Friday, December 26, 2008

My Gift

Here is the gift PeterC made for me. It is lovely and includes all my favourite flowers found at Sparrow Haven. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Home made Christmas

This year we decided to make gifts to exchange for the Holidays. PeterC had requested tie clips and so I spent a few weeks trying to figure out how to make them out of wood. The end results turned out really nice and he loved them. He has told me several time since he received them that they were the best and nicest gift I could have given him. Pretty high praise in my book.

The woods are:
Left: Cherry Right: Walnut end grain
Left:Wamarii Right: Crabapple
Left:Yellowheart Right: Walnut w/ basswood inlay
Left:Wenge Right: Walnut w/ cherry and yellowheart inlay
Left:Crabapple Right: Basswood

I plan to make him at least a few more as long as I get the time and have access to different woods.

You may also remember I mentioned that I was weaving PeterC a scarf for Christmas. I finished it finally and thought I would share a picture of it as well. It isn't as long as I had hoped but it is my own fault. I left to much extra yarn, for fringe, when I secured it to the loom.

Close up of the pattern.









The scarf as it looks when worn.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snowmaggedon

We were watching the news last night and the weather report referred to Environment Canada's weather warning that predicted "Snowmageddon" for southern Ontario. To quote Peter Mansbridge "..the storm that Environment Canada is referring to as Snowmageddon..." A huge series of snow storms that would drop 50 cm of snow over night with high winds and really low winchills in the -30ºC ranges. According to CBC's "The National" the airlines were encouraging people to change their flight plans as they expected the airports to be shutdown due to the bad weather.

Mr. Mansbridge went on to report that some passengers were already stranded due to the "high numbers of people changeing their flights", one family from Newfoundland being told it could be a week before they can get home. A week? Spent sleeping in plastic chairs at the Toronto Airport? Poor souls. I would be demanding my ticket money back and finding a Via train home. It might take three days but at least I'd be home for Christmas.

Needless to say I was expecting a blizzard this morning when I woke up but low and behold we have some wind and a few, and I mean a very few, snow flakes coming down. Like any reasonable person I decided to research the threat and find out what happened. I checked CBC and CBC "The National" and there was not a peep or a mention of the word Snowmaggedon anywhere that I could find. I did a Google search and was able to find only one news reference to the word in a Guelph Newspaper.

I went to Environment Canada's website and looked at the weather statement and of course could not find any reference to Snowmaggedon anywhere in the warning. In fact the only real warnings, I could find, centred around Toronto. Many Torontonians believe that Toronto is the centre of Canada or even the world, but the rest of Canada considers it just another big, busy, noisy city. So why would a weather warning that really only effects Toronto and locales surrounding it become such a huge news story using words guaranteed to incite panic?

Perhaps the blame doesn't lie completely at the feet of Environment Canada since it is well known that they update their weather warnings several times a day and weather, like the stock market, changes minute by minute. Instead the blame should, perhaps, be placed at the feet of the news agencies that latched on to such a dire and grim warning in an effort to sell more newspapers and encourage people to watch their programs.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Charity

The local Knights of Columbus did their annual door to door Christmas Basket Canned Food Drive yesterday and it got me to thinking about charity. There are two kinds of charity - physical and mental. Physical charity is the act of giving, be it food or money, to those you perceive as being less well off than yourself. Mental charity is the act of giving your fellow man the benefit of the doubt and thinking kindly toward them.

I think most people, at some point in their lives, have performed an act of physical charity. Donating clothes to a Salvation Army box, dropping a box or bag of food into the Food Bank bins at the grocers, even giving change to the homeless are all acts of physical charity. Giving is easy, and in some cases is done as a matter of course with no thought for those who will be receiving the charity.

It is the mental charity that I believe is lacking in this world. How many people actually think about those receiving their donations? If they do think of them do they think of them as lazy good for nothings? Perhaps it is not so with the giving of food or clothing, but I'm willing to bet that the majority of people who give change to strangers do not give out of the goodness of their hearts. Most people give to make themselves appear generous or they give to get rid of the beggar.

And there I go, being mentally uncharitable. I need to work on being more charitable toward other people, regardless of who they are or what they do. Would you join me in trying to be more charitable, both physically and mentally, toward the people around you? If we all be more charitable until the end of the year, maybe we can make a difference in the world.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Weather

As you might have guessed I did survive my trip into town alone. I had almost reached the point of calling and postponing the appointment until later this week but I girded myself and drove into town anyway. As it turns out that was the best course of action considering the turn the weather has made since then.

Yesterday, I woke to find the snow coming down hard with a nasty wind blowing off the river. The snow kept up until around 8:00 pm when it turned to freezing rain. At some point during the night the freezing rain turned back to snow. This morning all the trees and shrubs are bowed down heavy with ice and snow, which is still falling heavily. We've already received an inch of snow since I walked the dogs an hour ago.

So here I sit watching the snow fall, the birds flutter around, the fire curl in the wood stove, and I am thankful that I was able to get my anxiety under control enough to drive into town Monday. Now I can sit and enjoy the weather and the company of the animals, warm and snug in my home.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Nerves

PeterC is on a week long business trip and I have a doctor's appointment this afternoon. I am as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. It has been several months since I've driven the truck and even longer since I had to drive into town. To top it all off I have to go to a clinic I've only been to a couple of times and find an office I've never been to.

I don't know why I get like this but I do. I can remember the first time I flew on an airplane alone and the severe panic attacks I suffered daily a week before the flight, and every time I landed at an unfamiliar airport to change planes. Even when my work required regular flying I would be nervous and twitchy the day before the flight, convinced that I was going to miss the flight, get on the wrong plane, or any number of silly scenarios.

I've been unable to sleep for longer than an hour at a time for the last couple of days and my appetite has gone into the crapper. I find myself glancing at the clock every couple of minutes afraid I am running late. I've made plans for every scenario I can imagine and plan on being dressed and out the door at least an hour before the appointment. It only takes 20 minutes to get into town but I'm not leaving anything to chance.

I know I am getting nervous and wound up over nothng. Thousands of people do this kind of thing every day but to me it is a big deal. I seem to suffer from some psychosis that sends me into panic at the thought of doing anything out of the ordinary, especially if it involves traveling and dealing with strangers. But, I will perservere and get through this as quickly and as safely as I possibly can. I will make it home before dark. But for now, all I can think about is "what am I forgetting to prepare for?". Oh yeah, money to pay for parking.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Slow Down

After all the hard work, over the last few weeks, I now have 14 litres of pumpkin cubes and 14 litres of yummy pumpkin soup to get us through the winter months. I still have one pumpkin left but I am hoping to find someone to take it off my hands. The pumpkin I have sealed is enough to last us a couple of years unless it is our only food and then it will last a couple of months. Either way, we have enough pumpkin stored that finding a home for the last one is imperative.

After I finished all the canning I worked on a commission for one of PeterC's coworkers. I had made some wooden tie clips, using magnets to secure them to the shirt, for PeterC as a gift and one of PeterC's coworkers like them so much he requested three for himself. I thought it was pretty cool and it gave me an excuse to order some more magnets and some exotic woods. I finished the commission yesterday and I am now on the front end of the winter slow down.

This is the time of year where I can catch up on my reading, take my time to create as my heart directs, and in general just slow down and relax. This period of relaxation will end sometime in January when I start feeling the need to work in the garden and get seeds started. Until then, though, I have several projects I want to work on including trying to teach myself to knit. With any luck I'll pick it up easily enough and will be knitting sweaters by next year. So here is to the slow down and to a month of relaxation and crafting.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Of Pumpkins and Neurotic Dogs

I've been working on canning pumpkin for the last weeks weeks. Between the amount of time it takes to process each pumpkin, and the fact that I ran out of jars, this project is taking a long time. Unfortunately I have managed to turn our normally happy mop dog into a shivering pile of jelly during this project.

You see Muffet is a neurotic dog. We found out the day we brought her home from the local SPCA shelter that doorbells send her into fits of shrill and annoying barking. A few weeks later our fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. Muffet tried to teleport outside by slamming herself into the back door repeatedly and when I finally opened it she ran blindly as far away from the house as she could get. We finally found her a couple of kilometres away.

The next trigger we found by accident the following canning season. We were doing our normal canning and when the jars made their characteristic POP, as they sealed, Muffet became unglued. The first pop caused her to shiver and pant. The second pop made her start running back and forth between the front and back door. The third pop, well lets just say I had to clean doggy body prints off the back door. But canning season is normally fairly short and she got over it pretty quick, until the following season.

This year is another story. Each load of pumpkin takes 1.5 hours to cook at 10lbs pressure. That is a lot of time for Muffet to drive her self insane with fretting. Then it takes almost an hour for each load to cool off enough to open the canner and pull out the jars, which then start sealing over the next two hours. Each pumpkin is so large that it takes at least two loads to can it all which means two days of canning per pumpkin.

I've only managed to process two pumpkins so far and already Muffet is so wired that I can't stand in the kitchen, doing normal kitchen stuff, without her beginning to shiver and pant. If she sees me handle the canner or handle canning jars, she goes nuts wanting outside. Yesterday, I put her outside with our big dog, who prefers to be outside during the day in a kennel, while the canner was at pressure. When it was time to come inside she refused to obey and had to be physically picked up and brought inside.

To give Muffet, and myself, a break from the sound of the canner at pressure I have decided to make pumpkin soup out of the third pumpkin. It will still be canned but not for a couple of days as I cook the pumpkin, add vegetable stock, add various vegetables and spices, and finally cook the whole thing down to a thick soup of pureed vegetables. It'll be nice to have this winter and, like I said, it will give both of us a chance to unwind and not have to worry about the canner for awhile.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Zipper Impaired

Today broke partly cloudy and cold. The temperature was hovering just above -10ºC, there was a hard frost on the already frozen ground, and there was enough of a wind to make it that much colder on exposed flesh. Of course today is also the day I realized, at 6:00 am, that I am completely incapable of doing up my own coat zipper.

I've always had a bumbling finger approach to doing up a zipper, and that is when I am fully awake. This morning, still half asleep, I was freezing as the wind blew oh so freely around my exposed torso. I struggled for several minutes, much to PeterC's amusement, with simple "insert tab A into slot B" instructions managing only to get Tab A firmly and resolutely stuck halfway into Slot B. Several tries, and a plaintive cry for help, later my coat was finally zipped shut and the cold air locked out.

I think next time I'll just ask for help first. It will be easier on the zipper, and my ego.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Trying to Learn a New Craft

It has been another normal November weekend so far. The wind is the cold, the sky is leaking, and this morning the sky's tears have a little ice mixed in. In other words it is not a weekend for working outside. So I have spent the weekend doing indoor things like putzing around on my computer and cleaning the house. I've also been trying to learn Tablet Weaving.

I am making PeterC gifts for the upcoming holidays and I thought it would be really cool to weave him a nice thick neck scarf from cotton yarn. The neck scarves in the stores are all so flimsy and I find them next to useless. But, a thick cotton scarf should work very nicely. I researched various forms of weaving some months ago and decided that Tablet Weaving would allow me to not only weave a scarf, but to also include a nice pattern since it is so versatile.

My first practise piece was only a couple of inches square and the pattern was pretty plain, but once cut off the loom it held together very well. It reminds me of course woven fabrics I've seen in museums, on archaeology shows, and at the Medieval Fair I attended at Upper Canada Village. I could easily see wearing a shirt made from fabric woven in this style. I think it would be very cozy and warm.

So, flush with the success of my first attempt, I decided to plunge on ahead with the scarf idea. I decided on the pattern I wanted and chose some dark and light cotton that I already had on hand and started trying to warp the loom. First I cut each thread to length, then I threaded each card with the appropriate thread colours, and then....well things came to a crawl at this point.

It turns out that the loom I made, one using spindles to hold the length of the yarn is harder to warp than I first imaged. My practise piece had been quite short and I was able to easily warp the loom. With the scarf I am trying to wrap, and keep in order, 5 feet of 70 threads and have them all the same tightness. After trying several times, and making a "comb" to keep the threads from tangling with each other, I was finally able to get the loom warped at around 10pm last night. This was all done over the last two days so in all I think I spent between 12 and 15 hours trying to warp the loom.

Now that the loom was warped and all the threads were nice and tight I started weaving. Of course after the fourth pass through the shed, the space between the upper and lower threads, I realized the threads were to far apart and the weave was going to be to loose. So I spent the next hour pulling out the weft, untwisting the cords, and pulling the threads closer together.

By the time I was finished it was late and I put it away until today. Hopefully, after I get some chores done, I'll spend several hours this afternoon actually weaving. If this project slows down any more than it already has I'm afraid PeterC will be getting this scarf NEXT year instead of this winter. Here's hoping nothing else goes wrong, knock on wood.

Blog Award

What do you know? Penny over at Back to Basic Living awarded Sparrow Haven the "Premium Dardo" blog award. I feel pretty honoured that she feels this blog deserves the award.
“With the Premium Dardos, recognize the values that each blogger shows each day in commitment to transmit cultural values, ethical, literary, personal etc. that, in short, demonstrate their creativity by alive thinking that remains intact from their letters and words. ”

Unfortunately, I don't think I can accept the award since the rules require choosing 15 other blogs to award it to and honestly, I don't read 15 blogs. I only read 6 blogs on a regular basis, though in the future that may increase in number as I find more interesting blogs. The rules in accepting this award are:

1. Accept the award and post it on your blog along with a link to the person who has awarded you.
2. Pass the award on to 15 other blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement. Remember to contact each of them to let them know they have been chosen for this award.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sparrow Haven Smoked Meat

It was a dreary and wet weekend, to wet to do anything in the yard except run the smoker. We took the thickest three corned beefs and smoked them for 6 hours using pecan wood chips. If you have never smelled pecan wood burning then you are missing out. It is now my favourite wood for smoking beef.

After the smoking was done we brought them into the house, since it was getting dark outside, wrapped them in foil and placed them in a 200ºF oven for 4 hours. We turned the oven off and left them to finish cooking as they slowly cooled off. The house smelled so good my stomach growled most of the night and I couldn't wait to slice them for sandwiches.

Yesterday evening we pulled out our little electric slicer and sliced all three roasts as thin as possible. Unfortunately the slicer we have isn't great so we could only get 1/8 inch slices at best. After the meat was sliced we set up several sandwich packs, picking the largest and leanest slices, to be frozen for later use. The really fatty pieces and the small pieces that couldn't be used for sandwiches were packed into a separate bag to be mixed in with potatoes to make smoked meat hash.

Of course we tasted a few pieces and kept some out to make sandwiches for today. Over all I am happier with this years product than last years. Last year's meat was very salty and had a bitter rind from the smoking. This year's product is barely salty and the rind is sweet rather than bitter. Did I mention pecan is now my favourite wood for smoking? "Montreal Style Smoked Meat" move over. There is a new kid in town.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fall Chores

We were blessed with a week of warm weather so I've been trying to finish up the fall chores before the next wave of rain hits. Fall is normally a rainy season here and it gets hard to get the basic chores done before the winter sets in. More often than not we leave a layer of leaves on the ground and the garden doesn't get turned until the following spring. On top of all that I decided it was time to move the large wooden compost bin to another low section of the yard.

If you want to find out how in shape you are, try moving 500lbs of dirt with a wheelbarrow and a shovel. I found out the hard way that I am not in as good a shape as I should be. Right now my thighs and lower back are stiff and sore. Stiff enough to make PeterC smirk when he sees me trying to get down the stairs. I can't blame him, since I do look really silly trying to navigate the stairs without bending my legs to much.

So over the last few days I have successfully, if painfully, managed to get a good portion of chores done. I've moved the compost bin; spread the dirt from the bin throughout the lower areas of the yard; removed the fencing from the garden beds; turned the soil in the second garden bed; emptied the soil from the smaller kitchen waste bins into the first bed; started turning the soil in the third bed; and planted a rhubarb root ball given to me by an ex-coworker. Even with all that I still have plenty to do and only another day or two of warm, but wet weather to get it all done in.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tiny Wood Turtle

Title: Turtle
Wood Species: Basswood
Technique: Standard Carving using a knife
Finishing: None

I started this little turtle as a practise piece in carving in the round. It is not something I am very good at so I need as much practise as possible. During the carving of this piece I managed to cut off a front leg, a back leg, his tail, and a rather large part of the tip of my finger. Luckily the wood glued back well and the finger has healed, though there is a scar.

The finished piece is 1.5 " x 1.5" x 1" in total.

Spiral Heart Spoon

Title: Spiral Heart Spoon
Wood Species: Butternut
Technique: Standard Carving using a knife
Finishing: NaturOil

This is the first time I have carved Butternut. It was harder than I am used to but the results are lovely. The colour and grain of the wood makes it well worth the extra effort it takes to carve.

The spoon is 12" long and 2.5" wide at the widest point of the bowl.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Winter Storm

I know it is only October but our first winter storm is here. We have a thin layer of snow on the yard and roads and the thermometer is reading a cool -1ºC this morning. The sky is overcast and looks like it wants to drop another inch or two of snow sometime this afternoon. Overall, it is a good day to stay inside, clean the house, and maybe bake some fresh bread.

HydroOne, the local electric supplier, chose several years ago to stop trimming trees over and around the power lines. I'm sure some bean counter somewhere decided it would be cheaper to repair the "few" lines that are damaged each year by tree branches than it would be to pro-actively cut the overhanging tree branches away from the lines. Needless to say we lost power for a few hours last night. Considering how busy the service report line was last night, I'm guessing several communities were without power last night.

As I've said before, being without power isn't a problem for us. We have the wood stove for heat and cooking; we have lamps and candles for light; and we have a wind up/solar powered radio for news in a long term outage. We even managed to purchase a small generator to keep the sump pump and freezers going if the power is out for more than a few hours.

However, last night's power outage did help us find some gaps in our preparedness. It turns out we are out of tea lights, which we use in several of our candle lanterns. With cats around the candle lanterns are far safer than open flame candles. We have lost our replacement wicks for the kerosene lamps. In a long term outage they will be providing the majority of our light and the wicks will be used up pretty fast. And, it turns out we need a wind up alarm clock. If the power is out over night the alarm clock will be needed to get PeterC off to work on time.

So our next shopping trip will have to include a few non-food items, but in the long run they will bring security of mind and make our lives just a little more comfortable in an emergency.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Canning Almost Finished

As much as I like to cook and can food I am always glad when it is over. It is a lot of work and it takes time to boil the jars and seal everything nice and tight. This year I actually froze more than I canned. I've frozen Harvard Beets, Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage, and several variety of home made soups.

Today, I canned the Sauerkraut I put on the ferment back in September. I managed to get 13 quarts of delicious home made Sauerkraut put away for the winter ahead. Truthfully, this will last us until next fall when the cabbage comes back on sale. We might eat 3 or 4 quarts a year but if the power is down or we get snowed in this year I'll be very happy to have the extra food on hand. Besides, I've eaten home canned food that was several years old and it was as good as the first day it was canned.

All I have left to can, and maybe freeze since I am running shy on jars and lids, is the pumpkin. We picked them last weekend and they have been sitting out in the sun for the last week. This gives them a chance to finish ripening and the flesh will become sweeter after each successive frost. With all six pumpkins I am guessing I have about 120 lbs to seed, peel, process, and preserve. My favourite way is to cook it all down to a mush with some nice spices. Later I can pull it out and use it for pumpkin soup or pumpkin bread, both yummy winter treats around here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fall is Definitely Here

I woke up this morning and the first thoughts in my sleepy head were "Yep, fall is definitely here." What was it that finally made me declare, what some others will say was obvious weeks ago? I'm fairly stubborn so I require a few hard definitives before I say the seasons have changed.

1) The trees in the yard are almost naked. Three inches of leaves adorned the truck roof this morning, where it was clear last night.

2) We've had a hard frost two days in a row. Even though my Cranberry beans are valiantly blooming again the leaves are frost covered until the sun rises.

3) The cats caught, ate, and promptly threw up the first mouse of the season. It was a young one, which means it wasn't smart enough to stay out of harms way. I have live traps set and we release them a couple of kilometres from here, otherwise they just come back. However, I do not punish the cats for doing what the cats do best.

4) It was chilly in the house this morning. I haven't turned the furnace on yet this year, since electricity is so expensive. The temperature inside the house yesterday was 14ºC and the same this morning. Another couple of days and I will be setting the furnace to come on at 14 degrees and hope that it only operates an hour or so each night.

5) Canadian Tire is putting the Christmas displays out. It isn't Halloween yet but the Christmas decorations are on display.

Soon, I will declare that winter is upon us but I have to wait for my personal indicators first.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wood Smith

It turns out that PeterC has become quite an accomplished wood smith over the last few months. We took the opportunity of a long weekend to finish up the outside of the new windows we installed in the cloakroom. We wanted the outside mouldings to match, as close as possible, the original mouldings still visible on the front of the house. He even made the siding to replace some that had to be removed due to rot.

The mouldings are made of cedar to make them as weather and rot proof as possible under the coats of paint we intend to cover them with. A few measurements, a false start or two while PeterC figured out how to cut the angles, and we have decent looking mouldings around our windows. We had to fill some large gaps with wood filler and caulk around the edges to seal them against the siding. Now all we have to do is prime and paint them, which may have to wait until next year.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sweet Potatoes and Scarlet Creepers

We had a hard frost a couple of days ago so I decided it was time to dig the sweet potatoes. It was a chore since they burrow deep into the soil. I don't have a pitch fork so I had to dig them by hand. Luckily the soil was mostly loose. In fact the soil is in better condition than it has been since we started the garden. All the compost and rotating of crops must finally be paying off.

We ended up with two huge potatoes, a few regular sized potatoes, and a whole lot of fingerlings. Here is the first layer of the curing box where you can see one big tuber and a couple of the fingerlings. The big tuber will feed a family of four alone. The fingerlings are about the size of my pinky finger and only a little longer. The larger potatoes will make nice casseroles and the finglerlings will make great additions to any soup or vegetable roast.

We also picked the last of the scarlet creepers. We thought we had picked a good number of them last weekend but we picked at least triple what we picked last weekend. Once these are all shelled I'll probably end up with 10 cups or more of beans. Looks like I'll be canning a few beans one day this weekend.

I do believe that scarlet creeper beans are one of the prettiest of the beans. The cranberry beans are pretty but there is something about the purple markings of the scarlet creepers that I find just lovely.

The only thing we have left in the garden now is the pumpkins and a few wild tomatoes that may or may not be edible. The last few I picked at been nibbled on by something.The pumpkins are starting to turn nicely, and they are larger than previous years. If we are really lucky we'll be able to harvest them for Halloween which is only three weeks away.

We've got six large pumpkins that will be cleaned and cooked down to make a puree. I froze last years crops but I think I might have to can this years crops since there is so much of it. If We do have enough to can I'll puree some and leave some cubed so they can be used for something other than pies and soups, though I do love a good pumpkin soup.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Winter Prediction

We've all heard wives tales about the bigger a squirrels tail the colder the winter; the higher the wasps nests the more snow, etc. Most people don't hold any store to these tales but I figure there must be some truth in them somewhere so every year I watch the animals and try to divine the winter forecast based on their size, actions, colour, and anything else I can think of that may indicate something to someone.

As usual I've been watching the birds and squirrels for the last few weeks. The animals are getting fatter than normal this year. We've had more visitors to the feeders than normal, and they've been coming earlier than normal too. For example the goldfinches started arriving in July and August. They don't normally show up in mass until the end of August.

All the squirrels, sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, and blue jays have put a lot of weight on this year and seem voracious. I filled the feeders Saturday and by Monday everyone of them was empty. This is unusual in that the back two feeders usually last at least 4 days in high summer which is our busiest feeder time. The goldfinches not only emptied their nyger seed feeder, which is almost never empty, but they stripped the seeds from the cone flowers and black-eyed-susans. Very unusual behaviour.

So based on my observations I believe we are in for a long, cold winter.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Spider Farming

We don't use pesticides except for BTK and Neem Oil and so we have a huge number of bugs. With a huge bug population we have also developed a flourishing spider population. I've joked with the occasional visitors that I've taken up Spider Farming, they are so plentiful and so very large. If you are an arachniphobe it is best to avoid Sparrow Haven.

Over the last few weeks I've noticed a very sharp decline in the spider population and assumed that they had set their egg sacs and died off, like Charlotte in the children's story Charlotte's Web. Today I found that the Sparrows we've named our place after have had a hand in the declining spider population and I actively realized that our no pesticide policy has been a large benefit to the entire food chain here.

The bugs feed the birds, spiders, and toads as well as performing the duty of pollinating the plants, when they aren't eating them to the twig. The spiders feed the birds when it is time to fatten up for winter. The toads feed the raccoons and skunks, as do a number of grubs and tree fruits. The squirrels also benefit from the tree fruits, apples and chestnuts mostly. The birds and squirrels feed the occasional hawk, owl, and weasel and they spread the seeds from various plants they nibble at.

What do I get out of this whole passion play of nature? I get pleasure in the sight and sound of all our animal visitors. I benefit from the wholesome fruits of the garden on a physical level but the pleasure I derive from watching the antics of the animals fills a place in my psyche with love and peace and the knowledge that all things are interconnected. A wonderful bit of knowledge that so many in our hurried world have lost contact with.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Forces

The Forces
Calls in the Distance
Shadows moving in
Peeps and Squeaks get closer
The Forces are Gathering

The Feeders are Filling
Not Fast Enough
Winged Bombers Swooping Down
The Forces have Gathered

The Feeders are Empty
Sleepy Chirps in the Verge
Feathered Bellies Full
The Forces are Sated.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Discoveries

I like learning things. Usually, a thought will strike me as I am falling asleep and I will have to spend several hours the next day investigating it. Sometimes though something will occur around the house that teaches me something, usually about my self, that I had never given thought to before. This has been a good weekend for learning things.

This was the last weekend for the weekly garden basket I mentioned in an earlier post. It's kind of neat opening the basket to see what we will be eating this week for vegetables. It also causes some consternation if you get your hands on a vegetable or herb that you have never eaten before. This time it was Lovage. It is a lovely leafy herb with a strong smell. We read that it was good in soups, as a substitute for celery, so I made a vegetable soup with the lovage, carrots, beets, and beans from the garden basket.

Unfortunately, I have learnt that I am not fond of the taste of lovage. Perhaps I simply added to much to the soup or the other vegetables were to mild but the lovage not only smelled strong but tasted strong as well. Even with extra garlic, pepper, and onion all I can taste or smell is lovage. I don't think this will be an herb I try to grow any time soon.

As I was falling asleep last night I wondered how fancy patterns were woven into fabric. This morning I googled a weaving how-to and came across a very neat site. It is called WonderHowTo and is a collection of videos showing how to do everything from weaving to carving. I love finding sites like this since the videos are made for people by people and are rated by viewers on how useful the information was. I'll have to spend some more time there later today.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ear Ache

If you have never had an ear infection let me say I don't wish it on anyone. I've had one in both ears this last two weeks and the left ear was hurting bad enough I decided to make a trip into town to see the family Doctor. He prescribed ear drops and told me to come back if it wasn't better by today.

I wish I had asked what he meant by better. The pain in the left ear is far less than it was but I can't hear well from that ear. It feels like my ear is full of cotton balls. The swelling in my jaw is down so I can eat properly now but there is still quite a bit of swelling behind the ear. Based on the pain alone, it is better but I wonder when I will be able to hear again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beginning of Fall

This week was both good and bad for the vegetables. We got a very light frost on Thursday and the harder frosts can't be terribly far behind. Apparently they did get a hard frost just a few kilometres north and west of here. It was only the factthat we have trees and are near the river that protected us from the harder frost.

I did managed to get four more quarts of Harvard Beets and four pints of mixed shelled beans from the garden. There are six very large pumpkins ripening on the vine and there are enough Scarlet Creepers ripening that I'll be able to put up another few pints of beans later this month. Even with the loss of the majority of the bean plants this year I'm not doing to bad.

We also found, through the local Green Party Candidate's website, a local-ish vegetable co-op. "Love Those Weeds" is a community supported agriculture farm that lets a set number of members purchase weekly baskets of harvest. Due to the nature of the growing season each weekly basket will have different vegetables in it. The owner normally delivers but in our case we're just to far away so we have arranged to pick up on Fridays. Unfortunately, we only have one more weekly basket before her garden is done for the year. However, we will be on her list for next year and we are looking forward to more vegetables than just our small garden can supply.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Apple Cider

PeterC is a fan of Apple Cider, soft or hard, and has been looking for a cider press for the last couple of years. We had looked at buying new but the $800.00 price tag and the shipping costs made it a luxury we could not afford. By chance we found this home made one at the local Habitat For Humanity Restore for a song and a dance and snapped it up. All the mechanicals were clean and well taken care of and everything turned smoothly.

We made a trip to the local orchard and bought a bushel of apples to press. I'm sure they must think we are crazy considering we have bought several bushels from them over the last couple of years but I digress. PeterC got up early yesterday and proceeded to make a mess. Yep, cider pressing is a messy job especially if your press plate gets turned cock-eyed and the apple sauce, the only way to described the schmooshed apples, splurts out onto the floor.

Apple cider is also a bit of a time consuming job. You have to shred the apples using the apple shredder at the top. The shredded apples fall into the slotted bucket that was lined with a nylon screen to keep the apple bits from falling into your juice. Once the bucket is full you have to spin the press handle and slowly squeeze the juice from the apple sauce. This takes several hours as you press until the juice flows then you let it sit and drip for a half hour or so then press again.

By the end of it all PeterC had only a gallon of juice to try to ferment to make cider. Now we are trying to decide whether to see how this batch goes or go buy a couple more bushels of apples to add the new juice with the old. Definitely a learning experience but if it works PeterC will be a very happy fellow.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Corned Beef

As mentioned in my last post we caught some lovely roasts on sale and decided to purchase several to make corned beef. The hardest part about making corned beef is the amount of time it takes for the meat to cure which is one week per inch of thickness. With an average sized roast that can take anywhere from3 to 6 weeks in the refrigerator to cure completely.

From my readings, the taste is more like the salted beef so popular along the Atlantic Coast than it is the stuff you buy in the store, which appears to be a liquid cured beef brisket. We've enjoyed our version with potatoes, cabbage, and even smoked to make a nice lunch meat. The beef does have to be rinsed well before using in your favourite recipe other wise it is very high in the sodium content.

Corned Beef Curing Powder
1 4-6 lb beef roast
5 Tbsp Morton's Tender Quick or similar curing salt
2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Black Pepper
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Allspice
3 Tbsp pickling spice mix (optional)

Coat beef roast with powder and place in a sealed container, along with any leftover powder you may have, in the refrigerator. Leave to cure for one week per inch of thickness. A 6" round roast will take 6 weeks to cure. Once it is cured you can rinse and cook right away or freeze for later use.

We always prepare more more than one roast at a time so we coat the meat, place it individually into a Food Saver vacuum bag, and seal it being careful not to get any powder or juice in the heat seal. This allows us to place the roasts tightly in the refrigerator while letting them cure. As soon as they are cured they go right into the freezer as is. During the curing process the meat juices will blend with any dry powder left in the corners of the bag which will then leach into the meat.

Preserving Season is Here, again

Every year about this time I go into what I can only describe as hoarding behavior. As the weather begins to get cool and the Sun dips a little lower in its path across the sky I begin to feel almost frantic to put food away into long term storage. When, like this year, we don't get enough vegetables from our own garden I begin taking advantage of the produce of other's. I start looking for good deals at the local Farmer's Markets, grocers, and orchards. Occasionally, I have even been graced with free produce and fruits. This year we have obtained a large quantity of carrots, onions, mushrooms, cabbage, and red bell peppers. I was also incredibly lucky to find cheap beef roasts on sale.

The mushrooms are in the dehydrating process right now. We use a small American Harvest dehydrator that we bought from Walmart several years ago. The sliced mushrooms are placed on the drying trays in single layers, but as close together as we can get them, and allowed the dry until they are crisp. Once crisp they are allowed to cool to room temperature and then vacuum packed until we need them. They make a great addition to any sauce or stew that needs to simmer for a while.

The red peppers and onions will be cut into 1/2" pieces and dried in the dehydrator just like the mushrooms. The carrots will be peeled and sliced before drying until crisp. If it turns out I have more than I need for drying then I can always can them in salt water or blanch and freeze. The cabbage is being made into sauerkraut and the beef roasts will become corned beef, both a form of pickling.

I actually started the sauerkraut yesterday. I used the hand cabbage shredder that we purchased last year and I must say it made shredding the cabbage a breeze. I was able to shred five large heads of cabbage in the same amount of time it took me to slice one head the last time I made sauerkraut.

I quartered and cored each head and sliced each quarter into a large bowl. I sprinkled a tablespoon of salt on top of each quarter amount of sliced cabbage until I completed each head. Any pieces that were not small enough for kraut ended up as fried cabbage for supper last night, or were eaten raw while I worked.

After each head of cabbage was shredded and salted it was put into the pickling crock and allowed to wilt before it was packed down very tight. After all five heads were shredded and wilted we added enough brine to cover the cabbage by a couple of inches. Then a plate was inverted over the and weighted down to keep it all submerged.

Now we wait for a few weeks as the cabbage begins to ferment and pickle itself. I'll have to keep an eye on everything and scrape out any scum or mold that forms but the first year we made sauerkraut went without a hitch so I am crossing my fingers that this year is the same.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Boot Rack

As some of you may remember I was working on a boot rack in my spare time, usually a couple of hours in front of the old boob tube before bed, over the last few weeks. Well, I finally finished the majority of the work on it and thought I would share pictures of the mostly finished product. The carved pieces are for gloves to be hung and dried where as the bottom shelf is for shoes and boots. I'm still debating on whether to add a couple of spikes on the bottom to hang boots upside down on.

The entire rack is made from cedar and is being left raw to add a little fresh scent to the back room. The glove spikes are made from 3/4 x 3/4" cedar nailing strips. The wood carves ok but tends to chip and break if you are trying for small detail, like Ivan's Moustache. Besides the bead stack there is also two single bead spikes that have been dubbed the "drumsticks" by PeterC.


Goddess Figurine









Stacked Beads










Horse Front and Side

The Left and Right facing Wizards

Monday, August 25, 2008

And We're Done

Finally the cloak room is finished. Now I can get back to my regularly scheduled routine of cleaning the house and working on my art. I spent the day Saturday finishing up the finicky bits and started setting up the room Sunday. It'll probably take me another week or two to get the room organized and arranged in such a way that I am happy with it but the WORK is done. Yea!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Window Casings Installed

With a final push this weekend we managed to get the rest of the mouldings installed. Now we are down to all the finicky painting and caulking. As it turns out I'm a far better painter than caulker. I tend to make a mess of it, even when I am trying so hard to be neat and clean. I'm not sure how I got the job of "make it pretty" but I'm doing my best. Once the white paint and caulking has been done I will have to go back over it all and touch up the walls. I promise pictures but only after the pretty work has been done.

On another note, I picked about 10lbs of beets from the garden. It isn't enough to run the canner so I am going to freeze them. I found a good Harvard sauce recipe on Recipezaar.com for freezing. All I have to do is leave out the butter and put them into 2 or 3 cps containers. It'll be nice to have beets this winter when the ones in the store are so terrible. I love fresh beets. With any luck I'll get beets from now until the first freeze and they will all be frozen, or canned for winters use.

The pumpkin has taken over the beans but it isn't really a loss. It's been so wet and cool here, especially at night, that we have developed a mouldy blight on the plants. They aren't going to produce much more this year and what little they do produce may not be worth eating. The only beans doing well are the pole beans, the Cubanos and Scarlet Creepers, and they are doing really well. They are a shelling bean so we won't pick them for another few weeks.

We've been trying to attract Hummingbirds for the last few years. In fact they are the major reason we plant Scarlet Creepers every year, attracting hummingbirds and the beans are good to eat. This year we finally had a little Ruby Throated Hummingbird buzzing around the garden. We saw him last week and decided to put a feeder out. He seems to spend the day moving between the Creepers and the feeder. Hummingbirds are just to cute.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Snazzy

We spent the day yesterday working on the cloakroom, regardless of the thunderstorms that moved through just as we were ready to make the first cut on the baseboards. At least we got the vinyl down before the rain started. We got all the baseboard done, the exterior door done, and a really good start on the interior door.

We decided to go with the whole "Victorian" look for the cloakroom, which means we used a specific style of moulding for the baseboards and the casing around the doors. We used rosettes and plinths for the doors and corner pieces for the baseboards. This allowed the work to progress much faster as we had mostly 90º cuts to make.

We got rid of the mitre box and pulled out our chop saw to do the cuts this time. The cuts were much smoother and went a lot faster. Even the couple of 45º cuts worked out better, as long as I didn't brain fart. Let's just say it was a good thing we bought extra baseboard moulding.

Luckily, we were able to salvage the ruined pieces for under the doors. We cut the wide edges off the moulding and used them to cover the underside of the door. It lined up so perfectly on the exterior door that it looked as if we actually knew what we were doing and not flying by the seat of our pants most of the time.

The interior door isn't finished yet. When we drywalled the wall around the interior door the wallboard was just level with the old extra wide mouldings. We left them in place to act as the frame. Unfortunately, because the frame is so wide we had to come up with another solution for the casing. We chose to use a 4" moulding and rosettes of the same style as the exterior door. Then to bring the casing level with the inside edge of the frame we are going to add a piece of moulding that will be flush with the outer casing and slope inward toward the door.

It's the inner piece of casing that still has to be added. We suspect this will be quite tricky and require some really fancy cutting to make it line up all the way around and look like it all belongs properly. There are going to be some interesting trimming, notching, and of course 45º cuts to make the pieces frame the door correctly.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Catching Up

We haven't managed to get a lot done on the cloak room this week. PeterC's schedule has changed again at work and I can't do either the flooring or the moulding by myself. I thought I could but apparently I left my superhuman abilities somewhere else. Maybe I need to get myself a super-suit or something.

What I have done is get a couple of coats of urethane on the sills and table. Unfortunately, it looks like I will have to sand the last coat off on all three and redo it. The urethane ran on the sills and I have these ugly lines with bubbles of urethane at the ends. The table is another story. The squirrels figured out how to get into the garage, to raid the seed bins, and left little squirrelly prints in the fresh coat of urethane. The seeds have moved back into the house.

In other news it has been brought to my attention by PeterC, and several other blogs, that Canada is screwing the aboriginal children, yet again. The Minister of Indian Affairs promised to build a new school on a remote reservation, after the last one was closed because of diesel contamination from a spill way back in the late 1970's, but has since backed out of the deal. You can read more here. Perhaps we need to look for other solutions since the Canadian Government can't be bothered. Even in Australia widely separated children living in the outback are provided schooling via the Internet and ham radios. Surely, it isn't to much to ask to provide a school for a whole community.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Oak Window Stoop

We decided at the beginning of this project that we were going to make oak window sills for the windows. We like window sills, the cats like window sills, and we thought window sills would look good with the new inserts. We decided on oak because we wanted a good sturdy wood that would hold up against the claws of jumping and slipping cats. We could have chosen maple, and almost did, but maple did not come in a piece deep enough for us to have 6" deep stoops after the edges were routed to shape.

Today we got the window sills started. We started with 39" x 8" pieces for each window. The window frames are very narrow so to give us a 6" deep sill we had to notch the sill so it can be slipped into the frame up against the window. PeterC routed the front edge so it would be rounded - bull nosed - and cut the notches to fit each frame. Once he finished with that I took over and sanded the wood smooth and applied the first coat of stain to the tops of the sills.

We still have to stain the other side of the sills, as well as the cut edges, and we have to add an exterior, marine grade, urethane seal over the stain. The urethane will dry into a nice hard finish that will protect the wood from cat scratches but because it is an exterior urethane it will protect the wood from humidity and water in case we get water coming in the windows some day.

While PeterC worked on shaping the window sills I worked on altering an existing piece of furniture to perform two functions at once. We had a table PeterC built last year that is used to store the bins of birdseed on. This makes the bins high enough to easily fill the feeders and we could store stuff underneath it as we saw fit.

Because we burn wood for heat we also needed a place to store a two or three day supply of wood inside. Originally I was going to make a new piece of furniture but decided that it would make the cloak room to crowded. Instead, I took the birdseed table and added cross pieces to the bottom so we can stack wood under the table, thus getting two functions from the same footprint of the table.

The cross pieces are made of cedar to resist rot. To further protect the wood I stained it the same colour as the window sills. Once the stain is dry I will seal it using Spar Urethane, a marine varnish that dries to a very hard finish that will protect the pine table top from being dented. I also plan to carve something into the front crosspiece to connect the table to the decor of the rest of the room.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Crown Installed

The Crown Moulding is installed and it looks pretty good. It took us about four hours to cut and install and I have to admit that the nailer worked out really well. We used nailing strips behind the crown so we didn't have to nail it along the bottom only. We started out trying to make our own nailing strips from ripped 2 x 4s but for some reason our table saw wasn't cooperating with us. As luck would have it I had purchased some cedar nailing strips for another project so we used those and once they were nailed in place we were in business. The hardest part was cutting the angles the right way. Luckily, we had some extra moulding or we would not have finished it.

While we were working on the crown we noticed a squirrel sneak into the garage and climb into the bins we keep the birdseed in. We chased him out but not before he managed to stuff himself silly. A little while later I caught him resting his bloated stomach and watching us work in the heat and humidity. He is really cute and I don't mind having squirrels in the yard, for the most part. I do mind when they start raiding the birdseed storage bins. I guess we'll have to put the bins back on the back porch once we are finished with the flooring and mouldings and hope they don't chew through the screens to get at them.

Before we started on the crown moulding we spent some time working on the garden and cleaning up the clothesline. I had hung two large loads of clothes out earlier and for some reason the line busted and all the clean clothes hit the ground. We joked that we had gremlins but I hope that isn't the case. We have far to many mechanical things around here to have gremlins causing havoc.

Anyway, while cleaning up the clothes we noticed that the volunteer pumpkin had become a monster over the last few days. It was covered in early morning blooms and looks like it wants to take over the whole garden. There were plenty of bees moving between the blooms so hopefully we actually get some pumpkins from it. The tomatoes, just barely visible under the pumpkin leaves are blooming and we even have a couple of small green tomatoes. You got to love volunteer vegetables.

Monday, July 28, 2008

As Requested - Pictures

We originally said we were going to paint the walls Sage but when we saw the colour it was a little to grey for us. Instead we went with "Adventurine" which has more yellow than blue in it. We put three coats of paint on the wall and as of yesterday it was still just a little tacky. It has been very humid these last few days so maybe that has something to do with the drying time.

We're painting the mouldings gloss white and having to paint them in small batches due to space limitations. The crown moulding will be installed first so it was painted first. Hopefully, if the walls are tack free, we'll get the crown installed tonight or tomorrow. In the mean time we have most of the window mouldings in the process of being painted.

I'm actually pretty impressed with the installation of the windows and doors so far. With the windows all closed there is actually enough of a seal to create a vacuum on the interior door when we try to open it. That should make the cloakroom nice and cozy this winter.

On to the carvings. So far I have used six tiles and only have two good carvings to show for it. These three are the kindling pieces I carved. The flower was looking ok, if fuzzy, until I accidentally cut off one of the petals while trying to undercut it to give it depth. The bottom leaf looked great until I tried to create a curled leaf illusion. Every time I walked past it all I saw as the bad cut so it went to the kindling bin, too.

The left leaf was looking good too until I undercut the stem to much and Whoops, there goes another one. At this rate I'm going to need a new kindling bin.

Here are the two good ones so far. I plan to make two of each so they can be paired around the room. I still haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do with them or how they will be displayed. Maybe mount them in a picture frame and call them a patchwork quilt. I just don't know. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Here is the beginning of the second leaf, for the third time. With any luck this one will actually be completed without any oops and I can move on to another apple blossom. I'm planning on oak leaves, apple blossoms, Sparrows, and maybe cone flowers. I'm going to need to buy more basswood I think.

The kittens may not be doing any of the work but they sure look the way I feel. For some reason, probably just the length of the project and the frustration I'm feeling over the things I can't control, I am pooped. Mentally and physically I'm just downright tired. I'll be glad when we finish this project and I can look ahead to other projects.