Tag Archives: homestead

Home is Where the Travel Books Live (Photo 101)

Way back when I was a regular blogger I took up various ‘one a day’ challenges and found the discipline of coming up with a daily post both fun and useful. This month I am busy with a ton of writing assignments, so I thought it might be cool to participate in the WordPress Photography 101 course as, in theory, it might be faster to let those photos speak a thousand words on my behalf. The challenge today is to capture the idea of “Home” in an image.

Books - the cheapest travel tickets around...

Books – the cheapest travel tickets around…

Of course, the minute I started thinking about this theme I realized the answer wasn’t going to be quite as simple as photographing my front door. I currently call Vancouver Island my home, but for many, many years as I was growing up my family was constantly on the move. At some point when I was in  my early 20s Dad and I sat down to try to count up all the addresses where I had lived and we came up with 53. Our homes ranged from a tiny cabin in Banff where a grizzly sow and her cubs went through our garbage every morning to an apartment above a Chinese restaurant in Ontario (by then I had left home and was working as a dog catcher). From England to Australia, Fort McMurray to Vancouver, Fort Lauderdale to Guelph my homes ranged from simple to fancy, in great neighbourhoods and not so great neighbourhoods, on islands, in cities, or in the countryside.

Though the view outside our front door changed on a regular basis (as an artist and a photographer, Dad and Mom were pretty free to live wherever they fancied), some things remained constant. One was our family (we were a remarkably stable lot, considering our wandering ways) and another was our dedication to schlepping boxes of books all over the world.

Whenever we moved into a new place I would feel somewhat ungrounded until I started to unpack my books. I still have one of the very first books I was ever given, the Daily Mail’s Pictorial Animal Book. 

This one still has pride of place on the shelf, though it shares real estate with several thousand other titles...

This one still has pride of place on the shelf, though it shares real estate with several thousand other titles…


The idea of home and what it is and what it isn’t has long fascinated me and sooner or later, themes like this eventually find their way into my writing. Not long ago my daughter and I wrote a book called Take Shelter about the many different kinds of dwellings people live in all over the world. In the introduction I talk about my books and the way that unpacking them always made me feel at home.

Take Shelter

Ironically, some of my favourite books are those with travel themes because even though a good chunk of my life was somewhat unsettled, I have always loved to be on the move. A well-packed suitcase is a kind of home away from home, the essentials of life neatly organized in a way my life in my actual home rarely is.

These days my suitcase is usually a little lighter than in the past. I no longer have to pack half a dozen books just to be sure I have something on hand to suit my reading mood – the miracle of the modern e-reader means I can travel with a veritable library. But I always pack a paperback of some sort anyway – batteries die, devices get dropped overboard, electronic devices get stolen. Books, in all their clunky, heavy, awkward, prone-to-sogginess-when-read-in-the-bathiness are solid between the fingers. Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of them.

If this post seems a little, um… illogical – that’s perhaps because these two sides of my life and personality are fundamentally incompatible. On the one hand I love, love, love my books – putting them on shelves, reorganizing them, adding to the collection, culling the collection – stacking, dipping, flipping, browsing, reading, delving, devouring those books which are also some of my longtime companions… On the other hand, there are few things I like more than turning my back on my bookshelves, and checking that my passport, my plane ticket, and my comfortable shoes are packed in my bag. And that paperback, of course. Can’t leave home without that…

V is for Victoria-Vancouver-Victoria and a Victory over Violence

On Sunday I had a quick business meeting over in Vancouver. Saturday night I slept in the truck once again, still on piglet watch with Olivia. Sunday morning down on the farm started a bit earlier than usual because of my ferry departure, but was otherwise completely normal. No piglets. No nesting. Full teats, but she’s had those for a while now. So off I went thinking I was in for another night in the truck after I returned.

I took the 9am ferry over to the mainland and was just about to drive off the boat when a text came in from LS, who is visiting from Berlin and holding the fort while I was away. Olivia, according to LS, was behaving strangely. He sent a couple of photos of her pen. She had been busy in the couple of hours since I left the farm. She had stripped leaves from the bushes in her run and scattered them around in her bed inside the safety pen. She dragged in mouthfuls of sticks and twigs and added them. She rooted around and fluffed up the hay from underneath the fresh debris and mixed it all together. Olivia was nesting!!

photo (20)


LS summoned T (soon-to-be-SIL), who has been present for a couple of prior farrowings… There followed the most stressful series of texts as I headed into my meeting, made a presentation, and politely declined a lunch invitation (“Sorry! Must race back to the ferry – Olivia is in labour!!)

I made it back to the terminal in time to catch the 1pm boat, flew into the house at 3:10, pulled off my meeting clothes, pulled on my grubbies and rubber boots and raced down the hill. The guys had done a fabulous job of setting everything up – the heat lamp was positioned over two nursery boxes (used to contain the piglets as they awaited the arrival of their siblings), fresh towels were at the ready, Olivia was in her safety pen, the wet leaves and sticks had been removed and replaced with clean, dry hay (which she had been reorganizing all day).

The first piglet arrived at 4:01. Olivia lost her mind, leaped to her feet, spun around, and tried to kill it. This pattern was repeated every 15 minutes or so for the next couple of hours, but because of the new safety pen, each piglet was plucked out of the pen before Olivia could do any damage to either the piglets of to any of us [thanks to earlier helpers MC and SP, who built the pen after long discussions about crazy sows. Now that we know it works, I’ll post a how-to article soon with more details of what we came up with as a solution to porcine matricide.] By 6:30 pm we had 11 healthy piglets – 6m and 5f. We were feeling pretty smug at this point and settled in to await the expulsion of the placenta, knowing from experience that she would have no interest in nursing the piglets until that was done. It took some time and some massaging of her teats to stimulate contractions, but in due course it arrived just fine.

By now it was after 9pm and we began the process of trying to introduce the piglets for nursing. At which point we were thwarted by Olivia’s ridiculous (and terrifying) insistence on pouncing on any piglet that wandered anywhere near her. She ate a meal, we let her outside to stretch her legs and relieve herself – she paced and turned and nested and lay down and got up and steadfastly refused to have anything to do with nursing. Her attacks were slightly less vicious, though – she was tossing piglets aside but not savaging them any more – only two had superficial bite wounds and those were from earlier in the evening.

The piglets were all in good shape and warm under the heat lamp, so at about midnight we decided to stop stressing everyone and get a few hours sleep. In the past, we’ve had some luck with sows figuring things out without anyone being around. The piglets had already figured out how to escape from the safety pen (by slipping under the lower rail) so we left them to it and headed for the house…

Which is where I will leave this post because if I had a terrible night, tossing and turning and fretting and wondering what I would find in the morning (piles of crumpled bodies? a contented sow suckling her young?) then it seems only right you should suffer the uncertainty along with me for a short time… Fear not, as soon as there’s another break around here I’ll finish the story…


T is for Teeny, Tiny Tractor

It may be modest in size, but our little lawn tractor has been chugging around the farmlet for years. Here, ME is hauling a load of soiled hay from the goat pen down to the new potato beds.

T, is also for Truck… Yesterday, I was speaking at a school in Shawnigan Lake and one of the teachers mentioned she had been reading the blog. Not having read any more about the piglet watch, she assumed the piglets had arrived and I was once again sleeping in the house. Alas, no. As in, no piglets. Yes, to still sleeping in the truck and getting up to check on Olivia every couple of hours. T, needless to say, is also for Tired.

Garden Nemesis: The Evil Himalayan Blackberry!

I’d sure like to have a word with the chumps who carefully packed seeds or canes or whatever they brought with them from the Old Country and then carefully cultivated new Himalayan Blackberry patches in land formerly unplagued by these monstrous beasts. Apparently, (at least according to the Royal BC Museum website) the fool who muled them here in 1885 was an American botanist! Surely a botanist should have known better?????

Expect to see a lot of this kind of action around here over the next little while...

Expect to see a lot of this kind of action around here over the next little while…

Yes, the berries are sweet and delicious and wonderful for making jam and pie (I believe that was the original motivation for import), but are they worth the havoc the dense thickets are wreaking on our native species? The stands of lacerating canes are so dense and vigorous it doesn’t take long to choke and/or shade out whatever might otherwise be growing (Garry Oak groves, for example).

Fighting the prickly canes is a miserable task. Anyone who believes plants can’t think (plot/scheme/have it in for us) hasn’t fought with barbed tendrils that wrap around you, entwining your entire body in search of exposed skin or, even better, loose hair, or even better than that, a key artery.

Blackberries be gone!

Is there anyone who is happy about this abundance of invaders? Indeed, yes – the goats! Unfortunately, the area we are clearing at the moment isn’t one that I can easily fence or we’d just let the goats come in and strip the canes. They happily wade right into the nastiest of thickets, noshing all the way and will eat all but the oldest, toughest stalks when given half a chance. After they are done, the hogs are great at using their powerful snouts to dig out the roots, which they eat with gusto. Such a shame this isn’t really a livestock-friendly area. Not wanting the creatures to be left out of all the fun, I hauled several wheelbarrows full down to the goat pen and they were happy to help us out with a bit of pre-compost processing.

Alas, it’s up to us humans to first hack the beasts off at the knees and then get in there and dig out as much of the roots as we can.

Chickens at WorkThe red layers love helping whenever we are out in the garden. They race over and see what we might have dug up. They are very good at taking care of slugs and bugs and also turning over the top layer of soil while fertilizing and are great to run through garden areas at this time of year when the annuals are done and there isn’t much they can damage.

Soon, though, when we re-seed the lawn and put in our new rockery they will have to move down to the poultry field with their fancy rolling house and take their place with the other birds. I’ll miss not having them so close to the house, though it will be great not tripping over six or seven at a time as they vie for the opportunity to untie my shoelaces and peck at my calves every time I go outside!

Wordless Wednesday – Dogs and Hogs

Oh. My. Busyness. Thank goodness it is still Wednesday and I can get away with posting a couple of recent photos of the dogs and my wayward piglet bonding. Such shenanigans are over for the moment as I have fixed the hot wire, but the inter-species chit-chat was entertaining while it was going on!

[For regular blog followers, note this series was shot on the same day that Fritz Frizzle disappeared… you can see him scuttling off into the distance in the animated gif…]

Pippi, Tuulen, and the adventurous piglet, bonding

Pippi, Tuulen, and the adventurous piglet, bonding



"I want that apple!" "No, I want that apple!"  "My apple!" "No! My apple!"

“I want that apple!”
“No, I want that apple!”
“My apple!”
“No! My apple!”

The piglet won this little contest, btw – a moment later she snatched up the apple and retreated a few steps, where she gulped it down. This, of course, sent Tuulen into a fit of whining and complaining and shooting me looks that clearly said, “How do you expect me to compete when I’m tied up?!”