31 August 2011

School days

Child#1 is embarking on her first year of high school next week and she spent part of yesterday at an orientation session at her new school, picking up a lock, student card and her schedule for the year. I took one looked the schedule and went "Huh?". Maybe not the most eloquent of speeches, but that document really confused me. Partly because it seemed to be written in code (I'm sure she's looking forward to her first lesson of PPL101b, for example), but mostly because it was so simple. For the first five months of the school year she will have the same four classes every day. Then in the rest of the year, she'll have a different four classes.

Each day of the week exactly the same and only four different classes: this is the 'semester system' and it seems very strange to me. I imagine it makes timetabling a lot easier, but it does sound rather monotonous. And odd not to be doing a core subject like English, French or Mathematics for half of a year! When I think back to my timetable for the same age (13/14), I had 13 different subjects (and 12 separate exams at the end of that year (now I'm feeling hard-done-by)). Seems like the kids specialise very early here. Will be interesting to see how it works out.

24 August 2011

Taking the test

We reached another stage in our emigration journey today.

This imposing building is the immigration office in Kingston, where Mike and I reported earlier this afternoon to establish our identities, prove we could speak English - bit tricky for Mike, that one, but he seemed to manage OK ;-) - and complete a 20-question multiple-choice test on Canadian history, geography, economics and politics. It was fine. The questions were straight-forward and we were in and out of the building in one hour. There were only ten of us taking the test and curiously, Mike was the only man. We all had a bit of a chat before the test started and heard some horror stories from one of the women whose family had taken the test in Toronto, where there were many more people and it took three hours to interview them all before the test started.

When we got home, the children proudly presented us with a cake that they'd made to mark the occasion:

Hidden by the generous helping of sprinkles are the words 'Nice Job' and a thumbs-up. Good to know that they have confidence in our abilities!

We won't know for sure whether we've passed the test until we hear from the immigration office. If we have, then we'll be invited to a ceremony with a citizenship judge in September. Fingers crossed...

We're thinking we will have a party to mark the transition to officially being Canadians. It will be quite nice not to have to read the 'Discover Canada' book again: we've been having to learn the whole thing over the last few weeks. And we are comprehensively Sick To Death of it.

21 August 2011

Shooting up

Thought it was time for an update on the chicks that our broody hen hatched in June. They are growing well and at eight weeks old they look like proper chickens, albeit about half the size of a regular bird. The broody got bored of them at five weeks old and is back with the other hens now. The chicks are still in a separate enclosure during the day, as they are too small to run with the big hens. I let them out in the evening, once the adults are shut up for the night, to give them a run outside and a chance to have a dust bath and peck at grass shoots.

This photo shows the young cockerel. He's beginning to crow in the mornings, now. Well, 'crow' is a grand word for the noise he makes. If you imagine a chicken trying to sing the first three notes of 'Three Blind Mice' then you might get an idea of how it sounds.

In the greenhouse I'm starting to think about sowing seeds for late crops. I've never had any luck with direct sowings of peas in there in the spring: they always get eaten by rodents before they get a chance to germinate - I have to sow them indoors and transplant them. I wasn't optimistic about a later sowing, but was proved wrong when all the pea seeds germinated this week within a few days of being sown.

Whether they have time to produce a crop of peas before the winter is another matter, of course, but there's no harm in trying!

19 August 2011

Side-road scenes

I usually think of the tree-webs of the fall web worm as rather disfiguring. But with the early-morning sun shining through them, they're transformed into something more magical:

I've been meaning to take a picture of this building for a while now. It's a transplanted church which is now part of the Closson Chase vineyard. Its unusual roof design is a tribute to the fifteenth-century Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy, famous for its vineyards. Closson Road is the core of Prince Edward County's wine region - there is just one vineyard after another as you travel down it.

On my ride this morning I turned off Closson Road and took the Millennium Trail back to Lake Consecon. I paused a few times to take photos. The subject of this next one literally stopped me in my tracks.

I think it's a Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago). Aren't those berries beautiful?

 Back when I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario in February, I decided that my favourite Canadian painting of those on display was this one by Franklin Carmichael of Cranberry Lake:

I was rather taken aback then, this morning, to be confronted with a very similar view on my bike ride: a hidden cluster of flooded trees.

I also found this single red maple leaf on the path. I'm going to take it as a good omen for the Canadian citizenship test that Mike and I will be taking next week...

15 August 2011

Suffocating squash bugs

As soon as the title of this post came into my mind, it was swiftly followed by the phrase 'sufferin' succotash' - as used by Sylvester the cat and Daffy Duck. Succotash is a dish of corn and beans and my problem was with the other Three Sisters crop: squash. To be even more specific, it was with the cucumber branch of the cucurbit family. The greenhouse and garden cucumber plants have been completely polished off this year. Here's what's left of the cucumber plants (including the inevitable overgrown-pickling-cucumber-I-missed):

And here are the little pests that have done the damage:

Now normally I adopt a 'live and let live' approach to pests, reckoning that eventually the balance of nature will reassert itself and something will come along that eats the pests. But the force of numbers here was too great and my one remaining squash plant (not even sure what it is, to be honest, but I wanted a chance to find out) was in danger of being overwhelmed.

The organic-ish solution was to mix some dish detergent with water and spray the mixture on the bugs. I thought the chickens might be interested in helping, but the two I brought into the greenhouse last night were only interested in nibbling at the lettuce and peppers, despite there being bugs all over the bed. I gave up on that approach and reverted to plan A. The dish detergent mixture  works (the solution stops the bugs from breathing), although I can see that it will take a while before the bug numbers are brought down to a more manageable populations.

14 August 2011

Busy Sunday

After being out for much of Saturday, today was one of those racing-to-catch-up sort of Sundays. Tomorrow, work starts on replacing our bathroom and there was a lot of preparation and general tidying up I wanted to do (the new bathroom is going to take part of Child1's closet, so we had to get her room organised, too). Everyone mucked in, though, and it feels like we're making progress.

The bathroom has been on the 'to do' list for a while. I think it is the same age as the house: early 1970s, and it looks it. I can't bear to put a big picture of it up, so here's a small one. You can see that the suite is a very 1970s shade of pale brown. Not sure if there was an official name for this - I know that the downstairs toilet we had was called 'Harvest Gold' (a shade that can best be described as vomit-yellow*).

The basin in the current bathroom is metal and has several rusty patches on it, while the toilet uses a Niagara Falls-like quantity of water each time it's flushed. The whole room is a bit of an embarrassment and it had got to the point where we replaced it or we turned it into a museum of the 1970s bathroom. It'll be great to get it finished, even though it will be annoying in the short-term while the work is being done.

In between cleaning and tidying up I had to do something with the ridiculous number of tomato peppers we've been picking. The chicken manure I added to the greenhouse beds has created our biggest crop ever of these.

Luckily, they're easy to deal with. I just cut off the tops, remove the seeds (some of which I keep for next year's crop), cut the peppers in half and put them in freezer bags. I use a drinking straw to suck out the air, which helps them keep for longer.

We ate the huitlacoche (a.k.a. corn smut) today. I cooked it with some onion, garlic and part of a cayenne pepper, then used the mixture to fill burritos. Well, 'fill' is the wrong word (there wasn't enough for that), so I topped it off with grated mozzarella cheese before cooking the burritos. They tasted fine: a cross between mushrooms and corn. The children refused to touch them, but Mike was willing enough. I don't think he ever checks up on what I'm feeding him, to see if I'm telling the truth about whether it's edible or not. He'd be awfully easy to poison...


13 August 2011

Dragon boats

Mike had been roped in to joining one of the community teams for today's dragon boat racing event in Wellington, so we spent much of the day down at the waterfront there, watching the competition. There were 11 teams, a mixture of local dragon boat clubs, community teams and breast cancer survivor groups from as far afield as Kingston and Toronto.

After the heats, the breast cancer groups held a ceremony to remember those who had not survived the disease. Pink carnations were thrown in the water in memory of friends and loved ones.

The Rotary team Mike was on won the community team cup. It looked like incredibly hard work!

12 August 2011

Corn smut

When you go to check on the corn growing in your garden and discover it looking like this:

...the first thought that enters your head (I'm guessing) isn't likely to be 'Ooh, how delicious!'. I stared at these in dismay, wondering what on earth had gone wrong this time.

A little research later and I discovered that appearances had been deceptive. This fungus-infected corn is an ancient delicacy, known in Mexico as huitlacoche. It's been rebranded 'Mexican truffle' in the rest of North America, to distract attention from its more usual farm name of corn smut. Which, you have to admit, doesn't sound all that tasty.

 I'm not sure that anyone else in the house will join me in trying them, but supper for me tonight is going to include some of these. Perhaps if I sell it to the others as an Aztec delicacy I might get a few takers...

Apparently it comes in cans, too. And looks even less appealing that way...

09 August 2011

Having a riot

Mike got the new electric poultry netting connected up at the weekend and the remaining hens are enjoying being back out in their green space again.

We did notice quite a difference in their eggs while they were confined to the coop because of the chance of a fox attack. A study by Mother Earth News suggests that compared with eggs from caged birds, eggs from hens free to roam on grass contain:

⅓ less cholesterol
¼ less saturated fat
⅔ more vitamin A
2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
3 times more vitamin E
7 times more beta carotene

Impressive, huh? I'm looking forward to getting back to those kind of eggs again, now that the hens are back on the orchard grass.

The news from England has been depressing over the last few days, with reports of rioting, arson and looting in London and other cities. In the middle of all that, we got letters yesterday informing us that our Canadian citizenship test will be taking place in two weeks' time. I don't think I've ever felt more enthusiastic about becoming Canadian and less proud about being English.

07 August 2011

An irresistible Old Flame

Well of course it's a tomato. What were you thinking I meant?

It's very aptly named, I think, with yellow colouring at the top and tongues of red licking up from the base. When you cut into it, the flesh is a pleasing mixture of the two colours.

This one is going into a bed of garden-grown vegetables and herbs which will form a summery sauce for a leg of County-reared lamb. I dug our first potatoes yesterday and will serve them alongside this dish, making this an almost 100% County meal. (We haven't managed the production of salt and pepper here yet, as far as I know...)


The two fields immediately to the west of us have never been planted before, so we've got used to having a fairly open vista from our dog-walking route up the boundary. This year, the fields' drainage was improved and they were both planted with corn. It's been interesting to watch it growing. Although we grow corn in our garden, there's something much more impressive about it when there's a whole field full.

This was the view on June 29th:

By July 18th the corn was looking a lot sturdier, thanks to some rain and warm weather:

And now our view from the same spot is... Well, it's just of corn, really.

There's something claustrophobic about it and the spikes on the top of the plants make me think of soldiers carrying pikestaffs. I feel as though we are being besieged by an army (shades of Macbeth from the other night, perhaps). I wonder if John Wyndham had Zea mays in mind when he wrote The Day of the Triffids?

06 August 2011

Old enough for Shakespeare

I remember the first time we took the children to a live theatre event. They were about three and four years old when we went to see 'The Tweenies' at the Manchester Evening News Arena. They were completely enthralled by the performance. So much so that when it was over Child#2 had a massive tantrum, distraught that the show had finished. He refused to walk and had to be dragged, bawling all the way, to the tram stop in Victoria Station. He wasn't much given to tantrums (if my memory is being reliable) and the fact that it was caused by an occasion we thought would be a great treat was particularly galling.

But that was nearly ten years ago and he's grown up a bit now. When I saw that there was going to be an outdoor performance of Macbeth in the County yesterday (performed by the Driftwood Theatre Group), I wondered if the children might like to go and see it. I wasn't sure if they were old enough to appreciate Shakespeare, but thought it worth a try. I'd seen open-air productions of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream in Oxford in the 1990s and they'd been excellent. I wasn't expecting to get the chance to relive those experiences out here in rural Ontario.

When I suggested it to the children they were both quite enthusiastic, although their cultural contexts for Macbeth might have given me pause. I asked Child#2 first and he was keen to see it because he'd recently seen an episode of The Simpsons which had featured Homer and Marge as Macbeth and his Lady. When I sounded out Child#1 she immediately thought of an old episode of Blackadder which had featured frequent mentions of 'The Scottish Play' and wanted to see it because of that.

So they both had a context for the play, although I wasn't sure that there were going to be quite as many laughs a minute in the real thing as there had been in the TV shows they'd seen. And sitting through a half-hour comedy is rather different from sitting through a two-hour tragedy. But I thought it was worth a try.

Having learnt from our firework-watching experience on Canada Day, we packed up garden chairs, sweaters and a picnic and made our way to Bloomfield, where we formed part of the very front row on the southeast side of the stage. As the sun went down behind the trees, the performance began and as the play became darker, so did the night.

There were perhaps 200 people in the audience, none of us very far from the stage, and the actors were coming and going all around us, making everyone feel very much part of the performance (if slightly distracted by some persistent mosquitoes and enormous moths). I really enjoyed it and, to my slight surprise, the children said that they did, too. I think it was the immediacy of it that pulled them in: it's very different from watching a play on a distant stage or on a movie screen. There were quite a few children in the audience and (I'm pleased to report) there were no tantrums or even complaints from any of them on this occasion.

05 August 2011

Misty morning

Today was the second time I've cycled around Lake Consecon, a ride which turns out to be a rather irritating length of 19.9 kilometers. There was a lot of moisture in the air, which made for some attractive light-effects through the trees on the first leg of the journey:

The eastern end of the lake had tendrils of mist rising off the water, which ended up just looking like a vague fuzziness in this next photo, but were quite eerily beautiful.

Let's see, perhaps this one is better:

Hm, not really. You'll just have to take my word for it!

02 August 2011


Hanging baskets make useful veg-carriers. I have quite a few (donated by a neighbour) and I use them to ferry vegetables from the greenhouse and garden back to the house. I'm not very good at creating hanging baskets full of long-lasting summer flowers (this is being polite: I'm rubbish at it), so this is the nearest they get to holding something beautiful!