Sunday, September 27, 2009


Years ago I belonged to a group of university-aged youth who read and contributed to electronic bulletin boards, the 1980s equivalent of web-based forums. We had an annual award ceremony and twice I won the "Lurker of the Year" award. Not something to be proud of, but see how far I've come? I don't just read blogs anymore. I comment on them and I write one. I don't just read and watch, but I actually participate. I'm so proud of my progress.

My lurker abilities still shine at Bible studies and prayer groups. Maybe in twenty years I'll be over that too. I have a slow learning curve.

It's not all about me though. There are lurkers here and I want to know who some of the non-family blog visitors are. The way other bloggers to do this is to offer a contest, and I promised to do that once my ad income reached $10.

Guess what? Someone has been clicking occassionally on the ads and after only 8 months I've reached the goal. (Trust me, this is not a money-making venture! Nor was it meant to be.)

I can guarantee it won't be anything spectacular. No KitchenAid mixers or Nikon cameras, trips to our guest home or a $500 gift certificate to anywhere. I can't afford that, but I do have $10 that I didn't have before.

What should I give away? Alice says "POPCORN! EVERYONE LOVES POPCORN" It won't be popcorn, but I'll give it some thought and try to attract more than three comments that day.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


This is our daily manna.

And I hope it will be for a long time yet as it ripens. Daily tomatoes. Maybe not for 40 years or anything, but until December would be nice. Then we'll be looking for a bit of change.

It's the end of September and we've had no frost yet. That's amazing, but I decided not to risk all of our tomatoes to some unannounced dip in the temperature. Today I stripped all of the green tomatoes, ripped the plants out of the ground and buried the greens to do a bit of decomposing underground.

I had a bit of help for a short time.

Incidentally, I made that top one afternoon this summer out of two tops of mine that I was tired of. Isn't it lovely?

Incidentally, I also made the girl wearing it. Isn't she lovely? I had a bit of help there too. In some things it's best not to work alone.

This is the best yield I've ever had from tomatoes. I always rely on my mother-in-law for any quantity worth canning, but I have to stop being so dependant. There's talk of them leaving the farm and then what would I do? Her garden would shrink from it's current 1/2 acre (or so) to a few potted houseplants. That would produce very few tomatoes. Suddenly toasted tomato cheese sandwiches would become less frequent around here. We can't have that! For the first time ever, I harvested more from my own garden than we had donated from hers. Yay me!

One of those boxes contains about two layers of ground cherries.

That was one very prolific plant! I'd never heard of ground cherries before this year, but we've been enjoying the tiny fruits for a week or two now. Alice loves them, so we have to rush to beat her to the ripe ones. These ones are not ready yet and I'll be freezing them like all of our berries - on cookie sheets in the freezer and then into a big Ziploc bag. I'm not sure how I'll use them yet, but you can apparently bake with them and use them any way you would a raspberry or cherry.

Although too many of our tomatoes are of the cherry variety (yellow, red and dark purplish), there are quite a few roma types (Mama Mia) and this:

I don't know what kind it is because it must have come from my mother-in-laws seedlings. (I know - my dependance is still showing, but I did successfully seed the Mama Mia and Stupice varieties.) Remember that I have pretty big hands. Beth thought this was a pumpkin growing next to the house. There were about four like this all on one plant. I had to tie the tomato cage to the clothesline above it to stop it from collapsing and possibly breaking off the stem. This one big tomato and it's four similar siblings are currently in jars being processed.
Besides what is in these boxes, I've already got 7 litres canned. I know I can buy a can of Aylmers Tomatoes for about $1.50, but it feels good to know where these came from and how they were processed.
I'll have to take a picture of my depleted garden, but it makes me sad to look at it. There are only the flowers, small leeks, potatoes, carrots and beans left. I'm still picking one serving of beans every few days so I'm letting them hang in there. It's been a weird growing year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bacchus and Dionysis

Did you know that Dionysis and Bacchus were the same god (Roman vs. Greek)? Beth did. I only hope that she retains some of that trivial knowledge, because one day she'll drink a wine called "Bacchus" and she'll understand. I didn't, but I guessed. The god of food and wine. A good god to get to know.

I think the girls were a bit worried about my drinking last week because of my pictures. They've never been to a wine tasting (obviously), so they didn't quite get it that we weren't actually drinking glass after glass of wine, all day every day. Maybe pictures like this were deceiving.

And there was the picture reinforcing the Girl Guide motto "Be Prepared".

We were ready this time. Two vehicles and a trailer, just in case we over-purchased. No holding back this time! We're just getting smarter, that's all.

In reality, our annual trek to the wine country is more about getting away from responsibilities and heavily marked-up calendars.

Good wine was most definitely consumed and tasted in many great vineyards, but we also enjoyed the gorgeous agricultural landscape:

swimming in the non-glacial lake (this is a very good thing):
and I appreciate the creative and often humourous labeling and marketing of the wines.

And seriously, words cannot do justice to the picnics we shared. Fantastic, yummy, delicious, tasy, dippy, cheesy, winey, chocolatey, non-caloric of couse, fresh. I need a better thesaurus, but you have to taste and smell it to get the full picture anyway.

And of course the company is great. It changes slightly each year, but whoever is screening the group must be including a sense of humour prerequisite, as well as laid-back and compromising characters.
Hmm. That could be taken two ways and maybe both ways apply, but you have no right to judge!
In any case, three years running and I can only think of good times and good people.
I've been sworn to secrecy regarding specifics of the trip, but I know that I will do all that I can to go again next year. And the year after that. Thanks, guys! My heart is happy.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I've been away. Not for long, but long enough for me to miss my family and to think it's good to be back.

I irrationally think that things change in my absence. I was thinking about that as I drove north on the highway. It's not reasonable to think that just because I've been busy, just because I've been away, all sorts of things happen here too. The garden always has some changes but the messes I've left behind at home are usually still there. The work I didn't finish usually waits for me and I pick up exactly where I left off.

I went through all that rational thought as I drove through our neighbourhood, not seeing anything different and knowing that I shouldn't expect anything different. Why should people paint their houses in my absence? Or build a new garage? It's only been six days.

And then I rounded the corner and saw our house. The same, with one big change.

There's a tree where no tree stood 6 days ago. Yay! The city said that it may take 4 years to catch up on the boulevard tree plantings. This is a nice surprise. Also, it's an elm. A much nicer tree to replace the dead ash that was there last year. (I wonder if there's a logical reason why they didn't put it in the dead patch where the old tree used to be. Wouldn't the decaying roots provide a natural compost right where the new tree needs it?)

And the kids always look a bit older than they are in my memory. I don't know why I imagine them so young.

But then she grinned, and became a little girl again. One with a new gap between her teeth and a small white tooth in her pocket.

And the tooth fairy visited this girl's pillow last night. I thought I was the only one in the house who knew the tooth fairy's phone number, but I must have scribbled it down for Yvon one time because she was dutifully called and visited. She'll be surprised by another call tonight. I hope she gets Frequent Flier points.

And the last change involves stretchy pants. I've been picnicing through the Okanagan with picnic queens.

Between the wine and the food consumed, I think I'll be going to bed hungry for a while and trying to visit the gym more frequently.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Yummy things

We've been eating well lately. And spending a LOT of time processing food for the winter.

Last night we ate gnochi from our potatoes (although there are not many potatoes out there), with swiss chard pesto.

From yesterday alone, we now have the following new things in our freezer or in the cold room:

  • gnochi
  • pesto
  • dried chives
  • dried zucchini chips, chunks and shreds
  • canned peaches
  • peach jam
  • apple sauce
  • apple juice
I don't know if it's cost-effective to can peaches, but I did it anyway. I've always considered apples to be the cheap fruit, yet right now we can buy lots of things cheaper than apples. As long as peaches are under $1/pound, I'm buying them. I've got 40 pounds on my shelves in the cold storage in two forms: canned peaches and jam.

I know that if you heat the peaches with the liquid syrup, they won't separate so much, but I forgot. They don't look as good as they could, but yummy regardless.

The jam is also very good. I used more sugar than usual, but the peach flavour is great. I'm not a fan of high-pectin stiff jam, so I'm using green apples and forgetting about the pectin totally. I used 8 cups of peaches, 3 apples, and 6 cups of sugar.

Yesterday I experimented with dried zucchini. Unexpectedly the kids love it. We sprinkle one batch of the chips with popcorn spices (dill pickle and sour cream & onion) and they ate them like chips. A healthy alternative, I guess. I'm also drying chunks right now, because I'd like to able to throw them in stews, soups and tomato sauces.

I should have taken pictures of the apples and the beautiful end result. They are tiny, dark red crabapples and hard as rock, but they made the most beautiful juice and red applesauce.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Dream Garden... again

Okay, Rosa brought it up in her blog and I'll continue the story for those who don't visit her site. But you should. Visit her site, I mean.

She has a lovely blog full of lovely garden pictures and I feel like I'm getting to know some of her extended family. It's not that my own family isn't big enough, but you can never really have too much family or friends, right?

And she keeps me in check a little. She does everything the right way and I just do things "well enough". While I quickly serge the edges of my hankies made from scrap flannel, she handstitched a beautiful hem around pretty flowery cotton. While I wing it and make some respectable jam without a recipe, she made beautiful peach raspberry jam that took until the wee hours in the morning but could win prizes. Occasionally I have to know when it's perhaps dangerous to wing it (like risking your family with food poisoning) and when you can get enjoyment out of doing things a little slower and learning to do things the proper way.

Maybe we're a good balance for each other.

Back to the garden. I haven't mentioned the community garden for a while because except in the mind of the city coordinator, it hasn't been a steady thing.

We're both busy with our own gardens. I'd love more space and that's my motivation for the garden. I'd love to be able to grow all the vegetables we need to get through the winter. I love the satisfaction of pickling and making jam from fruit I grew myself and filling the freezer with little personal-sized packages of veggies. I love knowing where it came from.

My kids don't always love eating it. But that's no different than grocery food. And growing it has less financial risk than heating up expensive food and then throwing it away.

I also love the idea of passing on knowledge to my kids. Maybe things won't be much different in their future and they can get good jobs and buy everything they need. But maybe they will need it. Maybe the Peak Oil believers are right and we won't always have access to fresh fruit from California. Then they'd better know how to preserve the raspberries, apples and rhubard that we can grow.

And I'd like them to enjoy the process, not be overwhelmed by it.

Other kids too, the ones who pick my raspberries because they live in apartments and don't have access otherwise. How will they learn? Will they know where food comes from and how it got in the can? And will they be able to afford healthy food any other way?

We're not a well-off neighbourhood. We have the demographics of an innercity neighbourhood while not physically being there. People send their kids to school hungry and "forget" to pack lunches for them. They get their daily hugs from the lunchroom supervisors and teachers instead of at home. It's one of the things I liked about that job, but it was also heartbreaking to think about.

Wow. I'm verbose today. And easily sidetracked.

Okay. We are on again.

We were stumped with the issue of getting water to our chosen plot of land. And unexpectedly the neighbours weren't actually in favour of us "being in their backyard". They don't like the homeless sleeping in the green space, but they didn't want gardeners being in the plot either. I don't understand the attitude, and was shocked to hear that. I thought everyone would like a beautiful garden near their house. I thought they would welcome the activity, the friendly gardeners, the happy voices of our children. We don't even want to garden in a hostile environment. How does it "build community" if we introduce a rift? We haven't overcome that yet.

So we chose another plot of land. The neighbours were city employees and in favour of sharing their space. There was rainwater to be had from their large roof. There was a treed area that could be made into a beautiful place for kids to play, employees and gardeners to have lunch and coffee. All was perfect.

But the land is for sale now and they can't agree on a price. And the city (once they purchase it) may have to develop a portion of it.

So it was off. I was surprisingly relieved. Free to continue my own personal desire for space. I was about to put fliers in the senior neighbours mail boxes asking if they were interested in letting me garden in their unused veggie plots in exchange for produce. An easier option than the community garden, but doesn't build community much. Doesn't educate neighbourhood children or produce beauty out of a boring grassy public space.

Now we're on again. The local revitalization group is very inspiring and excited and has access to funds. Maybe the water issue isn't really an issue. With the help of the local newsletter and the community league and the revitalization staff, maybe we can overcome the attitude of the immediate neighbours.

And maybe we can start small and grow every year. I'm okay with that. I'll keep you posted.

If you want reading material about community gardens, here's an excellent article from Calgary's Julie vanRosendaal. Calgary is much more progressive about community gardening, but it sounds like there is room for improvement there as well. Edmonton is a bit of a fight, but we do have support from people with the ability to reach strings and pull. I think it might actually happen for us. Maybe next year, or even the year after, but it's not a dead project anymore.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Day of School!

I don't know who was more excited about this day - me or them. I was up with the sun and watched it rise over the very school they were about to skip off to.

We're so close to the school, I'm almost homeschooling them. But if I were truly homeschooling them, I wouldn't be packing them up like overburdened donkeys and sending them off anywhere. And that's what I did today. And I was happy to do so.

But it's not all about my happiness. Look at these kids. Do they look upset?

No. They are just as happy to be leaving me today.
In all honesty, I did ask them to laugh in order to get a better picture. But the smiles were so close to the surface that it didn't take much prodding.

And if I homeschooled, would I ever get to see them run towards their friends, like friends who haven't seen each other in ages?

And immediately chat and confide in each other as if no time had passed since that last day in June?

This face is one I hope she'll remember in the days to come when I nag her to get her reading done. Or practice her spelling words.

She is one happy camper! She's been waiting months for this day, her first day of Grade 1.

And I've been waiting months too. I'll go to pick them up now and see if they are still smiling just as broadly. I know that I am!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Sewing Project...Finally

Still nothing from my list of sewing projects for myself, but that's okay. I didn't have to buy a thing and that appeals to my "frugal" side.

I'm just about ready for the kids to go back to school on Wednesday (actually, I'm really ready!), but I still had one thing left to do.

Laura and Beth both had massive binders on their list of school supplies. Why exactly does a Grade 4 student need to carry a 2" zippered binder? It's more than I ever carried with me in university. Being an obedient parent, last year I bought the big binder and regretted it all year. It didn't fit in her good backpack, and in reality she only ever carried a few pieces of paper in it, and maybe a duotang for her Reading Journal (which rarely got written in, but that's another story).

This year I bought Beth a laptop bag that successfully fits the big binder. It's nice enough, but it's black and grey and didn't suit Laura very well. She said, "If it's cheaper, you can make me a bag." Isn't that sweet? I haven't worked all summer, and I've obviously talked about finances too much in their presence.

And then (even sweeter) she said, "And if you don't finish it in time for school, that's okay. I'll just carry the binder." I love this kid. She knows me so well.

Anyway, because she was so understanding of my shortcomings, I decided to try harder to have it done in time.

I didn't start until yesterday but I finished it by 3:00. Yippee!

Laura helped me to pick coordinating fabrics from my stash and I stole zippers, hooks and handles from other ruined backpacks and bags.

It's got a small zippered pocket on the front for little "treasures".
And it's got a big zippered pocket inside the flap, with places for pencils.

And little loops to attach her key chain collection, or hang her lunch bag. And an elasticized pouch for a water bottle.

You can't see it, but it's also lined with waterproof fabric.

When Laura saw it, she said very excitedly, "It's just like it's store-bought!" After hours of sewing, I could take offence at that, but in reality it means that she likes it and will actually proudly use it.

And now we're all ready for school.