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The end.

So, it’s time to shut this blog down. 

I began it when I was doing the whole “urban homestead” thing in downtown Toronto, but just as life changes, so do blogs and their purpose.

I’ll still be writing about all things domestic, herbal, self-sufficient and lovely, but it’ll be at the blog my husband and I share: 33 Leagues from Mont Royal, where we document life and loveliness out here in the wilds of rural Quebec.

Please feel free to follow me over there! This site is set to expire in a couple of months, but I won’t be updating it any more after this.

Thanks for following, and best wishes!

 

xoxox

Catherine

Greening

Has it really been almost a month since I last posted? Damn, I’m so sorry. The winter that threatened to never end finally shoved off at the beginning of May (it was still dipping down to freezing at night a couple of weeks ago!), but since the temperature’s been holding a bit steadier over the last week and a bit, our world has exploded into greenery. I’m guessing that the plants out here have evolved in such a way that they take full advantage of the tiniest bit of warmth and sunlight, and burst into action as soon as they can. Seriously, two weeks ago, the trees across the river were bare and grey… and now all the trees are resplendent with verdant finery.

Since nighttime temperatures have only stopped dipping below 5C over the last couple of days, we’ve had a bit of extra time to play with the garden to set it up a bit. I mentioned in the last post that it’ll take us several years to amend all the soil and get everything going properly, but we’ve certainly taken some great steps in the right direction: I’ve been slowly adding amendments to different soil regions, and I’ll be planting nitrogen fixers and such in one of the fallow beds so I can work it into the soil as a mulch once autumn rolls around again.

Raised beds

2 raised beds so far, and 2 more to come!

In the meantime, we have two raised beds in the side yard now, and are in the process of layering hugelkultur piles inside them. They’re made of wood for the time being, but we’ll surround them with stone eventually. A third bed will go in that area, and within the next few years, we’re hoping to have a chicken coop back there as well. Just a small one, though: 3 or 4 chickens would give us more than enough eggs for our needs, and if we build a movable one with a detachable run, we can move it into the soon-to-be-enclosed lower level porch during the wintertime for extra protection and insulation.

Side-plans2

A spectacularly crappy quick Photoshop mock-up of what we’d like the side yard to look like one day.

We’ll be building another, slightly smaller raised bed for the front garden, just on the NW side of the house where the pathetic excuse for a pond is at the moment. It really isn’t a pond per se, so much as the former owner’s pathetic attempt at a water feature: it’s about 2 feet long by 1 1/2 feet wide and nearly 2 feet deep, and is basically just a breeding ground for mosquito larvae. I don’t know what we’ll do with it once we’ve pulled it out, other than possibly doing some kind of hydroponics experiment in the basement, but I’ll be happy to see that thing gone. After it’s out, we can fill the hole with some of the godawful gravel that the aforementioned previous owner besmirched the front garden with, and the pop the kitchen garden bed atop it. We’ll grow culinary herbs in there so it’s easy to just pop out the door beside the kitchen for a handful of whatever’s needed, and the medicinal herbs will be grown in whichever areas suit them best; mullein in the sandier soil near the back door, more yarrow near the alder trees where it already grows wild, etc.

Speaking of chickens… it’s my husband’s birthday today, and we had the pleasure of visiting a couple of cute little farms with his parents as a celebratory outing. We got a huge bagful of asparagus (of which some promptly made its way into an omelette with garlic-sauteed dandelion greens and arugula), some potted herbs, and a blueberry bush! We’ll pop that bad boy into the beautiful acidic soil patch where raspberries are already thriving, and Stevie the Snake can watch over it.

Garter snake

Stevie the Snake, current berry patch resident/guardian.

Planning and Planting

I’m quite certain that my neighbours think I’m a bit nuts.

Not that I’m loud (I revel in silence, thanks) or act terribly strangely (I don’t – I’m quite reserved), but after seeing the tentative smile and wave that the neighbour down the hill gave me while I was outside and realising that I’d been making strange gestures and talking to myself while walking around the yard, I did have that epiphany. The fact that I was doing the above while dressed in a black velvet gown and boots (once a goth…) probably didn’t help. Hmm.

Foxglove

In any case, I wasn’t just traipsing about like a mad witch o’the woods: I was measuring out the area and trying to decide where I was going to put what as far as my long-term garden plans are concerned.

As much as I love our property, I’m well aware that it’s going to need a lot of work… and I mean a LOT. I’ve counted approximately 11 different soil types, most of which are in pretty sad shape, so I’ll be tackling different areas one at a time while amending others for future use. The one large flat area we have is over our septic field, so at least I don’t have to worry about amending that soil: we’re just putting raised beds on it and utilizing hugelkultur practices within them.  I haven’t even begun to touch upon the many types of flowering trees and shrubs that we’d like to establish eventually, but I know that we’re aiming for a mix of English and French “country cottage” blooms that can actually survive in our zone, and we’ll have to ensure that we plant several native species to keep the bees well fed.

I wrote about our planned berry bushes in a previous post, but I’ll likely wait until next year to get those sorted. This year, it’s all about the raised beds on the SE side of the house, and clearing some over-zealous sapling growth so we can plant a couple of fruit and nut trees for future tree guilds. The raised garden beds will be full of the vegetables that thrive in our climate, and I’m hoping to get some perennial vegetables established in the forest as well. There’s a fair bit of detritus to clear first, but I think that the Good King Henry, stinging nettles, and purslane should do well once that’s sorted. We’ll get some medicinals going as well, such as horehound, mullein, echinacea (purpurea and angustifolia), and Roman chamomile.

Raised Beds

 Photo via Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden

We’re supposed to have a fairly cool summer, so we’ve eschewed the tomatoes and eggplant in favour of hardy roots like beets, turnips, parsnips, and carrots; a selection of different cabbages and kales; several varieties of squash and pumpkin; as well as some broccoli and Brussels sprouts for good measure. Rather than having a bed of lettuces, I’m thinking of creating a couple of hanging lettuce planters that can be taken inside as need be, and I’ll be growing culinary herbs on my kitchen windowsill rather than out in the yard.

All of these plans were running through my head as I wandered around the property, hence the gesturing and the general thought processes spoken aloud, and I could visualize it all so well that I could see the results that’ll unfold over the next five, ten, twenty years. One of my little chipmunk friends certainly seemed to approve of my plans, as he scampered after me during my walk and seemed to nod in agreement to everything I said. Granted, he might have just been sucking up because he knows I always have sunflower seeds in my pocket, but I like to think that he’d have given me his honest opinion if he disagreed with my plans.

In another ridiculous moment of cuteness, I was putting the rake away in the remise when I heard a familiar sound: the high-pitched, rather loud cry of alarm that Robin emits every so often when he’s either scared or otherwise distressed. I looked over at the window and saw him pressed against it, puffy-headed, wiggling his head back and forth as he watched me. It took me a minute or so to determine that the reason he was flustered was likely because he’d seen me disappear into the shed and freaked out. My poor little boy! He was incredibly cuddly and affectionate when I went into the bedr… birdroom, curling up in the palm of my hand and fluttering softly. I wonder if he and Puck would like a hanging lettuce ball in the room?

Robin All Lovey-Eyed

Probably not. I’ll just plant some mixed lettuce seeds and let them gnaw at the sprouts.

 

Berries.

berries

I’ve noticed a funny little trend with regard to my body and its food cravings: if I didn’t have a calendar to refer to, I could pinpoint late February/early March without fail, because every single year, this is the 2-week window in which I start craving berries like you wouldn’t believe. Blueberries and blackberries are the most-craved of the lot, but I certainly wouldn’t be averse to wild strawberries either. Why this ache happens like this every year, I have no idea, though it may have something to do with the fact that by now, I’m thoroughly sick of winter vegetables like cabbage, kale, and various roots, and am aching for something more luscious and lively.

Don’t get me wrong: I do love the acres of pickled cabbage and canned tomatoes that have sustained us over the colder months, but let’s just say that I have some solid plans for preserving significantly more fruit and such over the summer this year.

Our little village only has one real grocery store, and it takes full advantage of the dominion it holds by jacking up prices like crazypants. I managed to pick up a couple of small containers of blackberries and blueberries for only slightly less than the value of one of my kidneys, and the smoothie that ensued was the stuff of legends.

ingredients

I didn’t actually measure anything when I made this, but this is an approximation of what went into it:

  • A large handful of blueberries
  • A large handful of blackberries
  • Enough almond milk to cover them
  • A few tablespoons of coconut milk
  • A couple of tablespoons of fat-free blueberry yoghurt
  • Dash of cinnamon

My hand blender swirled and pureed all of this into a gorgeous purple concoction, which I shared with my husband because I adore him and he puts me to sleep every night by rubbing my hands and telling me stories about ducks. Yes, he’s that perfect, and has absolutely earned half of my super-smoothie any time.

smoothie

Considering how much I love berries, and how ridiculously expensive produce is at the supermarket nearby, I’ve been considering different ways to bulk up my berry stores for next winter. We’re fortunate enough to live near some farms where we can go to pick our own produce, but they also jack up prices for the many tourists and campers who spend summers up here. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to find roadside stands where people sell some of the fruit they’ve picked, and the local organic farm is putting together a CSA box this year as well, but I’d really like to take full advantage of our land and plant some bushes.

Since we live in hardiness zone 4b and have a fairly short growing season, I think I’m going to aim for a few hardy varieties of blackberry, some Saskatoon berries, lingonberries (hey, if they can thrive in Norway, they’ll do well here), gooseberries, low-bush blueberries, honeyberries (haskap), and maybe some currants. Oh, I’ll have to plant some raspberries for Sir N as well. By planting all of these, with their staggered ripening times, we’ll be in berry paradise from early June straight through to late September.

Ohhh the smoothies there shall be…

Waldorf Doll, Take Two

Just a quick update: after making the mini-dolls, I decided to try my hand at a full-sized one. This little faun girl is a bit larger than I’m comfortable working with (she’s nearly 16″ tall!), so I’m going to aim for 12″ to 13″ from now on, but I had an absolute blast making her.

Continue Reading »

When it comes to creative pursuits, I’ve always preferred to work in three-dimensional media. Drawing and painting are fun and all, but as far as artistic skill and confidence are concerned, I’m never happier or more grounded than when I’m working with both hands, coaxing shapes out of clay, wax, wood, or stone.

I didn’t have much opportunity to sculpt after I left art school, as the cramped quarters I lived in didn’t really allow me space to fling supplies around. There was also the fact that I needed to work about sixty hours per week to make ends meet, which didn’t leave much time for creative endeavours. Drawing and writing were more portable pursuits, as I could fit a sketchbook or journal into my bag and park myself in a cafe to work, and over the years, visual art took a back seat to my writing work. Don’t get me wrong—I love to write, and I am beyond delighted that I can make a living by playing with words and coaxing stories from the ether and onto paper (or screen), but in the quiet, in-between hours, you’ll always find me making something with my hands.

My mother taught me how to crochet when I was five or six years old, and I started knitting a few years ago, so I’ve been playing with yarn and various hooked or pointy instruments for over thirty years now. I’ve found that I’m happiest when making things that are as utilitarian as they are beautiful, so items of clothing, blankets, embroidered pillowcases and the like make me smile because they’re useful and beautiful. What was it William Morris said? “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Right. Couldn’t agree more. In retrospect, that’s probably one of the main issues I had with art school: “prettiness” for its own sake doesn’t do anything for me; things I make need to serve a purpose beyond just being “pretty”.

doll-in-progress

In the vein of useful prettiness, I decided to venture into a realm that I’d never explored before: doll making. Many of my friends are new parents, and one of my dearest, closest soul-sisters recently gave birth to a beautiful little boy. Since she’s a crunchy granola mama and will be homeschooling her little one, I thought I’d make him something sweet and cute in the form of a Waldorf-style doll. These dolls embody everything that’s beautiful and wonderful about Waldorf education; a style that I’d have chosen if I’d had kids of my own. Gentleness, imaginative play, natural materials, and softness, all rolled into a soft, cuddly friend.

For this doll, I ransacked my closet for fabric bits and clothing items I’ll never wear again. A super-soft cotton/silk blend white tee shirt was dyed with tea and cabbage for the doll’s skin, and a snagged silk stocking became the tubing for the doll’s head. Wool roving that I’ve been spinning into yarn was appropriated for the stuffing, and bits of yarn left over from knit socks and hats became hair and a crocheted toque (or “beanie” for the American crowd). An organic cotton tunic was repurposed as yoga pants for the wee doll, and his sweater was created from a piece of cotton arctic fleece. All were sewn by hand, which is so much more fulfilling for me than just running something through a machine: every stitch is a meditation, and the tactile experience is so enjoyable.

I’m immensely fond of this little guy and can’t wait to start the next one.

doll-in-sweater

Midwinter Contemplations

Midwinter

The winter solstice was two weeks ago today: Yule, the shortest, darkest day of the year. The day in which the slumbering earth takes its deepest snooze and then cracks an eye open to acknowledge that light is returning, and spring is just a few months away; something we’re all immensely grateful for. That isn’t to say that we should just curl up and hibernate until spring’s tendrils peep up through the snow again—far from it. It’s at this time of year that many of us feel most attuned with spiritual matters, be that contemplating the various holidays celebrated this month, considering how many people are in need (whom we can help in various ways), or just meditating on our own shadows.

When the days are long and dark, it’s difficult to avoid facing the shadowy aspects of self and nature. Our ancestors would have spent many months preparing for winter, knowing full well that they could die from cold exposure, hunger, malnutrition, or illness during the dark half of the year. We’re fortunate that we have thermal blankets, electric heating, and a supermarket just a few minutes’ walk away, but they didn’t, and I honour them for their fortitude.

Fireside-knitting

It’s in this dark time of the year that I’m most inclined to hunker down and just block the world out for a while. Although I do venture outside into the snow for exercise and fresh air, I have to admit that on days when it’s -35C, all I’d really like to do is curl up by the fire and be quiet and domestic. Knitting, darning socks, mending clothes… all those little-yet-important tasks that get set aside for seemingly “more important” matters get tended to when gales howl and snow climbs halfway up to the windows. I actually treasure this time, as I’m given an opportunity to step away from my computer-based work to do the womanly tasks that I’ve always enjoyed, so. I even have a large basket of ironing to tackle soon and I’m downright gleeful about it. Maybe I’m channeling a bit of Frigga these days as I revel in all things home-related?

Is it silly that sometimes I envy those friends of mine who are full-time homemakers? Sometimes I’ll read blog posts by my LDS friends in which they talk about how they’ve spent their days baking, sewing, knitting, or tending their gardens, and as loath as I am to admit it, I actually feel a pang of envy. Starting up a new business requires a lot of work, and both graphic design and writing need time, creativity, and energy in order to yield results that we can be proud of, and that takes a lot of time away from domestic work.

Frigga

You know, it’s funny: when I worked in public relations and event management, I had the opportunity to travel and meet interesting people, and my merry little income allowed me to splurge on shoes, designer lattes, cute shoes, and vacations fairly regularly… but none of that was anywhere near as rewarding to me as the first time I canned tomatoes, or when I saw the first stalks of hand-planted amaranth rising up from my garden in glorious purple spears. I’d love to get to a point where I can spend more time on homemaking and less time plopped at my desk, typing feverishly. How hilarious is it that in this modern era, where most women are delighted to be able to earn a living on their own, I yearn to be a housewife? *chuckle*

(Yes, I’m feeling terribly contemplative right now and am determined to find a way to balance it all.)

My seed catalogues for 2014 have begun to arrive, and I’ve been dog-earing pages, circling items, and making notes about the different things I hope to plant in a few months’ time. Granted, we’ll have to clear a lot of bracken and amend the soil a fair bit to get things going to where we’d like them to be, but all will happen in good time, neh? These darker days make us impatient; leave us champing at the bit to do something, to engross ourselves in projects as we yearn for the light to return and growth to spring up from the soil once again… but all will come in good time. For now, we can plan, and draw, and bask in the beauty of hearth and home. I shall spin and knit, brew up some stunning soups, crack open a jar of summery preserves, and appreciate the wild beauty of this land, as well as the dear friends and family members whom I share it with.

Cranberry-chutney

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