Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter Winds

We had a bit of a storm on Sunday, December 28. Just a bit. Winds gusting over 100 km/h wreaked havoc with trees creating power outages in many areas, but we don't have that problem here; just the opposite. Years of deforestation have created a windy corridor and we're smack in the middle of it. The few mature trees that were left standing on our property were damaged during the great ice storm of 1998; suffice it to say the state of our trees is in sad repair. We're busy replanting to create a wind break and otherwise replenish the landscape but we won't reap the benefits for many years to come.
This is what the southern side of our barn looked like after the last storm. The roof has peeled back before, and Eric did a hasty patch-job, but this time it's a goner. This will definitely expedite the destruction of this section, so once again we are being told by Nature what our priorities are.

The wall shown in the above photo was the original exterior wall, before the dairy cow section was added decades ago. When we tear down this section, this will be the outside wall again. We have a lot of work to do on this old barn, and are having trouble finding workers willing and able to do the repairs. We are seriously at the point of doing the work ourselves.

This door is big and heavy. And the hinges were solid, so it must have taken quite the gust to get it where it finally landed.

The warm winds melted the snow on the field across from us. It was more like a lake complete with white-caps by the time the front finished moving through. The snowmobilers won't be too happy with the condition of their trail - those little signs in the field mark it - so until we have another substantial snowfall things will be quiet. (Yay!)

Howarnator was watching "Squirrel TV" from the bathroom window. He got so excited that I decided to open the window, and he jumped right out into the snow. He sunk into it and plowed his way to the tree he saw the squirrels in, then proceeded to climb up high. The squirrels were long gone, but that didn't stop the Howarnator's imagination. He was enthralled.

Meanwhile, BobCat had the right idea: nab the best spot in the house, namely a big sheepskin rug I brought out of storage. Add a sunbeam, and all's right with the world!

Here's to a wonderful 2009, may it be full of warmth and happiness for all!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mr. Cranky is here!

Today turned out to be Christmas for me! My new Auto Knitter circular sock machine (CSM) is finally here!

I had been emailing back and forth with the seller for 2 weeks to coordinate payment and delivery for my new toy. I don't know how long I have been after one of these, in fact, I can't even remember where on the web I saw one first, but one thing was sure: I needed to get my hands on one!

I've been watching Ebay auctions, calling antique dealers and watching auction web-sites for a few months now, but through a stroke of fate, I snagged this machine in a classified ad all the way from Calgary, Alberta. If you have ever been to Calgary, you must have noticed how bone-dry it is there; if this baby was half-decently stored there would be little rust on it, and as it was, it is in fantastic shape.

And it came with a bonus cat! (Just kidding, Howard "The Howarnator" Hughes is our cat, and a curious little devil he is. He has this marvelous way of looking so innocent, as in, "What? Me? What did I do now?" as the Christmas lights dangle from his fangs).

Back to the machine: the seller promised me it works, and that he actually knit socks with it. I am skeptical by nature, but part of me was screaming: JUST BUY THE DAMN THING ALREADY! And that's what I did: I threw caution to the wind and bought it. The seller was kind enough to take it to a local UPS store who packaged and shipped it for me, and before I knew it, the courier truck was in our driveway!

You remember when you were a kid and got a really cool gift you'd been coveting and begging Santa for? Well, this is my proverbial Red Ryder BB gun. (Just hope I don't lose an eye!) I even got up extra-early the next morning to check on it: was this real or just a figment of my overly-active imagination?

I had been following the shipment across the country and had planned a stay-at-home day for it's arrival. I was disappointed when I called the courier company that morning and was most positively assured that the delivery would be postponed a day or so because we are in a rural area. I figured I might as well make the best of the day and do some Christmas baking: the cookies were in the oven, and a batch of roasted almonds was caramelizing on the stove top when the courier truck arrived. I was too engaged to give the box the attention it needed, but once my kitchen duties were under control, I attacked the box with my trusty Olfa knife.

Everything was gingerly wrapped and padded; I quickly clamped the CSM on the kitchen counter and gave the handle a turn or two (okay, mebbe 5 or 6, okay, I wasn't counting!), it runs smoothly and literally purrs. This is a good sign.

A really cool detail (besides the original box and lid) was the original "Old Tyme" Auto Knitter sock that came with the machine.

Despite a few moth holes, this sock is a piece of history. I can hardly believe I own it! The wool is so soft, it dispels my preconceived notion that all old socks had the texture of a Brillo pad.

So, the next few days will be spent documenting the parts and how to take it apart and clean it. I have downloaded a lot of useful information from the web, and I will be happy to share all these details at a later time.

I hope this is the start of a long and fruitful relationship!

Knotty Pine Purgatory

This is not a suspicion of mine. I have long since known that hell is paved not with good intentions, but with knotty pine. However, one proverbial quality of hell was absent on the morning of December 8th, and that would be heat:
Yes. That reads 45°F. That’s 8.5°C, but just as cold whether in F or C. And please note, this is not the great outdoors, but a room in our very own Knotty Pine Purgatory. This was a little experiment I conducted as the outside temperature plummeted to -20°C with a wind-chill prohibitively howling at around -29. (At those temps, you’re frost-bitten in about 20 minutes, Celsius or Fahrenheit, who cares, what matters is that you have multiple coatings of thermonuclear polar fleece on every square inch of your body.) To conduct this little experiment, however, all I needed to do was close the door to the guest room for the night and watch the temperature drop.
Well, it was 45°F in our guest room that morning, the much heralded and much loved room that all our guests comment on. It also proves my point, that if I had “too much wool” or “too many clothes” the room would have better insulation and wouldn’t be this cold, but once again, I am digressing.
It is glaringly obvious that we need to renovate our upstairs, and the day that we will start the tear-down is fast approaching. We have a deadline of next May to have the work completed, or we forfeit the rebate we will receive under the EcoEnergy Retrofit Program sponsored by our federal government. We pay enough taxes, so it would be nice if some of it actually went back into our pockets, and not out the window like our heat.
You see the vacuum-cleaner in the above photo? It NEVER gets put away - I think if it did, we'd suffocate on dog and cat hair. And the Rubbermaid bins? They are for my wool collection that is currently housed in the guest room and needs to be moved out at all costs. And the post made of 2 x 4's? It serves no purpose, and there are 2 of them. I can just picture the space we are going to gain when these come down!
Guests think our upstairs looks "so cozy", (I think they're being polite, after all cozy is just a euphemism for unbelievable mess)...they love the knotty-pine look (so do I, but I don’t want to live in it), and think it feels just like Grandma’s house. On some points, they are right. Knotty pine is nice when you’ve rented a ski chalet in Vermont, and it is cozy when it’s insulated, but there is exactly no insulation behind the pine whatsoever. That this house has been standing 150 years and no one has thought about this detail concerns me a bit. Although we replaced the windows with high-efficiency argon-filled thermal panes, the walls are bare: from the inside, we have knotty pine, some furring strips, and great spaces of nothing but space. Cold Space.
We aren’t exactly sure how long the knotty pine has been up, but one thing is for sure: whoever did the job was a “weekend warrior” when it came to home renovation.
In some places, the boards don’t even join, the doors have such major gaps, I can literally stick my hand under one door, and generally, just the fact there is no insulation warrants a major renovation.
So this winter, we are going to tear down all the pine, get right down to the outside exterior wall that is comprised of 1) horizontal pine (Eastern True Fir or Hemlock) , 3” thick by 12” high joined by tongue-and-groove, clad on the inside with 1½” thick vertical boards, some up to 14” wide. Due to water infiltration, years, mice and rot, some of these boards will have to be replaced, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Eric is going to put up 2”x6” studs and insulate with 6” Roxul Flexibatt (fireproof) to give us a R22 rating, the same as the insulation in the roof (after we removed the sawdust and re-insulated!) We will probably use the Ayr-Foil barrier again, because we are convinced that it makes a huge difference in heating and cooling based on its use downstairs, even if it is a bitch to install. (I am sure some of these R&D types have never held a hammer before, but again, I am digressing…)
Right now we are having trouble getting the insulation; it seems Roxul is behind in deliveries, and with the up-coming holiday and maintenance shutdowns, who knows when we will be able to get what we need. None of our home-renovation big-box stores that carry this product have it in stock, nor are they able to tell us if they even have some ordered. Bullsh!t is all I can say; I've been on both sides of that coin, and I know when to cry foul. We even wanted to PRE-PAY 40 bags' worth - that's a $1200 order - but no one seems to be capable of taking an order like that. Cash and carry is nice when the product is in stock...but really...40 bags is nearly a truck-load and no one can place an order? Wow. And have you ever tried to contact any one at Home Depot? Talk about the royal run-around. When you finally do get someone on the phone, don't expect any semblance of precise information, just be thankful you actually managed to get through to a live human being. Eric ended up going to the store with a friend's pick-up and trailer to get 10 bags that were "in stock" (ha ha), only to be told that, "Oops, we are so sorry, it seems we don't have any at all!". Gee, thanks for the heads-up! Grrrr...don't get me started. Seems no one wants to be accountable for anything, anymore.
So keep tuned. All I want is Gyproc, all over…then we’ll talk about paint, paneling and what-not. Some insulation, a sink and toilet, and of course, a bit more closet space.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Dog's Tail

All of us have days that we fondly remember, days that we replay time and time again, and never grow weary of. For me, one of those days is December 5, 2002. That was 6 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

The time was 7:20 am, I was on my way to work, and it was unseasonably cold. The engine turned over slowly, even the car radio took a while to wake up, and once again I cursed as I settled into the hard, frozen seat of my car.  As I turned to take the access road that runs along the highway that morning, something at the side of the road caught my eye. A little heap, covered by a dusting of fresh snow, yet still visible as a black and white lump.

A creature, perhaps a skunk, I thought as I drove past?

“But skunks hibernate, don’t they?” opined the other voice inside my head.  I slowed down. It was snowing, but from the condition of the freshly-fallen snow all around me, I knew no-one had driven by here in quite some time. It was just getting light, and my curiosity had been piqued, so I had to investigate.  I promptly turned around, parked the car, and walked over to the lump in the snow.  A little head popped up, a pink tongue unfurled as it let out a big yawn, and the black and white creature piddled a puddle, shook the snow off its back, and then excitedly walked over to me and licked my chin as I stooped down to pick it up.

Love at first sight is not an adequate expression.  Remember the infamous scene in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, when the Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes that day”?  Well, it was the best way to describe the feeling I had in my chest that fateful morning.

What I found that morning can only be described as one of the greatest gifts a person can get.

The little dog, the vet guessed, must have been 7 or 8 weeks old. He weighed in at 10 pounds, and was a healthy, happy mix of what we could only guess was Labrador and Border Collie.  In my naïve mind, I was sure that someone had lost him and I valiantly checked pet stores, vets, and on-line forums for someone’s desperate plea for their lost dog.  Slowly, the realization that this little dog wasn’t lost, but had been deliberately abandoned, started to dawn on me.  As the days unfolded, I started to read about rescue organizations, dog adoption societies, and the statistics behind dog abandonment.  What I read staggered me.  So many dogs, great dogs, abandoned each year.  Left in boxes in front of the vet’s office. Chained up in front of SPCA’s, or worse, chained in forests and left to die. Thrown out by the side of the road in the country.  Sad?  You bet, and just another indication that our society is headed for demise, if we maintain the current path we’re on.

But I was on my way to work, and I needed a plan. Well, actually, I needed dog food, so I went to my elderly neighbor’s house with my new friend in tow.  He offered to babysit and house the pup in the wood-working studio where he spent his days, and I in return promised to come back after work with a solution.

Although Eric does not believe me, I called everyone I knew from work that day and tried to find a home for this little black and white pup. And everyone greeted me with the same answer: nah, thanks but no thanks, it’s like…weeks... before Christmas, lemme see what I can do…

It was only when I arrived at my neighbor’s that evening to pick up the little dog, who was by now nestled in a crate by the wood-stove, with a chewed pine stick between his paws, that I fell madly, deeply and irreversibly in love. The little dog woke up, promptly wiggled his way towards me, tail circling in that unmistakable floppy-puppy way, and piddled another puddle on the cold concrete floor.  He jumped up as I knelt down and licked my chin once again, and at that moment, I knew I could not part with him.

But my neighbor had other ideas. Mr. Lefebure loved dogs, and his dearly-loved and recently-departed Bijou was the dog by which all other dogs were judged. “That dog is smart,” he said. “A good dog”. Silence fell over me. “I’ll keep him”, he replied, and for an instant, I thought my problem was solved.  I looked around, the flames were glowing inside the wood stove, and the shop lights flickered over-head.  I felt the cold of the concrete floor through the soles of my boots, and looked over to the old flannel shirt that lined the wooden box.  The little black and white dog would have a good home, lots of love and space to run, but my heart would be broken.

“I have to show him to Eric”, I said, straightening myself up. “Eric will be home tomorrow, alright?”, as I cradled the pup in my arms. “Just one night, okay?”, I queried, and with that, I sauntered home, making a mental check-list of doggy supplies I’d be needing.  Trust me, Mr. Lefebure knew that it wouldn't be "just one night".  He knew I was down for the count.   I called dog-owning friends again, and begged for a crate. Blanket, check, collar, check, dog leash, check, dog food, check. I was on a mission.

Our first night was a disaster. He cried, I cried, and we cried together. We had a little philosophical talk. I placed him on the kitchen counter, and he sat down, head cocked quizzically. I was on the stool at the breakfast counter, and we were eye-to-eye. “Look”, I said to him. “I’m not the problem, but the big guy who’s gonna walk through the door tomorrow night will be. You need to be on your best behavior, no peeing or pooing in the house, no chewing on carpets or furniture. Put your charm on, and work your puppy-ness to the max. Got it?” The little dog cocked his head again, and stood still. He looked at me, and so help me, he understood every word I said. To this day I can’t explain it, but someone was looking over us that day.

And so it came to pass, that when Eric, a self-confessed “cat person”, walked through the door the next evening and set his luggage down, did the little dog sit perfectly at attention. Eric looked at me across the living room, looked down at the dog, and said, “I guess we have a dog”. A big grin crossed my face, and I said a silent thanks.

That six years have passed since that cold December morning is hard to believe. Cooper remains our faithful dog, and sometimes, when the lights are out and the dog is happily settled in between us in bed, Eric’s hand resting on Cooper’s chest, and Cooper’s paw in my hand, one of us breaks the dark silence. “We have a good dog, eh?” someone offers. The answer is always the same, “Yeah, the best dog ever.” Cooper lets out a big sigh and squirms into place, his chest slowly rising and falling, and thumps his tail in reply.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Patio Building Update

Ahhhh, yes. What a day. We're still married, no one threw any tools, and cursing was kept to a bare minimum. We managed to put down exactly 21 tiles in about 5 hours, which means if we keep up the pace, we can finish in 2 more days. And that is just the pathway to the front door and does not include the patio which we will finish next Spring. I don't even want to think about the patio right now, truth be told.

The problem with the tiles: not one has a smooth surface. Some are off by a quarter to a half inch over their length. Some are convex, some are concave, all have some type of imperfection that makes them hard to place. And this is Grade A slate:

As Eric put each tile into place and shimmed them into submission, I gauged the thickness of the edge, put on my spare biceps and pulled out what I thought to be the corresponding tile from the pallet shown above. They weigh about 4o to 50 pounds each and are a bit cumbersome and hard to move and place. We then placed my best choice down, flipping it end to end and over to find its best fit. Then we lifted the tile, and smoothed or added screening as necessary. Repeat about 10 times per tile, and we're satisfied.

We used a spackling knife, a piece of wood and our "motivator", commonly known as a hammer. (Actually, it is a carver's mallet we purchased at Lee Valley, and it is one of our favorite tools.) Eric also needed to ensure that 1) his first tile was straight, and 2) the level was correct. All of this was what the Québecois colloquially refer to as "gossage", a nice all-around word that means fiddly, nit-picking, detail-oriented work.

Both of us have so much mud on the soles of our shoes, every time Eric asks me to go in the house, I cringe because I hate removing my workboots but with our mud-caked boots we don't really have the choice. I sound like a drill seargent before we work out side: measuring tape, check, level, check, Olfa knife, check...anything to avoid me from having to remove my shoes 10 times before we're organized.

At the end of the day, we managed to put down 21 tiles, or 42 square feet. By the time we had found our rythym we were getting tired, so let's hope that tomorrow we have a bit more "oomph" and can get even more done.

Once again, we were rewarded with a fabulous sunset:

Somehow, it sort of makes all the hard work worthwhile.

I almost hesitate to post the photo below since it doesn't really do any justice, but there it is anyway. The crappy steps that lead down to the slate will be done in slate too, but they will only be delivered next spring. We will have 3 steps, 16" wide and 96" long leading down to this path, and we haven't really figured out the full details, so stay tuned. When I said we were making this all up as we go along, I wasn't joking.

All told, we are happy with the result. It's nice when a project lives up to your expectations.

Patio Building Exploits

The sun is out and the weather gurus have forecast a high of 17C, or about 65F today. That means we will start to put down the slate tiles for the pathway to our front door. The slate we ordered to build our patio and walkway, as well as the roofing tiles for our new entrance (more about that later...) arrived about 2 weeks ago. We thought about storing the pallets until next Spring, but really, we'd love to get the job done before winter sets in.

The weather is lovely today, compared to yesterday where we froze our nubs off, and Eric still has 2 days off before going back to work, so we figured we might as well give at least the pathway a go.

We had built the base for the patio and walkway in September, excavating the clay to an approximated depth of 12" to 16", lining the base with a geo-textile membrane, and back-filling with 3/4" gravel. Our first mistake: we were told to use 3/4" gravel for optimal drainage, however, we should have used 0-3/4" instead. We discovered this when we added the gravel screening on top and compacted it using a compactor. Had we used o-3/4" gravel, we would have used less screening, now we have to keep our fingers crossed that the screening won't just disappear into the gravel over the next few years. Once these tiles are down, we hope they stay flat. We don't want to take them up again because the prepared surface might heave with repeated freezing and thawing cycles.

So Eric got 2 trailers of screening that we off-loaded onto tarps. This keeps things tidier and makes it easier to move using the front-loader. No scooping up chunks of grass and earth at the same time. We added about a 1" to 2" layer of screening on top of the gravel (which Eric compacted using a rented compactor below), and yours truly went mad with a rake, smoothing and straightening the surface under Eric's eagle-eye. Eric then compacted this screening, and we now have a lovely, smooth base ready for the tiles which are shrink-wrapped on the skids in the picture below.

Notice the geo-textile membrane. We are folding the edge under the tiles as we go, and we hope that the membrane will keep the compacted screening from shifting a bit. Can you tell we're just making this up as we go along? (And can you tell someone gave us the membrane, and we figured: we might as well put it to use!)

Next step is to place the tiles: they are 12" x 24" and are so heavy, I can't even take one off the pallet. They are placed in specially-made boxes on a regular pallet frame, and for the life of me, I can't even lift one out of the box. Eric is going to have a bit of fun today, I think! One bug with the tiles is that they aren't all the same thickness, there can be a variation of about 1/4" from one end of the tile to another, so I think we are going to curse a bit when we put these into place!

If I make it through today, I'll let you know how things turn out!

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's Harvest Time!

Yes, the day the dog and I long for all year is finally here! That day would be harvest day, the day the crop is finally cut and we can reclaim the full use of our field for our long walks.

While our crops are growing, I use the farm access roads around our farm to take long walks with the dog, but it's not the same thing as walking on your own land somehow. Even though I have permission to walk my dog on neighboring fields, I long for the day I can tread on our own earth at the end of the growing season. Somehow, it just feels right underneath my feet. And the dog enjoys it too, because he knows he is not allowed outside the perimeter of the property when he takes his morning walk, so he is a bit confined by the corn. He doesn't venture down the rows once they have reached a certain height.

Once again, it proved to be a great year for corn. Last year's wheat was a bumper crop, and this year corn was a perfect choice. I suppose it is like taking a gamble every spring - will this be a good year for soybeans, wheat or corn? Personally, corn is my least favorite crop, simply for it's size - this year it was well over 8 feet tall, and it becomes a bit claustrophobic in a way. There goes the vista, if you know what I mean.

The equipment used to harvest this equipment is heavy, huge and expensive. Had we not changed the drain pipe over the culvert in September, forget having this piece of machinery access our land. Literally, this combine is the width of the road - if you are in a hurry and stuck behind, you better be patient or grow wings, because you aren't going anywhere quickly. And a note to those impatient, lead-footed, disrespectful drivers: please, stay out of the country if you want to go any where quickly during harvest time. There is nothing more annoying than operating a piece of farming equipment with a seething driver tail-gating. Have a bit of respect and back off. (End of rant!)

Not every farm owns a combine, so there are only a handful in the area. This particular combine runs about 18 hours a day during harvest time, and one can hear its constant drone for days on end. It takes about 45 minutes to fill the trailers with corn, and from here they are taken to the silo for drying. The moisture is was about 25% at harvest, and needs to be dried to about 15% for storage.

Once again, Cooper is in his element, running up and down the rows of cut corn. There are so many exciting smells for him to discover, while I walk in a straight line, he is running up and down and zig-zagging all over the place. His excitement is palpable. From time to time, we can see a hawk eyeing prey below, even they fly low along the rows in the hopes of finding a mouse or mole in the freshly cut corn.

As I make my way up the rows and back towards the house, I say a quiet thanks for the people who make it happen. We are mere observers, however, the people who work long hours plowing, planting and harvesting are the real heroes in my books. My hat goes off to you.

The (In)famous Noro Striped Scarf

I know, I know, this scarf has been blogged to death, but I was so happy with the result that I have to share:

I used 5 skeins of Kureyon in total and cast on 45 stitches on a 4.5 mm needle, knitting in a K1, P1 rib. I started with colours 178 and 185 and alternated these every 2 rows, carrying the yarn up the side. I knitted a selvage stitch by knitting the first stitch into the back of the loop, and slipped the last stitch with the yarn in front. When my first two balls of Kureyon were finished I decided the scarf would not be long enough (I casted on more stitches than the pattern asked for), so I decided to raid my stash and use one ball of colourway 146, from which I wound 2 balls, so I was knitting with the start and end of the ball alternatingly, does that make any sense? This way, I still ended up with a variation, despite using the same ball. When colour 146 was finished, I went back to my regularly scheduled programming using colour 178 and 185 again. All said and done, the scarf measures 7" by 80", just the right size in my opinion.

This was a quick and easy knitting project, perfect in it's mind-numbing repetitiveness, yet intriguing enough because I couldn't wait to see what effect the two colours would end up making. Highly recommended and the perfect project for beginning knitters.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


One of the most "instantly" satisfying jobs we did this fall was plant a cedar hedge that runs along the side of our driveway. We had a mixed bag of trees here, and none of them did a good job as a wind break, and they would never grow so full as to hide our neighbour and give us privacy. We cut down the existing trees, not without regrets, because cutting down mature trees goes against my philosophy, but really, we were dealing with a bad mix of trees. Some were sick and some were damaged because they were too wide for the farm equipment that goes by to plant or harvest. Eric hauled off at least three hay-trailers worth of branches which our municipality shreds for wood chips, and we dug up endless roots until we were satisfied with our base.

We found our trees at a local cedar farm. This plantation is almost exclusively devoted to cedars, and we were impressed with their quality and price. I put my vote down for 4 foot trees as a money saving option, Eric put his vote in for 5 foot trees, and in the end, the owner of the tree farm dug up 6 foot trees, so we ended up with an "insta-hedge" that will cover the fence completely by next year. We planted them just under the suggested cut-off for our area. We are in a zone 5 planting area, and we had about a 2 week window in which to get them into the ground with the hopes they will establish properly before heavy frost and winter hits. This way, we can expect one foot of growth next season, as opposed to 6" had we planted them in the spring.

We visited the farm on a Thursday afternoon, and by Friday evening, we had our trees delivered. We spent the entire weekend cutting trees and digging up roots, and Eric got the enviable task of humping the trees into place. Even with a front loader to carry the trees, and a back-hoe to dig the hole, some lucky bugger needs to place the trees into said hole. Eric won by default - I couldn't even move one tree on my own. Not only was the root ball huge, it was heavy and cumbersome. We ate a lot of dirt that weekend. I was the lucky soul who got to kneel down beside the hole and pull the burlap wrapping off the root-ball while Eric lifted the trees.

Somehow we always end up with the Peanut Gallery looking on: Cooper is always the foreman, nothing gets done without him diligently watching, and Howard and Bobcat are never far behind either. Howard made himself comfortable on the burlap the roots were wrapped in. Every so often, he would pounce after a leaf, or dig his claws into a corner of the burlap, his back legs pedalling furiously against some invisible predator. Howard is still young and has tendencies, like all young cats do, to fits of hysterical play-time.

All said and done, we are glad that the eye-sore that was our hedge is no longer, and that we can look forward to a full green hedge by next summer.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Culvert

The Culvert - it sounds somewhat like the title to a horror movie, however, it was just another chapter in our life at Muddy Acres. The old culvert over which we need to drive to gain entrance to our property was a bit under-sized, considering the farm equipment that needs to gain access to our fields. We had been meaning to up-grade this detail for quite some time, and this September we had our opportunity.

First we needed to remove the old drain pipe. This task proved quite easy, given Eric's ability with the back-hoe. I was the unlucky soul who got to stand knee-deep in the mud. We were left with an open ditch, not quite a comforting thought, since we had no access to our driveway and needed to park our cars at our neighbour's place.

This is what things looked like at the end of the first day:

Thankfully, the sun was shining just like the forecast said it would, and we were able to place in the new, larger drain pipe. At some point, Eric was digging, asking me, "How much deeper do I have to go?", at which point I got very worried, mainly because I had no clue! I thought he had this figured out! Our measuring method wasn't very sophisticated, but it worked. We just took a long piece of wood and marked it with our desired depth, and yours truly, donning her best pair of rubber boots (a country girl can't own too many pairs of rubber boots!) waded into the muck and gauged the depth. ("Yes, dear, the mud is wallowing in over the top of my boots. I think you can stop digging now!")

We were precise, too, because when the new pipe was lowered in, we had a good fit with nice drainage.

We lined the base with some geo-textile membrane, probably over-kill, but we had some left over from our patio-building exploits, and lowered the pipe into the ground using chains and the back-hoe. We had 2 sections of pipe, since we couldn't get one the full length, so we had to make a join using a huge gasket specially made for the pipe. The gasket is made of hard plastic and joins at the top with 2 huge ties. It is ridged and lines up with 2 sections of ridges on either side of each piece, and it was a bit of a challenge to line everything up properly, but we managed without too many obsceneties. I had my doubts about the solidity of the gasket, but it was a seamless join and everything fitted together perfectly. Once the join was made, Eric was able to back-fill with the earth he excavated, and the ending of yet another project was celebrated. (And once again, when people asked how we spent the weekend, we just look at each other and grin: you had to be there to understand).

Granola People

I whole-heartedly accept the title of Granola Person. Along with the distinction comes an obligation to offer up a great bowl of granola, homemade, of course. My mother's been making granola since the dawn of time, so the concept is not new to me. However, when people come into the house and comment on the smell of freshly baked granola with the remark, "I didn't know you could make your own granola", this is the recipe I send them home with.

Naturally, feel free to experiment, it's only granola, after all. The ingredients are inexpensive, the end result totally satisfying, so you really have no good reason not to try this versatile breakfast staple.

In fact I dare you to leave it alone while it cools. I can always be found with a spoon in my hand, hoovering it up right from the cookie sheet while it cools, it's that good.


8 cups regular rolled oats (not quick or instant oats, but the real kind)
1½ cups firmly packed brown sugar
1½ cups wheat germ
½ cup sesame, sunflower or other seeds
½ cup coconut, or nuts, or both
½ cup wheat bran
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla

Raisins and other chopped or dried fruits such as cranberries and apricots

Preheat oven to 325° F.

In a large bowl add all dry ingredients except raisins and dried fruits. Stir to blend.

In a saucepan, heat oil, honey and vanilla until bubbling. Pour over dry ingredients in bowl, and mix thoroughly.

Divide this mixture evenly between two lightly greased 10" x 15" rimmed baking sheets.

Bake about 20 minutes or until coconut is lightly browned.

Remove from oven and stir several times during cooling to prevent sticking.

When cool, add raisins or other dried fruits.

Store in an airtight container.

Yield: about 16 cups

Friday, September 5, 2008

Where did the summer go?

Here we are in early September. The sun is setting at 7:30 and by 8:00, it's dark. What's more, it finally became warm about mid-August, with a run of nice, sunny days that lasted about 3 weeks. The good news is our corn is growing at a record pace, and providing we don't have any frost, the harvest should be a good one. I'd say the corn is well over 8 feet tall, and should be cut the first week of October, so we still have a ways to go. (And the bad news is we had the rainiest summer on record.) We took lots of pictures of clouds and storms rolling in...

Our swallows had a second litter, for lack of a better ornithological term. I don't know where I was last time (here but not watching?), but this was the first time I really observed them, and it was a riot. Mom and Dad trying to egg on (pardon the pun) the little swallows in their flying manoeuvers, gliding from beam to beam in the barn, and landing with the most ungraceful crashes imaginable. An absolute scream to watch. Within 4 days, the little ones with their stubby tails were out and flying around, virtually indistinguishable from their parents in the air, save for their shorter tails. They would sit on the power lines and chirp away at one another, and then suddenly, they were gone for the season. I hope they make it south to their winter migration grounds, and next year we'll leave the barn doors wide open for their return.

Our summer beautification project entailed pulling up our patio tiles, excavating 12 inches of pure clay to build a 13' by 15' slate patio and 40' long walk-way to the front door. The slate market in Quebec has taken a bit of a turn in the past few months, and prices have nearly tripled, ergo the project is not completed yet, since we're now sourcing Vermont slate and trying to find a supplier who can supply us with everything we need: indoor 12" x 12" tiles, outdoor slabs, 1" thick and 12" x 24" long, as well as 3 front steps and roofing tiles for the new entrance. We'd rather not pay 4 different suppliers 4 exorbitant transportation charges if we only need to pay it once. Hence we're in a holding pattern with yet another incomplete project on our hands, but it makes life interesting, and keeps the passers-by wondering...

We made a 12" base of 3/4" gravel, and lined our excavated base with a geo-textile membrane to prevent the gravel from disappearing into the clay through repeated thaw and freezing cycles. We also put in a french drain that is about 50 feet long and drains to our ditch. Again, excavating about 16" deep and using a 1% grade for optimal drainage, a job like this cannot be done without the help of a backhoe. Thankfully, our John Deere TLB (Tractor, Loader, Backhoe) 110 makes life much easier. We started with a model 4310, however, it was traded in for the bigger model 2 years ago, no regrets there. Who doesn't need more power? The model 4310 would have been perfect if not for all of our digging projects, and by the time our drainage projects are completed, we could probably be consultants.

We had the rainiest summer, there were literally weeks on end where weeding the garden proved prohibitive (read: I hate getting wet), so things got a bit over grown. Note to self: Turban squash are not worth it, Atlantic Giant Pumpkins are named Giant for a reason, and really, one zucchini plant is enough. Remember to stake the peppers (wow, what a summer for them...) and keep things in check by weeding weeding and weeding some more. Right now I am letting the Atlantic Giant Pumpkins take over and won't make the same mistake again next year. I planted 25 mature strawberry plants I received from a farmer who wanted to till them under, and they are growing strong and healthy, already making runners that I can plant next spring. I planted them in a weed-barrier, so here's to hoping my weeding chores will be limited next year. Maybe I should plant EVERYTHING in a weed barrier and save myself some time...I'll weigh the options and let you know next summer. In a perfect world, I'd have some kind of edging around the beds to prevent the weeds from encroaching, because the plantain and dandelions, thistles and what-not are literally taking over unless I beat them into submission with my spade. For now, I've decided to recycle the patio tiles we pulled up, and use them as a path between the beds. This will keep things tidier and easier to maintain.

Our old hag cat Schatzie is pushing 21 or 22, maybe even more, and is starting to wind down a bit. Her kidneys are tiny, and she's on antibiotics for a suspected bladder infection (ever tried to get a cat to pee into a cup?), and although she's doing better now, I have her under a close watch and on lots of petting-therapy. Every time I walk by her and don't stop to pet her, I hear about it with a croaky, demanding meow. Pet me, pet me, pet me is this cat's mission statement. We're not sure about her age because we only inherited her 3-and-a-half years ago when our neighbour died, but for sure she's been around in the seven years we've been here, and the previous house-owners can vouch for the 14 years before that. Our new neighbour wanted to take her and her son, Baby Grey, to the SPCA, but let's face it, people don't adopt 20 year old cats, so we took both cats in as a way to honour our late neighbour's memory. They were both so shy, like little grey shadows, and although Baby Grey still lives outside in the barn, Schatzie showed interested in becoming a pampered indoor cat, and inside is where she now dwells. Only on the sunniest of days does she venture to the front door and outside for a walk in the lawn, always under our watchful eye, a far cry from her life as a shop cat who spent only the coldest nights indoors in her previous incarnation. She's a bony bag of fur, and we love her.

This sunflower was self-seeded from the bird seed I put out last winter. I have collection of sunflower seed packets that I keep meaning to plant, but next year I will make a point to plant them in a good location. We had a huge field of sunflowers near our house, and I always meant to take a picture, however when the thought occurred to me, it was either raining, or Eric had the camera with him. There's always next year for that, too.

On our fall agenda is to finish the slate patio and path, (pleasepleaseplease, let this project be complete before winter), and install a new drain pipe where our driveway meets the road, as well as plant our 120 little pine trees before the deep freeze starts. I also want to get some garlic into the ground for next year. There's never a shortage of things to do. Part of me loves the winter, because our world revolves around the inside of the house (read: within a 10 foot radius of the wood stove, in my case), and things seem much more controlled and confined, but summer's really where it's at, even if the days of toiling outside are long. I don't think we'd have it any other way.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Barn

Our post-and-beam barn was built around 1860, given the construction style of the rafters. They were built using an open mortise and tenon style of joining the wood, and from this we can estimate the date. Originally, the roof was cedar shake, however it had been re-done about 50 years ago with metal, half of which we replaced last year.

In the 1930's, when dairy farming came into vogue in Quebec, many farms were modified to include a milking area, and most of the farms in this region were modified exactly like ours. Originally, the view from the side of the barn below would have been symmetrical, and we will be restoring the barn to its original state over the next few years. This means tearing down the addition on the right of the picture below, approximately where the vine is. The original exterior wall is located within the addition, and after demolition, it will be the outside wall again.

The only thing we are waiting for are hand-workers who are able to make repairs to the post-and-beam structure of the barn. Before we tear anything down, we need to ensure the structural integrity of the barn. We hope to have someone do this work before the end of 2008. Then we will be able to demolish the addition for the cows, and line up the roofers to put on the new roof on the south side of the barn. This work should be done over the next 2 years or so.

The barn still needs a lot of TLC, and with all the work we need to do in the house and outside, the jobs are in queue depending on our time, the weather, availability of workers, and also budget, not necessarily in that order. Trying to synchronize these factors is a bit like waiting for planetary alignment. But slowly, things are getting done and the old barn is in much better shape than the majority of barns which are falling apart in our area. After every major storm that goes through the region, one less barn can be found on the landscape. Our barn should be on the horizon for many years to come.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Long View

I read a book on Swedish lifestyle recently, and how the Swedes value an unobstructed long view. The Swedes would love Quebec. We can view sunrises and sunsets from our house, so I guess we struck pay-dirt where "the long view" is concerned. I have named the window in the kitchen that overlooks the barn my "wide screen TV". People cannot fathom that we survive without cable, but there you have it, it can be done and we are living proof.

Grab a chair, pour yourself a tea, and check out what's on our very own reality show:

There's something different on every minute.

The Long View also applies to my philosophy. My yoga and meditation teachers (so that's what she does all day long...) remind us to be "in the present", but it's about the future, non? It's about where our work will take us, the pay-off, the ultimate goal.

Of course, this philosophy applies primarily to tasks and chores that are back-breaking and frustrating. Removing an old stone-lined road that meandered to nowhere was one of those recent projects where we had to look forward and remind ourselves that this chore, too, would end. We had to stop every few moments to watch the birds, pick up a frog, pet a cat or dog, and watch the sky.

This is how we came to spend a few weeks in the early spring (when the weather permitted) removing several tons of 1) gravel, 2) old waste concrete and 3) field stones which made up the bulk of the "stone road" as we came to call it. The gravel was segregated and is kept for future drainage projects; the waste concrete was hauled to our municipal dump by the tractor-bucket load and will be used around the municipality for shore-reclamation projects, since much of our municipality lies along the shore of the Saint-Lawrence river, and all remaining stones were piled up on one side of the barn for future projects, a stone fence, perhaps?

All said and done, I must confess to a pet peeve I have. Don't, and I mean DON'T ever bury concrete as a means of disposal. It will come back to haunt you, and if not you, then future generations. Do the responsible thing and GET RID OF IT!

The land this stone road meandered through has now been plowed, and will be planted next spring with wheat.

It's helpful to have neighbours with a huge inventory of farming equipment! Here our neighbour's son, quite possibly the coolest farmer around, showed up one evening with his aviator sunglasses and straw cowboy hat, and I immediately dubbed him the "urban farmer" for his innate fashion sense. When JL isn't helping milk cows, weld, repair electronics (just a handful of farm chores), he jams with his band. I just love country kids. There's not a lot they can't do. Eric rode in the cab with JL, and somehow I got stuck with the task of removing remaining rocks as they were churned up by the harrow. It wasn't all bad; when the job was done, we drove into town for an ice cream. (No, we didn't take the tractor).

As it was, with every torrential rain, more stone and concrete was exposed. We removed two more front-loader buckets with concrete and stone, and expect even more after next spring's plowing.

The barn swallows have taken their place in the barn again, and the babies have recently hatched. I found the tiny pinkie-fingernail-sized eggshells on the ground, mottled brown and white. I haven't done a head count, because I don't really want to know if one goes missing, albeit I do go into the barn and make sure no babies have fallen from the nest. Generally, there is always a cat or two on my tail, and I am sure they'd love a baby swallow as an appetizer. Hence, no head count.

Our corn was planted at the end of May, and by the first week in June, the first little rows of green appeared. The corn is now hip-high, and let's hope the weather cooperates some more.

When the hay gets cut and baled on our neighbouring fields, I am always praying that 1) the wind's not blowing in our general direction, and 2) if it is, I am home to close the windows before every surface in our house gets coated in dust.

These 2 little guys had the right idea: they had front row seats and were enthralled in watching the baler poop out bale after bale.

Have a wonderful summer, and remember, it's all about the Long View.

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