Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why I Quit Facebook

It was the straw that broke the camel's back.

When I joined Facebook we were living on the side of a mountain. We had spotty phone reception at best, no family in the same province, and could spend whole weeks without seeing a single soul. Facebook was a great way to stay connected, keep abreast of news, share photos and chat.

Since then there have been a few ups and downs... re-connections with old friends, meeting new friends, buying, selling and advertising, praise and encouragement going both ways... also negative drama, skewed motivations and a LOT of time frittered away. Information shared that I really didn't want to know about. Secrets blown that I wish I'd known about in person first. You know. It's happened to everyone.

There have been studies showing that people literally suffer depression in connection with Facebook time, and real data collected revealing that despite the "connectivity" of social media, people in fact feel more lonely and rejected the more they spend time online. Not me, of course. Everything in balance, right?

This morning there was a comment on my news feed that settled my inner Facebook debate once and for all. Whether it was directed at me or not, it was so potentially hurtful to so many people that I just sat back as though I'd been slapped. And when something like this happens everyone involved is put in such an awkward position... how does one deal with this? It's out there, a public declaration. Any reply becomes fuel for the fire. But then so does ignoring the statement.

I boiled down all my reasons for being on Facebook. The positive aspects are undeniable. But in reality, will I miss out on those things if I'm NOT on Facebook? I can still text, email, snail mail, phone or better yet get together with people I'm friends with. If I don't have my focus stuck on my phone app I may actually meet new people in Real Life. And people carried on in business for generations without social media advertising. I guess I can trust God to provide all my needs, I don't have to rely on the instant gratification and continuous feed of posts, comments and "likes".

And once this all dawned on me I suddenly felt a great weight lifted.

So folks, it's been grand. But I'm done. I'll see ya in reality.

Friday, August 16, 2013

All I Have To Say About Busking

Throughout my creatively-obsessed life, I've been exposed to a bit of the artsy fartsy side of things. Since one tends to assume that everyone else thinks the same as oneself, I'd not realised that there are people out there who don't know about busking! So I've taken it upon myself to inform and educate - at least of my opinion on the subject.

I guess my busking career technically started when I was a preschooler and my mom would say to me "Sing something for our guests." and I would dutifully stand on the big brown footstool and sing and was usually rewarded with praise and perhaps a peppermint. This progressed to my first planned performance (also known as "circle busking"), when I donned a princess dress over my snow suit and sang "Old MacDonald's Farm" to the MacDonald family down the road, receiving much applause and candy for my trick-or-treating bucket.

After college I occasionally took my guitar to Red Deer and would sit on the benches on Ross Street to play if the weather was nice. Less vehicle traffic at the Farmer's Markets suited my accoustic sound better, but there used to be a great cafe right on the corner where I could trade my change for a double espresso.

This brings me around to a big point about busking - the change.

I'm not referring to the unfortunate change in people's attitudes about busking as society shifts and entertainment becomes a megabyte of ADD bling on a handheld device. I'm talkin' cold hard cash. Which is what ought to be plinking into every busker's open violin case, or hat, or tin pan.

Firstly, I want to make it clear that busking is NOT begging. Buskers have been entertaining the masses since no-one-knows-when, in all corners of the world. You can find them on street corners or plazas anywhere, AKA minstrels, troubadours, mariachis, minnesingers, skmorokh, chindonya... 
And for those folks who are so tethered to their tech that they rarely see real-life street corners, there are even cyber-buskers who accept donations via PayPal. This fine art of busking was originally a legitimate method of performance, long before recorded music was ever imagined, and the donated money was a sign of appreciation and admiration. 

The thing is, creativity is not necessarily an easily marketable skill. I tend to come from a pretty right-brain perspective, which has caused people to say things like "Is there anything you CAN'T do?!" to which I must reply you have NO idea! Indeed, I sing and paint and carve and play instruments and all that but I would basically be homeless and starving if I didn't marry OtherHalf, whose adorable left-brain takes care of all things responsible like holding down a Proper Job and bringing home a Paycheque. I know there are folks out there who bring home paycheques by doing singing and painting and carving and all that but I'm so far out there that I can't even be reliable enough to make my talents profitable! Somehow that seems to suck the fun out of being creative. You know, marketing and record keeping and... blech.

I suspect I'm not the only one.

In fact, I know I'm not. By busking, I keep company with a few better-known artists such as Joni Mitchel, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jimmy Durante, Andrea Bocelli, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi... the list goes on. Some of these famous artists were once plain old irresponsible musically-obsessed performance junkies like me who just wanted to play for an audience. Unlike me, they got discovered and went on to fame and fortune (BTW, the word "busker" originally came from the Spanish word "buscar", meaning "to seek". As in fame and fortune.) 

Secondly, there's a great benefit for everyone when a busker takes up residence (a busker's territory is called a "pitch"). Studies have shown that areas which host regular busking tend to have a lower crime rate, and people nearby report having a reduced stressed rate. It also promotes a sense of community and improves the atmosphere in any space. For business owners, shoppers tend to linger and relax when good entertainment is provided.

From my point of view as a busker, it's not about making money (I have OtherHalf for that ;) )it's about the joy of bringing a little happiness into the lives of others, the best way I can. It's about the opportunity to share my music with an audience while maintaining my lifestyle of stay-at-home mom, gardener and farmer. For me, a friendly smile, an appreciative nod... at least a willingness to pause and listen mean far more than a bit of silver in the pot.

But it is nice to have enough change for a double espresso at the end of the day.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Here Comes Another One

D'you remember that Monty Python skit, where whacky things keep happening (wait - that's every Monty Python skit...) and in the background someone sings, "Heeeeere cooooomes aaaaaaanother ooooooone!"? Sometimes I hear that jingle as the underscore of my life. Just when I think that the sea is dead flat calm suddenly another wave rolls in and tries to capsize me.

Ok - it was a difficult process just to buy Home Farm. The banks didn't want to give us a loan because A)we had no down payment, B) the property is too small to be classified and mortgaged as a FARM, C) the property is too big to be classified and mortgaged as RESIDENTIAL (so that makes it.... what? Part of the Emerald City? Obviously, since we're not in Kansas anymore.) We had a handful of banks and even a mortgage broker turn us down as clients. We were ready to throw in the towel and accept that this property was not part of God's will for us, but some godly folks that we trust encouraged us to hang in there and keep trying, and at long last Alberta Treasury Branch decided to finance us, and here we are! Yay Home Farm! Yay ATB! Hurrah! Now everything will run smoothly!

Heeeeere cooooooomes aaaaaaanother ooooone!

Last week I opened an envelope addressed to OtherHalf and I, from the county of Athabasca. I thought: tax time already? That was fast! Nope. I never could've imagined this one:

....it has come to our attention...extensive renovations done...previous owners....no building permit....

Oh boy. Turns out the previous owners of our farm did some major renovations to the house (well, we could see that. One can tell where the original house was, and where the new work was added on. And where old bits were removed. To be exact, our dining room, living room and mud room are all new additions.) However, it just so happens that the brilliant, honest fellow that did all this work neglected to pull building permits beforehand, and neglected to have his work inspected. Huh. And, according to the County, since we are the owners now, we are responsible. That's how democracy works, don't ya know. Doesn't matter if we haven't even owned the property for a year. Doesn't matter that we had no idea. Doesn't matter that Comrade County has record of this situation from 2008 and didn't pursue the matter until now.

The rest of my conversation with the Building Coordinatior for Development and Blahdeblahblah is a bit of a blur. A bunch of numbers scribbled down... plumbing permit - $300... cost to inspect - $0.39 a square foot (I lost track here as I slowly spun in circles trying to figure out how many square feet of new house there was, then got sidetracked wondering how did a family grow up in here withOUT the new additions? Where did they put their table? Couches? Little sister?).... come in at your earliest convenience (convenience? Oh yeah, this is all very convenient. Lovely.)... resolve the matter...

I'll tell ya what I'd like to resolve. Oh boy I'd like to get my hands on the previous owner. Does this not fall under the "non-disclosure" clause? I thought back to OtherHalf and I, young and early in our marriage, with two toddlers, removing the scraps of asbestos from our first home when we were ready to sell it because we couldn't, in good conscience, sell a house with a few feet of asbestos lining the heating ducts. It amounted to a couple of garbage bags. And now, in the ultimate fairness of life we are the proud owners of an illegally expanded house and we're looking at some major expense to set things right. Did the previous owner not know he had no permits? Not realize he was required to obtain permits? Did he think no-one would ever notice that the house magically doubled in size and grew siding and a covered deck? Or was he hoping to high-tail it outta here before someone insisted on inspecting his handywork? I just don't know - was it lazyness, forgetfulness, crookedness or downright mental impairment? Well, judging by his finished work, I'm leaning toward mental...

And herein lies the rub. The rubbier part of the rub, anyway. All of this tends to chafe a bit.
OtherHalf, who worked in construction and framing way back when, and built several new structures at our last job (see www.bluelakeadventures.blogspot.com), who endlessly researches the right way to do things, who is affectionately known as Legal Beagle and even stops at railway crossings on back roads... he wonders how these renovations are going to hold up under scrutiny. I mean, I suspect they barely hold up under snow. We knew that the floor was a little uneven when we moved in, but now that we have "before and after" pictures (graciously emailed by our friendly neighbourhood County) we see that the entire mound of dirt supporting the additions was pushed up here by hand. So, how much has it settled? How much more will it settle? And what kind of foundation is actually under these new rooms? OtherHalf is pretty sure that building inspectors don't really like to see homemade dirt mounds supporting dwellings. Now I hear: "The foolish man built his house upon the sand....and the house on the sand went SPLAT!" Sounds cute when Sunday School kids are singing it. Sounds ominous when it's referring to my living room.
And, the roof trusses (which we'd hoped to save up and replace, later. Much later.) are homemade as well. At least, they have no stamp of engineered trusses. I'm guessing that's a no-no.
So, besides the expense of the permits and the inspections, we will be held responsible for the costs of making the work meet inspection requirements. Awesome.

Ok, we have Title Insurance. According to our lawyer (everyone can trust a lawyer, right?) our Title Insurance is supposed to cover this very thing. So our insurance company is looking into it. (And everyone can trust an insurance company, right?)

In case any of you hadn't noticed, I tend to have an active imagination. Over the past few days my imagination has swung wildly between the different possible outcomes of this situation. We have:

1)Best Case Scenario - in which the insurance company agrees to cover all expenses, the building inspector condemns the house, and the insurance builds us a brand-new house all for free! The rest of this day was lost as I planned my Dream Home, and considered how we could convince a contractor to build us a straw-bale house.

2)The middle of the night reminded me of the antagonist of Scenario #1 - in which the building inspector condemns the house but the insurance company refuses to pay up and we are homeless. Well... been there, done that, and I still have my holiday trailer so I guess we would cope. At the very least, I'd probably get my straw bale house that way.

3) In reality the other scenarios are all combinations of #1 and #2, with various bits of construction requiring repair, and various amounts of coverage being provided.

We had a teacher in college who, when talking about Armageddon and the rapture of Christians advised "Pray for 'Pre', prepare for 'Post'." So, hope for scenario #1, prepare for #2. For example, perhaps I should post-phone replacing my crock pot until we find out if this is gonna cost us a bunch of money. On the other hand, how much would $39.95 really make a difference?

A few people that we've talked to about this have had pretty major reactions - and then they marvel that OtherHalf and I are relatively calm about the whole thing. Of course, they weren't around when we first found out - they missed our initial reactions. We joke that we've already progressed through the first stages of mourning, and we're on to the "acceptance and resignation" step. In those first few hours before I could vent to anyone, while I waited for OtherHalf to come home from work, I paced and fumed and wanted to seek vengeance on everyone - anyone - the previous owner for hiding this... the County for neglecting this.... the tattle-tail that "brought this to our attention" at the County... the lawyer for not discovering this before we signed all the papers... us for being naive and gullible...
But what good would any of it do? I thought of Job: "Shall we accept good from the Lord and not evil? The Lord gives and He takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord." Indeed. My God is big enough to take care of this, too. And think - think it through. Sure, it sucks that this is all happening in March, a month notorious for depression and despair. Sure, it's happening at the same time as our wells are running dry (that's literal, not figurative. OtherHalf has been mending and fiddling and replacing pumps and things for weeks, trying to keep the water flowing into the house) (in our uninspected plumbing). But isn't it better to find out now, when it's been less than a year since purchase, when we still have a fighting chance of recovering at least some of the costs from the previous owners? And, one way or another, I'll be getting some renovations done. We highly doubt that our roof is going to pass inspection, so someone will be fixing it. We'd rather not have to pay for that this year, but if we do, well, it's an investment. And, we're getting this sorted out right at the very beginning of spring, so if work has to be done we have the entire summer stretching ahead to do it in, and we can live quite comfortably for the summer in our holiday trailer if we have to. If the roof is pried off the house like a bottle top. 'Cause that would let in quite a draft.

God is good, and life goes on. Sure sure, life's a stage. I would prefer a little less drama, though.
I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Marching On

Ok, I know it's still February - but March is coming into view and it's likely to be very much the same as February has been, so I'm going with that play on words for the title of this post. I find it adequately reflects my restless, anticipatory mental jogging-in-place that always happens at this time of year.

Sure, sure, Seasonal Affective Disorder is biological. Ya, ya, things would look brighter if I would take a nice Vitamin D supplement. In truth, I just need to learn to wrap my head around the fact that once Christmas and New Years celebrations end, winter still stretches on into infinity. Somehow all that mid-winter excitement seems like a bookend - even after 30-some years I expect that spring will be turning over a new leaf as I turn over a new calendar. Not so. Despite the short month of February, these weeks leading up to spring dawdle along, taking me on a roller coaster of elation and despondency with each thaw and freeze.

Probably my whole attitude can be summed up in OtherHalf's assessment:
  "You can't do everything at once, you know."
This comment was in reply to me making suggestions (ok, maybe whining and wheedling) about livestock purchases. Kijiji fuels my fire. I'll bet the real reason we moved waaaaay out to MiddleOfNowhere Boyle is so that I'm unable to just pick up every last four-legged critter for sale online. Seems like every animal advertised is at least an hour away. Now, if it was going to be a 15 minute drive, I'd simply stuff that nanny goat right in the backseat of my Volkswagen Jetta. But an hour and forty-two minutes is a bit too long to put up with the kind of shenanigans only a confined goat can get into. So, every now and then OtherHalf happens onto Kijiji to look for a truck or a trailer or something responsible, and then has to spend ages clearing out all the alpaca and heritage chicken ads I've got on our "watchlist".

What is it about my nature that compels me to do this? I'm not a hoarder - I've moved enough times in my life to know that Stuff is expendable. I'm definitely not a workaholic; not really looking for things to fill up my time. Time - that's what it comes down to. All my life I've felt like there's just not enough time. Like if I don't hurry up and try something now I'll miss my chance. In my head I know that it makes more sense to get a milk cow later on, once the weather is warm. Who wants to trudge out in -25* to wrap freezing cold hands around grungy cow teats at 7am? However, I want a milk cow right NOW! Quick! I need to make cheese! I need to try clotted cream!
   Ridiculous. I know it. It's the same with the goats. I find all sorts of reasons why we should get goats - I've finally convinced OtherHalf that it's a good idea. He is, however, irritatingly smart and practical and points out the fact that we have no fencing to keep goats in. I must be patient and wait 'til spring, so we can fence, and then get goats.
   AAAAARRGH! Spring! Dratted Spring! Everything is on hold 'til then. I've got seedlings coming up in little pots in the house, and all the old-timers "tut tutting" because it's too early.... gotta wait 'til closer to spring....
   Our neighbour came the other day with his Giant Tractor and plowed out my favorite driveway. (This is yet another example of my brain. My favorite driveway sweeps in a graceful curve right through our hayfield. It's nothing but a set of tracks on packed clay. The wind blows it in promptly, the clay turns to sloppy goo in wet weather, and it makes harvesting a real pain. BUT I love it and I want to plant fruit trees along it, to arch over and make a magical fairy tale lane. I want a great huge gate at the end of it, with a sign for our farm. Happily, OtherHalf humors me in these aspirations, despite the extreme impracticality of them.) In any case, this massive bazgillion-wheeled tractor pushed through the deep drifted snow with ease, and I wanted him to plow off my whole garden just so I could see the dirt. Sheesh.

   And then this morning's devotion is about patience. About patiently waiting for God's timing. And I'm reminded that He hasn't made this season in this way solely to drive me bonkers. If I can just change my attitude, January, February, March and April could be a lovely time of year. A peaceful time with cozy hours of painting, crocheting and cups of tea. A good time to take a correspondence course online. Catch up on reading. Or blogging ;)
   The trick is, as usual, gratefulness. As Madame Blueberry put it: "A grateful heart is a happy heart." Or, if you're looking for a more reliable source than an animated antioxidant; King Solomon writes (in Ecclesiastes, of all places!) "Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart." (Ecc. 5:19, 20)
Has God given me riches and wealth? You bet. In less than a year He has given me my heart's desire: a farm, gardens, a handful of horses, calves in the pen, chickens in the coop. And that's just material stuff - the blessings he's brought to my heart are overwhelmingly abundantly more than I ever expected. And has He empowered me to eat from my riches and receive my reward? Absolutely. My pantry shelves are still full of pickles and applesauce and my freezer overflows with the best beef I've eaten in 10 years. How about the empowerment to rejoice?
   Aha. Herein lies the rub. I am empowered to rejoice, and I've got plenty of reasons to do so. But I find myself watching the snow blow around the grey sky and my thoughts drift with it. I get all complainey and pathetic and put on my "planning blinders". That's like a plow horse bridle with blinders... I just look ahead at what I want done and forget all about everything behind and around me. Maybe that works for horses, but it's not good for me. If I'm ever going to make it through the shack-wacky stages of winter I've gotta get a grip on this "rejoice" concept. Because if I can see this quarter of a year as a time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labour, then God promises to keep me so busy with the gladness of my heart that I won't have time to think about myself. Now that sounds good.

On that note, I did have one little break in the clouds yesterday. A marvelous new idea that was agreed upon and put into action within the day:
8:30am - OtherHalf and I began discussing the mangels fed to dairy cows on our new favorite documentary series, "Victorian Farm" (you can watch these BBC shows on www.dailymotion.com)
9am - I find mangel seeds for sale in a heritage seed catalogue. Expensive!
9:17am - google "growing mangels in Alberta"
9:19am - find an ad on kijiji for an Ontario farm selling Red Mammoth Mangel seeds.
9:20am - appeal to OtherHalf. Brainstorm about planting mangels in the future orchard.
9:22am - reply to kijiji ad
 ----- wait-----
10:07am - receive reply from CowBoss at Wallace Springs Cattle Company.

Invoice followed, Paypal payment came next, and before suppertime I had confirmation that 1/8lb of mangel wurzel seed will be in the mail this morning. Now that was quick farm work!
There are some raised eyebrows in the community already - despite the fact that mangels were common fodder in Britain for decades, maybe even centuries, no one in this neck of the woods has even heard of them. (In case any of my devoted readers aren't familiar with them either: mangel wurzels are a type of beet that can grow up to 20 lbs each. They are high in protein, iron, and all sorts of other good vitamins and minerals; store well for months and can be chopped up and fed to livestock. The tops also get huge and are even more nutritious than the roots, and can be made into silage.)
When OtherHalf asked a nearby farmer if he had any experience with mangels, the bewildered fellow replied "Doesn't that girl do anything normal?"

Well, you tell me.

(By the way, you can check out your friendly neighbourhood mangel seed supplier at www.wallacesprings.blogspot.ca)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Fence Me In

We learned an interesting thing about beef calves here on Home Farm this week. Apparently they enjoy partaking in a bit of electric fencing wire now and again. Once more I deeply appreciate the Internet - as OtherHalf was driven to a frenzy of research to find out if the calves were now doomed. Sure enough, it's not unheard of for animals to start nibbling away on fencing wire that's not live, and they will eat it right up eventually. In fact, these steers of ours will happily eat pretty much any kind of strange garbage, metal, string, whatever they can get hold of, really. Some of it will be regurgitated and rechewed until it gradually "passes away", but some of it could cause damage to their health. It's important to keep their fences in working order so they're kept in a safe environment... protecting them from their stupid selves. 

Actually, we've seen quite a number of Great Escapes around here the last little while. I got to thinking about it yesterday, after our pastor brought up fencing in his sermon. He was talking about how God gives us "fences" for our lives; Biblical principles and guidelines that, when followed, keep us in the safe place of God's will for our lives. But just like the critters on our farm, people want to push the boundaries, get to the "greener" pastures, and we've got all kinds of ways of doing that.

Take The Twins for example. This summer a neighbor rented our pasture for some of his cattle. One cow had a pair of twins which were considerably smaller than the other new calves. These two became typical "fence crawlers" - they had no regard whatsoever for the barbed wire and one never knew where they'd be. Because of their habit of crawling through the fencing, they missed out on a lot of their mother's milk, they were unprotected from predators, and they could even wander out to the road into traffic. It didn't matter how many times we chased them back in, they never learned to stay in their proper pasture. Nobody wants fence crawlers on a farm.

My darling Willow has been pretty good about respecting her fence. She's in a new, unfinished paddock - only two strands of wire high on the posts. We also ran a strand of electric wire as an extra precaution, and she obviously knew to stay away from it - she wouldn't even accept a treat held over the fence! As the cold weather set in, however, the solar charger for the fence stopped charging, and eventually the wire went dead.  We have the big round bales for feeding just outside Willow's pen, and there she stands day after day, facing the temptation of those huge lovely piles of food. One day she tested her fence, realized it wasn't painful to push it anymore - and succumbed. We found her head deep in a bale, a section of her fence looking like a bulldozer just plowed right through. But besides the dangers of walking through splinters of wood and tangles of wire, Willow is a type of horse that can easily suffer permanent health damage from overeating. Thankfully we had her back in her pen quickly and the fence repaired, and she seems to have learned her lesson.

Not like Banner, however. He's a horse-on-loan, a great huge beast, always hungry. He never out-and-out challenges the fence; he's a stretcher. Day after day he leans on the boards or the wire, slowly pushing against the boundaries, gradually stretching things further and further until he can reach far out of his rightful place. Sometimes the top board would snap in half, and he'd proceed to lean his barrel chest on the next board down. He learned that this type of escaping often goes overlooked, since he appeared to be where he was supposed to be - but he was still able to get what he wanted.

Sometimes an escapee isn't happy unless they take a crowd with them. Just a couple of weeks ago our handful of horses had walked across the frozen dugout, out of their winter forage pasture and into a mess of brush and deadfall along the creek that separates us from our neighbors. We'd hoped that they'd get hungry enough to come home for feed, but they seemed content to stay in "no man's land" for the long haul. The kids took out a bucket of oats and some halters and ropes to bring the wanderers home, but for some reason one mare spooked and headed straight for the fence. She crashed right into the wires, taking out five posts and about a hundred yards of fence. The rest of the horses followed her in a crazed stampede. Thankfully no one suffered any worse than a few cuts, scrapes and wire-shaved hair. 

I look at the animals under our care and I wish that they could understand the purpose of the fences; that they would trust us to continue to provide all that they need in their proper places, and I can see how we all do the same thing with God. His will is our safe haven and He is our loving Shepherd who knows our needs better than we do. We have a tendency to listen to our flesh and gobble up bits of corruption that can wreak havoc on our spiritual lives. Some of us withstand temptation only until the consequences don't seem too painful - not seeing the full picture of the harm that can come to us. Often we even drag others along with us. We all know just how far we can push the limits and bend the rules, thinking we'll be ok as long as it looks like we're doing the right thing, but God sees our hearts and the rebellion within. And there will always be people that refuse to recognize God's authority and go their own way until no-one even tries to correct them anymore, and they'll never see the blessing they miss and the dangers they expose themselves to when they disregard God's will.

As we assess the past year and enter a new one my prayers include a desire to see and respect the fences that God has put in my life, and to encourage others to do the same. Contrary to worldly "wisdom" - freedom of choice, of self-expression... whatever folks want to call it these days - we will only experience true freedom and fullness of life when we seek and follow the perfect and trustworthy will of God.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lessons Learned From Christmas and Sauerkraut

Greetings to all, and best Christmas wishes. Hopefully everyone enjoyed their holiday season with all the trimmings, as we did in our family.
This was our first Home Farm Christmas, and a holly jolly one it was, too. We managed to cram in a visit with nearly everyone on both sides of the family... involving lots of driving, lots of gifting, and of course plenty of good food! And this year our kids were blessed with a storybook Christmas day; up early with cocoa and cinnamon buns baking sweetly, music and lights and stocking stuffers, wrapping paper everywhere for the cat to play in, and then bundle into the 'Burban for a short drive to the grandparent's house where we did it all over again! Presents to share, turkey with the works, movies and snacks and board games - then repeat 'til everyone is dozing, plump and cozy with Christmas cheer.

As with many family gatherings, ours had one fly in the ointment, so to speak. A short altercation that left everyone suddenly uncomfortable and baffled. It made me think of sauerkraut.

See, here on Home Farm I like to try out the old fashioned way of doing things... a lot of my kitchen gadgets are hand-crank rather than plug-in; if I can grow it or make it I'd rather do that than buy it; I'm the one building a wood-fired oven outside instead of getting a new convection oven for inside, and ripping out my easy-care laminate flooring in favor of re-purposed barn wood flooring. So when it comes to cooking, I like to look to the old wisdom for food preservation, and those simple and delicious recipes of yesteryear. Since moving here to what seems to be the Ukrainian culture belt of Alberta, I've been introduced to Ukrainian sour cabbage rolls. Now, I'm no stranger to cabbage rolls, but our family's Polish background sees us stuffing fresh cabbage leaves with lots of meat, then baking the hearty morsels in a tomato sauce. The sour-style that I've become hopelessly addicted to involve using a whole cabbage that has been fermented, stuffing the leaves with mostly rice, and simmering them in plain water. Sounds dull. Not at all! The rice goes all creamy and salty and delicious, the sauerkraut has a perfect amount of sauer flavour... well, when I make a batch, that's all I eat until they're gone. Three meals a day, I have to have them. Words cannot describe the utter perfection of this dish!
However, those whole sauered cabbages run a pretty penny in our little town. We're talking $10 - $15 for ONE. And it takes a whole one for one batch of the rolls. That is a hard bite to swallow. Naturally, I would have to ferment my own cabbages.
Actually, the process is simple, and I have successfully made traditional shredded sauerkraut in the past. To ferment whole cabbages, one must first grow them (the growing is easy... the shooing away of rabbits, cabbage butterflies and deer - not so much), cut out the stem and core and fill the cavity with pickling salt, then one uses one's great grandfather's Medalta crock to cram the whole cabbages into, add spices if desired, and top with spring water. Put a weight in to hold the veg under the water, which slowly becomes a vinegary tasting brine which preserves the food. Pretty much any vegetables can do this, thanks to naturally occurring lactic microbial organisms which convert the sugars in the vegetables into lactic acid, which in turn makes an environment too acidic for evil spoilage bacteria to multiply. In a few weeks, ta daaa! Delicious pickledey veggies!
So, earlier this fall I did just that, and I did a jar of fresh cucumbers for good measure, deciding that if, in fact, they tasted good I would abandon the modern pickle method, since lacto-fermented cukes are infinitely faster and easier to make. And beautiful - check out the jar all ready for storage:
by the way, this is an enormous jar filled with large mature cucumbers... that's a horseradish leaf on top, and in the end they were yucky. But I'll likely try again anyway, with little pickling cukes and a different recipe
All seemed well; as the days went on the brine bubbled away, the veg began to change color slightly, and the smell that emanated from my pantry was... unusual but filled with promise. I envisioned cold winter nights with my dutch oven crammed to the brim with sumptuous cabbage rolls.
But I blew it. Let the proverbial fly get into the ointment. Or, more literally, let the yeast get into the brine.
I had a real hankering for some good sour dough rye bread, so I whipped up a batch of sour dough starter and set it in the pantry to do its thing. That yeast, it's a tricky devil. Always looking for a warm, moist environment to set up shop. And while salt is its kryptonite, it's not too fussy about a mildly acidic liquid like, say, a newly-fermenting crock of cabbages. And while my darling lacto bacteria will make my food tasty, crunchy and safely preserved, that sneaky yeast spore would rather turn the whole thing into alcohol and grow a slimy white goo and make my veggies into stinky mush.
I think you can figure out what happened. My cabbages fell in with a bad crowd.
However! All was not lost... since I was diligently checking progress in the crock, I saw the telltale signs of contamination right away. Now I was faced with a choice - try to skim off the foam, let the cabbages soak, and hope for the best? Or was the whole batch already garbage?
I decided to salvage the good stuff, and discard the bad. Rinsed off my cabbages, which were still crunchy and delicious-smelling, packed them in the freezer to keep for later, and then poured out the ruined brine and sanitized the crock.

Which brings me back to Christmas. On my beautiful Christmas day, there was suddenly an unwanted conflict that threatened to spoil the entire experience. Would I let it fester and bubble until my memories were turned to stinky mush? I always have a choice. Instead, thanks to the power of God and His wisdom, I can dump the bad stuff down the drain and keep the joy of the day safe in my heart and mind, to be brought out and enjoyed over and over.

It's possible there was a little yeast spore in the brine of your holidays this year, too. I encourage you to sanitize the "crock" of your mind. You can choose what to dwell on; what will fester and stink, or what will be preserved forever.

Don't despair!! Here's my Ukrainian Sour Cabbage Roll recipe:
Saute 10 slices of bacon, diced. Add one large onion, chopped, to the bacon fat and saute 'til soft and just turning golden. Add 2 Tblsp dried dill and 2 cups cooked short-grain rice (like Arborio, or even sushi rice). Depending on the saltiness of your bacon, you may want to add a little more salt. Using a whole sauered cabbage, roll a spoonful of the rice mixture in each leaf. (This is difficult to describe - if you've never done it, or seen it done, there are lots of videos online demonstrating the technique) Pack the rolls in layers in an oven safe dish or Dutch oven. Combine 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup vegetable oil, pour over the rolls. Bake at 325* for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. These can also be rolled, set on parchment paper and frozen unbaked. Layer and bake from frozen. Enjoy!

Guess what I'm making for supper... ;)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Horse Sense

At long last, one of my dreams is realized - thanks to an over-generous birthday cheque, I have purchased a horse of my very own!
As a girl I pictured myself on a proud Arabian - neck arched, glossy hair flying like a banner... and the horse would look good, too. Then, after befriending a surly Tennessee Walker in college, that became my breed of choice, which is further confirmed by the temporary use of my dad's (also somewhat surly) Walker. It's like riding a Rolls Royce compared to a VW Beetle of a quarter horse.

My horse, however, is none of these breeds. I saw her on a facebook livestock sale site, and fell in love with her. I'd say she suits me just right - curious, a little stubborn, talkative, in love with food, and... big boned.
I bought myself a Fjord.
Now, this breed is not like a Ford compared to a Rolls Royce compared to a VW. It's more like... a Sherman tank. Painted pink.
The Fjord is an old breed from Norway, rugged and sweet tempered. They will forage and fatten on weeds that other horses won't touch, and they've been known to out-pull large draft horses. My Willow was likely on her way to the slaughterhouse, since she'd been bought at auction once already, somewhat misused, and no-one seemed to want her. She's a bargain-basement pony.

Apparently she's broke to drive, but the folks I got her from had a bit of a disaster with her, and I can hardly get near her with a rope. Perhaps she knows how to pull, but she's not had good experiences with it. My goal is to have her ready to pull a sleigh by next Christmas, and hopefully I can ride her next summer. Right now her plump, broad back just begs me to jump up there, but the look on Willow's face reminds me to take it slow.

Which brings me around to my point. I got to thinking about the parallels between horse training, and the way God works with us. I heard a story once about a man who trained horses to jump off high diving boards into a pool of water - an act completely foreign to a horse's natural inclination. When questioned on how such a feat was accomplished, he replied that he started the horse with tiny steps - then tiny jumps, slowly working up to the big dive. But he never let the horse fall. Each horse learned to trust him completely and obey without question, knowing that the trainer would never let them down.

This is how I'm trying to work with Willow. She's terribly head-shy, stretching out her neck and lips to take a treat, then jerking her head away if I try to pet her face. So I continue to pet her a little more, and scratch her forehead, working up to the time when she'll trust me enough to let me flap a plastic bag near her face. I'm not going to suddenly poke her in the eye.
And I've seen God working the same way with me. He continues to ask me for small jumps - little acts of obedience that may seem a bit frightening, a bit contrary to my natural inclination. But when I trust Him and step out in faith, He doesn't let me down. And the more I obey, the more I trust Him, the less afraid I am, and the circus of my life can keep progressing to greater obstacles and triumphs. I can rest assured that my loving Trainer will never let me fall.