25 September 2007

Chewing the fat

vegetable suetIt's been lovely to be back in the UK and catch up with everyone: family and colleagues. I spent Sunday with my aunt and brother and his friend which was great fun. On Monday I stayed with my father and stepmother and I met my step-niece, Isabelle (Bella) for the first time. Today I drove up to Manchester and spent the afternoon catching up with colleagues (thanks for the suet Paddy!). In many ways it felt like I'd just been off on a long holiday.

I popped in to the old house in the morning. The vegetable garden has become a bit of a jungle, but otherwise everything seemed OK and I chatted with two sets of neighbours who were very interested to hear how we've been getting on. Still hoping to complete the house sale in the next week or two, despite the lack of news from the solicitors. Somehow the fig plant that we'd left behind in June (through lack of space for it in our hire car) had survived, so I'll take that down to Mike's mum's on Friday for her to adopt, which had been our original plan. That was another wedding present - amazing how resilient our gifts have proved to be!

The flight over on Saturday/Sunday was fine and seemed to go fairly quickly, mainly because I was reading Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, which was very absorbing. Just as well, because none of the films they were showing appealed to me at all.

Ah, there are police sirens wailing outside. Definitely back in Manchester!

22 September 2007

Snakes alive

Garter snakeWe've seen quite a few of these Eastern garter snakes around the garden and barnyards. They're not venomous (in fact there are no venomous snakes in this area) and they're not very big - about 18 inches (45cm) long. This one seems to have taken up residence on our mosquito-killing light in the back garden. We turned the light off in case it electrocuted itself (a frog had already managed to kill itself on the light earlier in the summer).

Squirrel-damaged peanut feederI finally got around to buying a squirrel-proof bird feeder (a Squirrel-Be-Gone, to be precise). It certainly seems to work - the squirrels have had a good look at it but they haven't cracked it yet (unlike my peanut feeder). There is an outer sleeve which comes down over the seed openings if something heavier than a bird tries to get into them. We mostly get Black-capped Chickadees on it at the moment. They are a bit like Great Tits and are named for their alarm call which goes 'chicka-dee-dee-dee'. Blue Jays tend to come along and clear up the seeds that the chickadees drop underneath the feeder.Squirrel-be-gone feeder and chickadee

I'm heading off for the UK later today for a week and have very mixed feelings about the trip. I'm really looking forward to catching up with family and friends, but leaving here is a real wrench and I feel like I'm abandoning Mike, the kids and the dog. I did a lot of travelling in my old job, but was rarely away for more than a day or two at a time. After three months of being constant companions it is going to be horrible to be leaving them. I'm packing a lot into the week, so I'm sure it'll go very quickly.

The trees are really beginning to turn now, the maples in particular, so I think that after a week away I'll really notice the difference in the landscape. I'll be bringing my mother-in-law back with me and I'm looking forward to her reactions to our new home and lifestyle. She's never been out of Europe before, so it's quite an adventure for her.

Fall starts

19 September 2007

Culinary catastrophe

Christmas Pudding disasterThis is what happens if you steam your Christmas pudding in a plastic container for 12 hours instead of the recommended six. The steamer was full of horrible grey smoke when I came down early this morning. The base of the lower half is covered with a thick layer of burnt-on melted plastic which I've optimistically put in water to soak for a while, but fear might be irretrievable. The steamer was a wedding present that I use nearly every day, so I hope it can be saved.

It's been a pain getting the ingredients together for this pudding, so I'm even more annoyed with myself for ruining it. Vegetable suet seems to be unheard of here, although I had managed to get hold of black treacle (obviously maple syrup is the preferred sticky substance here). You can't buy alcohol in supermarkets so we had to buy the stout in a separate trip to the LCBO. Luckily you could only buy Guinness in a four-pack, so at least I've got spares.

I found a recipe for Christmas Pudding with butter instead of suet so had used that, but now I'm thinking I'll just pick up some vegetable suet in the UK next week and try again in a couple of weeks' time. I'll want some suet to make mincemeat too (not to mention dumplings for winter stews). Surely vegetable suet isn't one of those banned substances that you're not allowed to import? I also need to stock up on harissa paste - it seems to be very hard to get hold of here. Though perhaps I won't put that in the Christmas Pudding.

Steamer cleanedUPDATE (6:40pm): Just in case something similar should happen to you... Soaking the ruined pan in bleach for 12 hours loosened the burnt-on layer of plastic and remnants of pudding (following advice from the ThriftyFun website). Then I scraped it off with a fork, followed by a good scrub with a scourer and Astonish. Looks nearly as good as new! Now, I wonder whether I can get Astonish over here...

14 September 2007

Dealing with wood

Log splitterMike invested in a manual log splitter yesterday to help us deal with our poplar logs. It's a great device, somewhat similar to those ski machines you get in gyms (says she, never having been to a gym). With it I can actually split the logs - well, those that I can lift on to the cradle, that is. There's a wedge-shaped piece at the back that the log is forced against with a hydraulic ram, operated by pulling the two levers backwards and forward, until eventually the log cracks with a most satisfying noise. It's still fairly hard work, but you get a real sense of achievement with each log split, which I'm sure would be much more difficult to attain with a ski machine.
Unsplit logs in the barn
We've still got a fair number to do, but I don't think it'll take too long. I managed to create the little heap of split logs below in half an hour this afternoon.
Split logs (all my own work!)
We spent another hour or two today turning the top hamper from the poplars into wood chips with yet another new gadget for the tractor which was delivered by Mark the tractor guy this afternoon. Wood chipper This is a scarily efficient machine - it can take branches of poplar that are up to about three or four inches in diameter and it gobbles them down in seconds.We've got a huge heap of branches to deal with (behind the tractor here), so this is another job that will take a little while to complete. The chippings are being used to form the paths between the vegetable plots (I'm hoping the quackgrass won't like it).

13 September 2007

Blues and reds

Lake ConseconI was feeling a bit low this morning after (1) another early start with Toby and (2) a splitting headache, had sent me back to bed for a while. Worked for a few hours then decided to take the dog out for a walk as it was a lovely day and I needed to walk off the chill that had taken hold of me. Now he's had all his vaccinations we can walk around the isosceles triangle of roads that forms our little community. This picture was taken as we came along the stretch which borders the lake. It's impossible to feel low for long with a view like this to cheer you up. I love the coruscation of sunlight on water almost as much as I love the word coruscation (thanks to Emma, for introducing me to it (20 years ago now, eek)).

We were barked at by Lacey, our neighbour Janice's dog, as we got to the top of the triangle and Janice came out for a chat and to meet Toby. Dogs are really excellent at getting conversations going. I asked her whether I could have some manure from her cows for the vegetable plots and she said she'd ask her sons about it. I don't think it's in short supply at their dairy farm! Two of our other neighbours, Tony and Marilyn, gave us this load of lovely tomatoes this morning, so I plan to have a gently domesticated afternoon making tomato sauce and restoring my inner equilibrium.

11 September 2007

Daisy, Daisy...

Panicled AsterThis is another lovely aster that is growing in some numbers up by the pond - a Panicled Aster. Its status is "very common", but it's jolly pretty in spite of that. Panicled doesn't mean 'a little bit frightened', but "a loosely branched flower cluster that is usually shaped like a pyramid" (according to Dave's Garden).

Toby, 11 Sep 2007I almost had to drag the dog up to the pond tonight for his walk, as Mike was out getting his chainsaw chains sharpened (as you do) and Toby really isn't happy going for a walk with only one of us. He keeps looking back for the other one and is only really content when the whole family are out together. When I was finally happy with my aster photos and turned round to go home he ran off with huge relief and kept looking back as if to say "What's keeping you?"

We finished creating the vegetable plots on Friday and sowed the last of the buckwheat in the eighth one, expecting rain on Saturday. It didn't actually arrive until Sunday, but then we got five hours of good old Manchester drizzle, which will have watered all the seeds in beautifully. Saturday was very hot and Mike spent two hours splitting old ash logs in the big barn. At the moment this is a very physically demanding task, involving an axe, a 10lb lump hammer and two five-pound splitting wedges. It took him two hours to split eight logs into quarters. My job was to schlep them to the wood storage area in the small barn, which was easy-peasy in comparison, but still hot and tiring work and I was very grateful for the downhill slope from one barn to the other.

07 September 2007

More caterpillars

We've seen a lot of these webs on trees in the past few weeks. They're created by a caterpillar known as the Fall Webworm. One of those rare cases where the moth hasn't got a name of its own because the caterpillar was the thing that people noticed first.Fall Webworm web
We were watching the caterpillars crawl back into their web early this morning after a night spent nibbling away at the leaves of this ash tree.

Fall Webworm damage
And here's one of the little culprits.

Fall Webworm
As they appear late in the year they're not considered to be particularly damaging to the trees, although the webs aren't desperately attractive.

06 September 2007

Working conditions

Phone at Deseronto archivesThis is the phone at Deseronto archives. I had to lift it up to see if it actually works. It does. Well, there was a dialling tone, anyway. I had a good first day there: there's a school reunion at the end of the month to celebrate Deseronto Public School's 50th anniversary, so I was helping the town's Recreation Programme Co-ordinator to find school-related material, while trying to establish what else there was in the archive room. There is a PC, and Ruth, one of the library staff, helped me find out what the password for it was. It has an internet connection, too, which I'm sure will come in handy. The library is quite a thriving little focal point for the town and it also houses a job information centre. I haven't yet ventured into my other accommodation, at the Town Hall, but they're getting me a key cut so I might go in there next week and maybe even brave the dreaded basement vault (or at least try to figure out what might be down there).

Toby under my feetWorking from home has its own challenges - the dog has decided that my feet are its favourite comforter so I'm often sitting at odd angles trying to reach the laptop while he has his naps.

After a week where the dog was waking up and howling every two hours in the night we seem to have cracked the problem with another handy tip from my aunt (don't know what we'd do without you Laine!). We've been leaving a radio on at low volume in his room and that seems to do the trick. The only talk-radio station I could find was a French-language one, but, as Wikipedia says,
all Alsatians today speak French
so obviously that suits him just fine!

03 September 2007

A walk in the park

Fungi at Presqu'ile ParkWe visited Presqu'ile Provincial Park yesterday. It's about 40km away and, as the name suggests, is surrounded by Lake Ontario on nearly all sides. They were having a big Monarch Butterfly weekend as it's a staging post for the butterflies on their way south. We had a lovely walk on one of the woodland trails. It was only four kilometers, but that was just about right for the kids and the puppy. We didn't see many butterflies but there were plenty of squirrels, chipmunks and interesting mushrooms.

Today it's Labour Day, a public holiday here and the last day of the school summer holidays. I thought that there might not be such a big 'Back to School' push here, as the children don't wear school uniforms, but if anything it's even worse than in the UK. It's mostly focused on school supplies, but I even saw an advert for 'Back to School mattresses and furniture' yesterday (!).