Sunday, December 14, 2008

Baby It's Cold

The Northern Front did sweep through and bring Arctic air. It arrived on Friday night, and the temperature went from something like 2 degrees to minus 20. Today we reached a "high" of minus 27.3. Yesterday it was so cold that my car wouldn't start. I plugged the block heater in and after about 3 hours of heating it started, though not with command start, but with the key in the ignition. Last night was the Christmas party for the hardware store, and I went, though it was with some trepidation since the temp was about minus 33 and I knew that if my car broke down either coming or going it would be a cold cold wait until the motor association found me on the highway. Needless to say I did not stay very late.

Today we are enjoying being inside. Here is Kylie and Miranda trying to share the "extra large dog bed" in front of the fire.

I spent a little time outside with the yard animals -- I checked on the llamas, who seem relatively comfortable in their heavy coats. And I gave the horses their daily oats and molasses ration, even increasing it since the extra sugar helps keep them warm. I also tried to pry out the iceballs that have accumulated inside their hooves. It looks like they're walking on the chopines that Venetian women used to wear -- they're raised about 1.5 inches off the ground. It's hard to pick the ice out, since it's packed in and in this temperature there's no breaking up the mass of hay, snow and ice that's in there.

I'm glad to report that the water in the house has not frozen this year -- by this time last year it had frozen 5 times! My good luck this year is in part due to the way I insulated the water pipes this time, in addition to putting an extra layer of wood on the outside of the house in front of the pipes to prevent the wind from blowing the arctic under the house. As well, I've let the furnace in the barn run to prevent the water freezing from the well. Last year I was trying to be all efficient and eco-conscious and frugal, and set it to the lowest setting. This year, the thermostat is set to "O" but it starts to come on anyway, and according to my mercury thermometer it's maintaining a very warm 50 degrees, so I've let it remain, even though it's a little high to make the greenhouse gas people happy.

I've finished my brown cotton "viking" sweater. I wore it last night and got lots of unsolicited compliments. Even some twenty-somethings who wanted one. I've started a new pair of socks, this time out of an alpaca superwash, and a new cardigan from some Stacy Charles "Aura" I ordered from Elann last month. On the socks, I'm doing the toe-up style as always, but this time I'm doing 1x1 rib on the sole, and plain on the top. It makes the bottom extra cushy and gives a nice hug to the sock.

Friday night I made a chicken tajine for supper. Maybe not authentic Moroccan style since I made it up, but still delicious:

Brown 3 chicken breasts in a cast iron dutch oven (this is my way, obviously if you were Moroccan or trying to be you'd use a tajine)

Then add
one large can of diced tomatoes (mine were Unico "Italian Flavor" I noticed after opening)
a large tbsp of turmeric
two or three chopped cloves of garlic
about 1 1/2 tbsp of ginger
some salt
about a tsp of cinnamon
a handful of sliced almonds (or pine nuts)
about 3/4 cup of raisins
a tbsp of brown sugar

Stir it up a little and flip the chicken breasts so they nestle under the liquids. Add a little water if the liquid doesn't cover the meat.

Bake it covered for about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours at 325 F.
Serve with couscous, or as I did, with white & wild rice cooked in orange juice and water. The chicken is so tender and the flavours are amazing. The almonds give it a crunchy texture. Yum!

We're going to cozy up to the fire now and do some reading. Here's Cricket and Mister on the day, I mean DOG bed.

Stay warm wherever you are!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Northern Front

This is a cold front moving in from the North. Right now, at 9 pm, we're having high winds, and the temperature has dropped from plus 5 to minus 9 within two hours. We're expecting either freezing rain or some snow overnight... and at sunset we could just see the front coming.

I miss my garden. I know it has to sleep for the winter, but I miss all the quiet excitement of new growth, and the smell of damp earth, and the colors and flavours and scents it gives. I was intrigued by a device called an Aerogarden that I saw advertised. I checked it out online, and found that there are several models to choose from – however they mostly come from the USA (although you can find one of the smaller versions at Canadian Tire, just not at my locations out here in the country). I decided I wanted to try hydroponics again, so I dusted off my copy of The Hydroponic Gardener, and built this little garden.
I used my pond pump, two plastic containers that stack, some pex pipe, two brass elbows, one copper tee and two plugs, plus some cleaned pea gravel. I drilled holes in the base of the top container, and holes in the pex pipes that I cut to fit, and voila! A container garden!
I planted it with lettuce, basil, nasturtiums and spinach last Sunday, and already seeds have germinated. I’ve added a full spectrum light to supplement our short daylight. Missy's checking it out.

I want to supplement not only my diet, but the diet of the animals too-- my birds and hens both love fresh lettuce and this way I'll be able to pick it for them as often as I want.

In the meantime, we're all inside getting cozy by the fire while the wind tries to blow the house down.

Remember, when the going gets tough, the tough curl up together on the sofa.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday walk

It's been a while since I've posted pictures of Miranda. That's because whenever we go walking, she's always right beside me, and it's difficult to take pictures of her. She has appointed herself my bodyguard, and she follows me more closely than a secret serviceman follows a head of state. She's 8 and a half years old now, and although she has a problem with a torn cruciate ligament in her knee she is still fit and happy. She enjoys her walks very much. There is always so much to sniff out in the woods, it's a dog's favorite activity here.

I called her over to the house while I got ready -- we had a warm 6 degrees today, so all I needed was my Carhart jacket and my boots and camera. She and Kylie had been out in the front yard sniffing out a fox from the front hedges. The fox often likes to sit on some old straw bales down there and hunt mice.
Mindy came up on the porch and opened the door to see whether or not I was ready.

Then Miranda, Cricket, Kylie and I set off. We passed by these three lovely girls who were having a snack on the hay up by the house. This is Jemima, Black Betty & Brown Betty. They were all born last summer.

We walked to the west, where there is a little marsh where the coyotes like to congregate.

Sometimes we see them sunning themselves along this bank of aspen.

Sometimes we find remnants of cattle who have died nearby. This bone has been here a long time judging by how polished it is.

We also found that a huge number of trees had been blown over by the winds we've had in the last month. I would say that in some areas on the north side almost half of the trees have been felled, some from the roots, and others have been snapped in half, leaving man-high stumps.

We walked for about an hour and half, until magic hour and time for us to go home. The sun begins to set here around 4:30 now. We caught it going down behind a hill.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wednesday sky

How beautiful is this?

This is a photo taken from my back porch, straight from the camera, no photoshopping or colorization.

My house has views like this all around it, from every window there is a magnificent scene. It's like living in a gallery, where all the art is changing constantly around me. It is so good for the mind to be surrounded by natural beauty like this all the time. I can't even quantify the changes it creates in my outlook -- I only know that I would find it almost impossible to live without it now.

On a more mundane level, here is my latest project -- it's a cotton pullover with a Viking design at the neckline. I'm making it up as I go along. It's knit from the top down with raglan sleeves (it will be long-sleeved) so I just try it on as I go. It's good plain movie-watching knitting for the most part.

Knitting is very meditative, perhaps the best kind of meditation for a pragmatist like myself, because I don't have the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that sitting still is wasting time.
I realized this year that colour is very important to me -- I look for color all the time, and find it inspiring.

Here are some yarns I bought online -- they have magnificent colors in them -- they're Araucania Magallanes, from Chile. This color mix reminds me of the winter sky. The one below it reminds me of autumn. I saw those colors, the reds, wines and greens echoed over and over in the autumn landscape, from the marigolds that were going to seed on my front porch, to the rhubarb that was dying a stately death in the back garden.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Beautiful November

We've had a warm fall this year. I came here in November 2001, and it was a similar year -- it was dry and relatively warm. I remember standing on my porch the day the moving van arrived, and just a dusting of snow was falling while the movers brought my furniture into the house. This fall is an echo of 7 years ago. We had 3 years of drought after that, then gradually more rain, until this year was wet enough to fill the empty sloughs and make the fields and forests lush again. The last four years have had blisteringly cold days in the winter (down to minus 40, sometimes with a windchill to minus 76). If this winter is like the one 7 years ago, it will be mild and dry, and usher in a dry summer. We shall see. This photo is from our walk on Sunday, when it was a beautiful 15 degrees C. That's one of the pretty llama girls reflected in the muskrat pond.

And this little salamander was swimming around the pond by the house.

Last weekend I went to visit my friend Penny who is a florist. She gave me this fantastic flower arrangement. It contains parrot tulips, birch bark, peppers, foliage from the garden, and some green plants.
Penny has a very artistic eye and can make a beautiful arrangement from "just things I find"-- she had a gorgeous fall group in her house that included dried leaves from her yard, and some fallen apples.
I liked this Vermeer lighting, but here is another picture of the same arrangement with the flash so you can see the vibrant colors.

On the knitting front, I've been piling up sock presents for the nephews. These are all in Knitpicks washable Felici.

And I recently completed this circular sweater. It's in Araucania Magallanes in a green variegation that is all the colours of a spruce forest in the mountains. The design is ingenious, it's a circle with the sleeves at 10 and 2 o'clock. You can wear it with the "noon" position at the top for a shorter collar and longer back (as in this picture), or with the "6" position at the top, for a deep collar and extra warmth on the back.
The stitch pattern is in bands of twisted stitch with a dark brown contrast, and in garter stitch. The edging is done in Suri alpaca, which is as soft as cashmere.
The pattern is from Vogue Knitting, Anniversary 2007 issue, though it's also in 2005. It's by Annie Modesitt.

And here's the last one I finished. It took me about a week, and I did it freestyle without a pattern. It's in Suri Dream by Knitpicks, color is Aqua. It weighs only 200 grams, and is super warm, soft and light. It's a self-striping yarn, and I like how the colors pooled along the neckline and on the sleeves. I only used 4 x 50 gm balls of yarn for this, it has excellent yardage. I think I used needles size 6 mm.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

The frost is on the pumpkin now, and we're preparing for winter.

But only after the tryptophan wears off:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Things Get Better

Sorry for the mordant tone of the last post. I had just had the remnants of a tooth (broken by my nocturnal bruxism, which if I had had diagnosed properly years ago would probably have left me with fewer fillings) extracted. The dentist, who is by far the best dentist I have ever visited (and he's in Wetaskiwin!), and I have visited plenty in My Big Fat Dental Career, used a combination of drilling, and something that felt like a wine corkscrew grinding into my jaw, to remove some roots that were broken and dangling. Is this graphic enough? Anyway that was yesterday, and today is better and my sadness (induced by fear) has all but disappeared under the new bridge that is between my shiny white molars.
Today on the schedule I have to do some paid work (dismissable), then hopefully install this gizmo

in a waterer since according to various “weather specialists” it looks like we’re in for frost soon, and I loathe doing wiring outside when it’s freezing. I was successful in installing the new element,
however, I had no way of checking to see whether or not it would come on as it is Hard Wired(see previous post some time back whining about bad Farm Industrial Design) into a thermostat. Other than standing there holding a bag of frozen peas onto the thermostatic area of the installation, I could think of no other way of inducing the thing to turn on. So I considered that I could spend some time dicking around with all the various connections and my circuit tester, or I could just buy a new controller and wire it in and assume it would work. I chose option 2.

A few weekends ago, a work friend helped me rebuild this wall. It blew out one winter storm (we get vicious northwest winds here sometimes). The wind took the whole wall, which was sheathed, and blew it down into the pasture – it’s a 10 x 30 foot wall. It ripped the plate out from the trusses, out of many 3½ inch nails in top and bottom, and tore the upper plate apart!! I wish I had taken some Before pictures to show you as the roof was sagging pretty drastically before we reinserted this frame. We had to create a pillar to mount on a bottle jack, and jack the roof back into position. After putting up the top plate (two 2x4s nailed together for a span of 30 feet, and nailed to the trusses) we started at the end near the corner, and slowly worked our way across putting the studs back between the bottom and top plates. There were some scary moments while we put in studs and then moved the jack to the next span and the 2x4s had to support the load of that roof. I had visions of shattering ship’s timbers flying across the deck of a man-of-war and splintering our torsos with shards of oak, or in this case fir. Fortunately we were able to figure everything out and get it in there safely. Now I have to find some mending plates to reinforce the bottom sill plate, and nail in some hurricane ties to hold the trusses on so it doesn’t blow out again.
Other updates on the farm. Lest you think my time is all work, here is a recently completed object. I knitted this in a month, while watching both seasons of Carnivale on DVD. I do not currently subscribe to satellite as there is nothing worth watching on television most of the time, and find I am far happier for it. I can follow news online if I feel the need to update myself. And I listen to the radio from time to time, at least once a day. I really prefer to be media free, it restores a kind of pre-industrial calm to my thinking.
I loved knitting that sweater. The yarn was from Araucania, and is a single ply. The colors were gorgeous, like all the colors in a northern spruce forest. I could imagine being in the Rockies as I worked on it.

I’m also working on some presents for various people. Socks are my backup knitting, to be done in odd places (like dentists’ chairs) and in dimly lit areas. It’s meditative and about as interesting to an audience as golf, though at the end of my tournament I get a pair of socks. Frankly, if it came down to golf or knitting on TV, I’d choose knitting.

Thought of the day
You hear a lot of vengeful ideas with regard to prisoners in the penal system. (Can anyone say “penal system” and not laugh?) Here’s an idea. Since what they’re missing while incarcerated is languishing in a dead-end job of drudgery, how about they contribute to society by doing something incredibly dull and monotonous for days on end (like a job) that profits other people (like a job)? I suggest we provide them with cycles that they can pedal for hours and hours, that are connected to generators that can supply electricity to nearby towns. I’ll bet we could get some industrial designers on that to design some escape-proof equipment for them. It would tire them out, and probably break their fightin’ spirit (like a job).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Moon of the Changing Season

This is Kylie, out searching for the foxes that live nearby.

Sometimes I have to shake my head and remember I now own a dog park bigger than Sunnybrook, complete with horses, llamas, deer, badgers, foxes, coyotes, eagles, falcons, and many other native dwellers.

Here is the Brindle Prairie Hippo enjoying a swim.

That's Cricket, who is usually not fond of water.

We've had a terrific fall so far -- last week the temps were in the mid to high 20s. I wonder if they still call it Indian Summer, which according to Wikipedia, is so-called after a frost. We haven't had frost yet, so perhaps Indian Summer is yet to come. Apparently Europe had the phrase "Saint Martin's Summer" to denote the same phenomenon, though there is no consensus on the origin of the term Indian Summer, but it seems to have originated after Europe came to North America.

Speaking of evocative names, here are some of the month names from the Oglala found in Black Elk Speaks:

January - the Moon of Frost in the Tepee
February - the Moon of the Dark Red Calf
March - the Moon of the Snowblind
April - the Moon of the Red Grass Appearing
May - the Moon When the Ponies Shed
June - the Moon of Making Fat
July - the Moon When the Cherries are Ripe
August - the Moon When the Cherries Turn Black
September - the Moon when the Calf Grows Hair or the Moon when the Plums are Scarlet
October - the Moon of the Changing Season
November - the Moon of Falling Leaves
December - the Moon of Popping Trees

How much more poetic than our sad Roman names that don't even get the number order right (that's owing to Julius & Augustus of course, bloody Caesars). October is no longer the eighth month, nor is November the ninth, or December the tenth, etc.

By the way, I recommend reading "Black Elk Speaks". It is a document of an almost unknown history, the people and events it depicts have almost vanished. The language is extraordinarily poetic in a way that makes cultivated poetry seem baroque and artificial.

It is one of the shames of mankind that so many cultures have been extinguished without being understood.