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.)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Horsefly Goes Country III

Just a little plug for a Country Dance, Arts on the Fly is hosting May 16th...doors open at 8:30pm. If you're in the area...come on down! Music provided by Clancy Wright and the Silverados..come and enjoy the music or dance the night away for just $12.50! Horsefly Lake Provincial Park is a nice spot to camp and is just down the road!

The Horsefly School Computer Club is coming!

Though we've had quite a few years of declining interest, recent numbers may indicate interest in IT careers is growing among college-entry students. I imagine this will rise and fall, subject to the cryptic trends teens follow, but I believe we can still make a difference.

What got me thinking this way was Malcolm Gladwell's conclusion in Outliers that opportunity was as much of a factor in success as skill or talent. Then Horsefly school asked the community if anyone had anything they could teach to supplement their faculty of four. I saw an opportunity to offer an opportunity - let the kids play with PCs in a way their school or parents wouldn't typically support, letting them hack the hardware without fear of breaking things, learning while getting their hands dirty. My vision was a shop class with PCs.

photo credit: Electronics Club 1986 by ExtraKetchup

So far, we've had two after-school PC Hardware classes for the "seniors", which in this school are 7th to 9th grade. I start the sessions with some foundational theory but I've found that slides and theory can only go so far before eyes glaze over. I then follow the theory with the hands-on work, where (so far) we've added and removed RAM, added and partitioned harddrives, and unplugged and replaced cards and cables.

My plan at this point is to run this program for a few more weeks, then open the doors to an after-school computer club. There's been a lot of interest from the "intermediates" (4th-6th grades), and the seniors could then act as mentors. With guidance, they could be introduced to programming, open-source software, architectures, and virtual machines, before they ever hit high school.

The principal has been very open to integrating the program with their curriculum, e.g., crediting the participants for blogging as writing assignments.

I've had amazing support from my employer - EMC's Community Involvement team has provided access to old hardware and t-shirts for the club.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Celebrate Earth Day

"We've been acting like a rock star, trashing a hotel room and now it's the morning after."
-Kenny Ausubel's Keynote at Bioneers by the Bay 2008, to see more click here.

I thought we would celebrate Earth Day today by sharing with our readers, one of many of our sources of inspiration for trying to live a more natural, sustainable life...Chelsea Green. They are the publisher of many of our favourite authors...from their incredibly content dense website...

For 25 years, Chelsea Green has been the publishing leader for books on the politics and practice of sustainable living. We are a founding member of the Green Press Initiative and have been printing books on recycled paper since 1985, when our first list of books appeared. We lead the industry both in terms of content—foundational books on renewable energy, green building, organic agriculture, eco-cuisine, and ethical business—and in terms of environmental practice, printing 95 percent of our books on recycled paper with a minimum 30 percent post-consumer waste and aiming for 100 percent whenever possible. This approach is a perfect example of what is called a ”triple bottom line“ practice, one that benefits people, planet, and profit, and the emerging new model for sustainable business in the 21st century.

The company has well over 400 titles in print covering topics like straw bale construction, gardening and agriculture, food and health, green building and simple living. They have also taken full advantage of an active online commmunity presence, sharing news and current events on Twitter, Facebook and to subscribers to their site and various blogs.

Recently, I've become slightly addicted to Chelsea Green TV ... they have video clips on a wide variety of topics, usually presentations or interviews with the authors of their books. They make their material easy to share...this is an entertaining interview with Joel Salatin, a local food advocate and farmer and author of "
Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front. (2007)"

To subscribe to their "feed" (provides you with daily updates of news/events etc in the world of sustainability)...click here.

This from their site today...I do enjoy their irreverent sense of humour...

So, in the interest of helping you reconnect with the Earth, I’ve put together this quick list of recommendations for how to celebrate Earth Day. Do them in order. Optional where noted.

  1. Look out your window.
  2. Stand up. Leave your desk.
  3. Run out of your office, screaming, “I’m going to my garden! You drones can’t stop me!”
  4. Flip off your boss. (Mooning optional.)
  5. Stop running. Apologize. Continue running.
  6. Drive to your garden (if you have one) or the nearest park (if there is one) or to West Virginia (if you live in New Jersey).
  7. Find a rock. Threaten your cellphone with it. (So it REALLY knows you hate it.)
  8. Find a spot in the sunshine and lie down in the grass. Away from the highways. Away from the city.
  9. Breathe. Slowly.
  10. Dig your hands in the dirt.
  11. Contemplate your food. Your shelter. Your family. Your time left on Earth.
  12. Contemplate your job.
  13. Take cell phone picture of your middle finger. Send it to your boss.
  14. Sleep in the sunshine.

From all of us ne’er-do-wells at Chelsea Green: Enjoy your Earth Day!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Meet Knut! We named him after the famous polar bear, born in the Berlin Zoo. Apparently the k is pronounced but we have just been calling him 'newt'. He is a Maremma/Akbash cross. This breed are raised as livestock guardian dogs. And...this was our intent when we bought him. The idea being that he would live with the sheep, bond with them and protect them. The problem with this idea is that to bond with the sheep, they should really have minimal contact with the people. While a good idea in theory...would you look at that face?
Yikes! There were a couple of challenges to this idea. First...our sheep have horns...and they know how to use them. After several butts sent the little fellow shooting across the barnyard and shaking in his boots, we decided perhaps to introduce them to one another a little more gradually. Second...our barnyard fence has openings that a small pup can easily squeeze through...so we thought we had him secured in the barn and a small kennel we set up but as we were eating our breakfast we heard some whining at the front door and discovered the little pile of wagging fluff on our doorstep. The girls find him to irresistable to ignore for long and frankly so do I.

Our compromise is that he will bond with the kids and us but spend his nights in the barn with the sheep. It is not such a bad thing to have a dog that will protect the kids from bears and cougars...right?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Gardening fever

Just lately, I feel like I have devouring any and all things related to gardening. Last year, we were a little late getting started with the garden so I am determined to get things going earlier this year.

It started with the seed catalog from West Coast Seeds.
This was my first foray into starting vegetables from seed, so I decided to order a wide variety and see what works. The seed catalogue not only describes the huge variety of seeds they have available to order, but also provides a wealth of useful growing information.

The other day my seeds arrived in the mail...sooooo exciting! I know I went overboard but I really want to experiment and find out what will grow and what won't, so here is the list...
  • Three Sisters Mix-Pole Beans, corn and squash (how could I refuse a combination called "three sisters"?)
  • Bush Beans-Tricolour blend
  • Beets -Merlin
  • Cucumbers - Sultan and Homemade Pickles
  • Lettuce - Red Sails
  • Pumpkins - Small Sugar and Neon
  • Spinach - Space
  • Broccoli - Nutri Bud
  • Tomatoes - Glacier
  • Cabbage - Derby Day
  • Kohlrabi - Kongo
  • Cauliflower - Multi-colour Blend
  • Carrots - Rainbow Blend and Nantes
  • Rainbow Chard
  • Zucchini - Gold Rush and Black Beauty
  • Lettuce Blend
  • Arugula
On our last trip to the Otter Co-op, I picked up some seeds that would grow in our new greenhouse, like peppers and tomatoes, so those are started and the greenhouse is all set up!

I've also been combing through our library's gardening books...my favourites so far have been:
  • Lasagne Gardening by Patricia Lanza
  • The Self-Sufficient Garden by John Seymour
  • Guide to Growing your Own Food - Mother Earth News- Wiser Living Series
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a composting workshop put on by the newly formed Williams Lake Gardening Club, hosted by Rob Borsato from Mackin Creek Farm (a certified organic market farm, about 45 km. north of Williams Lake). It was a great workshop with lots of tips for growing in our northern climate, but mostly I was finally able to grasp how composting works and how to build a pile to produce great compost in as little as 4 weeks. Rob is very knowledgeable and passionate about organic growing. Last night, I attended a second workshop that he was doing, on organic vegetable growing. So much great information on drip lines, crop covers, starting seeds...I was truly inspired!

Rob highly recommended this book by Eliot Coleman...
which I will be adding to my library request list! I read one of his other books last year, about a four season harvest. I'll have to get that one out again too!

Here is a little clip I found recently from Chelsea Green from the guru himself...

And if you liked that one...here is a longer keynote he gave at a conference...enjoy!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

While Mom is away, the kids will...saw?

This morning M. and I went over to the school for a few hours to Ready, Set, Learn! a school readiness program being offered at the Horsefly School. G. and V. were home from school today and decided to stay home, Erich was working upstairs so could kind of 'supervise' them. I came home to this...

I don't consider myself an 'overprotective' parent but I will admit that my heart did skip a beat to see my 6 year old sawing away at a peace of 1x3, with a few nail points sticking through to boot. Overall though, I was really very proud...as were they.
This is one of the reasons we made this lifestyle change and one of our central and shared values as parents. In the words of the inspirational Miss Frizzle (from the Magic School Bus) "It's time to take chances! Make mistakes! And get messy!" And that's what childhood should be all about!

Erich and I have talked about how much freedom we feel to create, build and basically do whatever the hell we want, living out here. It is most rewarding that this feeling also seems to have rubbed off onto our children.

This is a stark contrast to Toronto, to where we could have raised our family...where the Board of Education ripped out all of the playground equipment from every school because it was too 'dangerous' for kids. Seriously! Have you ever heard something so goofy? There seems to be a trend to generally sanitize environments for kids with the idea of removing as much risk as possible. It makes me crazy! How do kids learn to manage risk if they never get to take any?? 'SMARTRISK' is not just somewhere I used to work...it is something that has become a guiding principle in raising my kids.

Don't get me wrong...we're not completely irresponsible...we have shown our kids the proper way to hold a saw, drill and hammer...so they have had a chance to practise supervised...likely why they felt so comfortable taking on the task on their own.

So this is the final product...

Great job ladies!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

PSA: Trying out Disqus for Commenting

Just a quick note to say we're trying out the Disqus commenting service. Please let us know what you think - if you don't like it, we'll set things back to the way they were.

What we like - it's open to many different login identities: Google/Blogger, Facebook, Yahoo, to name a few. It also allows the commenters to centralize their comments across any Disqus-enabled website. An example would be the BCLocalNews.com site, from where we pull our local news (via the Williams Lake Tribune).

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rural High-Speed at the 150: A Schism or Controlled Marketing?

photo: Broken phones by esteban, via flickr

I read an article this week that got me a little frustrated. To summarize, the residents of 150 Mile House have organized a petition to convince Telus (our ILEC) to provide high-speed service. They describe a chicken-and-egg situation, where subscribers will not pay for a low-speed ISP, and Telus doesn't have enough subscribers to justify the infrastructure upgrade. (Incidentally, they also mention Horsefly as also suffering from a critical mass.)

At no point do they mention the NetworkBC programme, or BCWireless (our ISP). I mentioned it before as it allowed us to move here. Availability of high-speed was a stipulation on our purchase offer, as my job depends on it.

This, to me, is probably just a righthand-lefthand schism. Telus, as a partner in the programme, should have pointed out that BCWireless has excellent coverage in Horsefly (albeit line-of-sight only) and could possibly roll out similarly in 150 Mile House. (I've heard recently that another ISP is offering a similar service in Big Lake.)

However, a suspicion has arisen in me. BCWireless's web site is a little out of date, and indicates that a 150 Mile House roll-out is planned. However, if you view the more current PDF, that no longer appears to be the case.

But it seems the infrastructure's there: Telus's own published roll-out schedule states this has already occured, as does their interactive-but-poorly-designed map.

As I understand it, the NetworkBC agreement assured that participants would not have to worry about competing against Telus. With no other ISP listed, is Telus now the only potential high-speed ISP for the 150?

To possibly reinforce this suspicion, let's considerer that Telus is also a wireless vendor who would happily provide users with higher-cost-to-the-subscriber/lower-cost-to-the-vendor (no last-mile worries) wireless high-speed. Telus Mobility has excellent coverage throughout the Hwy 97 corridor, which is where 150 Mile House lies.

Therefore, I believe that although it's far more likely Telus' PR people don't know what is actually happening in the world of high-speed internet (or they would have happily touted how much they are helping), there's a possibility they are planning to roll out a residential wireless high-speed service to through Telus Mobility and aren't ready to talk about it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Whoa...check out that temperature...18 degrees!

To celebrate the warm weather, I put a load of laundry out on the line...now melt snow melt!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sheep Maintenance - Part 2 - 'Rooing'

I mentioned our shaggy sheep in an earlier post...I noticed it first with Snow White and I was concerned that maybe it was some sort of external parasite. I sent out a message to some fellow Icelandic shepherds I know and one of them mentioned that I should just enjoy rooing and it was nothing to worry about. Hmm...rooing?

This is the definition of 'rooing' provided by Wikipedia:


In some primitive sheep (for example in many Shetlands), there is a natural break in the growth of the wool in spring. By late spring this causes the fleece to begin to peel away from the body, and it may then be plucked by hand without cutting – this is known as rooing. Individual sheep may reach this stage at slightly different times." (Icelandics are considered a 'primitive' breed also)

I'm still not sure if the 'rooed' wool will be good for spinning...but maybe for felting?

So this is Brownie before rooing...

...and this is after...

This is how much wool I was able to get off...
Another interesting thing about Icelandics is that:
" they produce a naturally dual-coated fleece made up of the tog, a long, lustrous outer coat similar to mohair, and the thel, a fine, soft, crimpy undercoat. These two fibers may be spun together or separated and spun separately, to produce three different types of yarn. Icelandic fleece is also one of the most prized wools for felting. The wool is low in lanolin, which means much less weight is lost during washing compared to the wool from other breeds." Excerpt from Why Icelandics?

You can see a lock in this picture...

I suspect I will have to wait until for a Fall shearing, to have wool that I can spin.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sheep Maintenance - Part 1 - Hoof Trimming

A few weeks ago, I asked our neighbour Florian (from Big Bear Ranch) if his girlfriend, Steffi, who is visiting from Austria and is a veterinarian, had any experience trimming sheep hooves. He called back a day or so later and said she did and they would be willing to come over and give us a hand. Have I mentioned lately how much I appreciate our amazing neighbours?

So after practising their technique on a few of their own sheep, Florian and Steffi popped over ready to jump in and get going. Florian had perfected the technique for subduing the sheep in a sitting position...

...notice Brownie gnawing on his overalls...we figured it couldn't have been too traumatic an experience since this picture was taken after she had hers done!

Steffi was great at demonstrating the correct procedure and giving me feedback when it was my turn...

Stay tuned for Sheep Maintenance - Part 2 - Rooing and hopefully, Part 3 - Sheep Shearing.

Aside from being a top-notch sheep wrangler, Florian is an incredible photographer...he just updated his blog with new shots from Europe and they are fantastic. Check them out here.

Worth the trip


This weekend found us back in Vancouver. We decided last minute to attend the Memorial Service for Erich's great Aunt Eleanor. Erich's Dad was flying in from Ontario, so it was also a nice chance to visit with him. It was sunny and warm and we did a couple of trips to the beaches at Horseshoe Bay and Ambleside and had some super-yummy Indian food at a great restaurant called the Indian Oven. AND....we were able to pick up our chick starter...yay! I just love the Otter Co-op...it's chock full of great stuff for animals, gardens, small farms etc. We also found a small greenhouse that was on sale! The only downside was that there was not so much room for poor Violet on the return trip.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Self-sufficient gardening on CNN?

I just came across this link on a new blog I follow called Country Living in a Cariboo Valley...an interesting article...here is a teaser...

Recession gardens' trim grocery bills, teach lesson

CNN) -- As American families try to stretch their food budgets during the recession, some are turning to the backyard, rather than the grocery store, as the place to look for produce....

The gardeners are following seed-strewn paths laid by Michelle Obama and Eleanor Roosevelt, both of whom have used the White House lawn to show the value of a garden during tough times.

The scope of today's trend is shocking even to those in the gardening industry.

W. Atlee Burpee & Co., the largest seed and gardening supply store in the country, says it has seen a 25 to 30 percent spike in vegetable seed and plant sales this spring compared with last.

"I've been in the business for 30 years, and I've never seen anything like it -- even remotely like it," said George Ball, chairman and CEO of the company.

Click here for full article.

Here is a video from CNN, of a chef in Georgia, demonstrating 'farm to table'...