A quick note on Blogging

As I got into the bath this evening, I realized I must do a quick post about some of my observations/reservations about blogging…

Firstly, there’s the issue of selectivity. I feel very aware of how in control a blogger is of how much information and what kind of information goes out to the reader. It seems…. somehow dishonest. There is so much more happening than is made apparent. But short of a webcam that films us 24/7 (which is, of course, crazy) I don’t see anyway around the issue of selectivity. I am going to try my best not to overly-romanticize us (hard, I know!).

Then there’s the issue of all the time I spend conceptualizing my next entry, writing it, taking and posting photos. Not that I spend a ton of time editing (usually not more than self-editing as I write and then checking over after for grammar). But regardless, that’s a fair amount of time spent at the computer which is kind of ironic for a homesteader type like me. Less time for kids, crafts, music, talk, building and gardening etc.

And then I fear that all of this is making me more self-obsessed than I already am. Not that I think I’m more self-obsessed than the next guy, but when you live with Zena and Daniel, it’s easy to seem quite neurotic. Dan especially. While I am dwelling on the wording of my last email, or planning the housewarming party in 6 months, he is usually quite completely in the moment. When he writes an email it’s a big deal. And he’s so without ego he makes me look like a theatre major or something (oh, wait….)! I don’t know if any of his Zen-ness has rubbed off on me, but I keep hanging out hoping it will one of these days.

Zena said she might post an entry one of these days which I think is great- partly because of the whole “broader view” thing, and partly so that I’m not the only one glued to the computer writing about “us”.  I like the idea of her voice added to mine; after all she is as integral to Twisted Vine as I, perhaps more.  She admitted though that she might be too much of a perfectionist to actually post anything (quite unlike me as you can see). I promised her I would post her drafts for her, therefore taking any responsibility away. So take note dear readers.

Anyways, all this will not keep me from writing, but I will try to keep it within reason (whatever that is!) I will NOT take any more time tonight to post any photos. Well, ok just two.


Post-Purim River Walk

Yesterday Dan and I, and some other new friends, took advantage of the sunny spring day and headed down to the Koksilah River with the kids. The Trans-Canada Trail runs through our property and it’s about a half-hour walk to the Kinsol Trestle, depending on how distracted you get along the way.  As we started out, Dan commented that it had been half a year since he’d even been down to our lower property! We have some lower fields and another fenced garden closer to the trail, and at the bottom is a large beaver pond. The beavers have stripped the alders from the edges of the pond to create their masterpiece, and in winter, it looks rather bleak and bare, but we like knowing they’re down there. I realized it had also been many months since I’d been down as well; we become so focused we get on our homesteading project we forget to walk around and absorb the rhythms of the natural world around us.

But March often lures us out, with the promise of nettles and new life and we were happy to stretch out. It had also been a while for the kids, and they bounded ahead of us with much enthusiasm. Along the way, we noticed that the beavers had been busy further down the trail- many trees were down- some so enormous it was hard to fathom that these creatures chewed these down with their teeth!

Soon we were at the grand trestle which is undergoing a major restoration. Called the largest timber-framed trestle in the British Commonwealth, the train bridge had major fire damage some years ago and has been closed. Since we’ve moved here, the debate over its restoration, and the fundraising to do that, have been prominent (http://kinsoltrestle.ca)  Last year the 4 million or so needed to begin restoration was secured and building began in earnest last fall. We expect to be able to cross over to Shawnigan this summer.

My views on this are mixed: it seems an awful lot of money spent on a bridge, even one as historic as this, and the sheer amount of wood needed for it is staggering. But I do love the look of it, and we will be pleased to be able to cross, especially as Dan has employment prospects right across the bridge. A 5 minute bike ride beats a 45 minute drive anyday!

After observing the trestle progress from the observation platform, we scrambled down to the Koksilah where we had a quick snack. The river was heavy with spring rains and snow melt and around us bright green growth signaled newness. The kids clambered over the rocks, playing imaginative games and soaking in the atmosphere of the rushing river. At one point Zylo turned to us, his eyes alight, and said “It’s so funny….it’s like the wildest place….but also the calmest!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Challah, how are ya?

We make Challah every Friday, not because we’re practicing Jews (though Zena and Daniel are Jewish) but because we like the idea of a weekly ritual where we come together and eat a nice meal and drink some wine. The kids love saying the Shabbat prayer and taking turns lighting the candles. We always make two loaves of Challah, one of which is devoured at supper and the other of which becomes french toast on Sunday.

Traditionally, the double loaf commemorates the “manna” that fell from the heavens when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. The manna is said to have been found on the ground every morning, about the size of hoarfrost and tasting of honey.

This recipe is adapted from a Joy of Cooking recipe.

In the morning:

Mix together in a large bowl:

1 cup lukewarm water
4.5 tsps fast acting yeast
2.5 tsp salt
6 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp. olive oil
4 whole farm-fresh eggs
3 egg yolks (save the whites in a small bowl)
1 cup all purpose flour
Add: 4-5 more cups of flour, up to half of which you can sub. whole wheat, spelt, or whatever your fancy.

Knead until you start to get a bit sore (6-9 minutes) Put dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat it and cover with wrap or a plastic bag. Place by the woodstove (but not too close!) or somewhere else warm for a couple hours or until doubled in size.

Punch down and let rise again, a bit longer, depending on how much time you have. Then punch down again, divide into 8 (or 6 for 3-strand loaves) equal balls, and stretch the balls into ropes. This is easier if you let them sit a few minutes before stretching.  Braid the strands together, pinching the ends together and tucking them under prettily. Then place the loaves (not too close together!) on a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Brush them with the reserved egg white, cover loosely and let sit again until nicely risen.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 F.

Sprinkle your loaves with:

a couple tsps of sesame seeds, nigella or poppy seeds

Bake for about half hour until golden. The loaf should have a nice hollow thunk when you tap the bottom. Remove to a rack to cool and eat fresh with butter. Yum! And don’t forget to wait a day or two and have french toast with the left overs- double yum!

Shabbat Shalom!

Boy Smarts???

A couple months ago Zylo’s school sent home a notice about a talk being given by a man named Barry MacDonald http://www.mentoringboys.com/. The talk, which happened this evening at Quamichan Middle School, was called “Boy Smarts”, and promised to be an informative talk on parenting boys. I thought this was going to be perfect for me to gain some insight into my often bewildering little rascals. Dan requested that I bring Joah with me, as he finds it challenging to put all three to bed by himself. Thinking that Joah would probably fall asleep in the car, and then sleep peacefully in the sling through the talk, I ventured out.

Well, of course Joah cried the whole way down- he does NOT like driving at night- but I thought he would sleep once he had a little nurse. He did not. Still optimistic, I went into the auditorium and sat near the door, with another woman who had brought her 14 month old daughter. The auditorium was mostly full- several hundred parents of mostly school-aged boys. Mr. MacDonald came up and began his micro-phoned-slide-showed talk. “How many of you have very young boys at home?” I raised my hand. “Good- this is going to be most beneficial to you.”   Yay, I thought.

The two babies were awake but quiet, but pretty soon wanted to climb the stairs of the bleachers. We quietly allowed them to do this, and then I walked Joah around the back of the audience hoping to sooth him into sleep. A few squawks from him, and the other baby girl, and Barry interrupted his speech to ask if we could leave with the distracting babies. Embarrassed, I quickly exited out of an upstairs door and found my way back to the lobby.

I spent about 10 or 15 minutes walking Joah around outside and in, trying to nurse and sooth him to sleep but he was far too stimulated. I beginning to regret having brought him, but also feeling resentful- neither he nor the other baby had even cried.

Pretty soon the organizer beckoned me back in, and I saw that the other mom had not left- she had just gone to the side of the bleachers, mostly hidden from Barry’s view and was letting her little girl walk around back there. So I reentered cautiously and let Joah crawl around a bit more. It wasn’t long however before Barry came over and asked the organizer to ask us to leave.

Now I was fully mortified. Stung and angry, I calmly exited the auditorium with my quiet but awake baby. The poor organizer was also mortified and didn’t hesitate to give me my money back. I just couldn’t help but think of the irony of giving a parenting lecture and then kicking out the parents. No where on the ticket did it say that children were not allowed. On his website it states: “Barry is well known for his highly practical and positive approach to building capacity, co-creating community and inspiring ingenuity and integrity.” Really?? I have to wonder if he even has kids!

On the car ride home, trying not to speed, I let my anger give way to disappointment. After all the arrangements of trying to make the evening work I felt like all I got out of it was a slap in the face. And then I also wondered if it’s me… was I crazy for bringing my baby? Was everyone in the room as distracted by the babies as Barry himself? Do I just have an unnaturally high tolerance for chaos? (Well, yes, I can probably answer to that last one)…. but seriously. I never got the chance to confer with the other woman, who was feeding her sleepy toddler at the side of the auditorium when I left; all we did was exchange incredulous looks.

Joah, oblivious to all, fell instantly asleep in the car and now sleeps peacefully in bed. I wonder how much I lost by not being able to absorb Barry’s wisdom. But then I look at my sleeping boys and think, we’re doing alright.

Hope Springs Eternal

Funny how one day  I can be singing songs about how much I love it here, and the next walking around grumbling about how much there is to do and what a mess it is. Maybe it’s the receding snow: it is uncovering slushy mud, broken plastic toys, windfall, old piles of leaves and garden trimmings neglected to be taken to the compost, and then of course piles of junk destined for the dump, or the new house, or storage facilities we don’t have. It’s depressing. There’s not even a shred of real green to liven up or compensate for the misery.

After surveying the scene, I wandered around with Joah strapped to my back, looking for one of our three wheelbarrows so that I could at least make a start on some spring cleaning. After a grumbly half an hour, I finally found one (elusive!), and Zena and I made a good start on tidying. Getting a small amount of concrete work done was satisfying and I was also cheered by the sun sending down some sleepy afternoon rays.

It wasn’t just the receding snow that drew me out to do a little clean-up, but the prospective of new neighbours coming by to meet us. Luring like-minded folks out to our neck of the woods is a serious job, and I wanted to make a good impression, especially when I heard that they wanted to build their own house and grow their own food. We’re so remote that it’s nice to be able to socialize without having to drive 10+ kms.  Our closest friends out here have recently sold their property and now there’s no one immediately close by that we visit regularly.

There’s also the scary prospect of having neighbours that clear-cut, like one of ours did recently. The new owners of an adjoining property cut the trees down right to the property line, much to our astonishment and horror. The soundtrack of the past year was to the tune of chainsaws and excavators.  And there’s not much we could about it; it’s their land, and we try to remain on good terms with all our neighbours, figuring it’s an investment well worth it.

But new neighbour prospects are always interesting and we’ve got our fingers crossed for the couple we met today. Let’s just hope this place enticed them and didn’t scare them away!

What’s in a name?

At some point in our homesteading venture we decided it was time to name ourselves. This is not an easy task. We have neighbours down the road who had taken to calling us “The Pioneers” – a name which they and others they know continue to call us. While I liked the idea of the name being chosen for us, it wasn’t really a name that connected us to the PLACE, our place here. Also, we felt it a little preposterous to actually call ourselves pioneers when we are by no means the first people out here.

After lots of casual debate about it we finally settled on the name “Frogsong Farm”. We have two ponds on the land which hum with the music of frogs in the Spring.  We had been using this name casually for nearly a year (I even wrote a song with the name in it) when a friend mentioned that they had seen a farm stand at the Duncan Farmers Market using the SAME NAME!!

Appalled and suspicious, I set out one morning into town to scope out our rivals. I casually sauntered past the stall that had the name Frogsong Farm scrawled on a chalkboard and pretended to be interested in their veggies. The middle aged couple there looked vaguely familiar to me and so I very casually mentioned that I also had a farm with the same name. It seemed obvious to me that they were well aware of the fact that there was name competition (probably from folks coming up to them and asking if they were affiliated with us) and they were very quick to point out that they had been using the name for a year and it was registered. So there I was, sheepish and smiling and making small talk about frogs, and the difficulty of naming one’s farm. They were very nice as it turned out (of course).

Resigned, we set about trying to come up with another name. This time we had a time-limit as we were about to start hosting a small pocket market in Cowichan Station and needed to have a name. I can’t remember who it was that came up with “Twisted Vine” but it seemed to fit: our 10 acres is covered in trailing blackberries which we battle all summer. And among our various vines are: kiwi, grapes, hops, clematis, climbing roses, pole beans, tomatoes, honeysuckle, etc…

I also liked how the image evoked the intertwining of our two families, our dependence on each other, and our putting roots down, and growing. And something about the “twisted” was just dark enough to take off any la-la land implication.

It’s a strange thing branding oneself, but at the same time it creates a real sense of belonging and of individualizing ourselves. We’ve been using the name since the summer of 2009 and so far have yet to run into any Twisted Vine Farms in the area. Now, I’ve just got to get to city hall and register the name (hmm…this week’s TO DO list?)

And if we ever tire of Twisted Vine, I’m going to hold out for “Dancing Toad”.

Winter Building

I must be honest: this winter I’ve only gone out to help Dan on the house a handful of times. Blame the baby, the kids and the weather. But Dan has been out there in snow and sub-zero temperatures, faithfully plodding away. We try to keep him well fed and warm when he’s back in the kitchen- we’re holding down the fort.

Right now Dan is working on the floors. After leveling the gravel and laying vapour barrier he is putting in recycled styrofoam insulation- some 3 inch rigid and some old tree plug trays which we’re also using in some walls. We got them for pennies each and prevented them from heading to the landfill. 

On top of the styro he’s laying 2×4 floor joists. Attached to those will be radiant floor heating tubes, and then the whole thing will be filled in with sand to replace concrete as a thermal mass. It’s a bit of an experiment as nowhere have we seen this done. Laid on top if it all will be 1.5 inch thick reclaimed fir flooring. The pipes for the flooring will be run through a coil in the wood stove to heat them.  We are looking forward to having a toasty wood floor to stretch out on!

This is really the first winter since moving here that Zena and I haven’t spent every evening pouring over building plans. In our first few years we would hunker down in the shack with sharpened pencils and graph paper and sketch out version after version of our dream home. It changed a lot: at first we had a different building site, then our building priorities changed, some designs were un-buildable, or un-roofable, and finally Zane’s leaving the project meant another re-haul of the design. We created countless versions of “THIS IS IT!” designs, models and all. Though the process was time-consuming, I think we really got a sense of what we wanted in layout. We constantly referred to A Pattern Language (Alexander, Ishikawa, Silverstein) http://patternlanguage.com as well as other home building books (including The Hand-Sculpted House (Evans, Smith, Smiley), for advice and inspiration.

It was a relief when we finally settled on the ultimate design. We could finally then start the harder work of collecting materials (hours now on Used Victoria and Used Nanaimo), working out a loose budget, and figuring out the how-to-build part of it. Dan has done most of that; thankfully he has a math brain!

The main job that we girls were doing last fall was the cob wall. Cob is a mixture of sand, clay and straw which is piled onto a foundation and sculpted into thick walls. Our south wall is about 30 feet long and made all of cob. Thankfully we had a bobcat come in to mix up the cob (doing it by hand (or foot) takes forever) but we didn’t get it started until August last year and were not done when the temperatures started dropping in November. The last few feet that we did in the fall still are not dry as you can see in the photo.

So it goes without saying that we put a hold on adding more cob to the wall (despite the huge pile that we have mixed and tarped waiting). Now it’s just a matter of waiting for warmer weather to put up the last foot or two. Warmer weather will also allow us to proceed with the light-clay wall which circles much of the north side of the house.  So for now, we’ll continue to help Dan when we can, and keep on holding down the fort!