Saturday, December 10, 2011

In praise of hot flashes

I've spent most of my life being cold.  Now, I've reached the age when I have hot flashes, and I just love them, especially in winter.  I'll often wait inside until a hot flash hits, then run outside to do some chores.  The feel of the icy air on my skin is exquisite--something I never thought I'd say.

Today, I saw Monty waiting near the well, which is his way of asking for a drink, so I went out to give him some water.  This is a job that Floyd always does with me.  He likes me to throw the last bit of water in the bucket for him so he can chase and bite it.

I carried a drink to Monty...

but it seems he really only wanted a kiss!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wild Mountain Woman

Charles is doing a new music video for Laura Kelsey.  The song is called "Wild Mountain Woman", and Laura wrote it after moving here from the city and being inspired by the women of the Cariboo.

You have to be pretty tough to live out here. Even the most pampered women still need to deal with long nights, frigid temperatures, icy roads, and power outages.  There are women in my neighbourhood who run traplines, hunt with bows, operate excavators or fix their own tractors, and tend livestock at -40, on top of having the more traditional "womanly" skills of gardening, preserving food, or knitting.

About 30 of our local wild mountain women met for the filming. All of them are tough, resourceful, and enthusiastic.  We met at a local lake, where we had a great time shooting the video and then had a bit of a party, eating chili by a bonfire.  The whole afternoon, we were joined by a family of otters who popped up through a hole in the lake ice to eat fish and watch us.
View the video here:

Friday, December 2, 2011

The joys of shovelling

My routine changed suddenly with the first serious snowfall (6") yesterday.  With a sigh of relief, I abandoned all pretense of finishing yard and garden projects and retreated into my warm, cozy house.  Of course, I do have to go out occasionally to feed the animals, and to shovel snow.

Some day, maybe, I'll set up my life so that I don't need to go anywhere all winter and I won't need to keep the driveway clear.  I could also make enough money to hire someone to do it for me.  Or maybe not: if I didn't have all that shovelling out in the crisp, fresh air and sunshine, I might get out of shape and depressed from the lack of light.

I started my day by clearing around all the gates and making paths to the barn and the hay bales.  After a leisurely breakfast, I did the driveway and paths to the well, woodshed, and outhouse.  (Charles did help.)  By that time, the sun was blazing and I was in shirtsleeves.  I had to take lots of breaks to play with the dogs and eat snacks. What a nice day; I love snow.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Burn Piles

Driving home today through a half-inch of snow, I noticed four different places where burn piles had been set on fire.  Each one had a satisfied man tending it.  I got the feeling they'd had a hard time waiting until the first snow fell to light the fires. 

Burn piles are common around here.  They are built by hand or machine when trees are cut down for safety, for firewood, or in logging.  Everyone loves a good bonfire, but burn piles are mostly a guy thing, and you can tell something about a guy by looking at how he builds them.

An old pile in our field
Our friend John, for example, was a careful man who would never have lit a pile with only the first half-inch of snow on the ground.  He would have insisted on at least six inches before it was safe enough for him.  His burn piles were tall and narrow, constructed with only the unusable bits of tree left over after he had chopped the branches into kindling.  He covered them with squares of tarp to keep them dry as the snow piled up around them, and only lit them on a calm day.  John died over a year ago, and I'd give a lot to be able to see  one of his burn piles again.

Our own burn piles are very different.  They are tossed together carelessly and quite often never burned at all.  I like to think of little birds and animals taking refuge there, maybe building dens and raising families.  After a few years, the decaying leaves form enough compost for plants to take root and tangles of roses and wild raspberries grow up.  The goats eat on and around them, and they eventually disappear without any more effort from us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November pasture

The pasture is still looking pretty good, for November.  There are green shoots for the animals to find, so we're not feeding them their full hay ration yet.  We give them hay at night but let them go hungry in the morning for a while so they'll search out the good bits that they've missed before.

Monty is doing a good job of foraging.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Is your goat fat enough?

Dairy goats are odd-looking animals. They have huge stomachs to hold the huge amounts of roughage they need to eat.  Then, they convert all that roughage to milk and stay skinny.  It can be hard for someone who isn't really familiar with them to tell whether or not they are in good shape.  You can easily be fooled into thinking a goat is fat when it really isn't.

To tell how fat they are, you check two places. 

The first is the loin area, where you press with fingertips to see how much meat is on the bones on either side of the backbone.  A skinny goat will have very little, with the backbone sticking up.  An obese goat will have so much fat that you can hardly feel the bones and the backbone is in a depression.

The other place is at the breastbone, where she should have some fat covering the bone, but not so much that it forms rolls.

I feed my goats their grain ration on the milking stand, even if I'm not milking them, and take a second every day to check what shape they're in.  If they're losing weight, I increase their ration; if they're gaining too much weight, I decrease it, gradually.  By checking every goat every day and tailoring their grain ration to their needs, I make sure everyone in the herd is healthy no matter whether they are young or old, pregnant or not.  It only takes a second.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hay for the Winter

Our winter's supply of hay was delivered last night.  we bought 12 round bales, each about 6' in diameter and weighing over 1200 lb.  It's from the same farm that supplied us last year, at a cost of $120/bale, delivered.

In past years, we've had to pull each bale off the truck using our pickup and a long cable.  This time, it was much easier.  The hay arrived on a trailer that was equipped with a tilting deck and it was simply rolled off.  There was one frightening moment when one of the bales bounced off another and headed straight toward the spot where I stood with Floyd.  Actually, it didn't come that close, but we didn't wait around to make sure; we ran.

We're letting the goats and sheep free-feed on the bales.  Some years, this works, and some, it doesn't.  It depends on how tightly the bales are wrapped and how many animals we have.  So far, they're not making a big mess and I'm raking up just enough spilled hay to feed the horses (who are jealous and want to free-feed, too).  If the bales get too badly torn apart, we'll lock the herd out of the area where the hay is, and deliver a measured amount to them every day.  It's easier when they help themselves, though.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

North American Jungle Fowl

I've been busy getting ready for winter.  September and October have been beautiful with lots of blue skies.  The past week, though, the temperatures have been lower and it's really feeling like fall.

Our chick count has reached 58 with the appearance just last week of a hen with ten golden balls of fluff.  I don't know how we're going to cope with such huge numbers of birds as they grow.  The eldest are ready to lay.  In fact, they're probably laying already--but where?   The areas adjacent to my garden grow wild and there are uncountable hiding places for a young hen to stash her eggs.

My vegetable plants were big enough by the time of the hen and chick invasion that I didn't lose much to them, other than strawberries.  However, it may be chaos next spring if we don't take some drastic action.  Every time I go out to the garden, I see North American Jungle Fowl everywhere.  They're scratching through the manure I've spread, darting into the tall grass, playing hide-and-seek under bushes.  It shouldn't be any trouble keeping them in the barn when the ground is covered with three feet of snow, but come spring, I foresee all 58 will be back raiding the garden and raising hundreds of new babies.

I might have to give up gardening altogether and trade chicks for produce from my neighbours.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Two years ago, one of our finest milk goats died giving birth.  She left behind a beautiful doe kid that we named Dulcinea (latin for soft or sweet), a name that we usually shorten to Dulsa.  We wanted little Dulsa to have her emotional needs met, so we moved her into the house and spent 24 hours a day with her.

Dulsa proved to be easy to house train.  Within a week, she had learned not to pee in the house (we trained her the way you would a puppy) and not to jump on the furniture.  She also learned to ride in the truck and to be well-behaved in other people's houses.

After a couple of months, we gradually moved her out to the barn.  These days, she's almost always with the other goats, though she'll still come and visit on the porch sometimes.

The thought of breeding Dulsa scares me.  I'd hate to lose her the way we lost her mother.  It looks as though I can delay the decision to breed her now.  A couple of months ago, I noticed her udder looking fuller than a virgin doe's udder should be.  I put her on the milking stand and tried milking her.  Sure enough, I got a few squirts of milk.  I discarded the milk, but tried that evening and got slightly more.  The next morning, she gave a bit more again.  I started increasing her grain ration then.  After a few days, I tried the milk and it was delicious.
Now I'm getting about 3 quarts a day from her.  I've read about this (she's called a "precocious milker") but I've never come across one of these before.  It will be interesting to see how long this lactation lasts.  Both her mother and her grandmother were wonderful milkers with extended lactations.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wild blueberries

It's wild blueberry season.  These are the last of the berries, after the raspberries, saskatoons, huckleberries, and blackcurrants.  The blueberries have a lovely intense flavour and I love them best.

Here in the Cariboo, two kinds of wild blueberries grow.  One is a foot or so tall and has upward-facing fruit which are nice but a bit bland.  The best ones are on the tiny low-bush plants.  These grow only a few inches high and hide their tiny berries beneath their leaves, so they aren't easy to pick, but they're worth the trouble.

All my goatwalking these days is in places where the wild blueberries grow.  The goats eat some and trample some, but there are so many that I manage to fill my container every day anyway.  I pick for two or three days, then can a batch.  If I keep this up all month, I'll end up with a really good supply of canned berries to last the winter.
  • Fill small canning jars with blueberries.
  • Pour boiling hot light syrup over the berries to 1/2" from the top of the jars.  I use a syrup made from 1 cup sugar to 8 cups water.
  • Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Getting lost goatwalking

I got lost today while out goatwalking.  It was a frightening feeling, and a good reminder for me.

I started off planning to go to a meadow just across the road, where the wild blueberries are thick on the ground.  After an hour of picking these, I decided to cross the adjacent swamp and check on the wild blackcurrants.  Then, once across the swamp, I got distracted by a clump of huckleberries I'd never noticed before.  Still distracted, looking for more huckleberries, I took a different way back, through the forest.

I'd gone quite a way when I realized that nothing looked familiar.  The landscape here is all hills and hollows, with lots of swampy ground between the hills, and it's very easy to wander off-track.  I kept going; still, nothing was familiar.  It suddenly became clear to me that I was out in the forest with no compass, no matches, no rain gear, no whistle, and no-one knowing which direction I'd gone.  How stupid I had been!

I stood still and looked for the sun through the trees.  It wasn't where I thought it would be; in fact, I'd been completely turned around.  I watched the sun until I could tell which way it was moving.  The time was around noon, so now I know roughly which direction was northwest and I headed that way, knowing that if I kept going that direction, I would eventually reach the road.

In just a few minutes, with a feeling of great relief, I found the meadow where I'd started out.

It's quite likely that the goats knew exactly which way to go and would have led me home at milking time.  However, it was a scary feeling knowing that I was lost without supplies.  As I said, it was a reminder to me not to be so complacent and to pay more attention to what I'm doing when I'm in the forest.

Monday, August 15, 2011


We've been having a very busy summer.  We spent the long weekend at the Clinton War, which is a mediaeval war that is held near here every year.  This was the 32nd war.  Charles is a heavy fighter (sword and shield) and it's one of the highlights of our summer.

When we got home, there was a huge pile of laundry to be done, so I put my laundry service to work.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Morning cooking

Heating, cooking, and drying things all at once

This time of year, our house can get to be too hot by mid-afternoon, and stay too hot for a comfortable sleep early in the night.  By morning, it's always lovely and cool, because our altitude causes a dramatic temperature drop overnight.  We hate to lose our blissfully cool interior,  so we try to keep our cookstove use to an absolute minimum. 

I'm usually the first one up in the morning.  I light a fire to heat hot water for the day.  While the fire is going, I try to do as much as I can.  First, of course, I make coffee.  Then, I cook whatever I can for the day: things that can be eaten cold later, like potatoes for salad, or a roast for sandwiches.  By that time, the oven is hot and I can put a loaf of bread in if necessary and let the fire burn out.  The hot water can be used for dishes and bathing, then refilled so the dying fire can heat more for the rest of the day.

In the evening, we use a barbeque, outdoor cookstove, or propane stove to do any cooking that still needs to be done, like a steak or chop.  In a really hot spell (which doesn't usually last very long here), we use the outdoor stove or propane for water, too, but that's a lot more work.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lazy Marion's winemaking basics

racking the saskatoon/rhubarb wine
Although my wines turn out well, I really don't know much about winemaking.  I don't think it's necessary to know a lot because I'm not the one making the wine.  The yeast is the winemaker.  All I need to do is give the yeast a good home and let it do its thing, then enjoy the results.

Yeast likes the same kind of juice that people do: sweet, with a bit of a tang.  It likes the same kind of temperatures we do, too, warm but not too hot.  It lives in the juice, swimming around eating sugar and producing carbon dioxide and alcohol.  When the alcohol level in the juice gets too high, or if it runs out of sugar to eat, it dies.  That is, basically, all you need to know.

If your juice doesn't contain enough sugars, the yeast will starve before it produces much alcohol.  If there's really a lot of sugar, the yeast will die of alcohol poisoning before finishing it and you'll have a sweet wine.

If the juice gets too hot, the yeast dies.  If it gets too cool, however, the yeast goes dormant and it will wake up again when things warm up.

If you bottle your wine before the yeast has died, it will continue to work in the bottle.  Since the carbon dioxide it produces can't escape, you'll end up with a fizzy wine.

Wine is usually protected from contact with the air so that bacteria and yeasts that are not tasty are excluded from joining the party.  You do this by putting the juice into a container with an airlock.  The carbon dioxide can bubble out, but air can't get in.  When no bubbles are being produced, it means the yeast is finished and it's time to bottle the wine.

Right now, with all the bubbling going on in my house, it sounds like a mad scientist's lab.

Left to right: rhubarb, rhub/saskatoon, last year's rosehip, dandelion

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chick update

Charlie on watch, with the chicks nearby
There are still seven chicks living near the house.  Charlie has done a good job.  When the chicks were two months old, their mother abruptly abandoned them.  Usually, a mother hen will start roosting when her chicks are that age, but because they all live together in the barn, the little ones can still be near her.  This hen moved back into the barn, but her chicks stayed at their pen beside the house, so they are completely on their own.

Well, not quite on their own.  Obviously, they don't feel totally independent yet, because they've taken to sleeping in a huddle right beside Charlie's evening resting spot on the porch.  It's pretty cute to see him there with his chicks when I walk out the door.  We'll let them do this for a while more, because thate's still a danger from the ravens, but then we'll start herding them over to the barn.  We really don't enjoy having chicken shit around the porch.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Garlic scapes

The garlic plants in the garden are sending up flower stalks.  These are known as "scapes", and their thickness generally reflects the size of the bulb below the ground.

Luckily, the scapes should be removed so that the garlic plant puts its energy into bulb production.  I say, "luckily" because they are delicious.  You just snap off about of foot of the stems and cook them; they have a flavour similar to that of green beans cooked in garlic.  My favourite way of cooking them is this:

  • Remove the tips from the scapes.  Drop them into boiling water and cook them for 2 or 3 minutes, then drain them.
  • Heat a bit of oil in a frying pan and fry the scapes quickly for a few minutes.  Add a sprinkle of brown sugar, a splash of soy sauce, some chili pepper, and a drizzle of sesame oil.  If you like the flavour, add some Thai fish sauce, too, or a slice of fresh ginger.  Cook till they are nicely browned and serve hot or chilled.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sounds and smells

I just got home from a week in the big city, where I went to visit family and friends.  I enjoyed my trip.  I don't generally feel the need for a break, since my life is one long break, but once in a while, it is nice to experience the good things city life has to offer.  I went out for sushi and Indian food, for example, and I got to go to life drawing every day, which is a big treat for me!

When I returned, I found home to be as beautiful as it always is.  The wildflowers are at their peak, with the wild roses putting on a spectacular show along the roadsides (but not in front of our place, where the goats eat them all) and more tiger lillies than I've ever seen before.  The wild strawberries are ripe now, so I can eat handfuls while the goats are browsing.

I've been considering what I love most about the place I live and I've decided that there are two things that really stand out:  the sounds, and the smells.  In the city, there are good things to eat and fun things to do, but the sounds and smells are vastly inferior to what I have at home.

Here, when I step outside, there ae lots of noises, but hardly any are mechanical.  I hear the wind in the trees, the sound of running water, birdsong, the humming of insects, and the voices of everyone living on our farm: goats, sheep, chickens, dogs, husband.  Two or three times a day, a car drives by, and sometimes we listen to a radio, but mostly, I hear natural sounds.

The smells are even better.  Much of the time, we take the smells around us for granted, but I really notice them after suffering city smells for a while.  The air is so fresh here, and I've learned to use my nose more than I ever used to.  The flowers are fragrant, of course, but all the plant life, the earth, and the moisture in the air contribute something.  Even with eyes and ears closed, I can take a whiff of air and tell the time of day, the weather, and the season, as well as which animals are nearby.  It's the best part of rural life for me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mowing the lawn

We don't maintain a lot of lawn.  In general, a lawn seems like a lot of unnecessary work.  However, we do like to have short grass in a couple of areas.  Near the picnic table, for example, we keep the grass mowed to reduce the mosquito population.  For this, I use my Lee Valley push mower.  Our living mowers keep the grass on the rest of the property at a reasonable height.

Around the garden, inside the fence that keeps the living lawn mowers out, it's nice to be able to walk around easily.  Also, the garden vegetables seem menaced, as well as shaded, by six-foot high grass and weeds beside them.  To cut this, I need my favourite lawn mower of all:

Saturday, July 16, 2011


a small cilantro plant
 One of my favourite garden plants is cilantro.  It self-seeds freely and is one of the earliest volunteers up in the garden in spring.  Even the tiniest plants are full of flavour, so I add it to nearly every salad I make.  I don't cut the leaves, I pull out whole plants, otherwise, my garden would be one big cilantro patch.

When the plants get too big, I pull most of them so they don't crowd out the other vegetables.  If we could freeze them, they would retain their taste better, but we dry some instead.  In the winter, we can crumble them into soups, but they will be much more bland than frozen ones would have been.  I leave a few plants growing, for seeds.

the cilantro patch

When the seed pods are bright green, I pickle them for a wonderful addition to rice, stir-fry, hors d'oeuvres, fish dishes, etc.  I've never known anyone else to do this, but they should; these are so delicious.  I leave some seeds to dry into coriander.  After picking most of them, I pull the dry plants and shake them around to scatter next year's seeds.

ready to be dried

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July goatwalking - Leadership lessons

When I go goatwalking, I am the leader.  Before we start out, I plan a route that takes into account the amount of time we have, the weather, the insect and plant life of the season, and my mood.  Usually, we follow my planned route, but not always.  We might be distracted by something particularly pleasant or interesting along the way, or I might get a lesson in leadership.

Goats make excellent followers.  I try to be more like them when I am being a follower myself, and to let them train me to be a better leader.  They let me lead them from out in front or behind by keeping an eye on me and drifting in whichever direction I do.  They move along on my chosen route--unless I try to take them somewhere that they don't want to go.

If I have selected a bad route (too long, too difficult, boring, not enough food, too many bugs, etc.), they simply stop following and I suddenly find myself walking alone.  At that point, it's time to reevaluate my plans.  I determine what I've done wrong, bo back to where they're waiting, and head off in a new direction.  If I got it right, they'll follow again; otherwise, I have to try a third time.  I mustn't fail the third time.  They will abandon me and go their own way.

I can't help thinking that we'd have a better society and better leaders if we all practised being goatlike followers.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A note to readers

I don't have access to the internet at home; I have to borrow a neighbour's computer or go to town to get access.  This limits my internet time to an hour or two a week, barely enough to do my postings and not enough to look around very much.

That being said, I'm just fascinated by the lives of the people who are interested enough to read my blog.  Are you urbanites, or country people?  Do you like to dream about "back to the land" or are you living off-grid?  What is important to you, what are your passions, how do you spend your days?


I don't know how to use the internet very well, but I do try to look up everyone who follows my blog, as often as I can.  I just wanted to let you know.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cool nights in the garden

Our greenhouse
Our latitude here is 52 N and our altitude is 2750' above sea level.  We get lots of long, warm days but our nights stay cool.  A typical mid-summer day can start out at 5 C (note the Canadian way that I mix metric and imperial?), go up to 30 C or more, then end up back at 5 C.  This creates wonderful conditions for people and animals who are happy in the daytime heat yet sleep comfortably.  It's also great for cool-weather crops like peas and lettuce, but it makes the heat-loving crops a challenge to grow.

Peas in the garden
Tomatoes, for example, stop growing below 12 C.  In our brief, 90-day frost-free season, we might only get half a dozen nights above that temperature all summer.  Even in our greenhouse (which is unheated), the tomatoes grow so slowly that the fruit hardly starts to ripen before we're heading into the autumn's frosty nights.  I don't try to grow our full supply of tomatoes but just put in a few plants for treats to snack on.

This year, the weather has been so cool that I don't know if any tomatoes at all will ripen!

Knee-high tomatoes in the greenhouse

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Leaf Miners

A poplar leaf being eaten by a leaf miner

The poplar trees here have been suffering an epidemic of leaf miners for about 7 years.  These bugs are native to this area but a series of warmer-than-average winters has allowed their population to explode.  Every year seems to be worse than the last.

The leaf miner lays its eggs on poplar leaves and the larvae munch their way through them, creating tunnels that meander through the leaf until they end up at an edge, where they create a little coccoon.  A tiny moth eventually hatches out and goes on to lay the next generation's eggs.

Nearly every leaf on every tree is affected now.  The beautiful bright green of the poplars turns into a silvery grey earlier every year.  When the leaf-miner population explosion started, I remember hearing that the trees could only stand three or four years of it before they'd start dying.  They've done well, but we're starting to notice stands of dead poplars here and there, or trees with dead branches.

Lots of other deciduous trees, like the alders and birches, seem to be untouched by the infestation.  Maybe they'll move into the spaces that the dying poplars leave, or maybe the bugs will eat themselves out of existence and the millions of tiny new poplars that are popping up everywhere will be able to grow.  We'll just have to wait and see.

Silver poplars and green alders and willows