29 February 2008


I'm taking part in a twelve-week 'Aboriginal Awareness Course' at the local college. Mostly I wanted to understand more about the history of the relationship between the First Nations peoples and the later settlers, but it's also interesting to learn about the cultural side too. The classes are three hours in length and are conducted in a relaxed and laid-back style that is in itself a slight culture-shock, compared to most other courses that I've ever been on. The course focuses on the Mohawk culture and is run by people who live on the reserve at Tyendinaga, right next door to Deseronto and to the north of Prince Edward County.

We'd been told about smudging in the first class, last week. Nearly everyone had heard of it, except me, so I did a bit of background reading in order to catch up. It's a purification process which involves 'bathing' the body in smoke from smouldering herbs. White Sage (saliva apiana) is one of the preferred herbs to use, although as the plant is native to the south-west US, I did wonder whether it was really used historically by the Mohawks - as their original base was in New York State. Perhaps early trading links explain it, I surmised, or maybe it's later cross-community contact that brought it into use. A quick browse around the Internet suggests that the latter is the case - here's an interesting blog entry from a White Sage harvester about it.

A lot of the sites I looked at on smudging had a distinctly New Age flavour (the blog entry above mentions "turquoise jewelry wearing white folks", which sums it up perfectly) and I was a bit dubious about the whole thing. Strangely enough, though, as soon as the White Sage was smouldering in the room last night, I experienced a sudden (and totally unexpected) feeling of well-being. For someone with a more than the average share of healthy scepticism, this is quite something to admit to. I can see why the use of white sage has spread so quickly since the 1970s from its original Californian base. I just hope the species survives its sudden popularity.

White SageImage of White Sage growing in California from dionysia on Flickr.

22 February 2008

Loose end tied up

We handed possession of our house in Sale over to its new owners today. Champagne glassesWhat a relief. The first sale fell through in September last year and then this one was being delayed by a bolshy pair of first-time buyers at the beginning of the chain. We've had a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge since before Christmas, waiting for this moment. It's just about at the right temperature now.

Owning the house was like having an anchor attached to our new life here, holding us back financially in terms of being able to start new projects, but more significantly, being a constant background source of stress. Being part of a fragile will-they-won't-they house-buying chain was part of it, but there was also the worry of being the owners of an empty house in Greater Manchester. It was broken into, two weeks ago, which was almost inevitable, given that it has been empty for nine months. Luckily no major damage was done, but it was something we could have done without.

So tonight we're raising our glasses to the new owners and hoping that they'll be as happy there as we were.

18 February 2008

Family Day

We arrived in Ontario in time for a new public holiday (announced last October) - today is Family Day, which owes its existence to a guy with a cocaine addiction. So perhaps not the most auspicious of holidays. We had a friend of child #2's over for much of the day and I made pizza and cookies to keep them sustained, in between trying to do some work. Working remotely on UK projects is fine, but it gets slightly peculiar when there's a public holiday here that isn't celebrated in the UK. We've decided that the noise made by children is equal to the number of children squared. One is fine (lovely and quiet, in fact); two make the noise of four and that's bad enough, but three create a noise equivalent to nine and that makes it extremely hard to concentrate.

In the evening we belatedly celebrated Chinese New Year with crispy duck and pancakes. This was an occasional treat when we lived in Sale (where we lived a five-minute walk from a Chinese take-away). There are Chinese restaurants around here (by that I mean within a half-hour drive), but we've yet to go into one. I found a good recipe for the pancakes online and, in a spirit of self-sufficiency, made it all from scratch (apart from the hoisin sauce). The pancakes don't look as round and purely white as the ones we got in England, but they're not as hard to make as they sound.

We finally exchanged contracts on the house in Sale today, so that was another reason to celebrate.

15 February 2008

"...a little snow, tumbled about"*

Wind-blown iciclesI think the icicles in this photo and the angle at which they've been formed sum up today's weather perfectly.

Snow dunesQuite large snow dunes are forming along the fences between our farm and the neighbouring one. Of course we did expect that there would be reasonable quantities of snow and ice here ("YOU'VE MOVED TO CANADA!", as a friend kindly reminded me this week), but we are assured by people we meet (and by the media) that this winter is unusually snowy, even for Ontario.

*The Life and Death of King John, William Shakespeare, Act III, Scene IV

11 February 2008

Learning the language

Toby eating snow on the front stepThe dog still prefers eating snow to drinking the water in his water bowl, even when it is blowing a gale and snowing hard, as it was yesterday afternoon. I observed to child #2 that it might save us shovelling snow off the path if we could get Toby to do it instead, but that it might take him a long time to eat his way through it all. His reply was "Not like Daddy with the shovel, eh". The first example of a Canadian 'eh' from one of the kids - and so soon!

They're also saying 'Dayedy' [dεədɪ] rather than 'Daddy' [dædɪ] some of the time and I've definitely heard a few 'tomaydoes' mentioned. It's fascinating - a bit like watching them learn how to talk all over again. We tease them about it now, but I'm sure it'll be them making fun of our accents before too long. I suspect they're doubling up at the moment - maintaining a mainly English accent at home, but sounding more Canadian when they're at school with their friends.

08 February 2008

Wily coyote

I haven't managed to take a picture of the wild turkeys yet, although we have now seen our local flock a few times. There are about a dozen of them regularly wandering through our wood. When I caught a movement in the trees by the pond this afternoon I thought it might be them again, but it turned out to be a coyote instead. If you look very hard you might be able to distinguish it from the trees in this photo.


Thompson and Morgan seedsMy final set of seeds arrived this morning, from Thompson and Morgan. Mainly these are seeds that the North American catalogues only held a few varieties of - runner beans, broad beans and sprouts, for example. British foods that haven't caught on as much here, I suspect.

Although I don't have immediate plans to sell vegetables to the public, I have been looking into how to make our vegetable garden officially organic. One of the major problems will be obtaining organic seed, as far as I can see at the moment, so I'm hoping that I'll be able to gather a fair amount of seed from the plants that I grow each year and do it that way. It will take at least three years before I can even apply for organic certification, so I've got plenty of time to practise. It costs around $800 to just apply and the forms and record-keeping requirements are weighty, so it will take a lot of preparation and planning.

I read the introduction [PDF file] to Michael Pollan's new book, In Defence of Food: An Eater's Manfesto this morning, via the ChangeThis website. I agree completely with everything he says, although one paragraph made me doubt my sanity a bit:
...forty years ago...there would have been no way to eat the way I propose in my book without going back to the land and growing all your own food. It would have been the manifesto of a crackpot.

07 February 2008

Snow Drift

Snow drift in front of house
We're not quite snowed in, but the snow is the deepest we've seen so far. The children had yesterday and today off, as the buses were cancelled, although I got to Deseronto and back without too much difficulty.

Here's what the front path looks like the rest of the year:

Front of house without snow

05 February 2008

Flippin' great

Usually I just do regular pancakes with sugar and lemon juice for Pancake Day, but during the winter, since we've been here, I've been cooking just that for breakfast for the children every other day. (I did start out by giving them maple syrup with the pancakes, but they gradually reverted to type.) So it wouldn't have been much of a treat for tea today and I made stuffed savoury pancakes instead. I had spinach and ricotta in mine and everyone else had a bolognese mixture as a filling. A cheese sauce was poured over and extra cheddar and parmesan were sprinkled on the top. Then I baked them for half an hour.

Baker Creek heirloom seedsMy second seed order turned up today. This was the one from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. It includes traditional tomatoes like Amish Paste, Purple Russian and Riesentraube, a stripy melon by the name of Tigger and the wonderful-sounding Hutterite Soup bean.

02 February 2008

Imbolc/Candlemas/Groundhog Day

Landscape on 2 February 2008
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again

Sorry, was that supposed to rhyme? Or scan, even?

Anyway, the weather today looks promising if the legends about the first and second days of February are to be believed. Not a glimpse of the sun all today or yesterday. So the Gaelic goddess Cailleach is sleeping and any small burrowing creature silly enough to put its head out of its winter refuge will not have seen its shadow.

We're almost out of wood for the fires now, so it's interesting that the Gaelic legend is all about the goddess going off to get more firewood.