Wednesday, December 31, 2008
2008 in review
It's 2008 in Review!
Tired of being frustrated by the spinning wheel that Anti-V had kindly loaned me (to create space in her own house), I decided to sign up for lessons. Although I started the classes in December 2007, January finds me reporting on what I'm learning.
February was all about the new elliptical machine and a recommitment to exercising. I wanted to be healthier for my trip in May. Yo... husband, stop laughing out there in the background.
Not blogged about at the time but I also started a new job in February. More on that through the summary.
March saw us in Toronto for Canada Blooms, and a stay at our favourite sinfully luxurious hotel - the Cosmopolitian, an annoying confrontation with NYPD helicopters, and the single finest meal I think I've ever had.
In April, I'm sure there was a lot going on in the garden, but apparently I was too busy getting ready for my trip in May to blog about it. My big excitement seems to be updating my blog with a gorgeous picture in the header bar.
May saw us heading off to Scotland and Iceland for the whole month, for our long overdue honeymoon. Perfect weather, lots of ancient places to explore, and just so much to see and take in. Iceland even gave us a rather memorable send-off with an earthquake on our last day there.
Believe it or not, I'm actually rather shy, so I didn't introduce myself to distant relatives in Scotland, or to Alda while I was in Iceland.
June saw me getting back into the garden, and trying out the One Local Summer thing again. I eventually got off the One Local Summer thing - while I was still eating locally, I found I didn't have the stick-to-it-ness to blog about it weekly. The whole year has seen my blogging diminish considerably from previous years.
The new job mentioned in February is a mat leave position, and I ran into the first major kink in June when my assistant moved on to another position. I can't blame her - this was temporary, and what she moved to is permanent, but it did create some instability and extra work for me.
July gives us some reporting from the garden, and the fiber side of life. We held a get together in the backyard to make glass beads in a new smelter that Neil's working on, and I co-opted the firepit to put some dye pots on.
Ahh yes... and Darrell delivered the bird feeder.
Birds, gardens and squirrels - oh my!
I also started with that Facebook thing - very absorbing.
And then there's that pesky job thing. The person hired to replace the assistant who moved on, moved on himself! It's August, on the cusp of the single busiest time of the year and I'm training someone new again!
September disappeared into a black hole. Literally, I have no memory of anything but getting increasingly short of hair available to pull out. I was very very very busy.
Marginally better, work-wise, in that the new fellow is working out well. But my laptop at home started to malfunction and it took weeks to get fixed. Actually, we finally discovered that the repair place was nuts, and it was just easier to get it replaced entirely.
November brought a new challenge at work when the guy that my position is a back up for, got sick. Very sick. Of the not yet back variety. And I've been doing two jobs for two months now.
I'm surprised that I blogged at all in November, but I'm not surprised that it was a meme. Brain power is something I that had little extra to spare.
Oh, and the snow hit us early and hard. We still have mulch in the driveway that wasn't distributed and leaves that never got properly collected or mulched into the lawn. I didn't get a chance to plant bulbs, and the two trees that came down are still largely in piles in the back yard. I'm going to pay heavily for this in the spring.
December was better job-wise, mostly in that the students all start to get focussed on exams and leave us alone for awhile. Perhaps somewhat in that I might now have the hang of a few things. And I got some reason to hope that things will get better in the new year - but more on that in the New Year. :)
At home, Neil bought some skyr from Palssons in Manitoba - the only place that we know of that makes skyr in Canada. I've been trying to make more at home, and not having a great deal of success.
Monday, December 1, 2008
More on making Skyr at home
We get our skyr shipped from a small grocery store in Arborg, Manitoba, by the name of Palsson's. As far as we know, it's the only place in Canada that makes and sells the stuff. They make it in their dairy section.
When I have it, I keep trying to make some more. I just tried again yesterday - draining the results tonight.
*sigh* Let's just say I don't have the hang of it yet. 4 quarts of milk reduced to approximately 2.5 cups of something that only vaguely resembles sky and tastes ...... Neil kindly says "not bad". I didn't like it.
Monday, November 24, 2008
1. I've never bought a gadget direct from one of those tv infomercials.
2. But I have been tempted, and found at least two of them in a store later and bought them there. The indirectness of finding it in the store later saves my geeky pride.
3. The Perfect Pancake, and the Quick Chop, in case you were wondering. One's been useful and the other a complete flunk.
4. I don't own a Klingon dictionary. ;)
5. But I do own at least two of the Nitpicker's Guides - a) for Deep Space Nine Trekkers and b) for Next Generation Trekkers.
6. I prefer the term "Trekkie".
7. I just started knitting again, after nearly a 25 year hiatus. And I blame the Yarn Harlot. :)
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Darn, it's October already
The first two weeks of September were a blur - all psychotic work stuff, all the time. Things are calmer now, but my laptop starting freezing and went to the shop and it's been more then a week now and I'm going crazy.
Yes, there is another computer in the house but it's in the smelly boy infested basement office and all of the settings and bookmarks are different, not to mention the weird keyboard and mouse thing.
The husband in question has kindly been letting me use his work laptop in the living room (we really need to renovate the basement) and it at least has a normal keyboard and mouse but all the settings and bookmarks are still different! My husband and I really have different brains about what works for us on computer settings.
I really really want my laptop back.... soon, I hope. I have pictures on the camera, but I can't blog unless I go down to basement office. His office laptop doesn't have Easy Thumbnails or Adobe Photoshop. *sigh*
Friday, August 29, 2008
August flies by
He was home visiting - he lives way over on the other side of the country - and I happened to ask him if he had a Facebook page. I had signed up months ago for a Facebook page so I could see the pics that my boss was posting of her new baby while she was on mat leave, but eventually I found I was wasn't using it. Of course when my brother told me he did indeed have a page, I had to start using it again! Must keep in touch. And then there were all these people I knew and .. well, one thing lead to another and I've been gone.
But don't worry, I still prefer blogging. Facebook feels very ....invasive. Young. And overly structured. In blogging, I think I have more freedom, and there's a design element to the page that I can control.
Anyhoo.... back to my world. It got quite crowded at the bird feeder for a bit....
But lately, they've been staying away. It's quite strange.
Found these in the yard a week or so ago.... anyone know what they are? This is WAY out of my experience!
Well, we're off to that traditional Canadian activity on the long weekend - camping! It's another SCA thing so maybe I'll have some pictures when we get back. If my increasingly psychotic work schedule allows me the time, I might even be able to post again.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Perception Personality Image Test
Your result for The Perception Personality Image Test...
NBPC - The Daydreamer
Nature, Background, Big Picture, and Color
You perceive the world with particular attention to nature. You focus on the hidden treasures of life (the background) and how that fits into the larger picture. You are also particularly drawn towards the colors around you. Because of the value you place on nature, you tend to find comfort in more subdued settings and find energy in solitude. You like to ponder ideas and imagine the many possibilities of your life without worrying about the details or specifics. You are in tune with all that is around you and understand your life as part of a larger whole. You are a down-to-earth person who enjoys going with the flow.
The Perception Personality Types:
Saturday, August 2, 2008
More Garden, and Birds
House Finch. We think. We looked it up on a website somewhere.
Squirrel, oh so innocent looking.
Squirrel, caught in the act.
Funny squirrel. Must find some grease for that pole.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Garden, Birds, Fibre
Sometimes they look pretty when the sun catches the stamen just right...
I'm afraid of bees. But I've learned, finally, that these ones don't care about me at all. As long as I don't get between them and their food..... I don't have to run away squeeking, I can stay and watch.
Even dead and dried, these alliums are interesting.
Golden Marguerite is another great dye plant. I need to start collecting the dead heads. Apparently you can freeze them without ruining the dyestuff.
Darrell, our friend the blacksmith, made this very pretty bird feeder for us. Darrell's work can be found at Wareham Forge - http://www.warehamforge.ca - or if you want to talk to him in person, he'll be selling his stuff at the Goderich Celtic Roots Festival on August 8 - 10th.
The feeder on the right is many times more popular, but these little creatures are very messy eaters and leave much of it on the ground. The squirrels are very happy campers.
By the by... if you happen to be a bird watcher, please let me know what kind of visitors I'm getting?
I'm pretty sure that this is a golden finch.....
But this fellow.... I have no idea. He's much larger, in the same size class as a blue jay (they are not hard to identify!) and prefers the sunflower seeds.
Just to round things out.... remember that lovely peachy colour from the second soaking of woad leaves? Here it is carded and fluffy....
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Foxglove - all gone now.
This pink ecineachea is blooming, and survived the rain.
This regular old purple variety is about to bloom. Ecineachea has interesting shapes, even pre-bloom.
Lily, also recently deceased. They are such fragile flowers, even at the best of times.
White cosmos. Very pretty. At moment, I think it's my favourite annual, in all of it's colours.
What I did with my most recent weekend - dyeing woolstuffs with natural dyes. I invited a few friends over - Nina and Vandy. We used madder roots, madder plant tops, ladies' bedstraw, alkanet root, and two different dyebaths from woad leaves - all from my own garden!
We were busy!
Darrell brought us this tripod to hang our dye pots on. That's the madder tops and alkanet roots in those two pots. Their colours turned out somewhat disappointing so I have no pictures of their end result. Both the alkanet and the madder tops gave us a distinctly boring beige.
The woad results were mixed. I've never used woad before but it has such an air of complex mystery that even this little tiny bit of blue was exciting, but it was such a tiny bit that it was a bit disappointing too. I think I just didn't have enough woad leaves, or abundantly healthy plants to clip from, to produce enough pigment for the really exciting results.
Although, it's interesting..... this secondary colour from the leaves turned out quite nicely. It's bang on the results one is supposed to get from a secondary dye bath from the woad leaves - a pretty peach.
And madder is always a show-stopper. There are so many different ways you can use madder to get different results. For that straight up WOW of watching wool turn a different colour - just harvest roots that are at least three years old, rinse them well, chop them up......
.....throw them in water and simmer and add your wool stuff and simmmer.....
.......and watch that magic! Bright orangey red!
Monday, June 23, 2008
One Local Summer - Weeks 3 and 4
Not in the way of local eating - one does have to eat, after all. We might as well do it locally.
But it does get in the way of blogging about it.
So.... since I theoretically missed Week 3's deadline (yesterday) - I give you Week 3 _and_ 4. Just to get caught right up so I don't have to worry about it again for another week.
Meat pie - it's possible that some of the ingredients aren't strictly local, but the trick here is that the beef is Black Angus cow from Well Fed Food in Ayr, our favourite farm store. The family that runs it raises the Black Angus cows right there on the farm, and feeds them properly (no chemical additives) during their lifetime. They also sell their neighbours' farm fish, chicken, turkey, pork, venison, wild boar, eggs, honey, and milk.
Anyway, these lovely farm folk want their business to make a go of it so they recognized that folks want convenience, and they have hired a professional chef in town to make up these meat pies, which they then sell frozen and waiting. Good ingredients go in here - the meat and the creation of the pies are local, and although I haven't actually asked, I'd betcha that most of the vegetables and spices in it are local as well.
Meat, again from Well Fed Food, aspargus and potatoes from just down the road at the other nearby farm store - Herrles. Herrles is a little closer in that we drive by it every day on the way to work. Even the marinade on the aspargus is local, though I can't remember where it's made.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
It's very difficult to find commercially - there's a small place in Gimli, Manitoba that makes it in Canada but the shipping usually doubles the price of it.
The largest Icelandic skyr company - skyr.is - has recently started making it available in the US at Whole Food Markets. Unfortunately, Whole Foods can't make it available at their Toronto store - I've asked. Something about the Canadian Government being fussy about milk products.
Just recently back from Iceland, I have to have continued access to this delicious treat! So I've decided to try to make it myself at home.
Understand that it's also difficult to get english language information on how to make skyr at home, and that I have no concept of chemistry, and have never done anything even remotely like this before. :)
Basic recipe that I started with:
Bring 4 quarts milk to a boil, and cool to lukewarm.
Add 2 tbsp starter (skyr) to 1/2 cup of the lukewarm milk.
Stir back in to the rest of the milk.
Add 12 drops of rennet.
Store for 24 hours in a warm place.
Drain liquid through cheese cloth.
Remove cloth, put in bowl, chill.
Nothing about what kind of milk.
I tried 1% milk first. I heated it til it got bubbles. Bubbles = boiling, right? I've always been a sort of fly-by-seat-of-pants kind of cook. Measuring is for wimps.
Added the starter, and the rennet, and turned the heat off and ignored it for 24 hours.
It didn't turn out so well - gritty and dryish.
Read some more - bought skim milk this time. Paid attention to the thermometer this time - didn't judge by bubbles alone. Brought it to 90 degrees celsius, and then let it cool to 40 degrees. Added the skyr starter, and then the rennet. I used less rennet this time (only 9 drops) - other recipes suggested an inverse relationship between the amount of milk and rennet. More milk, less rennet.
I also had trouble finding rennet. I ended up with a vegetarian rennet from a health food store. I don't know enough about the chemistry to know if this matters but I do know that rennet in it's original form is certainly not vegetarian!
I made more effort to keep this second batch warm during it's waiting time, not ignoring it entirely.
The first batch, I squeeze dried. This second batch, I just found a way to hang it in it's cheesecloth and let it drip for a few hours.
Second batch - skyr! Soft, creamy, tasty!
Pictures? turned out awful. Either the flash overexposed it, or turning off the flash underexposed it, and I didn't like the "fixes" in the photoshop.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
One Local Summer 2008, Week 1
Bacon and Eggs for lunch.
Bacon is from Well Fed Food in Ayr - it's a neat little farm store that is gathering meat from local farmers that it believes feeds their meat decently during it's lifespan. Ayr is 25km from us.
Eggs, cheese and tomatoes - Eggs are from Elmira, tomatoes are greenhouse grown in Elmira, and cheese is both organic and from Millbank.
Millbank is 28km, and Elmira is 26km.
Spices used in the eggs: basil, organo, paprika, rosemary and fennel. The basil and oregano are from my own garden - 0km. The others are not local, but by the end of the year, the fennel will be from my own garden - the plant is enormous already.
Later this week, I'm going to ponder the idea of local eating and how I define local, and talk about my first attempt to make skyr (an Icelandic delight that we can't easily get in Canada).
Monday, June 2, 2008
A garden party has been suggested, and I like the idea, for mid-July. At the moment, I'm not sure I'll be able to make it happen or be content with my garden by then.
Time will tell.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
otherwise referred to as here.... (note the red arrow, picture taken earlier in the day)
When a 6.1 scale earthquake hit near the town of Selfoss, only about 50 Km away. We certainly felt it up there on the platform!
Afterwards, the nice lady in the visitor centre wouldn't let us go back down the walkway on the continental divide for fear of falling rocks.
Our hotel is at the bottom. One of the Reykjavik Excursions tour buses gave us a lift back down via the roads that don't go through big rocks.
We're a little shaken, but not stirred.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
This is Ragnarr - his tag tells us his name and address (next door). We opened the door to our room and found Ragnarr walking toward us. We assumed he'd gotten in via an open window (no European place to date seems to believe in screens) and couldn't find his way out so we escorted him out the door.
A few hours later he was back at the window, wanting in. So we let him in and spent an hour or two watching him curl up on a bed and go to sleep. When we wanted to go to sleep we pushed him out into the cool world to find his way home - cruel, I know.
I've been looking for him this evening, but he seems to have abandoned us.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Iceland, with pictures
A few days ago, on Thursday I think it was, we arrived in Iceland. We wandered around a bit, went up to the bell tower of Hallgrimskirkja, had a delightful dinner at a place called the Tivoli and crashed. On friday, we hit some highlights in Reykjavik. The Reykjavik 871±2 exhibit, the National Museum and the Saga Museum at the Perlan.
The Reykjavik 871±2 exhibit is very new. When the Hotel Centrum demolished an old building in the heart of the city to build a new hotel, they discovered the remains of a viking longhouse under it's foundations.
In 2006, the exhibit opened under the hotel. The stone walls of the house are still there, but they are difficult to photograph. The lighting is very low level in the exhibition. This is mostly to accentuate the high tech stuff they use around the foundations.
They have these neat little mini-screens around the walls that are motion activated. When you get near one, it turns on - this one has a ghostly blacksmith pounding on his anvil.
There is an interactive computer screen that takes you through what a longhouse might have looked like and how it was constructed. You create the different sections of construction as you move your finger around the control panel.
There were also computer touch screens with more conventional written texts on genealogy, the evolution of the language, foodstuffs, animals and textiles in the Viking Age. There were some artefacts in display boxes, and also an interactive computer table model of the longhouse.
Overall, decently impressive but unexpectedly high tech for the Viking Age.
The National Museum, on the other hand......
This is the only picture they would allow us to take. Just inside the front door. It's impressive architecture, this new building, but that's where it stops.
No photos allowed, no artefact numbers in the display cases, very little information on any given piece. The museum text was written to provide context, without specific details.
And then we ended the day with a visit to the Saga Museum at the Perlan. No pictures allowed at this place either, but I didn't mind as much. There were no artefacts - it's life-sized figurines in fixed tableaux, mixed with an audio tour. The audio tour was quite decent, but the figurines reminded me of the wrinkly people.
Saturday, we went on the "Golden Circle" tour of Iceland, offered by Reykjavik Excursions.
The first stop was Kerið - a 6 thousand year old extinct volcano crater with a lake in the middle. Some tourist types got caught on film, together even.
Gullfoss is their "Queen" of waterfalls, tumbling down a deep gorge. It's hard to describe or even understand Iceland sometimes - this waterfall is a good example. I took lots of pictures of it - this is the best overall one. But it doesn't let know you the sheer pounding force of it, or that you can almost climb right up to it. Do you see that ledge that the arrow is pointing at? We were walking on it.
Iceland doesn't yet have (and I hope they never do) North America's sheer paranoia about safety and lawsuits. The "safety" barrier is a rope about six inches off the ground, and Neil and I couldn't decide whether they were trying to say "past this point is unsafe for you" or "don't ruin our waterfall by making these rocks fall in with you".
The Geysir area is a geo-thermal field where hot springs bubble and geysirs burst. Little geysir here mostly just spurts a bit now and then, but you can see the guide rope, it's name and the geysir - "go past this guiderope and you are stupid and deserve whatever you get" seems to be all they need.
We spent some time on this geysir, trying to get just the right shot at it's moment of bursting. There's this strange luminescence in the water just as it bursts. This one is called Strokkur and it bursts pretty much every 5 minutes.
This is Strokkur at it's height.
And last, but not least, Þingvellir National Park. We'll be spending two days up there near the end of the week so expect to hear more about it then. Þingvellir is the place where the Norse gathered every year to hold their Alþing (central meeting where disputes were settled and laws made).
Sunday.....we went on the "Saga Circle" tour - which bored me quite a bit more then I expected. It was a long trip (maybe it's just that two in a row of these trips isn't a good idea), in a cramped bus, with a guide alternating between "Scandinavian" (a mixture of Swedish an Norwegian) and English so seamlessly that I couldn't easily tell when to wake up and start listening again.
I thought the tour would touch on Viking stuff but apparently Saga stuff is something only sort of related. The highlights of this tour were the icelandic poppies at the Snorri Sturlson (an important 13th century saga writer) museum.....
.........and Deildartunguhver, the largest hot spring in the northern hemisphere.