Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas 2010

Christmas has once again come and gone here at Sparrow Haven. The ground was white, the air crisp, not overly cold, and all but one day was gloomy and over cast. In other words, perfect.

We had a nice turkey dinner for the first time in several years. I now remember why we stopped cooking turkeys. There are only two humans here and we can not eat a whole turkey in under two weeks. We gave it a good old college try but in the end we put six sandwich bags of turkey in the freezer, have two lunch servings set aside for PeterC to take to work, and ate turkey and dressing every day since Dec 25th.

The nicest part of our dinner was the cheesecake. I love a good cheesecake but the stuff you buy in the stores around here is nasty. As a sweet surprise PeterC made a New York style cheesecake for dessert. It was the best thing I've eaten in a very long time. It was creamy, smooth, slightly tangy, and delicious. We finally finished it last night but I could easily have eaten it for another few nights, it was that good.

Freya is fitting in nicely. She has made friends with a couple of the cats who enjoy playing tag with her. We have had to "ferret proof" the house. She is obsessed with rubber and will do anything to get at it and chew it to little pieces. Of course this is very bad for her so everything with rubber on it, like remote control buttons, pencil grips, etc, must be put away after each use so she can't get at it. She and PeterC have hit it off beautifully and she will play tag with him for minutes at a time. If you know anything about ferrets you know that is a very long time for a ferret to not get distracted.

Gifts were simple this year. PeterC bought a nice point and shoot digital camera for me. I love the pictures he can take with his camera but all the options and buttons confuse me. Now I have a much simpler camera for me to use to take pictures around the house and yard when I want instead of waiting for PeterC to get his camera out.

PeterC decided he wanted a tattoo for Christmas. He still hasn't gotten it done but only because he hasn't found the right design. He wants something Celtic, horsey, and medium sized for this shoulder. He has at least figured out where he is going to get the tattoo done, once he finds the right pattern. Of course I feel bad that he didn't have anything under the tree this year but he said Freya was under the tree more often than he could count so he did have something under the tree.

With a sigh and whisper 2010 is slowly sliding out, making way for the new year. I wonder what the next year will bring. What sorrows, what joys, and what adventures? It will be a surprise each and every day. May your New Year be full of joyful surprises.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yule Traditions

Every family, clan, and homestead have some form of tradition for the Holy Days. Sparrow Haven is no different. We have an annual tradition that almost always involves us bringing home a new furry family member. This year was no exception.

Our tradition always follows the same schedule. On the last Sunday before Christmas we get up late and decide to go into town to eat breakfast and go to the mall. When we arrive at the mall we always go to the pet store first, then the book store. While at the pet store I gaze longingly at the rats, mice, kittens, and this year the puppies. They had some lovely German Shepherd pups this year.

Once I have failed to get sympathy from PeterC, and thus fail to acquire a new furrbutt, we go to the book store. We shop for new books in our favourite series, choosing 2 or 3 for our holiday reading pleasure. While we are shopping I am thinking very much about the animals I saw that really tugged at my heart strings. This year it was the puppies and PeterC admitted that he wouldn't mind a new puppy to chase Dunny around the yard. Book purchase in hand we headed back to the Pet Store.

We arrived at the Pet Store and took a longer look at the puppies. I liked the German Shepherds. PeterC liked the Black Labradors. Neither of us liked the fact that there was a 99.99% chance that these pups were the product of a puppy mill. This supposition coming from a CBC Marketplace investigation last summer about pet store puppies in general. We decided that we would take a look around at local ads and see what we found.

On our way back home we bandied about the idea of going to the local OSPCA shelter, but being Sunday we expected them to be closed. Imagine our surprise to see they were open. We debated for maybe 30 seconds, if that, before deciding to go back and take a look at the pups...and the cats, and anything else they had in house.

Of course I went to see the cats first. So many babies needing loving homes. It was an act of will power to not take them all out of their cages and take them home right then. I did take one lovely little girl out of her cage and give some pets and kisses. She was very quiet, very friendly, and very kissy. I love kissy cats. In the end I did put her back though I must admit I can't stop thinking about her even now. Maybe I'll find a kitten in my stocking Christmas morning.

We left the cat room and entered the dog room. Every cage had an occupant. Mostly the dogs were all terrier, mop dog crosses, and well into their adulthood. There was a very cute miniature collie, who I would have gladly gotten to know if his tag hadn't said adopted. Good for him! In the last cage there were two puppies that looked to be boxer/ beagle crosses. Very friendly and must have still been quite young as they had all their baby fat and didn't seem to have all their teeth yet. Quite cute but neither PeterC nor I made that instant connection that means we have found our newest family member.

Back in the lobby we found several rabbit cages and what we originally thought was a chinchilla, based solely on the items in the cage. We peered through the bars to get a good look at the "chinchilla" only to find a very sleepy, very young, silver coloured Marshall's Ferret curled in a tight ball in one corner of the cage. She was on her back and her belly fur blended quite well with the shavings in her cage.

We picked her up and there it was, that instant connection. So we are now the proud parents of a lovely, sweet, female ferret. Meet Freya.

From her size, we are guessing she is only a few months old. She is not descented, is not spayed, and according to the guy at the OSPCA was living in the wild and is "most likely sick and probably should be put down."

Hah! Those are fighting words to me especially when the little beastie is as polite and loving as you could ask for. We're currently looking for a vet to give her a good once over, her shots, and of course spay her. She may be terminally ill but she'll have a good, happy, fun life for whatever time she has left on this world.

The only other Yule tradition is sleeping late on Christmas day and having breakfast at home. Otherwise this is shaping up to being a Merry Ferret Christmas so far. Ah Yule. The time of year when we settle in next to the fire and our family grows, almost every year. Maybe I should lock myself in the closet next Christmas.

UPDATE:

We finally found a vet in another town, 70 km away, who was willing to take on a ferret. We took out last night and the vet gave us some really good news. Turns out there is a tattoo in this girls ear that indicates she comes from an actual Marshall's Ferret Farm, is descented, and spayed already. Also it turns out Freya is full grown and appears to be between 1 and 5 years old. What I thought was baby fat is actually the sign of a well cared for and slightly porky ferret.

The other bit of good news is she appears to be in perfect health, other than a little extra weight. Her curiosity was up, she was moving normally, her eyes and ears were clear, and all her internal noises were normal. The vet has never heard of a test for Lyme disease in ferrets so she is going to do some research and schedule another appointment when she knows what to look for and how to treat it.

I'm guessing this little lady was someone's beloved pet who managed to get out of the house and promptly get lost. I wish I could find them to tell them she has been found and has a new family that loves her dearly. Well, everyone except Cassie who has gotten quite irritable with other cats and now Freya. Regardless, she is loved and we are going to do our very best for her.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chickens and Weather

The weather has turned nasty and apparently it is my fault. The chickens tell me this every time I go out to feed, water, or collect eggs. They are particularly upset about the 2 inches of snow that fell Monday and Tuesday this week. They don't like rain and are uncomfortable in the wind, but the snow is unbearable and therefore they must complain about it constantly if I am within earshot.

The chickens are pretty funny to watch in the snow. Normally, the chickens will meet me at the back door regardless of the weather but not if there is snow on the ground. Instead, they will stand pathetically just inside or outside their covered run and make jungle bird calls as I approach. Even the effort of stepping three feet to their feeder is to much if there is snow on the ground.

Once I have shovelled a path between the porch and their run they will slowly venture up towards the house, especially if they see me doing something in the mud room. If by chance one of them should wander off the path and into loose snow they will freeze, squawk, and begin flapping their wings in vain attempts to fly out of the situation. I'm not talking about huge snow drifts. A layer of loose snow only an inch or so deep will cause this reaction.

Of course the complaining is only part of it. Chickens are quite adept at withholding their affections and their eggs if they feel their needs are not being taken seriously. I must be diligent in my duties of feeding, watering, and especially path clearing or I will hear no end of grief from these spoilt, feathered beasties. Just another way chickens remind me of cats.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Hermit

I've always been drawn to the life of a hermit. I used to fantasize about living in a cave or cabin in the mountains with just myself and the animals to keep me company. Living day to day, off the land, with no contact with another human being.

As I aged this fantasy moved into the background, especially as I attended college and began working in the corporate world. The idea of living a quiet and peaceful life away from other humans was always there but it became less important as I tried to fit into the world around me. When I met and married PeterC I thought I had finally left that childhood fantasy behind for good.

Many years and miles later, the fantasy is just a fond memory but the personality that spawned it is alive and well. I'm not into crowds and get stressed if I am in a group of more than one or two people, even if they are friends. This weekend really brought this fact home to me.

PeterC and I were entertaining a friend of his from the horse world. A fellow horse lover, a professional farm manager, and and up and coming horse trainer. He drove all the way from New England to visit us for the day. He is a nice young man and quite intelligent even if our, his and my own, interests are in different areas of life. By all accounts he is a pleasure to be around, for a little while.

We took him out for breakfast and I truly enjoyed chatting but after a hour I found myself fidgeting. Nothing unusual there as I usually start fidgeting when at a restaurant and our meal is finished. We chatted a little longer and I suggested we head out. We went home, fired up the wood stove, and chatted some more. The whole time I kept hoping PeterC would take him out to see the horses and show him some of the Parelli training he has been working with.

Being the polite host PeterC was waiting for our guest to indicate that he wanted to go see the horses, which he never did. So around supper time I suggested we go out to eat, as we had originally planned. We all agreed and headed into town for a nice sit down and eat meal where we enjoyed the food and the company for quite some time. As the restaurant got busier it became harder and harder to talk so I suggested we leave, and back home we went.

PeterC and his friend settled in to chat but I found myself getting more and more tense. I chewed all my fingernails down until they bled, something I haven't done since I became a stay at home wife and online business owner. The noise of the cats and dogs, the fans, and even the crackle of the wood stove irritated me tremendously. When the conversation reverted back to the horses and Parreli I told them to go to the barn and see the horses. Thankfully they did with no complaints.

My relief was almost immediate when they left. It was as if an enormous pressure had been lifted from my head and shoulders. Even my ears felt lighter and less tense. The cats and dogs seemed silent and I was able to relax in the peace and quiet of my arm chair. Eventually I turned on the boob tube, melted into the monotanous tones of the pablum they spill out on most TV shows, and began to think.

I came to realize that I am, and most likely will be for the rest of my life, a very solitary person. I enjoy being with other people only in controlled doses. Even PeterC, whom I consider my soul mate, can only be tolerated for a few hours at a time. With him though, working in my studio or on another floor of the house is enough to keep the stress and tenseness at bay. But I also know, from hard experience, that I don't like being completely human contact free for more than 2 or 3 days. Specifically I don't like being PeterC free for more than 2 or 3 days.

So instead of a hermit living alone I know I want to be more like Grizzly Adams, from the old 1970's TV series. I want a cabin in the woods with my animal companions, but a close friendship with one or two other people who are also of a solitary bent, and who don't over stay their welcome. Maybe I could attend the local fall festival for a few hours just to get any cabin fever under control, then happily retire to my cabin in the woods for another year.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

That Time of Year

This is the time of year when I hate going shopping. Don't get me wrong I like the Holiday season; snow on the ground; and flashy, shiny lights. But, I hate shopping during this time of year. The malls, free standing businesses, and even the grocery stores are packed with hurried, stressed, and generally rude people who think their needs are far more important than yours.

Even though the Christmas season officially began Nov 26th, stores here have been pushing Christmas since before Halloween ended. Mostly they started setting up their display but in some cases they started with the blue light madness sales. And, like most stores recently, they are not stocking anywhere near enough of the sale items to fill everyone's wants.

You can't wait until the end of the 5 day sale period to get that new tool, or whatever thingy you want. You have to arrived the morning the sale starts and rush to the location the item is displayed and hope that they have enough so you can get one in addition to all the other people who need or want that same thing. While this strategy works well for the store's bottom line it just makes the masses go crazy and stress levels skyrocket.

For the last few years PeterC and I have been buying our gifts to each other online. While this relieves a lot of the stress and general annoyance at having the wade through crowds, it does come with its drawbacks. To guarantee the gifts arrive on time we place our orders in late November and if the post office is very efficient we get the gifts before December even starts. But, retrieving the package usually gives away what, or at least from where, their gift is.

Unfortunately, you can't buy groceries on line. If I could I think I would seriously consider it at this time of year. Luckily we do the majority of our grocery shopping once every two weeks, which requires going into town to get the items we need. The local grocer does carry the essentials, like milk, if we run out early. So no matter how much I hate leaving the house during the "Shopping Season", I still have to. It could be worse.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cock - a - Leekie Soup

There is something infinitely comforting about chicken soup or stew. I love it all especially if I am feeling under the weather, depressed, or just plain lonely. Normally I make chicken noodle soup or chicken and dumplings. Occasionally I'll make chicken and rice soup, especially good with wild rice. This week I had leeks, caught on sale at the grocers, and decided to give cock -a-leekie soup a try. I was very happy with the recipe and found the soup to be as satisfying and comforting as I could have wanted.

Cock -A - Leekie Soup
4 Chicken thighs - Skin on
2 Leeks - sliced into rings
1 - Bay leaf
2 - Carrots diced
1/2 cp Barley
2 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Garlic
2 tsp Pepper
2 tsp Thyme

1) Place chicken thighs and sliced leeks in a large soup pot. Cover with water and simmer until the chicken is cooked.
2) Remove chicken and set aside to cool.
3) Add bay leaf, carrots, and spices. Simmer until carrots are just tender crisp.
4) Add Barley and simmer for about a 1/2 hour. Adjust spices if needed. I ended up adding another couple teaspoons of salt and more garlic at this point.
5) Chop chicken into 1/2 inch pieces, removing skin and bones. Add to soup pot and simmer until chicken is just warm.

Serve with fresh ground pepper on top and some dinner rolls. You can't ask for a nicer and more tasty way to eat chicken, leeks, and barley. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Keeping Busy

With the weather heading resolutely to the wet and cold variety I have been taking advantage and getting some more products ready for my online store, Chestnut Tree Creations. Truth is I spend 6-8 hours every night working on stuff but the cold and wet has allowed me a few extra hours in the day, too. I've also spent some extra time in the kitchen making bread, but that is a once a week project.

Besides my normal projects, wood carving, nalbinding, and weaving, I've also taken up jewelry making. Mind you it is mostly an offshoot of my wood carving, though a few of my pieces are metal only. I don't know why I decided to take up jewelry making, but for some reason I decided it was a good skill to add. It also gives me a few different things to list and sell. There are only so many needles or spoons you can carve before you go insane.

Once I get the current projects finished I am considering carving some tree ornaments. I still haven't decided on a pattern but I know I don't want to do the classic Santa or elves that are so popular with wood carvers at this time of year. I still have to give it some thought, though I can't procrastinate for to long. If I wait much longer, the carvings will be for next year not this.

So even though the garden has been put to bed, the ground is cold, and the air damp, there is plenty to keep me busy. Now if I could just get motivated to clean the house once a week. Ho, hum. Oh wait I here my carving knife calling. Gotta go.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Fall

The leaves turned several weeks ago but the trees have been doing a great job of holding onto them, even through wind storms. That was until yesterday. Every single tree in the neighbourhood dropped all their leaves yesterday. It was as if some giant had sneezed and they all came down like so many dandelion puffs.

Here a picture of our yard guardian looking contemplative in the newly fallen leaves. Actually he looks kind of sad. Maybe he is thinking about the blanket of snow that will soon be covering him and keeping him from watching the yard like a proper guardian.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Customer Service is Lacking

Saturday we headed into town to pick up a few things including tarps. When the TSC first came to town it was the best place to get decent, heavy duty tarps for a good price. For some reason the last 6 months the TSC has gone from a farm store to trying to compete with Canadian Tire. We needed a farm store, instead we get a clone of our local not so great Canadian Tire.

Since TSC didn't have the size or strength tarps we needed, we decided to stop at CT to see if they, on the absolute off chance, had any heavy duty tarps. They didn't but they did have tarps on sale. Not great tarps but cheap. We head for the tarp aisle to find that they haven't bothered to actually stock the tarps that are on sale. They have a lot of the really crappy expensive tarps on the shelf but none of the ones on sale.

We're not the only people looking for these tarps so a stock person is contacted. Boy is he pissed that he has to come out and do any work. OF course the first thing he does is go through the pile of incorrect size tarps as if we, the customer, were to stupid to check there first. He finally gets out his inventory checker and declares yes there are some in the back, then he huffs off to check for them.

Ten minutes later he comes out with 1 tarp for us and another for the other customer. We tell him we need two more. God, if looks could kill. Another ten minutes and a different, younger man, comes out with 8 of the correct size tarps and stocks the shelf, after giving us the other two we needed. Which means that for a 3 day weekend sale they now have a grand total of 6 tarps on the shelf.

While looking for ice trays we over heard another stock person telling another customer that they didn't have any of another sale item in stock. Who's brilliant idea is it to put something on sale that you either don't have in stock or have a very low number in stock. I think it is a form of bait and switch. Put something on sale and hope the customer buys a different, higher priced item, when it turns out there is none of the sale items in stock.

Somebody, somewhere, must think this is a great way to promote sales. I think it is cheap, lousy, and considering the attitude of the stock people a really poor idea. I just hope it back fires and these companies finally wake up and start offering good customer service.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sushi

PeterC loves sushi. Loves it! Unfortunately, there is no place within 100 km to get sushi. So I decided as a "Hey it's Fall and I love you" present I would learn how to make sushi. I did some Internet research and found out it is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Great! I made a shopping list and headed for the store.

Luckily, the local Food Basics carries all of the makings for sushi, except sushi rice go figure. I bought the roasted seaweed sheets, bean sprouts, sunflower sprouts, kohlrabi in place of the daikon radish, some fake crab meat, and three kinds of fish - snapper, halibut, and a marlin steak. Everything else I already had in the pantry. It turns out it is a good thing I like most Chinese food and keep the basics on hand.

PeterC was absolutely excited about the sushi and was on hand to help me make it, sampling bits of this and that to help me get the flavours right. I'm not a fish person and he wasn't willing to eat raw fish that wasn't fresh off the boat, which I can't blame him, so we cooked all the fish except a very tiny amount of snapper which I left raw.

To make sushi, you will need:
5 Roasted Seaweed sheets
1 cp Long grain rice - steamed and allowed to cool to room temperature
1/2 cp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp sea salt
Spicy Mayonnaise - if you want it for your fish
1 carrot - either shredded or cut into match sticks
1/2 English cucumber - sliced paper thin
1/2 Kohlrabi or daikon radish - sliced paper thin
1/2 cp bean sprouts
1/2 cp sunflower sprouts
Fish of choice - Canned tuna, fake crab, any mild flavoured steamed fish, or even make the sushi vegetarian

You can make the spicy mayo if you have garlic chili sauce, mayo, and soy sauce. Mix 1/2 cp mayo, 1 Tbsp chili sauce (more if you like it really spicy), and 2 Tbsp soy sauce.

1) Mix sugar, vinegar, and salt in a small sauce pan and heat only until sugar dissolves. Let it cool.
2) Once liquid is cool mix well with cooked rice.
3) Lay out 1 sheet of seaweed and spread a thin layer of rice starting at the edge closest to you. Leave 1.5 inches of seaweed exposed at the far edge. The rice is sticky so wet your hands to prevent it from sticking.
4) Spread a thin layer of mayo on the rice if desired.
5) This if the fun bit. At 1 inch from close edge place a 1 inch wide layer of vegetable, a layer of meat, and more vegetables in any combination you like. Make sure not to put a huge amount in but a thin layer of anything you want in a 1" wide x the width of the sheet area.
6) Use your fingers to hold the filling in place and roll the seaweed up into a tight tube. Slightly wet the exposed seaweed just before you get to it and roll the tube right to the edge. The wet seaweed will stick to itself keeping everything in.
7) Set the tube aside while you make more tubes repeating the process above.
8) Slice each tube into 5-7 rolls. Rolls should be about 1" thick.
9) Serve with soy sauce and wasabi paste on the side.

I did find out through this experience that even if I make the rolls vegetarian with no fish in them, I can't eat them. The seaweed puts me right off but then I'm not a big sea food kind of person. The rolls are very pretty to look at though and I can see serving a mix of vegetarian and spicy, cooked fish sushi as an appetizer or part of an hors d'oeuvres table at a party.

The best part was PeterC loved them and even though he couldn't eat anywhere near as many as he said he could, he was more than willing to eat the leftovers the next day for lunch and again for supper. I even made him a bunch for his lunch on Monday for worked and he really enjoyed them then too. He liked them so much he is willing to keep the fixings on hand for those days when he starts craving sushi, though I expect that won't be for a couple more weeks yet.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chickens are cats with feathers

We had chickens when I was a kid but, like most farm kids, they were just one more chore on a long list of never ending chores. As I grew up I learned to appreciate the subtle personalities and character traits that each animal has. Now that I have chickens again I can truly appreciate them, and their quirks.

We were working in the yard this weekend and as usual the chickens were under foot. While watching them I came to realize that chickens are cats with feathers. Here is my top ten reasons for thinking of chickens as cats with feathers.

10 - Chickens are very independent. They want to be petted when they want to be petted not when you want to pet them.

9 - Chickens are picky eaters. They want food but only certain kinds of food and it never seems to be the same from day to day. One day they want crumble, another day greens, and another they will only eat bird seed.

8 - Chickens like to stalk small birds, rodents, and toads. More than one mouse carcass has turned up in the coop and most of the toads in our yard are missing toes.

7 - Chickens will always choose to lay their eggs in a shrub rather than the really warm, nice, dry, and safe nest box we made for them. We found 10 eggs under clippings from the hedge while working this weekend.

6 - Chickens like to dust bath exactly where they should not be, namely my herb bed. I'm going to have to do a lot of replanting next spring.

5 - Chickens can't stand having a fenced off area. If it is fenced off they absolutely must be inside it if I want them out or outside it if I want them in.

4 - Chickens are demanding of your food. If you are eating something then it must be theirs, even if it is something you know they don't like they want it anyway and will take any means needed to get it away from you. That includes tripping you, jumping up and taking it from you, or squawking pathetically until you give them a taste.

3 - Chickens are constantly changing the pecking order, in other words bickering. Chickens that were snuggled together yesterday will be picking on each other today.

2 - Chickens love to sleep in the sun, or if we have a bonfire going as close to the fire pit as they can possibly squeeze.

1 - Chickens are always under foot.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Beans, Beans, and More Beans

I've been a tad lazy this week getting my latest post done. Actually I've been pretty lazy about everything this week. This past weekend was good and we got a lot of wood split and stacked, and I got 2/3 rd of the cranberry beans picked. But Monday started out with me waking up late and it has pretty much been going down hill from there.

I did manage to get the last of the cranberry beans picked. I still have to wait for the leaves to fall off the scarlet runners before I can pick them. That is going to take some effort and require the extension ladder. We planted the scarlet runners so they could climb the old antenna tower next the the house. With the weather they did really well and reached to the top peak of the house, a good 20 ft in the air. Even though it will be hard to pick them I liked how they covered up the tower and made it pretty with red blooms and large green leaves.

September was the wettest month ever here at Sparrow Haven. Fall is generally a wet time for us but it doesn't normally start until the middle of October or even November. This year it started early. The remnants of several tropical storms have only added more rain to the mix. In fact another remnant is going through today and tonight. On top of that, it is a little cool today, cool enough that a small fire has been built in the wood stove to take off the chill and the damp.

The garden is done for the year, with the exception of picking the runner beans. Once they are picked and shucked I will be canning them for the coming winter. Last year I filled quart jars with beans and topped with boiling water before processing them in the pressure canner. This year I am going to hot pack the beans. They'll be cooked in boiling water for 3-5 minutes before the jars are filled with the beans and the water, and then processed in the canner.

With the last two years worth of beans stored I think we will be eating a lot of beans this winter. It is just as well that I managed to make 15 pints of green tomato relish. It is the best stuff in the world for eating with a pot of beans and hot chunks of cornbread. Pretty tame food but filling and nutritious, what more could you ask for.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Plethora of Pickles

Fall is definitely here and cucumber production has finally stopped. I'm glad the cucumbers were so productive but I'm also glad this growing season is over. We ate cucumbers, gave away cucumbers, and pickled cucumbers. Pickled a lot of cucumbers actually.

We are not huge pickle eaters and still have dill pickles from three years ago. However, we do both enjoy Bread and Butter pickles so this year I decided to only make sweet pickles. Because of the number of cucumbers we got from the garden I made two different batches of pickles.

The first batch was a traditional style Bread and Butter pickle that called for onions and peppers. As always I made a few substitutions. I didn't have any onions or bell peppers so I substituted whole cloves of garlic and hot pepper rings. The rest of the ingredients were pretty basic and I left them alone. The other ingredients were vinegar, sugar, turmeric, and mustard seed.

The second batch of pickles I decided to make as basic as possible. I used the last four ingredients from the first batch to make my pickling solution and filled the jars with just cucumbers. Well, all but one jar. I was a few cucumber slices short of a full jar so I added a sliced carrot just to top it off. I actually expect the pickled carrots to taste pretty good but the jars have to stay sealed for 10 weeks to complete the pickling process.

I still have beans, the occasional squash, and garlic in the garden. All the green tomatoes were picked off the vines this week. I don't think I'm going to pickle any more of the harvest but I am going to make relish from the tomatoes. I guess that is a type of pickle, too. I wonder how pickled beans would taste?

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Bounty of Basil

The weather turned cool and wet at the end of August, with very few days dry enough to do anything in the garden. We were able to get some herbs dried though we had to use the dehydrator because of the humidity in the house. We took in the occasional tomato or squash but for the most part the garden has been ignored for the last few weeks.

Today the sun was shining so I decided to hit the garden. Several pounds of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers later I finally got to the herb garden. Most of the herbs I planted are perennials and will come back year after year, as long as the soil conditions are good and the weather is right.

Basil is one of the few annuals I plant each year. I've tried it in various places and even tried different varieties. With few exceptions I get so so growth and lots of bug damage. This year the only Basil I planted was a single plant in a small decorative planter I caught on sale when I purchased the rest of my starts. I planted it in the herb bed and didn't give it much thought, expecting it to do like the previous years and just sit there.

I couldn't have been more wrong. The single basil plant was well over three feet tall and covered with the largest leaves I've ever seen. I don't know if it was the soil or the plant itself but I have a huge bounty of basil this year. I cut all of the basil back, the main stem was well over 1/2 inch thick, and picked off all the leaves. There were so many that I filled my dehydrator well passed capacity.

The basil leaves are now drying in the computer room. The whole house smells like basil. Dreams of pastas and pestos are running around in my head. I can't wait to fill the dryer up with rosemary, sage, and other herbs later this weekend.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Home Made Spaghetti Sauce

I've always enjoyed cooking and in my earlier years I thought I wanted to be a professional chef. Many years and miles later, I have come to realize I love to cook but I absolutely hate working with other people, entertaining, drama, and politics. All things required to be a professional chef. So now I cheerfully enter the kitchen to cook meals for my family that I know they will love, if only I could learn to cook for two instead of thirty.

Here's a recipe for the most delicious home made spaghetti sauce you could ask for. It makes about 15 cups of sauce and takes a long while to make it but it is perfect for the home cook, large families, hungry boys, or pot lucks.

Spaghetti Sauce

20 medium tomatoes - all diced into 1/2 pieces
3 Tsp oil
1/2 large onion - diced
1 bulb garlic - diced roughly
2 large carrots - peeled and shredded
1/2 cp fresh basil - chopped
1/2 cp fresh thyme - chopped
1/2 cp fresh oregano - chopped
4 bay leaves
1 red bell pepper - diced
1 green bell pepper - diced
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Place oil in large, heavy sauce pan and get hot.
2) Sauté onions, garlic, and peppers until just soft.
3) Add half the tomatoes, the herbs, carrots, and salt and pepper.
4) Simmer until all vegetables are very soft. Taste for flavour and add more garlic, salt, and pepper if needed.
5) Remove the bay leaves.
6) Use an immersion blender, food processor, or other devise to puree the sauce completely.
7) Add the rest of the tomatoes and simmer until as thick as you like it.

You can add ground meat to it it you wish but it is pretty darned tasty without it.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Dreams for the Future

PeterC and I decided to do some driving around and explore roads we had never been on. In the process, PeterC noticed a sign for a 94 acre farm for sale. As we drove further down the road he mentioned it several more times. Finally, after we stopped for a bathroom break I declared we should go back and take a look. So we did. We couldn't get up the driveway to look at the place proper but the owner had a some information sheets at the end of the driveway. "94 Acre Farm for Sale to Settle Estate. Includes House and Garage. $175,000.00" and the phones numbers he could be reached at.

Both of us were floored. This is the cheapest listing we have ever seen in this area that included a house. We've been looking for a place we could afford that had a house, even if it needed some work, to live in while we get the farm going. So we took the sheet home and gave the man a call. He said the house had recently been refurbished but still needed some repairs. We thought great we're pretty handy with repairs and made an appointment to view the place the next day.

Yesterday dawned cloudy and cool, a perfect day for tromping around 94 acres to see what we were getting ourselves into. We arrived at the driveway a few minutes early to find the owner was already on is way to unlock the gate. As soon as we started up the driveway we noticed there was a lot of cat tails, willows, and other wetland species. No biggy for us since we want to encourage native species as much as possible. Besides the driveway was going uphill and the house sat at the peak of the hill.

We pull up to park next the the house and several things immediately. There is no siding on the house; the house has been added onto at least once if not more; the house is very small even with the add ons; most of the visible screens are ripped and torn; there are dead vehicles every where; the "garage" is an old buggy house that is on its last legs; there is a barn buried in the trees that is falling down; and there is a remains of another building which already fell down. All of this right around the house.

The owner, an older gentleman, arrived quicker than we could survey much beyond the quick look from the truck and driveway and let us view the house. To say it needed repairs was a severe understatement. There was no drywall or siding in any room. The house was essentially two rooms, 1 up and 1 down, and had been designated into separate areas by partially built cabinets. Down stairs was the living room and kitchen. Upstairs, up a spiral set of stairs with no railings, was the bedroom and a bathroom. The bathroom was interesting in that it was a toilet and a small shower stall that got its water from a recycled barrel. The floors were plywood with very thin carpet remnants stapled to it.

The addition was designated as the furnace room that housed a large wood boiler that had been modified by the rather proud owner. He then went on to proudly tell us he had wired the whole house for 200 Amp, but when PeterC looked at the panel there wasn't a ground connected anywhere. In fact the owner seemed pretty damned proud of the whole house as if he had created some beautiful place. Don't get me wrong, the house had character and had a great deal of potential, but it was definitely in worse shape than he suggested over the phone.

Next we went to the basement. To access it you had to lift a bench that hid the basement hatch, and climb down another set of spiral stairs. The basement was gravel floored and absolutely jam packed with crap. I counted 4 hot water heaters but only one was connected. There was the water pump for the dug well. The power panel was to one side, near the remains of the sump pump. Electrical wires ran every where, higgle dee piggle dee, in, over, and around the plumbing wires. The water tank was rusted pretty badly, support posts didn't touch the ground, and barely enough room to walk to the panel and back without stepping one each other.

We headed back up stairs and tried to get a look at the furnace room. I say tried because the guy kept saying we couldn't go in there because of the dog and blocked us from get much more than a peek through the open doorway. From what I could see the floor was dirt, electrical wires spider-webbed their way all over the room, and there was a cast iron wood stove in there. Add all the stuff he had in there and his own admission that a good wind would blow the room away and we decided it was unsafe to push the point of wanting to see the room entirely.

Finally satisfied with the house we decided to walk the back are. There were fields full of ragweed, golden rod, asters, and other native plant species. The owner had been keeping paths cleared through the fields and brush so we walked on of the paths. The field was nice and high but the bush began where the path turned down towards what he claimed was a creek that was the East boundary. It was a bit boggy but not to bad back there. Mosquitoes made my life hell while we stood there, but Monarch butterflies flitted from one bunch of flowers to the next feeding on the wild nectar. Definitely a good place to have bee hives.

He continued to regal us with the plans he had for the place and the work he had put into it during the entire walk. While he talked I looked and saw a great number of features that I was really looking for in a farm. Fertile ground, established wind breaks, stones for fences, and plenty of wildlife. Unfortunately, I saw several things I didn't like. There were more dead vehicles hiding in the high grass and bush than I could count. There were no mature fruit trees, and there were no fences.

We got back to the house and told the owner we would have to look at financing, and after the fourth attempt we got away from him. He was disappointed that we hadn't agreed to buy it and had spent at least 1/2 an hour talking to us about the place, and then his history and childhood. I guess on top of wanting to sell the house he was also a little lonely and wanted someone to talk to.

We started analyzing the place and by the end of it decided the property was exactly what we wanted but the house was not livable. Even if we bought the property we would have to come up with another $50,000 immediately to fix the wiring, plumbing, and get the heating up to code. All while living here at Sparrow Haven.

In the end we decided we just couldn't do it, unless we win the lottery. We've bought a couple of tickets and we're crossing our fingers that we can win the money we need to buy the place so we can gut the house and start all over to create our dream come true. So here's praying we win the lottery and can finally start the rest of our lives on a nice, big, fertile piece of land.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Buckwheat Experiment

This year we decided we wanted to learn how to grow and harvest our own grains. We eat a lot of grains in their whole forms as well as ground for flour. We figure waiting until we are starving to learn how to grow something is a good way to die for want of food. Even a small patch can teach a lot of useful information.

Due to seed availability we decided to start with buckwheat. Buckwheat has a unique nutty flavour and I find I really like the grain toasted and used in place of rice in most dishes. The flour is harder to work with than regular flour but the bread, when I can get it to work, is to die for. It also turned out buckwheat was one of the easier grains to grow for the new initiate, at least the books and information on the Internet made it seem so.

Buckwheat is one of the few grains that actually prefers poorer soil. We had just received a load of bland topsoil from a coworker so we used that to created our planting plot. We loosened to top few inches of the soil and scattered the seed liberally over the surface and just brushed the soil over to cover the seeds. Unfortunately, the chickens decided this was the perfect place to hunt for worms and most of the seed was eaten in the process.

The second try began with a fence around the garden and a second liberal coating of seeds. The weather turned on us and got cold. We learned that buckwheat, for all it is a European grain, does not handle cold snaps very well. The seeds had sprouted but the cold killed at least half the plants. Those that did survive did well and I simply added a few more seeds to the empty spots in the plot.

Fast forward to July. The plants are growing very well and are covered with flowers and the beginnings of grain. The books all warned that buckwheat flowers and sets grain at the same time so you have to gauge when to pick to get the maximum harvest without loosing everything to the birds and weather. I looked at the plants and the weather and figured we had a few more weeks before we had anything to worry about. Boy did I miss call that one.

August rolled around and brought in hot, humid weather and bouts of intense downpours. Three days straight of heavy rain takes its toll on buckwheat. By the time it was over most of the grain was gone, washed into the ground. There were still plenty of flowers so I thought we might be able to salvage at least part of the crop, but Mother Nature is a little unpredictable sometimes.

As August progressed the weather began cooling off at night. A real blessing this year for us and the animals. Unfortunately, the cooler nights signalled the beginning of the fall migration for the birds. I've mention before that we are on one of the major North South migration routes for almost every species of bird found in Eastern Canada. Well, it turns out that all those birds really like buckwheat, though I expect any grain would have attracted them. The Sparrows, Blackbirds, and even the Rock Doves all spent the sunny days picking the ripening grains and stuffing their little bellies.

I can't begrudge them, like some farmers do. I made the decision to wait to harvest. It is obvious that I made the wrong decision. The birds, chipmunks, and squirrels just took advantage of my misjudgement of harvest time. But, as I said before this was a learning experiment. I learned a lot in this first attempt, and will hopefully have a more successful crop next year. I'm very glad I still have grocery stores to rely on while I figure out this whole self sufficient lifestyle.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vacation All Over

Well, vacation is over this year. We did a whole bunch of nothing for vacation this year. We stayed at home, except for the occasional trip into town, and melted on hot days and relished the cooler nights. We pickled eggs and cucumbers, and did a little work on the windows but otherwise a whole lot of nothing.

The garden is doing well. We've given away over 4 litres of cucumbers so far and expect to give away several more before the season is up. I also plan to make some more sweet pickles but I want to use smaller cucumbers this time. The first tomato has come out of the garden and been devoured. There is nothing as delicious as a ripe tomato fresh from the garden with the warmth of the sun still in it. I planted some more garlic but I'm not sure if they are going to sprout or not. They were eating bulbs from the grocery store. I may buy some garlic sets from the TSC this weekend just to hedge my bets.

We've had three hens go broody this summer. One, Red, finally gave up after I took all her eggs away from her and it rained for three days straight. She had decided to hide her nest in the garden and was soaking wet and cold, as the rain came in with a cool front. The other two, Queenie and Wag, are still broody but also sensible enough to nest in the boxes we provided. We take the eggs out from under them every day so they should be coming off the nests soon.

In the last week Queenie and Wag have started sharing the same nest box. For the last couple of days Queenie has been sitting on Wag, or as much of her as she can, and making happy mother hen sounds. I don't know for sure but I think Queenie has decided that Wag is her chick and is trying to sing her to sleep. Wag doesn't seem to mind too terribly much, or maybe she is just not willing to give up her spot.

PeterC and I are discussing buying a couple of chicks next year and putting them under the next hen that goes broody. It will be hard to time it unless we can find someone local who has day old chicks they are willing to sell. We figure it will make the broody hens very happy to have babies to take care of and if will slowly start letting us prepare for the eventual day when our girls get old and start dying. At this point it is still just an idea, but baby animals are always cool to watch grow up.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Potatoes Dug

Yesterday was such a lovely day I decided it was time to get the wormy cabbage out of the garden. While I was at it I decided PeterC needed to dig the potatoes. We ended up with 10 lbs of lovely small to medium size potatoes and even found a few garlic bulbs that had managed to survive being covered with straw. Of course the chickens were delighted with the dirt and helped us dig up and recover anything in their path. They even managed to eat a few dozen bugs while they were at it.

Now I have this lovely patch of garden that is just begging for something to be planted in it. I want to replant garlic and see if I can get a good sized crop off before winter sets in. PeterC wants to try for another batch of potatoes and I agree more potatoes is always a good thing. Of course I also want to try to get a crop of winter cabbage planted but I think that should wait for the cabbage bugs to fly away, or die, or whatever it is they do as the weather gets cooler and the sun lessens throughout the fall.

Perhaps out best course of action is to go to the nursery and see what is available. It may be that neither potatoes nor garlic sets are still around at this time of year. In that case I will look at my seeds and see if there is anything that we can grow in that empty bed, that will actually produce before winter sets in.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Vacation Time

I should have posted this last weekend but, well, time just got away from me. We are on vacation and my posting will be hit or miss for the next couple of weeks. Until then, here are some baby mourning doves to make you go Awww! Actually, they looked pretty ugly when these shots were taken, last week, but they smoothed out like their mother and flew away Tuesday.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Good Weekend

This has been a great weekend here at Sparrow Haven. The nights have started cooling off so we can open the windows for fresh air. The chickens are happy and healthy. The garden is starting to come along nicely. We managed to replace two windows, one in the bedroom and one in the study. And, best of all, there is only four days left until PeterC's vacation starts.

The temperatures are finally starting to go back down into something more comfortable at night. Friday night it was to humid, but Saturday we slept with the windows open and a fan on. It was so cool PeterC and I could actually touch each other without sticking together. Last night was even cooler, almost to the point of being too cool for the fan in the window.

We have two chickens who have gone broody on us. Queenie again and Tag. I thought Queenie was grumpy during her last broody session but Tag is downright ferocious. She hasn't pecked me but she growls and hunkers down in her nest making it as difficult as possible to take the eggs out from under her each day. Even when she gets off the nest long enough for another hen to lay an egg, she walks around all fluffed up and growling softly to herself. It is actually quite comical to see.

We've harvested a second batch of peas, two small and rather bug eaten cabbages, and now two cucumbers. There are several more cucumbers in the maturing stage so I am hoping to make Bread and Butter pickles in August. The tomato plants are covered with green tomatoes and I am so looking forward to fresh ripe tomatoes in my salad. The buckwheat is really starting to ripen and the potatoes will be ready to dig in the next week or two. While PeterC is on vacation I hope to get a couple of long flower beds built along the front porch. These will be the home of my cranberry bushes, some blueberry bushes, and if there is room some more herb plants.

Speaking of blueberry bushes. I will not be ordering from Henry Fields nursery ever again. The blueberry bushes I ordered never showed and it took them several days to respond to my requests for an update. An email arrived that said the order would ship in 3-5 days. Then I get a letter saying the delivery was cancelled because their shipper had filed bankruptcy. Then I get an email saying the blueberry bushes will be shipped this fall. Then, on Friday I get a small card saying my order has been cancelled altogether because they ran out of the bushes I ordered, but here is a coupon for $5 dollars off next years order. Optimistic aren't they?

All in all definitely a good weekend. With the windows being already replaced that means we have two flower beds and the bathroom to finish during vacation. These projects should take no more than 3 days total and that gives PeterC plenty of time to visit and work with the horses, and gives me plenty of time to get Chestnut Tree Creations stocked up for the upcoming Christmas shopping season.

Monday, July 19, 2010

As the Garden Grows

A baby cucumber. The herb garden looking good.








Tomatoes, corn, and a lone watermelon plant. Cone flower with a fly that looks like a bee.









Beautiful cabbage being eaten up with caterpillars. The weather is really good for the caterpillars.
Summer yellow crook neck squash bloom.









Young squash, tomato, and nasturtium plants.
The buckwheat is leaning in from the left. The cucumbers are loving the weather.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

First Harvest

This year our first harvest is pretty late. We should have picked currants already but the birds, wild and tame, beat us to them. This year the harvest was 3/4 cp of fresh green peas. Sweet as fresh corn. The peas a re a little later then they should be simply because the heat slowed them down so much but peas are peas and I am looking forward to cooking them for supper one day this week.


The chickens are still getting into the garden. I haven't been able to figure out how. If this keeps up I'm going to put a full net system over the garden beds to keep them out. This morning one of the hens was happily trampling the buckwheat and digging up one of my late sprouting summer squash. Darn chicken.

PeterC and I have also started an exercise routine using the Wii fit and balance board. It is going well and we are finding it much easier to stick to the routine with some feedback from the game system. Of course, I think the Wii hates me since it likes to tattle, to PeterC, if I skip a single day of working out. It doesn't matter if he skipped the same day, it tells him I am not working out much. Sigh, bloody technology.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dang Chicken!

So I get an email from PeterC telling me to check the garden for damage. Huh! Damage, there is a 5 foot fence around the entire thing, why would there be damage?

Turns out we had a rogue chicken incident yesterday. One of the reds managed to get into the garden and didn't make a peep when PeterC went to shut the girls away for the night. Yesterday morning, when he went to let them back out he heard an odd noise coming from the garden. Sure enough there was a chicken, settled down nicely in the middle of my biggest cucumber plant.

I checked the garden and found that she had trampled the biggest cucumber plant, repeatedly from the looks of things; eaten half of another cucumber plant; and managed to dust bathe in the only hot peppers I had sprout this year. It is amazing the amount of damage a single hen can do to the garden when you're not watching.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Roasting Chickens

The photo is worth more than the words I could use. Ah, to be a chicken.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Garden Hoodlums

Unfortunately, it got so hot soon after the lettuce sprouted that it went almost directly to seed as soon as it was big enough to eat. It didn't matter that a month later it cooled off to near normal temperatures, perfect for growing lettuce. The lettuce had had it. And, it was to late to plant more because it would heat up again and I'd just waste the seed.

So I decided to let the seed lettuce mature and reseed itself for this fall. That way I wouldn't have to plant another batch of seed at the wrong time. Sounded like a good idea, but it seems the lettuce had another idea. Instead of putting out seed and maturing in a nice patch, it decided it wanted to keep growing larger and larger, and the seed heads started laying down into the other vegetable areas.

Yesterday, I decided enough was enough and pulled the lettuce out of the garden completely. I could not rehabilitate the lettuce so it had to go. It was a hard decision to make but in the end I think it was the best one. Under the sprawling, and unruly, lettuce I found two watermelon sprouts and a small, unhealthy looking, tomato plant. Now, with the lettuce cleared out they will get much needed sunshine and rain and will hopefully grow to be nice productive members of the garden.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Buckwheat Blooms

We decided some years ago that we would try to grow our own grains at some point in the future. It was an unclear goal other than that. No plans for time, space, or even where to get the seeds. We bought a book on growing grains and read it but otherwise the project just floated in the ether.

Then this past Spring, during my annual seed catalogue hunt, I found buckwheat seeds from a new seed supplier. Of course I ordered them without giving much thought to where I was going to plant them. Luck would have it PeterC had decided he was willing to build two new raised beds to extend our garden space. And voilà, we had space for the buckwheat.

It turns out buckwheat is pretty easy to grow. Or at least we have been lucky this year. It was slow to start because we had a cold snap in May, but now it is growing happily and has already started blooming. Having never seen buckwheat grown much less bloom I am quite interested in how it looks through out its life cycle.

Surprisingly, the sprouts look a lot like beans. The plants are tall and kind of thin looking but the flowers are very pretty. Several sites say that honey bees love the flowers of the buckwheat plant. That makes me very happy, though those same honey bees seem pretty intent on coming into the house. Maybe I should add a beehive to the garden area and give them someplace to swarm and live.

So we have officially started our grain growing project. Once the buckwheat has been harvested and the soil tilled deeply to turn under the left over leaves we are going to find a supplier for wheat, rye, or oats and see about growing them. It will be interesting to see just how much grain we can get from a 3 x 6 ft raised bed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Baby Robin

We try to provide as much natural habitat as possible to encourage wild birds doing what wild birds do, eat and have babies. We always get to see the babies after they have fledged and have started flying around, though still being fed by mom and dad. Sometimes we get to see them in that stage just before they start flying.

This year it was a baby robin, who had obviously hopped or fallen out of his nest and was waiting patiently in the trademark Sparrow Haven hedge for mom to find and feed him. He has most of his feathers but you can tell by the wide, jokeresque, smile of his beak that he is still just a baby. He let PeterC get close enough to take a couple of good shots of him before he hopped deeper into the hedge and obvious safety.

With luck this little guy will be back in the yard next spring raising his or her own brood of chicks in the sanctuary of Sparrow Haven.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Look

As you can see I've been playing with Bloggers new templates options. I think the blog looks much nicer but it seems slower to load and browse. Please let me know if this new look slows down your enjoyment of Sparrow Haven. If it does I'll go back to the old template as quickly as possible.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Thank God for Rain

It has been incredibly dry here since I planted the garden. We were having to water the beds every other day. Finally though we have been getting rain. Not just a sprinkle, but all day drizzle that soaks the soil and just keeps going. Thank the Gods and all that.

Since we got the first rain storm the plants in the garden have gone crazy. The herbs have already started spreading out into their new bed. The cabbages, potatoes, beans, and peas are getting huge. I've even seen all those cucumber seeds start sprouting. Now if the corn, hot peppers, and tomato seeds would sprout I'll be a happy camper/ gardener.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Just not Having Much Luck

We just haven't had much luck with the seeds this year. The tomatoes and hot peppers never sprouted at all. I have only three corn plants and they are only 3 inches tall. I have a total of three cucumber sprouts and they are looking puny. And a majority of the herbs never sprouted.

Part of the problem was old seed. Part of the problem was a late cold blast. Part of the problem is the weather which has been dry and hot recently. Part of the problem, at least with the herbs, was the chickens remorseless dirt bathing after I planted the seeds. And, I suspect part of the problem was using seeds from a supplier I had never heard of until this year.

We went to Canadian Tire Friday night where I broke down and bought tomato, cucumber, and herb plants for the garden. These plants looked particularly healthy and were fairly cheap too. I also bought some more nasturtium seed has I had stupidly not bothered to look up this "new weed" in the garden, and pulled them all up last week.

Everything has been planted now, and the garden already looks more like it should at this time of year. I replanted the corn, zucchini, watermelon, and squash since I had the extra seeds. Hopefully, the new seedings will do better than the last set and the garden will begin producing in June. If not then I think I will just give up on gardening for a couple of years. Hah! Not likely.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What is Love?

What is Love? This is a question that has plagued mankind since we crawled out of the muck and learned to think about such useless things. I know this question has plagued me since my first marriage fell apart and my Mother announced in a knowing tone that she knew it wasn't Love.

Over the years I have discovered many things about Love. Love is the ability to sit in silence together. Love is making compromises without keeping score. Love is not having to swallow your pride because pride doesn't come into the equation. Love is the ability to be completely honest with each other. The most important thing I have learned, so far, is that Love is the ability to work elbow to armpit with someone for several hours without the intense desire to murder them. Maybe poke them with something sharp and pointy, but not murder them.

When I said elbow to armpit, I literally mean elbow to armpit. You see, this weekend we were installing the new window into the bathroom and it is a very small bathroom. The bathroom is 5 feet by 6 feet. The window is 1/2 inch, yes inch, from the wall that normally holds the door into the bathroom. The toilet is opposite the door and is only 6-8 inches from the other side of the window. That gave us about 3 feet to stand side by side to test fit, level, and finally install the window.

The window is installed, most of the mouldings have been installed and stained, and the bathroom is finally coming together. We are waiting for some shower door hardware to arrive. Once the staining is completed we have to caulk around the window. We have to do some touch-up paint on the walls. And we have to stain and install the new bathroom door which we finally decided on and purchased this week. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the progress.

I am also pretty happy with my progress on working out exactly what love is. I don't think I will ever know everything about Love. The things I do know about it, and the many trials that have led to that knowledge, makes me realize that I am truly in Love. I also know I am looking forward to the next adventure that fills in another blank or two on the subject.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Disaster Averted and Success

Last weekend and into the early part of last week there was a freeze warning for our area. Of course the cabbage, beans, peas, and cucumbers had sprouted. So we had to try to protect the baby plants from the coming weather.

Luckily, we had straw on hand. We used the straw in the winter to lock the wind from getting underneath the coop, allowing the chickens a dry, relatively warm place to sit in the sun during the cold winter days. Now that the snow is gone the straw can be used for other things, like mulching new plants.

We lightly covered all the sprouts and left them covered for the four days the freeze warnings were in effect. After the freeze warnings cleared we uncovered the young plants to allow the sun to get to their tender leaves. Rather then removing the straw from the garden, we used it to to mulch around the plants to keep the soil damp as the new plants struggle to grow.

A quick tour of the garden just a few days later showed that our technique worked like a charm. The sprouts that were only a couple of centimeters high last week are several inches high now. Except the cucumbers, but they are slow growers so I am giving them some more time.

The potatoes have actually broken the surface of the soil and seem to be healthy. The peas and beans are reaching up to start their climb to the sky on our homemade trellises. The garlic tops are now 6 inches high. I've even seen some ragged little sprouts trying to grow in the chicken ravaged herb bed.

All in all it looks like it might be a good garden year.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Smarter than the average Chicken?

I like to think of myself as being reasonably intelligent. I'm not a genius but I can usually figure myself out of most situations. However, it is beginning to look like I am not as smart as the average chicken.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the chickens destroyed my herb garden. I put up a decorative fence, since the garden can be seen from the road. Turned out 10 inch wide chickens can squeeze through openings 5 inches wide. Fine, I added strands of wire to create 3 x 4 inch sections. Turned out chickens can squeeze through those as well. It takes a little more effort on their part but seem to not mind it at all.

So, I added more wire to create smaller holes. This flummoxed the chickens for maybe 20 minutes. They figured out that if they push their heads through the small openings and push really hard, maybe two or three of them pushing from behind, they can do one of two things. They can either spread the wires far enough apart to squeeze through or they can actually pull apart the wire where it is twisted together. Either way they can get into the garden and wreck havoc.

I spent the afternoon adding left over 1/2 inch welded wire hardware cloth the the majority of the decorative fencing. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough to go the full length of the herb garden but it covered 80% of the distance. So far so good. Of course it has been raining and hailing on and off since I added the extra fencing, so the chickens may not have seen the recent addition and thus have not figured out a work around yet.

I think my next attempt will involve a fully enclosed cage that fits over the top of the herb bed and allows room for the plants to grow. Let me see the chickens break into that.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Pre-seasoned Chicken

What do you get when you mix a freshly planted herb garden with free ranging chickens? As the title of this post suggests, you get pre-seasoned chicken. Before anyone gets upset I did not kill the offending chicken. I would have had to kill them all as they were all taking turns destroying all my hard work.

It was my own fault really. I planted the herb bed without putting up a proper anti-chicken fence. That has now been remedied and the herb bed has been replanted with the left over seed I had from the first planting. Hyssop, garlic chives, onion chives, thyme, cilantro, fern leaf dill, marjoram, summer savory, winter savory, and mint have all be planted from seed. I had no rosemary, sage, or catnip seeds left so I will have to find some live plants at the nursery next time we go into town. Now if I can just keep the squirrels and chipmunks out long enough for the seeds to sprout and start to grow.

The apples trees are slowly leafing out. I am hoping the new trees will actually bloom this year but it may be another year for them. The old apple tree only blooms every two years so he will not bloom this year. So, if the new apple trees bloom it will be up to each other and the crabapple to pollinate and hopefully produce some lovely apples.

We built two new beds last weekend. The plan for these beds is to give us a place to grow grains and to extend our planting area beyond the old beds. We filled the beds with dirt yesterday in the hopes that we get buckwheat, tomatillos, and ground cherries planted today. I'm not sure if that will happen as we don't have enough posts to put fencing around them. And as I suggested in the paragraph above, that would be a stupid mistake on my part. We would have pre-seasoned and pre-stuffed chickens.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Such a Magical Place

It is days like today when I realize that Sparrow Haven is a very magical place to live.

While doing some yard work I wandered over to the flower bed behind the garage, with the intent of removing a tarp we have in place to kill off weeds. A mourning dove was on the tarp picking at the leaf litter from last year. As I walked to the edge of the bed, she calmly walked to the far side of the bed and looked to see what I was going to do next.

All I did was stand and look back at her. I've always had a soft spot for mourning doves and this one was so pretty it brought a lump to my throat. The fact that she allowed me to stand less than 5 feet from her made the lump turn into a frog. As I stood and watched her she went back to her foraging, at times walking to within a couple feet of me. It gave me an indescribable feeling knowing she felt I was no threat and was willing to come so close.

I watched her for a few minutes and decided the tarp could wait for another day, when the mourning dove had moved on to another place. And, if it turns out she is there again then I guess the tarp will wait for another month, or maybe even next year.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Chickens are Free

We made the decision to let the chickens have free run of the entire yard this week. The grass in their small yard was dead and even moving the fence to give them fresh grass wasn't enough to keep the grass from dying back within the week. Beside, the chickens were becoming quite adept at getting out of their fenced in area, regardless of what effort I put into fixing any loose fencing.

So, we bought some metal posts and several rolls of 4 ft green, plastic fencing and fenced in the entire yard. Well not the entire yard. There is a small 6 foot strip between the house and the driveway that they can not get into, otherwise they have the entire yard to run around in all the time. They love it. And, if I get worried they have hopped the fence all I have to do is call and they all come running for their treat.

The chickens go into their coop to lay their eggs. If it is raining they will go under their coop to stay dry. They know where their feed and water is served and will go to it when they want. The only problem we have had is they love to dig in the flower beds and herb bed. Luckily I haven't planted much yet since the weather cooled off, but I will have to figure out a way to discourage them from digging up all my freshly planted seeds. Maybe a short decorative fence will work.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

And Renovations Continue

It is amazing how spoiled I have become. Last weekend we were able to finally get the tub surround and fixtures installed. PeterC and I drew lots to figure out who got to take the first shower. I won and spent the next 20 minutes with hot water sluicing, oh so luxuriously, over my body. I'm pretty sure there was a moment of transcendental mind shift when I glimpsed Nirvana, or maybe it was all the blood rushing to my skin and away from my internal organs. Either way, it was a very delightful sensation.

During the week, I worked on filling nail pops and low areas with drywall goop and started the paint job. Mind you I could only do part of the wall as we were still waiting for the shower door people cabinet and sink people to call. But, I was able to get two, and in one place three, coats of paint put on the ceiling of the shower and onto to new drywall just outside the shower with a brush.

The paint we chose was CIL Premium Kitchen and Bath paint. It was expensive, at just over $35 a gallon but we figured the extra quality now would save us frustration in the long run. I must say we are quite happy we went with the better paint. The section that has already had three coats of paint is very smooth and glossy. What little water that splashes around the jury rigged shower curtain beads up and is easy to wipe off. Even cat paw prints wipe off easily. The can says the paint includes a ceramic layer as well as mold and mildew inhibitors, which will prevent any issues from the steam, splashes, and sweating toilet in the summer time.

The sink and vanity arrived Wednesday, so yesterday PeterC and I ripped out the old sink, patched the holes and such with drywall goop, and applied the first layer of paint to those areas. Today PeterC took out the toilet and we painted the rest of the bathroom with a coat of paint. Later this evening, a second cost of paint will be put on, the flooring put in, and the toilet put back into place.

That will leave a third coat of paint for me to do this week as well as the final caulking around the edges of the tub surround. We are still waiting to hear from the shower door people to find out when they will be arriving to install the door mouldings and cut the template for the shower glass. We are also still waiting for the window we ordered to arrive so we can install it. And, finally, we still have to stain and install the floor, door, and window mouldings.

After all that has been completed, then I will take some photos to share with you all.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Spring Break

This is Spring Break week for PeterC and we have been making good use of his time off. I already mentioned we started renovating the bathroom. It is still not complete. The shower surround is almost complete, though we have been able to shower for the last two days. We still have painting and final caulking to do for the surround to be complete. We decided to hire a company to install glass shower doors. They aren't even calling to make an appointment until sometime next week. Needless to say we have had to jury rig a shower curtain until the doors are installed.

I had originally hope that PeterC would build a custom cabinet to replace the existing vanity sink. As time and money went into the shower we realized that was not going to happen so we ordered a sink top and cabinet that we agreed would look nice in the newly renovated bathroom. It will be arriving sometime next week. Once the sink and cabinet arrive we will replace the existing sink, lay some new flooring, and paint most of the bathroom. The last bit of paint and drywall work is going to have to wait until the shower doors have been installed.

While waiting for drywall plaster and caulking to dry we took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and did some yard work. I planted the spring garden consisting of several kinds of lettuce, spinach, and broccoli. I also planted a few herbs in the still not quite ready herb bed. I just couldn't stand not planting some seeds in the sections that were ready. I also used up some flower seed packs that I have had for years. I don't know if they will sprout but if they do they will make a nice filler for the flower beds.

Spring break is almost over and we still have a lot of work on our plates. I think this is a case of our ideas were far larger than our time and money. I think the next two days will be spent cleaning and organizing the rest of the house, leaving the renovations and rest of the garden work for next weekend.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bathroom Renovations

PeterC is off this week so we decided that it was time to renovate the bathroom. We were optimistic that we would be able to get the shower wall board and fixtures replaced in 36 hours, leaving the rest of the week to replace the vinyl floor, vanity, and paint. We bought everything we thought we needed Friday night so we could spend Saturday working.

Let me tell you, reality sucks. We stripped off the old wall board Saturday and realized we also had to replace the drywall, which meant another trip to the DIY centre. And, while trying to install the new shower fixtures we found that the fixtures were not soldered in like the last one was. No, it needed screw attachments. Luckily, we figured that out before we made the drywall run and were able to get both things in one go.

We arrived home from town and started working on the fixtures. It turns out we are actually pretty good at plumbing and was able to get the shower manifold installed in just a few hours. We got a start on the drywall, which required some bracing and finagling to be able to attach the drywall securely to the old lathe and plaster. Unfortunately, that made it almost 9pm, so we called it a day. It also meant that I had to sleep without a shower, which I have found to be nearly impossible. I itch uncontrollably if I am not showered each night. Psychosomatic, I know, but that is just the way it is.

We got up early yesterday and continued working on the drywall. We were able to get all the drywall installed and taped by 4pm, but that ended yesterday's work. And, I had to wash my hair in the kitchen sink and use a wash cloth to at least give myself a wipe down. My mom used to call that a Whore's Bath. I call it a pain in the rump.

This morning PeterC started sanding only to find that some of the thicker spots of wall goop were still wet, so we haven't been able to get anything done so far today. We do have an appointment with a glass company to come out and measure up a custom glass enclosure for the bathtub. Until now we have used a shower curtain which had to be altered to allow for the slope of the half floor roof in the bathroom. A custom fit glass enclosure will make the room much nicer and seem bigger than it really is.

This whole process has done a couple of things for us. We are much more confident in our DIY abilities and no know we can cope with anything this old house throws our way, short of falling down...knock on wood. We also have more proof that this house is much older than the 1920's that the building heritage group says it is. While fixing the plumbing we found that the upstairs studs are actually raw, round posts with the bark still mostly intact. By 1920 they had milled lumber and would not have used whole trees to frame the house. Isn't that just the coolest thing?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring is Here

Last week I mentioned that Spring was in the air, and that I expect to see Robins soon. I was correct. In fact it was only two days later that I saw the first Robin, and Canada Geese, Starlings, Nuthatches, Goldfinches, Red Wing Blackbirds, and even a baby rabbit. The ground has even thawed enough that we were able to put up a length of fence to keep the chickens from wondering into the neighbour's yard. Spring is officially here, even if it dusted snow yesterday and dropped down to -2ºC overnight.

As much as I love Winter, I am glad to see Spring this year. This past Winter was dreary and cloudy a majority of the time and I truly missed the sun. With luck, Spring will be brighter and sunnier than Winter and I'll be able to enjoy the sun after such a brooding season.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring is in the Air

The snow is melting. The Grackles have come home. The daffodils are sprouting. Spring is in the air. I expect to see Robins in the next few days.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A wandering we will go...

So far Spring has been very lovely with temperatures hovering right around 10º C and eight straight days of sun, sun, and more sun. I know I want to spend as much time basking in a sunspot as the cats do and I figured the chickens would love to do a little grazing on the expanding patch of lawn that is being exposed. The snow has been melting quickly but has been remaining in broad patches that work to keep the chickens close to the house where I can keep and eye on them.

This has worked out well these last few days, until today that is. A huge patch of snow melted off yesterday, exposing thatch and flower beds. Unfortunately, it also melted off enough to allow access to the side walk between the house and the garage. Each time I looked outside the chickens were merrily scratching and picking away at the ground under the crabapple tree, until the last time I looked for them.

The chickens had discovered the sidewalk and had decided to go exploring. I was sitting at my desk and a movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I assumed it was a wild bird coming in for a snack at the recently filled feeder. Instead, to my horror and some amusement, I see 5 hens happily pecking around in the driveway and 2 more heading into the ditch next to the road, on the neighbours side of the cedar trees.

Needless to say I headed out the door as fast as I could waddle, with a couple slices of bread in my hand. The girls have been very good about coming when I call, so I called them to me. Showing them the bread in my hand helped speed their their legs along nicely too. I broke the bread into pieces and tossed it into the chicken pen and shut them all in when they went in to grab the bread.

I not sure how I am going to keep them in the yard. Perhaps it is time to think about fencing the entire yard in again. In the meantime, I don't dare let the chickens free range unless I am outside with them. Otherwise I may end up a few hens short at the end of the afternoon.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Buyer Beware!

When shopping for those great, or not so great deals, at the grocery store the buyer most definitely has to be aware of sly little tricks on the parts of the grocers and manufacturers. The most common tricks, seen to date, is the same price for a slightly smaller size. You know the 596 ml bottle of pop, selling for the same price as the 600 ml used to. Or my favourite, NOT!, the 4 litre containers of vinegar or salad oil, only when you look at the size it is actually 3 litres now.

Well, Friday night I discovered a new and less obvious way of tricking the buyer. We needed some black olives and the store stocked two brands, Unico and Irresistibles. In the past we would have grabbed the Unico, a name brand here in Canada, even though it was $.10 more expensive than the other. Recently though, we have been trying to stretch our budget as much as possible and so have taken to buying the cheapest item as long as it is the same size. In this case we're good as they are both 375 ml.

Luckily, I have also taken to reading ingredient labels. I've found certain chemical additives really disagree with my body in various ways so I am careful to check the labels of any new brand we purchase. So I checked the label of the Irrisistibles Black Olives and see "Water, Olives, salt, ferrous gluconate". Ok, so far so good. Just to verify I check the Unico label and see "Ripe Olives, water, salt, ferrous gluconate."

Did you catch that? I almost didn't. In fact I read it three times before some part of my brain remembered that the order of the ingredients indicates what the product has more of in it. Mostly I see it in cereals, pet food, and other processed foods so I guess I can be forgiven for not immediately cluing in on the importance of order listed in the case of a can of olives.

You see the Irrisistibles can of olives has MORE WATER in in than olives. So even though you are paying less, a very small amount less but less, you are still paying for more water than olives. Just to verify I shook that cans and sure enough the Unico can had a lot more olives in it than the other brand.

So buyer beware. Read the labels and see what ingredient is listed on what order for both your options. It may very well be that the $.10 your are saving isn't really a savings at all.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Hot and Sour Soup

I found an interesting recipe over at Back to Basics blog and decided to give it go. Of course I had to alter it to suit my own tastes a little. This is quite a hot soup, so if you don't like a lot of heat use less chili pepper flakes and less garlic chili sauce.

Hot and Sour Soup

1 package of firm tofu - cubed
6 cups vegetarian chicken flavoured broth
1 package of sliced mushrooms
1 can bamboo shoots - drained
1 can sliced water chestnuts -drained
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoon sesame oil
6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons chili/garlic sauce
2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cp cauliflower florets
2 carrots peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery sliced
2 green onions sliced thin

Put everything in a large pot, reserving 3 tablespoons and rice vinegar, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until veggies are tender.
Add reserved vinegar just before serving.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gardening Bug!

The weather was very mild this week and we even had a couple of days with sunny skies. Maybe that explains why the gardening bug has hit me hard this week. All I can think about is getting out in the garden and planting this years crop of goodies. I've even been dreaming about gardening, which you must admit is a little bizarre.

I sat down Monday with the seed catalogues and made a list of everything I wanted to grow. This I went through each catalogue and made a list of things to order. Tomatoes and beans from Terra Edibles. Herbs, potatoes, and cucumbers from Dominion Seed House. Ground cover, herbs, and blueberries from Henry Fields. Henry Fields is a new nursery to my collection this year. I received a catalogue from them through Harrowsmith's Magazine. They carry a lot of things I haven't seen anywhere else, like buckwheat and hairy vetch.

I looked through the catalogues each day this week and added or subtracted, yeah right!, things from my order forms. Today I sat down and went to each places online ordering page and placed my ordering. Of course, I added a few things to each list as I went through each nurseries online catalogue. By the end of my shopping spree I had spent $200.00 on seeds and plants for this years garden, and already have a list of plants I plan to order later this spring or next spring.

So in no particular order here is my gardening list for this year.
Vegetables: Cranberry Beans, Speckled Calico Lima Beans, Straight 8 Cucumbers, Miss Pickler Hybrid Cucumbers, Summer Cabbage, Winter Cabbage, Mesclan Garden Mix, Hot Pepper Variety, Yukon Gold Potatoes, and Field Corn
Herbs: Hyssop, Catnip, Winter Savory, Summer Savory, Garlic, Spearmint, Dill, Chamomile, Basil, Chives, Garlic Chives, Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, and Borage.
Fruit: Tomatillos, Brandywine Red Tomatoes, Ground Cherries, Coldset Hybrid Tomatoes, Cranberry Tree, Semi Dwarf Northland Blueberry, and Dwarf Tophat Blueberry.
Ground Cover: Buckwheat, Clover, Hairy Vetch.

We've also decided that we are going to plant Sea Buckthorn either later this year or Spring next year. Sea Buckthorn is a fruit shrub from Asia and is sold at Dominion- Seed-House. It is hardy to zone 1 and resists road salt. This is great for us and will be used to partially replace the out of control cedar hedge at the front of the yard. So, not only will we cut the hedge back but we will be able to replace it with a fruiting shrub to add vitamin C to our winter diet.