Monday, September 26, 2011

The Final Saga of the Saga

I cannot believe it's done!
Turns out all I needed was a bit of help:
What BobCat can do with a needle and thread is unreal.  The boy's got talent, he really does. 
Orange cat = orange racing stripe inside the cardigan.  The boy even inspired me.

So here's the synopsis of what I did to lay this project to rest.

Originally, I had wanted to knit an attached i-cord up each steeked side, or crochet on a button band.  I was concerned about how I would hide the steeked edge, because I wanted it enclosed in something, as well as accommodate the width of my clasps.  I didn't want to end up with a super-fat i-cord, but with something flat instead.  All that to say, I knew what I wanted, I just wasn't sure how to go about doing it.

In a stroke of genius, I found inspiration in one of my favorite knitting reference books, the Big Book of Knitting by Katharina Buss.  I crocheted a slip-stitch chain up the front of each steek, between 2 rows, picking up one chain for each row of knitting.  I ended up with 127 stitches on each side, which is important, because the bands need to meet up at the top and the bottom for symmetry, right?  It helps if you pay close attention to where you start and finish.  Just sayin'.
Here I am crocheting the slip-stitch chain up the front of each steek using a 4mm crochet hook.  It is important to get the tension right, because you don't want to distort the edge - it needs to lay flat without being wavy or pulled together.

The purpose of the crocheted slip-stitch chain was to give me a nice, straight edge from which to pick up the stitches to knit the button band.  My sweater was knit with a 5mm needle, but I knit the button band with a 4mm needle, which gave me perfect tension.  (Individual results may vary, well, because that's what individual results do).

My first attempt was knit with a 5 mm needle, reasoning that's what I knit the sweater with, but the button band ended up a bit floppy, so I frogged it and started over with a smaller needle.  When I went down to a 4mm needle size, the result was right - not too tight, and not too big.

But back to the crocheted slip-stitch chain, where I picked up one knit stitch per crocheted slip-stitch:
Jumping ahead, here's a look at the inside:
Looking at the reverse side, the crocheted chain leaves a nice, obvious stitch onto which I will whip-stitch the button band.  Note the double-sewn seam beside the steek.  This will get nicely hidden when I fold back the button band and whip-stitch everything closed.

I tailored the width of the button band to the metal clasps I found at Fabricville.  They had a huge selection, and I had a hard time choosing the perfect clasp, but I think I got it right:
I am really happy with the end result.  The clasps aren't too fussy, and I find they accent the cardigan very well.  To accommodate the width of the clasps, I think I knit 6 rows, purled the row where I turned the fabric over, and continued knitting until the edges joined the back of the crocheted slip-stitch row.

Once the button band was cast-off, I tucked the edge over, and whip-stitched it to the reverse of my crocheted chain using blue sock yarn.  Sewing up items with Lopi isn't recommended; the more you pull Lopi through a seam, the weaker it gets.  I used sock wool and it blended in nicely.  Just remember to line everything up perfectly so there isn't any puckering.   For the retentive among you, you might even want to baste with waste thread for added ease.  For the reverse of every crocheted chain, I had a matching cast-off stitch I sewed in to.

My orange crocheted racing stripe was for looks only; it serves no purpose but to make me and the cat happy.
Here's a look at the whip-stitched edge.  The devil is in the details, like most things:
I loved making this sweater.  I'm also happy I took it out of hibernation this summer and gave it some lovin'.  It turned out much nicer than I had anticipated, which is always a happy bonus when knitting clothing.

Next time, I'm putting BobCat in charge.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Pine Floor - Part Six

And we have lift-off!
The first coat of primer is down.  I did the cutting around the edges with a brush, and Eric rolled with a 5/8" nap roller.  As he rolled, I filled in some of the deeper gaps which he then later stepped in.  Oh well.  My intentions were good.  The whole job didn't take more than 1-1/2 hours, which was welcome, considering how long we took to remove the Varathane, and sand like mad-people.

We're happy with the effect.  It's an old floor, and the imperfections are still visible, yet it's a clean, solid surface.  It's what we were envisioning, and we're happy.

No, let me take that back.  We're ecstatic

We're not sure when we'll reapply the second coat.  Zinsser instructions say 45 minutes between re-coats, but we're waiting longer than that, considering the surface we're covering.  I'd hate to have the paint start to wrinkle or worse.  We've seen a couple of misadventures in wood finishing, so we're going to err on the side of caution and wait a day or two.  We'll see what the humidity is going to do as well. Zinsser says not to apply if the relative humidity is above 85%.  Today we're at 86%, and going up to 26C, which is going to feel hotter and more humid as the day wears on.

This product is really thin, yet extremely opaque with a good coverage.  I think I'll have this stuff under my fingernails for the balance of the week, it's that tough.

Resurrecting Victoria's Guts

As far as my CSM's go, Victoria's a fickle little hunk o' metal.  The wear on her cams caused me some concern, and my first impression was to grind everything down with the Dremel, put her together again, and not look back.

Remember Vickie's Guts?

I asked Eric for his input, as I am wont to do.  Eric's a stickler for perfection, which is why our living room floor is still in plywood (we're waiting for the trees to grow), so sometimes asking him for advice is like shooting one's self in the foot.  Being a sucker for punishment, I asked for his advice.

After some consultation, (I think he called a smelter or two, plus we have some doctorate-level metallurgists on speed-dial), he determined that the cams should be brazed and reshaped, and then hardened and tempered in an oil bath.  My plan for Dremel-ing everything down was vetoed.  No point in wearing metal down any further - it was there for a purpose - after all.

That's how I got to drive around with CSM parts on the passenger seat of my car, silently mocking me for a few months.

Thing is, we used to know a welder who is a master welder in the truest sense of the word; this guy gets flown around the country welding gnarly stuff that's deemed unrepairable.  He's not just a welder, he's an artisan.  Sadly, we lost touch with him a few years ago, because he was the only person I was willing to trust Vickie's guts to.

Finally, I decided to make the rounds locally.  Surely, with the amount of machine shops and tool-makers and welders in our area, there had to be someone capable of brazing some metal onto the cams and leading me one step closer to my goal.

One particular welding shop came highly recommended by several people, so I went and explained my problem to the shop owner, showed him the cams, and asked him to put his best guy on the job - money wasn't an issue, and there were no time constraints - I just wanted it done cleanly and professionally.

When I got the call the next morning saying the parts were ready, I had a strange twinge in the pit of my stomach.  I drove back to the machine shop, and my parts were waiting.  I inspected them, half expecting to hear the screeches of primates coming from the rear of the shop, because, hell, if I had a MIG welder, I coulda done a better job than the monkey that brazed Vickie's cams.

I swore under my breath, and the shop owner said, "It's not like painting, you know.  You don't control where the metal goes".  DOH, to quote the great philosopher Homer Simpson.  Goes without saying.  Then again, my reference is a guy who welds turbine blades, not exactly the same caliber as the Neanderthals at this shop.

Believe it or not, the above photo shows the BEST looking piece.  The others were butt-ugly.  I swear I'm too embarrassed to show them.

I left pissed.  I muttered something about a lack of  "pride in one's work", then I cursed Eric silently for his nit-picking attention to detail, and then I kicked myself some more for trusting this welder.  And then I flippantly threw the parts on the back seat of the car, and drove home fuming.

When I showed Eric the parts, his diatribe sounded like mine, but more vociferous:  Doesn't anyone give a shit anymore?  Does anyone really care?  What the hell ever happened to pride, or craftsmanship?  And where in the hell did Dan the welder go, that we can't find him anymore?

The thing I learned about metal is this:  too much is better than not enough, provided you've got time, patience, a good Dremel, plus a bench grinder.

All that to say, Victoria's gut are being painstakingly resurrected.  It took me a few months to muster the courage to remove the excess of the excess of the welded bead on the bench grinder, then laboriously grind the remaining excess back down to the cam's original shape with the Dremel, ensuring the integrity of the edges.
In the photo above, I'm not even close to done grinding down the brazed edge.  It takes a lot of time with the Dremel, but once I'm down to the original shape, I'll polish all the parts up with some compound and they'll look like new.  At least, that's the plan.  Maybe if you want to say a prayer or two for Ann and her cams, we'd appreciate that.

Along the way, I've learned a few things, (whether I wanted to or not).  The Dremel is my friend, and is not to be feared.  I should have been using it with a felt bit and some compound to clean all my other CSM's in retrospect.  Original Dremel bits kick ass, copy-cat Canadian Tire Mastercraft jobber bits, not so much.

I bought this kit at Canadian Tire, just 'cause it was 70% off.  I think I paid about $25 for it.  The wooden box alone is worth that - so I wasn't expecting superb quality -  I was mainly going for selection.  I started with the orange tips, and if you double-click, you can see how much I've worn down the last orange tip in the top row.  It started off the same shape as the other orange bit beside it.  The original Dremel bit I bought to replace this one has been used a lot, yet hardly shows wear.

(And the golf balls?  Well, apparently our neighbour's property is a red-neck driving range, and that's all Imma gonna say about that).

Pay the extra for the real Dremel bits - it's worth it.  Wear your safety glasses when using the Dremel, and no, don't expect your manicure to survive.  Read the damn manual, and you'll pick up a few tips.  Google is my friend, because I managed to find Dan-Dan the Welder-man again, bless his heart.  I trust Eric for his advice.  Isn't that what got me into this mess in the first place?  But super-heating Victoria's cams until they're glowing red and dropping them into oil?  Not on my shift.  Well...maybe if Dan says so I will, otherwise, it's a no-go.

So, I hope to have Victoria up and running soon, in better shape than ever.  Fingers crossed.

And I can rest peacefully at night, knowing Dan-Dan the Welder-man has been found.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Pine Floor - Part Cinq

So, here's what we learned today:

Sandblasting a pine floor is labour-intensive, back-breaking and, as an added bonus, sandy and dusty.

Sort of like everything we're doing these days, come to think of it.

But we discovered something new.  While sandblasting is messy, and the interior of our house now feels like a Scirocco wind blew through it, it was effective, just slow.  The nozzle we have is a 1"diameter, and it would have taken forever to do the entire room, so we did a small area, and put on our thinking caps.

(In the meantime, I was trying to figure out what I could sandblast, given we had the compressor out and everything set-up.  I came up empty - sad really - because often I come across things and wonder, hmmm, wonder if I could sand-blast that?  Owning a big-ass compressor just so I can sand-blast stuff at my leisure is one of my dreams).

Again, I digress.  Back to the floor:
When we combined the sandblast grit with our 40- and 50-grit sanders, (I got the sissy Fein, Eric got the hefty Porter-Cable 1/2 sheet), we were able to sand the floor without having the sandpaper clog incessantly.  That was our epiphany.  More good news is that the sandblast grit added the abrasion we needed to remove the sticky Varathane residue much quicker.  And even more good news:  the paint on the area where we did our scratch test is even harder now.  This means that hopefully tomorrow, after we go over the floor one more time with the "house" vacuum (as opposed to the shop vac), and neurotically go over everything one final time with a microfibre cloth, Eric can put down the first of three coats of primer.

Obviously, using sandblast grit means we're both wearing full-face masks, as well as our hearing protectors.  It felt funny to have the full-face mask on again.  It's been a few months since I wore it, and I didn't miss it one bit.  At the end of the day, taking off the hearing protectors and mask felt so good.

I'm thrilled with today's events.  I'll be even more thrilled when the first coat of paint is down.

September Morning

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Pine Floor - Part Quatre

Things are really coming together in Eric's office:
I really wish that photo wasn't distorted - the knee wall is perfectly straight, but doesn't photograph that way.  Trust me when I say -  it's straight.

The electrical outlet under the window is for the radiant heater we're putting in this room.  It's the Flex model from Calorigen.  Since this room is in the north-west corner of the house and although everything is rebuilt and reinsulated, we're not messing around.  I'll give a full, sordid review later, since we already installed an 800W Flex heater in the guest room last winter.  It doesn't make winter any shorter, but it sure ups the comfort of the house.

Eric used his little hand-held Dewalt circular saw to straighten out the long gouge in the floor, and cut a 1" x 1" square plug to fit the length of the hole.  Everything's epoxied into place, and sanded down:

Here's an up-close beauty shot:
That's about as fixed as things can get, without ripping out the floor boards (and idea we did entertain today, though).  But more on that below...

With regards to the spaces between the boards, we've decided to paint a few of them with copious amounts of paint and evaluate the look when the paint has dried.  Then, we'll decide if we're able to live with the end result or not.  If we hate the appearance, well, then we'll remove the crud with the Fein Multimaster tool, and go from there.  Truth be told, if anyone dares to get down on hands and knees and inspect the gaps between the boards once the floor's painted, all they're gonna get out of it is a swift kick in the ass.

I should have given myself a swift kick in the ass for even having taken this photo:
5/16" of crud, bay-bee!  We're both (officially - yeah!) sick and tired of spending another moment on our hands and knees in this room.  To hell with integrity.  We're gonna paint over it and move on.

But Houston, we have a problem:
After much reading, we decided to use Zinsser BIN primer as a base coat.  It stuck like misery to the world to the knots, as well as the epoxy repairs.  But on the original floor itself, it scratches off easily.  We're not going to top-coat this three times only to have the primer not adhere properly, so we're at an impasse until we find a solution.
I have to mention that this scratch test was done mere hours after application, so I think Eric's really jumping the gun with his worrying.  24 hours later, it was much, much more resistant.   Eric's still skeptical though, but I maintain he's worried about nothing.

The Zinsser BIN is really thin and splatters when applied with a 5/8" nap roller, hence we used blue paper we bought from the auto body-shop down the street to protect the paint job.  Thinking outside of the box is our specialty - plus we didn't feel like driving to Home Depot for such a trivial item.

Eric did some more research after his "failed" scratch test and concluded that our original floor finish is probably Flecto Varathane.  This would mean sanding off every little bit (did you hear me?:  EVERY.LITTLE.BIT.) of remaining residue, and while this room only measures 10' x 12', we will eventually have the entire upstairs to do.  We also need to take into consideration that the floor has already been sanded down once, and that about a 1/4" was taken off at that time.  This is important because our floor is structural, so taking off any more wood with a commercial sander really isn't an option.

Right now, things are looking like Eric's going to take the floor to task with the belt sander again, much to his chagrin and dismay.  But that option sounds better than his earlier idea of overlaying the entire floor with tamarack (our wood-pusher had a deal...), or even worse, ripping out the entire floor and starting fresh.

Of course, these ideas come to Eric like little flashes of lightning, and then promptly get relayed to me at work by telephone, when I'm helpless to grab him by the shoulders, shake him hard, and say, "Get a grip, man!"

But first, we've had another collective "a-ha" moment, so...cue the sand blaster and stay tuned for part five.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Zen and the Art of Steeking

(Or how not to make a mountain out of a knitted molehill).
The thought of cutting into a perfectly good knitted item to insert a sleeve or zipper strikes fear into most knitter's hearts.  Knitting books wax melodramatic about this, describing that you'd need to go lie down in a dark room with a cold compress, or have a glass of wine or three post-steeking.  I'm here to tell you it's not that bad.

Have that wine before you steek, and you'll see just how swimmingly it will go.  (Actually, we have a saying in our knitting group:  friends don't let friends knit drunk.  When someone brings that up, we all laugh, raise our glasses in a toast and put down our knitting.  Don't tell our husbands, but I think they're on to us already...)

That aside, here's what I learned from my first steeked Lopi project:

You don't need more than 3 steek stitches to work with.  I had 4 and all that amounted to was a waste of wool.  Next time, I'm using only 3.  Purl these 3 steek stitches, which leads me to my next tip:

When you come to your first steek stitch, purl it into the back of the loop.   This will twist the stitch and tighten up the previous knit stitch, namely your last knit stitch before the steek.  It's not imperative, but it does create a nicer, tighter finish.  You'll notice in the photo below, the last knitted stitch before the steek is a bit loose.  (In the photo below, I have pulled all my ends to the front of the steek so they wouldn't get caught in the sewing machine foot inadvertently).  Next time, I'm purling that first steeked stitch through the back of the loop.  No more loosey-goosey edge stitches.  I wish I knew that before, but there you have it.  Live and learn.
If you're changing colour on the row, it's sufficient to purl the central stitch (i.e. your second steek stitch) using both old and new colours together.  My particular Lopi pattern was well-charted, and even told you which colour to make the first and last steek stitch.  I just followed the instructions and it became quite clear after a few rows that there is some rhyme and reason to the colour logic.  This also meant if you're changing from colour A and B to colour C and D for example, you won't have more ends than necessary to weave in.  (As it was, this particular sweater was akin to the End Weaving-in Festival - there weren't a few ends to weave in, there must've been a hundred!)
This weaving needle from my knitting arsenal proved beneficial.  It's so easy to thread, it made quick work of all those pesky ends:
I remember buying these at Zeller's, three different sizes to the pack.  They are distributed by H. A. Kidd in Toronto, and if you ever come across this item, buy a few packs.  They're cheap, and you can dole them out to fellow knitters when they remark what a great idea it is.

Here's a look at the back of the sweater, and the photo that made me realize I should have just knit the whole bloody thing as a pullover and saved myself some agony:
Ain't she purty?  I'm really happy with this project, and it's not even finished yet!  (Yes, I know I threatened to have it finished by July 21).  Deadlines, schmedlines...

Since my Dad has an ancient Lopi cardigan, I thought I'd borrow it and have a gander at how it was finished.  (There's nothing like reverse engineering...)

Behold, here are the machine stitches hidden by the crocheted-on border:
See how the wool's been cut close to the machine stitched line?  This sewed edge will ensure that all the wool is held together.  Lopi's tough wool; it'll hold, and once the crocheted or knitted edge is on, the ends are going nowhere.  If you're a sewer, you'll also notice the size of the stitch, as well as the tension.  The stitch is relatively large, and the tension is loose; if your sewing is tighter, you'll risk distorting your sewn and cut edge.

Here's a look at the crocheted border on this sweater:
Still, I'm not sure if I'll crochet a border or make a knitted I-cord edge.  I have all of fall to think about that, don't I?  And yes, Delusional is my middle name, now that you mention it.

Here's a look at the edge, post-sewing, pre-cutting.  Instructions said to sew up each edge twice.  I follow instructions, ergo, we have 2 rows of stitches on either side of the steek:
I had to sew these from the bottom edge up toward the neck.  Somehow, logic dictated I should sew both seams from the neck down, but try doing that on a sewing machine.  Ain't gonna happen - I had to feed it from the bottom up.

And yet another, post-cutting showing the nice, straight edge.  So far, so good:
So, why isn't the damn sweater finished already, you may be asking?  Well, I tried a couple of variations of crocheted edges.  None of them were quite up to snuff.  I changed wool colours, I changed crochet hook sizes, but I wasn't satisfied with any of the permutations.  And then, (how these things happen is a total mystery to me), the two skeins of wool I intended to use were run through the washing machine by accident:
Yarn barf extraordinare, people.  That's why the freakin' sweater's not finished yet!  I'm blaming the cat, yeah, the cat...

So stay tuned for the never-ending Saga of the Saga.  One knitted I-cord edge, coming right up!  This one will be in a different colour.  Now if only I could remember where I placed that skein for safe keeping, I'd be one step ahead!

Maybe I should go interrogate the cats...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Pine Floor - Part Trois

Eric's been busy repairing the pine floor upstairs in his office.  I went to the pharmacy and asked to buy a couple of those graduated pill containers they use in hospitals to dole out pills.  The pharmacist gave me 10 gratis; he was a nice guy and sympathetic to our cause when I explained why I needed them.

Those little pill containers make excellent containers to mix two-part epoxy in.  Using those equally non-eco plastic coffee-stirrer sticks, you can mix up a batch of epoxy precisely and without mess.  (And if you leave the stir-stick glued in along the side of the container, you can just peel out the remaining epoxy when it's hardened and reuse said container).
To plug the smaller holes, Eric first glued a cork plug into the original (and uneven) hole.  This provides a base for the next step:  using a 1-1/8" Forstner bit to enlarge the holes and make it possible to fill with a wooden plug.  Then, using the corresponding 1-1/8" plug-maker, Eric used the drill press conveniently located in our living room to make said plugs.  Again, I got to beat back the sawdust with the vacuum cleaner while Eric drilled.  We're a dynamic duo like that.

The plugs are all glued into place now.  When the epoxy's good and cured, Eric'll take off the excess (just a bit above the level of the floor) with a chisel and sand down the remaining part.

Filling the two larger holes was a bit of a challenge, since we don't have a band-saw.  Why, I have no clue.  I think it would look great in the kitchen, right beside the oscilloscope that's taking up valuable real-estate on my kitchen island.

Eric took a rabbet bit and router, and enlarged the holes.  I had every intention of taking an AFTER photo, but that didn't happen.  You'll just have to use your imagination:
Using a rabbet bit creates a shelf that the plug can sit on.  What you're seeing at the bottom of the hole are the floor joists.  Eric doubled up a section underneath the hole when he rebuilt the ceiling downstairs.  Thinking 50 steps ahead is Eric's specialty.
Eric made a paper template, and from this one of our neighbours kindly cut plugs.  Eric remembered to mark the direction of the grain on this template.  The other one, no such luck:
This plug's make out of oak because the hole was shallower.  Eric didn't see the need in enlarging the hole to the point of compromising the floor even more.  Once the floor is painted, you won't be able to tell anyhow.
Filling the valley is going to present a bigger challenge.  I plugged the holes at each end with corks, and Eric's going to even out the edges and make a long plug out of pine, and fill the side gaps with with epoxy.  I should also note he mixes some super-fine pine sawdust in with the epoxy.  He says this makes sanding easier.  Considering he's blowing through 50-grit sandpaper on the belt sander like no one's business, I'm not so sure...  Eric's nearly used up his crepe sanding block.
Here we've got a fissure filled with some of Eric's sawdust epoxy.  We've got a few spots like this on the floor.  We also had to screw down a few squeaky floorboards using some 3" Spax screws.  Take that, dammit!  We're not messing around.

We're at a bit of an impasse with regards to the cracks between the boards.  We're on the fence if we should just clean out the crud with our new Fein Multitool, and fill everything before painting, or if we should just look the other way and paint over it, and hopefully never look back.  The gaps are anywhere from 1/16" to 1/4", some even larger.  We'll have to ruminate on that a bit.

Our reward?

Another stunning sunset.   I just wish there was a way to make the daylight hours longer.  There's no denying it, but fall is on it's way whether we like it or not.  The maples are changing colour with the cooler nights, and we've seen a few flocks of geese heading south for the winter.  We've already lit the wood stove a few nights, not so much for heat (although it does cut the humidity nicely), but for ambiance, and because we were convinced Cooper missed lying on the warm tiles in front of the stove.

Stay tuned for part four of my twenty part series!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Colligite Fragmenta Ne Pereant

We've pretty much ascertained that our house was built around 1850.  We don't know much about the history, although Eric has spent some time at the local museum and the land registry office making inquiries.  We have a few pieces of the puzzle, but not enough to make a complete picture.

Imagine our surprise this past weekend, when a complete stranger pulled into our driveway and brought us two photos from the late 20's or early 30's.  His great-grandmother lived in our house, and sadly passed away on August 21, 1929, having hung herself in one of the out buildings.  (I give the date because it happens to be my birthday).  Mélina Ménard (née Léger) was just 55 years old and the mother of 10 children, 6 girls and 4 boys.  Two of her sons predeceased her, one at the age of two years, and another at the age of 18 months.  Her husband Avila died in 1927 at the age of 65.  From the land registry information, her son-in-law, Amédée Ménard, who was married to her daughter Emeline Ménard, took possession of the house on January 14, 1930, only to sell it 10 days later.

It must've been a long, hard winter.

Emeline would have been 29 years old at that time, and married for 7 years.  Emeline and Amédée were cousins many times removed; they shared the same great, great, great-grandfather, Jean-Baptiste Ménard, who was born in France in 1732.  Ahhh, the wonders of on-line genealogy.

Rural legend has it that Mélina was sad that none of her children expressed interest in the farm.  Considering her son-in-law and daughter had possession of the farm for only 10 days, this legend might have some credence.  We will probably never know the truth, since the cause of her death had remained a mystery to even her family members. Our late neighbour's father purchased our farm in 1933, and I'm sure the rumour mill was still churning at that point.

We had a lot of conversations with Mr. Lefebure about the history of our house, considering his father lived here for a period of 40 years.  The land Mr. Lefebure's house stood on was carved out of a corner of our property, and the house that stands there now was moved there from Ile Perrot at an undetermined time, probably some time during the 60's.  While it looks old, (and is old), it wasn't originally built on-site.   When Mr. Lefebure died in 2002 at the age of 77, he'd spent his entire life in two houses:  ours, and the one that was moved onto our property.

I wish I had a better understanding about the subdivisions and different obligations on the land registry certificate.  The certificate is hard to follow, considering the old script it's written in, and the fact the original property was subdivided at least 4 times.  Also, the house numbers changed as cadastral reforms happened; this just adds to the confusion in trying to back-track the various transactions.   We have a friend who is a notary; when he has some spare time, I'll have to get his professional take on things.

This is a view of our barn.  Happily, it's still standing, sans windmill and silo, however.  We thought that the addition for the cows was added in the 1930's, but this photo refutes that theory.  I'd say it was added much earlier.  This might also mean the barn was build much earlier.  Considering the Ménard family had been farming in the Soulanges parish for 5 generations when this photo was taken, we'll have to dig a bit more.

Photos like this bring a tear to my eye.  Not just for the work that still lies ahead of us, nor for the blood, sweat and tears we've already put into this place.  When I look at photos like this, I see generations of work, back-breaking, callous-inducing, physical labour of the greatest magnitude.  The respect for the people who built this place runs deep through my veins.

Something tells me that somewhere, Mélina approves of us.

Colligite fragmenta ne pereant - it means "collect the fragments so they do not perish".

That pretty much sums things up.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Crabapple Jelly

The crab apple tree in front of the house is full of fruit this year.  I've been kicking the ones that fall off the tree down the slate walk for a couple of weeks already.  It was high time I did something with them, because it's been a good year.  Some years end up being so-so, but this year we had a bumper crop.  It would have been a shame to let them go to waste.

Armed with a ladder, and wearing a pareo (because it was cloyingly hot) and sandals with 3" heels, ('cause those were beside the front door and didn't involve laces), I'm sure I was a sight to behold.  Something like "The Housewives of Beverly Hills" meets "Green Acres", starring yours truly.  I picked about 3 kg of crab apples.  That ended up being a whole lot of crab apples to quarter and stem.  Since we don't spray our fruit trees, the crab apples are imperfect, and I tried to be as diligent as possible in cutting out any softened or bug-infested parts.  (That's also my way of saying there could have been a worm or two in the pot.  I'm sure the heat killed them).

3 kilos is a lot of crab apples:

They're barely bigger than cherries!  Here I am, my hands wrinkled from the water, holding three of the largest specimens.  I'm nearing the end of my batch, wondering if it will ever end.   When I checked for a recipe on-line, my first go-to site for canning is always the Bernardin website.  It says 2.5 kg of crab apples are about 56.  I don't know if those come from Three Mile Island, but I must have picked closer to 256 to make that amount.

Once quartered, stemmed and with the bloom removed, I added 5 cups of water to the pot.  In retrospect, I should have added more:

I let this mixture boil for about 10 minutes, and then simmered it for about 10 minutes more, stirring it frequently to prevent scorching.  The apples broke down a lot.  Some recipes say to use a potato masher to break down the fruit further, but I didn't find it necessary.

I lined a colander with a clean muslin cloth, and dumped the whole mixture in.  I think I ended up with about 4 cups of juice the next morning, because I needed to add about 1 cup of water to make the 5 cups of juice necessary to make the jelly.  Another Canadian Living recipe said I could, okay?  I added 7 cups of sugar, and one pack of liquid pectin, following the instructions that came in the Certo box.  (And can you tell I'm making all of this up as I go along?)  Flying by the seat of my pareo is my specialty.

On the CL website, someone commented to use slightly under-ripe apples, as these contained more pectin  but less water.  This might have accounted for me having to add a bit of water to make up the difference.  I did some google-fu and couldn't corroborate this information, but I'm running with it anyhow.

In the end, I made 8 - 250 mL (half pint) jars of pretty pink crab apple jelly:

It's nice to be able to create something with a bit lot of elbow grease and a bit lot of sugar, and some patience and time thrown into the mix.

I'm sure the pareo and heels didn't hurt, either.

Friday, September 2, 2011

August 33

I refuse to acknowledge the month of September.  There might be school buses on the roads again; the days are getting markedly shorter, but I'm keeping August going in my head as long as I can keep up the conversion.  That would make today August 33. 

Honestly, I have no clue where the summer went.  It's the same thing every year, summer just blows by, and before you know it, there's frost on the ground.  But it was scorching hot again today which is why I can fake August easily.  We measured 30C in the shade, and it was so humid the slightest effort caused me to break out into a sweat.

And what, pray tell, were we up to today?  Thinking about heat, that's what:
Our trailer of firewood was delivered today.  We've got about 6 cords on here, give or take.  Eric puts the forks on the tractor and off-loads everything in one happy pile:
Over the next few weeks, Eric's going to haul out the chainsaw and cut everything into 16" logs.  That's the maximum size our wood-stove can take.  He splits the wood when he feels like it.  During the winter, when the mood strikes him, he'll grab his favorite Gränsfors axe and have a swinging session.  This stresses me out to no end.  My parents lived in Sweden before moving to Canada, and the woodpile beside the front door represents not only a comfort, but a necessity.  I want everything chopped and stacked, and I want it done yesterday, but I'm willing to compromise.  Eric likes the exercise, and it gets him out of the house in the middle of winter.  Me?  I'd rather be beside a hot wood stove with a cat on my lap, a good book within reach, and some knitting by my side, knowing I've got 6 cords split and stacked.  C'est la vie!
With it being August 33rd and all, it's hot in the kitchen.  I'm busy canning, making another batch of my golden bread and butter pickles.  This time, I bought a 10 pound box of seconds.  The thought is much less daunting.
Since the last batch was such a success, I'm putting these in the fridge overnight.  I should be able to get about 18- 500mL (one pint) jars out of the crate.
Speaking of heat, Robin at Farm Folly blogged about her candied jalapeños.  I was in the mood to try something new, and these sounded so delightful I had to try them.  Off I went to the grocery store again, for some more canning jars and of course, the requisite jalapeños.

Three pounds of jalapeños is a lot of jalapeños:
Proceeding with caution, I actually used rubber gloves to clean and slice the jalapeños.  My hands are so raw from all the slicing and weeding and window washing I've done lately, that I didn't want to risk the burn.  It's hot enough as it is.  I even managed to restrain myself and not gnaw on the seeds.  Last time I made habañero pepper jelly, I was a bit too curious, and bit down on one lonely seed.  I felt like taking a paring knife to my tongue to ease the pain, it was so hot.  I had tears streaming down my face, and even though these jalapeños don't have as much bite, why risk it?
I had a one 250 mL (1/2 pint) jar of syrup left from canning the jalapeños which I processed in the hot water bath.  The remaining syrup is in the fridge, and I'll probably brush it on some BBQ pork tenderloin or chicken.  The taste is simply sublime.  I had a few teaspoons' worth, and it is fabulous.  If those candied jalapeños are only half as good, we're in for a treat.
Little Dude has to be segregated on the other side of the kitchen while BobCat eats.  I've got 3 cats, each on their own diet, and meal-times are a bit of a logistical nightmare.  To top things off, Schatzie is on antibiotics for a respiratory infection, and just trying to give her a pill, let alone do it 14 times this week, is challenging.  Tesla's digestive system was a bit upset also, which is why I don't want him hoovering in BobCat's food dish.  I'll save you the sordid details of how many times I cleaned his messes off the kitchen floor the day of tropical strom Irene last weekend.  I had my own tropical storm Tesla inside the house.  The poor kitty had NO control.  If diapers for cats existed, Tesla would have been wearing them that day.  He's now on a boiled chicken and rice diet, and he's getting better and friskier every day.  He's a very cute little guy with good manners, the kind of cat who rises on his back paws when you go to pet him.  All he wants is affection.  He slept with me last night, and woke me by licking my fingers.  It didn't thrill me that it was 3:30 AM, but what the heck.  He's really gentle too, and knows enough not to use his claws when he plays.  Slowly, they're growing back in again, as well as his whiskers.  The wound on his jaw has healed remarkably well, and when the hair grows back, he'll be good as new.  We'll give him a few weeks of recuperation and then we'll have him neutered.

Tomorrow, I have more canning on the agenda.  Some crab apple jelly, maybe some mango chutney, and a few more batches of bread and butter pickles.   I'll keep you posted of our collective misadventures.
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