Friday, January 28, 2011

Pfeiffer's Pfinest Pfancy

 You know, sometimes, you ask a simple question, and you get a simple answer?

Well, last week, when I asked my colleague's husband if Seville oranges had arrived in the stores, I didn't expect to find a 40-pound box of them sitting on my desk the next day.

My parents are avid jam, jelly and marmalade makers.  As a kid, the scent of Seville orange marmalade wafting through the house is one of my favorite memories.  It invokes thoughts of cold winter days, a cracking fire, and glorious, fragrant Seville orange marmalade, of course.  Sevilles are in stores for a short period of time at the end of January and the beginning of February, and if you miss them, you're out of luck until the next year.
A 40-pound box of Sevilles is a daunting task.  I've processed one batch already that gave me 12-250mL jars, that's about 3 quarts.  I've got a second batch resting right now that I will finish off tomorrow, and that should probably give me another 12 jars.  Well, that's about 5 pounds of Sevilles processed, and well...that means there are 35 pounds left to go!  I gave more than half the case to my parents, because there aren't enough canning jars in my life (nor time in this world) for me to process that many.

Seville oranges are bitter, almost inedible.  As you can see, they are full of pits, and therein lies the beauty:  the pits are full of pectin, and this gives the marmalade it's natural jelly without having to add any extra pectin for jelling.  The marmalade these oranges produce is a favorite among orange jam aficionados the world over, for due reason.

Because we were generously given a bumper crop of Sevilles, I thought this would be a great opportunity to try a few different recipes out.  Yesterday, my brother and I made David Lebovitz's recipe (I forgot to add the Scotch!), and right now, I'm trying a recipe I found on the Canadian Living site.  I cook a lot of Canadian Living recipes, so I am hopeful that this one will be a winner, too.

As we were canning the David Lebovitz batch, we kept eating spoonfuls of the hot marmalade - it was that good and that addictive.  And the smell in the house?  It can't be beat!  The smell alone is reason enough to make a batch.

When the second batch is processed, I'll let you know which turned out best, and what I would do different next time around.  By next year, we should have Seville orange marmalade down to a fine art.

Monday, January 24, 2011


This morning the mercury was -32C, (that's -26F for the imperialists), and when you've forgotten to plug in the block-heater of the car, it might as well be -100.

I ran outside with Cooper hot on my tail, and as I fumbled with the frozen extension cord, I swore at the infernal block-heater timer that is the root of all my troubles this morning.  If it worked properly, I'd be inside, enjoying a nice hot cup of tea, knowing my car's engine is being warmed.  Alas, I pried the end-cap off the block-heater cord on the car with my bare hands, cussing some more.  Somethings can't be done with gloves, and this is one of those tasks.  The entire process took about 2 minutes, and by the time I ran back to the house, Cooper was already at the front door, waiting.  When he came into the house, he promptly sat down, put both his rear paws in the air, and lifted one front paw to boot.  I think Cooper thought it was cold this morning, too.

The car started without a problem an hour later, but everything was on slow-motion.  The LCD was slow to react, and every belt and fan made a whirr and whizz and squeal.  It's almost painful to listen to, actually.  I am not sure cars are made to withstand cold like this.  The door gaskets sure aren't, nor is the foam in the seats.  I could have been sitting on concrete this morning.

I decided to take the back-roads to get to work today, figuring if I ran into car troubles, I'd rather be on a country road with houses nearby, rather than a highway with miles of open field.  Once at work, I pulled our recycling bin to the road.  The sound of the bin wheels on the snow squeaked at such a high pitch that nails on a chalkboard sound better.'s a good thing the hairs on the back of my neck were already standing.

Our offices are located in a private house that has been converted into office space.  The upside of this is that we're at home, but at the office.  Does that make any sense?  We have a huge kitchen we can all eat in, and most days we do just that.  I consider it a perk, but some people might be put off by that.  (Well, they don't work there, what more can I say about that?)  When I went to make my morning cup of tea and get the coffee made, there was no water at the kitchen sink.  I figured the pipes must be frozen.  With a bit of sleuthing, I found that someone had already wrapped the kitchen pipes with two heating cables, and once everything was plugged in, I had water at the kitchen sink a few hours later.

And my boss?  He called in to say that his car didn't start this morning, so he stayed home.

Well, the temperature's supposed to rise to a balmy -18C tonight, and I don't think it's my imagination, but it feels warmer outside already.  Cooper will be the judge of that tomorrow.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cabin Fever, Cat-Style

It's -20C outside.  BobCat and The Poppet aren't going outside in these temps, and invariably, cabin fever kicks in.  Here's a blow-by-blow account:

Stealth cats sees you...

If I can't see your eyes, can you still see me?

(Momentary distraction, tractor driving by...)


I'm so frightnin', fast as lightnin'

I've had enough.  I am cat, hear me snore.

Uh, Bob, we weren't done yet...

Uh, Bobby?  Come back here!

And so it goes, day in, day out.

Cabin fever, cat-style, proudly presented by BobCat and The Poppet.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oatmeal Casserole Bread

Because it's Saturday....because it's -15C outside...because I am sitting beside a warm fire, drinking a cuppa Earl Grey and enjoying a slice of oatmeal casserole bread.

And because I want you to enjoy the same thing, here it is:

Oatmeal Casserole Bread

1 package active dry yeast
1-3/4 cups boiling water
3/4 cup oats (I use quick-cook oats)
1/4 cup molasses
1-1/2 tsp salt
3 tbs oil
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water (for yeast)
4 cups all-purpose flour

Pour boiling water over oats.  Stir in molasses, salt and oil.  Cool.

Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water.  Let rise 10 minutes.

Add yeast mixture and 1-1/2 cups flour to oat mixture.  Beat on low speed of mixer for 30 seconds, then high for 3 minutes.

Stir in remaining flour by hand.  Let rise until doubled.  Beat 25 strokes.

Grease a 2 quart casserole and sprinkle with oats.  Place dough in casserole and sprinkle with oats.

Let rise until dough is 1" above rim.

Bake at 375F for 35-45 minutes.

My notes:

I used a 1.6L CorningWare dish - I would have used  a 2-quart dish if I owned one.  No harm done, just remember to grease the top edge of the casserole dish, because your loaf will rise higher.  I was out of active dry yeast, so I used my Fleishmann's Rapid Rise yeast, mixing it with the 1-1/2 cups flour first.  The result was the same.  This is a very sticky, shaggy dough.  You CANNOT knead it, so don't even try.  I use my KitchenAid mixer, using the dough hook for all steps, even the "beat 25 stokes".  This recipe makes a light, yet moist bread.  I guarantee you, it won't be around for long.  I'm working on my third slice, don't tell anyone...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Magic Squares

That's all that's left after the huns at the office descended upon my pan of Magic Squares today.  Most desserts aren't worthy of capitals, but these could be best described as MAGIC SQUARES.

Hell, they're worthy of caps and bold:  MAGIC SQUARES.

The first time I had these, I called them Miracle Bars, because, truly, they are miraculous.  There is nothing magical about them, but miraculous, oh yes.  Definitely!  And easy?  An industrious four year-old can make these.

There is nothing subtle about these bars.  They are an in-your-face, full-out sugar-rush of goodness.  So, for the uninitiated, here it goes:


1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup graham crumbs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Chipits brand)
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped nuts (I use pecans)
1 can sweetened condensed milk, such as Eagle Brand

Mix melted butter and graham crumbs, and press into 8"x8" glass baking dish.

Mix chocolate chips, coconut and nuts in a bowl.  Spread evenly over graham crust.

Pour can of sweetened condensed milk over entire mixture.

Bake in a 350F oven for 25-30 minutes, checking often towards end of baking time.

Let cool, and enjoy.

I guarantee you they won't last long, and they'll have the troops begging for more, once their stomach aches go away.  These are so easy to indulge in.  I keep saying, "I'm just gonna have a leeeetle sliver...", and before you know it, a chunk is missing.  And the knife?  It stays IN the pan.  I make imbibing in these babies easy.  Just call me an enabler, I'm proud of it.

There are as many variations of these squares as there are cooks.  In fact, I recently came across an old copy from an original Eagle Brand advertisement that was easily 25 years old.  The recipe called for the sweetened milk to be poured directly on top of the crust, and let me tell you, the outcome of that ain't good.  I also know lots of bakers who layer the coconut, nuts and chips, and this creates an end product that falls apart.  Mixing the dry ingredients results in a more homogeneous topping, with all that melted chocolate goodness holding things together.

It's like creating nuclear fusion, right in your own kitchen!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Industrial Snowblowing

A comment on one of my previous posts about snow removal in this area got me thinking about Quebec, and Canada, and misconceptions that others might have about our geography and way of life.

I remember visiting Germany and attending school with one of my girlfriends for the day.  It might have been 5th or 6th grade, and when geography class rolled around, I was grilled on the Canadian way of life.  I remember other kids asking me if I had to go to school on a skidoo (no!) and if there were polar bears in my neighbourhood (no!). There are many myths about Canada and the scope of our vast country, and I have always marveled at relatives who came to visit from Europe, asking if we could drive from Montreal to Niagara Falls for the day (no!), and if they could go bear-hunting in our backyard (I think you know the answer to that one already!)
Obviously, many myths are perpetuated about our winters, about how prohibitively cold and snowy they are.  I think New York City has had more snow than Montreal this winter, and even though that could change by say, March, or even next week, we're getting off easy so far this year.  Snowmobile season barely started when we had a big thaw, and the field you see in the distance is not even completely covered by snow.  Nonetheless, snow plows come by regularly to keep the blowing snow in check.

Our wake-up call this morning was provided by the snow-blower above.  Even if there is no snow fall, we get a lot of snow drifting when then wind conditions are right.  The snow-blower pushes the snow about 20 feet in our neighbour's field (when I say neighbour, I mean the farmer who lives at the other end of the field, about one kilometre away.  This is Quebec, after all, where the long lot land system was in full-force, but that's another story for another day).  The idea is that the snow barrier will provide a wind-break, and allow the snow drifts to form somewhere other than the road.  I can only remember one year that the snow was so high at the side of the road, that driving down our street became like driving into a snow tunnel.

Truth be told, we have a harder time driving down our own driveway than we do driving on local roads for the most part.  We have a snow-removal contractor (rodeo cowboy in summer, snow-removal contractor by winter) whose cell number is written on the blackboard in the kitchen.  We get great service from him, and there's always something extremely satisfying about watching him blow the snow from our driveway, while we're warm inside, hands wrapped around a steaming cup of tea.  Sadistic, I know, but there you have it.  Calling work and declaring you'll be late because you're waiting for the snow removal tractor to come is a valid excuse.  I should know, I use it all the time...

Joking aside, I can remember only a handful of occasions where I didn't make it to work because of the snow.  Once, I was stuck in traffic, literally plowing through snow drifts that were as high as my bumper.  I had a snow plow stuck beside me, and we were all at a stand-still.  I watched as the snow-plow driver stood on the step of his truck, and cleared the snow off his windshield wipers because they weren't keeping up.  I got off at the next exit, and drove home.  Now, I don't consider myself a quitter, but that experience taught me to quit while I'm ahead.  I don't work in essential services, so I simply turn the alarm off and pull the covers over my head and sleep in during a big snow storm.

Likewise, I work for a civilized company that values the safety of its employees.  If we gauge a snowfall as serious enough, we close the office and everyone goes home.  These days, with weather radar, it's pretty easy to tell what's going to be a major snowfall, and what's going to amount to a few flurries, although Environment Canada's been caught with their pants down a few times already this season.  We had "2 to 4" centimetres forecast in early December that turned into 40 centimetres by the time the storm ended two days later, and this proverbial "2 to 4" has become a running gag with us this season.  It can be a virtual white-out outside, and when someone asks how much snow is in the forecast, the invariable answer is..."2 to 4".

The weather is almost always on our mind.  Most Canadians I know will first ask how you are, and then launch into a commentary about the weather.  It's as much a part of us, like the polar bears, skidoos, and Tim Horton's, eh?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Happy Cranker

My CSM ramblings have been mighty sporadic.  2011 will be THE year that I crank out a pair of socks!  The time has come to put these babies to use!

I finally went out and bought a proper stand for my CSM.  Taking a page from The Soxophone Player's blog, I went to our local Canadian Tire and bought myself a grinder stand.  Like pretty much anything tool- or shop-related at Canadian Tire, if you wait 6 weeks, you're bound to get what you want at 50% off.  The price was right, and the grinder stand makes for a nice, sturdy base on which to mount my CSM, without taking up the same footprint as the ubiquitous Black and Decker work-bench.  With our on-going renovations upstairs, the logical place to put my CSM was under the stair, so I needed something compact.

I put away my most recent acquisition, Victoria, and pulled out good ole' Marie, both Legaré 400 models.  Both machines are nearly identical, but Victoria had been driven much harder than Marie, so I wanted to have her cams brazed and reshaped, but simply haven't gotten around to it yet.  I put Marie on the stand, and using Albert's Auto Knitter yarn mast which has a much nicer heel-uptake spring, I am up and running.

I ordered new heel forks, something I procrastinated about, because I had the good intention of making my own.  The fact that we have a drill press smack in the middle of the living room would motivate me to this extent.  In the end, I couldn't be bothered, so I contacted a heel-fork maker in the States and had her send me two pairs.  The old heel forks that came with the machine are in a V-shape, and have nasty little hooks on the end that of course grab the knitted tube ferociously.  At some point during my heel-making frenzy, I bumped my knee on the heel fork's weight, and down came the fork, weight and all.  Unfortunately, I also had my hand under the machine at this precise second, and managed to impale my palm with said heel fork.  Thankfully, I only nicked myself, but this incident served to expedite my ordering of new heel forks.

I also ordered a new yarn carrier that I am hoping will simplify things even more.  The face of both my Legaré yarn carriers are very worn.  Unlike the Auto Knitter, whose yarn carrier can be adjusted up and down, as well as in and out, the Legaré yarn carrier can only go up and down.  On Victoria, the yarn carrier had already been shimmed (there's that word again!) out with a piece of folded-up tin-foil.  On Marie, it was shimmed out with a washer.  The faces of these yarn carriers are deeply gouged from striking the needles and latches, and my hope is that the new yarn carrier will be a bit more needle-friendly.

Thanks to Sarahspin's wonderful YouTube video, I have completed heel after heel after lovely heel.  I might be personally responsible for 1,000 or so views on this video.  Her "one up, two down" narrative has been repeated so often, I'm sure I'm saying it in my sleep.  Another detail that aided my heel progress was...wait for it...marking my cylinders!  Whodathunk such a simple thing could prove to be so beneficial?  I don't know what kept me from pulling out some nail polish and making a few marks earlier, and it seems stupid to state the obvious, but really...what was I waiting for?  Someone, smack me upside of the head, please.

The above kludge-to-end-all-kludges came about since I was having yarn tension issues.  I had wound a wonderful centre-pull ball, as many advise, yet with the older Legaré yarn mast, the heel uptake spring was giving me fits.  When I used my paint roller/broom handle contraption, I had a more consistent feed, which worked better with the Legaré yarn mast.  I also could have cut a perfectly good broom handle, but why waste something like that on a kludge?  When I changed to the Auto Knitter yarn mast, I kept the above contraption in place.  The magnet around which I wound the elastic comes courtesy of Lee Valley, it's a stand-off magnetic tool holder that I stole borrowed from Eric's drill press.  Sometimes you just gotta make-do.  This was one of those times.

When I get the new yarn carrier, I'll go back to my centre pull ball, although I like the ease of feed I get from the paint roller.  I might find a way to incorporate that into the design modifications I have in mind for my stand.  Ideally, I'd like to make a solid wood top, with a semi-circle cut out that would permit the CSM to be recessed a bit.  This would decrease the leverage of the CSM on the stand, because I do find the current stand a bit tippy, if say, a cat decided to play with a tube-in-progress, (something that could realistically happen in this house).  If the stand had 4 legs instead of 3, I'd be more comfortable, and short of bolting it into the floor (that's how it's intended to be used with a grinder), I'll have to make do for now.  I have visions of a wooden top that would incorporate several recessed rare-earth magnets around the edges that could hold all my tools easily at hand, as well as accommodate a more user-friendly lamp.  I have a couple of modifications that I am ruminating, but I'd like to be a bit more proficient in CSM-ese before having a new top custom-made.

It seems like I am stating the obvious here, as no self-respecting office worker should sit on anything but the best of chairs, so should no cranker sit for any extended period of time on, say, a wooden bar stool while cranking. This is exactly how you could find me, hunched over my CSM, for hours on end.  Eric looked at me as I stood up and massaged my aching sciatic nerve, and suggested I might want to borrow his drafting chair.  Brilliant suggestion, my dear!  One does tend to get caught up in the throes of the CSM, and not realize just how unergonomic the experience can be.

So, stay tuned for another episode of "How the Sock Turns", right here at Shim Farm Central.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Pine Floor Update

Well, here we are several hours later. I had hoped to sand 14 boards in the guest bedroom, (I'm very goal oriented like that!), but in the end, my arms gave up so I only managed to finish about half of that. Basically I've proven yet again the golden rule of home renovation time estimation: Estimate X hours = 2*X. Or something like that.

That little bit of algebra aside, sanding the part of the floor that had absolutely no finish on whatsoever went great. I actually ended up using 40-grit sandpaper, and my fave Porter and Cable 1/2 sheet orbital finishing sander. The box says, "vibration free", which I am here to tell you, unless you're made of rubber, is an utter misnomer. Also, the paper clogged frequently, even using 40-grit, and this had me cursing. Changing the paper in the P and C sander is a real pain in the butt, unless you've got 3 hands.

I had the window open a crack, and had the shop vac going nearly the entire time, so the dust was not that prohibitive. I always wear hearing protection and a high-quality carbon filter mask, but even with a well-adjusted mask, there was still a lot of dust in the inside the mask at the end of the day.

The little milking stool comes in very handy when doing jobs like this. Some days, I'd like to have it permanently attached to my posterior. Sitting on this bench makes any task not-quite-ergonomic, but infinitely superior to kneeling.

On that note, I leave you with today's sunset:


The Pine Floor

We've been debating about what to do with the pine floor in the guest room. I'd like to see it painted white, rather than covered, so Eric creatively put the following mandate on my plate:

DO IT YOURSELF! (Uh, thanks hon!)

Here's a photo of what I'm dealing with (and yes, I wear orange shoes):

You'll notice that part of the floor was varnished, and where we tore down the dividing walls and closets, the floor had never been finished, hence the two differing colours. There are also lots of holes from the massive nails used to nail in the divisions:

These will have to be filled with a 2-part epoxy, and I have a lot of them to do! It's too bad that most of this filling-work is going to be covered by the new IKEA closet...but I can't stomach the idea of leaving it the way it is without fixing it. I call it "integrity"; you might call this "a waste of time", or "stupidity". Well, we'll see who comes out first, says I.

Since we had intended on covering the entire floor with either carpet or laminate or hardwood, we haven't exactly been careful with the floor, and we've dropped many a tool:

There are lots of pings and dents like above. My approach to the floor is this: it's too crooked for laminate or cork or bamboo, and definitely too crooked for hardwood unless we shim the living daylights out of it. Carpet is well...carpet. What I liked costed about $10 a square foot, and then we're still looking at underpadding and installation charges. Plus we have Cooper and the cats and with the mud that abounds in spring, I just don't need one more worry. It's hard enough keeping them off the furniture.

My thinking is this: it's just grunt-work, this sanding and filling, and sanding some more. A couple of coats of paint, a bit of wait time, and we're done! If the end result isn't what we imagined, well, we can always cover it with something else. We'll just be out the cost of paint. I can live with that.

So wish me luck. I'm off to put on my grubby work clothes, crack open the window a bit to get a bit of air circulation going, and don my carbon-filter mask. I just hope I don't sand the power cord of the sander into oblivion like I did last time!

Check in later for preliminary sanding results!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Resurrection of the Snicker Doodle

Behold the lowly Snicker Doodle, a cookie that deserves a place in the cookie Hall of Fame! My coworker recently gave me a copy of this recipe, and said I "had to make it!". I promptly filed the recipe away for future reference. (It was on the top of my pile of recipes to try - honest!) Not long after, I happened across the same recipe in our local small-town newspaper, and made another mental note. Now I really had to give them a try!

How can I best describe this holy trinity of butter, flour and sugar? Please, you owe it to yourself to experience them! This recipe is so simple, it's probably been overlooked hundreds of times as not being worthy of mention.

So, for the record:

Snicker Doodles

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1-1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
cinnamon and sugar (for rolling cookie dough in)

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg. Sift dry ingredients together and add to creamed mixture, stir.

Refrigerate one hour.

Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and roll in the cinnamon and sugar mixture.

Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400F for 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Yield:  about 24 cookies.

My notes:

I used a scant 1/3 cup sugar and approximately 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to roll the cookie dough in. If you're picky like me and have a digital kitchen scale, each ball of dough weighed 21 g, and the recipe made 25 cookies. (Just putting that out there!) I use air-bake cookie sheets, for those of you not familiar with them, the cookie sheets are made of a double-layer aluminum; if the bottoms of these babies burn, well, it's 'cause the top is on fire. My first batch stuck to the cookie sheet a bit, so I lined the cookie sheet with parchment paper for the second batch. I took the cookies out of the oven while they were a bit "puffy"; they deflated while cooling, and this results in a tender, chewy interior. Since I find measuring butter using conventional methods not quite precise, with the introduction of my new digital cooking scale, I'm now measuring butter by grams instead of cups.

Here's a handy conversion:

2 cups butter = 454 g
1 cup butter = 227 g
3/4 cup butter = 170 g
1/2 cup butter = 114 g
1/4 cup butter = 57 g
1/3 cup butter = 76 g
2/3 cup butter = 151 g

Please give these Snicker Doodles a try!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

And then there was...paint.

Finally, the long-awaited day of painting the guest room finally dawned. If you remember correctly, Eric's parents were due to visit, and time was of the essence to finish the guest room before their arrival last May. But it was not to be. In the end, we offered up the master bedroom to his parents, while we slept in a Gyproc-clad room. Look on the bright side - at least we had a door.

With the background of this giclée print serving as inspiration, we wanted a colour that was not too yellow, and not too orange, not too bright, and not too light either. That narrowed things down to 12, 876 colours.

After much hemming and hawing, (I'm being PC: we were fighting and arguing), we chose a colour:

The walls are Gildden's "Ginger Peachy", a misnomer as the end result is neither ginger-y or peach-y, which was my greatest fear. I didn't want the quintessential pastel guestroom of horrors, but rather a warm, comforting ambiance by day or by night. The ceiling is Glidden's "A Touch of Nectar". (Who comes up with these names? And can I have their job?) These two colours are one beside the other on the Glidden palette, however, the two colours can't be more different. One has more ochre, the other more fuschia, yet somehow, they work harmoniously.

We have a fierce loyalty to Sico paint, so we decided to use Sico professional paint, and have them custom mix the Glidden colours. Erring on the side of caution, Eric went out and bought "A Touch of Nectar" first, and painted all walls and ceiling with this colour. The end result was too pale, and didn't really match the colour on the paint chip perfectly, so we took the darker shade just above it, "Ginger Peachy", and painted the four walls with this shade, leaving the ceiling in "A Touch of Nectar". The end result was just right.

Aesthetics aside, the most shocking part of all, here's the temperature four hours after lighting a fire in the wood stove located downstairs, after not having heated all day:

Unreal. 18.4C.

We went from this:

From -3 to 18 degrees without even really trying! (Well...trying to heat that is! We tried really, really hard with the rebuilding and insulation).

Well bowl me over...

The comfort level of the guest room is high. The floor's not quite finished, (let me get RIGHT ON THAT!), so we haven't moved any proper furniture into the space, but the room feels good. Comfortable insulated goodness all around.

Compare it to the uninsulated hell we were subjecting guests to before:

And it's a miracle guests actually come back to our house, isn't it?

In all fairness, the photo above was taken after we tore down the old pine bead-board - we weren't living in a complete hovel, it only looks that way.

Above, you can see the 2x6's Eric used to beef up the outside wall, and the 6" layer of Roxul insulation he placed between the studs. This is a west-facing orientation, and the kilometre of open field across the road (read: wicked winds!) meant this room was virtually inhabitable during the winter before our renovations. Turning on the baseboard meant heating the great outdoors, so we simply shut the two rooms on this side of the house when cold winds blew. (Which is what, realistically? Four months of the year?)

The rot above was found on the south side wall, essentially behind where the headboard of the bed meets the knee-wall. This rot was the worst we found, and the super-fine dust created by trimming the bad wood away permeated its way through the ENTIRE house. It was far worse than Gyproc dust, and I thought that was bad.

Now, we have straight, colourful walls. An inviting atmosphere, compared to the knotty pine purgatory of before.

The old pine floor had been shellac'd or varnished, I never did find out which. But it was I who dutifully got down on hands and knees for three days, and using a heat gun and putty knife, removed the entire finish. Now we (the Royal "We") are going to sand using 60 grit sandpaper, and paint the entire floor white. We might live to regret this decision (well, truth be told, I already do, since Eric's attitude about a white floor came down to this, and I quote: "You want a white floor? Well fine, YOU get a white floor...have fun doing it, because I won't").

Which leads me to another story, for another day.

Welcome 2011

It's hard to believe Fall came and went with nary a post. Let's start the new year with renewed vigour and resolve to post more of the on-goings at Shim Farm, shall we?

So, in no particular coherent order, let's get on with it!

We had a little brunch for friends in early December, since Eric's work schedule had him working right through the Christmas holidays. Eric had just returned from a trip with a bag of chocolate Saint-Nick's, as well as the rotund candle from one of the many Christmas markets that abound in Europe in November and December. With a fine cup of Glühwein or four, Eric turns into a voracious shopper, despite the fact I can't even ask him to wait in the car for me while I nip into the grocery store on this side of the pond. I'm like a kid in a candy store when Eric comes home and plants his bags on the living room floor, jumping up and down, asking, "Whaddya bring, whaddya bring?" Eric rarely disappoints, and the candle unwittingly became a symbol of the holidays for me this season.

In older news...

One of our kittens, Pepper, now known as Minou, came to visit us for what was supposed to be a "week to ten days" and became a six-week stay. (I'm playing catch-up here, because he was with us in July and August). The first 3 days, he ignored Popina, BobCat and Schatzie, and then suddenly, on day 3, just as I was about to tear my hair out in frustration, the light suddenly went on, and Pepper emerged from his shell. He and Pop would tear around the house like in days of yore, having 2 play fits a day, mid-morning and late evening, as they were wont to do when they were still kittens. Pepper, like Poppy and Piglet (now Tuxedo) are all curious about water:

Pepper has this perpetual "deer in the headlights" look about him. He's a sleek cat, a stark contrast to his fuzzier siblings Tux and Popina:

Tux's about 8 months old in the above photo, and he's large like Pepper, but he has the silky, long-haired coat of his mom. He's the light of his new family's life, and rules his new domain with a furry fist.

Poppy, on the other hand, is a little fluff-ball:

Popina has proved to be a true Northern cat. She loves snow more than anything, and can be found burrowing in snow banks for hours on end. The fuzzy hairs between the pads on her paws accumulate tiny snow balls, so when she finally comes in the house, she can be heard, tippy-tappy, tippy-tappy, crossing the floor until she violently shakes the little ice-balls off. Yet last night, she fought me for the hot water bottle I put in the bed for my perpetually frozen feet, and won. She's a true feline diva.

Aren't they all, though?

Schatzie, our old hag, is pushing 25. Yes, you read that correctly, 25, in human years, at that. She's so old, I keep joking that we're going to carbon date her when she finally keels over. She's getting senile, and maintains her strict 23.5 hour per day sleep schedule. The rest of the time, she's begging for food, missing the litter box, and meowling piteously, for what I don't know. I just let her yowl, she's not in any pain, and her total deafness might have something to do with her loudness, because she can't hear herself, obviously. The deafer she gets, the louder she yowls. The things I do for this cat, you have no clue...

The poor old thing deserves a bit of air time, too, don't you think? Not to worry, I have her fur under control again, because she's the picture of neglect (oh yeah, riiiiight!) in the above photo. I kind of inadvertently felted her by letting her sleep on a real sheepskin fur. The fur-on-fur friction was too much, and despite brushing her regularly, her fur kept matting into uncontrollable clumps. We removed the sheepskin rug, and by cutting out the mats one-by-one, the old hag's finally up to snuff again. She's so old, she's almost given up grooming herself. She'd much rather I tend to her, so she can spend all her spare time recharging her batteries.

Poor Cooper's feeling mighty neglected, too. All these cats, and just one dog...

Gratuitous dog photo, coming right up!

That photo was taken in 2005, but I feel so much better now that it's released from my laptop.

He's such a good boy!

Well, here's to a new year...I'll raise a glass to that!
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