Monday, December 20, 2010

Lard logs for the hangers on

I really like having birds around the house during the winter months. I pay them back in feed supplements for adding spectacular colour and vitality to the somewhat desert like conditions here as we cross the winter solstice.

In my over thinking way, I have developed some ideas of which there may be no merit. I like to feed most birds at a rate that is less than possible. Less is more. I could just be lazy. I use oil seeds where the larger sunflower seeds seem to sell better. I use a mixture in my lard logs that's much more dense in grains than the birds would prefer.

They still hound the feed sources and I feel like it's less like a binge and more closely related to the work they do in the wild to eke out a living.

I began providing these lard logs to keep the downy and hairy wood peckers from cleaning out the oil seed hopper as they searched for the odd seed there that was unshelled. They could and would regularly dump eighteen litres of seed on the ground inside twenty four hours. If there are no wood peckers pestering that feeder it will last a few weeks in peak season. More frequent maintenance on anything here is not what I'm trying to encourage.

One more reason I can enjoy the winter months.

Net bag lard log bird feeder. I sometimes use onion bags or fruit bags. This year I've tried winding wire into the mix to leave it more available to the birds, but that's not perfected yet.


Oil seed sunflower hopper feeder with a Chickadee and Nuthatch in attendance


Hairy woodpecker. Great company while doing the dishes



Hairy and Downy wood peckers


Sunday, December 5, 2010

But it's so cold! Not.

I heard someone suggest recently that there is no cold weather, only inappropriate clothing. I'm a fan of winter.

This weekend was spectacular for weather. It began with the first of the seasons Arctic high pressure domes settling in and driving the temperatures slightly below seasonal norms and driving the clouds away. The weekend was so very beautiful. The moon wasn't in the way of the deep darkness at night so the stars were on display very well.

I'm fortunate to have excuses to be outside often during a day. There is something to be said for frequency. Wind is not a welcome partner in my love of winter, but we had very little of that this weekend. What we got, appeared to be the lake effect. This provided a constant dusting of fresh fluffy light snow that didn't really amount to much. Utterly gorgeous!

It was a day to ski, or skate in light clothing, rosy cheeked and brimming with vitality. The natural ice isn't quite ready for my skates though. Or maybe just stand there and catch snow flakes on the tongue. Quiet, gentle... peace.

Three sets of random company stopped by today, two loads of laundry, watched a bit of football, stripped a triple chime clock and got it hand cleaned and ready for a bath.

Played some guitar and sang the upper harmony on this little gem that I'm very enthusiastic about just now. Such grace. I've never sung harmony before and I was surprised at how good it sounded and felt. Manon wants to learn this song too so I'm likely going to get to practise a lot more of that type of singing. I'm not sad about that at all.

This will be the third song I've learned this fall. That's some kind of record I'm sure. I think I'm panicking just thinking about Manon leaving me all alone to play by myself again.

On Saturday morning I saw a fantastic sun column. It was short and wide, ending in a thin cloud bank just above the horizon. It was a brilliant orange/red. Gifts for a guy filled with gratitude just now. It's a wonderful place to be.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wikileaks and mandolins

Wikileaks is coming out of the closet and into the mainstream more every day it seems. I read a lot. I think it takes a lot of reading to formulate informed opinion. Fortunately in the last 12 months or so I've managed to digest more novels than I have in a long time and that tends to lighten my view of the world. Or at least I hope it does. I really enjoy reading for pleasure. No fall knitting yet. Sad face.

I thought this piece was insightful and useful in balancing what might not occur to one if only main stream media outlets are being heard on the topic of Wikileaks. For a guy with the attention span of a gnat, I know others will be quicker to leave this type of information behind. I'm a supporter of the efforts of Wikileaks and any other checks and balances imposing themselves on the rich and powerful.

I'm surrounded by a culture of fear and I think the threats are as much from within as outside our borders. At the very least, these are very interesting times to live in, especially if you're a curious sort like I am.

I've left this place dormant this fall as I attend to my shop and the back log of work there. I tend to completely drop the ball through the summer and enjoy family, friends and the great out doors while the warm weather persists. This summer was a fine example, but the shop was in shambles and once again I do my business no favours by ignoring the needs of my clients and placing my own luxuries ahead of them. There must be balance here somewhere, but it very often eludes me.

So the shop is almost civil now and in the last couple of weekends I've managed to assemble an old mandolin. It was a gift from friends that celebrate a good purge of worldly belongings once in a while. I happened to be standing in the right place at the right time.


Like most of my conservation work I've learned to do as little as possible, preferring to leave history in full view. Functionally it's a passable playing experience, but I fear the structure is not up to the stress of those four double courses. I'm in love with the tone of the thing. The instrument if full of holes, literally and creaks and moans as it is tuned up, but it's so giving and open. A brilliant bit of folk art and a wonderful example about how it's not always all about the new and shiny things that are most valuable. I'm very grateful to have had opportunity to meet this old gentleman.

I've been shopping already, but will have to wait until the new year to pull the pin I think. I've narrowed the wish list to this one that seems to suit me well enough.

Next on the list is to remake my electric guitar. I've got a five way switch, some two position control knobs and a spiffy new single coil pick up to add to the two humbuckers already in place. This should create many, many new tone options for the hopelessly curious.


So many buttons, so little time.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Luke Doucet at the WECC Winnipeg


"I think musicians tend to be a self-indulgent, navel-gazing lot," Doucet says. "Their biggest concern is that they won’t get the credit for creating all of the genius on the record. But I think your personality will always shine though. Your name — and face, probably — is on the album. You’re credited with being the principal songwriter and probably with playing one of the major instruments. You’re the one who tours it. Some singer/songwriters feel like they lose credibility if they’re not doing everything on a record. I think it’s good to let the people do the things I’m not good at, which is why I was so happy to have people like Andrew and David contribute."

I can't wait to see this guy tomorrow. I like my whisky straight up too.
Hope to see you all there.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Busy in the fall - the news from home

The summer is always busy, but I let work slide to spend a lot more time with loved ones through the summer and by the time the place is my own again I'm in a panic. The weather being as fickle as it is, introduces variables that demand I prioritize well and carefully. That task is not my strong suit.

For six or seven weeks it's been a blur of intense activity. The backlog in the shop is slowly being whittled away at. To that end it's been a very enjoyable bit of whittling. My clients are the best. I rarely treat them to the promptness they deserve, but they rarely complain about the quality of the work. If I can't have it all, I'll take the latter. They provide me with some fantastic work challenges.

This summer and fall have provided a terrific growing season. It must have been moist or something different that way, because the potatoes are very rapidly decomposing in the root cellar. I don't think the garlic will keep as well this year either, although the drying cycle was nearly perfect to my way of thinking. Not sure what's up with that. PU thinks it was the amount of rain, but I'm not convinced.


The garden work is gratefully over. The gardens got a good dose of very well rotted manure and I've made arrangements for another good supply for next year. I was really disappointed in the carrots this year so I spent many hours with the tiller in the gardens ensuring the seed beds are as deep and light as they can be.


The bike project is well under way. Snoot has such amazing confidence when she puts her mind to something. She should make a competent rider if she can avoid the evil ones that don't see bikes as vehicles, or don't see them at all. The world is a scary place, but she's not to be denied and neither was I. Snoot is finding the contrast between the dirt bike and the street bike to be entertaining I think. She's learning!

The wood is safely put away for the winter stove warmth and the mower is finally put away for the winter. I have all the mounts, electrical connections and exhaust off the riding mower motor, ready to rebuild the top end over the winter. I don't know how many hours of use are on that 17hp B&S, but I'm pretty sure it's time for a ring and valve job. I'm looking forward to doing it up right. Working on the bike this summer has really sparked my interest in toying with larger machines again. Anyone have a bike for sale?

I've been looking at bikes for sale since spring. It's getting painful. There are so many good bikes out there at reasonable prices. Mid life crisis here I come.

Not my shot, but maybe someday I'll get to own one.

BMW R100s cafe racer

The guitar is moving along well enough. I got a bone bruise on my left hand pinkie finger hammering on the the fretboard. I'm going to have to back off on the enthusiasm there some I think. If I want it to heal up I will, at any rate.

My back is killing me. New beds didn't seem to help. The flies are disgusting. My wife is the best. The food is good and I'm not dead yet. More will be revealed.
Be well all.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Khan Academy - free video study guides

What a huge resource for those in need of a little extra help with high school academics! I might have been braver about academics if I had known a place like this to supplement my classroom experience. Maybe not.

It's based on the Open Source model of which I'm on the evangelical side of. I'll take the bazaar over the cathedral every time.

This is a vision of the future. I hope.

Rambling, eggs, spiders and honey mushrooms

The trees are brilliant with fall colours and there has been a large stable high pressure dome parked over us for days. The weather is spectacular. Fall is here and what a fantastic presentation it's provided us this year.

Now back to our regular scheduled programming. Food.

The eggs will soon have pale yolks again as the birds lose access to the greenery. At least they are laying and don't seem to be diminishing in number as some predator or other takes their pound of flesh, literally. I've got 25 in the hen house and I hope most of them make the winter. I think there are enough cockerels to do the job for the girls in the spring. What a year it's been for the wild ones.


PU went picking with the neighbour last Sunday afternoon and came home with mountains of honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea). I dried a lot of them last year. This year we've blanched them and put them in gravy quantities in the freezer. I hope that works out. It's brilliant to have a different spin on the mushroom flavour and texture once in a while.


On the critter front, I watched this tiny little jumping spider attack a fly on the window sill today. It didn't win the battle, but the fly was belly up inside of five minutes so I gather the war was won. Cool beans.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chickens in the freezer, love and life

I could go on for a long time about the joys of the countless worthy reality checks that come with country life. I was first introduced to the dangers and rewards of the rural life at my aunt Rita and uncle Bob's. I'll always be a bit of a pansy next to their high expectations of what a man is supposed to be I think, but my kids could never be accused of being of that.

It was a fantastic congregation of like minded souls yesterday. We basked in the warm fall sun and played games that aren't coming out digitally any time soon. I don't think I caught them all. The work was done by 14:30, even the clean up and that left a lot of time and energy for spontaneous games of Indian leg wrestling and neck/belt pull contests, tag, chicken, of course, and foot races of various kinds.

I have to be careful here or this will evolve into a book. If the brevity of this all leaves you unsatisfied, please refer to the books Trauma Farm by Brian Brett and or Ox bells and fireflies by Ernest Buckler.

I meant to write a review of Trauma Farm, but lost my nerve. Thanks for the book Mum, it was terrific.

The fire and the finishing table crew. The birds were dipped in hot water to loosen the feathers before they were plucked.


I'll probably be lynched for this shot, but I'll say now that these kids were who I would dream would see the world clearly as they make decisions with less ego and more harmony in the future. Clear eyed and filled with wonderment. I've never enjoyed kids more than watching them yesterday. I'm so happy people brought their kids to share in the day. They added a lot!

The opposite of blinker-think no? There was ample opportunity, space and time to escape the dirty work, but all the kids seemed to venture into the deep water at various times through the day. Kids are much more curious, capable and cognisant than they are often credited with. I remain in awe of their collective contributions through the day. There was a place that meant something really grown up for everyone that wanted it and they all did.


A very poor image of the primary plucking station.


I think she got it all. Mighty put her away with a journey to the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to find out what the Crocodile has for dinner. ...


There were a number of hard core animal lovers on hand for the chores and festivities. Here's one of the top tier troopers with one of our layers.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hummingbirds gone and chicken news

The hummingbirds stuck around through the 12th of September this year. It seems that anything past the labour day long weekend is a bonus. The grass is slowing down and the meat birds are looking very edible.

Some other small stock owners have commented that the birds have struggled with some respiratory ailment and some of ours have some raspy breathing too. We didn't have to medicated them, but maybe we should have. More will be told when we see the lungs I suppose.

After all the hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water hauled and the mountain of grain fed, it leaves me a bit tense to think that some of that work may go for naught.

The less domesticated layers are so darned robust and I'm so grateful to have them. I will continue to breed these myself for as long as I can. I often wonder how long we'll be allowed to have chickens. We can only buy meat birds from one producer in Manitoba now and have to travel quite a distance to pick them up at a specified time. It would be sad to have to go back to commercial poultry. For flavour and integrity the supermarket bird follows in a very distant second place next to the omnivorous free ranging foragers we're used to.

I remember my body reacting negatively to the stress of kill day. Now, not so much. They have a great life here from what I can tell. The meat birds are freaks of genetic engineering and can grow so fast that they can die from it. Their legs break, they fall over dead from heat attacks and generally aren't very strong. They're bred to sit in cramped quarters, move as little as possible while they eat and drink themselves into a medicated six week life binge. Six weeks, from what I've heard, lands you a KFC special. I expect it's even less time on those ones. It disturbs my sleep to think too much about it. I've heard that the North American standards for keeping commercial birds is well over on the draconian side.

The layer flock is always so tidy and feminine. The meat birds can't even keep their back ends clean until about this time of year when they are ready, or maybe I'm the one ready for the chopping block. By now, near the end, I've usually gained a genuine affection for the meat birds. This fall they look fabulous and I'm taking great pleasure in them. They've cleaned up some, and there are enough white feathers involved to make attractive lawn ornaments out of the flock.

Here's how I manage the birds for those that might like to take a swing at it.

I feed a mix of what farmers call chop. It's mostly oats, but there is at least ten percent barley in the mix too. I buy 50 kilos of crushed corn and 75 kilos of soybean meal and what comes out of the farmer's mix mill is about 800 kilos of feed in as course a cut as the mix mill will permit. It still comes out a little too fine for chickens, but with the addition of the tasty corn and barley the chickens don't get too fussy.

If they do get fussy and won't eat it well, I've mixed the feed with water just before feeding time and fed it wet and they all really like that action, but it's a messy proposition to dance with twice or three times a day.

For good healthy birds it's really a game of being very observant of your flock. Too little feed and they won't be growing like they should. Too lean a feed will do the same thing. It must be rich enough to help them be thrifty.

Too much feed and there is no end of grief. I use to think I could have feed in front of them continuously like I hear the commercial growers do, but I learned differently. They get really discontent and begin the sad song of cannibalism. Ideally it's a bit like I've heard Zen masters suggest for us. Eating about ten percent less than one needs is a very healthy way to live.

I wish I could live that way. I'm trying to learn, but it's tough slogging.

The feed requirements change as they grow, so it's difficult to give an exact quanity or quality of feed. To get a feel for it, I watch how the heavier birds are walking. When they begin to lope I know I'm feeding about as heavily as I can before some begin to go lame. If I have a lot of fliers I know I'm nowhere near the calorie requirements for good growth. Yesterday was the first day that they didn't clean up the third feeding. There is hope!

I add salt and calcium to the feed too, but it's just a sprinkle on the top of the feed pail. I may try and include that in the mix mill next year to try and simplify feeding time a little more again, but I'll have to do some math before I make that commitment.

The new chicken run has been a boon. Finally there is no pressure on the flower gardens! A good wing clipping hasn't hurt either.

It looks like it's going to be a beautiful and cool day on Saturday for the sacrifice. It's always been a festival of friendship, good cheer and old school fun. I wish Rita and Mum could be here to sit by the fire and knit while they spice the banter. Young kids, old kids, friends and family will pitch in until it's done for another year. With every passing year I grow in my gratitude for our fortune. Thank-you chickens.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mr. Cabbage Head

That's not a cabbage. This is a cabbage! Ridiculous.


Friday, September 10, 2010

MSN instant messaging

I've had to create a new MSN account for those that want to reach me via the instant messaging service provided by Micro$oft. For those that wish, please add to find me there.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Seasonal transitions - mayonnaise

Steve got me thinking about tomatoes this morning. I don't need much prompting. PU used to horde them all until she had completed her canning, but in the last few years I've managed to weasel my way into an increasing number of these gems for eating fresh.

Of course for lunch I had to have tomatoes in a sandwich on City Rye. I was going to make up some bacon and include some lettuce, but decided to keep it simple and save more room for more tomato! Mayo is one of the sandwich ingredients I find particularly complimentary to a tomato sandwich. If one has a blender, it's a very simple process to make my own mayonnaise.

It doesn't keep forever though and if poorly cared for will poison you. I used pinned diapers for the kids too. I love to live on the edge. I keep my tools clean and my fridge cold. For the mayo at least. I toss it out after four or five days if it's not used up by then. I often cheat. So far so good.

I usually only add one clove of garlic in the recipe below, but I will change up the spicing with curry, dill, different vinegars and such, at will. I often reduce the salt to 3/4 tsp too. As with many things, the mayo flavour usually benefits from sitting for a few hours before use.

Like flogging a dead horse, I will mention now and again that mustard is an emulsifier and mayonnaise apparently can't be made without it.

Basic Mayonnaise

1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
2 cloves garlic (that's a lot)
2 Tbsp vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil (I like olive oil often)

Combine a 1/4 cup oil, the salt, egg, mustard, garlic, vinegar and in blender. Cover and blend until ingredients are mixed.

Slowly pour in the remaining oil, until mixture has thickened. I start out pouring slowly and then as it thickens it's a race to get it all in. I assist the blending with a spatula carefully placed to not interfer with the blades. Keep refrigerated.

It's no longer summer. Ripe tomatoes won't last more than a month or two and the seasons roll on. I saw humming birds this morning, but it will only be a few more days before they head off to their winter resorts. The chickens are plumping up well and the grass, although green isn't growing as quickly. The kids and PU are back in school and the fall chores are coming back into mind.

All the work I've been successful in avoiding in the shop for the summer is now screaming at me. Back in the saddle again.

I think we'll have some kind of eggs for dinner, and tomatoes of course.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fall harvest - more droning on about garlic

This shot is very flattering I must say. I've become confused about the amount I harvested this year. The figure I had seemed unreasonable so the jury remains out on the total weight.


Every year I can't resist taking this same shot.


Not very many hot peppers this year. I canned about three litres of sauce and remain very happy with the recipe.


James and Boo picked wild grapes for jelly and the crew were busy here cleaning them. They were savagely acidic and hurt a couple of the folks with more sensitive skin. Boo got 11 small jars out of this and says it tastes very exotic and quite pleasant. Apparently James and his domestic grapes get the jelly treatment tomorrow. I can't wait to taste some of this stuff.


Brenda's cute summer squash


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pickles and the green green grass of home

Is this really the prairie farm lawn in the first week of September? It makes me want to throw a football. Fall must be close. It's not that we didn't have beautiful weather this summer. We had great stretches of heat and sunshine in abundance this year. It's just that mowing grass is getting tiresome. So I'm grousing a bit.

Do you like the tent in the back yard? We live in a a place that's dominated by the wild things and the kids can't wait to sleep outside. The increasing disconnect between so many people and the challenges posed by the natural world is not playing out here like it is in some other places apparently.


I think the fermented pickles are dying. The two jars were assembled slightly differently and a week or so apart from each other, but both jars seem to be growing something other than the desirable bacteria. I've never been happy with the recipe so I tossed everything I thought I knew into the air this year. Maybe it's not surprising that it hasn't been a screaming success, but it's still disappointing. I only get a couple of cracks at this recipe every year so time's a wastin'.

The second jar seems to have a different kind of infection than this one and the brine still smells fantastic. I fed the worst jar full to the chickens this morning and the brine had a nasty cheese smell to it. The birds didn't mind a bit. Chickens are amazingly versatile consumers. The better of the two jars went into the fridge a week earlier (30%) than prescribed today. We'll try and eat them up I guess.



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Red tail hawk

Add hawks to the squeeze of predator pressure this year. Yesterday a spectacular red tail hawk took a free lunch here. When I noticed that there were no birds out in the run I knew something was up.

I wasn't prepared for this hawk to be as bold as brass, but it sure was. Given that we're down between 20 and 25 birds this year, it might have occurred to me to get my shotgun before heading off to investigate, but no. So there he or she is ripping the tastiest bits out from the headless chicken not more than twenty feet from me. It stayed stuck to it's task too. I was thinking it might take a swing at defending the kill as I approached, but it took off. What a sight. They are majestic displays of evolutions vigour.

Later when I got a shot away I had run out of the house without proper footwear and left my glasses behind. Maybe a second cup of coffee will help tomorrow. I made some feathers fly, but when I did, he just jumped down a couple of branches so he didn't pose such and easy target and stayed there while I cursed my lack of preparation.

Now all the hawk as to do is fly by and the chickens all take cover. Hopefully the rain tomorrow will keep the excitement to a minimum.

Wayne Wood's image from Photozo looks very much like what I was confronted with.

Monday, August 30, 2010


I like dill pickles. I like baby carrots that way and many other types, but once a year I enjoy fermented dills.


I'm still developing the recipe and when it's settled down a bit I'll be happy to share. My primary document this year has helped to firm up some of the desirable salt concentrations and is this PDF from a school in Wisconsin, USA.

It relies on weight measures which are really good when accuracy counts. I wish I had more bread recipes written like that to nail that 60% hydration point. Two weeks to testing time!

If they don't go soft they should be ready for the big chicken pluck on the 18th. Yummy!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Acorn glut

There was some talk earlier this month about just how parasitic the Virginia Creeper was to the ancient Burr Oak north of the house. The creeper makes for a spectacular splash of colour later on in the fall so it would be a shame to have to miss it.

Stress produces results, of that, I'm convinced. A pruning of the apple tree last year produced a bounty of crabs this summer.

When I went to attend to the humming bird feeder this morning I nearly went over on my ankle from the abundant acorns acting like ball bearings. They've been hitting the house like bullets for a week. I haven't been beaned yet, but the dogs make it clear that it's a possibility. They keep their distance from that tree.

I hope the oak isn't in a panic to reproduce because it's stressed. More homework is required.


Monday, August 23, 2010

More Riding Mountain images

More than once we were faced with rubber boot moments. Of course none of us had rubbers.



As I mentioned before, the meadows were spectacular.


Water was available, but the best drinking water came from these small fast moving tiny streams. We filtered our water. The park recommends that it be boiled so one should do something other than drink it raw.


It was not flat terrain.


Beauty and the beast.


Getting our feet above our hearts as a priority and always felt wonderful.


Fortunately we had lots of moleskin and medical tape. My last blister burst today and the scabs came off my toes yesterday. What some people call fun eh?


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tilson Lake Loop - Riding Mountain National Park

Had a great hike back into the west end of Riding Mountain National Park. Bonnie and myself along with Tyler and Trish made for a resourceful, resiliant and entertaining crew.


We took an inch of rain the first afternoon on the trail and the winds were gusting to 70km/hr. With the cool temperatures the early stages of hypothermia set in pretty quickly after we stopped walking and set to work to make camp. Trees were crashing around us, but we were all in good spirits.


By evening we were fed and the rain had stopped so we set to work to dry some of the gear out by the fire. Warmth was really popular.


Uncharateristically, our August seems to still be providing plenty of rain.


We saw lots of wild life and found this moose rack along the trail. We also saw an elk rack later on. The highlight, though, was Trish's filled request of the land to provide her with a birthday moose sighting. Apparently the land always provides her with a large male on her birthday. Go Trish!


The +18kg packs Boo and I were hauling were not as heavy as what the others were carrying. Everyone took the extra weight heavily on foot wear. I made the mistake of taking only my orthodics and quickly punched a couple of blisters into my arches. Shoulders and hips were bruised, but that's par for the course and there were no wimps aboard, that's for sure.


Tyler is fresh off a tour of the West Coast Trail so was well prepared for the task.


Getting our feet up at lunch was very popular.


The view from our camp on night two.


Much of day three was spend walking through groves like this. We also spent a lot of time walking down spectacular valleys filled with late season wild flower bloom in full swing. The weather cleared up nicely and the temperatures remained cool. Nobody missed the bugs.


Here I am at the end of the trail.


I hadn't been back in that end of the park in 25 years. I'm happy to report it's about as I remembered it. Lovely.