Friday, August 27, 2010

Fencing Again

So I have this little issue with this little horse... Ha ha ha. Bella is anything but little...
For the past week or so I get up in the morning and find her in the middle of the lawn. We keep checking the gates and putting her away, but there didn't seem to be an issue there. There are a couple of spots where the fence is a bit saggy, and the barbed wire is a bit high, so thought maybe she was climbing out between them. We closed in the lawn gates- where we fenced in the yard to let the lawn mowers work- which contains the regular pasture gates, and the next morning we found her in the driveway. Actually, I found her running from the dogs. I yelled at them to get in the house & closed the door. Then I went to settle her down & let her back in the yard. She was very agreeable. I walked back to the house and was greeted cheerfully by my four beasties through the window. I tried to open the screen door, and to my dismay, I found those happy tail waggers had locked me out!!! 6:30 in the morning. Everyone else asleep. No keys. No phone. I pounded on the door, and those little traitors who squack at every noise all day long wouldn't even bark! After about ten minutes of futiley trying to get someone to stir, I walked around the house and pounded on my bedroom window until hubby woke up & let me back in.

The grass is getting pretty thin in the pasture, hot, dry summer this year, along with the cooler temps now, haven't led to a very prosperous hay yield. Yesterday I adjusted the electric fence out back to make more temporary grazing room, and then decided to go walk about around the back side of the pasture. On the way I passed three goats, all out happily grazing behind the pasture, where the grass has been neatly manicured to look like lawn. The fence is a little high in spots, so it didn't surprise me to see them loose. So long as they stay out back & away from my garden, I'm ok with that. Oscar followed me as I made my way around.

I told him to show me where they were getting loose. Indeed he did. As we rounded the corner he jumped over the fence. Hmmm... The fence is too low, but still upright there. We haven't made it that far around yet with the barbed wire. I kept walking and found a section with the wires holding it to the poles broken off. And then just a little farther, my fence scrunched up acordian style. It's so bad that I can walk over it. And I am short. 5 foot nothin'.

What does it mean when the only animals staying in the pasture are obviously there voluntarily?

Repairs today.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ready for School

Our school year typically starts in October, on cold, rainy days, or when the snow starts. It typically ends in April, or whenever the sun starts proclaiming it's spring time in the north. Not that the kids don't learn ALL summer long- they just don't tend to do it with a pencil & paper. They're busy planting, growing, harvesting, raising critters, milking, doing hay, gathering firewood, endless construction (at least it feels endless to me...) They're butchering, cooking, riding, training, doing car repairs, learning to drive... They're very busy boys.

Life as we know it will change on Monday. My oldest boy is going to high school. We started this homeschooling journey because of him. He's visually impaired, and school was not a good fit. After suffering through 3 1/2 years, being labeled a 'behavioral' problem, being treated as learning impaired, being ignored, and having all of his school work sent home as homework, we decided enough was enough. I was teaching him anyway, so what was the point of him sitting in a class room all day?

After joining all of the local homeschool groups, doing field trips to the Children's Museums, Story Book Gardens, the local museums, science club, homeschool soccer... and so many other wonderful opportunities to learn and socialize, #2 wanted to skip school all the time. We were always doing something more exciting than he was doing at school, so he started homeschooling too. #3 & #4 just joined in at the kitchen table when the time came, school wasn't even a consideration.

When we moved up north, we knew there weren't any active homeschool groups online. 3 years later, we still haven't met any other homeschoolers in the area. There is no Children's Museum, and few other museums, with odd hours. We don't get out much these days. The older boys continued in Navy League cadets, and are now in Sea Cadets. The younger boys went to the Ontario Early Years Centre for awhile, until they aged out of the program.

We tried school, the year before last. The local school was French Catholic, and I thought it would be cool for them all to learn French, since we live in a bilingual community. #1 hated it before he even started, and resented me for sending him. All of the same old problems came up with his vision, plus the added issues with the language. #2, my social butterfly, gave it a really good try, but couldn't seem to find his niche in the social network, and decided the rest wasn't worth it. #3 excelled at the book worky stuff. No surprise there, I'm pretty sure the little math whiz is gifted. But his ADD was a problem in the classroom, and I refuse to drug him. Then winter hit, and the little hermit had to be dragged out of the house day after day. #4, SK, really took to the social scene, handled the book work ok, and was doing well with the French. Kindergarten was all day, every day, to reinforce the French. When they took away their afternoon naps, it did him in. He was too tired all of the time. Getting him up on time in the morning was next to impossible.

By January we were all miserable. We had had enough, and decided to go back to homeschooling.

So now he's going back to school. I took him in to the high school in the spring. We met with the guidance counsellor, and discussed his vision. Discussed the programs. Discussed life... It sounds good. He'll have one class to work in the computer lab, learning how to work with programs that will read and type for him. He'll have his homework sent home on an Ipod as audio files. He'll be in locally developed classes for English, Math & Science. The guidance counsellor thinks his Geography class will be the most difficult for him. He gets to take phys ed, shop, & music. And he's looking forward to going. He's excited. About school. Now I just have to keep them from crushing his spirit and making him hate it all again.

We have adjustments to make. We have to go to bed earlier, lol. We are not morning people. Especially #1 & I. Summer camp (Sea Cadets) helped with that. For three weeks he was up at 6am, and in bed by 9:30. We've tried to stick with that routine since he got home, but some days are better than others. Can't send the kid to bed when supper's not ready til 10... We tend to eat after dark. We're busy outside until dusk, and then come in to cook after dark, which generally makes supper very late. That has to change. I'm looking into more crock pot recipes so I can get on with my daily routine and not worry about having supper on the table on time. It'll be easier in the winter, once the soup & stew season starts.

We have to make room for homework. Not space exactly, but quiet time, when his brothers are busy elsewhere, not distracting him.

We have to do more chores, so he can do less.

I have to pack lunch. Not difficult, but not habit. The boys have been getting their own lunches for years. I have to bake ahead of time, and make sure they don't eat everything in sight before #1 gets his lunch, since he won't be home to wait for something to come out of the oven.

He has to catch the bus every day. I drove them a lot when they went to the local school. The high school is 45 minutes away. He has to catch the bus!

And we have to make these adjustments while finishing our fall chores here. Another 15 cords of wood, harvesting the garden, canning beets, pears, & salsa, painting Pop's place, cleaning out the barn, finishing the fencing... Without my biggest boy...


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Blueberries & Raspberries, Oh My...

Another 9 1/2 pints of raspberry sauce went to the cold room after the Bullet was revitalized. It kept working all day, so all is well in my world. There was a lot of wastage from the berries that I left in the strainer overnight. They were too dry to run through the Bullet. Sucks.

I used one tub (2L) of the blueberries from our playground for an experiment. The less juicy berries. I am trying my hand at sun dried... dehydrated... car dried, actually, blueberries. Blueberry raisins, so to speak. I wanted to try them last year, but the severe lack of sun, aka constant rain, and cooler temperatures made the idea seem less than likely to succeed. Our warm weather this year brought it back to mind. I am anxious to try oatmeal blueberry cookies this winter.

I picked, cleaned, washed the blueberries. Put waxed paper over two cookie sheets, and laid the blueberries out in one layer on the cookie sheets. Took them out to the car, where, hopefully, they will dry out in the heat of the sun. Time will tell.
Update: They took a lot longer than I expected, and I moved them into the house into a greenhouse stand. Several days later I had created a batch of Blaizins... Yup, that's what I'm calling them. Two cookie trays turned into half a mason jar. Haven't made any cookies yet though.

The other three tubs of blueberries I had picked (6L) are now sitting on the stove top waiting to pop. 14 1/2 pints of blueberry sauce. A good days work.

Raspberry (Blueberry) Sauce

Equal parts raspberries & sugar. Clean & wash raspberries. Measure before juicing. Cook juice to rolling boil in large pot. Volume will double. Boil 4 minutes. Add equal amount of sugar while stirring. Return to rolling boil. Remove from heat. Fill sanitized canning jars, cap & seal. Turn jars over to rest until cooled and tops have popped.

Amish Friendship Bread

I keep hearing about these Amish Friendship bread Starters from my online friends. Since I have no friends in real life, I decided to look up a recipe for my own starter. It's pretty easy to put together, but at the end of the cycle I just used all the portions that you're supposed to give away. I have to say, it's a lot of messing around for what basically turns out to be banana bread. I forgot about it on the second time through the cycle, so have quit for now. I'll give it another whirl later in the fall when we aren't so busy outside, and see if it's worth it for lemon cakes. Maybe I should look up a recipe for lemon cakes first? There might be an easier way.

No Vegetation Challenge: Midsummer Night's Dream

The No Vegetation Challenge has taken a bit of a back seat. While I'm still not buying apples, and we do miss them, and we are learning to live without them... There are some flaws to the No Vegetation Challenge.

First off- how do you make a salad? I like a big bowl of lettuce (ready in June), a nice cuke (which are barely plants in the garden, haven't flowered yet), a nice tomato (got the first two off the greenhouse tomatoes this week) some green pepper (just tiny little peppers on the greenhouse plants right now, lots of flowers) and some celery (which I don't grow). I tried eating just the lettuce for awhile, then broke down and bought some salad fixins.

Second- there was the whole Strawberry Fiasco - which I ended up not buying, but had really planned to, to make jam and freeze, and save us money throughout the year.

Third- Bananas. Bananas are never in season here. But they were shipped worldwide before oil, so I still consider them sustainable. One of the few things you can pick green, allow to ripen on the way, and not end up tasting like sawdust. They are, however, generally very expensive, currently at about 79¢/pound. When I walk through the produce section at the grocery store, I make a bee line for the cheap rack. The wilted, the rotting, the not best looking section, reduced to clear. I buy bananas when I see them. It could be a while before I see them again. Sometimes I get lucky and get a whole case for $5. The kids eat their hearts out, and I freeze lots for banana bread and smoothies.

Fourth- Watermelon. I am Canadian. Not to mention, a northerner. I grow watermelon every year, and on a good year I'm lucky to get 4 or 5 baseball sized watermelons. Most years, nothing. What would summer be without a watermelon? And since I started preserving the rind last year, it doubles as winter fruit as well.

Finally- The challenge was supposed to go through the end of October or first snow, whichever came first. But then there is a possibility that I might miss apple season, and why would I do that? It wouldn't make sense to not buy apples when they are in season. So apple shopping I will go.

The challenge has been a good learning experience, and one that I will continue with through the winter. Which is much more logical. Use what we have while it's freshly preserved, and then buy produce once the freezer and cold room are empty.

Berry Time

Last year I missed out on strawberry season, because the pick your own berry farm is about an hour from my house, and I couldn't wrap my head around driving all that way JUST for strawberries. This year I had a plan. I needed new tires, so I scheduled an appointment for tires and auction & strawberries all together. Yay, me! Except... I had to reschedule. With Pop's surgery, recovery, appointments & such, I couldn't make it. So I rescheduled for two weeks later. And just like that, I lost my strawberries. Sold out. Season over.

I know, I know. I live in the north. I should expect these things. Short growing season. Late growing season. Frost in the middle of summer. I am getting used to it. But this year, we had a new surprise. It's too dry. We are finally having a beautiful summer, with sunshine and warmth, and very few bugs- and it's too dry for the berries. It was too dry this spring. Mild winter, only about two feet of snow, with a hot (35°C), dry spring (about a month). Now it rains at least every other day. Just a quick, light sprinkle, but still nearly every day. You'd think it would recover. The garden has. Why not the berries?

Two weeks of strawberry season. Gone. Blueberries started early- mid July. They're still out there, but the berries are dry this year. Small, and very little juice. And they've nearly all ripened at the same time. So pick quick, they'll be gone like the strawberries. My raspberry batch is so sad this year. The berries there also seem dry, and the bugs and birds are picking through them to get the juice more than they have in previous years. Leaving me with dried up little raspberry stubs.

I canned 9 jars of raspberry sauce, and 10 jars of blueberry sauce. 1/2 pints. Not much.

So my parents went fishing & berry picking in one of their old haunts- Elk Lake. It's about an hour south of us. The berries there are bigger and juicier. We all went back on Saturday. I got 6L of blueberries, and 5L of raspberries. Yesterday I picked my raspberry patch. Another Litre. I washed them up, got out all of my supplies, and started the first two cups in my magic bullet. It started off fine. Whirring away. And then it let out a loud screech. And then nothing. Nothing! Dead! My bullet is dead! The magic is gone!

If it hadn't been a holiday, I would have run out to the store and bought another one on the spot. I might still do that today, depending on how things work today. My dad looked at it last night, and somehow frightened it back to life. Seriously- he didn't actually DO anything, except plug it into a different plug and THINK about ripping it apart- and it started working again. I plugged it back in to where it belongs afterward, and it's still working there. So, fingers crossed, I will be able to finish my raspberries this morning.

In the meantime, yesterday, it got me thinking about how much I hate raspberry seeds. If I didn't have the juicer, I probably wouldn't can raspberries at all. I don't eat them fresh or frozen. The seeds get all caught up in my teeth, and I end up spitting them out for hours afterward. I hate cheesecloth. I used it once for raspberries- still ended up with tons of seeds, and so much waste! I tried a pillow case once. It was better than the cheesecloth. I could give it a good squeeze, less waste. But then the pillow case was pretty much done in. I washed it, but it wasn't fit for reuse. I think the acid from the berries ate into the linen. Fuzzies everywhere. Yesterday, I poured the mashed cooked berries into a strainer and let them drip overnight. It dripped out a fair bit, but I definitely can't squeeze it through.

Sustainability. That is the goal. The Bullet uses hydro. I will eventually have solar and wind power. Part of going off grid is reducing consumption. You have to consider every watt you want to use. Every watt counts. How many watts does my Bullet use? No idea. It does say 350W under voltage on the side. Is that possible? Could it be using 350 watts? Every time I use it? OMG! Where is it made? No idea. It wasn't something I considered 7 or 8 years ago when I bought it. Probably China. Nearly everything's from China now. Shipping is so not sustainable. I should just let it go. Walk away. Give up my addiction now rather than later...

But my brain is screaming at me. I can't live without my bullet. I am too lazy to chop garlic by hand. I hate onions and only started cooking with them because the bullet made it easy to pulverize them into a puree, so I never had a recognizable piece of onion in my mouth. How will I make smoothies for my m-i-l? She only has one tooth! She can't eat solid food. The bullet takes care of all of her food- grinding it up into an edible mush that she doesn't have to chew. Crushing her pills. Salsa. We are still loving that green salsa that I made last year. And of course, the berries. I juice the raspberries because I hate the seeds. I juice the blueberries, because cleaning them to freeze takes hours, but juicing them removes the seeds, the stems, and any other bits that won't wash off. Hours!! That's what it would mean. Living without my bullet would be adding hours to every day. Many, many hours to my canning season. I'd rather lose the washing machine!

So, I think, I will bite the bullet. It may not be a sustainable choice, but it allows me to make other sustainable choices- like preserving foraged food rather than buying imported goods. It gives me time to accomplish other sustainable goals- like farming without oil, and harvesting dead fall for firewood rather than buying commercial firewood from live trees. My time is another valuable resource, and my bullet gives me more of it.