Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bienenstich Cake

I've been eating this cake since I was this high (pointing at my knees).  The recipe comes from my mom's Dr. Oetker Schulkochbuch.  That's German for "Dr. Oetker's School Cook Book".  Apparently, they used to bake and cook at school, in the old days.  (Sorry, Mom!)  Seriously, this cookbook dates from the late 40's or early 50's, and some of the recipes have "austerity" written all over them.  It's also probably why this particular version of Bienenstich doesn't feature a decadent filling, either. 

Today, most Bienenstich cakes are filled, either with whipped cream or vanilla pudding.  Why anyone would want to mess with perfection is beyond me.  This cake disappears, and I mean **poof**, in an afternoon.  Keep your cream filling, stuff your whipped cream, but pass me another piece or four of this cake...I'll take the post-WWII version any day.

I realize my photo is a bit minimalist.  Austerity cake =  austerity photo.  What's remarkable is that there was actually a piece - one last piece - to photograph at all. First person up the next morning gets it.  (That would be me - sorry Eric!)  The early bird gets the cake in our house, so to speak.

I still remember my mom making this cake and giving me the pot to lick clean.  To this day, the sugar, butter and almond topping makes my heart skip a beat.  While the cake is slowly browning in the oven, I can usually be found, looking wistfully as it bakes, pot in one hand and spatula in the other, cleaning out the pot.  Life is very, very good.

Bienenstich means "bee-sting" in German.  Apparently bees like it, too:


Yeast Dough Base:

1 package active-dry yeast (or 2-1/4 teaspoons)
1 tsp sugar
250 mL milk, lukewarm
500 g flour
100 g sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbs oil
bitter almond flavouring (I use Dr. Oetker essence from a local import deli.  It's worth hunting down.)

Dissolve 1 tsp sugar in 250 mL warm milk.  Add yeast and mix, and let rise 10 minutes.

Mix approximately 300 g of flour with sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Set remaining 200 g flour aside to mix in while kneading.

Stir yeast/milk mixture with oil and bitter almond flavouring. (If you have the Dr. Oetker essence, use about 1/2 of the vial.  If you're using regular bottled essence, use maybe a 1/4 tsp.)

Add yeast/milk/oil mixture to flour and sugar in mixing bowl. 

Gradually add remaining flour until dough comes together and can be kneaded.

Knead for approximately 10 minutes, adding as much flour as is necessary to obtain a smooth dough.  Dough should not be sticky.  Place in a large greased bowl and cover.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, approximately 1-1/2 hours.


100 g butter
200 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbs milk
200 g chopped blanched almonds

Blanch almonds if you have only natural almonds with their skin on.  I like this tutorial.

Chop almonds, either with a chopping knife, or in a food processor.  (Don't make powder; you need little pieces.)

Melt butter and sugar in a pot over low heat on stove-top.  Add almonds, vanilla and milk, ensuring sugar has melted.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Lightly grease a 10" x 15" roasting pan with oil or non-stick spray.  (I like to use a roasting pan with high sides as opposed to a jelly-roll pan to prevent the topping from overflowing, as the yeast dough will rise to about an 1-1/4" in height.)

Spread topping evenly on yeast dough.  (If topping has hardened, put it back on the stove, add a bit of milk, and let it warm slightly).

Bake in a 350F oven for 20-25 minutes, until topping is golden-brown.

My notes:

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, I loosen the sides from the pan with a butter-knife.  If you let the cake topping harden, you'll have a hard time getting it out of the pan.

If you only have instant rise yeast, follow the instructions on the yeast package.  This generally means warming all liquid ingredients, and adding them to your yeast and flour mixture, adding as much flour as is necessary to knead dough.

I use my KitchenAid mixer for all steps of the dough, but finish kneading by hand.  Sweet yeast dough has a different feel than, say, bread dough or pizza dough.  It's a bit tougher and kneading it by hand warms the dough and gives me a better idea if I need to add more flour or not.

I hope you'll try this cake, and enjoy it as much as I do.  This cake transcends all boundaries, and I've never met someone who could eat just one piece.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rainbow Scenery

It's a long weekend here in Quebec.  The first statutory holiday of summer - Saint-Jean-Baptiste - is observed on June 24.  Our next statutory holiday is next Friday when we observe Canada Day on July 1.  A lot of people take the week between the two holidays off, because if you trade-in 4 vacation days, you can pull off 10 consecutive days off.  That's a good deal no matter how you look at it.

What's unfortunate is that it's been raining off-and-on for the past 2 days, and is supposed to continue that way for the next week or so.  We've known the long-term forecast to lie, though, so there's always hope.  It seems the forecast at Environment Canada is updated radically from one hour to the next.  The radar is the only thing that doesn't lie, and we're getting good at figuring out just how much time we have until the next downpour.

Our corn, planted in the field behind the barn, likes the rain, but corn also likes hot days.  It's 21C today, which can hardly be considered hot.  But it's growing, and I guess that's the main thing.

Again, progress outside is touch-and-go.  More projects, more lawn mowing, more clean-up.  It all depends on the weather.

What doesn't depend on the weather is drywall.  Eric's got another room, his office this time, drywalled, spackled and primed.  Way to go, bay-bee:

I know that photo doesn't give you much reference.  Believe me though, that it used to look like this:

...and like this:

...and like this:

...and like this:
...and like this:
...and if one more, ONE MORE, person asks why we didn't sub the drywall out, I swear on Cooper's head that I will have a screaming fit that will send me to the loony bin for a protracted stay.

Taping and mudding and sanding, (and mudding and sanding, and mudding and sanding) drywall can I put this delicately? It is the least of our worries, when you consider what we've accomplished based on the above.

It's like going to a restaurant, ordering dessert, and when it's put in front of you, you give it to the dude at the next table.

It's dessert!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Green Clay Update

I've received a few emails asking about the status of my bobo.  I'll post a photo below, so consider yourself forewarned.  It's not horrifying or sordid, but if you are squeamish, you can bail out at any time.  I'll forgive you for being a sissy.

How I actually managed to have an abrasion turn into a festering, seeping wound is unbelievable to me.  I did all the right things: I cleaned it, I protected it, and I used ointment.  I was convinced I had some sort of allergic reaction to the Betadine.   Seems lots of people are sensitive to iodine, and I should probably use the word "senstive to" as opposed to "allergic to", but at this point, it's like splitting hairs.  Things weren't getting better, they were getting worse.

And then, the other day, I looked carefully at the sore as I took off the Telfa pad and tape and something new dawned on me.  I think I'm allergic to (or sensitive to...) the latex in the Telfa pad and tape.  Where I had the tape, I now had tiny little blisters, itchy as all get-out.  The non-stick Telfa pad seemed to cause the same reaction around the wound, because I had a large red welt around the abrasion, and tiny little fluid filled blisters everywhere.  And it itched like a bitch, too.  (Sorry. Just had to get that rhyme out.)   I think that keeping everything moist and covered up proved to be the wrong thing to do, in my case.  Had I let it air and light at it, I would have been better off.

In the end, smothering my abrasion in green clay was the best decision I made.  Since things look a little less sordid now, here's how the abrasion looks when the green clay comes off.  Remember, it's been 23 days since the abrasion:
Believe me when I tell you that it's 100 times better than last week.  If you have the gumption to enlarge the photo, there's still some green clay left in the wound.  I didn't wash it out completely, since I just slapped another poultice on it minutes ago.  Consider my cleaning for illustrative purposes only - I didn't want to leave chunks of green clay on my skin, because you probably would have been really taken aback.

And now, just to make my month of June even better, I've managed to break out in hives.  The last time I had hives, it was an allergic reaction to Sulfa, maybe 20 years ago?  Since then, nada, not a thing.

Yesterday, I started itching myself for what seemed like no reason.  Then the tell-tale welts appeared.  Now, I've got sensitive skin and can write my name on my arm like I can on an Etch-a-Sketch, I'm that talented.  But hives?  You have got to be kidding me!  The hay was cut two days ago, and my hives appeared a day later.  The wind was blowing in our general direction, and I've never had allergies before, but I guess there is a first time for everything.  I've also had a month of the crappiest sleep thanks to our neighbour's new dog, but that's a post unto stay tuned for that saga.  It'll be worth it.

So I'm going to blame the hay plus sleep deprivation for my hives.  And it's going to give me the opportunity to drink this tomorrow morning:
Yup people, I've broken down.  I'm going in, so to speak.

Maybe I shouldn't have used lime Perrier?  It was all I had.  When I had a sip earlier, it tasted like a band-aid.  Not that I've ever eaten a band-aid, but it's the first thing that came to mind.   My mother-in-law does her annual 2-week green clay cure every spring and swears by it.  With my hives, I figure, there's no time like the present.

The instructions on the side of the extra-fine green clay (it's a finely-milled powder, unlike the coarser version I used to make my poultice) say to put one to two teaspoons in a glass, then add water and stir.  Let the mixture sit overnight, and chug-a-lug the next morning.  I am erring on the side of caution, so I just used one teaspoon.

So, with my hives swathed in castor oil, my green clay poultice on my leg, my green clay brew decanting in the kitchen, Little-Miss-Alternative-Health-2011 is off to get some sleep before the beast next door starts howling again.

Wish me luck is all I can muster.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Finnegan's Saturday

The weather last Saturday was delightful - blue, blue, skies and white puffy clouds as far as the eye could see.  Nice warm temps with a westerly breeze blowing.  Nary a skeeter in sight.  A perfect day for working in the garden, but hang on a minute here!  It wasn't a day for work -  no - it was a day to visit Finnegan's with a pit-stop at the endive factory, as I like to call it.

I've had a craving for endives all spring long.  (Did you know they grow in the dark?)  I've been meaning to make a stop at Connaisseur Endives for months now.  I jumped in the car and headed down highway 201.  With my 5 pound box of endives happily bouncing around on the back seat, and memories of endives au gratin in the south of France bouncing around in my head, I drove dreamily north along the 201.

If you turn right where the 201 reaches the water and drive a mile or so, you'll reach Finnegan's.  Finnegan's is a flea-market located in the picturesque town of Hudson, Quebec.  Marvel at the beautiful homes along Main Road, and turn right into the parking lot when you hit the traffic jam.  The traffic is a sign you've arrived.

I make a point of visiting Finnegan's once each summer.  Since it's an open-air market, you want to pick a nice day.  Wear closed shoes, because the walks are gravel and you can thank me later when you don't have grit between your toes.
It's hard to explain what Finnegan's is - it's more of an institution than a flea market.  It's the perfect mix of old and new, of kids and dogs, and tons of the neatest stuff you've ever seen thrown in for good measure.  If you're into collecting, this is your Olympics.  Even if you're not, stop moping, grab a hamburger and a soda and go sit at the picnic table under the willow tree.  I'll be with you when I'm done.

You know the adage that you spend the first half of your life accumulating stuff - and the next half of your life trying to give it away?  Well, when I was in the first half of my life, Finnegan's was my mecca.  I owed a station wagon before it was cool to own a station wagon, just to get my loot back home again.  Finnegan's represented Saturday mornings, sunny days, and some of the coolest things I've ever bought.

And then, at some point in your life, as you look over wicker and decoys and teapots and silverware and vintage linens, you give your head a shake and become a minimalist.   Enough with the dusting - I've kept only what I really, really adore, and the rest has been passed on to others who hopefully cherish it as much as I did.

Welcome to the land that is Finnegan's:
 Quilts, armor, wooden shoes AND a crystal chandelier.  As eclectic as it gets!
 A blue marlin and a birdhouse?  Somehow, it just works!
 There's a still-life waiting around each corner.
Ohhhh...silverware.  More silverware than I'd ever know what to do with.  I think every pattern under the skies was on this table.
 Ohhh...a decoy.  Must resist!
 I love little Holstein dogs.  This dude was waiting for a burger.
Finnegan's is a mix of people offering refinishing services, chair caning, wood working, and reproduction furniture, nestled among antique and collectible dealers.   If you're looking for home-made soap, dog cookies, kale fresh from the garden, heirloom perennials, maple syrup, fresh baked bread or fine Quebec honey, Finnegan's has something for you. And then some.  You won't be disappointed, I promise.
 And even if you're not into collecting, there's enough eye-candy to keep most everyone happy.
These lovely mohair scarves were hand-knit in Russia.  I love the colours and the fact they were hung from a tree branch.
 Vintage table-linens, oh be still my beating heart!
Do like this little guy - wear your sunhat.  Don't forget your SPF, and bring along some bottled water, to boot.
 There's something about an old barn...
 ...and old license plates.  Seems it was 1978 that we went from being "la belle province" to "je me souviens".  I'll stop my discourse on political rhetoric right here.
 Nothing like vintage rhinestones in a full spectrum of colour. 
If you're into the "shabby chic" look, this vendor has your name written all over it.  There's something to be said for giving old furniture new oomph with a coat or three of white paint.  That reminds me of a floor I keep meaning to let's just move along rapidly now.
Everything is so groomed and immaculate, with whimsical little touches thrown in for good measure.  You can spend all day wandering, and miss half.  Easily.
Even their barn has flower boxes.  I hope our barn will have flower boxes one day.  Hang on - our barn doesn't have windows!  We must remedy that.  Soon.
This is my favorite booth - you can click the photo for a close-up, and then click again for even more detail.  This guy's been making wind-chimes and jewelry from old silver cutlery, and has been coming to Finnegan's for over 18 years, as I overheard him say.  He's a real ingenious craftsman, and one day, I will buy a wind-chime, instead of just obsessing over them.
 I'm still on the look-out for an old knitting machine box.  I did find one, but it wasn't for sale. C'est la vie!
 Really.  Cast iron implements that do what?  Sometimes, it's best not to ask too many questions...
This is my other favorite booth.  If you're getting married and we know you, chances are pretty good you're going to get a wooden chopping board from this guy.  Again, it's functional art at its finest.  This craftsman's chopping boards are so glorious, words can't describe their beauty.  It's the sort of thing you'll pass on to future generations.

For more information on these beautiful boards, visit Planet Creations.

And that, dear friends, was my most excellent adventure at Finnegan's.

Next weekend, it's back to yard work...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Nice Glass of Well Water, Anyone?

It's really practical having a well.  This is Canada after all, land o' plenty when it comes to water resources.

I admit that I used to be pretty lax when it came to water usage.  Having spent the first few years here on well water, our motto was "let the water run".  The more we used it, the better it got.  It's full of iron, sulfur and black sediment.

Can I pour you a glass?

I don't think I need to tell you the glass on the left is "city" water, which we have in the house.  The lovely, appetizing glass on the right is from the well, which we still use to water the plants outside, and wash the cars.  That we used to cook, drink, shower and do laundry with this water amazes me to this day.  The quality of the water then was infinitely clearer, because we ran the well more, but today, as I took the kitty litter boxes outside for a good scrub (just the sort of thing I use well water for...), I was astounded by the quality, or lack thereof.

From time to time, our well water would just run black.  It happened in the shower, it happened while doing laundry, it happened while putting on water to cook pasta.  We're pretty sure it was just sediment from the holding tank, but nonetheless, it was disconcerting.  I'm also aware that what you can't see, E. coli, for instance, is a distinct possibility, considering we're surrounded by dairy farms.  We're also surrounded by lots of houses with non-conforming septic tanks, but  let's not even go there.   The previous owner was a biologist, and tested the water in his lab on a regular basis.  It always came up potable, but still - so did the water in Walkerton up until the tragedy - as Wikipedia so aptly puts it.

The day we finally were hooked up to city water was bittersweet.  It was like having an umbilical cord re-attached, a regression of sorts.  We could no longer deny the fact the city was encroaching and we're standing there with open arms, welcoming it.  Hypocrites!

I remember a bright, sunny day.  I can still picture the backhoe in the street, digging down, down, down, to reach the water main.  I also remember Eric plumbing the pipe out to the street.  It works like this here:  the city contractor digs down to the water main and installs a valve.  We're responsible for piping from the house to the valve.  Eric was in the crawl space, I was outside, and we spent a lot of time that day, shouting to each other through the thick wall of the foundation.  We needed to dig under the foundation, and at some point, Eric was excavating with a shovel outside (this pre-dates our John Deere TLB, which I am sure Eric was dreaming of at this precise moment), and suddenly, a few feet down, he hit what sounded like metal.  It was like the ghost of the house (and there is one - a good one) had guided Eric's shovel to an old cast-iron drain pipe that went along the house and under the foundation to the ditch.  It had sheared at the exit of the foundation, probably with years of frost heave.  It served perfectly to thread the water pipe through, once it was cleared from decades of mud and debris.   We've had a few moments of divine intervention, specifically, Madame Ménard intervention, but this was one of those moments where you raise your face to the skies, put on an ear-to-ear grin, and give praise to the powers that are.  Merci, Madame Ménard.

There are some things you dread, and the excavation was one of those things.  But within a few hours, we had real, clear, sodium hypochlorite-infused water.  Gone are the days of treating laundry with Rust-out.  The days of scrubbing rust stains out of the toilet and sink - adios!   The days of clearing blocked faucets with CLR - buh-bye!  The days of ironing Eric's white uniform shirts, and finding a huge yellow stain on the last panel - auf wiedersehen!

That evening, Eric and I stood beside the toilet and flushed, and flushed, and flushed, marveling at the clarity of the water.  We gingerly took apart and cleaned all of our taps with CLR and a toothbrush, ensuring that hard water and iron stains were a thing of the past.  We flushed out the hot water tank, adding years to its life.  It was a day to remember.

And on a day like today, when I use our well water outside, I'm taken back in time...

...and I'm so grateful we don't have to drink it anymore!

We've obviously changed our water habits.  We don't let water run needlessly, we have a low-flush toilet, and only run full loads of laundry and dishes.  Overall, we're cognizant of our consumption.  And grateful, too - very grateful -  for the clear gold that runs from our taps.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Benefits of Green Clay

I've been fighting a reaction to a topical Betadine ointment that I put on the wound when I chafed my leg.

Turns out I'm allergic to Betadine - and sadly it's taken me a whole 2 weeks to figure this out - whippersnapper that I am.  In the interim, my chafed sore is an infected mess, and I'm busy intermittently kicking myself for not figuring this out earlier, and for not using a green clay poultice sooner.

Eric loves his Betadine, so much so that when he goes to France, he makes a point of picking up a few tubes.  It's sort of a cure-all for him, and as it turns out, not so much for me.  According to my Google-fu, many people are allergic to Betadine, and sadly most of these people only discover their allergy post-op, as Betadine seems to be an antiseptic of choice during surgery.

Anyhow, I have a point I'm trying to get to:  why and how to make a green clay poultice.

Now most of you are wondering what a poultice is, and think it's something you do to a horse.  Well, it happens that green clay has incredible healing properties, and hindsight being what it is, I probably should have used this first on my abrasion, rather than the Betadine ointment.

But here I am, lying on the sofa, with a green clay poultice wrapped around my ankle, laptop precariously perched on my knees.  And I feel better already.

Eric, as you may know, is french.  As in - from France - french.  He's been extolling the virtues of green clay to everyone who will listen, and it didn't take me very long to be a convert.

We use green clay imported from France.  It's readily available in most pharmacies and health-food stores here in Quebec, and the brand we see most often is Cattier:
This type of green clay is a mix of illite and montmorillonite green clay.  Both are renowned for their purifying and healing minerals, and let me tell you this little medical nugget:  it works.  It works wonders on burns, on cuts, on sprains and on infections.  We've used it on Cooper when he had an abscess and my dad's used it on gout.  The next day, my dad reported he had a huge water-filled blister and his gout healed much quicker than without the poultice.

As far as I know, Cooper didn't complain either.

I could extoll the virtues of green clay ad nauseum.  If this stuff could be patented, you'd see big pharma make big bucks.  But there's no appeal here, no money to be made, so unless you hear about it through the proverbial grape-vine, you'd never know green clay existed.  One interesting article here touts the benefits of green clay in treating buruli, a flesh-eating bacteria.  Interesting, indeed.

So next time you have an infection, and you're open enough to "alternative" healing methods, give a green clay poultice a try.  Here's how:

Procure yourself some green clay.  Google it, do what you need to do to get this stuff in your medicine cabinet!  Maybe your local pharmacy even has it - ours does, but then again, this is Quebec.  We're like France's favorite cousin.  Buy a 50-pound bag from and share with your friends!  I really, really hope you can lay your hands on this stuff, because it's great.

Mix with water (Perrier, anyone?) in a glass bowl and let stand at least 30 minutes.  Do not use metal bowls or metal utensils - that's bad juju.  Add enough water to make a smooth paste - you don't want a runny, sloppy mess.  When you place the green clay on a paper towel, you want it to hold its shape:

Yummm.  Looks good enough to eat - and it is!  If you're really into the granola lifestyle, you can buy comestible clay.  It's finely ground, and you add it to water, let it decant overnight, and chug-a-lug the next morning.  If you're the turbo-charged granola type, well, leave it in the sun to "re-energize" and then chug-a-lug. I've never tried it, but I am tempted.  I have given it to the cats and dog, though.  They like clay, it's in their DNA.
Here's where things get good.  Slap this baby onto your bobo, (that's french medical-ese for an owie), and grab a bandage and wrap up the offending body part.  Go lie on the sofa and make Eric bring you things like ice cream and your Therapik and your laptop and the phone and let the cat in and out and in and out, while he's up.

Just kidding, you can actually do stuff with a poultice on, within limits of course.  What I'm obsessed with is how I managed to get my leg up on the kitchen counter, twist my foot at a heretofore inhuman manner, and take a photo.  How the hell did I manage that without dislocating a hip?  Seriously...?  Inquiring minds want to know!
Ah-ha!  Here's a better view!  I'm not as double-jointed as I knew I wasn't.  Or something like that.  Grab a lemonade and head for the couch.  Act like Cleopatra on her chaise longue and demand bunches of grapes while petting your ancient cat.  Trust me, you'll feel better in the morning.

You can keep the green clay on for a few hours, or even overnight.  You don't want to let the clay dry on your skin.  If it does, use lots of water to soak the poultice off.  For dog's sake, don't rip it off, especially if you've put it on an open sore, like I've done.  I'll probably wake up at some point tonight and pull it off.  What's interesting is that an air bubble will have formed in the shape of the sore - that's so cool.  It goes to show that the clay is absorbing something, doing something, healing something, somehow.  I wish someone could research this mechanism because it would be cool to find out what exactly is happening.

After you've removed the poultice - toss it.  It's not good for anything, anymore.  If you have any left unused, simply let it dry and reuse again.  It will take longer than a half an hour to soften but it's not a loss.

And another neat thing about the clay - it might be messy, depending on how talented (or not) you are with it.  I promise you, this type of green clay will NOT stain anything.  It will simply rub off or wash off, depending on the surface, without leaving any stain.  I was skeptical at first, but it's true - I have a fetish for white sheets, so I balked at this when Eric told me, but I swear that any dried-on clay can be rubbed off, and then completely washed out.

So I'm off to bed.  Green clay poultice and all.  See you in the morning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Little Powerstation

One of the most interesting landmarks along the old Soulanges canal in Quebec is the "Petit Pouvoir" hydro power station in Les Cèdres.  The building above served to power the lights and locks along the now-decommissioned 23 kilometres (14 miles) of the Soulanges canal.  The Soulanges canal became obsolete with the opening of the Saint-Lawrence seaway in 1959.

Designed by engineer Thomas Monro, and built in 1899, the "Petit Pouvoir" produced 528 kilowatts using 2 turbines, and permitted the locks to be operational 24 hours a day.  Of 87 hydroelectric plants built before 1900, the Cedars central is only one of 4 buildings still left standing today.

The building is modeled on the "Château" style of architecture, and some famous Canadian Pacific hotels were built in this fashion, such as the Château Frontenac in Quebec City with its iconic turrets.

The old Soulanges canal is no longer open to maritime traffic, as the locks are now non-operational.  Various organizations talk about opening the locks to pleasure craft, but considerable investment is required to build bridges, overpasses, and replace rotting infrastructure.  In 2008, an estimated 160 million was needed to oversee this project.  Needless to say, with government budget cuts, we can't hope for capital investments like this, even if the return on investment would be many-fold.  We have a talent of subsidizing a variety of businesses that fail after millions of dollars in government investments, yet we are incapable of vision when it comes to saving our history for future generations.  It's all part of the deal, and I stand by my belief that we need to know where we came from to know where we're going.

The shore of the Soulanges canal is now a popular bike and roller-blade path.  People fish the canals, and rowing groups use the long, straight stretches between locks for scull-rowing.  Like the Rideau canal in Ottawa that attracts millions of skaters each winter, the Soulanges canal could have the same sort of appeal to Montrealers.

With a bit of organization and a lot of vision, I believe that the "Petit Pouvoir" could be used as an arts centre, a community centre or even a hotel or restaurant.  Certainly, I don't think the government can be counted on to invest in this historic building.  It is going to take a lot of private initiative to save this building before it falls to ruin.  Since the above photo was taken, the windows have been boarded up to prevent vandalism, and with each passing year, resurrecting this building to its former glory becomes more and more of a fleeting dream.

Je me souviens.  That's our provincial motto.  It means, "I remember".

How fitting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The New Work Shoes

Have you ever walked around with a stone in your shoe, and just couldn't be bothered to undo laces to rectify the situation?  I've been guilty a few times, but did something stupid last week that took the cake.

I have an old pair of work boots that I used to wear to work sites.  In days of yore, my job was supervising remediation of hazardous waste sites, one of the many (hard) hats I've worn.  It's a wonder these work boots didn't end up in a barrel of miscellaneous clean-up waste to be fed into the bowels of an incinerator, but they've served me well for many, many years.  I even wore them for an entire season as winter boots, fashion-plate that I am.  They've held up well until recently.  The soles finally started to de-laminate, but with enough duct tape, I got a few more miles out of them.

I'm sad to see these boots go.  They are a part of history, these Kaufman "Made in Canada" work boots.  The Kaufman company declared bankruptcy in 2000 after 91 year in business.  I'm not normally sentimental about inanimate objects, but I clung to these work boots.  We'd gone places, these boots and I.

Last week I made the mistake of wearing a pair of tennis socks, and in a combined attempt at laziness and stupidity, I put on my work boots and proceeded to cut the lawn.  For whatever reason, maybe the heat, or the bugs, or the fact I was wearing my hearing protectors, my senses were dulled.  Evidently, my instinct to "forge on" was on over-drive.  The outside of my leg was being chafed by the pilled, rough lining of the work boots.  I kept chugging along with the proverbial stone in my shoe.

At some point, thirst got the better of me, and with it, the opportunity to take my work boots off presented itself.  It was then that I noticed that I had chafed, and I mean deeply chafed, a nice ridge into my right ankle.

!@#$.  (That basically means it's going to leave a scar.)

Off I went to Mark's Work Warehouse, known under the "L'Équipeur" moniker here in Quebec.  I found a decent pair of women's work shoes.  They are infinitely more comfortable, yet have the steel toes and soles that I need.  I've put a nail through my foot once, and once was enough.

Years ago, I also learned a lesson when using a spade while wearing rubber boots without steel soles.  The plantar fasciitis that resulted after a weekend of digging had me hobbling in pain for nearly 2 years.  Just stepping barefoot on a piece of cat kibble in the kitchen caused gales of pain.  Now, the first thing I do in the morning is put on a pair of thick tennis socks, and slip my feet into a pair of clogs.  Going barefoot is a thing of the past for me, unfortunately.  I've become a bit of a sissy where my feet are concerned.

These new work shoes aren't made in Canada, or the US for that matter, and something tells me I'm going to get a lot less mileage out of them than my Kaufmans.  But my feet are happy in them, and that's all I am going to worry about.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More Before and After, minus the Before

In my haste, I neglected to take a "before" picture, but you'll have to trust me when I ask you to imagine a thick, impenetrable wall of weeds filling the frame.  I went through here, armed with a pruning saw and clippers, like a whirling dervish on crack.  Think of "Taz" the Tasmanian devil from our childhood cartoons, armed with an imaginary Leatherman super-tool complete with gardening implements, and you're on the right track.   I had burdock so high in here, with stems so thick, that I needed a saw to cut them down.  Both Bobcat and Popina loved to play in here, (note the past tense) because it was like a jungle gym.  Popina, being the high maintenance diva she is, would shoot out of here like a furry little rocket covered in burrs.  She served as impetus for getting this area cleaned up once and for all.

Picture if you will, two large crates built out of 2x4's that served to transport the metal roof we had installed on the house in 2003.  They were slowly rotting away here, again preventing us from running the mower through, or going rogue with the whipper-snipper in a feeble attempt at order.   Years ago, when I suggested taking the crates apart, Eric chided me and said the wood was still good and that he needed it for some future project.  I don't need to tell you that opportunity never materialized.  I should have trusted my instinct and taken the crates apart while the wood was still good for something other than a bonfire.

This is now useable space, and allows us to store our recycling and garbage bins in an accessible, yet out-of-view area.  It's not that my prissy, aesthetic sensibilities are coming to the forefront, but a bit of discretion (and organization) never hurts.  There's enough crap hanging around that one less eyesore is welcome.  I don't care if the out-buildings are ramshackle; the grounds can still be tidy.  Some days I feel like I'm slamming my head against a rock, but every bit of improvement helps.

I was actually so excited when this area was cleaned up, I got up early the next morning and tip-toed outside in my bathrobe.  It wasn't a mirage - it was really clean! 

My motto has become "a place for everything, and everything in it's place".  And if I can run the mower through or over it, all the better.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Firepit

Part of cleaning up a old farm property involves strategically placed burn piles.  (I say "strategic" with the most facetious air possible).  They are blights on the landscape, however, in most cases they are necessary evils when trying to clean up over-run grounds.  I would give my right arm to own a branch chipper.  Well, put like that, I might lose my right arm if I owned a branch chipper, so maybe we're better of with burn piles than machinery.

Invariably, excuses for not burning the piles stack up like the branches and twigs that fill them:  it's either too hot, or too cold, too windy, or blowing in the wrong direction, too dry to burn safely, or too wet to bother.  Creative Procrastination 101 rules here.

We've got three burn piles, and one of them was so overgrown, there were Manitoba maples growing around the edges that were starting to get a bit out of hand.  We took it to task this spring, and although we still have to scrape the remnants of the pile together with the backhoe, it's not out of control any more.  We should be able to completely eradicate it with a bit of effort by the end of the summer.  I'll breathe a sigh of relief when I see grass growing on this spot instead of weeds.
Believe me when I say nothing good can become of a pile of old bricks, a crisp, starry night and good intentions, all underwritten by wine:
That's how we came to create this lovely fire pit, unfortunately situated right when you turn into our driveway.  We strive to make good first impressions!    Driven partly by practicality, the fire pit was close enough to the house so we could keep an eye on it, yet far enough away from outbuildings to pose a fire-risk.  We always had the hose nearby, and burned only when conditions were right, which was never too often.

We had some old red bricks piled up against the wood shed, and we'd never use them to make a path, for instance, but they served admirably as the border for the fire pit.  With time, weeds encroached, and our fire pit became a blight.  The other day, I'd had enough.  It was time to bring in the front loader:
Surprisingly, I ended up with a front-loader full of bricks that Eric could dump at the municipal dump the next morning.  When Eric called me at work to tell me they no longer accept bricks, I wanted to wig-out, big-time.  The thought of having to off-load this pile of !@#$ onto a skid for tidy storage makes me cringe.  I want to get rid of this junk, not store it!  I wish our conscience could let us bury them somewhere on the far reaches of the property, but we can't do that.  So many injustices have been done to these grounds over the decades, that something like burying waste material would keep us tossing and turning at night.  We've removed tons and tons of buried concrete already, so we don't want to add to the misery.
Because we've burned a lot of old, unpainted wood in this pile, it's full of metal hinges, screws, and Eric's nemesis: the nail.  With tractor tires costing the equivalent of a mortgage payment, we like to take the extra time and pick out any nails.  An ounce of prevention, (or gram, in our case) worth a pound, (or kilo), of cure.   (One of those is a better deal, but I'll let you figure it out for yourself).

Using an old mesh screen, I started to sift the well-rotted ashes into the wheelbarrow.  Next concern was where to actually dump said wheelbarrow.  We've decided to spread it onto a small, newly plowed field on the south side of our barn.  I was hoping Eric would return with an empty front-loader, of course, because screening the ashes would be so much easier directly into the front loader, as opposed to the wheelbarrow, but that didn't pan out like we planned, did it now?

So, we've put our feelers out for someone, anyone, who'd like to come pick-up a these lovely, lovely red bricks and find a permanent vocation for them.

And the next time someone accuses us of being a few bricks short of a full load, I can prove them otherwise.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...