Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sugar-free Lent

I like Lent. I could go on about the spiritual side of things concerning this penitential season, and may at some point. But my current thought is more on the practical side of Lent.

Lent spans 40 days. This seems like an ideal amount of time to allow new habits to develop, or for old ones, which really aren't very useful, a chance to die. It's not like New Year's resolutions that are often made with the best intentions, but overloaded with holiday cheer. No, it's enough after the holidays that one can devote a bit more energy towards changing one's self in some way.

Last year, i decided giving up sugar would be in my best interest. I had grown overfond of sweets and set some ground rules for myself. Obviously, no sugar was the first one, but as Lent went on, i didn't want it to be one of those things where i suddenly switch to sugar-free things loaded with aspartame or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I wanted to break the hold sweet in general seemed to have on me. I had rid my cupboards of most things containing HFCS so that wasn't a big deal, and the biggest thing i consumed with aspartame was diet soda. I had three yoghurts in my refrigerator at the start of Lent, and all had some sugar in them, in addition to the sugar that milk naturally has. I decided i'd eat those rather than pitch them, as their expiry date occurred before Easter. The catsup in my fridge is made with HFCS. I knew i wouldn't drink an entire bottle just for the sweetness, and decided i'd use it to make cocktail sauce when i had shrimp (prawn) cocktail. I had one diet soda when a friend and i were shopping and stopped at a fast food place for a quick bite. That's when i decided i needed to relinquish that, too.

I had a supply of raisins on hand, figuring they'd be my best friend for the first week. And, they were ;-) I mixed a handful of them with a handful of walnuts for an afternoon snack. Sometimes for a midmorning snack as well. After the first week, i had fruit once a day or once every other.

I found that a lot of the inner cacophony ceased after four days of no sugar. Pretty telling to me that i had been eating more sweets than was good for me.

I did break my sugar and sweetness fast on Easter Sunday. A friend invited me to her home, which she and her sister share. She also invited her kids and grands, so there were lots of people. She's a wonderful cook, and amongst the many things there, she made some lemon squares. I had one, only after much thought. I enjoyed it thoroughly, thanked her, and wondered if i'd be more selective in my sugar or sweets consumption in the ensuing months.

As Lent rolled around this year, i thought i'd forego sugar and sweet things again. I was so busy making room for the cow in the freezer and eating up as many veggies as possible, that i didn't have any sugar orgy on Mardi Gras. I laid in a stock of raisins and some lovely oranges.

So far, so good. Even though i have had sugar or sweet overload moments this past year, this first mindful week of abstaining from all things sugar/sweet has demonstrated that it's not as bad as it was last year. I do have to read every label and decide sometimes, if i'm going to have something if i see any sweetener mentioned in the list. I'm not saying no completely, as with the catsup, which i rarely eat, but i shall wait to use barbecue sauce on anything until after Easter.

When Lent is over, i doubt i'll stay completely sugar free. I do like a slice of cake on my birthday, and between Thanksgiving and New Year's, i'm fond of baking cookies and cranberry-apple pies. I should like to think that i can take the habit of mindful eating that i am establishing this Lenten period and make it engrained.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday night chit-chat 26 Feb 2012

No photo-the one from yesterday's entry will have to do.


Still reading through the Boatkeeper book, in addition to How to Sail by Carl D. Lane (and subtitled "A Complete Handbook of the Art of Sailing for the Novice and the Old Hand"), This Old Boat by Don Casey, and snippets from The Yeast Syndrome by John P. Trowbridge, M.D., and Morton Walker D P.M., and Sugar Blues by William Dufty. I'm working on setting up the jobs list for the boat once we get warmer weather, and as i gave up sugar for Lent, i thought the latter two books a good source of inspiration.

I debated about going to see this movie, and after reading John's review, i decided i would go see it. I think it should win best picture, best actor, and best supporting actress. The music really added something to the film as well. And, i loved Uggs, who played The Dog. Yes, it's none other than "The Artist."

Two weeks ago, i saw "The Descendants," which is also an excellent film. George Clooney does an amazing job, but i do believe Jean Dujardin is just a skosh better. I'd also like to see a foreign actor win the best actor award. It doesn't happen very often, especially when the actor doesn't speak English as a first language.

Listening to
Ingrid Michaelson and She and Him. There's also a very stark version of I Put a Spell on You that's amazing here.

Nothing noteworthy. Made a pot of chili that hit the spot.

Happy you accomplished this week
One step closer to getting taxes done. I was hoping to have them all done by this weekend, but any inroads there are successes in my book.

Updated my spending log. I've had 24 no-spend days since New Year's Day. :0)

Looking forward to next week
I forgot to sign up for a class and want to see if there's still room.

Thankful for today
Sunshine, a chance to relax a bit, and a great two hours of hockey this afternoon. I scored a goal in the second game.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Welcome sign

For many of our vacations, we've gone sailing on a windjammer. One of the places where we've often stopped had this sign at the town dock. The sign has since been amended, but provided a good chuckle for many years.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Green leaf=happiness

About a month ago, i was making something that required horseradish. I've used the stuff in a jar before with good results, but the grocery store didn't have what i needed. They carried a horseradish sauce that had all sorts of stuff in it. I wanted just horseradish in a jar, kept with a bit of vinegar and salt. None to be had.

Plan B found me in the produce section, and there i found some horseradish roots. I picked one, and once i got home, i cut off what i needed for my recipe. There was a bit left, and as we like cocktail sauce with shrimp, i decided i might as well prepare the rest in the empty horseradish jar. So, i peeled and grated all but the very end of the root that had thin little white roots dangling like a straggly beard. The root had actually been two grown together, and i untangled the straggly bits, making it easy to separate the two like cloves in a garlic bulb.

I got a bit of potting soil and used two small yogurt containers for pots, figuring i might as well try and grow them out. Last spring, i had gotten some roots to plant from a nearby nursery. I dutifully kept them refrigerated and waited for most of the snow to melt before putting them in good sized pots and burying the in the garden outside. They never sprouted. I had nothing to lose if i tried sprouting these and kept the little pots on the kitchen windowsill.

I watered them every so often, usually weekly, and last week i found myself wondering why i should bother? I'd give it until spring before i considered it a total failure.

Yesterday, while chatting with Himself on the phone, i happened to look at the little pots. One had a green leaf stretched to the light outside, a long, slender leaf! I was surprised how happy it made me.

Its appearance reminded me that it's nearing time for me to consider starting some seedlings.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's Shrove Tuesday

and i did not eat any pancakes, nor did i wear any beads, nor did i shed my top in some drunken Mardi Gras moment. For starters, i'm not in New Orleans, and although this winter has been milder than usual, it's still below freezing, so i'll remain fully clothed, thanks. As for pancakes? Well, with the supply of beef claiming most of the freezer space, i've been busily reheating and eating up the bean soup and once frozen, now thawing bags of veggies.

My family was not particularly religious. Ours was a mixed Protestant household; my mother a Presbyterian, my father an Episcopalian. My hometown did not have a Presbyterian church, so we attended the Episcopal church, although i think even if we had both, we'd still have gone to my father's church. It's just a feeling on my part, although unsubstantiated. When we visited my grandparents, i often went to the Presbyterian church with my grandfather. He thought his elder granddaughter unduly bright, and dropped me off in Grade 3 Sunday School when i was only in Grade 1. The Grade 3's were reading from the Bible, and i was trying to figure out where they were. "What page are you on?" i asked the girl seated next to me. She thought i had three heads, so i stared down at her book, saw the page number and quickly flipped to the same page in mine. Perhaps she couldn't count that high. We were towards the back of the Book, after all.

A Catholic friend once said to me that the Episcopal church was Catholic Light, and while i laughed and nodded, it's not really. The service is very similar to a Catholic service, and i've seen more than one Catholic surprised at the similarities, down to the versicle and responses being nearly verbatim. Except for the lack of Mary's name, praying for the Bishop rather than the Pope, and perhaps a woman wearing the collar and leading the service, the services follow a similar format, with the "church aerobics" as my grandmother called it, which she detested. The standing, sitting, kneeling. Up, down. Up, down. That grandmother was more of a Fundamentalist.

But unlike Catholic or so far as i can tell all mainstream Protestant denominations, the Episcopalians have no dogma. They have a Prayer Book. Like a Catholic missal, although the last missal i saw was for a season only, and the PB has the entire liturgical year contained within its covers, with many rubrics.

When we were children, my parents dutifully took us to church and attended with us. Along about Grade 3, i determined that Sunday School was stupid. All we did was colour pictures, and i could do that at home well enough, thanks, without having to get all dressed up in those itchy, lacy socks and cotton gloves that refused to keep clean no matter how i tried not to touch anything dusty or dirty. I announced this to my parents, as we were encouraged to speak up in our household. I don't think i needed much prodding, mind, and when my mother asked me why i thought it was stupid, i explained to her about the colouring. I said i thought we went to church to learn about God, to pray with other people, and to sing hymns. I wasn't learning anything, we didn't pray in Sunday school, and we didn't sing. At least in Poppy's church (grandfather of Presbyterian fame with the unduly bright granddaughter), we read from the Bible and talked about what we read. How the Bible was God's Word, so we learned something about God from reading The Book.

Now, here i'd like to say that my mother had the slyest of smiles creep across her face for just a moment, but that might be poetic licence in my memory. It may also be an unconscious thing i picked up on, which may explain why i felt that had we had both churches in my hometown, there might have been more of a discussion about which we'd have attended.

At any rate, soon after that conversation, i didn't attend church for some time. My dad went to the early service sometimes, and a few years later, i wanted to go along, too. I loved it, even though it was early in the morning for my night owl circadian clock. There was no singing and no sermon. No excusing the kids in the middle of the service for Sunday school. There were prayers, Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel readings, a Psalm, and Communion. I watched in awe as the priest started the Communion part of the service. I listened to the words, and as he intonated about the Last Supper, i remembered reading about that when i finally found out what page we were on in that Sunday school class in Poppy's church. About how He later died and rose from the dead. "Take, eat, this is my body which was given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise after supper, he took the cup and gave it to them saying, 'Drink you all of this. For this is my blood of the new covenenant, which was shed for you. As oft as ye shall drink this, do it in remembrance of me.'"

So THIS is what went on after the children left the sanctuary to go to Sunday school. Why didn't they let us know about this? In those days, everyone knelt throughout the Communion part, and we were all still kneeling when we had to say the public confession and humble access. I still know it by heart today: "We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen."

In newer editions of the Prayer Book they don't have that prayer just beforehand in the Rite II (more modern) liturgy, and i miss it. Especially in penitential seasons.

That early service with my dad was well before the later editions of the Prayer Book, so it was said every time there was Communion. I said it, too, of course, and watched as people went up to the altar, kneel at the rail, and hold their hands out for the wafer, then all drink from the same cup. Everyone looked contrite. And humbled.

This was not something to be done lightly. Shouldn't we have been told about this in Sunday school?

My dad had his own copy of the 1928 Prayer Book, and it resided on the shelf with other books, like a beautifully bound two-volume set on the Civil War, Great American Authors, which was one of my mother's college text books, A.A. Milne's The World of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh, a yellow-bound, much-loved book, Please Tell Me a Story, and others. We were encouraged to read in our house, so i read through Dad's Prayer Book. All sorts of prayers called collects for all sorts of occasions. The rubrics were unnecessary for those familiar with the service, but i found them an interesting read. Among other things, they suggested that communicants fast before Communion and forego smoking until after the service. Dad had been a heavy smoker for years, and when i thought on it, he didn't smoke as much before church. By the time i read this rubric, he had quit smoking, and i hadn't started yet, so that rubric was moot, though interesting. My father ultimately returned to smoking; i stopped smoking and to date am still not smoking. When i did smoke, i would sometimes recall that rubric ruefully as i stubbed out my cigarette in the church parking lot before making my way inside for the service.

I don't remember exactly how long it was Dad and i attended those services. We didn't talk much before, during, or after them. Religion was a personal matter, and although we all said the prayers of public confession and humble access, our thoughts were our own. After we had been attending a while, i saw someone go up to the altar, kneel down like the others, and fold her arms across her chest, with her open palms resting on the opposite shoulder. The priest stopped with paten still in hand and finished his usual, "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving" before he set the paten down, placed his hands on her head, and blessed her.

I didn't know you could go up there and choose not to take the wafer and wine. I wondered why one would. Couldn't i just as easily, kneeling and watching from my pew, remain contrite and humbled? I asked forgiveness from my sins and even meant every word of the humble access that i said with the others, even though i didn't go up there. I wondered if i should go up some time. Just to see what it felt like. Just to see if it made a difference.

I didn't know how to ask my dad about it. I felt very shy asking at all, so didn't. I was 11 then, and in Grade 6. We attended the later service en famille one Sunday, and i dutifully went to Grade 6 Sunday school when it was time for the Sunday school kids to leave the sanctuary.

There was no colouring to do. The teacher was explaining to the Sunday school class about Easter, Jesus's death, and the Last Supper. She was asking questions to see what we knew, and i could answer all of her questions. The regular Sunday school pupils looked at me. None had seen me since third grade, and the teacher seemed to echo their thoughts when she said, "Megan. You haven't been to Sunday school for quite some time. How do you know all of this?"

"I often attend the early service with my dad. If you pay attention to the whole service, you understand what's going on. The Prayer Book has rubrics, too, that tell you—"

"Thank you, Megan, I think we should give the other children a chance to answer some questions now."

"The Prayer Book tells you this stuff?" one of the star pupils whispered to me.

"Uh-huh. So does the Bible," i whispered back. Here, i felt the teacher's eyes on me. I turned, my eyes met hers, and she pursed her lips a bit. I didn't speak for the rest of class but decided that i wasn't going to learn anything new in Grade 6 Sunday school, either.

I found out later that she told my parents Grade 6 Sunday school was for preparing the youngsters to learn about Communion and confirmation. I seemed to know all about it, so perhaps i was ready for confirmation.

We then became busy with fife and drum stuff, so many of our weekends were taken up with parades and things. As a result, we hadn't been to church very often. I was now confirmation age, and although i told my parents i wanted to be confirmed, Dad said no. He thought that i should be at least 16 before i was confirmed. When i asked him why he explained, "Because confirmation means you believe in what this church teaches you, and that you want to be a lifelong member. I think 11, 12, or 13 is too young to know that for sure. You may find another church that meets your needs better and may want to join that one instead."

While i bristled at the "too young" part, i saw the wisdom in waiting. Besides, i'd probably have to attend confirmation classes, and to date, i was learning more about church by attending than i was by sitting in the basement classrooms. A bit after this, on a Sunday where we didn't have any fife and drum events, Dad and i attended the early service. I decided i wanted to go up to the altar, to see Communion close up. I figured i'd just watch and get a blessing. Dad said nothing. As i knelt down at the altar, i looked up at the large stained glass windows. I'd attended church any number of times but never was so close to these windows, and gazed at the white lamb portrayed in the middle window. I had clasped my hands as i had walked forward, like the others, and forgot to cross my arms after i knelt down. My hands relaxed a bit as i gazed. It felt so holy, and while staring intently at the lamb, i didn't see Father coming near me until...until he dropped the wafer in my hand!

I stared at it dumbly. My hands had been just open enough, and i hadn't crossed my arms. But, this was a mistake! I--i wasn't confirmed. I was old enough, yes, according to the church--didn't Father know i wasn't though? How could he NOT know? He's the one who confirmed everyone. Did it matter? I mean, yes, on one level it mattered, because i wasn't confirmed, but i knew what this meant. Heck i knew it before all the star Sunday school pupils, simply because Dad and i came to the early service, and i paid attention. I couldn't find the words to say, "Um, excuse me, Father? I'm not confirmed yet, so i need to give this back." I couldn't find the courage, either.

I did tell God i hoped it wasn't a sin or something, if i took the wafer without being confirmed. I knew my Catholic friends would be clucking and able to say right away whether it was a venial or mortal sin. If something like that happened to them, they'd have to say a hundred Hail Marys and a dozen or so Our Fathers.

I thought about what the service liturgy said. "Come to me, all ye who are heavy laden, and I will refresh you," and "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life."

I put the wafer in my mouth. I heard no thunderclap, saw no lightning bolt, and the church building remained unshaken. Me, not so sure. And as the wafer melted in my mouth, i silently told God i hoped it was all right with Him even though i wasn't confirmed. And then a thought came to me that filled me with peace. It was fine. Mom wasn't either. She was a Presbyterian.

Father was offering me the cup, and i sipped from it, like everyone else. I returned to my pew, got on my knees and thought about what had happened. I said the prayer of thanksgiving with added fervor.

Years later, i asked the rector why he gave me Communion that day. He said he thought we had moved away and were back visiting. That was plausible as my dad had been transferred to a new location for his job two years before the rest of us moved, so my brother could finish high school. He knew i was old enough to be confirmed, and he thought i already had been. "Even if you weren't," he shrugged, "you were ready for Communion."

That was a long time ago. When i set out to start this post (also a long time ago ;-), i was thinking more about Lent, which starts tomorrow, and thought i'd write about that. Funny how writing takes on a life of its own, and we find ourselves poised on the soap box to spill one thing when something quite different from what we expected tumbles out.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Night Chit-Chat 19 February 2012

Sunday Night Chit-Chat time with Carla and everyone else who participates. I first learned about this from Canadian Saver. Carla's blog has all the information. The more, the merrier!

This is a photo of a friend's house. It seems that there's a story wanting to be told, and maybe i'll find what it is one day and tell it.

Boatkeeper The boatowner's Guide to Maintenance, Repair, and Improvement (subtitled The How-to Book of Modern Marine Maintenance for Sail and Power). I've got a few jobs i need to do on the boat before we launch her this season and am trying to learn what steps i need to take for some of those jobs. I have a feeling i'll be reading this one for awhile.

I don't have TV reception so i either rent something from the video store, watch from stuff we have, or watch something on the computer. This week, a friend and i watched RED on Friday night. I'd seen it before although friend had not. Stars Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich. Fun film.

Listening to
Phoebe scratching the inside of the litter box's cover, and the heat just kicked on. I'm also listening to Dragonsfly.

I don't bake much except during the holidays. With the latest load of beef from a local farmer, we're eating up once frozen bean soup that's thawing more quickly in the cooler than i'd like and lots of vegetables.

Happy you accomplished this week
Finally got my blog started after some deliberation. I am grateful to fellow bloggers Gill, John, and Canadian Saver for their encouragement.

Looking forward to next week
I haven't anything special planned. I do need to make some headway with the taxes and shall feel much better afterwards.

Thankful for today
Sunshine, a chance to relax a bit, and a great two hours of hockey this afternoon.


As anyone with pets knows, your furfriends are a vibrant part of your household. At least, that's the way it should be when one has pets. And, it runs true in my household.

Phoebe is the only cat we've ever had where we've known her exact birthday. She was simply born in a farmhouse that had multiple cats, dogs, and birds. Her mother was one of the indoor/outdoor cats, and the human adults in the house figured they had enough indoor/outdoor cats, so advertised at my veterinarian's office that they had kittens to give away to good homes.

We had recently lost a little barn cat, Sparky, who had followed us home on one of our walks about the neighbourhood. She and Grace, our other cat, had become great friends. After Sparky died, Grace felt very sad, and we thought getting another cat might help.

I can now see how shortsighted that is. It's like saying because a human lost a loved one that getting another human as a replacement will make things easier. There's no guarantee that the new human will get along well with the remaining one and vice-versa.

At any rate, that's how Phoebe came to live with us. She had come from a household full of animals and love. She has never known cruelty or deprivation. Yet, she complains more than any other cat we've had in the household. She has a high pitched meow that any first soprano would envy. She has decided that her job in the household is to announce things. Things that we seemingly blind humans overlook.

Such as:

  1. There are floating objects in the water bowl. We know Jo [other cat in the household] has done this, she does it nearly every day, and sometimes twice a day. The water is now besmirched and must be changed. Immediately. Never mind that drinking from the mud puddle after a long rain has floaty things in it, and is perfectly acceptable. That is Outside Drinking Water. This is Inside Drinking Water. Why can't humans grasp this?

  2. The dry food dish supply is dangerously low. There's only the thinnest layer of kibble covering the bottom, and starvation is imminent if this is not replenished ASAP. Chop, chop!

  3. It's time for wet food. You have clocks all over the place, you stare at that screen for hours on end, and it also has a clock. It makes little noises sometimes when you have to talk on the phone for teleconferences. How can you, with so many clocks, not realize IT'S TIME FOR WET FOOD? Yes, i know the kibble bowl is full, but now is not the time for kibble. IT'S TIME FOR WET FOOD.

  4. The litter box needs attention. I have done my best to create the smelliest poops, I make quite a production of scratching the upper sides of the covered litter box so that everyone knows *I* am in the box and am now done, how can you not smell that it's time to scoop at the least or change things out at most? Is your human sense of smell truly so dismal? What a bleak life that must be, one without odorama.

  5. It's time to make the bed. I know you didn't make it this morning because you washed the sheets, and you brought them inside to let them dry the rest of the way. The room smells nice and outsidey, but the sheets belong on the bed. Now. Otherwise, you'll wait too long, it will be past your bedtime, and you won't feel like making the bed. You know I prefer sleeping on a made bed. Make it so.

  6. It's time for bed. You know how cranky you get when you stay up too late. Well, you're all right with the late part, but next morning, when the alarm goes off (yet another clock), you do NOT get up. I, and I condescend to say, even JoJo, could be starving. STARVING. We'll not have had wet food since supper the night before. After Grace left, I thought I could meow you awake, but after three times of hearing you yell first thing, I realize that this is akin to poking the dragon with a stick. So. You MUST heed me. Come to bed on time, so tomorrow morning, you'll find it easier to get up. And feed me.

Those are the meows I've worked out, although there are still a few that baffle me. Like the ones where she stares holes in me, i look at her, she meows, i go to pet her, and she walks away. I consider these the pay-attention-to-me-so-I-can-ignore-you meows. Or, i go to her, start to pet her, and she growls. As if it took me too long to respond, or she's sorely disappointed with my lack of mindreading skills.

I guess she considers me her project, and she's not going to give up on me. I'm glad of it because for all of her bossing around, i do love her, and she does love me. I know this because she has rewarded me with gifts of mice, a shrew, either a very large mouse or small rat, chipmunks, and a bat. Since i tend to scream at these gifts, especially if they're still moving, she's worked out that it's best to let me know they're fresh kills. As she did when she playfully tossed the shrew against the dining room wall. Several times, and hard. Or when she lay curled up on the guest bed with a mouse. His body close by hers, and his head a bit farther away, just below the pillow. Two easy pieces, and all there, so no need to worry about stepping on some errant part.

She also understands her part in being the cellar sentinel and goes down cellar nearly every day on the prowl. The old place didn't have any holes in the basement, so nothing except silverfish, spiders, or crickets got in, but this place, with its stone foundation, has numerous holes, despite the humans plugging up what they could. The indoor hunting option is most appreciated, especially during the cold months, which seem more numerous and colder than at the other place. Munching on a mouse in the comfort of a mostly dry cellar is the height of luxury when it's 10 below outside, and the snow looms high.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Back to birds

We're having unseasonably warm weather. Not that i mind, insofar as my heating bill goes, although i'm fearful as to what sort of spring we shall have, as we haven't really had a proper winter.

However that may be, i took advantage of sunny skies and above-freezing temperatures to hang some wash on the line. This is not something unusual for me, and i'm sure my next door neighbours are bemused by my efforts when it's well below freezing, and i'm out there hanging towels and sheets. I even laugh at myself as i try to pry the frozen items off before the early dusk, and to see dungarees frozen so hard that they don't bend as i lay them across the washbasket. I've found that if we don't have temperatures over 20°F (~-6°C), the items don't dry really at all before they freeze solid. I bring them indoors to let them thaw and air dry and for my pains, i'm rewarded with that wonderful outdoor smell, which is a balm on those short winter days.

The clothesline runs north to south, flanked by a row of very tall arbor vitae on the western side. The compost bin is at the corner of the far end of the arbor vitae, inside the fencing the previous owners installed, for they had dogs. Squirrels and chipmunks use the fence as a throughfare and lookout. I've seen kestrels use it as a perch. I put the bird and suet feeder east of the clothesline, again just inside the fencing, and i scatter seed on the ground for the ground feeders.

I check the feeder daily and hear the chickadees call to one another. At times, it sounds as if they're letting each other know that i'm there to replenish, and they make ready. A few of the really hungry or adventurous ones will fly to the top of the clothesline for a better view. One or two invariably fly to the suet feeder, i move, and they fly back to the arbor vitae. I return with the feeder now full of seed, scatter some on the ground, and as i trace my steps back to the barn to put the cup back in the seed bin, one or two chirp as i go past. I often say, "You're welcome!" for it seems as if they're chirping thanks.

It doesn't take long for the other birds to come around, either, so i have to wonder if the chickadees initial chirping is more like the start of the communication chain, like the twilight barking in 101 Dalmations. By the time i'm back in the house, i hear the blue jays calling, then the crows.

It seems whenever i hang wash on the line, the chickadees must investigate. They chirp then call "chickadee" as they watch me, and at least one bird flies very close by to alight on the bird feeder. I wonder if it's an avian game Dare, where they dare one another to see who can get closest to the human and back safely. Twice today, i nearly had one fly into my head, and i could feel the wind from their wings as they flew past. I've seen them land on the line, poised on the far end of the sheet i'm hanging, and watching with interest as i pin my end to the line. For all their flitting back and forth, there have been surprisingly few times that i've found bird poop on anything.

Photo copied from

This winter, they've discovered the suet that heretofore only the woodpeckers ate, and a few sparrows have feasted on the grubs that hatch from time to time on the compost bin's lid.

When i ran errands on Thursday, i saw three seagulls sitting on my rooftop, and in hanging out the wash this morning, i saw one soaring overhead, surveying for scraps.

A flock of wild turkeys find the back yard, outside the fence, a nice place to stop, rest, and peck. I'm amazed at how quiet they are, and how stately they walk single file when making their way from the back to side yard before crossing the street and disappearing in the woods.

The cats think this Bird TV just marvellous, although they rarely catch a bird. When they do, they keep it for themselves, and i only know when i see a pile of feathers on the ground. Just as well, as i'm not a good gift recipient.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Where's the beef?

Short answer: in my freezer.

Years ago, i worked on a farm to help supplement our meagre income. They needed harvesting help, and were just small enough that big machinery was too big and just large enough that the work could be daunting. The farm comprised 30 acres, and they hadn't raised livestock there for a number of years before my season of working there, although they did take in a young goat that went home with some Mexican mushroom workers. The little WASPy boy who saw the men picking up the animal told me blithely that they were taking home their new pet. I didn't bother to correct him, but i knew many in the Mexican community found goat meat tasty, and this goat was a billy. It was during my time helping out at the farm that i realised i'm not a farmer. I putter about in a garden and can grow some veggies. I hope to be successful this year, unlike last year when industrial sized slugs annilhilated everything. They even denuded the rhubarb!

Although i learned i was not a farmer, i also learned that i could do my part in keeping those who were living nearby gainfully employed by buying what they grew or raised. So long before it was "cool" or "green" i sought local produce and bought it whenever i could. I preferred dealing with the farmer directly. I could ask if he sprayed his crops with anything, and if so, what? My tastebuds preferred minimally sprayed, local produce to the tired greentruck shipped from miles away, and i found myself growing some things at home and leaving the farmers to grow other things for me. Like corn. I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) when several popped up nearby; actually i joined two: one was for veggies (, and the other fruits (

When i moved to my new location, i met a local farmer who offers a CSA option as well as arriving weekly at a local farmer's market. I decided to frequent the farmer's market first. There are a few of them near me, and they're open on different days, so it's easy to get fresh produce. When this farmer decided to raise pigs, she sent out an email asking if anyone would be interested in a whole or half pig. I was and let her know. I decided a half pig was plenty for my household's needs. I enquired if she'd have more pigs available this past autumn. No, she didn't. Before she could send an email, all of the pigs for this year had been spoken for. I was glad for her success and sorry for my tastebuds' loss. She went on to stay that they had an older cow who would most likely be culled over winter. Perhaps i'd be interested in splitting it with her?

I was very interested. Since this was an older animal, there'd be more ground and stew meat. I was okay with that. She emailed to say the cow would be going in early February, and i could talk to the processors directly about what cuts i wanted. I was glad of it, for having a small household means that even a regular sized roast can seem like a commitment; if i could specify very small roasts or more steaks than roasts, this would work much better for me. I could also ask if they could package the ground and stew meat in smaller packages.

Besides saving my pennies for a huge purchase, my plan was pretty simple. Eat from the freezer to make as much room as i could for the beef. The farmer emailed me yesterday to let me know the beef was ready. She was going to be in the next town for an event and would be glad to have my share of the meat with her. We could meet up beforehand. I had miscalculated the hanging weight, and found myself with 249 lbs of beef. I had thought it wouldn't be more than 200 lbs and figured i could fit that in my freezer space all right, but not much more. Oof.

No matter, i'd make it work. As we transferred the meat from her car to mine, i told her how much i had enjoyed the pork. How before each meal as i gave thanks, i thanked her and the pig as well. She asked me if i wanted to know the cow's name.

This caught me by surprise because i figured she hadn't named animals she knew were going to slaughter. She explained that some just have such personalities that you need to name them. And, unlike the pigs, which are there for a season, the cows are there longer. Yes, i wanted to know the cow's name.

It's Curly, because she had curly, black hair. She had a nice disposition and once she was not used as a milk cow, she did mother three calves. She was about 5 years old, and her feet were starting to bother her.

I thanked the farmer and told her that although i understand logically this is how it works: you raise the animal, feed and take care of it, so it can then feed and take care of you, i'd have a helluva time having to kill it. Here, the farmer's eyes softened a bit. I added i'm sure it gets easier over time, but....

And she said that it's never easy. It does help, however, when the animals arrive at the farm, to know their ultimate destination. She and her partner feed many, many animals on their farm, and when it's time, it's time. Curly's feet were starting to bother her more often than not, so they felt it was time for Curly.

Now, i expected i might feel a bit odd knowing that i'd be eating bits of Curly over the ensuing months, but surprisingly, i didn't. I felt an immense gratitude and thanked the farmer once again for being willing to do what she does. For those like me who are omnivores, it's such a blessing to be able to know that the food i'm eating was raised with care. That the animals were well looked after and had happy lives.

I got home and started loading up my freezer space. As it turns out, i had a tad more in the freezer than i had thought, and that coupled with more beef than i thought i'd have meant that i'd have to resort to Plan B: call friends to see if anyone had some freezer space. Friend #1 did, so the extra turkey i had bought and frozen at Christmas will go there for awhile. Several bags of frozen veg and two containers of ice cream are now iced down in a 5-day cooler i bought for power outage/camping/boat. If needed, i might ask Friend #2 to stash some of the veg; she has graciously offered her help in eating the ice cream, for which i'm glad.

Once i got all loaded in the freezer space or cooler, i took a package of the ground meat and made a quick supper. Before eating, i gave thanks for the farmer and Curly. Supper was delicious.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In an Instant

I was busily working when my home phone rang. As a telecommuter, i have a phone line that's strictly business and another that's strictly for home. Most friends who call me on the home line know i don't normally have long, personal conversations during work hours, so the number of personal calls i get are few and brief.

When the phone rang today, i wondered if it were a friend who sometimes stops by over lunchtime to say hi. No, it was someone else calling with sad news. A young woman from where i used to live had died over the weekend, and as we were having fun at a local event, we didn't know. He had just found out and thought i ought to know, so called. As he was talking to me, his voice broke, and he started to cry.

"I don't know why this is affecting me so much."

I had a theory but said nothing other than well, it's a shock. Who knew?
And then he babbled about reading the obituary and cancer society donations and she was just 30.

I thought of the saying, "Be kind to all you meet for they may be facing some sort of battle." Or it goes something like that. We knew her husband and his father, and i actually knew his father better than the husband or the young woman, but there was never a mention of any sort of horrific illness. There was just the steady humdrum of daily living, the small talk, the tasks at hand.

That's what was so bothersome. We didn't know. But even if we had known, what could we have done? Perhaps it was a gift that they could simply be "normal" with us, that our conversations weren't filled with chemo, cancer, prognosis, hospice. They were instead punctuated with puns, interesting snippets culled from newspapers, and an occasional gift of a homemade cranberry-apple pie.

I'm sorry for the husband and the father and sorriest of all for the little daughter who has lost her mother.

It seems strange to think that we were having so much fun the same weekend and had actually mentioned the father and husband in one of many conversations. It's made me think of when i was in that space of just having lost a loved one and keenly aware how life is all around me; my world is forever changed, my heart is breaking, and i hear a child cry for something it wants, or a dog barking because the mailman is coming. I wonder if i'll ever again join their ranks where i'll have just an ordinary day and appreciate it for the gift that it is. The answer for me has always been yes, after some space. Clearly enough space had elapsed between the last devastating loss and now, because i find myself brought up short with this news. I realize i've taken ordinary days for granted and haven't seen them for being wonderful because they are so ordinary. Seems a reread of "Our Town" is in order. And to be thankful for my ordinary day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Flock of Seagulls

I live about three miles from the coast. Now, to those who live inland, this means nothing, as they would look at where i live and where the sea is and say, for all intents and purposes, that i am indeed living on the coast.

And yes, i can smell the salt in the air when the wind blows a certain way, and i can definitely feel it in my bones, in a good way, so i am close enough to the sea for my tastes, even if i haven't a water view. To obtain one of those, i'd have had to move the decimal point over a tad for housing, so i got as close as budget allowed, and am happy with that.

The house is situated at the bottom of a hill--some would call it a mountain, but technically it's a hill, and it seems that has a bearing on things, too, especially where weather is concerned. The forecast will say something like, "trace to 2 inches of snow on the coast, and 3 to 6 inland." The snow arrives, and although the map clearly shows me in the "trace to 2" zone, i watch the snow pile up. After a few times, i caught on, and now just look at the inland expected amount. After these storms, when i drive to the coast on the coastal road that is a main thoroughfare, i see that "trace to 2" was accurate.

One other thing i've noticed is that i seldom see seagulls at home. Years ago, i read how if you see a gull inland, a storm is approaching. Since moving here, each time i've seen a gull flying overhead as i stand in my yard, we have a storm within 36 hours, and usually 24, so this rings true in my neighbourhood.

Himself and i went out to eat over the weekend, celebrating Valetine's Day a bit early. We went to a wonderful local place that's known mainly for its seafood and pasta dishes, and which serves gigantic portions. We split the sausage and mixed seafood platter served over little round bits of pasta, all covered in a zesty tomato sauce. The mixed seafood comprised nearly a dozen mussels, easily a half pound of haddock, and a half of a lobster in the shell. Instead of the usual lettuce and tomato salad this place serves, the cook made a ratatouille with cannelini beans, potatoes, summer squash, tomatoes, and zucchini (marrows). There were also huge slabs of artisan bread.

We ate our fill and still took home some of everything for later. By the time i thought about having the leftovers for lunch, i realized the seafood was probably a bit dodgy. Having had food poisoning a few times, i thought it best to find something else for lunch.

I took the leftover seafood in its takeout container to the compost bin, and in a cackhanded moment, dropped the container. It flew open and fell on the ground just outside the fence. I went around to retrieve the container and knew something would come along and eat the food. My money was on the crows who come round from time to time.

Within a quarter hour, i saw first one seagull and in a blink, it sounded like a caucus with more arriving by the second, squabbling over the leavings. One quiet one nonchalantly dragged the lobster shell away (we had helped ourselves at the restaurant by picking pieces out of the shell, and except for the claw, which i tore off, the rest of the shell came home with us). With a few deft picks, he got the biggest morsels before another bird came over to see if any was left.

Both cats were enrapt, and i stood there as mesmerized as they were. The noisy babble continued and abruptly stopped. They all seemed to realize the bits they wanted were now eaten, and it was time to move on. Silence roared after they left, and i made my way outside to see what remained. Three empty mussel shells, and a few spoonfuls of pasta.

I had to check the weather, of course. Increasing clouds with chance of precip on Thursday.

Monday, February 13, 2012

It certainly took long enough!

This whole blogging thing, i mean. I never really was sure that i wanted to get on my little soapbox and say whatever popped in my head to all and sundry in Cyberia, but i found myself as of late wondering why not. I enjoy reading some blogs, i enjoy adding my comments, and in part because i felt those folks were willing to share a bit of themselves with me and others in Blogland, that i ought to return the favor.

I started reading other blogs when i was a member of a closed blog. A group of us had met on an online discussion group, and one suggested that we have a place of our own where we could discuss stuff. I had thought of something similar some time earlier, but didn't quite know how to go about it. This time around, one of us mentioned about starting a blog, and all of us could contribute. We were willing, and the one who suggested it knew how to create a blog, so she did. We all tested it out and were happy with it. We had a cyber meeting to decide if the blog should be open or closed. We decided closed since we might share things we didn't want to share with the world at large.

I discovered that although our blog was closed, having a blog identity allowed me to read and comment on many more blogs, as some don't allow anonymous comments. And given the crap i've seen some anonymous commenters leave, i can understand why. I have found some delightful blogs and also discovered that there are a lot of really great writers out there.

I'm not so sure what my focus will be, as i have many different interests. For now, i'll just see where this takes me.