Thursday, 28 May 2015

I'm Not Seeing Eye To Eye With The Chickens

While I was seeing a garden ready for planting, Vivian was seeing a perfect spot for a dirt bath. ~

I'm seeing tilling as soil prep and Kay and Vivian see a human servant that is turning up worms and bugs for serving to them. ~

After the second time I planted the beans and saw the girls heading to dig in that area again, I decided this job would never get done if I didn't send the girls to bed early.

Vivian is so mad about being locked up way before bedtime that she won't look at me. ~

In fact, the only one that is happy to be in there is this little fellow that has taken up residence in the coop. He hardly ever bothers to come out, since pretty much everything he needs is at hand in there.

I was getting a bit worried about the weather holding things back so much in the garden this year and planted the old wheelbarrow earlier. On the nights when frost was threatened, I could easily cover it.

As part of my plan to reduce the amount of work I have to do in the yard I've moved the vegetable garden to a much smaller space that used to have herbs and strawberries in it. I almost felt guilty at how easy it was to plant the smaller area. I'm sure I'll get over that when I see how much this cuts back on weeding time.

Well, the chickens got a little extra beauty sleep and I have the garden all in except for a bit of space saved for tomato plants.

The girls can join me as I work in the garden from here on in. They really are good company out there and won't do much damage now the string is all in place.

As soon as I was done, the garden angels smiled down on me and sent a nice, gentle rain to speed all the seeds on their way. ~ 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Making Aromatherapy Lip Balm

When my friend, Wendy, asked me to help her make lip balm I was more than happy to give it a go. I've developed a thing with dry lips in the last year that I prefer to think has nothing to do with aging and shrivelling up like a prune. The idea of making my own, and being able to choose the ingredients I was putting on my lips, was very appealing to me. Now, that I've done it, and seen how quick and simple it is to do, I'm adding making lip balm to my DIY arsenal.

Wendy was hosting a Young Living Essential Oils party for her daughter and the lip balms were being made as gifts for the guests to take home. She wanted to give them a choice between two oils and chose peppermint (my favourite) and a Young Living Essential Oil blend called Stress Away.

The ingredient list is simple and easily purchased online or at health food stores. You know I'm a big fan of coconut oil and that huge (2 qt. 14 oz or 2.3L) container you see in the background is a great deal at Cosco. I've shopped everywhere for the best price on coconut oil and the Nutiva brand sold at Cosco for $26, for organic, cold pressed, virgin, unrefined oil is the cheapest I've found. An added bonus is 1% of sales go to supporting sustainable agriculture.

To make your own lip balm you will need:

4 Tbsp. coconut oil
2 Tbsp. beeswax
1 tsp. natural honey (optional)
20 drops of food grade essential oil

The process is simple. ~

Shave the beeswax into flakes so it will melt at the same rate as the coconut oil. A cheese slicer works well for this.

Bring water to a slow boil in a double boiler if you have one or use a heat proof bowl like we did and set it on top of a pan of boiling water.

Add the coconut oil, beeswax and honey to the bowl and stir while it melts.

Remove from heat and add 20 drops of the food grade essential oil of your choice. That's all there is to it!

Wendy had picked up little containers from the dollar store and it was nice to have two people to handle filling them, one to pour and one to hold the funnel.

Within a few minutes, the lip balm had set and smelled heavenly! ~

I used to give my daughters peppermints to chew when they wrote their exams to help them stay alert. This lip balm would have worked great for that.

Such a simple process to have an all natural lip balm that gives you the soothing benefits of aromatherapy!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

My Apology To American Girls

The 24th of May weekend isn't just a celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday. To Canadians, it's the beginning of summer holiday season and when you grow up in a northern Ontario tourist region, it means an influx of people to the area.

Now, I have to explain that the one thing people who rely on tourists for their living truly dislike is, um, well tourists.  I know it makes no sense, but I was just a kid and all the kids in my village said tourist with utter disdain. You would think we would have been happy to see the dollars flow into the area and appreciate something more exciting than the usual winter dramas of a bear knocking over someone's garbage can on a slow year or an old guy getting so drunk he fell asleep outside and lost two toes to frostbite on a big action year.

I think it's high time I apologized to two American girls in particular. I mean, it's been fifty years and even if they never really knew I existed, I do think I should set things right with them.

It was an indisputable fact that all Americans were rich and these particular girls became the embodiment of all that meant to me.

I remember standing at the side of a country road as they drove by in a red convertible. ~


They were sisters and had come two weeks ahead of their parents to open up the family cottage, which looked something like this. ~

These were the kind of cottages that my friend's fathers did maintenance on and left cords of stacked firewood for.

I swear these girls were first cousins to Blake Lively because they looked exactly like her, blond goddesses with permanent smiles on their faces. ~

So, now that we had proof that all Americans were rich, tall, blond, happy and drove red convertibles it was obvious that we were different species that should never mix.  No problem there since they were unlikely to be picking up an odd job cleaning cottages at one of the local camps in exchange for use of the canoes and beach as my girlfriends and I regularly did.

But our paths did cross when they came to the docks for boat gas.  There is a hierarchy in fishing and camping outfits. The youngest boys work the docks tying up boats and carrying luggage and gas cans for the tourists. The older boys and, of course, these are the boys you most want to catch the attention of, work in the hut doling out bait and gas and handling cash.

These American girls would cruise up in their family boat, march on into the hut, and talk to those older boys with all the confidence and smiling faces rich, tall, blond goddesses could possess. ~

My girlfriends and I have just cleaned 10 cottages to borrow 2 canoes to go out and show off for those boys and the American girls have left us rocking in the wake of a 40 horse Evinrude!

We wished they would get in their convertible and go back to Ohio. At thirteen, I wasn't really sure what Ohio looked like but I was heavily into beach blanket movies at the time and pretty sure it looked a lot like this.

With all those palm trees, I didn't see why they wanted to bother coming up here anyway.

We turned stony eyed faces to the American girls whenever they bumped into us at the general store and ignored their comments on the weather or questions about ourselves.

The tourists had regular entertainment events at the swishier lodges in the area. We had a jukebox to dance to in the General Store on Saturday afternoons. But, on the particular evening I'm apologizing for, we had a brand, new building opening as a rec hall for local kids. It was a basic wooden, one room structure, with an outhouse, and wouldn't have impressed anyone from as grand a place as Ohio. To us, it was the most exciting event of our lives!

We dressed in our finest homemade or catalogue ordered outfits for the dance. ~

The stereo was playing and the girls were standing on one side of the room and the boys were standing on the other side. The funny part is, we all went to the same two-room schoolhouse, except for the ones that had already gone on to high school, and were in and out of each others homes all the time in a village of fifty homes. I was best friends with the sister of the guy I liked. I slept over at their house on a regular basis. Put us all in a dance hall and we were nervous strangers.

Bit by bit we started to dance with each other. We were finally having a great time and who should walk in but the American girls!  They were smiling and bopping to the music and chatting away to guys and girls alike. They weren't even uncomfortable about coming in shorts and not being dressed up like the rest of us.

Do you know what we did? We didn't talk to them. Not one boy asked them to dance. We simply ignored them and none of their gestures of goodwill could budge any of the kids in the crowd. I'll guess that the boys may have been intimidated by rich, tall, blond goddesses who drove red convertibles. Most of their parents worked for the tourists and a good percentage of the boys were native when that still was a bit of a taboo in some circles.

And we girls? I think we were just jealous and that jealousy made us mean. I don't remember when the American girls left the dance, but I do remember we were glad they were gone. They never came to another.

I don't suppose those girls suffered overly from our bad treatment of them. But, I've been bothered by it always. They are the only tourists from the hundreds that came and went that I never forgot. The more I thought about them the more I realized they were just a couple of nice, friendly girls that were probably bored to death with the events at the swanky lodges and looking for some teenagers to hang out with. I doubt they were interested in showing off their obvious financial superiority any more than my friends and I made any distinction over my father being the school principal and theirs being fishing guides and handymen.

Since the girls would be in their mid-sixties now it might seem a little late to offer my apology. I'm doing it anyway.

Here it goes!

"American girls, that look like Blake Lively and live in an Ohio that looks suspiciously like Malibu Beach and came to a cottage in French River, Ontario every summer, I wish I had asked you to go swimming with us and shown you where the best spots were to watch the beavers build their dams. I wish I'd let you teach me how to ski behind that big ass motor. I wish I could tell that Indian boy that was so sweet and handsome enough to be in the movies to ask you to dance. I wish I could do it all over again."

If it helps you to forgive me, I stopped judging people by what they had, how they looked or what country they came from. You can give yourselves full credit and a pat on the back for that one, American girls!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Taking Time For Apple Blossoms

Such a fleeting thing of beauty the apple blossom is. ~

"The flowers of the apple are perhaps the most beautiful of any tree's, so copious and so delicious to both sight and scent." -- Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples

My neighbour has a row of apple trees along our fence line and they burst into bloom yesterday. By today, it is raining and windy and I know the fragile blossoms will all be down by nightfall.

Everything must stop while I gather my bouquets and fill the house with them. 

It was Anne of Green Gables that first made me fall in love with these beauties as I read of her amazement at them cascading across The White Way Of Delight. Oh, how I wanted to be beside Matthew Cuthbert in that horse drawn carriage!

photo courtesy of CBC

Humble or elegant, every vase looks wonderful with these simple blooms. Vintage sterling silver vases on a William IV buffet are lovely with apple blossoms. ~

They are right at home under a chippy, leaded glass window. ~

Apple blossom fragrance fills the house. Delicate petals flutter to the table tops as their time to thrive passes. I'm reminded that, "To everything there is a season; and a time for every purpose under heaven.". 

On this day, as Nepal suffers the tragedy of another devastating earthquake, I look at this bouquet of apple blossoms, nestled in beside a some Tibetan bells. ~

My heart goes out to the people of Nepal and the aid workers endangered while they do what they can to ease the suffering.

In their honour, I take the time to cherish this beauty and focus on the promise of all the blossoms, the beginnings of new life and abundance.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Wrecking Crew aka My Kids

I've been pondering making some changes in my yard. A half acre of flower beds, big vegetable garden, loads of trees and all the leaves that come with them and lawn maintenance is getting to be a teeny bit beyond what I seem to be able to do these days.

While I was fully occupied pondering said changes, my daughters hatched a scheme to show up with the two eldest grandsons and do some spring cleanup.  Now, don't get thinking this is any kind of a regular thing, it's the first time EVER they've done it. Maybe they confused my pondering with doddering.

On a beautiful, sunny Saturday, in came daughter #1, you all know as Farm Girl, and two of her boys and daughter #2, City Girl, and her little girl. They were dressed for action.

Let me tell you, folks, it's just plain weird when the kids take over your space. I thought we'd do a little raking, maybe take care of the burn pile and have a nice visit. 

Instead, I think it was a lesson in ~ 

I hooked the wagon to the garden tractor and told the grandsons I'd be back to haul the stuff away when they had the wagon filled. Grandson #2 hopped on and drove it away himself. What! Oh right, he's 18 and drives a car. 

Where did my baby boy go?  He asked for a bottle of water. Te he. Grandma doesn't do plastic water bottles. I gave him my pink thermos. And then I took a picture of him with it and posted it for all to see. ~

This boy, by the way, is a brilliant pianist. You can imagine how thrilled I was when he risked those pianist hands by firing up a chainsaw and cutting down some scrub walnut trees. The only thing that topped it was his brother the artist risking his hands with an axe!

Only an artist shows up in skinny jeans and John Lennon sunglasses for this kind of work!

Has time been marching on without me knowing it? What possessed me to follow those poor boys around saying things like, "You have to clutch to change gears on the tractor" and "Careful you don't hit your leg with the chainsaw"?  They live on a farm for Pete's sakes. I'm sure they know how to do this stuff.

At least Stella is still a little kid. She may live in a city, highrise condo but she had the time of her life playing with the cats and feeding the chickens copious quantities of treats. I wondered why one chicken was following her around all day until I saw the empty container of sunflower seeds.

That City Girl participated in this yard cleanup is amazing! As she told me she'd, "rather spend 17 lifetimes in Nelson Mandella's prison than own a yard". I'm not even sure she's exaggerating.

I think my girls are discussing forcing me into an apartment here. Or, maybe they are taking me directly to the nursing home. ~

What did I learn from all this? Hmmm

I learned that you sometimes have to reassess your situation and see if it's time to make some changes to make life simpler. Not nursing home changes; just the kind of changes that streamline things a bit and free up some time.

I learned that I don't like being told what to do. Surprise! That just may be why I've always been self-employed.  I should probably work on being more receptive to suggestions. 

I learned that I love my kids and my grandkids and I'm very lucky to have a family that will take time out of their busy lives to give me a hand. Farm Girl has her own chores to do and six kids to raise. City Girl has a baby at home and Stella to care for. Both drove over an hour to get to my place and delayed their drives home to handle another difficult situation for me. I'll talk about that in another post.

At the end of the day, I said to myself, "Well, welcome to another crossroad in life, Maureen".  The next day I plotted out the new, smaller vegetable garden. Who knows, I may like this bend in the road.

I may even get myself one of these. ~

Thank you kids! Love you, even if you did rip out some of my Ivy.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

What Is A Sugar Castor?

The best thing about taking the dessert as a dinner guest was getting to use my new to me sugar castor. I found it in a consignment shop for under $20. The top is silver plated and the the body is cut crystal.

You may have seen sugar castors at thrift shops and yard sales and not been sure what they are used for. They are intended to sprinkle caster sugar on pastries, berries, etc. at the dinner table.

The detachable top is perforated to allow for easy sprinkling of the finely powdered caster sugar.

I'm not making typos here when I say castor for the shaker and caster for the sugar. The shaker gets it's name from castor sets that graced dining tables and usually held oil and vinegar bottles, mustard pots, salt and pepper shakers and sugar castors. No Victorian dining table would be complete without one of these beauties.

Caster sugar is finely ground, white sugar and is sometimes called confectioner's sugar. Because it is finely ground, it dissolves quickly and is often used in meringues and perfect for adding sweetness to desserts at the table without the grittiness of regular table sugar. I'm not saying this stuff is good for you, just that it's gooood!

In fact, caster sugar is so good I may have been a little heavy handed when I dusted these lemon squares.

Even we healthy eating gals have to have the odd guilty splurge, don't you think?

I'm sharing this with What's It Wednesday

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Earth Day Thought For 2015

Earth Day 2015 is over. I've turned out the lights for an hour this evening and read all the nice Facebook slogans. It should feel good, but it doesn't. I know in my heart that we are failing the planet, everything that lives on it and everything that will inhabit the world in the future.

We simply aren't doing enough, though we have ample evidence that we are on a rapidly escalating path to destruction.

I'm a normal human being and I don't want to give up all the convenience of our modern world. I like heat, hydro, cars and all the rest of the things that consume fossil fuel. I buy lumber and wood products. In short I use it all and, even if I do my best to keep my consumption and my carbon footprint low, I'm still part of the problem.

But, I also believe that there are clever people out there who know how to make changes that will allow us to keep much of our standard of living and still give the earth the chance to heal. There are amazing inventions that never get to see the light of day and the only reason they aren't being integrated into our world is GREED. Greed of governments (and Canada is a top offender here), that want the corporate taxes and economic growth from the fossil fuel industry and greed of corporations that have no reason for existence except to generate profit. In Canada, we are afraid of our economy collapsing if we move away from exploiting and exporting our natural resources.

We choose to do this in our boreal forest. ~

photo credit Jiri Rezak

This is a tar sands, oil extraction project in Alberta, Canada. It is a complex means of extracting oil from sand that creates enormous lakes of toxins, right in the middle of the boreal forest. That forest is 54% of the world's intact boreal and crucial to migrating birds, water flow to the Arctic Ocean to form ice and cool the atmosphere and it's wetlands store 25 yrs. of man made carbon emissions. Canada has 10,000 kilometers of boreal forest. That's equal to the Amazon forest and just as important to world ecology.

If you are upset at finding out how poorly we are caring for this world resource, I'll give you a hint on how to put pressure on Canadians to treat this forest with the respect it deserves.

We Canadians have a great point of vulnerability; our Achilles heel as it were. We are vain about our public image. That's all you need to know to put pressure on us. We like to be thought of as the good guys, home to moose and beaver, with beautiful lakes and mountains and forests and people who say sorry even when they haven't done anything to be sorry about.

Just imagine how many times we are going to be saying sorry if the world starts exposing us as one of the lowest performers in the OECD on working toward halting climate change.

Send your journalists over here and let them show what a tar sands trailing pond looks like. Let them write about how these ponds are leaking chemicals into a delicate northern ecosystem. ~

You know I like to write about positive things and stories with happy endings. It is painful to me to say bad things about the country that I have always felt blessed to live in. Only my absolute belief that mankind has reached a crisis on environmental issues would induce me to write this post.

It is all connected; all of us and everything in this world. Each thing we do impacts everything else and everyone else around us. It ripples and moves and touches another thing. I want to move away from doing bad things and begin to move toward doing good things.

It's time to truly understand planet Earth. The sand in the hourglass is sifting through to the bottom. Let's support the new thinkers that can help us turn the hourglass around.

I was amazed and delighted to see this video of the research discovery of the symbiotic relationship between species and generations of trees and fungi. It's only 4 minutes long and worth the time to get a good idea of how much we have yet to learn about how things connect in the world.

I know our hearts are in the right place and maybe next year I can post about all the wonderful progress we have made and say,

Happy Earth Day!