Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Yesterday I took four girls to the local outdoor pool for the first time. At only 19 degrees or so, I wasn't that interested in jumping in, so I read my book on a comfy deck chair.

The smell of the chlorine, laughter of the children and Janice Joplin and Rick Springfield on the radio all reminded me of my years at the Riverside Swimming Pool where I grew up. I think the pass cost in the neighbourhood of $50 for our family and we raced to get in line when they went on sale. It was prestigious somehow to have a low pass number.

For our family, that pass meant 9 people were allowed to swim every day from 1:00 - 9:00, and the kids did almost every day. We had to take a break for supper and the rule was that we had to be dressed when we sat at the table. If we were dry enough, we could slip a t-shirt over our bathing suit and trick my parents though. Why change if we were just going to jump right back in? Waste of time.

We couldn't afford swimming lessons, so we'd sadly watch the lessons take part in the mornings through the chain link fence. My own kids have done that with the soccer taking part a few feet from our house now. At noon, if we were keeners, we could get into the pool a bit early by joining the swim clubs - lane swimming, racing, and synchronized swimming. I did all of that and loved it.

I'm sure we were supposed to have adult supervision if we were under 7, but I don't remember swimming with my parents often. Maybe I squeaked under the radar by being tall and looking fairly competent in the water. I think we probably weren't really noticed in the hoards of kids rushing in the door at 1:00. Were there really that many kids? My memory has a full pool, but I know the local school wasn't that full.

At night, because 8 hours of swim time wasn't enough for some people, I remember boys climbing onto the low roof and swimming in the dark after hours. I also distinctly remember some of them riding BMXs off the roof to land in the water below. I didn't participate in that. I'm a rule abider for the most part (my current civil disobedience is not in character).

Anyway, sitting on the deck chair brought back all those memories. Our community league membership allows us to swim free for 2 hours most days in our local pool and we intend to use that priviledge a lot this year. If you've got a league in your neighbourhood, check it out to see if they offer anything similar. It's so worth it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Winning the Lottery

A friend of ours says that you can't win the lottery if you never buy a ticket. That is the only vice he claims to have: 1 lottery ticket every week.

It would definitely increase your chances of winning that kind of lottery, however I say that there are other lotteries worth winning and your chances are much higher as well.

The only lottery I ever enter are of the blogging kind.

I used to enter every giveaway that the Pioneer Woman offered (because who doesn't need gift cards from Amazon, pink KitchenAid mixers or her beautiful castoff jewelry and cameras??), but the chances of winning anything there are getting more and more slim all the time. When I first started entering, maybe 400 people would enter with me. In her last giveaway there were 14,669 entries, and it was for baby stuff which is not universally needed or wanted. I've stopped entering there.

The first blog giveaway I won was this spring when I got this in the mail.

Now I'm not sure why you need your shampoo and lotions to be gluten free. Do people swallow their shampoo by accident? Does gluten get absorbed into your skin and affect your intenstines? On the other hand, why is there ever gluten in our shampoo? I don't get that, but I like the Green Beaver products. And they were free because I won them on a blog giveaway. Beth never responded well to the baking soda shampoo regime, so I imagine she'll be using these the most. I also use real shampoo at least once a week, but I'm avoiding anything with silicon in it because baking soda can't clean that out of your hair. This Green Beaver shampoo qualifies for me as well then.

The second (and much better) giveaway I won was last night.

I got 19 bags of compost from a blogger who simply wanted it all taken away! That was awesome! Last night I took one trip with Yvon and we shovelled together, filling bags and heaving them into the van. Then I followed up with a trip with Alice, who was more interested in the broom than the shovel so I had to do almost all of the work myself. Oh well. It was worth it and when it stops raining I'll finish planting all my seedlings and topdress everything with healthy, growth-inducing compost. Yay!

Thanks, Valerie!

I've never won more than $10 with a lottery ticket, so I'll continue playing my way.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What's Bloomin' Today

Just a quick view of all of the flowers currently blooming. This is the first year that all of our columnar apple trees are blooming at the same time, so hopefully we'll actually see a few apples.

View slideshow

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gardening 2011

That doesn't mean that I've passed Gardening 101, 102, 201, 204, or 1001. It's just a date. I'm not qualified to take the course.

However, even if I'd fail the course due to poor design, soil quality and weed tolerance, I'm enjoying it a lot. It gives me great pleasure.

This is the area I like to work on most. The back yard only has a rectangular functional garden and a load of play equipment, plastic toys and general ugliness. I'll get to it, but it's always the second last place I plant up (the alley always gets a few plants that fit nowhere else).

This year I tried to create a new small bed near my patio area using the lasagna method (layers of straw, compost, cardboard and manure). There aren't enough layers, but I wanted to try it anyway. It's surrounded by chunks of concrete from my neighbour's basement reno.

I already know that the loose chunks are an issue with the lawn mower, but they are easily removed if it really bugs me and once the layers compact down to soil level. The shape and look please me though.

I don't think you can win gardening awards with a dead stick planted in a noticable spot, so I'll have to forfeit my prize again this year. The idea was to have an Evan Cherry tree here, but it did not make it through the winter. I've got a heathly cherry stick in the back yard though, so I'll either move it in the fall or leave it be in the corner where it is. I like the idea of a blooming tree in the front though. We'll see.

When I visit more formal yards, more maintained and perfect yards, I always come away feeling a bit lustful. But then I come home to this and I love it all over again. It's my own style. No, it won't ever win awards, it isn't very planned, veggies mix with flowers and it lacks color every fall. It's non-perfectionist and a bit wild. I'll always love the formal style too, but only to visit. I won't choose to live in it anytime soon.

This is my new herb spiral. There is a permaculture concept about using heat retaining rocks and spiral up to a peak where you'd plant the dry, mediterannean herbs. Ideally it is 3 feet high at the peak, but mine is barely 18". The principles may not work for me, but I like the shape and again it's easily dismantled if it doesn't work. Right now I've got thyme at the top and parsley going down the spiral. Basil will be added after the last frost date. Spinach and lettuce are at the bottom and Beth is going to try her hand at planting something on the other side of it.

This looks like it was a successful attempt at planting garlic in the fall. They are big and healthy and we've eaten from the greens a bit already. I have shallots that somehow survived the winter too and are looking good. That was an accident that I don't quite understand, but they're doing well and it's good to see greens so early in the spring.

One of last year's strawberry patches is sad this year (too dry and exposed, I think, to handle the cold), but this patch is looking promising.

This year I've tried some curving paths and if they work well, I'll put bricks along them. I used to mulch my paths with grass clippings, but we simply don't have enough grass anymore to do that and I've finally talked sense into our neighbour and he leaves his clippings in his grass now instead of bagging it all. Better for the environment and his grass, but I've talked my way out of a source of clippings for my garden use. Hmm. That backfired a bit. That's okay. I've got two free brick sources that I'll make use of.

15 trays of seedlings this year. They have been exposed to lots of wind this week as they harden off, but I've been taking them in and out of the house for a week now (mostly because I ran out of room until the lights anyway). All of my brassicas are really tiny still, and I have precious few flowers. I don't know why I didn't plant more, but I picked up some cheap wave petunias and geraniums to make up for my lack.

Hopefully I have a better idea what I've got room for by the community league's perennial exchange on May 28th. That will be a good time to donate the leftovers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Flight School and Granola Bars

I spent Friday with Beth's class at a flying school.

I figured it might be one of my last field trips with this class. Ever. I can't believe they will all be splitting up and going their separate ways next year to deal with junior high. I've been field tripping with these kids for 7 years and it's almost over. It made me sad.

They are a great bunch of kids and they have definitely grown up a lot over the years. I always dread the bus rides because of the chaos and mayhem that usually ensues, but this was relatively calm. There were iPods keeping some quiet, but mostly they were just quietly talking, drawing, reading, joking. As opposed to jumping on their seats, yelling, screaming, falling into the aisles. That's what I get with the Grade 2 class and these kids were no different 4 years ago.

The other reason I wanted to go was because this field trip hadn't been offered before. It wasn't a typical school field trip but it tied in really well with their unit on flight (of which I know nothing).

They spent the morning studying and then they got to sit in the planes.

They found out how to read all of the different navigational things and touch all of the levers...

And then they got to fly one of the small planes.

Well, no. That would be perhaps death-inducing.

However, I almost got to go up in one. I can't believe how they got my hopes up (twice!) and dashed them to the ground again (twice!). We ran out of time, unfortunately, and no one got to do any flying. Poop. They had no idea how much I wanted to go up in the air in a tiny plane. If this trip is offered again to Laura and Alice, I'm going along just to make it happen. The instructors will get better at their timing over the years, I figure.

While there I chatted to Beth's teacher about gardening and cooking and the stuff that makes up a big chunk of my life. This recipe is for her.

I didn't really have a recipe for granola bars until this morning. I just mixed things up until they had the right amount of stickiness to hold together. Now I know how much honey and egg it takes to make it happen.

I do have a disclaimer though. She said she'd tried many recipes in the past and hadn't found one she liked. Check out the range of granola bars in the grocery store. There is almost a whole aisle of them, so obviously one recipe does not suit all people. I do hope this helps her or gives her a place to start experimenting though.

Granola Bars

4 cups of granola (mine can be found here)

1/3 cup honey or molasses (I use honey)

1/3 cup chocolate chips

1 large egg

Mix together. Scoop into muffin tins and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

My muffin tins make the perfect size for putting 2 in a small canning jar for lunches. I have tomorrow's snacks already packaged up.

These are really good with a small scoop of pea butter (or peanut butter) into the mix too and I really wish I hadn't eaten all of the caramel that Yvon made this weekend. That would have been awesome drizzled over the tops.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Best Mother's Day Gift

I had given up, frankly. Laura is 10 this year and has shown no interest in riding a bike. Only fear and eventually maybe some embarrassment, so I've tried not to talk about it in front of her friends or even in front of her anymore.

Yesterday she did it!

I was grinning from ear to ear as I walked all around the neighbourhood while she rode everywhere, stopping at every corner to wait for me to catch up or to wave back. She then went for two more bike rides before the day was over.

Whoo-hoo!! Only one kid to go and we can increase our distance without getting in the van so often. I am so thrilled!

Now if anyone has a bike suitable for a 12 year old, Beth needs a new one this year. I could buy a potentially stolen bike from a pawn shop, but I'd rather not and I can't afford a new one this time.

Whipped cream experiments

Bloggers always only show you their successes. Everyone has enough snippets of success in our lives that we can all look perfect in a blog.

But you guys mostly know me, have seen my weeds and my messy house and my unbrushed children.

I have yet to make a successful batch of gluten-free cookies. I don't like to bake if I can't partake, so the kids have eated a lot of Girl Guide cookies. There comes an end to that though and I need to figure out a few "staple" recipes that require little thought. One of our favourites with wheat is ginger cookies, the kind you roll in sugar and they crack a bit while baking. So I tried ginger snaps yesterday.

Hmm, they definitely have a rice/corn consistency but they taste good. Unexpectedly they spread over the entire baking sheet into one giant lacey cookie. We broke them into pieces and dipped them in cherry whipped cream. Mmm.

Next time maybe I'll roll them while warm and fill them with cream. They are that kind of cookie. Not what we wanted yesterday though. Oh, well. I'll have to keep looking for a staple cookie. This isn't it.

This was more successful, although it was finally clear to me what foodies mean by "mouth feel".

This is the whipped cream with raspberries that we froze, thinking it would be easy ice cream.

It froze rock hard, but after sitting on the counter for a while we were able to scoop some out. It tasted great, but it has a greasy kind of feel on the roof of your mouth. It wasn't a bad experiment though and I'd do it again in the absence of an ice cream maker. That's an appliance I wouldn't really make room for unless I had a cow and excessive milk.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Family Farm

I read about it everywhere. Avenue Homesteader just wrote a post about it this weekend, Kevin Kossowan has a series of short films about local farms, the permaculture group and the Eat Alberta group have all talked about it. The disapearance of the family farm (or the difficulty in surviving on one) and the city paving over the best agricultural land.

Being the cheap person I am, I didn't want to buy manure this year or cart in loads of compost, yet I know that my soil can use annual ammendments if I plan to ever eat all of our veggies off of our own city plot of land. This year I followed the advice of a friend and drove to the country and knocked on a door asking for free manure (or in exchange for small amounts of cash or the equivalent value in Girl Guide cookies).

The first two farms didn't look approachable. The first one was just sort of "closed" looking. The next looked like they'd already upgraded the homestead to be able to sell at urban prices. It was landscaped beautifully and had a lovely (closed) gate at the end of their long driveway. It looked unwelcoming and for sale.

The next had a big old barn, an old typical farmhouse, cows near the house and looked like a working family farm should. We knocked. He didn't seem to think it was a weird request, didn't want cookies or money and just pointed to his aged manure pile. "Just don't let the cows out and don't chase them", he said.

We dug right in (pun intended).

When I had first suggested this little field trip to the kids, I'd said we were going to scoop poop on Saturday. That met with three groans and three "do we have to?"s. However, when we got there they seemed happy enough to help.
Once I'd filled my first bag and dug down to the older, more composted stuff, I didn't get to use a shovel again. The kids took over.

Triumphant! We filled all the bags we had (6 doubled bags) and considered coming back for more, but I can't do it on my own. The ground was soft and uneven, the bags very heavy and I was worried that my knees would give out.

At one point the farmer came out to see how we were doing and chatted about the farm. It was his grandparent's farm initially. The cows who wandered up to us out of curiousity and a scratch from the farmer all had names and are shown at local fairs, probably to make a point that his good productive land was soon to be lost. With the city developments within sight of his quarter section, he would initially have a choice to sell. If he doesn't sell voluntarily though, the city would soon start taxing his land at a residential rate and force him out that way. He mentioned the paving of agricultural land and it's going on all around our city. He wasn't a big talker, but he'd said what was in his mind at the moment.

It's sad.

I can't go back on my own and I really need to start seeding things this week, so I'll wait until next year to visit him again. I hope the developments in that area move slowly.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Kitchen chemistry

I've been getting strangers to my blog lately, and I think it's because of a few comments I made around local blogs regarding the Eat Alberta event I attended over the weekend. Welcome to my blog! There are many awesome foodie blogs, local eater blogs, excellent photography and recipe blogs around. I'm not really one of those. I'm just, you know, me.

I don't really know why I've not been motivated to blog about the Eat Alberta thing. Don't get me wrong - it was really well done. I made sausage (and later ate it and immediately searched the web for sausage stuffer equipment), made brie, tasted local fruit wines and mead, ate more local cheese than anyone should eat in a day.

I had some interesting conversations with people who live on the edge of normal. Bees in the city? Why not? Chickens? Sure! Lactofermenting, kombucha, strawbale homes, homemade and locally sourced everything. These are my kind of people.

Here's a better blog post about the day than I can do. I made sausage and cheese with them. Walsh Cooks

I need to attend fewer events and improve my own practices, get my hands back in the dirt and DO stuff.

So, yesterday I did stuff.

It was cheap Tuesday at Save-On-Foods (15% off, for those non-local readers) and I stumbled upon very cheap whipping cream. I think it came to around $1.60/l before the 15% discount. The math on my receipt is messed up or I could tell you exactly. I bought the last 4 litres.

Now, that's a lot of cream and I can't drink that much coffee before it goes off, so I thought I'd do some kitchen chemistry. You've probably all made butter before, and it's certainly not rocket science, but I love watching the transformation of cream to whipped cream to butter. It's fun. I'd do it all the time, but it doesn't usually make financial sense.

My KitchenAid doesn't have the splatter guard, so I use a towel for this. Whip the whole litre on high speed.

After 5 minutes you have whipped cream. You can stop there if you like, or scoop some into your coffee now. We added sugar and pureed frozen fruit to one batch and froze it to see if it makes anything resembling ice cream. We'll test it after school and maybe report back.

At this point I usually grab a kid and force them to watch with me. "Look, look! It's starting to separate!" "Yeah,yeah, Mom. I've watched it before. It's not that exciting." But it is to me. I sometimes make butter when kid friends are over so that I can share my excitement with a newbie. Mine are jaded.

Keep whipping on high and this will start to happen. This is the cool part.

Keep whipping. It's not separated into the solids fully yet.

Now you've got butter! It takes exactly 10 minutes from carton to this stage.

I stopped taking pictures then because you've got to get your hands in there. Knead it a bit with your hands to release a bit more of the buttermilk. Pour the buttermilk into jars. Run cold water over the solid butter and knead it some more. The more buttermilk you get out, the better your butter keeps. Add a bit of salt if you like (I do) and you're done.

15 minutes total from carton to finished butter and a clean kitchen again. I got 12 oz. of butter and 1 pint of buttermilk out of the each litre. I should make some sort of cake out of the buttermilk now. Only Yvon likes to drink it and I didn't run it through cheesecloth or anything so there are actual butter lumps in it.

I still have one full carton to use up. Any ideas?