Monday, January 30, 2012

Simple Sunday Pleasures

Winter is still very much present in these parts, mostly in the form of wet grey damp with splashes of sun and clear blue sky, but as you can see from FDPG's almanac chart, the dark winter mornings are slowly but surely coming to an end.
See that line dropping? That's the sunrise time getting earlier and earlier. Thrilling, this news is. (I know I sound like Yoda, but after this winter I feel like Yoda: shrivelled and slightly green with mildew)

And of course, as it my wont, when the weather starts looking up, I start rearranging my seed collection. There is nothing like sorting through one's seeds, not to mention accumulating free How To sheets from the garden centres to get one in the mood for spring. It's all so darn exciting:

Mescluns: Nicoise Blend! How to prune grapes (Ooh! must make a grape arbour in the front yard! Need new cedar posts!) Amazon Jewel nasturtiums! Time to prune the apple trees! Dukat Leafy Dill! Martian Giant tomatoes! Watermelon radishes! Romeo carrots! Hypertufa! Mortgage Lifter tomatoes! Potimarron squash! Parnsips! (huh? is that really a typo on the packet? why yes, it IS) FDPG wants to try a container garden for 4-H! Must dig up more lawn and make a trellis, the containers would look amazing with that in the background! Dominic wants to do worm composting for 4-H! Need worms...?

And so on and so on. I know, I sound insane. Call it spring fever. It doesn't help that my local garden centre likes to sell new seeds at 25% off all through January, either.

Can. Not. Resist. Must. Have. More. Seeds.

One of the more productive things I've done this month has been to go over my canning and preserving activities, to see how useful everything was in the long run. Did we actually USE all those canned hot peppers, or would I do better to dry more and grind them into powder? Do I need to expand the rhubarb bed? Do we need MORE strawberry jam or should I freeze a few more bags instead of turning them into jam? What jams did we use most?

Here's something I'm glad I tried: apple jelly. Some apples just don't keep well; our Macintosh apple is one of them, so when they were in dire need of intervention I decided to juice them (as opposed to composting them) and turned the juice into jelly.

And what jelly it is. I'd like to wax eloquent, but instead I'll content myself with a couple of highly tormenting images, so you can imagine the taste all on your own.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How Did That Happen?

Look at last week's bleak midwinter picture out my kitchen window (hum a little Rossetti to get you in the mood). It was so very cold. The water in the bird baths was just like a stone: hard cold and unyielding to any beak that might befall it. And just look at that sad sad kale. It's cold, even wrapped in its fleecy blanket of reemay.

I feel somewhat concerned for the bird population in this weather. Those little bushtits are, well, little. Last year we found a few old sparrows in the snow, spent from age and cold, and it was rather a depressing experience. When the cold winds hit this year I spent some time layering fir boughs and straw, under the deck furniture, for them to shelter in at night. Then I made a few batches of home-made suet and hung extra cages on the deck. Now we have bushtits, nuthatches, towhees, juncos, and other little winged ephemera morning and afternoon, clustering on the feeders.

But now the snow has gone and we're back to balmy wet weather. I'm out of the snow boots and into the gum boots, which are, inexplicably, much warmer.

And look - I step away from the computer for one second and the computer monkeys are up to no good:

my son max is amazing

I did not write that. I'll give you one guess who did...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Happened While I Was Sleeping

I want to say that it came silently, on little cat feet, creeping over harbours then moving on, but this little cat foot shows no signs of going anywhere at the moment.

At least it's very atmospheric, but it's also really cold. This afternoon the thermostat registered -2ºC. I spent a good deal of time arranging bundles of fir boughs on the back deck, with straw underneath, for the little birds to shelter under tonight.

Here's how FDPG and Dominic spent much of their afternoon: sledding and towing each other on sleds.

We went through a lot of clothing today, and now it's all dripping damply in the basement.

Readying itself for tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In Which I Want To Shout—

—It works! It really works!

The winter gardening ideas I learned about from Eliot Coleman, that is. They really work. Over the summer I read his Four Season Harvest, used his ideas for my tomato trellises, used more ideas for my compost and winter garden, and on the weekend a very colourful harvest emerged from the various cold frames and plastic tunnels in the back yard. I've also got three bins of finished compost, all ready for spring planting. I don't think I've ever had such inspiring-looking compost, either. It's rich and crumbly and fragrant with summer magic.

Still Life On Kitchen Counter:
purple sprouting broccoli, kale, golden beets, Thai dragon chilies, and tiny lemons.

Let's Hope It's Just A Temporary Glitch

Were you watching Saturday Night Live this past weekend? I was, but only because Daniel Radcliffe was hosting. I like him - he's equal parts humble and self-consciously witty. You don't see that often in an actor.

Here's a skit that encapsulates what I find unsettling in some of the twenty somethings I know: certain relatives I have, kids we run into, my clueless neighbours. They have this cheery obliviousness to anything that doesn't involve either themselves or their electronic gadgets. They spend hours posting tweets about what they just ate, where they just spent some money (usually obtained from indulgent parents), or what they're thinking about doing that evening. It's all so weirdly shallow coming from an age group that shouldn't be — still — so weirdly shallow.

Plus, it's a funny skit.

(check out this Extras cameo to see more Daniel Radcliffe)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Growling Along

We went for a walk this morning, Dominic and I. It was cold and there was a slight dusting of snow on the ground. The moon was briefly visible behind the scudding clouds and the ducks were oddly busy in the skies, despite the dark hour. We were both chilled, even with our scarves and hats and mitts and boots, but we both agreed that winter is definitely on the wane, and that made us feel glad.

The mornings are getting lighter, at least, they're lighter once we're on the homeward stretch. We don't need the flashlight across the trestle bridge anymore (to keep cyclists from bumping into us in the dark), although I sometimes shine it into the bushes when one of us hears an alarming rustle in the brush, because we're on a bit of a cougar alert. There have been a number of sightings in our neck of the woods, which is hardly surprising given that we live so close to a wooded area, not to mention the preponderance of deer in the area. As is usual with these things, the general public is divided as to whether there are too many deer or just the perfect amount, and the letters to the editor section of the newspaper is filled with bleeding hearts who never seriously garden comments protesting the proposed cull. You can guess which side I'm on. Having deer chase grown men and dogs down the street, seeing them getting whacked (in grisly ways) by cars on downtown city streets, not to mention hearing awful stories about them smashing through windows during rutting season, is all I need to know that we have an overabundance of this one particular animal. I'm also sick of chasing them out of my garden - and wondering when they'll decide to chase ME. Besides, where there's an overabundance of one animal in town there's very often a predator just itching to follow that big fat juicy trail into town. Ask any wildlife biologist.

I can do without cougar sightings in my neighbourhood. Makes going for solo walks up into the woods nerve-racking. Luckily I have Dominic with me. Even though he's shorter than me, and way more nervous about cougars, his presence has the effect of making me feel brave (oh, what a chicken I am). So it's fun to shine our lights at rustles in the bushes and make growling noises (as opposed to running like hell through the dark bits).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

In Which I Achieve A Goal Of Sorts

We saw each other across a crowded room. There was a ray of sunshine glancing across the room, and it ended where the object of my desire was situated, against the wall. A Sign, I thought. It was, I knew, meant to be. We regarded each other carefully for a few moments: me, composing myself for what would be a Total Bodily Fling Across The Room; the object of my desire merely waiting, patiently. Objects of Desire like to do that.

Then we met. I fondled. I stroked. I even petted a bit (smooth! sleek!). A woman sidled up and looked at us over my shoulder. "They'll last you a lifetime AND they're 40% off," she murmured. She knew a schmuck with a weak wallet when she saw one.

That was all I needed. Throwing caution fate and Richard's reaction to the wind, I made my decision. "I'll get them!" I said, "I've always wanted a pair!"

And so it was that I became the owner of a pair of Felco pruners.

How this glorious love affair came about:

The garden centre near me is closing up shop and moving to a new location. As is usual with these places, they are selling off everything in the store at a fairly steep discount. I managed to ignore the barrage of email reminders for about three weeks. Until this morning, when I received another email: "There's a great selection of quality long-handled tools at prices you won't see for the rest of the season" it said. Tools? That gave me pause. I love tools. And I love gardening tools best of all. So I made myself go. I got into the car and drove and parked and walked INto the shop. I had a mission - they had a sale. We were, if I say so myself, a match made in heaven.

I wasn't going to go at all, because one of my New Years resolutions is to work on paying off our mortgage before I am 80, but then I thought "I might be able to get a serious deal and then I would actually be SAVING, wouldn't I?"

(I'm nothing if not shrewd about my rationalizations)

And then I saw them: the Felco pruners. A much depleted row of them, but there was one that fit my hand.

So I bought them. I couldn't not, right? Who turns down the chance to buy the stuff of which pruning dreams are made?

Not I.

I bought some other things, too, but those pruners? Expect lots of gratuitous pruning shots in the next few weeks, as we get to know each other.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In Which We All Notice The Sunrise

The sunrise was so beautiful we all noticed it at once. This, despite what you might think, is quite surprising given that we all have such different focuses in the morning.

One of us was busy getting ready for work, making his lunch, brushing his teeth, getting his watch and wallet ready. He noticed it out the bathroom window.
One of us was still lying in bed, groggy, feeling ever-so-slightly sorry for his hard scrabble life of having to get up before his internal time clock says he should. (a tragedy we note daily) He noticed it out of his bedroom window, which faces south east.
Two of us were just coming in the door at this time, having been outside watching the sunrise unfold. Today we were muffled up against the cold and watching for errant owls.
Finally, one of us was perched against the back door, bunny in arms, showing bunny the sunrise. As if bunnies didn't know such things existed.

"Mum! Get your camera!" she shouted, "you'll LOVE this sunrise!"

And I did.

These two photos were taken 7 seconds apart.
Good morning, where ever you are!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hard & Bitter Agony

I've been assured by a friend of mine who has a line on the future that this year is going to be a good one. I'm glad of that. Not that last year was a bad year for me, but it was, well, let's just say it was a sobering year for me. Not a year I'd like to repeat. I was reminded of my own mortality a little too harshly. I've had to - gasp - change things in my life to ensure my continuity. I know, call me a diva, but that's the way I am. Like I always say to my kids: I'm a slow learner.

This year is adding its own challenges, but I feel more confident about them, thankfully, which is nice because one of these new challenges is rather daunting.

I've taken on a new job. Not a paid job, I should emphasize, but it involves enough hours and skills that it SHOULD be a (highly) paid job. I'm taking on this job partly because of my kids and partly because the former occupant of this position is dying of pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis was 6 months ago and the terminus is "at any moment." When I last saw this person they were hale and hearty. They were having a really good hair day, too. They looked beautiful. Happy. I remember thinking "Why does ____ always have such EXCELLENT hair? I always look so raggedy!" And now this person is on the verge of moving on to another world, at the grand old age of forty one.

I feel highly annoyed. It's just not fair. This person is younger than I am. This person has kids - and a spouse. This person was vital to their community. This person shouldn't be dying like this, leaving behind such emotional devastation.

And even though I'm quite far from this person's circle of life I feel the impact. Why is it that good people die like this, while there are idiots out there doing all manner of stupid things, to themselves and their children, not to mention to complete strangers? I'm religious in my way, but not religious enough to take this sort of event terribly philosophically. It just doesn't seem fair.

So while I'm glad that this year is going to be a positive one, I'm also looking back, over my shoulder, with a bit of a narrowed eye. I felt a bit like this:

I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sturnidus vulgaris David Tennantius

This morning I made a remark about starlings, a bird we have here on the West Coast in PLENTY. A bird I harbor much ill will towards. A bird I would prefer to banish from my feeders. Charming commenter Samantha remarked upon my post. What follows is our conversation further to this subject.

(Charming Commenter Samantha) No idea what a starling is.

(Sheila) Wait, you have NO idea at all what a starling is? Let me enlighten you: horrible piggy birds that eat everything and anything in one fell swoop. They travel in packs of a zillion. They intimidate other birds and shove them off the feeder, then swagger on and gulp it all down. They probably even laugh like Nelson whilst doing so (HAW HAW). They are the bully boys of the bird world.

This is a starling: note the puffed out "I'm so cool and speckly and you're not, har har har" stance.

(CCS) Well, I know it's some kind of a bird but it could land on my finger and sing me a little tune and ... then it would turn into DT (Doctor Who lingo for David Tennant) and I would totally not care about what kind of a bird it was, I would be more concerned about the man balancing on my finger singing. But since it's DT, I could totally handle it.

(S) You're right - if it were to turn into David Tennant I would probably revise my strategy towards starlings. Completely. I'd probably feed them and encourage them and sit out all night, waiting for them to come to the feeders in the morning. I might even shoo away the chickadees and the bushtits and the nuthatches and the pileated woodpeckers and the downy woodpeckers.

Yes, I suppose there really ARE two sides to every story...

New Year News

I am happy to report that my side of the bedroom remains clear and uncluttered. As for FDPG's bedroom, well, let's just say I'm not buying any giant chocolate bars any time soon.

What about SuperLogic Man? Well, we'll say he's working on that one...

And looky here at what I've managed to do: it's called a Foil The Starlings feeder. An ice cream tub, upside down, with a metal suet feeder jammed inside. I've wired the metal feeder so it can be pulled out for refilling, but otherwise it seems to have genuinely foiled the starlings.

If you like and feed starlings or simply want me to feel a modicum of compassion for them I will preempt you and say you're wasting your breath. I don't like starlings and even if one rescued me from a burning building I'd still find them objectionable.

Piggy bullies, that's what I think about starlings.

(Gosh, Sheila, don't hold back or anything.)

I won't.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

My resolutions:

1) To keep my side of the bedroom clean(er). This resolution came about after I overheard the twins comparing my room with FDPG's room.

"My room is nowhere near as messy as Mum's!" (FDPG, indignant)
"It is too. You and Mum pile stuff everywhere and you each have clothes all over the place. It's sort of gross. If it weren't for Dad's side of the room, Mum's room would be a MESS. I can hardly walk around on her side of the room." (Dominic, sounding revolted)
"Oh, you can say THAT again. Have you seen those magazine piles? Yuck." (FDPG, eye-rolling sounds in her voice)

2) To keep up my morning and afternoon walking regime. Even when it's raining cats and dogs out. Even when it's pre-dawn dark and wet and cold out. Blech. Sounds awful, put that way. Must find a more pleasant way to look at the pre-dawn dark and wet and cold...

3) To stop incurring library fines. The librarians all laugh and rub their hands with glee when I walk in, in ALL the branches. I've resorted to taping nice notes on my overdue books before I pop them into the slots, because it's the only way I can beg for clemency without having to endure their eye-rolling and arched eyebrows. Sigh.

FDPG's resolution:

To keep her room tidier. If she can do this for 60 days I have agreed to present her with a large bar of chocolate, because there's nothing FDPG loves more than chocolate. But her room is a poster child for the HGTV reality television show: Pigsties!

Dominic's resolution:

"Why do I have to make a resolution? I don't have anything I need to change about myself. I'm perfect as I am. Well, I suppose I could resolve to play more with LEGO. Or eat more candy. Or do less work around the house - what do you mean, I hardly do any house work as it is? I do plenty. (Ed's note: he does not) No, YOU should make some resolutions, Mum, especially your room. Have you seen MY room lately? Pretty clean eh? Maybe you could...hey, wait, why are you pushing me out of the room? Oi!"

Max's Resolution:

To be super logical (because he is often accused of being wildly crazily illogical).
Sounds like a super hero in the making, don't you think?

Hello, puny humans, I am SuperLogical Man!

We'll see how that one goes.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Redux

File this one in the Crafts I'll Keep section. A lot of Christmas crafts, heck, a lot of crafts period, are fun in the making but end up either in the compost or in the recycling bin (note that I did not use the words garish, ugly, or full of junk at any point).

This one I can see staying until it fades. We made them in a few different colours: red, pink, blue. Charming things.

All I'll say about this photo is that it is amazing how much food the teen-age boy can consume. I even heard the sentence "If I wait a bit I'll be able to eat more" come out of someone's mouth. Boggles the mind a bit, doesn't it?

Here are the Webkinz waiting for Santa. They were slightly concerned about the fire and the chimney and Santa coming down the chimney, but we assured them that Santa and his magic pants have long since figured out mundane things like getting around fires in fireplaces.

And yes, this IS the fireplace they use for the Burning Log channel.

The Angry Birds also waited for Santa, but they don't look as though they had such a great time, do they? They always look so, well, so angry.

As you can see, they all received lovely handmade hats for Christmas. That FDPG, she's not only crafty and fearless in the face of such terrible tempers, she's also generous and thoughtful.

Food loomed large this Christmas. We made chocolates and cakes and fizzy punches with herbal syrups and Christmas fruit breads and cacao nib espresso cookies. We roasted things, discovered fresh mozzarella, caramelized things and developed exceptional pizza crusts. Luckily we also went on a lot of long walks, so the fruits of our labours aren't straining the waistlines of our pants...
Jamie Oliver is a huge favourite in this house, so when we had the opportunity to see his Christmas With Bells On series we leapt at it. My kids have loved him ever since they watched him hold a potato in the air in front of a group of elementary kids and say "This is where your chips come from!" while the school kids goggled in disbelief. And I can't count the number of times Dominic has told people (sometimes the same ones over and over again) how Jamie actually BURIED a deep fryer in someone's back yard. Yes, the glee his antics inspire in my kids is rather alarming. Anyhow, he also inspired us to make the dessert you see here. It's called a semifreddo. I know, I know, it looks like a large pile of whipped cream and a blob of chocolate and mini marshmallows, but it's actually a large pile of whipped cream and a blob of chocolate and mini marshmallows with SNICKERS bars. The recipe calls for more Snickers bars than I had on hand — I only had 5 fun size Snickers bars (how this size is fun I'll never know) left over from Halloween — so I improvised a bit, using the chocolate sauce from Max's DIY sundae party and some miniature marshmallows.
Here's the semifreddo before it went in the freezer. I didn't have the fellow dressed as a turkey to fling whipping cream around but I managed to get some on the floor nevertheless. And we didn't have the teeny tiny cones Jamie used, but it sure was good.

Finally, every time I ate a Christmas clementine, I was faced with these words: Win A College Education. I don't know about you, but there is something dreadfully disconcerting about seeing this sentence on one's Christmas orange. I felt affronted anew each time, even though they were remarkably good clementines.