Thursday, January 29, 2009
With the farm asleep under a thick blanket of snow, the holiday season behind us and spring ahead of us, we've fallen into a comfortable routine of farm chores: ploughing snow, taking care of animals (poop, scoop, repeat) and tending to the wood furnace.
Since we've found ourselves in something of a mid-winter lull (or is it the eye of the storm perhaps? I’m not sure) I thought it was a good time to start putting plans together for spring.
And I've got to admit – it’s got me feeling a bit overwhelmed (though spending too much time in the planning stage has never served me very well. Let's just say I could be the poster child for the the expression, "Get out of your head and into your life.")
For anyone who’s been reading since the beginning, yes, it doesn't take much for me to get feeling overwhelmed. And for those of you thinking to yourself, “For goodness sake’s girl, stop worrying so much and go plant yourself a tomato,” you’re probably right.
But here’s the thing. While I've always loved poking around in the dirt, our backyard at our house in the burbs was all shade. Any vegetables I started from seed (some tomatoes and herbs, I think a bean plant or two) were stuck in pots and shuffled around to chase the meagre rays of dappled sunlight.
While it’s possible to cultivate amazing container gardens, my veggies never did very well (my shade garden was quite lovely though, filled with hostas and bleeding hearts, impatiens, hydrangeas and bee balm.)
At the farm, the sky is truly the limit and I’m faced with loads of decisions and choices – heirloom seeds versus hybrids, early, mid or late season varieties (or all three), what veggies should I plant with which flowers, how should I configure my beds and when will I ever find the time to figure out a drip irrigation system fed by rain barrels?
You might argue, that’s just logistics. And technically, it is. But that’s not so apparent once you’ve made cultivating a garden much more significant that just poking around in the dirt and growing for the sheer pleasure of it.
With all this talk of climate change, peak oil, long food miles, tainted produce and food recalls, factory farming, GMOs, not to mention the words “global economic downturn,” I’ve decided that becoming more self-reliant isn’t simply a lifestyle choice – it’s a necessity.
Now do you see where the “overwhelmed” part comes in?
I'm looking to make the “right” decisions and "optimize my prospects for success". (Remember, recovering type-A personality here.) And yet with each gardening book, magazine and seed catalogue I read, I find myself getting worked up into a bigger and bigger tizzy.
Then just this morning, I read this passage in the book, “Crockett’s Victory Garden”:
What a lovely, simple message: it’s about gardeners doing their part.
“There is no mystery about gardening, just the wondrous fact that seed time and harvest occur each year, generation after generation, wherever the soil is tilled.
If gardeners do their part, they can confidently expect the miracle to continue as it has through all time.”
What I like about this passage is that it appeals to the activist in me -- do your part for the cause (think Victory Gardens from the war years) -- but it’s also about just doing your part in the garden. Show up, start small, revell in the successes and learn, graciously, from the mistakes.
That's what I got out of it, at least.
Now if you'll excuse me, I’m off to go find a seed catalogue and write me a veggie wish list for this year’s garden. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it, all in the name of doing one's part.
In the meantime, if anyone would like to share their experiences with their first veggie garden, I'd love to hear all about it!
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I'm really excited about it and I'm actually pretty humbled too -- that someone there thinks we've got a story worth sharing.
(I hope I haven't come off like a braggart or anything as I'm quite new at this self-promotion thing. I'm generally terrible at publicizing my work even though it's not a very useful quality when you freelance for a living.)
If you haven't discovered GRIT already, I highly recommend it -- online or in print. You'll find tons of amazing stuff on everything related to rural living and simply celebrating country life.
And as you can see by the above screen shot, the folks there obviously have impeccable taste on what it takes to be a great "cover model."
Yep, that's our Henry!
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
According to the artist who handcrafted it, it's most commonly used for gathering, storing and transporting eggs as the depressed centre is useful for carrying the basket on the hip or on the backbone of a horse or mule.
While we own both of these animals (well, two donkeys rather than a mule, which is the offspring of a horse and a donkey) truth be told, I'm not sure if I'd risk carrying eggs on either one of them... crazy creatures, they be.
But I know someone else who is more than willing to step up to the job.
I highly recommend checking out the artist's other work at Smallbones.ca -- it's gorgeous stuff, that. (Yes, the picture in the top right-hand corner is one of my daughter collecting eggs. And yes, she's wearing her pyjamas.)
My dad and step-mother also gave me this. It's a rather unflattering picture of a U-bar digger or broad fork.
With its 10" tines, it digs down deep but without disturbing the soil strata. Studies have shown that turning the soil over completely can cause soil compaction, upset the balance of microorganisms and causes layers of organic matter to be buried too deep, below where beneficial insects can break it down.
I've got this romantic notion of one day raising sheep for their wool (though the owner of the "local" knitting shop -- it's a few villages east of here -- is trying to talk me into raising alpacas.)
I think we've got our hands full right now with the goats, donkeys and horse but one day, I hope to see woolies munching their way through our barnyard.
In the meantime, I'll practice my knitting (I'm great at hats, scarves and basic sweaters using simple stitches-- gloves, socks and cabling, not so much) while I try to find someone who can teach me spinning.
And last, but never least, Lucas gave me this.
He lovingly and carefully carved it by hand -- giving new life to an old post that might otherwise been cast away. It's meant to be out in the garden but I've placed it beside an armoire in the living room. It exudes wisdom and timeless contemplation, two qualities that are desperately needed in this crazy world of ours.
The common theme of these gifts that I hold dear is they were all made by hand or facilitate work by hand. In these days of mechanization and mass production, I find there is something satisfying with going back to the basics and simply experiencing the world through one's fingertips.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
4 tbsp butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
6 cups of roasted pumpkin
5 cups of vegetable stock (or chicken, for you poultry eaters out there)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy (35%) cream
Cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste
2 tsp (give or take) curry powder
1/2 tsp (give or take) ground coriander
Brown sugar, to taste (maybe 1/4 cup?)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Melt butter in a soup pot, add onions and garlic. Cook on medium until soft.
2. Add roasted pumpkin and stock. Bring to a slow boil and reduce heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
3. Puree the soup (you could do this in batches in a blender or use an immersion/hand blender like I did.)
4. Add remaining ingredients (milk, cream, spices etc.) Simmer for a few more minutes to let the flavours mingle and the spices to intensify.
5. Taste. Add more spice if you like it hot or add more cream and/or brown sugar to cool it off.
This is just a basic guideline. Have fun and adjust the ingredients to your liking.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
I know this is rather insipid looking but you gotta believe me this soup is actually the most gorgeous orange colour. As as aside: I have a whole new appreciation for magazine food stylists.The neat thing was the pumpkin I used didn't come from a can, but from our garden.... last October. We harvested several pumpkins in the fall and put them in the garage where they've been parked ever since. How's that for a shelf life?
We didn't even grow the thing. Pumpkins were the only produce we could salvage from the overgrown vegetable patch that we inherited.
I hollowed out one of the smaller ones (saving the seeds for this year), roasted it and cooked it up with some onions, garlic, vegetable stock, milk and cream plus some curry, cardamon and cayenne spices. I even used our kitchen wood stove for cooking.
While the soup was bubbling and the flavours were mingling, I baked a couple of loaves of crusty french bread (the only white bread we have in the house -- we're more a pumpernickel/rye/whole wheat kinda family) and served it with some butter from the local creamery.
It was delicious. Full of flavour and vitamin-packed freshness and not a chemical or preservative in sight. I even made enough to freeze for a future meal or two.
I could get used to eating locally. It makes this self-sufficient lifestyle truly full-filling..
Friday, January 16, 2009
No bloody kidding.
I snapped this photo on the way out to the barn this morning. The thermometer read minus 28 degrees Celsius, and the morning sun had already done some warming up.
Actually, it's a wonder I got up at all. Getting me out of bed this morning, where I was snugly cocooned in flannel sheets and wool blankets, was like trying to convince Cinderella to get her head out of the grain bucket: it took a lot of convincing to get that ass moving.
It's a wonder I made it past the front door.
It's been bitterly cold and I think we're all starting to get a bit stressed out around here. I'm worried about the equines especially, who greeted me this morning with snowy eyelashes, muzzles covered with icicle shards and hooves balled up with ice, which is both dangerous and damned uncomfortable.
Everyone is hungry, all the time, and it's causing a bit of drama in the barnyard. Even Lucy, who's usually quite mannerly when it's time to hand out the rations, ploughed into me this morning like some rabid were-goat.
The only one who seems deliriously happy about the weather is Henry. Then again, he's deliriously happy about just being outside, though he's not too keen on getting ice balled between the pads of his paws.
While we haven't any any problems with our pipes freezing (yet?) our wood furnace has an insatiable appetite and we're burning through wood faster than expected. We're supplementing with our kitchen wood stove which is both practical and downright therapeutic.Now I admit, I'm usually pretty grumpy this time of year. I totally get the whole hibernation thing: I feel myself slowing down, getting tired more easily and succumbing to morose thoughts (so if I disappear for a few days - or a week - please bear with me.)
But we're safe and warm, unlike so many others in this world. When I think of all the people on the streets right now, I'm instantly humbled.
So suck it up, girlfriend, and just get on with it.
I've got a job to do outside and as hard as it is to get moving, there's an almost masochistic sense of satisfaction that yes, when I inhale the insides of my nostrils may feel like they're filled with shards of glass, my bare hands burned (yes, burned, I tell you!) when I grabbed the metal handles of two water buckets this morning and despite taking 10 minutes to get dressed I still have frozen toes when I come back inside, but the animals are fed, the water is defrosted and we haven't lost a chicken yet.
Not a great picture, but my camera battery gave out. I think it was trying to tell me something, like, 'Stop taking pictures and get the hell back inside!"
Of course, the good news is, this cold snap won't last forever. It's supposed to warm up next week to negative single digits. Compared to this nonsense, it'll feel almost tropical. (It's funny how relativity works like that: it's always about 15 degrees warmer inside the barn than out, so when I'm tending to the goats and chickens, it feels positively balmy.)
And come spring, when the bugs are swarming, the sump pump is working around the clock and the poop is gooshy and smelly, I'm sure I'll look back on this stretch of winter with the feeling that it wasn't really that bad.
Then again, maybe I'll just start planning my garden. A seed catalogue and a cup a tea makes the perfect antidote to the winter blues, any day.
Friday, January 9, 2009
But now I find there's too many cars/people/shops/houses/noises/smells/messes/stresses.
Just Too Much.
And I've got the artwork to prove it.
If you can't read, it goes like this:
I said in my heart, "I can't stand the indoors. I need some freedom to run and play. I'm going outside where the leaves are deep and feel the cold breeze on my face all day." Summer is gone and fall is here. The leaves are falling to the ground. Children are out to romp in the sun. It's the best time of year around. The End. By Fiona C."
I'm the first to admit it's a good thing I left my poetry to my grade school self but the essential sentiments, about the outdoors and freedom, remain true to this day.
As adults, I think we've got to remember the things that made us really happy as kids. I mean that blissful, fully-present-in-the-moment, absolutely-exuberant kind of happy. And yet it's too easy to forget what was once important. I know I almost did.
After university (the first time), armed with a degree in international development and history (a major and minor, both of which I loved), I wasn't sure what to do next. But the boy I was completely enamoured with at the time (and still am) knew he wanted to go back to college. So I said since I wasn't sure I was ready to join CUSO or go gallivanting overseas just now, if he went to school, I'd work.
A friend of ours heard that I was looking for a good paying job and his firm was hiring. So I applied and got my first real job. I even had a fancy title: Tax Group Coordinator.
Yep, I worked in an accounting firm where the stereotypes were all true. It lasted three months. Looking back, I'm surprised I made it that long.
One day I was kvetching to a friend, the one that I've known since kindergarten, about my miserable dilemma and she said that if I was serious about quitting, her firm was hiring. It'd be a two hour commute, each way (one hour drive, one hour train) but it was good pay and great opportunity. Plus, we'd get to work together.
I applied and got my second real job, this time as an assistant at a investment firm. Can't you just picture it? Nylon stockings, heels, suits -- the works. I looked all grown-up. I figured I was well on my way to becoming a capital "P" professional. And I was good at my job. So much so that within six months the biggest producer (= most successful advisor) in the branch wanted me on his team.
Here I go, I thought -- I'm moving up. This is the way it's supposed to be, right?
I lasted an entire year with him-- and again, I can't believe I made it that long. Even then, fresh out of university, I knew something was wrong when the person I worked for had a picture of his house on his desk instead of his family. He'd brag about his $4,000 suits and tailor-made dress shirts and yet he'd asked me to lie to his kids when they called and asked when daddy was coming home.
Then one night, after working late again, I had to take a bus part way home as the trains were no longer running. I started talking with the man sitting next to me. He was young (probably early 30s), immaculately dressed and a corporate lawyer with one of the big Bay Street firms.
He was a capital "P" professional with the wife and two kids, a designer house with a matching designer dog -- and he was absolutely miserable. He told me he hated his job -- the long hours, how different the practice of law was from the theory, how cut-throat and competitive it all was -- but he was trapped by "golden handcuffs," he said. That was the first time I'd heard that phrase and I remember thinking, I never want to be like that.
Then along came an opportunity to move to another branch, closer to home, with an advisor who I really liked and respected. He had a great sense of humour, he was fun and he believed in a good work-life balance. It meant I'd no longer get to work with my kindergarten bud -- the one part of my job that I loved -- but it was a chance at happiness I couldn't pass up. I thought maybe working for a better boss would be the difference and that I could make this "good" life work for me.
So I moved to the new branch, worked closer to home (by then, we'd gotten married, that boy and I, and we decided to split the commute) and I met some new fabulous girlfriends. I'd take walks by the lake at lunchtime or on rainy days, I'd visit the library. My boss, an Ironman finisher several times over, even inspired me to take up running.
And yet, I was still miserable. I couldn't shake the feeling that this was it, this is what I'd be doing the rest of my life? I had a great boss, a "good" job with a bright future (I'd just been offered a big raise and a promotion) and yet it wasn't enough. Not for me.
Now, I'm not trying to trash the world I worked in. I have many dear friends in the investment business who are lovely people, good citizens and all that, and they're still very, very good at their jobs. It's just I couldn't find my happiness there. And when you spend 50 hours a week (or more) in a place, it was too high a price for me to pay.
"You can do anything," my boss would always tell me.
So, I quit. And this time, it was my turn to go back to school. Journalism school, of all things. I'd always love to learn, to read and to write. I joked I had the attention span of a gnat and that I could never commit to a single profession because I was interested in too many things. Writing gave me a chance to explore my world and perhaps bring a deeper understanding to my place in it.
I replaced a secure job, good pay, great benefits and a bright future to with a freelance writing life characterized by insecurity, poor pay, no benefits and an uncertain future. (Hmm, seeing the cold hard truth of my decision, I can't believe Lucas didn't try and shake some sense into me. But he didn't, and I thank him for it.)
If you met me for the first time today, you'd never dream that I'd once been climbing the corporate ladder. The only clue is that I still do some writing for business publications (but more often than not, there's some kind of 'green' slant to them.)
I've traded my heels for wellie boots and my suits for smelly coveralls. I still go for walks at lunchtime but the destination has become the barn, not the lake or library. And my benefits and bonuses are no longer monetary -- but I've been able to stay home with our kids. I'd trade dental coverage for that privilege any day.
The neat thing is, once you leave "security" for "insecurity", any subsequent exits -- like when Lucas quit his job and went freelance too -- seem a little less scary. I think that's partly why we're here today.
So while this is by no means the first time that I've gone back to the big city since I left at 17, it's the first time I've been back since we moved to the farm.
It's a chance to come full circle, to go back to the place where I came from that was once home, spend 24 hours with a group of ladies that I love and say goodbye to it at the end of the weekend.
For I know by the time Sunday afternoon comes, I'll be sorely missing not just my kids, but the clear skies, the fresh air, the wide open spaces and the freedom of the countryside.
And when you ache to return to a place, you know that place has become home.
So to quote John Denver, who's much better at poetry than I ever was:
Well I wouldn’t trade my life for diamonds and jewels
I never was one of them money hungry fools
I'd rather have my fiddle and my farmin’ tools
Thank God I’m a country boy
Yeah, city folk drivin’ in a black limousine
A lotta sad people thinkin’ that’s mighty keen
Son, let me tell ya now exactly what I mean
Thank God I’m a country boy
Thank god, I'm a country girl!
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
No coffee grinder. No percolator.
In the meantime, we made a crude levee by shovelling some shavings and straw into a pile in the corner, in an attempt to mop up the trickle of water that must have started during the previous day's rainstorm and/or thaw.
Monday, January 5, 2009
We still have lots of work to do and we're struggling to make a decent living. To say our learning curve is steep is a gross understatement. But we've never once said, "We made a mistake" or wished we were anywhere else.