, and several people have come close. That fact alone justifies keeping our cats indoors only, and the dogs are only allowed to run loose if we are outside or they have their radio collars on.

Unlike pets and children, a wild animal cannot be prevented from getting into the road. All you can do is cross your fingers and hope they are smart enough to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. You can also pray that the people driving the vehicles are paying attention and will drive slower through a populated neighbourhood, though I believe it is beyond their capabilities.

On a happier note...As PeterC and I were coming home from work yesterday we saw another Red Squirrel just a block from Sparrow Haven. He too was crossing the street but PeterC does drive slowly through the neighbourhood and so missed the squirrel completely. It darted up the tree closest to the road and promptly began scolding us, and anyone else within earshot. Perhaps, if it was a female there will be a new Little Red to take over Sparrow Haven as its territory when it gets old enough to leave the nest.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

St. Patrick's Day

We're not Catholic, but like most of North Americans we have some Irish blood in our veins. That means that celebrating St Patrick's Day is a natural. While most people celebrate with a mug or two of green beer, or a mug of Guinness and green face paint, we celebrate St Paddy's Day like we do any other feast day. We cook a special meal and sit down together to enjoy it.

Traditionally we make Dublin Coddle and Soda Bread for St. Patrick's Day but this year we decided to mix things up a bit. We decided to make something similar to Coddle, but with a touch of New England Boiled Dinner.

St Paddy's Day Boil
1/2 lb thick sliced smoked bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
5 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 leek, white part only sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 sections of garlic chopped fine
1/2 head cabbage, cut into 1 thick wedges
Salt to taste

In a heavy dutch oven, fry the bacon, garlic, and leek over medium high heat until the bacon begins to brown. Do not drain off the fat. Add the potatoes, carrots, and cabbage wedges in layers in that order. Add enough water to cover the potatoes and carrots, and just reaching the bottom of the cabbage layer. Sprinkle salt on each layer to taste. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for an hour or until the potatoes are tender.

To serve scoop out the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon allowing the juices to drain off. Save the juices as a stock for a lovely soup later in the week. Or, leave the juices on and serve dinner in a bowl with a fork and a slice of soda bread.

We drained ours and served with a toss of butter thrown in. I'm not a fan of cabbage, except as sauerkraut, but I enjoyed my meal tremendously last night and look forward to left overs for lunch tomorrow.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Worker's Compensation, Disability, and Self Sufficiency

I was involved in an accident at work not long ago. Since then I have developed a constant pain. In my, and my family Doctor's, opinion the pain and the accident could be related. I filled out all the proper forms the day of the accident and then again when the constant pain developed to the point where I could no longer ignore it and required something more than pain pills.

That was three months ago and I am still waiting for WSIB to approve my claim for compensation for Physiotherapy. I have not taken time off from work, and have only asked that my manager respect the limited range of motions that was prescribed by the Doctor and confirmed by the physiotherapist. That in itself has been a joke.

My normal, daily work can include anything from sitting at a computer desk to lifting and moving 25 kg pieces of electronics equipment for 7 1/2 hours a day. I've spent hours standing on a ladder, which me neck bent at an odd angle against the ceiling, while I pulled 100's of feet of rigid coax cable. I've hung upside down from a metal structure installed on the roof of a building node, three floors above the roof of the main building. In other words I have continued to perform the duties put to me because my manager doesn't believe that those duties are included in the no repetitive motion, lifting, or pulling prescribed by my family Doctor.

Now I have been ordered to a town 2 1/2 hours away by highway to be assessed by another Doctor who has been told that the accident I was in could not possibly have anything to do with my current injury. I am angry at my manager and the company itself for insisting that they are not responsible. I am angry at the WSIB because it has been made clear to me that they work for the company and not for the injured party. And, I am angry at myself for being involved in such a situation and for being naive enough to believe that the company and the WSIB have my best interests at heart.

This series of events have confirmed for me why self sufficiency is so important. If an injury becomes a permanent disability or if the company decides it can increase profits by getting rid of one accident prone employee, then where will a person be? Without proper planning and preparation a person could easily find themselves without a home or a livelihood in the long term, and short on essentials in the short term. We shouldn't allow the world to catch us unaware.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Potato Corn Chowder

Looking for a thick, hearty chowder to chase away the cold and warm up your insides? Look no further, for tonight I present Potato Corn Chowder - aka Autumn Chowder.

I found the recipe in the most recent issue of Taste of Home magazine and in true Sparrow Haven fashion altered it to suit our own tastes. Truthfully, the only thing I changed about this recipe was the amounts of some of the ingredients and I used vegetable buillion instead of chicken. The recipe said it made 2 servings, but with our changes we ended up with 6 servings.

Potato Corn Chowder
1 medium carrot - peeled and sliced into thin coins
5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes - peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion chopped
4 strips thick sliced, smoked bacon
1 Tbsp powdered Vegetable buillion
2 cps hot water
2 cps whole kernel corn
2 cps milk
1 tsp ground black pepper
4 teaspoons cold water
5 teaspoons flour
1 1/2 cps shredded cheese -jalapeƱo jack and cheddar cheese were our choice

Cook the bacon, over medium heat, in a small dutch oven until you have about a tablespoon of fat. Remove the bacon and let cool on a paper towel. Add the chopped onion to the bacon fat and saute until tender. Add the carrots and potatoes, stirring to coat them with the fat. Add the buillion and hot water. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring often, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender.

Meanwhile, dice the bacon into small pieces about 1/4 inch in size. Place pieces into a small saute skillet and cook until very crispy on the outside edges. Remove bacon from the skillet and place on a plate lined with paper towel to absorb the excess grease.

Once the vegetables are tender, add the milk, corn, and pepper. Stir well and simmer for another 5 minutes. In a separate container mix the flour and cold water to create a smooth batter. Pour the batter slowly into the soup stirring thoroughly. Bring the soup back to a slow boil and cook until it becomes thick, at least the consistency of a thin gravy. Stir in the cheese, mixing until it melts, and remove the chowder from the heat. To serve simply spoon into your favourite soup dish and sprinkle with more cheese and the bacon bits you made earlier.

We served ours as a side dish but found it was thick enough that it could, and in PeterC's case, did stand alone as a filling meal. I can see adding some ground beef to the leftover chowder, pouring it into a casserole dish, and covering with a soft drop biscuit style batter before baking it in the oven. In fact, I think I just figured out what we're having for supper tomorrow night.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Hint of Spring

Yesterday we were chased home from work by a nasty winter storm. The highways were covered in slush, truckers moving slowing east or west like a starving herd of elephants. At the end of the day, or the storm anyway, there was another eight inches of ice and heavy wet snow on the ground.

Today it couldn't be any more different. We woke to clear blue skies that quickly turned heavy and grey with snow. The snow fell hard and thick for a couple of hours but then, just as quickly as it arrived, it left again. Behind it came scattered clouds like those you see on a summer horizon. Clouds that promise rain but move north or south just when you need it the most.

The Sun was warm and the air smelled fresh and moist. It is the smell of Spring. But, it was only a teasing hint that we are on the downhill slide from winter's grip but not out of the woods yet. While the Sun was warm, the wind that followed this mornings snow storm was brisk; promising more cold days and nights ahead before the robins return and the crocuses poke their timid heads above the thinning layer of snow that has insulated them all winter.

Today's sweet kiss was just a reminder that the Covenant of Spring has been kept. The Sun will grow stronger and warm. The animals and plants will begin their cycles of birth and rebirth once more. Since the dawn of man there is some part of us that fears that someday The Covenant will be broken, but that fear will not be realized this year. This year, Spring will come forth and the Seasons will march ever onward.