Sunday, December 23, 2007

The kindness of a stranger... and a neighbour!

A week ago Friday, Gordon got stuck in our snowy driveway. This time the traction plates weren't enough to get him out. As he was puzzling about what to do, help miraculously arrived!

I took this picture from our upstairs window; it's not so great because of the window screen, but the dark blotch in the middle of the snow (near the top of the snow) is our little car and the pick-up truck of a kind stranger. This picture gives you a bit of an idea of how long our laneway is.

A nice young Mennonite fellow from this area was passing by in his pick-up truck and saw Gordon in distress (which did not involved G sobbing into a lacy handkerchief, not to worry), and stopped to help. (The Mennonite thing came up because G just got back from a trip to Winnipeg, and this guy is originally from Manitoba, and was talking about his community there.) He ever-so-kindly offered to tow Gordon up the last bit of the laneway. How nice is that?

You can see how our Mazda Protege 5 is completely dwarfed by the rather large truck! They attached a tow strap, and the truck started backing up, pulling our weenie car up the hill.

My little camera has quite the zoom lens:

There they go! Getting closer...

Almost there...

Yay! They did it!

Gordon profusely thanks his helper. I love country people!

This whole episode brought a big smile to my face.

The laneway is a bit of a problem this year. We have a very reliable plough guy, Orey, but the snow is just out of control this winter. (We have already gotten as much snow as we had all of last winter.) Orey had ploughed out our laneway the day before this happened, and he showed up an hour after Gordon left to do it again.

We had even more excitement on Boxing Day, although I have no photos, alas. Last Friday we had rain on top of snow, then a flash freeze. The end result was our laneway being covered in a couple of inches of ice. Gordon did manage to get up and down it Christmas Eve, when he brought his parents from the bus depot to our house (they like the bus; don't ask.) Boxing Day was another story.

We bundled my in-laws into the car that morning. They had a bus back to Toronto to catch. We said our good-byes, and I watched from the kitchen window, holding my breath, as Gordon made his way along the ice-rink of a laneway. I was just starting to breathe again as G reached the last hill, got halfway up it, then in slow motion, slid back down while the car rotated around! He finally ended up backwards at the bottom of the hill.

I went out to help and only succeeded in nearly putting the car over the edge of the laneway into the field below (that would NOT have been pretty. There is a considerable drop from the west side of our laneway to the field.) Then our neighbour across the street, Steve, came to the rescue. Like a knight in shining armour, he arrived in his big tractor with its chains on the tires. Steve is a retired Air Canada pilot, and a great guy to have around in an emergency. He and Gordon attached a tow strap to our car, and Steve slowly and carefully towed the car backwards up the hill and onto the road! My in-laws made their bus with five minutes to spare, and my mother-in-law thought the whole tractor-pull thing was great fun.

After they left, Steve returned in his golf cart (handy farm transport) with a bucket of (cool) ashes from his woodstove. He plonked me on the rear-facing seat and backed slowly down our laneway as I sprinkled ashes in the tire tracks. When the bucket ran out, he got me another bucket and left me to finish by walking along the driveway on my own.

At the same time, he handed me a package and said, "Merry Christmas! This is the first time I've ever given anyone a tow strap as a Christmas gift. Make sure you keep it in the car." And so we are now the proud owners of a bright yellow tow strap, which is in the trunk of the car with traction plates, a shovel, and chains for the tires in case we get in real trouble (you can't drive on the roads were with chains.)

The kindness of strangers and neighbours! One day we'll have our own tractor and 4WD vehicle. I have no doubt we are the talk of the neighbourhood again. Everybody seems to know about us, even though we haven't met a lot of people yet. Despite the fact that we have lived in the country many times over the years, everyone around here thinks we are hapless city slickers.

We met our "next-door" neighbour yesterday and got talking tractors. Scott is a diesel mechanic and a solid guy. When we asked what kind of tractor he recommended, he asked us how long we are staying!!! To which I replied, "Forever!" I think people are waiting for us to pack up and run, but good grief, what's the big deal with getting stuck in your country laneway a few times? I might add we aren't the only ones. This winter we have seen quite a few cars stuck in laneways on this road alone!

Anyway, we'll just continue to plod along. No doubt we'll get stuck again, but we'll find a way out. We both love it here.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Baking again

I got this recipe from Dephal:

Peppermint (candy cane) bark! I didn't use enough white chocolate, and I didn't spread it quite thinly enough, but it is pretty tasty. I think Dephal's young daughter does a better job on this bark than me. :)

The frustrating thing was that on Thursday night, I could not find any normal candy canes in the stores! Usually you are choking on the damn things at this time of year, but all I could find were hideous flavoured ones. Who wants an "Orange crush" or grape soda candy cane!? BLECH!!!! I was about ready to steal handfuls of freebies from a restaurant counter, but then...

...I found these candy cane "trees", which at least had real peppermint oil in them, instead of fake peppermint flavour:

I knew that not only was I going to have to smash them up, but I was going to have to get those STUPID icing decorations off as well. No one wants bits of yellow and blue in her peppermint bark! Very off-putting indeed.

For the task of smashing, I chose my Mum's rolling pin. I inherited it (along with an English Setter and various other things) when she died in 1997. I can't remember a time when she didn't have it:

The funny thing is, it's apparently vintage! I did a web search and found a few for sale, but sadly they are not worth thousands of dollars.

I think my Mum must have put the string on it so she could hang it on a hook. Even though it is occasionally annoying, I refuse to remove it.

It did an admirable job of smashing the stupid candy cane trees, although the whole process did leave some tiny dents in my rolling pin. OOOOPS!

The aftermath:

So the peppermint bark was a success, easy, and fun. A good way to let off some steam, smashing candy.

Next I made mincemeat tarts:

Do Americans eat mincemeat? My English parents made mince tarts or pie every Christmas. Even after my parents split up, my Dad baked his own, so I'd get two sets of mincemeat goodies each year! When I was 12, my Mum and I actually made and bottled mincemeat, which I would like to do again some day. It was so good. I don't think we put suet in it; I'm not really a big suet fan.

For this batch, I bought a jar of Crosse and Blackwell Mincemeat with Rum & Brandy. Not homemade, but a family favourite. I then added a bit more rum and some chopped apples.

The most miraculous thing is that I made that butter pastry from scratch, and it's GOOD. It doesn't have the consistency of boot leather! It is ACTUALLY FLAKY (just like me!) I am not very gifted with pastry. It's a real crap shoot when I make it. But I found a Canadian Living recipe I liked and went at it, using the food processor and being careful not to overhandle the dough. Success! I am ashamed to admit I ate three of these tarts yesterday (and a coconut/chocolate tart. And peppermint bark. And then Gordon brought me home an almond/chocolate croissant from Ottawa.) I have a real mincemeat craving going on, but I figured three tarts could only possibly equal one piece of pie!

I made the little leaf and gingerbread man cutouts with a chocolate decorating tool I have had for years but rarely used.

Happy holidays! I am hungry now. Can you eat mince tarts for breakfast?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Baking dogs

I've been working on Christmas baking. The pets are keeping me company in the kitchen!

Tristan, my sweet boy! You can see Sophie back there through the chair legs. I think they were hoping some baking would fall on the floor. I did manage to spill some shredded coconut, but the dogs were unimpressed and I eventually had to get out the vacuum.

Speaking of baking...

On the left, triple layer squares from this month's Canadian Living magazine. They were the winners for "squares" in a contest the magazine ran. Karen DeBeer of Moose Jaw, these are AWESOME!!!

On the right, chocolate-coconut-almond tarts before baking. You also drizzle chocolate on them when they are done. THere is cream cheese in with the coconut, and they are bar none (bad baking pun there.. bars, get it? nevermind!) my favourite holiday goodies.

Here Tristan searches for crumbs. He is so helpful!

Here are the triple layer squares, pre-cutting. I still haven't cut them! Must get on that.

Sophie was having a snooze.

And Alex was having a snooze in the next room!

Here is the finished tart, just before I ate it:

As you can see, they aren't all that big. Therefore, I can eat more of them!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More scarves...

Some of my Christmas knitting. Two very easy scarves...

Slogging through a winter wonderland...

We have a ton of snow (got 50 cm more last Sunday) so I thought I'd share some photos with you. (I am loving the snow!) And of course, here are a zillion more photos of my beloved dogs. I need to get some more cat photos up to even things out.

Here's the barn. The snow is veeeeery high in front of the big door (which you can't really see as it is behind the trees.)

Oh look, my Princess Sophie-Dophie, who cares not about the snow. In fact, both of the dogs love it. Bring on the snow, they say!

And back inside where it's warm, we have Tristan the Exhibitionist...

But back to the snow...

Then back inside to the Yin-Yang dogs at my feet!

Look who still wants to play ball!

Look who would LIKE to play ball if his sister would quit hogging it. We did have two balls, but one got lost outside before the big snowfall. I suspect we won't be seeing it again until spring thaw.

I think Tristan got tired of breaking a path through the snow for me.

A view of the fields.

Oh look. Sophie with a ball, in the snow. How unusual.

There is an AWFUL lot of snow on our back deck.

Tristan surveys his domain, before the big snow dump.

Oh my, snow is fun! (For those who don't have to shovel it!)

Last Friday, these weird snowballs formed all over the fields. It was quite windy and as the balls rolled, they got bigger. Quite neat, really.

And finally, the granary in the snow.

Now I have to go get out of my pajamas, have a shower, do Christmas cards, bake goodies, finish decorating, and plan all the meals for next week when the in-laws will descend upon us with their exceedingly picky tastes in food.

Whatever you celebrate, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid or whatever else, I hope you had/will have a very happy one!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Not dead, just resting...

Alex the three-legged cat can get very, very relaxed...

...until some big ole dog comes up and kisses him on the lips!

Oh yeah. Do you like my 83-lb lapdog?

Please ignore my kitty pajamas.

Friday, December 07, 2007

At last, a CLANGER!

I know, it's feast or famine here in Blogville. Three posts in one day!

The brilliant news is: I have FINISHED THE CLANGER for my friend Sarah, who asked me to make it for her an embarrassingly long time ago! I don't think she reads my blog, so I am posting some pics here before I ship it off to Toronto. She's probably given up this Clanger for dead.

What's a Clanger, you ask? Well, check out this site! Back in the late 60s, the Clangers were the stars of a British animated children's TV series that my friend Sarah used to watch. I don't believe I have ever witnessed an episode, but I would like to now that I have gotten up close and personal with one of these pink creatures from outer space.

From what I have read about the series, I think the creators were smoking a LOT of drugs when they came up with the whole idea. And maybe taking a few pretty pink pills. Ah, 1969 was a very good year. If you would like to see Clangers handcrafted by other ordinary citizens like me, have a look here.

And if you simply must have more Clanger info, try here.

Alex the three-legged cat gets acquainted with my Clanger, henceforth named Sargeant Saddlebag, on account of his ample hip region.

Sargeant Saddlebag dreams of a trip outside into the snow, but realizes that he would soon suffocate in its depths. Or be picked off by an American Kestrel. Or be shredded by a dog named Tristan.

Sargeant Saddlebag is NOT shy in front of the camera. “Take me. I'm yours!”

Sargeant Saddlebag’s creator suddenly realizes that Sarg is all tum, no bum.

A man of cultured tastes, Sargeant Saddlebag shares a laugh with another famous Brit, William Shakespeare (yes, that same William Shakespeare that is featured in today’s “Notes for Alex” entry!)

Sargeant Saddlebag wipes out after an attempt at body surfing on an afghan.

And Tristan thinks “Hmm. Fake bone, or deliciously soft and stuffy pig thing?”, whereupon the photographer quickly retrieves Sargeant Saddlebag before there is a horrific disembowelment.

Please feel free to comment on my latest creation!

Baby, we've got snow!

Part of the reason I am behind on blogging is that I now spend a bazillion hours a day walking/playing with the dogs! Between that and tending the wood-burning part of our wood/oil furnace (which involves daily chopping of kindling, and ten trips up and down the basement stairs every day), I have somehow lost 12 lbs. since moving here. I still don't understand! I am the woman of never fluctuating-weight. I can see why the pioneers were lean machines.

If you are wondering why the "Man of the House" is not the keeper of the fire, it's (a) because he's not home all day like me, and (b) he's not all obsessed with fire like I am. When I was a child, I was so fascinated with fire (in the fireplace, mainly; I was NOT a junior arsonist!) that my mother regularly called me a pyromaniac. I think she was joking. My husband now calls me "Pretty Pyro", which I find strangely complimentary.

I find fire-building to be quite an art, and I like to get my logs, flames and embers just so. However, I clearly still have a few things to learn about the wood-burning portion of our furnace, as it was 26C in the house the other night (about 80F, my American friends! Dephal, I think I mistakenly told you it was hotter.) The cats LOVE IT.

I am also getting better at splitting kindling. I have a nice new sharp hatchet, safety glasses and work gloves in the basement. Now when I split a log, kindling doesn't ricochet off the washing machine. Pictures will come eventually, no doubt.

We got hammered on Monday with almost a foot of snow. It's great fun, particularly since I don't have to commute. The dogs just adore the snow. Tristan in particularly loves to roll on his back in it, and they both like digging for buried treasures (like wild turkey poo!)

Yesterday I walked through virgin snow to the back of the woodlot with the dogs. Now THAT is a workout. I felt like I was on a Stairmaster! Time to get some snowshoes. It was worth it, though. The woodlot was beautiful, with the trees heavy with white stuff, and just a set of deer tracks in the snowy path before me.

Here are some pics from earlier this week.

Sophie the Intrepid Snow Dog

Two dogs heading for the back 40.

The beautiful tundra dog surveys her domain.

The drainage "ditch" that runs through our property to the river at the back. It's quite pretty and attracts all kinds of water birds and animals.

Excavating wild turkey poop, no doubt.

Maybe she smells a muskat!

Just having fun! The snow drifted a lot, so the depth varies depending on where you are.

Ye olde snowy farme. It was friggin' cold that day.