Monday, September 15, 2014

Canning, Knitting, and a Visit

Alexandra was down over the weekend and we had such a nice time. She said she wanted to "can something" and so that's what we did. After considering the suggestions left in the comments here (thank you so much!), and a discussion back and forth on Facebook between the two of us, we decided on apple butter.

I searched through recipes online and came up with several that you do in the crockpot. I settled on this one because it didn't require a huge amount of time from start to finish. I liked the idea of leaving the lid off during the last bit of cooking. It worked great, although a word of warning if you use the recipe. It only took about an hour to cook down once the lid was removed, not the four and a half hours the recipe states.

While the apples cooked we drove down to the local u-pick blackberry farm. This is a brilliant place to pick blackberries because they are thornless. I'm very happy to pay a dollar a pound in exchange for not getting cut to shreds. Because this was a canning weekend we decided to make some blackberry jam.

We finished the jam and the apples were still cooking, so we then made a batch of pumpkin butter. I had baked the pumpkins early Saturday morning before Alexandra arrived.

I wish I could have also canned the smells in the house. Baked pumpkin, apples simmering in the crockpot, and sweet blackberry jam bubbling away on the stove - it was heavenly! 

In the midst of the canning we also managed to get some pictures of the latest project off my needles. I started this sweater in June, but then put it aside when the weather got too hot. Unfortunately, at least in terms of putting on a wool sweater for pictures, Saturday was another scorcher. I thought I was going to melt walking down to the creek, and maybe I'm just paranoid, but I'm quite sure people were staring at me. Small wonder. 

Tea with Jam and Bread, knit with Cascade 220 

I debated whether or not to include the pockets. I have a vest I made that has pockets that stick out on the sides and give the impression I'm a balloon being filled with air. It's not a look I am fond of. But since these pockets are on the front I decided to take a chance and put them in. I'm really glad I did. I think they give the sweater personality.

I'm super pleased with how it turned out, and I'm sure it will be worn lots this fall and winter. It was such a nice weekend in so many ways, but the very best part was spending it with Alexandra. It was so nice to see her feeling well, and in such a good place in her life right now. Her health issues will be a lifelong struggle for her, but she handles them with grace and courage. When she was little, and oh so sick, I used to worry about what things were going to be like for her as an adult. Slowly, slowly, I'm letting go of some of that worry. I think she's going to be okay.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

An Indoor Outdoor Post


Kellen and Anita were out this weekend, and Sunday afternoon found us hiking up the trail to Lindeman Lake. I have already done a post about Lindeman. Rebekah and Anton and I hiked there in July. But it is such an incredibly beautiful place I just have to show you some more pictures.

It seemed like the water was an even deeper shade of blue than before.

This time we walked clear to the end of the lake. It involved traversing this huge pile of jagged rocks.

The leaves were just starting to change colours.

This was probably my last big hike for this year. Maybe I'm just a coward, but I don't like venturing out in the wilderness on my own. (Teapot Hill is fine. It's close to home, there is no possible way I can get lost, and it usually has other hikers on it.) Alexandra is coming down on Saturday, but she doesn't want to go hiking. When I asked her what she wanted to do her response was "can something." I'm not sure what that something will be. She wants to can peaches, but the season is pretty much past. I'm thinking maybe zucchini relish or some kind of chutney.

Before I leave the topic of the outdoors, I have one more picture to show you. Here's Lucy, somewhere in the Rockies. This was taken a couple days ago, before Alberta got hit with four inches of snow. Yes, you read that right. Snow.


I've experienced a crafting outlier. This past Mother's Day Jay bought me a new Janome sewing machine. Well, to be more exact, I bought a new Janome sewing machine and suggested to him that he could count it as a Mother's Day gift. He is not a shopper, so was happy with that idea.

You're probably wondering why there haven't been lots of posts showing off all the items I've whipped up on my new machine. The answer is because there haven't been any. In fact, I didn't get up the nerve to get out the machine until a couple weeks ago. Sewing and I have a very uneasy relationship. When I finally did work up the courage to haul it out I decided I would start with something very simple. Cloth serviettes (napkins if you're American).

These might not be perfect. In fact, I'm sure any decent seamstress would cringe if they had a close look at them. But I don't care. After all, they are for wiping stuff like spaghetti sauce and curry off dirty faces and hands.

I'm not sure what I'll attempt next. Suggestions for an easy, practical sewing project, along with a suggestion of something fun to can with Alexandra, would be much appreciated. I hope you're getting a nice mix of indoors and outdoors as we move into fall!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Grace Notes

I had the most incredible experience this past Wednesday. Way back in early July I read in Louise Penny's newsletter that she was going to be in Vancouver in early September as part of her book tour. I felt a knot form in my stomach. I desperately wanted to go, didn't want to go by myself, didn't know who I could find to go with me...

Then I did something totally out of character. In spite of all the unknowns I purchased a ticket. To understand exactly what I had committed to you need to know that she was going to be speaking at a church in downtown Vancouver. Not the outskirts of Vancouver, not even in the part of the city right before you cross one of the bridges that take you into the downtown core. The function was going to be where the traffic is the worst, the parking is almost non-existent, and where it would take me at least two and a half hours to get to.

About a week after I bought my ticket my sister-in-law Lynn phoned and told me she had finally started reading "that author" I had told her to try, and that she was loving the books. Well, that author was Louise Penny, and I know a gift horse when I see one. In a matter of minutes I had talked Lynn into going with me.

We decided I would drive to her home in White Rock, and then she would drive the rest of the way since the church was very close to where she used to work and she knows the area better than me. I have to say, it was very nice to be a passenger and not the driver for a change. I also have to say it's good I have nerves of steel, because my sister-in-law drives like a bat out of hell.

Due to the bat out of hell scenario we arrived at the church a full half hour before the event was due to start.

I was shocked when we entered the church and saw it was already two thirds full. Clearly I am not the only Louise Penny fan. I took this picture soon after we arrived. More and more people kept pouring in the doors, and by the time she started speaking there were over 700 people in attendance. (My apologies to the anonymous man whose rear end is featured in this picture.)

I wish you could have been there with me. She was funny and humble and fascinating and entertaining and I didn't want her to stop talking. I wasn't the only one either. She was scheduled to speak for thirty minutes, then take questions. At the forty minute mark she suddenly checked her watch and looked shocked at the time. She said she better leave it there and move on to the questions, and as soon as the words were out of her mouth the most amazing thing happened. I think it was this audience's equivalent of an encore call. There was a collective groan from all 700 people in attendance. She looked shocked again, then pleased, then kind of shrugged her shoulders and kept on talking for a bit longer.

She talked about Grace Notes in her life, and how so many grace notes went into her getting her first book, Still Life, published. Then after it was published her agent committed her to writing two more in the series and she was filled with fear because she didn't know how she had done the first book, and didn't know if she could do it again. Wow, could I ever identify with that feeling. Her therapist told her that she was letting "her critic" write the book, and instead she needed to let her creative soul write the first draft.

Then she answered questions from the audience. Being a complete coward, of course I didn't raise my hand. But many others did, and both the questions and the answers were very thoughtful. Now here's the part I should be hanging my head in shame over. After the Q&A, it was announced she would be signing books at the front, and they asked those of us who wanted a book signed to please line up in the middle aisle. This is where all those hikes up and down Teapot Hill paid off. In spite of being in the back of the church, I ended up at almost the front of the book signing line. In my defence I will say I didn't push or harm anyone on my way there. I just moved very, very fast. I felt this was totally justified since it was already almost 9:00 and I had a two and a half hour drive home.

This doesn't have anything to do with the rest of this post, other than it has what could be considered a grace note in it. Karsten texted me this picture yesterday of their family at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park.

Here's their grace note. On the trail to the lake they encountered a grizzly bear. It was coming towards them with its nose to the ground, apparently oblivious to their presence. Karsten finally made some noise and it moved off the trail so they could pass. I have run into black bears many times, but never a grizzly. And I count that as one of my grace notes.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In With A Bang

The calendar might say the New Year starts on January 1, but a calendar is a soulless being. It's never opened a new box of crayons, put on a new "starting school" outfit, or tried to keep from using a new eraser so it wouldn't get marred by pencil lead. I might be long past my childhood days of starting school right after Labour Day, and a few years past the start of a new homeschool year with my own children, but the sense of the the proper New Year starting at the beginning of September has lingered.

This year the first day of September rolled in with a bang. Quite literally. Early in the morning as I was sitting at my computer, cup of tea in hand, there was a huge thud. A bird had hit the French doors leading onto our patio, and judging by the sound it was going at full speed. I went over to the doors, almost afraid to look. There was no way a bird could have hit with that much force and still be alive. At first glance it seemed as if my worst fears were confirmed.

The little bird was splayed, with one wing sticking out at a funny angle and its legs stuck straight out. It was also struggling for breath. Almost sadder than seeing the little bird suffering like that, was seeing its mom sitting there waiting for it to get up and fly off with her.

I stayed inside, watching and hoping and despairing. There was no way the baby bird was going to make it, and I wondered if I should do the kind thing and put it out of its misery, but knowing that deep down I was too big of a coward to actually carry through with it. Then something amazing happened. The little bird sat up.

A few minutes later the mom flew off, leaving the baby bird stranded on our patio. She must have thought it would follow her, but it just sat there, looking quite lost. I decided to go out and see if I could encourage it, but it didn't help. That's when I noticed the Purple Poop. These birds had clearly been snacking in one of the nearby patches of blackberries. 

I thought it was a good sign that the bird's digestive system was working, and sure enough, a few minutes later it flew away and joined its mom. After hitting the glass so hard, I'm sure this little bird will never be the brightest one in the flock. I'm also sure we will never get the stains out of our deck. 

As long as I'm on the subject of birds, I might as well show you the swallows that have taken up residence in the rafters above the garbage dumpsters. Every time I go there I'm greeted by the sounds of their gentle chirping. I especially love how they all sit tightly bunched together, like best friends having a visit. 

Happy September!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Five on Friday

I liked Amy's Five on Friday post over at Love Made My Home, so thought I would do my own version.

1.  I thought I should clear up any misunderstanding about the free drink I was consuming at that open house we crashed at the hop farm. It was an ice cold bottled water, not a beer. I am not a beer drinker. I am a cider drinker. But not a committed enough cider drinker to try that foul mixture at the lavender farm.

2. I have finished another pair of fingerless mitts. These are for the friend I went to visit in early July, the friend who is quite unwell. I noticed when I was there that she seemed to be chilled even though it was a very hot day. Her birthday is tomorrow, and I thought these mitts might help keep her warm.

3.  I saw this and thought it summed up my state of mind quite nicely. What I would like to know is what to do about the remaining 13 problems. My theory is if I worry about the 86 imaginary problems I won't have any time left to focus on the real ones.

4.  The season is slowing shifting away from summer here at our cottage. I have stressed my chillies to the point of it bordering on being chilli abuse, and I'm happy to report they are now extremely hot. The next problem is what the heck am I going to do with a couple dozen hot Thai chillies? I'm open to suggestions. The communist garden plot is winding down, but the sweet peas are going strong.

And just when they have taken down the bear warning sign at Teapot Hill, this one has gone up here at The Cottages.

It is posted at the gate between the cottages and Frost Creek, about a hundred metres from our house. Unfortunately it also happens to be the area where dogs can go off leash. I haven't stopped walking Fergus there, but for now will keep him on the leash Just In Case.

5.  I've been in a breakfast rut for months. Homemade granola and fruit, more homemade granola and fruit, and then, when I'm tired of that, I have fruit and homemade granola. I was so happy when I saw this post over at the Really Pretty Useful blog. When Kath and I were in London a few years ago, every morning we would go to the nearby Pret A Manger for breakfast. And every morning I would get a fruit cup and a granola breakfast cup. (Okay, maybe I've been stuck in this breakfast rut for more than just a few months.)

Now I can make my own version! I used a combination of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries out of my freezer, and it made a very delicious fruit compote. I think it looks quite authentic, layered in my Weck Jar.

How's your Friday?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lavender, Hops, and Uninvited Guests

Jay's sister Lynn was here over the weekend. On Saturday we decided to drive out to the local lavender farm. It's just down the road about ten kilometres, and I had been wanting to see what it was like. In terms of beauty it did not disappoint. The rows of lavender stretched out under the summer blue sky were breathtaking.

The farmer also had apple cider trees, plum trees and a huge vegetable garden, not to mention his winter's supply of wood stacked neatly nearby. There was apple cider for sale.

I'm not sure how much he was charging for this bottle. It looked a bit sketchy, so I wasn't interested in buying any. But I did note the price of the small bundles of lavender. $35!!!

However, not everything cost money. One item in particular was being given out for free, and in very large quantities. Medical advice. Lynn asked the farmer what one of the vegetables in his garden was, and he launched into a lecture on how we don't eat enough bitters any more, and "if people ate more bitters there wouldn't be all these diseases we see nowadays." That's where he lost Jay and me. We headed back to the car. In a straight line and at a rapid pace. Lynn, who has never encountered a conversation she didn't want to participate in, stayed on. She was told the vegetable was chicory, and it was good for diabetics because it contained insulin. Seriously. The guy actually said this. He must have been confusing insulin and inulin. Bottom line: don't count on your local aging hippie lavender farmer for medical advice. Google is a much better bet.

After the lavender farm we decided to keep going and see where the road would lead. We were quite surprised when we came across a hop farm, with a sign at the bottom saying there was an open house.  I'm still a farm girl at heart, so I turned into the field and parked. We were surprised to see so many people mingling about. Here are Jay and Lynn making their way to the tents.

These fields were spectacular! Row after row of hops, with the mountains as a backdrop - it was as beautiful as it was surprising. I had no idea this hop farm was just a few minutes down the road from where we live.

I love the cloud formation in this picture. It looks like someone took a paint brush and quickly swiped it across the sky.

Here's a close-up view of the hops themselves.

While I was busy taking pictures Jay and Lynn were talking to the growers. They learned quite a bit about hops and the brewing process, but probably the most interesting piece of information they managed to pick up was the fact that the open house was for brewers from around the province, and not for local residents. This left me feeling extremely guilty about the "free drink" I was holding in my hand, but not guilty enough to be sorry we had stopped. The vision of those rows of hops, the deep blue sky, and the mountains in the background will stay with me for a very long time.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hidden Gussets, Hidden Thorns

Blueberry season has finally come to an end. I'm sure you're all sick to death of pictures from our local blueberry patch. I promise no more. Well, at least not until next year. Now we're in the thick of blackberry season.

I have mixed feelings about these berries. How can something that tastes so good be so wicked to pick? Plus I've noticed that not all blackberry patches are created equally. Some have yummy berries, and others have bitter things that are reminiscent of a nasty medicine I had to take for tonsillitis when I was a child. There's a patch along the highway right by where we live, but they are awful things. This deer doesn't seem to think so though. He was standing there munching away when I drove to town this morning.

Yesterday I drove to Ladner, a small community just outside Vancouver, to visit my friend Ellen. On our list of things to do was to go pick blackberries at a local park. This sounded like a good idea. After all, Ellen knew the berries there were tasty. And the price was right, since they were free for the taking. Plus the setting was very pretty. It reminds me a bit of Scotland.

Ellen, being an experienced blackberry picker, wore a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. I, being a rookie, had on shorts. Not a good idea. For every berry I picked Ellen must have picked ten. This was partly due to the fact that no matter how careful I tried to be, hidden thorns would attack me. (If you don't think it's possible for thorns to attack, I say you've never been to a blackberry patch!)

The other reason Ellen outpicked me (spell check is stroking out over this word, but I'm sticking with it) is because I quickly discovered it was more fun to take pictures than to pick.

The main lesson I learned picking blackberries was the larger bucket of picked berries will inevitably be the one that gets knocked over. An extension of this lesson was discovering that in spite of the strength of the thorny branches they come from, blackberries are actually quite fragile and will not withstand the trauma of being dumped all over the floor of one's vehicle.

Also on the agenda for my visit was to give Ellen her birthday present. Ellen is a knitter, and we usually end up exchanging yarn or fibre. But this time I decided to actually make her something. I know how much I appreciate getting handknit items, as it's something that doesn't happen very often when you happen to be a knitter yourself.

When the latest issue of Knitty came out I knew right away I would be knitting the Hidden Gusset mitts.

I've never knit a "travelling pattern" before, and found I really enjoyed it.

These fingerless mitts should be perfect for the cool autumn days that are just around the corner.

Hopefully they make up for the bucket of spilled berries, too!