Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Fish Pond: The Dig

Last fall, I was fortunate to have my dad show up one day with a tractor. All the topsoil that had been stripped away in order to dig our basement and haul in the house was in a big pile at the south end of my yard. We had already rented a bobcat to do some landscaping and had done some sloping and leveling. However, the dirt was in a pile and winter approached.

If you knew my dad, you would know that taking a day to go landscape a yard would be considered "a day off" when there are too many other farm chores to be done. It was a surprise, and an honour, to see a tractor whistle past my kitchen window one morning (just a guess, but I think it has a bit to do with the two little helpers that he adores).

The house is on a hill and try as we might we ended up with a low spot on the south-facing slope. Luckily, the low spot was in the perfect place for a fish pond. In the last two weeks we had a few days of nice weather, so my boys and I have been busy with the ground work for a pond. In our first day of digging, we stripped the topsoil down to clay, except for a few places that were still frozen.

Those rocks spent the winter in that spot.
The ground was still completely frozen
 beneath them, while I was able to
 dig down to clay almost everywhere else.

child favourite!
The pond is deeper than these photos show. It got too cold and windy and I haven't made it back there to take a more recent picture. I'm excited to get back at it and show more pictures as we do the rock work, install the liner and (yay!) plant some pretty things. For now, it is snowing and miserable so we have turned our attention back to indoor projects.

hugging...not fighting...I had to get a picture

I intend to plant one of the shrubs that I recently ordered beside the pond, along with reed grass and ostriche plume astilbe. I also have a peony ordered--one of my favorite flowers. I'm looking forward to it warming up. Every day that we spend outside seems like a dream. Before I know it, it is time for lunch and a nap for the little one while 4 year old and I return outside to do more. We have explored the yard, played in the mud, checked on our trees and had all kinds of adventures. I can only hope that the 4 year old will remember this summer working in the yard and the part he played in digging the pond. Did you help in the garden as a kid, or do you have little helpers in your garden now?

Monday, 14 April 2014

One Year Hence...

A year ago, we made the hour long drive from where we used to live to our new acreage site. This was the road in:

April 14, 2013

And this was the main road, looking south:

April 14, 2013
Today, one year later, the kids and I walked our usual route and took these pictures. The main road looking south, one year later:

And (below) the road leaving our acreage, today.

It is amazing to see the difference in snow levels from one year to the next. When I think of all the work that had yet to be done, one year ago, I hardly believe we did it and that we are happily residing in our new house. We still have a lot of work to do but it is not as daunting as the list we had last year! It helps that we aren't still under several feet of snow. How is the spring thaw where you are? Are you still under snow?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Growing Older

It seems as though something profound should be said on a birthday--as though this one day in a series of days older should impart some new wisdom. But nope. No real wisdom here.

 As I grow older I spend more time thinking about what is truly important to me, and less time trying to impress others. I can be hopelessly self-conscious, to the point of not trying things for fear of failure. Looking back on my twenties I see most of my decisions as tentative, non-committed and superficial. I knew who I wanted to be but was afraid to try. But days turn into years and young people around me become ill and I have begun to feel some urgency in life. If I don't learn it now, I may never know it; if we don't plant it, it shan't grow, and so on. I want to be, today, the woman that my boys will remember in the future. And so it goes.

As I get older I am more comfortable in my own skin. I have stopped trying to be what I am not. I choose to focus my energy on what interests me and more and more I retreat from relationships that require me to be anything but authentic. When I feel pressure or when I become uncomfortable with a decision before me, I recall one of the most important and life-changing things I have read in years. It is a brief blog post from Zen Presence  and if I may be so bold, I'll break it down into what it has meant for me:

Whenever I am faced with feeling uncertain, fearing judgement, or lacking confidence, I ask myself if I seek meaning in my life or do I seek the approval of others? This immediately breaks the situation down into two clear paths. Down one path I see an image that someone else approves of but that does not fit me and does not make me happy, and that I can not long sustain. It makes me feel anxious and that I can not measure up for long. Down the other, I see enrichment; I see truth, authenticity, purpose. When I seek meaningful things and experiences I see artifice fall away and I am relieved. Asking myself this one question "approval or meaning?" cuts to the heart of the matter, setting aside the many details that often cause unnecessary stress and sleepless nights. I feel like I am doing better at this than I used to but I remind myself continually to try again. Like I say to my son, we will try again tomorrow. We can do better if we keep trying. It is true. That is what I have learned in 37 years. To keep on trying.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Sun'll Come Out (Tomorrow)

It is a slow spring a comin'. Painfully slow. Painfully grey and...cold. But the weather network assures me that brighter days are ahead. They can't be wrong, can they? I'm trying to distract myself today in hopes that tomorrow we might enjoy being outside.

My quest for the perfect homemade loaf continues. I've enjoyed browsing my granny's old recipe books on the search. Some handy hints and quotes therein have made me smile:

To A New Husband

Remember this my darling
I fully realize
You loved your mother's cooking
Her Christmas cakes and pies

But when comparing efforts
Restrain your family pride
You did not have to eat the flops
She cooked when just a bride.

Husband, you reading this? Not hard to tell the book was published in the '70s. There were other hints from a 1908 cookbook that sounded downright dangerous: "For a cold in the head sniff powdered borax up the nose" (Yikes!) and interesting: "Do not approach contagious diseases with an empty stomach, nor sit between the sick and the fire, because the heat attracts the vapor". Food for thought.

In the meantime, I think I've found a winner. 

Five Grain Health Bread  
submitted to the Hillmond and District Cookbook (1976) by Tillie Hoegl

1 package granular yeast
1/2 cup honey
3 cups lukewarm water
1/3 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups dark rye flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 cup quick oats
1Tbsp salt
3/4 cup skim milk powder
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour

plus 3 cups more all-purpose flour to make a firm dough.

In a very large bowl soak yeast, honey and shortening in the warm water for 10-15 mins while measuring remaining ingredients. Add to yeast mixture in order given: wheat and rye flours, cornmeal, oats, salt, white flour, skim milk powder. Stir 50 times. Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size (about 2 hours). 

Sprinkle kneading board with 1 1/2 cups of the remaining white flour, punch down dough and turn dough onto surface. Knead flour into dough--before you are done you will have added remaining white flour to make a dough firm enough to handle. Now knead it 250 times, calling in your helpers to knead. Shape into a 2 foot roll, cut in half and shape into two loaves and place in well buttered loaf pans. Let rise about 1" above rim of pans. Bake at approximately 400F for 20 mins, then reduce to 350F and bake about 40 minutes longer, until crust is dark gold and crisp. 

When I rewrote the recipe to share here I realized that I left out the salt altogether, did not add white flour to initial mixture ( instead kneading all of it in after it rose). I baked it for 20 minutes at 400F but only left it in for 15 at 350F. It was quite dark and sounded hollow when tapped. Looks like it turned out, either way, and we are off now to sample with butter and jam.

Do you have any recipe books that were handed down?

Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Change is as Good as a Rest

Husband was home for 5 full days this past week. The kids were elated--the wrestling and playing was at full volume the whole time. We accomplished some of what needs done around here (painting in basement, wooh-hoo!) and we snuck in a bit of relaxation as well. Daddy left for work early this morning and we are faced with the dreaded long-quiet-first-day of his being gone.

I have written a bit about adjusting to life when daddy is away from home. We are all a year older than when that post was written, but the essence remains true. It is up to me to set the tone for my kids, and also to be very gentle while they adjust to our new/old routine. So today must be a very busy day--we are washing all the household bedding and have happily come up with a flax and quinoa bread recipe all our own. Concerned about salt in our diet I realised that even the bread we were eating (which I love, and I miss so dearly!) was quite high in salt. So I have been trying some different recipes (a post on that later!) and today combined a couple with pleasing results. I won't share the recipe until I tinker with it a bit, but bulger, wheat germ, spelt flour, flax, quinoa and whole wheat flour are some of what it entails.

Having daddy home was a refreshing change. It had been 3 weeks since his last days off--hard on us all. While he was home we were busy, it was tiring, today could be a very depressing day if I let it. But when my four year old looked up at me with big eyes and a quivering lip and said "don't you feel so sad that daddy isn't here?" I didn't try to sugar coat it for him. I said, "yes, it's awfully sad. I'd like to lay down and bawl but I think that would make me feel worse. And it would make you and your brother feel awful. So I'm going to stay busy and try to do things that make me happier. I'm going to try to have a good day even though I miss him". And my boy nodded and and has been by my side helping me all day long. Instead of doing quiet inside chores while the two year old naps, we went out to the cow pasture just outside our yard and filled the wheel barrow with frozen cow patties to add to our compost. Four year old thought it was spectacular: "mommy, this might be gross but it sure is fun!". Nice to remind him that mommy's are fun too--and hopefully it helps the compost ;)

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Fruit Trees and Shrubs

Got a lil carried away placing my order for fruit many beautiful shrubs caught my eye as I went through the on line catalogue at T and T Seeds out of Manitoba. I've spent the winter thinking about the yard and feeling, well, tentative about where to start. Now that I have ordered some trees I am super excited to get started in the yard.

Last fall I began work on a stone path flanked by two raised rock flower beds. Husband and I also started a stone path that will lead from the covered porch to a water feature on the south side of the yard. At the moment, my yard is mud. We will most certainly have another heavy snowfall (or two!) but the day is coming, soon, when we can return to giving our yard structure. The trees and shrubs that I ordered will go a long way in doing that. I ordered:

2 apple trees (honeycrisp and odyssey)
1 Golden Pear, 1 Hazelnut Tree
2 highbush blueberry, 10 raspberry canes
5 grapevines

Elderberry Black Lace
Cranberry Blue Muffin (Couldn't find an image but read lots of comments reporting that this shrub doesn't bloom without a companion--trouble with disease--the list goes on. It seems I always find these things after the mastercard has been swiped! But it will be a learning experience)
Euonymus Fire Ball
Hydrangea Vanilla Strawberry
Lilac Bloomerang

I'm hoping that these shrubs will provide visual interest year round. We have a blank canvas right now so a bit of height here and there should help the eye stop and focus (here's hoping!).

I also sent for 2 Hostas that like the sun, a peony, Astilbe, and Reed Grass. I plan to post when they arrive and I get planting. The weather has dipped below zero again (yesterday was -16C without the wind! Awful!) so the thought of these lovely shrubs and fruit trees is giving me hope that warmer days are ahead. How is spring shaping up in your neck of the woods? Are you making any additions to your garden this year?

Friday, 21 March 2014

On Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Oh there is nothing like waking up in the morning well-rested. I'm not talking about sleeping in (7 o'clock around here is a veritable lie-in). I am only talking about seven hours of uninterrupted, no waking up, no worrying, no monkey-mind, sweet. snoozing. slumber.

I can't say where my sleeping problems began (possibly when I began to feel that I had a "problem". I'm realising how much of this is in my head). It may have began when Husband and I began living together. He likes has to have the TV on to get to sleep at night. I crave silence. I used to wake up in the middle of the night to a blaring TV and not be able to get back to sleep. We have compromised by setting a sleep timer and keeping the volume low so that I don't wake up in the night and have to find a remote and shut it off. Or it might be that after having our first son I had a period of 8 or 9 months of restless legs. I was never diagnosed or anything but I called it the crazy legs. Sensations would zing up and down my legs at 3 am and I wouldn't get back to sleep. I finally heard that calcium with magnesium might help, and it did. I took a supplement into my second pregnancy but found that I didn't need it after delivering the baby. If I sense the crazy legs coming on I take a calcium with magnesium and it really does help.

My kids are great sleepers; I can't blame this on them. They are in bed by 7 and, if it were up to the 4 year old, I wouldn't hear from them until 7 or 8 the next morning. 2 year old gets up around 6. I wish he didn't always wake up his brother, but I can do 6. I like to be up early. What I dread, what happens far too much, is waking up around 3 am and not getting back to sleep until 5...and a little boy being up at 6. It seems as though my sleep cycle ebbs and flows, and if I get on a streak of waking in the night it will continue until exhaustion finally gets me a full night's sleep. So here is what I do nowadays to get a better night of rest:

  • I read myself to sleep. Ten pages is usually what it takes. Once Husband is home again I will just read while he watches TV. We'll see how it goes. Getting to sleep is not usually the issue.
  • one cup of tea (decaf, obviously) after supper. No other drinks. Waking up to use the washroom is a definite no-no. Also, green tea seems to rev me right up (probably in my mind). For me, no green tea after lunch time--just in case.
  • It occurred to me that I'm listening for vehicles in my yard. There have been a number of break-ins in the area over the last few years and I may subconsciously be listening, so I finally remembered to lock the shed. I also lock the doors (does this sound naive? What I mean is, I consciously check the doors before bed. I grew up in this area, hardly anyone used to lock their doors. But I'm home alone with two kids and I'm finding that a quick check of doors at night removes one item of worry from my list)
  • I pull the curtains. This one surprises me. I used to detest waking up in a dark room. We had the sheerest curtains possible in our old house. But for some reason this year after the time-change I started to wake up and wonder what time it was. This led to hours of fretting and my mind bouncing from idea to idea, topic to topic, future and past, regrets and insecurities. The fact is, I have no problem getting to sleep but staying asleep is a real trick. If keeping the room in darkness helps then that is what I will do.
  • I got rid of my alarm clock 2 years ago. If I open my eyes and see that it is 3 am I might as well get up for the day. I can do this because my alarm clock is at the end of the hall and we don't have to rush anywhere. Most people are not this lucky.
  • If worry is what is keeping me awake, I repeat 3 positive things over and over and over, explore those 3 things with my mind, consider them, repeat them until a feeling of well-being returns or sleep comes. This past summer, our house was scheduled to arrive in two weeks and we still didn't have a basement hole dug or a basement to put the house on. I don't know how but I slept like a baby every night. I was in the windowless basement bedroom at my parents and my mom always rushed across the hall to my kids' rooms upstairs if they woke. I probably stopped listening for them after awhile. If I did happen to wake up I took great comfort repeating "we have a very good well. It gives 17 gallons of water per minute. The road and the yard are built and beautiful. Husband and the kids love me." These three positive things got me through some stressful days and nights.
  • On the subject of worry, making lists helps. If it has been written down I try to quit thinking of it. If it is out of my control, see above. 
  • I close my bedroom door. 4 year old comes in if he needs me, 2 year old bellers like a banshee. If my kids need me I will hear them. I was leaving the door open just a crack and I think that when the furnace kicks in it sucks the door up against the striker plate and making a "click". This is enough to make me hop up to see if 4 year old has entered the room. Closing the door is a psychological barrier between me and them. Although I can actually hear just as well with it closed, I have told myself when I close the door that I will sleep more soundly.
  • I never nap. If I am very tired from a poor night's sleep, I roll with that and hope that it helps me the next night. Having a nap makes it impossible for me to make it through the next day without sleeping at the same time. It must also make it easier to wake again in the night. At any rate, my policy is push through it.
  • I have finally accepted the fact that I sometimes don't sleep well. Enough of the "If I go to sleep now I'll only get two hours sleep etc". When my mind is racing in the night, I tell myself that it will be a slower day here at home tomorrow. I try not to work myself up more by worrying about being tired. It helps to try to let go of that stress.
These are just a few of my tricks to get a good rest at night. I MUST start doing yoga and practice meditating for relaxation. Getting exercise and fresh air are very important, as is positive thinking and planning for the future. I read an everydayhealth article that helped, a bit. If you suffer from poor sleep, or anxiety, give it a read. Do you sleep well? If not, can you share any tips for a good night's sleep?