Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review

Going through my photos for 2011, I have come across a few that I have either neglected and/or forgotten to post, so I am liberating these from my hard-drive and plastering them here for posterity.

In no particular order, and with no particular theme, here are a few images of 2011:

The new super-deluxe, double-decker, twice-the-fun cat bed.  With 3 cats, do you think any one of them would have adopted this as their favorite resting place?  I even put it in front of the wood stove, with limited success:
Ohhh.  I have a taker - it's little Schatzie. For about all of 5 minutes.
January sunset over the cut corn-fields.  This is the view out of the living room window, facing west.  (I don't know why I state that - it should be obvious).
Awwww.  We lost our Popina in 2011.  That made me very sad.  Here she is sitting in the kitchen window, AKA my wide-screen TV, sniffing the wilting blooms of my Christmas cactus.
I waged a (hopefully) winning battle against anything that had thorns or spines in the garden.  This thistle would have grown to 6 feet tall had I not eradicated it:
And in a stark contrast to the spiky thistle, here's some mullein, also know as bunny's ear or flannel leaf.  This plant was spared:
My favorite Elm tree survived another year.  It's a favorite perch for crows and hawks:
Two of the four barn doors on the front of our barn.  One day we're going to have to pull the Elderberry bush out.  But every year, it gives us so many berries, it's a hard call.  Eventually...
Awww.  More Weenie Popeenie photos!  Popina was always on the prowl.  I have never seen a cat with such a huge prey-drive in my life.  She was unreal:
Moss on the side of the barn.  Under the same category as the Elderberry bush, one day we'll have to clean all of this up.  Until then, we'll enjoy the verdant fuzziness:
Another glorious sunset:
And yet another front moving in.  It's so nice when the corn starts to grow, and things get green again.  At this point during the season, we've had enough of cold weather and dormancy - give us green and give us growth!
I was going to post about these horseflies.  For the first time in years, we've had huge (no, let me repeat:  HUGE) horseflies.  These rip out a piece of flesh.  These are more common in the higher north, but this year,we had 'em.  For scale, the orange flasher in the photo is about 1.5" high.  Who needs a fly swatter?  Give me a sledge-hammer:
Little Tessie is enjoying the new cat basket.  Again, for all of 15 minutes:
Another glorious sunset.  Why do I spend so much time staring out of the window?  Well...the same reason you spend so much time staring at a TV set probably.  Just the stuff I watch is probably prettier, and isn't interrupted by commercials.
Another big, fat gratuitous cat photo.  BobCat's such a motivator:
And again on Channel 4, another glorious sunset scheduled for exactly 6:17PM, sponsored by Mother Earth:
The construction of Highway 30.  This huge overpass is going to link Highway 20 to Highway 30 and Highway 540.  Those cranes were enormous.
As the metal girders for the overpass were trucked in, they caused massive traffic jams around the Montreal area.  They must have been about 150' long, and were hauled on these gigantic dollies with tons of pilot and police cars.  You couldn't miss them, and they were impressive to watch rolling down the highway:
The nightly news on Channel 4, brought to you by Shim Farm Central:
Oh my dog.  We finished the floor in Eric's office/atelier.  It's been months now, and it still exciting:
If the floor weren't enough, Eric finished the window frame and molding.  Gorgeous, just gorgeous, I tell you!  A Hallmark Moment of Home Renovation.  This room is officially DONE!
I wanted to show you how I machine-steek my Lopi sweaters.  I made yet another one.  Actually, I made two, but who's counting?  Here I hand-basted my sewing line beforehand.  Had I not done this extra little step, I would not have been able to tell where to sew.  Unfortunately, my machine-sewing tutorial stops here.  You'll just have to wing the rest.  I did.

Freezing rain.  Beautiful in just the right quantity.  Photo credit goes to Eric:
Time to haul out the Christmas lights.  Unfortunately, I keep these lit until, what...maybe March?  My winter sanity depends on these lights.
Finally!  I found a use for my frogged Malabrigo!  Behold, the GAP-tastic cowl.  This wonderful pattern, using 2 strands knitted together, nicely mitigates the wild variation in colour of this hand-dyed yarn.  Brilliant!  And wearable?  You have no clue.  It's like wearing a hug.  Cast-on 131 stitches on an 8mm needle and knit in a K1P1 pattern for 15 inches.  Cast off and fall in loooove!
Yeah.  So I'm obsessed with the window frame.  I want you to stare at it as much as I stare at it.  Stare away.  It's finished.  I can hardly believe my eyes.

And it's not just nice, it's gorgeous.  Eric swore a lot finishing it.  He should have his mouth washed out with Varsol.  Once again, Eric nearly met his paint-finish Waterloo.  But lookit that shine, baby!
And just because it actually snowed before Christmas, here's another photo of the fields across the street.  Note the snow on the road.  When the tractors leave tread-marks like this, the roads are cold.  I think it was -18C (about 0F) the day I took this photo.  Unless you're used to driving in these conditions, take heed.  We don't call them greasy roads for nothing.  And since our road was just repaved and the ditches were dug out and they're even deeper, you'll go in further if you drive off the road.  This combined with the fact our newly paved road doesn't have a shoulder anymore should make for some interesting extrications this winter season:
I have been so good bashing away on my Lopi haul.  I'm about ready to place another order...but wait!  Isn't one of my resolutions for 2012 to use up my stash first?  Maybe Lopi isn't considered as stash wool anymore, but a staple, something like a major food group in my knitting world?  Can't we make an exception for Lopi?  Since it's my resolution, I'm making a new rule.  No new wool until stashed wool has been used.  Except for Lopi.  And if buying new wool to combine with stash wool is allowed...well...let's just play my knitting resolutions for 2012 by ear, shall we?
This "Ranga" pattern from Lopi book 29 is gorgeous, if I may say so myself!  I also just realized I wanted to re-sew one of those little claps that's a bit off-kilter and forgot to!  Another ridiculously quick knit, save for the yoke.  Somehow, all those purls in the yoke combined with the steek purls threw me off a bit.  Stitch marker or no stitch marker, I had a mental block when it came to following the chart.  If you're a knitter and your eyes aren't glazing over yet, go back up to my photo of this sweater being machine steeked.  See what I mean?  It's like a forest in there!
And here's a photo that proves that those crazy Icelanders love their floats, and with good reason!  Lopi is super-wool, remember?  No need to twist those long floats, just let them float!  It has nothing to do with lack of craftsmanship, or laziness, but more with practicality and time-saving.  Those floats will felt with wear, and make an almost double-lined fabric with time.  Warm?  You think?   Super-freakin' warm is more like it.
Never again will I make a surprise sweater for Eric.  NEVAR, did you hear me?  (That's more of a mental note for yours truly).  Moving right along.  Okay.  So I knit this Fugl (code name:  Birdie) for Eric in like, 5 days.  Super-easy.  Just super-not-the-right-size.  My Dad's getting this one instead.  Eric's got biceps that could fix your clock.  Next one's going to be an XXL modified for Eric's arms.  I also used his old sweaters his Mom knit as a template.  Guess what?  All the arms are too long.  That'll teach me.
So, remember the part of my new year's resolution to use my wool stash before buying more new wool?  Part of that therapy involves spreading wooly goodness all over the floor in the living room whilst one's spouse is away and can't observe hoarding tendencies the likes of which are shamefully displayed above.  The good news that I consolidated 5 Rubbermaid containers into 3, and expropriated one for Victoria's guts, which were somehow unceremoniously spread around under the staircase.  It also soothed my nerves a bit, and organizing my stash made me realize that I had blown things out of proportion.  I think.
All my sock wool in one happy container.  See the P-touch label maker?  Everything is labelled now too!  No more opening lids in search of what again?  Sock Wool.  I better get cranking again, and soon.  Maybe tomorrow.  Another plan for 2012.  Even more socks.  This stuff was bought in July when I went to Germany.

So there you have it.  2011 in photo review.  A Good Year, all told.  Next year will be even better, I always say.

With time comes experience, the more you know, the better you do.

Wisdom is the saving grace of aging.

Happy 2012.  Health.  Happiness.  All that is good.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Just in time for Christmas...snow!

Despite Environment Canada's dire "green Christmas" prediction, it snowed!  And now with temperatures hovering near -15C, we'll have a white Christmas after all.  No chance of  the snow melting over the next few days with temperatures like that.
I think we've had one of the mildest falls in recent history.  No amount of accumulation until December 23! That's very rare for our area where I think we can count maybe one or two green Christmases in maybe the past 50 years.

On December 21, we had a bit of freezing rain, and the next day, when the sun came out, it was glorious!

On the home front, the turkey dressing is made, and I've probably eaten about a third already, hoovering it right out of the Pyrex dish.  It's irresistible, dressing.  I can barely wait for turkey dinner tonight.  Eric is working on the 25th and 26th, so we've moved the turkey dinner up to accommodate him.  We've learned to roll with the punches around here, where Eric's work schedule is concerned.

My knitting needles have been bashing furiously away, one "One Skein - A Stole" knit out of Noro Kureyon sock yarn for my co-worker, blocked just under the gun, and a pair of Lopi "Duffers" for another knit-worthy friend.  I even managed to find a use for my frogged Malabrigo merino, but that will be a post unto its own!  Eric's getting a Lopi sweater for Christmas that needs to have just the zipper sewn in.  In my defense, it's already basted, and I need probably 2 hours or so to finish it properly, but that will have to wait until tomorrow, unfortunately!  Oh well.  The best intentions die fast as I always say!  It's hard to finish a sweater when the recipient is nearby.  As it was, I knit this sweater in secret, throwing it into the dryer (the one place I knew Eric would never look...) when I heard his footsteps coming down the stairs.

Besides Christmas baking and cooking, shopping and wrapping, knitting and working, Christmas Day will come whether we're ready or not!  You might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

So to all our virtual friends near and far, from our house to yours, I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Skor Shortbread

Shortbread cookies didn't appeal to me until very recently.  During summer and winter school breaks, I used to work in a commercial kitchen.  One December, I had to bake an even thousand of Granny Knight's shortbread cookies for Christmas receptions.  That year, the chef decided that Crème de menthe parfaits topped with Granny's shortbread was the de rigeur Christmas dessert.  With a maraschino cherry on top, it looked like a yuletide train-wreck.  Still today, the smell of crème de menthe makes my gag reflex kick in.  Just looking at a bottle of day-glo green de Kuyper in a liquor store is enough to make me avert my gaze and shuffle along quickly.   After that holiday season was over, it was only normal that simply thinking about shortbread was a form of self-inflicted torture.

Despite the fact that everyone raved about my baking skills and the light, tender, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread I managed to create, the beauty of shortbread was lost on me.  I simply used to throw about 5 pounds of butter in the huge, industrial Hobart mixer and put it on BEAT and walk away for about 10 minutes.  When the mixer started to sound like the space shuttle about to take off, it was my cue to add flour and cornstarch and icing sugar, finishing the dough before the old gray Hobart launched itself into orbit.  To say I used to abuse the dough was an understatement.  I put so much disdain into making those cookies, that when people commented, "I can just taste the love that went into these", it was all I could do to stop my 18 year-old eyes from rolling back into my head.  If only you knew - was what I'd think.  Thankfully, the edit and pause buttons in my brain were still functioning in those days.  I'd smile gracefully and nod my head.

To this day, I attribute beating the hell out of the butter to my shortbread success.  That and Granny Knight's recipe - which I have duly repressed.

Last winter, I came across this recipe that would change my mind about shortbread forever.

Skor Shortbread.  I mean -  think about it - a Skor bar in any form is amazing, and baked up in this shortbread, it's nothing short of divine.  You cannot go wrong.

These make great gifts.  And they're easy - just mix, pat, bake and cut.  No fancy shaping, no chilling and rolling out, no icing, just straight-up mix, pat, bake and cut.  Easy-peasy.  Go out and buy yourself some cute Christmas cookie tins, make a few batches, and you'll be set for those last-minute OMG-I-have-to-bring-something-along gifts.

Skor Shortbread

2 - 39g Skor Chocolate Bars
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sifted icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 cup flour

Preheat oven to 300F.

Crush one Skor bar into rough, 1/4" pieces.  Set aside remaining chocolate bar.

Beat butter until smooth.  Gradually beat in sugar until mixture is light and fluffy.

Mix in vanilla and salt.

Using a mixing spoon, mix in 1 cup of flour until just mixed.  Add chopped Skor bar along with remaining 1/4 cup flour. 

Pat into an ungreased 8" square baking dish, and using floured fingers, pat into an even thickness.  Pierce with a fork every 1".

Finely chop remaining chocolate bar, and sprinkle on top.

Bake on bottom rack of 300F preheated oven, about 35 to 40 minutes, until edges are golden brown and middle is pale golden.  Immediately cut into squares.  Cool completely in pan.

My Notes:

Buy the 4-pack of Skor bars at the grocery store.  You can thank me when you make your second batch and don't have to run out for more.

If you have Skor baking bits, by all means, use them.  I also add in a small handful of chocolate chips when substituting them and use my trusty Braun blender to chop everything finer than 1/4" pieces...I'm all about consistency like that.  Your cookie - your choice.

I line my metal baking pan with parchment paper, this helps the unmolding.
The original recipe calls to cut 16 squares - I cut them in half again on the diagonal, so I end up with 32 triangles.  It's your preference.  The more the merrier in my books.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How Many Work Gloves Does it Take?

Curious minds want to know...

Exactly how many gloves does it take to fix an old house, operate a tractor, and otherwise protect hands from potential harm?

I did a little clean-up in the glove basket the other day, and found the following.

The answer is fourteen.  I have it on good authority:

I know exactly what Eric would say about the matter:

The first pair is my favorite pair.  They're like slippers, but for my hands.  I promise to love, honour and protect these...wait, those were my wedding vows.   (These have duct-tape repairs.  They might be on their way out.  Eric might mourn their loss - for about a day).

The second pair is just as important, but they're lined with Thinsulate.  The real stuff.  The label proves it.  These are used for tractor driving.

The third pair - OK, impulse purchase from the feed store.  Where else can you find suede mitts with removable liners?  These visit the wood shed a lot during winter months.

The fourth pair - spanking new.  Don't touch.  If gloves were like cars, these are Ferraris.  These are Special Occasion gloves.  Could be worn with a tuxedo to the next Classic Tractor Pull at Pebble Beach.

The fifth and sixth pair - identical but with varying degrees of wear.  Lined for winter.  Thoughtful wife found these at Costco.  (Thoughtful wife even bought a new package recently, and then took above inventory.  Don't need to tell you those gloves have now been hidden from view).

The seventh pair - they have urethane foam all over them.  These are for outside insulating projects.

The eighth, ninth and tenth pairs - plain old ordinary working gloves with varying degrees of wear.  Some lined, some unlined.  Depends on the temp outside and the messiness of the job.

The eleventh pair has little rubber nubs on them.  They were cheap (so they obviously don't count) and someone needed them to change out the windows.  (Note:  Wife also got a pair.  Husband also thoughtful).

The twelfth pair - lump with 8, 9 and 10.  These normally live in the car and take trips to the lumber yard.  And then they end up in the house...and then someone forgets to put them back in the car...and then someone buys an extra pair at the lumberyard during the next trip....and thus the cycle perpetuates and gloves procreate as if by magic.

The thirteenth pair - don't mess with these.  These are special chainsaw gloves.  Not to be mistaken for wood-splitting gloves.  They're probably some sort of Kevlar/Nomex hybrid.

Last but not least, the fourteenth pair -  the last remaining pair from a five-pack.  One finger worn.  RIP - they're on their way out.

So we have gloves for chopping wood, gloves for changing oil, gloves for filling the tractor...gloves for fall and winter and spring and summer.

Now that things have degraded to a Dr. Seuss level, I'm outta here.

I've got some boots to inventory.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Pine Floor - The Finale

When I mention there's always an obstacle, I'm not kidding.

We had problems with the Benjamin Moore Porch and Floor paint we used in Eric's office.

First, it smells like h-e-double hockey sticks.  (That's a Canadian-ism, work it out!) We're well aware it's oil-based, but really, this stuff stinks.  For a long, long time.  It still reeks, and it's been something like 4 weeks since we've put down both coats.  It was so bad we duct-taped the door shut.

Needless to say we will NOT be painting the rest of the upstairs floor until next summer, at the earliest.  Or maybe we'll go on a protracted vacation, and pay someone to paint it for that would be a fine idea.

Second, the Benjamin Moore paint is supposed to be high gloss.  It ain't.  It's high-freakin'-gloss where it dried on the side of the can, but on the floor - no! -  it's dried to a satin finish.   We followed the instructions to a T - the first coat looked great, the second coat looked great - and the following day, it had dried to a satin finish.  Huh.  Go figure.  The challenge will now be to replicate this effect when we paint the rest of the floor upstairs.

That's not what we wanted, but we'll have to live with it...probably the third coat would be a charm, which, as discussed above, is not an option right now.

The satin finish will probably end up being infinitely more practical, since we won't be wearing down a high-gloss finish, but it's troubling when things don't turn out as expected.  We're waiting for the Benjamin Moore rep to call us back, but they're not as customer-service oriented as Sico was, unfortunately.

The overall look of the floor (and room!) is amazing, though.  Friends come in and say it looks like a Swedish country house, which is nice considering that's exactly the look we were aiming for.
Here's a look at this room during the renovation:
Nice.  I say that with only a touch of sarcasm.  We've worked hard and come a long way.  I'm patting us on the back for our unwavering dedication.

And my favorite photo:
One of those boards had manure caked on it.  Precious.  I cannot fathom what possessed anyone to built like this.

We went to Ikea to buy the furniture to turn this into Eric's office/atelier.  It took us FOUR, yes FOUR visits to get what we wanted, and we'll take a fifth to return what we ended up not needing.  We also nearly ended up in divorce court during first visit, but really, that was entirely our fault for trying to go to Ikea near a full moon.  What were we thinking? I swore I'd never go back to Ikea with Eric ever again, but the next evening, there I was, back for more punishment.   The good news is all candles were 50% off, so we stocked up.  We now have enough candles to last us the next 5 years.

And more oscilloscope in the living room?  No more soldering station on the dining table?  No more capacitors and resistors and varistors and MOSFETS and JFETS on the living room table?  And then - the pièce de résistance  -  Eric has promised me that the drill press will be moved upstairs.  (I was aiming more toward the direction of the front door, but again, I digress).

So stay tuned to see what we come up with next.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Fall Walk with Cooper and Bob

The corn got cut on Saturday night.  The corn train, as I like to call the tractor with its 2 trailers, came and went and came and went as I put a pillow on my head and tried to sleep.  These days, the drone of the combine can be heard nearly 24 hours a day, as field by field in our area gets cut.  Happily, it ended up being a good year considering the late start we had.

Sunday dawned bright and early according to the clock, since we put our clocks back during the night.  Time to wash and wax the car before winter comes.  When that job was done, I took a walk in the freshly-cut fields and inspected our windbreak.

As always, Cooper's in charge.  He's our foreman:
Cooper's so in his element here, just happy to have his fields back again.  I don't know who's happier, the dog or me.

We've been adding trees to our windbreak since 2007.  So far we've planted about 200 trees - spruce, ash and oak.  All trees are well-established and growing, however weeds still present a concern to the spruce trees.  We didn't have access to the fields until now, and one of the tasks on the long chore list is to take the Bush Hog out and clean around the trees.  When you have half a kilometre to do, you want to break out the big equipment.  There's a time and a place for a whipper-snipper, but it's not here.  We've got lots of phragmite (Phragmites australis) growing, a highly invasive plant introduced at the turn of the century.  It's propagated by seeds and rhizomes and is almost impossible to eradicate.  Apparently, burning works just fine, but we'll hold off on that thought.  For now, it's the Bush Hog or bust.

Bob decided he wanted to tag along during our walk.  At some point, he sits down and waits patiently for our return.  He's no fool, this boy.  We were about a 1/2 kilometre from the house when he decided he'd had enough.  Buh-bye Bob, see you on the way back:

Under one of the older pines in the hedgerow, we found four LARGE piles of pine cones.

Each one of them purposefully broken off:

Pardon my fingers.  I took advantage of walking to the field to empty the ash bucket, ergo my hands look a bit...gnarly.  I guess a squirrel must be stock-piling the pine cones for winter.  I'll have to check back and see if the piles grow or diminish.  It seems weird that they'd just leave them here.  Some research attributes this to the hard-working American red squirrel who I have seen in the hedgerow.  Our common gray squirrel is not so common here - generally, when I see a squirrel, it's a red squirrel, at least on our property.

I had hoped to make it all the way to the construction of highway 30.  I wanted to see if there were any trees cut down or other damage at the end of our property, (because there shouldn't be), but I wanted to make sure.
That's part of the huge infrastructure project off in the distance...

...and another one zoomed in.  This is going to be part of an overpass of highway 30.  We walked to the back of our field, hoping to make it all the way to the end of the property, but I gave up at the tree line - I had just 300 feet left to go through the forest, but my body was not going to cooperate.  Between washing and waxing my car and walking a few kilometers, my rubber-booted feet had had it.  So had my arms, knees, elbows and back.

I know, I know, the look of elegance.  Rubber boots and polar fleece fighting for top billing. 

The walk back to the house was like seeing a mirage in the desert - when oh when would I make it back?  Damn the long-lot property division system.  Everything's so near - yet so far.
The only reason I took this photo was that it afforded me the opportunity to kneel down.  Fact was, at this point, I wanted to throw myself on the corn husks and have a nap, but that just scares the dog...and looking at our neglected barn, well, that scares me.  We're still holding out on finding workers, but that's another tome for another day.

Just remind me not to make this trek in rubber boots again, will you?
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