Monthly Archives: December 2013

Waiting – Could a New Year Be Just Around the Corner?

Waiting for spring...

Waiting for spring…

2013 is on the way out the door and I find myself in an odd restless state of waiting. Waiting… for something. The lengthening days make me eager for days long and warm enough to start planting. A change of the calendar page makes me want to start re-organizing, re-thinking the farm. (A break of a few days was a not-so-subtle reminder that every second of every day does not necessarily have to be spent working…) On a very practical level, we are waiting for visitors to arrive and travelling family members to return home.

After the short break over Christmas, it’s time to think about getting back to work on the newest book project (about trees – I am very excited! Expect some tree photos to pepper posts over the next while…). Though, when I think about work, I feel like I should move my desk out of my bedroom. Feng shui experts would be horrified to see me working away in my calm/resting space. There is a great spot, underutilized at the moment, in my new living room/dining nook where I could get set up. There are huge windows right in front of where I’d put my desk so I could look outside and keep an eye on the hens.

There are projects galore awaiting my attention, but the only way to make real headway is to stop. Take stock. Consider. Plan. And then move forward. See how things are going until the next stopping point comes along. Repeat.

Delicate LeavesSee you all next year!! 

[For anyone keeping NaBloPoMo score… I DID IT!! I can’t quite believe that somehow through all the chaos of this month I managed to spew something every day! Even better than the spewing, though, was the reading and friendship-forming while I was exploring all those other blogs! It has been a lot of fun to discover so many bloggers doing so many interesting things in far-flung corners of the globe. Thanks so much for visiting – I’m looking forward to continuing our conversations in 2014!]

Wintery Walk in Kelowna

Until we arrived, there hadn’t been a whole lot of snow in Kelowna. One afternoon, though, there was a sudden flurry, which sent me scurrying outside with a camera.

Lantern in SnowWith the heavy cloud cover and swirling snowflakes, both sound and light were muted and even without converting to black and white, the world did appear in soft shades of muted grey.

Tree BarkExcept, of course, these trees… I think they are Douglas Fir Ponderosa Pine trees, but maybe Kelowna locals (or tree buffs) can help me out [thank you Karen, for your comment. I knew someone would set me straight)! Brilliant red blistering hot against the cool backdrop – they were spectacular.

BarkClose-up, the bark seemed ancient and very alive surrounded by all that wintery dormancy.

It was such a pleasure to take a good camera (thanks, Dad!) and wander around with no purpose other than to take a few photos. Though my iphone is great and does an amazing job of capturing the many moments of the everyday, it’s a whole other experience to be outside looking, looking, looking. Everything seems suddenly fascinating in a way I rarely take time to notice.

Icy WaterNote to self: More photo walks next year, please. That was fun!

Enter an Airport, Enter an Altered State of Reality

There is something distinctly unnatural about air travel. One minute you are doing your usual thing seeing how many boxes of brussels sprouts stalks and slightly soft apples and pumpkins you can squeeze into the back of the pickup truck for the hogs and the next minute you are in some other time and place with other people, other routines, other everything…

Dad and I popped up to Kelowna to visit family for a few days and arrived back late last night only to experience another round of slight discombobulation.

Of course, it didn’t help that I slept in a room (my lovely nephew’s) that really does look like some other kind of reality…

Welcome to the strange world of Minecraft...

Welcome to the strange world of Minecraft…... not that I know the first thing about the world of Minecraft... But it does look kind of cool. … not that I know the first thing about the world of Minecraft… But it does look kind of cool when you are sleeping in a bunk bed inside it. This is what happens, btw, when my dad doesn’t leave his paintbrushes at home when he goes on an extended visit to young relatives. Last time he did this I believe some Disney princess castles appeared on a niece’s wall…

Perhaps the oddest moment of this trip occurred when I was debating whether or not to put the turkey in my packed bag or carry on suitcase. I had a vision of the interrogation as I tried to get the bird through security screening:

Them: M’am – what’s that in your bag?

Me: Turkey.

Them: Who are you calling a turkey?

Me: You’re arresting me for the use of the word turkey?

Things could have gone terribly wrong in a hurry. And, what if they insisted on a cavity search?

Dad, of course, found this scenario highly amusing... out came the sketchbook as we were waiting for our flight.

Dad, of course, found this scenario highly amusing… out came the sketchbook as we were waiting for our flight. I can just hear the latex gloves snapping…

In the end, the bird travelled in steerage and arrived at the other end unscathed. We enjoyed a lovely dinner a day later and soup and sandwiches until it was time to come home.

It was all rather delightful, sleeping in and not worrying about toting bales or mucking paddocks for a few days. Many thanks to K., my delightful and efficient farm-sitter. You are worth your weight in golden eggs!

What’s the Farmer Reading? Wise Acres

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Wise Acres, by Michael Kluckner

You would think that given a few minutes for purely recreational reading I might pick up a satisfying work of historical fiction or a glorious coffee table book full of photos of horses in exotic locales, or something… But no, I reached straight for Wise Acres, by Michael Kluckner, a memoir about a middle aged couple who sell their place in the city and buy a tiny farm not that far from Vancouver.

Like any good memoirist, Kluckner (who is also an artist) can write about the most mundane of subjects and make them interesting and, even better, often funny. The creatures on his farm (sheep, geese, hens, ducks, cats, etc.) are wonderful characters, each with a personality, a history, and a particular relationship with the author. These are not numbers and quotas and pounds of meat on the hoof but sources of companionship and entertainment as much as sustenance.

Of course, this means Kluckner is constantly struggling to find a way to balance his sentimental side with the practical and it is perhaps this aspect of the book and Kluckner’s story that I found most compelling. Certainly, I struggle with having too soft a heart for someone who raises animals for meat and at various points as I read I found myself nodding and sighing, thinking how much easier my life would be if I lived in the city and was a vegetarian.

Kluckner spends the most time talking about his sheep operation, which was simultaneously instructive, reassuring, and a tad horrifying to someone like me who is quite new to shepherding.

Woodblock prints by Kluckner illustrate each chapter (for those interested in Kluckner’s art, visit his website for more images). A thoroughly enjoyable read, Wise Acres will appeal to city folk thinking of moving out to the country and country folk wondering whether it might be time to cash in the sheep and return (or move on) to a more urban existence.

What freezes faster? Cold or warm water?

This question has been tormenting me since I was a student in Banff Elementary School and a teacher asked us what would happen if you put two identical containers outside in the snow. The first container held hot water, the second cold. Which would freeze faster?

We all offered our opinions and explanations why the cold water would obviously freeze faster. The teacher, though, wouldn’t provide any sort of answer or further information, but instead said nebulous things like, “The obvious answer isn’t always the correct one.” By the tone of voice, we were all made to feel a bit stupid, but the teacher didn’t enlighten us, and then a weekend came and went and then we were on to other problems.

Recently, this came up again when The Belmont Rooster commented on a blog post that hot water freezes faster than cold (this in the context of me putting out hot water for the critters during a recent chilly snap) and this then led to a series of very informative comments and a couple of great links from my favourite Iowans of Jar Blog and Catbird Quilt Studios fame.

Thinking that maybe I was not the only one to wonder about this matter, here is my summary of what I think I now understand about the whole hot versus cold water issue.

First, though there have been a number of experiments done demonstrating that in fact, under certain conditions warm water will freeze faster than cold water, there is no consensus as to the exact mechanism by which this happens. Which might explain why my teacher, way back when, was unable to give a clear explanation of why we were all idiotically guessing the wrong, but seemingly obvious answer.

The effect (and this is intriguing to someone who writes books for kids) is known as the Mpemba effect after a high school student in Tanzania by that name noticed how fast hot fluids froze back in 1963. Not that this was the first time the phenomenon had been observed. Aristotle noted that people who wanted to fast-freeze water first stood it in the sun for a bit to warm it up… Others (Bacon, Marliani, Descartes) also observed the same thing, but somehow, this was relegated to urban legend status until Mpemba was in a hurry to make ice cream at his high school. A scarcity of fridge space meant he rushed to put his hot milk and sugar mix into the freezer before the milk had cooled. When he noticed that the ice cream seemed to freeze faster, he asked his physics teacher what was going on and was basically told he was a fool and to stop making up his own brand of physics.

[I am not making this up, btw – the long version of events is described here. Thanks to Iowa Jim for the link…]

Several theories have been put forth and many experiments done, but it seems water is a magical and complicated substance and reasons for why this happens are slow to be revealed. If the only thing that mattered was how warm it was, then the answer to the speed of freezing question would be pretty straightforward. Cooler water would freeze faster because you wouldn’t have to cool it down first. But, it turns out you need to take into account things like the way properties of water change as it changes temperature.

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We all know that water changes shape, volume, and state when it gets cold, for example. Over-filing a jar with liquid, screwing on a lid, and then freezing it leads to trouble when the ice expands and breaks the glass. Trying to drink solid water in the form of ice is obviously not so easy. At the other end of the temperature scale, the stuff disappears and floats off into the atmosphere when you boil it, turning into some sort of misty haze that then magically condenses and turns back into drinkable liquid when it hits something cool.

These changes in property are dramatic and obvious – so why we don’t immediately think of warm water perhaps behaving differently to cool water is actually kind of interesting. The amount of gas dissolved in warm water is different to that in cold water. Convection currents occur as water cools (same idea as warm air rising) and some think that this causes the water to cool more efficiently. Then there is the matter of supercooling (when water gets colder than zero degrees C but doesn’t turn into ice) and whether this might occur at different rates for cold versus warm water.

There are also questions of the size, shape, and type of container, evaporation, and where the container is sitting (pour a lot of hot water into a bucket of chicken water sitting on the ground and it would melt the layer of frost or snow underneath, which could impact how fast the contents freeze).

The end result of all this is that nobody knows for sure why hot water freezes faster than cold, but often it does. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story to me is that some kid in Tanzania refused to let go of what he knew to be true even though all the adults who were supposed to know better (his physics teacher, for one) told him he was a fool. Perhaps I will add another theme word to my list for the coming year: PERSISTENCE.

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Oh, the Food!

Oh, how I love the way this season is all about the food!

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We kicked things off with a bang with our Holiday Cookie Exchange party on December 1st and it has been plain good eating ever since.

A couple of weeks ago I tested out a new super fast, super hot oven turkey recipe (with butter and maple syrup slathered between the breast skin and the breast) – it was so super fast it was ready before I had the veggies done, but was delish nonetheless.

For our family Christmas dinner I cooked up one of little turkey hens (about 8 lbs) the way my neighbour C. suggested – 350 degrees for a couple of hours with a bottle of beer added to the pan. I stuffed garlic butter under the skin, tented with oiled parchment and then foil, and uncovered for the last half hour. Oh. So. Juicy. Very, very good – Thanks, C.!

It will come as no surprise that two fave presents this year involved food… A frozen fruit dessert/sorbet maker that requires nothing but the addition of frozen fruit (though, you can add a bit of yogurt, if desired). What a great way to dessertify the bags of berries and apricots and plums we still have in the freezer! Also an excellent way to use up very ripe bananas, just pop the bananas (pre-peeled) into the freezer and then, when frozen, run them through along with whatever other fruity deliciousness you have on hand. Yum!

The other most excellent handy gadget (and, yes, I know I shouldn’t be quite so addicted to handy gadgets) was a gift I received – a Magic Bullet. Though the various blades can be used for all kinds of chopping and blending, my plan is to use it mostly for smoothies [though, the ‘grown-up’ beverages they describe in the accompanying booklet along with instructions for how to host a refreshingly fun party are intriguing…]. I have experimented with various other blender type devices but this seems to be particularly well thought out in terms of being able to make small quantities in the same container you are going to drink out of. So far I’ve only indulged in fruity versions, but I have plans for adding kale, carrots, and various protein options so my smoothies stick with me for a little longer than they tend to given my high energy outputs on an average day.

Right at the moment, I’m jotting these notes while making turkey stock for soup tomorrow.

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Too soon this season where food is front and center and nobody feels bad about food being front and center will move on into the New Year where so many people feel they need to to return to a relationship with food that centers on self-deprivation.

My food-related resolution will be this: more smoothies. And, to steal the theme word that will be getting a lot of airplay over in Catbird Quilt-land, EXPERIMENT. [Catbird Quilt Blog] Coconut oil. Sunflower seeds. Carrots. Parsnips. Maple syrup. Chocolate. Yes, chocoloate! I wonder what cool combinations I might be able to come up with in the smoothie department? I might have to re-listen to the An Organic Conversation podcast segment that was all about smoothies…

Which reminds me how much I enjoy their podcast. Are any of you podcast listeners? What are your favourites? I’ve loved the book and cookie recipe suggestions – how about some ideas for great podcasts I should be listening to while I muck out the horse paddocks and wash the hen eggs?

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Merry Christmas!

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Here’s wishing you a lovely holiday season with much festive feasting, fun, family, and full-on fabulosity!