30 November 2010

Thirty posts in thirty days!

Well, I made it. I blogged every day this month. I discovered that it actually gets easier to think of things to write about the more you do it, and I also discovered that some ideas need a bit more time to be fleshed out before they're truly ready for prime time. This was a good kickstart for me to get back into the blogging habit and I'm sure I will continue on a more regular schedule than I had been before November. I'll be happy to have my artificial rule lifted, but there's something about having a rule that the rest of the family respected. I could just say "I have to blog, now" and I was granted the time and space to do so. Regular blogging also improves blog traffic and I'm happy for the new readers.

The picture is a young Abe Lincoln cutting rails, not posts, but I couldn't resist.

29 November 2010

Monday forest photo: November 29, 2010

10:03am -1C scattered clouds
It's starting to look a bit like winter, but the forecast is for lots of rain over the next few days.

28 November 2010

Why is this dog smiling?

Meg and I both love our daily walks in the forest. I mostly stick to the trails and amble along, while Meg runs huge circles around me, taking side trips to chase squirrels. We've had a pretty wet fall, so there are some muddy spots on the trails and in the secret places where Meg goes. I wear my rubber boots so the mud doesn't bother me, and Meg wears her bright white fur, so the mud doesn't bother her. For much of the past few weeks, our walks have ended with Meg in the laundry sink getting rinsed off. Neither of us likes this very much - me because lifting a muddy, unhappy dog into the sink almost always results in some mud transferring from her to me, and she because, well, I don't know exactly, it's a dog thing. What could be so unpleasant about a nice warm shower after a brisk walk?

We've had a few cold nights recently, enough to freeze the mud puddles, and a tiny bit of snow to cover all the dirt. This fortunate state of affairs leaves Meg in pristine condition after a walk - maybe just a bit cleaner than when we started. We certainly don't miss the bath. In a part of the world where we have four distinct seasons: mud, mosquito, mud and winter; winter definitely has some advantages.

27 November 2010

Taking my own advice

Today was one of those glorious sunny-day-after-freezing rain days. There was a thin glaze of ice on just about everything topped off with a dusting of fluffy snow. There are a lot of red oaks in the forest and they tend to hold on to some of their leaves well into the winter so this is a very typical scene.

The woods were quiet today because it's Saturday and work next door at the former forest/ now gravel pit/ soon to be subdivision wasn't happening. I appreciate just hearing the wind and the birds rather than heavy machinery and blasting. Lovely.

26 November 2010

How to cope

Maybe these pharmaceutical companies are on to something. You can't change the world but you can feel better about it. Who needs freedom when you can have benzodiazepine or other habit-forming drugs? It's kind of seductive, this notion that you can take a pill and it won't matter what unpleasant circumstance you find yourself in, you will just be able to cope. Equanimity in a pill bottle. The Calvinist in me thinks this is just wrong - people were born to suffer. The bohemian in me thinks this is just wrong - alcohol and illegal drugs at least offer the possibility of a good time and no prescription required.

I don't know about the lady in the picture, but I can start to feel pretty stressed when I think about all the scary stuff going on in the world. Environmental and economic collapse and war-mongering all over. But it is possible to be fully aware of all the crap that's going on in the world and not feel utter despair without resorting to drugs. It's quite simple, really. Just let go of the idea that there needs to be a happy ending and life becomes much less stressful. Kind of like watching your second Coen brothers movie. Cultivate a sense of the absurd and just reading the news becomes black comedy. Once you realize that this won't end well, but it never does so you might as well enjoy the moment, then everything becomes a lot easier to bear.

Oh, and take a walk. It's better for your health than nihilism.

25 November 2010

Yet another laundry post

I love my clothesline. I enjoy hanging clothes out and I adore the fresh line-dried smell that lingers on them. My regular readers will know that I have a bit of an obsession about this, actually. Once we get to November though, it gets trickier to get a load of laundry completely dry outside and if it's very cold, not only do the clothes freeze, so do my hands. Winter starts for me when I give up and start hanging clothes inside. Hanging clothes inside is definitely second best - they don't get that fresh air smell, but there are no bird dropping worries, either. I have a pretty strong aversion to using the dryer as it seems not unlike burning money to dry clothes instead of just letting ordinary air (which in winter around here could always use a bit of moisture) do the job. In addition to the environmental and financial benefits of line drying, slackers like me enjoy the fact that clothes do not get more wrinkled the longer they linger on the drying rack, unlike the dryer where a few hours of neglect results in the dreaded dryer wrinkles.

I think we are unique in North America in regarding the coal-fired (or nuclear-powered, here in Ontario) clothes dryer as an essential item in the home. Even I, with all my evangelical line drying, have one. Obviously, our electricity rates are still too low if ordinary people still use them. I wonder what other coal-fired gadgets we'll come to find ludicrous instead of necessary when energy prices are double or triple what they are now.

By the way, a really great website about saving electricity is Michael Bluejay's Saving Electricity site. It is loaded with information and a fair bit of attitude ("only losers set their AC below 80") which makes it a pretty entertaining read, not to mention very useful.

Ok, I promise this is the last post about drying clothes. Really.

24 November 2010

Trees will begin to die from the top down

We've had a lot of strong wind lately which has knocked over a bunch of trees in the forest. Sadly, many of the downed trees are young sugar maples which snap off a few feet above the ground. Most of the sugar maples on the property are small and not very vigourous. The bark has an unhealthy silver palour and the tops are thin and have lots of dead branches. The wood of this tree is kind of punky and I fear that the rest of the maples are similarly doomed.

The fact that the sugar maples on our land are in such bad shape is rather sad given that there used to be a sugar bush here. There is the outline of the sugar shack still visible in the woods. (Perhaps not visible in this picture. You'll just have to believe me.) I suppose at some point someone decided sugaring was too much work and sold off the trees for firewood. No doubt this was the economically sensible thing to do at the time. Unfortunately, with all the large maples gone, there isn't a good seed stock to replenish the forest. I don't know whether all our sick young maples are suffering from environmental stress or perhaps they just lost the genetic crapshoot.

There are Algonquin pictographs warning of environmental catastrophe that say there will be a time when the trees, the maple trees, will begin to die from the top down. This would have been inconceivable at the time, yet here we are, witnessing exactly that.

23 November 2010

Ma and Pa are moving house

Here at Shack on the Edge (that's the name I just made up for our primary residence - it's on the edge of town and has us on the edge of sanity) we're preparing for a pretty big life event come spring. My parents are going to be putting up a house on our property and moving in. I guess it would be more correct to say they are having a house delivered. We're applying for a zoning change that allows for a garden suite for elderly or disabled family members. None of us, least of all my parents, considers them to be elderly or disabled but this works for our purposes - and they do qualify for seniors' discounts.

So in April or May a couple of big trucks will arrive and drop their house onto its spot. A few hours later, the house will be bolted together, connected to power, water and septic and ready to move into. And then my parents, who I have spent most of the last 27 years living quite far away from, will be living a stone's throw from my back door. Surprisingly, or maybe not, some family members seem quite skeptical that this arrangement will work out. Friends, on the other hand, have been nothing but supportive of the idea.

The idea is that we share the benefits of living on our land and support each other physically and mentally in our various projects. We'll each have on site pet sitting and plant watering when we're away. Madeleine will have regular access to her grandparents and we'll have an extra set of loving eyes to watch over her as she goes through her teens. We do anticipate that as my parents age we will be providing more support but I would like to think that it will be a much more seamless transition if we have already been living somewhat interdependently than if they were still living five hours drive away.

The trouble with life is that you can't see how the future is going to play out. We don't know if either or both of my parents will be living well and independently for 5 or 30 years, or for that matter, whether we will both be living healthy independent lives for that long. What if someone dies and their partner remarries? It's a challenging thing to throw in your lot with your spouse, let alone your parents or in-laws or kids, but so much of life is random and unpredictable, there's not anything to do but take the leap and trust that everyone is well intentioned and the twists and turns can be navigated.

22 November 2010

Monday forest photo: November 22, 2010

9:48 am 4C overcast
It's a pretty dreary November day. We had freezing rain overnight and rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days. Winter is still holding off.

21 November 2010

The fourth annual Christmas rant

By a stroke of circumstance, this year's Christmas obligations will be over for us by December 11. No one in my immediate little family is terribly enthusiastic about doing a big Christmas thing, so we will be free to completely ignore it or more likely, to put up some sparkly lights on a tree outside and sit inside by the fire with a warm drink. Christmas has gotten much simpler for me over the last few years as the message has gradually gotten around that I am a huge grinch and everyone's expectations have dropped accordingly. I have a strong aversion to advertising of any kind; I can't listen to commercial radio because I can't abide the ads, we don't have a tv, and I use Adblock Plus on the computer to filter ads. I avoid malls if I possibly can anyway, and I don't have young kids with overblown expectations. It's actually shaping up to be a pretty peaceful season.

It is true that I am a grinch, but primarily because I think that excessive consumption of largely useless crap is one of the main destructive forces on the planet. Our North American tradition of spending more money at Christmas than billions of people spend for an entire year is so wasteful and ridiculous we should all be ashamed. Given the lack of religious significance for me, there isn't really anything left to celebrate, except for it happens just after the solstice and the shortest day is behind us. I'll happily raise a toast to that.

My Christmas rants have gotten mellower over time. No doubt this is a result of the reduced expectations on me to live up to tradition which allows me to not actually think about it. In case you're interested:

Christmas is Cancelled - 2007
Time for the annual Christmas rant - 2008
By popular request - the annual Christmas rant - 2009

20 November 2010

Just a nibble

The forest floor was covered in wide variety of mushrooms this summer and fall. At one point I got excited because I thought I had found some chanterelles but when I brought them back and looked up chanterelles to identify them, they were obviously something different. The only mushrooms that are visible now are the ones that are on standing tree trunks. This group of mushrooms growing on a dead tree trunk looks pretty appetizing to me, and it seems that at least one other creature also found it tempting. I really need a mushroom expert to guide me, but I wonder if these are oyster mushrooms. I didn't see a dead chipmunk lying under the tree, but I'll fight the temptation to cook these up in butter and garlic and have a taste.

19 November 2010

Red wild strawberry

Just when it seems that everything in the forest is a muted shade of grey or brown or green, up pops a tiny jolt of red.

18 November 2010

Bohemian Waxwings and Wannabes

I stepped out onto the back deck this afternoon and noticed that the ash tree had a flock of 50 or so Bohemian Waxwings. I was happy that I was able to go back into the house and grab the camera without the flock getting spooked and flying away. The notable thing about them, in fact, was that they were all resting quietly - not at all like a flock of starlings in a tree. These guys aren't exactly rare, just irregular, but it's a nice treat to see them all the same.

By fun coincidence, there's a nice essay at New Escapologist today called Defining the Bohemian. I was thinking about it on my walk this morning. I decided before I'd gotten very far, that although it sounds so appealing to be a Bohemian (absinthe, anyone?), I don't think I am one, and besides I don't care about what sort of category of person I might fall into, which may be my most Bohemian characteristic. I was glad to get that sorted before I had gone too far, because carrying some kind of vague Bohemian inadequacy around was bound to slow me down.

17 November 2010

Rainy morning

We had a lot of rain overnight and it is still raining. The yard is soggy and the chickens aren't very smart about finding shelter, so they are going to spend the day indoors. They would have very happily gone outside even under the close supervision of Meg, the chicken herding dog. We have a no dogs allowed rule in the coop, so the birds can get some respite from their supervisor.

After our walk, Meg got a quick rinse in the laundry sink. This is not her favourite activity as you can see by her pouty expression.

The new bird feeder is doing booming business, but the automatic setting on my camera has captured mostly blurs. I may just have to learn something about how to use the shutter speed controls if I want better pictures.

16 November 2010

Veggie ferment

I've been cleaning up the garden and I decided to ferment some of the veggies I've harvested. I have a lot of turnips, some radishes, some tiny cabbages and quite a few carrots.

The purple cabbage was a volunteer from some cabbages that had gone to seed last year. Early in the spring, before we moved in, my husband and I laid straw down in the vegetable garden bed to prevent a huge weed catastrophe from developing. The bed was quite a mess and instead of cleaning up the rotten cabbages (what a stink - we thought there was a problem with the septic system) we just piled on more straw. The weeds came anyway and I didn't pay much attention to the little cabbages that were growing, hidden as they were in the straw and nettles, but a few grew and did very well in spite of the negligence. There was almost no insect damage.

I was inspired by a post at fast grow the weeds to make a sauerkraut with my little cabbages and other veggies. I added some garlic and hot pepper flakes as well. I ran everything through the food processor to get it all to a fine coleslaw-like consistency, then added salt and stuffed it into a jar. I'll check the brine level in the jar tomorrow and add more if all the veggies are not submerged. The hint I got from fast grow the weeds, is to stir and taste the ferment every day. That sounds like wise advice to me. 

I am convinced of the benefits of eating lacto-fermented foods, and I love the taste, but my family is not quite so enamoured of them. My husband, especially, is not keen on the saltiness. I will taste and adjust the salt as my veggies ferment to hopefully produce something everyone will eat.

“The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”
Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, pg 89

Day 2 update: My sauerkraut is a lovely purple colour and has a smell and taste that is as strong. What did I expect with all the garlic, onion, hot pepper, turnip and cabbage? I'll leave it on the counter for a couple more days before I put it in the fridge. 

15 November 2010

Monday forest photo: November 15, 2010

10:00 am 3C sky clear
I've been taking lots of pictures of our 20 acre patch of woods since we moved here in June, and it's fun to look at them and see the changes as the seasons progress. I've decided to formalize the process a bit by taking a picture from the same spot every Monday. I'm hoping this will provide an interesting record of the passage of time in this eastern Ontario young mixed forest. The spot I picked is along the trail just as you enter the forest from our backyard. There's nothing particularly noteworthy here except that it isn't so far that I won't be able to make it out here no matter what the weather or snow conditions and it's a pretty good representation of the trees and plants found throughout the property.

14 November 2010

Forbidden flower

My grandmother once commented that if she had known how to stop having babies she would have. She also said that if she would have had access to divorce she would have done that too. Perhaps she wouldn't have felt need of the latter if she had figured out the former. My grandmother bore twelve children in her life - no doubt there would have been more had she not waited until her late twenties to marry. The fact that my grandmother, an extremely conservative religious woman, would have uttered such things out loud speaks to the incredible hardship faced by women with no control over their fertility. God may provide, but he certainly doesn't do dishes or change diapers.

This summer, a herbalist gave me the knowledge that my grandmother could have used back in the forties and fifties, without latex or silicone or pills or thermometers or surgeries or prescriptions or even the knowledge of her husband. Women in ancient Greece and Rome had this knowledge. No doubt women in Europe also had this knowledge before the witch hunts.

Before I share this with you, dear reader, please let me stress that I am not a herbalist or medical professional and I have no personal experience with this method of birth control (I discovered it too late). If you are interested, please read Robin Rose Bennett's article all the way through (a couple of times) before deciding if you are comfortable with trying it. She is the herbalist who is the acknowledged expert on this method. Most articles online on the subject have just cut and paste from Robin Rose Bennett, but you really must read the original. A word of caution: herbalists sometimes do strange things like write in the voice of the plant they are discussing. Don't let that stop you from reading the whole thing.

And the secret is: Daucus carota, otherwise known as Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Carrot, the common white umbrella shaped flower seen in fields and vacant lots everywhere in late summer. The flowers and seeds are gathered and used fresh or dried to make teas or tinctures. These are consumed within 8 - 12 hours after sex and then twice more at 12 -24 hour intervals. I will leave the details of preparing and using the teas or tinctures to Robin Rose Bennett to explain, but it really is as simple as that. 

I don't know why a method of birth control which is reportedly safe, effective, convenient and inexpensive would not be as widely known as how to brush your teeth. I suppose it's a combination of the lack of profit potential for corporations, a patriarchal medical system, misogynist religion, and a general disconnection from the natural world but I would rather corporations, the medical system and religion just stayed out of my womb.

13 November 2010

November tadpole

I was lucky enough to have the camera with me today when I spotted this tadpole in the pond this morning. He wasn't moving, but I wouldn't expect him to in the cold water, some of which still has a thin layer of ice from overnight. I found it surprising that there would still be a tadpole at this time of year, but that just shows my ignorance. When I looked it up I discovered that some species of frogs, newts and toads overwinter as tadpoles and bullfrogs can take up to 3 years to complete their lifecycle. Our pond is so shallow, I had assumed that nothing other than insects would make it through a winter, but I'll be happy to be wrong.

What to eat for breakfast

A few years ago, I found a recipe for the creamiest, tastiest, best-tasting porridge ever. You start it the night before and cook it in the morning, which seems like it might be a lot of work, but all you do in the morning is turn on the stove and stir for a couple of minutes. It's easier than pouring cereal out of a box.

This recipe uses whole oat groats, which I buy in 10kg bags from the natural food store. They last indefinitely if stored in a cool dry place. I transfer mine from the bag into a food-grade plastic bucket to keep critters out. I transfer a few cups at a time into a glass jar to keep in the kitchen. The advantage to using the oat groats, rather than rolled oats, is that the germ has not oxidized in processing, so the full nutritive value is preserved. The digestibility of all whole grains is improved when they are soaked, especially with a souring agent such as yogourt, whey or sourdough starter. The soaking starts the fermentation process by developing lactic acid from airborne yeasts and the souring agent adds more live microorganisms that makes the cereal more nutritious. Crushing the groats gives the resulting porridge a combination of chewy and smooth textures which I love. I crush the oats by running them through the grain grinding attachment for my stand mixer at a coarse setting, but you can also use a mortar and pestle or give them a very quick spin in a blender or food processor. Crushing or grinding does give a nicer result than blending or processing. Dealing with the whole oats seems like a lot of trouble if you aren't used to it, but once you have them in your house and figure out how you'll crush them, you'll never go back to rolled oatmeal again.

So here is the recipe which I've modified slightly from the original I found in The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley.

1 cup fresh, coarsely crushed whole oat berries
3 cups filtered or well water
2 tablespoons plain yogourt, whey or sourdough starter
1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Combine the oats, water, yogourt and salt in a saucepan and cover. Let sit over night.
  2. In the morning, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook gently for 10 minutes.
  3. Serve with your favourite toppings. I like it with plain yogourt and molasses.

12 November 2010

Future lawn

This little beech grove is in Phase 3 of the White Tail Ridge subdivision just on the other side of the fence from our property. I walk by it every morning during my daily walk. I try hard to appreciate its beauty now, just as it is, even knowing it may not last very much longer. This appreciating what is now turns out to be a very useful thing.

10 November 2010

Forest bathing

One of the first things I do every morning is take a pretty leisurely walk in the forest with Meg (leisurely for me - Meg tears around the trails like a bullet). This is a very pleasant thing to do and intuitively, it feels like it should be a pretty healthy thing too. This summer I read Arboraetum America by Diana Beresford-Kroeger. She talks a lot about the health benefits of being in the presence of trees because of the chemical substances they emit as they go about the business of defending themselves against insects and decay. Later this summer there were articles in the New York Times and Globe and Mail about the Japanese concept of shinrinyoku, or forest bathing. In Japan, people are encouraged, as a matter of public policy, to take in the forest air because of the proven benefits for the immune system and stress reduction. I love the idea of being in the forest as a cleansing, immersive experience. I certainly didn't need to have this kind of confirmation to know that walking in the forest is a great thing to do, but it's nice to have your intuition validated.

Knowing that in addition to the environmental and aesthetic qualities of forests, there are direct benefits to human health, makes their exploitation that much sadder. On that note, have a listen to Joni Mitchell singing Big Yellow Taxi, getting it right all those years ago:

09 November 2010

Furnished coop, all mod cons

Tonight is the first night the girls are spending in their new winter coop. They were a bit unsettled at being closed in, though most of them had happily ventured in to inspect the workmanship. Selma, one of the little brown hens, who looks a complete mess with her moulting feathers, refused to go inside, even with an oat bribe. She was on to me from the beginning and wouldn't allow herself to be caught. Eventually, I had to resort to raisins, which none of the girls can resist.

Lisa, Maggie and Patty are making themselves at home but Edna ran back and forth obsessively in front of the recycled patio door trying to get out. Tomorrow I will staple some cardboard over the bottom of the door to prevent her seeing outside. They'll spend the next couple of days in the coop to get the clear message that this is their new home. 

08 November 2010

Edna, Patty, Selma, Lisa and Maggie's new winter digs

Chicken tractor season is rapidly drawing to a close in our neck of the woods. The chickens do well outdoors until there is snow. They cannot abide the slightest sprinkling of snow underfoot. This is our second winter of chicken-keeping and our second house in that time, so we are outfitting our second winter coop in two years. The first coop was a shed that had been built as a goose house so required only minor modifications to house the birds. This coop started its life as a playhouse and required raising the ceiling and lowering the roof. We've done a fair amount of work to insulate and critter-proof the inside walls. We recycled a couple of windows and one side of a patio door so there should be lots of light inside.

I'll post more pictures once it is completed. With any luck, we'll have the girls moved in tomorrow and prepared for any weather.

07 November 2010

Standard time blues

Well, winter's back. No, it's not the first snowfall - we've already had that - it's the end of daylight saving time. I make an effort to get out and enjoy whatever daylight there is, but my overwhelming urge at this time of year is to go to bed and stay there until February. I always feel as though an hour of sunlight has been stolen from me, even though I appreciate the extra hour of daylight in the morning. 

I'm being a bit of a whiner here. I live in Southern Canada at the 45th parallel. Most of Canada, quite a bit of the US, and much of Europe is farther north and thus subject to even shorter winter days than we experience here. I don't even think I would like living farther south and missing out on our four distinct seasons and day length variation but I'm much more stoic about the cold and snow of winter than the darkness. 

Only 125 days until March 13...

06 November 2010

Nothing like compost turning day to make chickens happy

Today I made a new compost bin with some straw bales and transferred my working pile into it. Every time I work with soil or compost I find I have five helpers underfoot. The other three aren't in this picture because they are at the old pile. They love eating the bugs and juicy bits that are exposed. I didn't add the second layer of bales until I had filled the first, just to save myself some work. The old bin was starting to collapse and I used the decomposing straw to layer with the partially broken down compost. I'll continue to add garden stuff and kitchen scraps until the spring when I'll turn everything in with the winter's chicken litter. The straw bales allow the entire pile to heat up right out to the edges and keep the pile warm for a long time.

The garden is starting to look a bit ratty around the edges, not surprising since we've had lots of frosty nights and lots of rain. Some things, like the kale and carrots are at their sweetest now. I had lots of comments on my instant garden this year. We moved the raised beds, compost and old straw bales from the old house and ordered some new soil. Within a couple of weeks I had tomatoes and pepper plants in and lots of other stuff planted. It was basically time to start planting the fall garden at that point, so I chose things with that in mind. I didn't do any of the season extension things that I was planning to do as we got sidetracked by house stuff, but I did discover that simply planting things midsummer instead of spring allows them to keep going longer into the fall. Easy.

05 November 2010

Silent foot fall

One of the pleasures of an autumn walk, just after the leaves have fallen, is the loud rustling sound made by every step. Something makes you almost want to skip along, or at least kick up leaves as you walk through them ankle-deep. After a while, the leaves get rained on and start to mat down and the exuberant noisy leaf walking season ends for another year. And as much as you enjoyed it, it's a relief to walk quietly on the trails again. Another sign that late fall has begun.

04 November 2010

My visit to the mall, or two hours I'm never getting back

I've just returned home after two long hours subjected to loud noise, bright lights, poor air quality, insulting surveillance and rude staff. No, not the drunk tank... the mall. Madeleine's Pathfinder group was working on a merit badge (evidently something to do with fashion) and I disqualified myself as a parent volunteer due to my complete lack of knowledge or interest in fashion and my very poor attitude towards the entire endeavour. Thus freed (though feeling like a prisoner) to roam at will within the mall's confines, I wandered aimlessly, looking at what was on offer.

There seemed to be a tremendous number of phone vendors. Back in the day, when a phone was stuck to the wall and came with the house, there were no phone stores. Then someone invented phone jacks and people could choose to put phones in different rooms and there was one phone store in the big malls.  Now that every single human needs to carry a phone and it must never be more than two years old, ever, there are umpty-six different places to buy a phone and a plan in the mall.

I stumbled into a store that specializes in selling products that are advertised on television. They quite helpfully display the commercials on little monitors attached to the shelves. This is in case you haven't been swayed by the obvious merits of whatever gadget you are looking at. The entire store was filled with cheap crap from China and not an item in it filled any human requirement for function or beauty. Especially not beauty.

I was surprised to see a pet store that still sells sad little puppy mill dogs on display in sad little cells. I guess I had assumed that public pressure had forced all the pet stores to stop, but I was wrong. Obviously, people are still buying these puppies of dubious provenance, otherwise the asking price would not be so astonishingly high. Presumably, a puppy doesn't have a particularly long shelf life, but I'm sure it feels long to the poor creatures.

I eventually escaped with Madeleine, who was feeling as woozy as I, and vowed never to set foot in there again. If I ever feel the need for some retail therapy, I will substitute a healthier coping strategy - like drinking.

03 November 2010

First fall

One of the unsettling things about moving (something I have way too much experience with) is not knowing how the new house and property will feel during all seasons. We've lived here since the beginning of June, so though we are unpacked we've only lived here for a season and a half out of four. I know when the sun is on the back deck and when it comes in the front window in summer and pre-time change fall. I know what a heavy summer rain does and where the first frost was. I've felt a hot and dry July and I know where to seek refuge from the heat. I don't know where the snow will pile up or where ice will form on the driveway. I don't know what rooms will be cold when it's windy or whether squirrels will take up residence in the garage. I have no idea how much wood and electricity we'll use keeping warm. 

Of course, it takes many years to experience the full range of possibilities and to become fluent in one's place. Generations, even. Or at least, that's how it used to be. On a warming planet, it's not just the recently-relocated who have to deal with uncertainty. Weather patterns are changing and the extremes are getting more extreme. 

Maybe I'll never feel fully rooted. But maybe all the practice I've had living in different places will help me to adapt to an uncertain future.

02 November 2010

Sign of the times

Work has been proceeding at the 153 house subdivision next door. Most of the work seems to involve moving a tremendous amount of rock into huge piles and clear cutting the forest. Copious quantities of fossil fuels and dynamite are involved.  Millions of dollars are being spent to run water and sewer lines up the road from town, so evidently the developers, at least, are confident of being able to sell houses.

A few days ago I noticed that surveyors had renewed the stakes marking the lot corners along the property line. It would be overly dramatic to suggest that I felt like they had driven them through my heart - more like a bit of a poke - but it was a stark reminder of what's planned for this land. The most heartbreaking aspect of this is that most of the trees on those lots are likely to be cut down to make room for houses, driveways and lawns. There seems to be an attitude locally that the land is nothing but poor pasture (well, duh, it's a forest) and therefore ideal for clear cutting and putting up oversized, off-gassing, fake stone-encrusted particleboard boxes. And surrounding them with monoculture grass.

Even if the economy holds out long enough for some houses to be sold there, I'm not sure they'll be very practical in a post peak oil world (which is now, by the way). In our area, there aren't many houses being bought or sold just now, which gives me hope that the beautiful ridge will be spared. There's not much I can do to prevent the developers from doing whatever they want, but I will be cheering on the collapse of the economy as perhaps the only realistic way to protect this forest and so many others like it.

01 November 2010

Holey house, Batman!

The last few months have been pretty stressful around here. We discovered shortly after moving into our new house that the foundation was severely damaged in places and much of the back wall was rotting. We discovered this when removing drywall and insulation in the basement to get rid of a strong rodent odour. Thank goodness for the rats, without which we would have lived on in blissful, if precarious and chilly ignorance. Don't get me wrong, blissful ignorance has its place, but in matters of structural integrity, it's perhaps better to know the painful truth.

The last two months have been a flurry of excavating, knocking down walls, rebuilding walls, insulating, and general construction. Luckily, we've got a great contractor/therapist who has tons of experience fixing broken houses and calming stressed-out homeowners. There's nothing like seeing your house on jacks to activate your blood pressure. We've finally gotten to the point where things look better at the end of the day, rather than worse, which would help with getting a good night's sleep except for the fact that we're also at a point of writing significantly large cheques.

I've had moments where in addition to feeling fear, disappointment, and anger at being thrust into a big renovation project, I've also despaired at the waste and energy consumption this project has caused. I console myself with the thought that preventing an older house (but not that old) from collapsing is pretty green compared with knocking it down (or letting it fall) and building new. We've upgraded the energy efficiency pretty considerably in the process, so I'm hoping our planetary impact will go down over time. Still, the dumpster in the driveway has been filled and emptied several times since we began.

We're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel: the basement doesn't have a hint of bad smell, we know for sure the foundation is sound, we are confident our well will not be contaminated (that's a whole other story), we are snug in front of the fire and there's a lovely window in the living room where a blank wall used to be. I think I'm going to like it here.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...