A diary of the projects, hurdles, rewards and family life at we recorded at Wise Acres, our former homestead in Horsefly, BC. (Careers and teenagers have forced us back into the city, at least for a little while.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Since we're talking about animals...

The other day I was on my way to the crawl space door (to continue the plumbing work required to move the toilet so there's space to add a bathtub where before there was only a shower) when I heard Violet barking rather ferociously.

I was concerned because it was coming from the north side of the property, and our neighbour on that side had mentioned some dogs had been harassing her horses. We didn't think it was Violet because she normally doesn't head that way.

I found her about 50 feet from the property line, barking and pacing around a tree. That's when I looked up and saw it...

I ran back to get the camera. At first I thought it was a cougar (we'd seen one this summer about 20 minutes away from here), but seeing the short tail, I realized it was a lynx. (It might also have been a bobcat, but the tail seemed too short.)

I watched for a while. Violet was beside herself trying to find a way up. While she was looking away, the cat jumped to an adjacent spruce. I left after this, and about an hour later Violet came back to the house. I have no idea how the cat got past her.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mmmmm....chocolate chips!

I have been browsing the website at Rancho Vignola, a wholesale fruit and nut supplier and contemplating putting in an order, mostly because I want to get fair trade/organic chocolate chips. Last year, I learned a little bit about the child slave trade involved with the chocolate industry and decided I prefer to buy certified fair trade chocolate (and coffee, but that's another story). But I wondered...could I really use 10 lbs of chocolate chips....hmmm, probably!

Recently, I have been making two snacks for the girls on a fairly regular basis...chocolate chip cookies for V. and banana chocolate chip muffins for G. (M. is happy with either). I'm quite happy with the recipes for both, as they use mostly clean ingredients and whole wheat flour. I find it to be a fine balance when baking for kids...to keep it healthy but still tasty. I learned my lesson when I tried to pass off whole wheat carob chip cookies to G. and she told someone "my mom really can't cook, you should taste her chocolate chip cookies!".

So this is the recipe for these delicious cookies....

I make it pretty much according to the recipe except I often use organic cane sugar instead of the regular white stuff.

The banana muffins are from a recipe which I have adapted enough to feel like I can call it my own :)

Whole Wheat Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 farm fresh organic egg :)
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup mashed bananas (2 med. size)
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Combine dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine egg, oil, yogurt and vanilla. Stir these into dry ingredients. 'Fold in*' bananas and chocolate chips. Fill greased muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes. Cool for a few minutes before taking them out of muffin trays.

* I have often read this instruction in other recipes and wondered exactly what is meant by 'folding in' an ingredient. Recently, I bought this great cookbook The River Cottage Family Cookbook and they describe what is meant by folding in...basically, it's a way of adding a delicate ingredient to a thick mix or a heavy ingredient to a delicate mixture. "Unlike beating, which uses all of your arm, with folding it's the spoon and your wrist that do all the work, turning the mixture over and over like a scooping sort of paddle. For folding you use a metal spoon rather than a wooden one, because it has a thin edge and doesn't work the mixture so much. After each scoop of the spoon, give the bowl a quarter turn with your other hand - this helps to make the blending more even."

M. gives these a big thumbs up!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Where the deer and the antelope play...

Well okay, just the deer so far. We have seen lots of deer on our property, usually though it is their back end as they are taking off into the bush because of our maniacal dog, barking her head off or if she is off leash, chasing them.

On Sunday morning, I looked out the window and this little darling was walking around our garden fence...no doubt figuring out how to get in. She stayed for a while, looking up at the window at us every few minutes.

She must have come up the driveway, because maniac dog was on the front of the house and didn't hear her. I am amazed at just how long their legs are compared to their bodies. Eventually, Farlee, bless his heart decided to be a guard dog for a change and did his best to chase her off. She easily and gracefully leapt off into the bushes....such a beautiful thing to watch. I know, I know...I probably wouldn't be so happy if she had actually made it into my garden, but for now I am just enjoying their harmless visits.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Take a drive out to the country with me

As I was on my way to the post office today, I was struck by just how beautiful everything looks in our little town right now, so I decided to take some pictures on my way home, to share with you all.

Okay, well to be perfectly honest this bridge is just past the post office, but it just has to be part of this tour to get a real feel for Horsefly...

This is the Horsefly River, which runs through town...

These lovely looking bovines, always regard us lazily as we go by...my favourite is the brown and white longhorn...I just can't stop myself from opening the window and giving them a mooooooo!

Now the road switches to a dirt road and we head out of 'town' on the Horsefly-Quesnel Lake Road...which looks like this

This is the road just before our driveway...that heads up to Big Bear Ranch...

And these two gates are across the road from our place and I just love the look of them...

Oh, here we are at our driveway...I'm not sure if this picture does that beautiful yellow tree justice...it is awesome.

Hope you enjoyed the ride!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood...

When we moved away from Westbank, we were a little worried that we would be more isolated, it was our first time living somewhere where we couldn't 'see' our neighbours. Our kids really enjoyed calling on their friends and playing outside in the front yard with them. We figured it was something we were just going to have to live without.... until this morning when our neighbour, who rides the bus with the girls, showed up with his buddy on these...

dirt bikes! Y. who is 9, has been riding for a while. He knows a surprising amount about dirt bikes, like how to clean the air filter if you are riding somewhere really dusty and when the motor wouldn't start that it was probably 'flooded'. The gear they wear is also pretty impressive, I would say body armour pretty much describes it.

Anyways, the girls were delighted and have been playing outside for the last few hours. It truly is a beautiful day in the neighbourhood. I just had to include this shot of M....she so loves cooking with dirt :)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back to school

It certainly feels like Fall around these parts! I love it! The air smells like wood fires, the leaves are starting to change, temperatures are dipping below zero most nights and the kids are back at school. V. started kindergarten this year and G. is in grade three. For those of you who know us, you will know that G. has always struggled with going to school and therefore so have we! It has been many years of anxiety, panic attacks and tears...for both G and me. So this summer when she said she wanted to try out the Horsefly School, we cautiously agreed she should try it, if she wants to.

We have been so pleasantly surprised by this school! It is only a ten minute drive from our house, it has 59 students this year from Kindergarten through to Grade 9 and a really great playground. That is just a start...the staff have been quite simply...incredible! I met with the principal on the first day...to let him know about some of G.'s history and her anxieties about school. He listened carefully and agreed that we should start slow and see how G. does. I stayed for a bit on the first few days, but after that...she has said that she feels fine to stay...all day! She comes home with stories all about her new friends, the cool stuff they are learning, her 'nice' teacher and 'really fun' principal. V. has been enjoying herself too! There are two other little girls in 'Kindy' and one of them looks just like her best friend from Westbank! Because we live over two kilometres from school the girls get to take a school bus...which both of said is the best part of school, which drops them off at the bottom of our driveway!

But back to the staff...everyone has been so supportive of the girls...from her teacher, to the secretary to the caretaker, everyone knows their names and greets them enthusiastically letting them know they are happy that they are there. They are both in the same class, which covers Kindergarten through grade three, and their teacher is wonderful! The kids seem to really benefit from the multi-grade level experience. The teacher remarked that the kids work at whatever level they are at...so for instance some of the grade twos are advanced in language, so they do the grade three work while some of the kids are a little slower in one area, they spend time working up from the grade level they are at.

There are two aids in the class, which helps as they can take the Kindy's to the kindergarten classroom when the older kids are doing seatwork etc. Mrs. E. as the kids call her has really encouraged G., sensing that she likes to help out with the younger kids, she assigned her to be a buddy to a grade one little girl, to help with tying shoes, etc. She also awarded G. a "Bear Card" for helping a kindy child pick up her pencil crayons without being asked. These Bear cards then get put in a hat and the principal picks out one lucky winner at the weekly assembly, who can either choose to get a school t-shirt or he will take them out for lunch. Guess who got picked this week? Yep, G. gets to go for lunch with Mr. G. this Friday and she is so excited!

More about the weekly assembly and Mr. G the principal...Mr. G. holds an assembly of the whole school every Monday morning and parents are welcome to attend. He goes over plans for the week etc., and highlights some of the great work students have done over the past week (e.g. a beautiful drawing one of the grade one students did, a poem a grade 4 student wrote) and of course the Bear Card draw. While doing the draw, he let us know which students weren't picked and what they had earned their Bear cards for. He also goes out in the school yard before school, at recess and during lunch to chat with students, and waits with the kids to get on the school bus. He supervises the music room after school, so that the older kids can 'jam', holds floor hockey games in the gym during lunches on Thursday and Fridays, coaches the soccer team on Monday and Wednesdays after school and the cross country team during recess and lunch.

I think the principal really sets a tone for the school and you get the feeling that they are really 'there' for the students, as opposed to the students being forced to fit into the structure of the school. I am just so thrilled with our experience of this school so far! Even if things get a little tougher for G. I feel confident that I can work with this school.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Preserving Food

Until we moved to BC, I had never preserved food or 'canned' in my life. It wasn't something my parents did, or anyone else I knew for that matter. Growing up in a suburban neighbourhood, we didn't have a vegetable garden, although my Dad was a fantastic gardener, his preference was for flowers with roses being his favourite. When we moved to the Okanagan we experimented with jam during strawberry and raspberry seasons, and really enjoyed the results.

Last week-end, I had the pleasure of getting in on some canning Erich's aunt was doing. She is an extraordinary person. Her and her husband moved 'back to the land' in the 70's and raised their three sons without electricity, indoor plumbing (except for running water) and in the early days, access was by lake only. Erich's mom has a great story of being with Susan when they got a dairy cow as a wedding present, and bringing the cow across the lake on a raft. Erich remembers her being the best baker he knew, cooking on a woodstove and being able to adjust or keep constant the temperature based on the amount of wood being burned. My favourite story, was Susan's description of washing cloth diapers in the cold Cariboo winters, by cutting a whole in the ice of the lake and hauling water to wash the diapers in.

So, as you can imagine, when she said I could come and learn how to make and can crab apple sauce, I jumped at the chance. Thus far, Erich has been the canning expert, so I decided it was time for me to learn the process.

So we started by heading out and picking some crab apples. The only crab apples I had seen were ornamental, so I had thought they weren't even edible. I was surprised to take a bite and discover how tasty they were. Susan quickly filled two buckets, I picked some nice red ones up on the ladder ( this is the secret to the pink colour of the finished product). Jill, Susan's daughter-in-law, was even quicker with her method of stripping branches like a bear, she was able to fill three baskets in half the time!

We passed a lovely afternoon, chatting, cooking and canning the apple sauce and a little wine always makes cooking more fun for me. This is about half of the apples I brought home with me...

Now it was time to try it on my own...

We started by removing the stem and the flower end of the apples and cutting them in half, the rest goes in the pot (seeds and skin too). Add some water and cook the apples...

Once the apples were nice and soft, we put them through the Foley Food Mill, Susan was kind enough to lend me. This is a great tool for grinding the apples and keeping the seeds and excess skin out of the sauce...

V. enjoyed helping with this part. Going in one direction grinds the food, the opposite direction clears the mesh of any apple gunk that blocks the mesh. Then we poured the sauce into our sterilized jars and put them in a boiling water bath to finish them off. I did three batches and they looked like this...

The first batch came out more peach coloured, as the apples were from lower down in the tree, the second batch were picked high up in the tree and had really red skins. Yum! It tastes really good and the girls love it! Hopefully next year we will have a greater bounty from our own garden to put up for the winter. Someday perhaps I too will have a 'cupboard under the stairs' like my friend Heather.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

About the Weather Widget

You may have noticed the little weather widget in the right-side column of this page. It is a live weather feed, directly from our own weather station.

Weather Underground PWS IBCCARIB2

The station (an Oregon Scientific WMR-200) has several sensors that transmit data wirelessly to the base station in my office. Here, my PC collects the data and uploads it to the Weather Underground, where it is shared with the world, and you here.

As interesting as this all is (yes, it did drop to 0.1 deg C last night) there's a grander motive: I hope to have enough data collected over time to determine if we'd benefit at all from a windmill to supplement our electricity.

One issue I have is that the weathervane/windspeed post is in our garden, and the wind's less consistent there, as it's quite sheltered by our house, shed and some trees. Still, if I get a second sensor positioned at a more ideal height (30+ ft) I should be able to use the average difference between the two to assess an annual wind rate. (Incidentally, anyone want to sell me an old TV aerial?)