I drove to my old hometown Friday evening, to attend a workshop on veggie growing for beginners. While I don't consider myself a brand new gardener, I still consider myself relatively inexperienced. Besides, I read that they would focus on a select group of vegetables, one of which was onions. Getting to know onions and to have a deep and everlasting relationship with them just happens to be my new years resolution. So off I went.
It was an informative evening, just not in the way I expected. It was more of a lecture series than a workshop; they had three guest speakers who spoke about soil preparation, seeds and succession planting. I did learn a thing or two, like whether I like it or not, if I want onions, I need to start them indoors. I had unsuccessful results transferring my onion seedlings last year and I was hoping I could take the other fork in the road this year. It appears that fate has other plans for me.
However, what I really found interesting was the reason for this public meeting. Our old hometown has joined a growing movement, called Towns in Transition, a movement that originates in England and is growing in Canada. There are over a dozen communities of various sizes, including some large cities across the country, that have joined up. Towns in transition is a group that is working to reduce their communities' dependence on oil and to become more resilient and independent. For this town, one of their first areas of focus is food supply. Should there be an oil crisis, the availability of food from a far off land will either be unattainable or at the very least unaffordable. Their efforts are to relearn the basic skills lost over the last few generations, skills from growing your own food to canning and storing food for the winter. They're also focusing on utilizing their good fortune of having a vast array of locally grown food in their own backyard. This town is literally cradled by a protected greenbelt, and if you had to live off what was produced there, you could do worse, much worse. The old farmhouse is in that greenbelt and over the last year I've come to appreciate just how much is produced here. I know that while I may not have conquered onions yet, and even if it takes me a few years, I know that I can still find them fresh...and local.
Thursday night found me at another meeting, the local beekeepers association held their first meeting of the year. It, too, was informative, but certainly not what I was expecting. I've been reading Marina Marchese's 'Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper'. Her first beekeepers meeting set the bar pretty high and while my group was friendly it was a little disjointed for those who were attending for the first time. Unlike Marina's meeting, there was no raffle for beekeeping equipment, no honey swap or honey samples to try but rather there were elections for the 2010 executive, a lot of socializing as the group hadn't met since November and a lot of discussion on topics ranging from the size of a white board to whether it was necessary to purchase a microphone. There certainly wasn't the plethora of information for someone who knows nothing about beekeeping that I was expecting. If I stick around, which I think I will, as they do have some interesting guest speakers lined up over the coming months, I may offer up some suggestions, once I have a little experience under my belt to offer to a 'newbee' like myself someday.
It wasn't all bad; I received recommendations on where to buy my beekeeping equipment and thanks to some advice I've sourced out my hive supplier and will put my order in this week. There are two groups holding courses this spring that both came highly recommended, they're hands on and teach all the basics however one is already full and the other has a waiting list. I've been mulling things over the last few days. Do I want to go into this with the chance that I may not have any formal training? Should I wait until next year? Can I really do this, now? I think I can. There are lots of resources online, hopefully I'll learn more at future beekeeping meetings and I've been reading anything I can get my soon to be stung hands on. I moved to the country to do things, not to sit around and wait to do it someday. Someday may never come.
For a shy gal from the city, I've ventured off to two meetings on my own, removing myself far from my comfort zone. If I can do that, certainly, I can figure out how to keep a hive of bees alive and buzzing. See what moving to the country has done to me? Who knows where this could lead.
I thought I would share last weeks finds...old castoffs are new additions to the old farmhouse. I think that's what I like most about thrifting. Yes, the prices are good but in my books, reusing is so much better than always buying new. I guess that explains why I live in a 150 year old home.
During the time the old farmhouse was constructed, the popularity of the camera was on the rise. However, it's rather unlikely that the first inhabitants of the old farmhouse had the need or the time for photographic portraits. While I am sure within ten or twenty years that would have changed due to the low cost of photography, up until then the common type of portraiture was the silhouette.
Think Jane Austen...
When I put it that way, it's hard to resist, isn't it?
I have no doubts that there were silhouettes in the old farmhouse during the second half of the 19th century. I also think it highly unlikely there were many, if any, during the 20th century. For that reason, I have done my part to rectify things around the old farmhouse for the 21st century.
There are lots of instructions to be found online on how to make your own silhouette, so I won't go deep into details, however, I will tell you that I found my inspiration from Sasha over at Lemonade Makin Mama. You can go here for details.
I picked up frames for $2 a piece at the dollar store and some card stock. I decided to shake things up a bit by choosing a paper with white and black for a border and it was a really good excuse to make it look a little more francais, n'est pas?
And if that wasn't cool enough, I also had the good fortune of a having a computer savvy artist on the premises. He took my photos like these...
and then did his magic in Photoshop...
and then he carefully cut out the image...
and when he was done, I had these adorable keepsakes.
When I was young, my school teachers had, what seemed to me, an odd habit of casting me in a prominent role for the school Christmas concert each year; it was probably their way of bringing the shy girl out of her shell. In grade one, I was Wiggle Worm and in grade four, I was the angel announcing the birth of baby Jesus. While in grade two, I was cast as Mary, Mary Quite Contrary. I tip toed around the stage, pretending to water beautiful gardens while the class stood lined up in rows behind me, asking, "Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?" And I replied, well, I think you know how I replied. Although, I still have no idea what a cockle shell is.
Maybe it was a sign of things to come, maybe it spurred me on to enjoy gardening. Gardening, where I now have a yard large enough that I can grow something besides shade loving plants, where I can grow my own veggies, and where I can grow things that I never contemplated in the city. Yes, that is why I moved to the country.
And just in case you wanted to know but were afraid to ask, a Wiggle Worm, is a worm made from circles of construction paper placed strategically along the top of the classroom wall until it wraps around the entire room. That year, each time someone in the class read a book, up went a circle and as Wiggle Worm grew, he had more circles with the name Andrea than any other name.
And, yes, I am still a bookworm and sometimes, if you watch closely, I wiggle.
A few days after the wedding in August, the stacked washer/dryer combo, that came with the old farmhouse, conked out on us. The drum on the washer was a write off. It seemed anyone who was even willing to repair it, told us it wasn't worth the cost of fixing. This wasn't an expense we had planned on and the timing was lousy, however, it turned out to be a blessing. The original unit was small, too small for a family of four. Let's face it, I was doing six or seven loads of laundry a week and after a year I had actually become accustomed to this. Oy!
The Artist did the usual internet research he does before making any large purchase and within a few days we had made our choice. As we began our search, we knew we wanted a front load washer. Common sense told us we wanted to use less water, not only for environmental reasons but also because we're on a well, and as country folk know, water, especially from a well, can be a precious commodity. What really surprised us, was how fast the front load washers spin. The saleslady demonstrated the fastest spin cycle on the model we had chosen and I'm pretty sure the engineers at NASA could learn a thing or two from washing machine manufacturers.
A week later the machines were delivered and the old unit was hauled away as I worked at the kitchen sink, my back to the door. I didn't even turn around to say goodbye.
A month later, the Artist, started commenting on the odor of our bath towels. I'll admit, he has a very strong sense of smell, or maybe my olfactory glands have bit the dust because he is always smelling 'things' that completely bypass my nostrils. This time however, I was in on the game; I could smell it too and every day the smell got worse, much worse. Our towels stunk. Initially, we wrote it off as being a side effect from the machine being new, it would go away in a week or two. It didn't. We searched on line, received advice, apparently it's a common dilemma with front load washing machines.We tried using less soap, rinsing twice, and using different soaps. The Artist claimed he was sure it was the suds inhibitor in the high efficiency soap that was causing the smell. Some ideas worked, but they never seemed to completely eradicate the smell, even for me. And it was getting gross; who wants to dry off with a smelly towel?
We decided it was time to take matters into our own hands, literally. Well kind of. No, we haven't resorted to washing with a scrub board by hand. What we have done is make our own laundry soap. I read about it in the Ecoholic by Adria Vasil and I read that Jayme from Tales from the Coop Keeper made her own and the Artist found a bunch of recipes here. Everywhere we turned we found inspiration, we considered it a sign.
We started with these basic ingredients. Washing soda, Borax, which I had on hand for making bath bombs, and bar soap which acts as a natural suds inhibitor, important for front load machines. This Italian soap was what was available at our grocery store and has a lovely smell, that doesn't over power the clean laundry.
First, we grated the laundry soap.
For each cup of grated soap, add a cup of Borax
and a cup of washing soda.
Stir together until the grated soap has blended well.
We did a test batch, 1 cup of each ingredient to make sure it would work and we put our recipe through the ringer...we tested it on our towels.
2 tablespoons are all that's required for a load of laundry.
Then we let her rip...and waited.
Some of us were better at waiting than others.
Then, finally, the towels were dry.
And the magnificent and highly keen nose of the Artist was put to work.
Our new laundry soap passed with flying colours.
I've done laundry all weekend, and everything has smelled fresh and clean but there is no overpowering fake chemical smell. That's a plus in my books. The other great thing was that that bar of laundry soap when grated was the equivalent of 6 cups of flakes. When added to the Borax and the washing soda, we have a lot of laundry soap for pennies a load.
Moving to the country, I knew, would allow me to get my fill of old barns and tractors, view beautiful farmhouses and their gardens and drive along windy roads cloaked by large, stately trees. Sometimes, however, I'm surprised and happy when I discover a hidden gem in the country that I hadn't ever contemplated of dreaming about before.
Over the Christmas holidays, we visited a little pottery shop down the highway from our nearby village. I don't know about you but I love pottery. I really admire anyone who can create such beautiful objects on a wheel that spins and then decorate them in beautiful and creative displays of colour. Pottery also has a certain old world charm to it; I can image the old farmhouse has seen lots of pottery in it's time.
My original commute, when we first moved to the old farmhouse, took me past this little shop every day. In the winter, it was still dark in the morning and I loved to see their spectacular Christmas light display; plus they helped me find my turn as I navigated those back roads for the first time.
Inside the studio, there are three large rooms with lots of work on display although it is rather pricey; I spent most of my time admiring the seconds shelf. This wasn't the surprise though. I knew this shop was here, long before we packed our bags and headed off for country living. No, what surprised me, was the genteel, charming cafe attached to the studio. We went for lunch and this was the view from my seat.
Beautiful stained glass windows, charming Christmas decorations and look at the tables. Everything is pottery, made right there at the studio. See the wine goblets? Coffee mugs, plates, bowls, the cutest little teapots...it was all pottery.
On a cold winter's day, I had the best seat in the house.
Look..pottery salt and pepper shakers, and a little jar of sugar, I believe. My iced tea was rimmed with a large band of sugar; it was very tasty. And the food you ask? I do need to get over my thing of photographing my food because you really should have seen it. Their specialty is quiche and it was amazing. I've never had the urge to make quiche before. Now I want to eat quiche every day. I need chickens. Sigh.
Afterward, we toured the grounds. A return trip in the summer to view the gardens is a must. Look at this charming fountain.
They had raised beds where they grow all of their own herbs for the cafe and they buy all of their produce, including eggs from local farms and I so love that.
Is there a little place you drive by and always say to yourself, I should go in their some day? If there is, I urge you to pop inside, even for a little visit. Who knows how delighted you may be if you do.
Going out the backdoor and doing a little of this...
...a few times around the pond. Then maybe a trip around the fields to the back woods.
All you need are skis and snow.
Did I mention winter has forsaken us this year?
Good thing I have photographs to remind me of what winter is supposed to look like, this time of year, around the old farmhouse.
The male twin, last year, full into his x-country groove.
Cross country skiing is a great way to get your heartbeat up, enjoy the sunshine and take in some fresh air during the winter months. If you're a runner and you can't get out to run, try changing up your routine with a little skiing. You'll be hooked in no time. You don't need to live in the country, although I admit, it sure is handy. There are lots of groomed trails around, provided you live in an area where there's snow. Somewhere, obviously, far from where I live.
Last week Dandy, from Spontaneous Clapping was concerned about being able to rent skates at the pond. Don't worry. We have a supply of extra skates, lots of skis, and, if you're so inclined, hockey equipment. What did you expect, this is Canada, eh!