Friday, September 20, 2013

So this totally happened, or, why I love my kids, reason #457-2A

So last Sunday my son was having dinner with us, and there was a discussion going about the history of the Mongol Empire (not that I know anything about that, but Jeremy has been doing a lot of reading). Well, anyway, the conversation turned to that poem, you know the one: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree..." and we disagreed over who we thought the author was. I was thinking Coleridge, but Jeremy's vote was for Wordsworth.

No point in having a daughter with a degree in honours English if you don't use her as a resource, right? So this text conversation totally happened:

Me: Was it  Coleridge who wrote, "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan..."

Rose: Yes

Me: Ha, I win

Rose: He had a nerve disorder which gave him extreme and unrelenting pain only in his face, so he became addicted to laudanum, which clearly inspired that poem.


Rose: Why do you ask?

Me: Jerm and I were talking

Rose: Who did he think it was?

Me: Wordsworth

Rose: Ahhh. Good second guess. But no. Although some witty Romantic commenter said that Coleridge's best poem was Wordsworth. So, potato, potahto.

Rose: I can also discuss Coleridge's theory of mind quite extensively, should that ever come up.

I have to admit, I was pretty sure that not only was I right, but I also thought that Rose would laugh derisively at Jeremy's choice of Wordsworth. Got schooled, didn't I?

That same dinner-time conversation wandered, as conversations will, into a remember-when? kind of deal, where I learned another astonishing thing about how the smallest, least-memorable thing you might do as a parent can have incredibly far-reaching consequences. We were talking about self-confidence, and how Important it is, blah blah, blahdy-blah, and then this happened:

Jeremy: Remember when I was in Grade 1, and I told you about playing Magic with Boy A and Boy B (names withheld to protect the guilty) and how they were being mean and not playing fair, and you told me that if people weren't nice to me, then FUCK 'EM?

Me: Good God no, I have absolutely no memory of that (and I didn't, and still don't, friends and neighbours, not one single neuron twitches in recognition. But I am pretty sure I didn't literally say "fuck 'em", not when he was only 6.....but it's me, and I may have...)

Jeremy: Well, that stuck with me forever, once I figured out you weren't mad at me, you were mad at them, and it's pretty much why I decided to stop caring what others thought about me. It's why I wore that pink fuzzy housecoat all through Grade 12, actually., a kind of throw-away comment, not carefully thought out for sure, has moulded my son's character in a completely unseen way. At least, that's how he sees it, and he's the one that counts. Funnily enough, one of the things I most admire about Jeremy is his sense of self, how grounded he is in who he is. And guess what? He credits me. Go figure.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Things I love about Sweden - Part the First

1)      Skane - 

The southern little bit of Sweden where the house, Gläntan, is: my favourite landscape of all, rolling farmland interspersed with woods. The woods are mostly pine and birch, growing in surprisingly sandy soil. The meadow flowers include poppy, cornflower, daisy and buttercup, which, when I was a little girl, were the flowers of my make-believe wedding bouquet. The woods smell strongly of piney incense and the wheat fields in the sunshine smell like bread. There are berries everywhere; right now at the end of July, the raspberries are ubiquitous and also scent the air – I’ve never smelled so many good things all in the same place. Blueberries are out too, and currants and gooseberries. It’s too dry right now for mushrooms, but if it weren’t, there would be chanterelles.

A drive in the fields around us at twilight reveals deer, rabbits, hedgehogs, and so many frogs all over the road that you have to drive a slalom course to avoid hitting them. There is apparently a hedgehog living right under our deck, but I have yet to meet it. We have toads and big fat snails, and those legless lizards as well. In the woods you can get scared by wild boar, and sometimes the local pig farmers get a surprise when little bumblebee-striped piglets are born, evidence of a clandestine visit to the sow by a wild boar.

Have I mentioned that I love this place? Just around the corner is Drakamöllan, a nature reserve of dry, heather-covered hills and pine woods with a herd of semi-wild ponies, a flock of sheep, and sometimes Highland cattle roaming free.  On a hot sunny day the honey scent of the heather knocks your socks off. The animals are fenced in by electric wire, but the considerate Swedes have put steps over the fence at strategic points, wherever the trails intersect.

2)      Swedes -

My own particular Swede, of course, who was born in Sweden but is now a French citizen, and perfectly bilingual in Swedish/French (as well as speaking numerous other languages, but let’s stick to these two for now). It’ a curious thing how his personality changes with the language; French Frédéric is witty and sarcastic and can be kind of an asshole (love ya, baby!) but Swedish Fredrik is different; he’s…Swedish. Hard to pinpoint exactly how, precisely - more laid back, for sure, but there’s more than that. Schizophrenic, but I loves him.

Also, where but in Sweden would the daytime radio show have a program where the hosts are sitting in front of a pile of sex toys, and the discussion is all about how you use them, are they any good, and please, listeners, call in with your own thoughts and experiences.

Or in Stockholm, where a wildly popular show consists of a sing-along, in a park, that’s filmed live every week with various local celebrities, and everyone sings along to old-time folk ballads. Wildly popular, I reiterate – think that show would fly in Canada?


3)      The Food –

OK, the food – let’s start with the obvious, and talk meatballs: even the Swedes go to Ikea to eat meatballs. But don’t forget the smoked reindeer, or the crispbread, the lingonberries and the cloudberries (although Newfoundland has those too); there’s a zillion kinds of herring (which you must eat with potatoes, amusingly called “potatis” in Swedish), and the aquavit that you drink with the herring…..or the salmon: gravid lax, all dilly and delicious. Not much can top the crayfish dinner though: a beautiful ring of crayfish cooked with dill, eaten with crispbread, cheese, salads, beer, and of course more aquavit. 

And then there’s pear – pear-flavoured gum, pear-flavoured drinks, pear-flavoured ice cream, pear-flavoured candies…Swedes like pear the way they like black licorice, the only flavour I take exception to.
No paean to Swedish food would be complete without at least a brief mention of TUBE CHEESE: available in dozens of flavours, including blue cheese with pear (see?), ham, reindeer, bacon, walnut, etc. etc.:


Ok, that’ it for now – more later!

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Spinning Fool

One of the best things about the new barn where Murphy and Katie live now is the fact that they share their home with a flock of sheep – pure-bred North Country Cheviots, to be precise. This is a cool thing because I am a spinner as well as a knitter, and the thought that I could get my hands on some fibre was maybe not the first thought I had upon hearing about this particular horse-boarding opportunity, but it might have been the second.

And indeed, it has come to pass that a couple of weeks ago, there was shearing, with fleeces in abundance, and in return for some really minor help from me, flock owner Jan Hunter was kind enough to give me a truly magnificent fleece, from one of their rams, Dirk Diggler. For his name alone you gotta love him; for his fleece, I am sincerely thankful. I have been in a frenzy of washing, dyeing and spinning the last little while. This is the first time I have worked with North Country Cheviot fibre, which my book The Fleece and Fiber Source Book says is “ best known for white, bouncy wool; a pleasure to spin...easy to work with and versatile”, and I have to say I am a fan. It’s easy to card, nice staple length of between 3 and 5 inches, really good crimp, and a pleasant ivory colour that takes dye really well.

My plan is to prepare most of it in its natural colour, and dye enough for a colourwork sweater maybe? But dyeing is so much fun, I may be re-thinking that. So far I have a red, a bright blue, an indigo, some black, beautiful tonal greens, pink, lavender, yellow, and the best one of all, something that was supposed to be a juniper green, but the dye broke, and the fibre ended up a hideous mix of greens and fuchsia. But when it got spun up, it turned into a lovely olive green with little speckles of rose and purple. Check it out:

just off the sheep

fresh from the dyepot

on the carders
greens, blues and black

all spun up

some more colours

And, just for fun, a few more pictures from shearing day, which happened to be the hottest day ever, so hot that the horses lay down in the field for a nap, and the sheep probably really felt good after losing those heavy sweaters!

Murphy, Electra and Laddie flake out

The lovely Jan Hunter with her flock

NSFW! Naked sheep!
And finally, here is a very short video of Dirk himself, surrendering his fleece:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

And furthermore....Cheese! may be time to return to the initial purpose of this blog, in which I talk about finding stuff/making stuff/using up stuff - this one is really cool.

Back in late February, before Fred went back to France, we had some sour milk and some old, icky goat yoghurt. Remember how nothing gets thrown away here? Fred made cheese! We ran the milk and yoghurt through a cheesecloth strainer to let the whey run out, and then put the resulting curds in a couple of molds, and stored them in our wine cooler at 9°C for about a month.

When Fred arrived back on May 2nd, they were coated in some interesting blue and orange moulds. Fred washed them in saline, and let them ripen just a little more. I had to force myself to eat some, because really, they didn't look very pretty. But holy surpriseballs, Batman! They were both good, like real cheese, even!

Adopt an older dog!

I've talked a little bit before about my rescue critters, and about Louie in particular, the geriatric rescue from Bridgewater. But today I want to share his story, because, because, well, REASONS.

Louie was originally adopted out of SHAID, an animal shelter in Bridgewater, NS. I have no details about his life before this event, but apparently he lived happily with his owner for quite a few years, until the man died, and Louie ended up back at SHAID, because they're awesome like that, and will always take back one of their own in need.

Me, I was back to being a one-dog owner, having lost in fairly quick succession, 2 Rottweilers: Sheena the magnificent, who had lived with us for many years, and then Sophie, who was with us for only a month. I was trying very hard to stay a one-dog household, but cruising is not really the right way to go about that.

Cue seeing Louie on the SHAID website - a little, clearly old, dog (you could see the cloudy eyes in his photo), looking extremely anxious and sad. I tried for about a month to ignore him, but it wasn't working, and Fred was no help at all. He just kept saying we should drive to Bridgewater and see if Vinnie liked him. Well, I caved, we went, Vinnie liked him, and home with us he came.

I am used to adopting dogs, and I know that there is an adjustment period, but Louie was something else - that dog was heartbroken at the loss of his human, and totally confused by the change in his circumstances. Even though I knew he needed time, I found it hard to bond with him, because he gave so little back. Yeah, I was unfair. His habit of peeing in the house didn't endear him to me either - we tried everything we could think of: he went to the vet, we treated him like a puppy and did housetraining from the beginning; we took him out a zillion times - no success, really.

I never came closer to giving up on a critter than with Louie - I even went so far as to email the shelter about returning him. But we tried one more time with the vet, and as a last ditch measure, he went on Metacam, a NSAID, because the vet thought there might be some pelvic tenderness happening. And you knw what? Magic! He has maybe one accident in a month, and that I can live with. He's like a new dog, wagging his tail when he sees us, running like a maniac in the park - so much easier to love.

Long-winded way of saying, I'm glad I didn't give up on him. We've had him for almost 2 years now, and he clearly knows whose dog he is, and he's happy to be here.

In which I get all caught up on many things

So, first of all, the oldest and possibly biggest update - on February 13th, my sweetie and I got hitched for realz - it was the anniversary of our first meeting online, a dating website, of course. I remember looking at his location (Paris, France) and thinking, yeah, this is gonna happen. But what the heck, his pic was cute, and I was home on a snow day, so a little flirtation was definitely in order. We chatted for a bit about not much, and then I excused myself to go shovel the snow off the driveway..."I love shovelling snow," says he, and I answered, "Will you marry me?" Humour. Har. But then 8 years later, he did. And it was cool - us, our good friend the priest, my 2 kids as witnesses, and my daughter's bf as a bonus. I wore jeans, but also a beautiful celestarium shawl that I knitted. It has beads in the shape of the northern sky's constellations on it, and I love it:
There is only one picture of my wedding, a hilarious cell phone pic that my daughter took, with her bf's face photobombing the corner, but it was the perfect wedding for us, and the most stress-free thing I could imagine. 

Stress-free is good, because shortly after that, my beautiful Murphy-horse got a bad impaction colic from lousy hay. He almost died, and my wallet did die - but I was very glad he pulled through. The end result of this story was that my daughter and I decided to move to a new boarding stable; expecting to have to look for months to find a suitable space, we lucked into one right away: not only cheaper, but a newer barn, bigger turnout, 500 acres of riding trails, and also SHEEP! with fibre that I can spin! And, as the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae - it's actually in my all-time favourite piece of Nova Scotia ever. For years, every time I drove up Highway 101 on the way to the Annapolis valley, I would see the gypsum cliffs of Ellershouse and St. Croix, with the old Acadian dikes in front, and fantasize about riding there. Imagine our joy when we found out the new barn began on top of those very gypsum cliffs. I had to pinch myself to believe it.

Here is what it looks like from the highway:

And here is one of the many trails we can ride:

And for those of you who knit and spin, here are some of the sheep!

They are a beautiful flock of pure-bred North Country Cheviots, bred by Jan Hunter at the aptly named Clifftop Farm. Shearing will be soon, and you wanna believe there will be a photo-essay on that!

These two little cuties are twins whose momma didn't want them - Misfit and Lambert, being bottle-fed, will come running to any human, hoping for cuddles and milk. Next year, when their fleeces are ready, there will be hats and mittens for all specifically from them :)

And finally, here are Murphy and Katie, happy in their new home:

And finally, here's what the farm looked like in March, when we moved in:

That white lump front and center is Nikki, the Great Pyrenees guard dog, who not only defends the sheep against coyotes and all enemies, but also takes it upon herself to accompany us on our trail rides.

So, lots of new things in the new year - a husband, barn, sheep - life is good. More later!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Snow days

Yesterday we finally had a snowfall that serendipitously coincided with school opening, and the cherished snow day was ours. I kinda blew it, though - I went to bed the night before firmly convinced that the snow was going to start too late to do any good, and so when I woke up, I did not think to check the school board's website for closures or listen to the radio.

Instead, I took Louie out for his 6am pee (and damn, it was cold!), I had a shower, I got dressed, and settled in to drink my coffee in front of the computer. It wasn't till I was thoroughly caffeinated and heard a snowplough drive by that I thought to check - yup, snow day. Couldn't go back to sleep with all that coffee floating around in my gut, so there I was, all dressed up and nowhere to go. After all those times of waking up and listening in vain for the those lovely words, "all schools in HRM closed today", and when it counts, I miss it. Sigh.

It turned out to be a lovely quiet morning; I got lots of knitting done on my Celestarium shawl, watched a lot of trash TV on Netflix, and drank lots more coffee.

In the afternoon, Fred and I went out to shovel the snow. There was a fair bit of it, but so light and fluffy it was a real pleasure to shovel. So much so, that we shovelled the neighbours' on either side as well, thereby managing to feel doubly virtuous: exercised, and good deed done. Woohoo!

We also had to go around filling the bird feeders; poor little guys were really hungry. Here's a little female hairy woodpecker, sheltering on the lee side of our dead tree:

Little hairy

Monday, January 21, 2013

Skating in the wild

Halifax has a fancy skating oval now, courtesy of the 2011 Canada Games; it's pretty amazing, and all of a sudden we have some quality athletes appearing, too - my friend Kelly's daughter Cassidy for one: look for her in the Olympics, maybe 8 years down the road? A new speed-skating champion on the way.

However, as nice as the oval may be, we don't skate there; the appeal of going round and round in circles in the midst of a huge crowd is lost on us. We like to skate on lakes and rivers, out in the wild, free and crazy. I say crazy, because no one will ever believe us that the ice is safe; even the official municipal website has said that no ice in Metro is safe for skating. Does no one even go out to check? Cause the ice on at least 3 lakes near us is over 6" thick.

We skate in lonely splendour. It works for me.

Box Mill Creek, Beaverbank NS

Who wouldn't want to skate along this beautiful creek? In all the many times we have been there, no one else has ever showed up. Not sure why; there's even a real beaver lodge in Beaverbank:

Beaver lodge

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2 Posts in One Day!

Because this topic is sufficiently different to merit its own post: I would like to officially welcome my grand-dog, Floyd:

My daughter Rose and her boyfriend Dom did indeed get their greyhound - not Eyebrow dog, as I'd hoped, but this guy is pretty cute too, and Eyebrow dog went to a good home the same day. It appears Floyd was destined for them: before the name Floyd was settled on, "Chicken Wing" was bandied about (mainly by Dom, with everyone else yelling, ew, no!)

However, the universe laughed at all of us, as it frequently does. Floyd's racing name in Florida was Roc a Bye Wing's (yes, stupid apostrophe is stupid, but it's meant to be there), and at the rescue kennel he was affectionately known as.......Chicken Wing. So yeah, he came home with them.

Floyd is a retired racer for a reason - he won one race in his whole career, and came second in another. Ol' Roc a Bye Wing's just didn't have the fire in him. However, even at a slow amble, he can outrun my shepherd mix Vinnie without even trying hard, and I used to think Vinnie was fast. You can check out Floyd's less than illustrious career here: Floyd runs . The winning race is here.

Floyd's new life mostly centres around being a couch potato.  And that's pretty much the way it should be.

In which I try again

Well, total fail on daily posting, but maybe I can forgive myself and make a more realistic goal of semi-regular entries. I had a bunch of ideas for posts the past few weeks too, so serves me right for laziness. Lessee if I can remember any of them:

One thing that is in keeping (sort of) with the hunter/gatherer theme is our new hilarious yoghurt maker. As I've mentioned, my partner Fred is all about the do-it-yourself, throw-nothing-away philosophy. If it's cheap, all the better. See, for example, the use of our car as oven in the making of those crackers last summer.

Anyway, we have struggled with yoghurt making in our cold house - crockpots get too hot, top of the fridge not quite warm enough, sink full of hot water ok, but you have to keep replenishing it. Answer? The Revlon Paraffin Bath manicure thingy - heats to about 42°C, perfect for yoghurt. And, incidentally, if I want, I can melt paraffin in it for a manicure treatment. It holds 2 l of yoghurt, and was on sale for less than half price just before Christmas.

Yeah, you could just buy a yoghurt maker, but where's the fun in that? Plus, most of them just make those little cups, which are not nearly enough.