Archive for December, 2010

When we got home from Saskatchewan, it was…chilly…in the house.  After the initial whirlwind of dragging in luggage, feeding hungry cats, settling the dogs, and such, I went to turn the thermostat up.

Except that it was set to 20 degrees, and reading 12 degrees actual temperature.

This furnace has had some…issues…over the last couple of years.  The landlady did not believe me when I told her it needed replacing last Christmas.  It has periodically quit working n several occasions, but usually banging it a couple of times, or turning the thermostat up and down would coddle it back to life.  Keeping in mind that the furnace is older than I am, and at least as cranky, I tried all the usual tricks, but nothing.   Even sweet talking and pleading were ignored.  While I could not quite see my breath, I was not happy.  Nor, for that matter, was the landlady when I told her to call in a workman during holiday season.

A brief aside, here – I struggle, every time, not to say “I told you so” to this lady.  I told her that the grout between the bathroom tiles was crumbling, and needed some attention.  She waited three years until the bathroom wall collapsed and cost her thousands of dollars, rather than a couple hundred bucks to deal with it when it was a minor nuisance, rather than a big problem.   Same sort of thing with the rear deck, the kitchen drain, and now the furnace.  It is going to cost her a fortune, and it did not have to.  But I digress…

Now, we were lucky that this crazy old house has two furnaces, and although it was decidedly cool, nothing had frozen, and no pipes were burst.  We broke out the blankets, afghans, and toques, and curled up in the living room with the pussycats in our laps.  Not really that big a deal.  It was -20 degrees Celsius last night.  It could have gotten mighty chilly around here.   As it was, the downstairs furnace could not keep up to heating the whole house, and 14 degrees was as good as it got upstairs.  Our Bullmastiff does not have much fur, and sat at our feet shivering and looking pathetic until we got her her own blanket…

So the point of all this rambling, you ask?


The backup plan.  There isn’t one, here – the second furnace and a pile of blankets are the backup plan.  I suppose we could go to the neighbour’s, if things were desperate, or check into a hotel for a night or two, but that would be a royal pain with the critters.  It might be impossible if the heat were to go in the middle of a good old prairie blizzard or ice storm once we are at the acreage.  Anyone remember the ice storm in 1998?  There were people in Quebec without heat or power for weeks.  Even last week, there was some question of whether heating oil could be delivered to houses in rural UK, who were running out just as more snow and cold weather hit.  It really reinforces to me that we can’t always rely on someone else to sort these problems out, and need to have our own backup plan.

The acreage will be getting a wood burning stove or fireplace, or, in a perfect world, cookstove, before winter hits.  Period.

What’s your backup plan?

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We brought quite a variety of canned goods with us to Saskatchewan – some for gifts, and some to contribute to Christmas dinner (and dinners to follow).  We provided Christmas dinner dessert – rum spiced pears over ice cream, which met with rave reviews, and even some folks going for seconds, despite being groaning-full from Mom’s turkey feast.  The other surprise hit was dill pickled beans, which my cousin managed to scarf half a jar of before Mom wrestled them away from him…

So, in the interest of spreading joy and canning skills, the recipes:

Dilly Beans recipe (4 pints):

2 lbs fresh green beans

4 cloves garlic

4 heads of fresh dill OR 4 tsp dill seed

½ tsp red pepper flakes (2010 I added more like ¼ tsp per jar)

2 ½ cups vinegar

2 ½ cups water

2 tbsp kosher salt

Wash and tip beans. Peel garlic, and place one clove in each pint jar, along with one head of dill (or 1 tsp dill seed) and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Pack each jar full of beans. Bring water, vinegar, and salt to a boil, and ladle hot brine over beans, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Processed for 15 min at 3200 feet (for pints)

Rum Spiced Pears

For the syrup:

2 cinnamon sticks

6 cloves (whole)

2 cups dark rum

4 cups water

2 cups sugar

Boil these ingredients together for awhile, to blend the flavors and dissolve the sugar.  In the meantime, wash, quarter, and core the pears (about 2-3 pears per pint, 4-5 per quart).  In each quart jar, place 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half or thirds, and two cloves.  Pack the pears into the jars, and pour the hot syrup over them, leaving about 1 inch of headspace.  Process in a water bath canner for 25 – 30 min (at 3200 feet).

Makes about 6 quarts (or 5 with some rum left over to drink)

To serve, open the jar and heat the contents, then spoon pears and syrup over ice cream.

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We might be crazy…

Well, we went to Saskatchewan for Christmas, and thought we would pop in and take another peek at the acreage while we were in the province.

Besides the realtor getting his truck stuck in four feet of snow in a drifted-over ditch, and very nearly running over a deer both on the way there and on the way back, it was a fairly uneventful trip.  However, we noticed a number of things in the house that are going to need more fixing than may have appeared at first blush.

On the bright side, our impeccably honest realtor still thinks the place is a good deal.  And there is a chimney access in the kitchen, which means I can get a wood cookstove if I want.

On the not so bright side, we still don’t have any indication of when the possession date might be, and my transfer date is coming up fast…

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I hate to admit it, but traditionally, Christmas has been my least-favorite time of the year.

It’s dark.

It’s cold.

It’s expensive.

It’s a long, long drive to visit my family.

Now, having said that, I really, REALLY like all of my family, and love to spend time with them.   I love to eat good food…and I am related to a LOT of good cooks.  I even like singing carols.  It’s not really Christmas I get so frustrated with…it’s the blatant commercialism.  The stores don’t even wait for Halloween to be over before putting out cheesy plastic santas and cheap plastic crap that is designed to poison your pets and kids (and planet).   I’m not fond of malls at the best of times, but when I forget what time of year it is, and get stuck in Costco for TWO HOURS in an attempt to buy FOUR ITEMS, I hate Commercial Christmas all the more.

Dear Husband and I were discussing it last year, after the gift-opening orgy and subsequent broken and discarded toys, and decided:  No More.  We broadcast our intentions of not buying any more Christmas gifts.  No more fighting angry crowds at malls, no more cheap disposable junk, we’re done with it.  We told our families that we DO NOT, under any circumstances, want any more stuff.

We’ve held up our end of the bargain.  Christmas gifts in our circle will be consumables:  jam, canned fruit, pickles, cookies…all home made.  And because we have been planning this all year, we picked extra, preserved extra, and have lots for everyone.  Instead of wrapping them in (disposable, plastic-coated) Christmas paper, I dug out some fabric from the scrap box, and hot-glued it on the canning jar rings, with some ribbon.  The jars are actually very pretty!



When we announced our anti-commercial Christmas plans, we thought we heard a few relatives heave a sigh of relief.  We hope that folks don’t sell out at the last minute and get us crap we don’t want or need (especially with the big move coming up), and we hope we’ve given folks something they like.  If not…well, at least we’re not wasting money or wrecking the environment.

Speaking of wasting money, there have been two huge benefits to giving home-made gifts.  First:  money.  Our expenses happened back between June and September, the time when Hubby generally has more work anyways.  We don’t feel the financial pressure like we have in the past.  Likewise, we are not feeling as rushed, because the work was done in the summer and fall, when the days were longer and I had more energy.  The only wasted shopping time this year is the two hours I spent stuck in Costco when I forgot it was that time of year and went in to buy tomato sauce and coffee.

The second big benefit has been social.  With a pantry full of salsa, three kinds of pickles (carrot, bean, and beet), fruit preserves, and ten flavors of jam, we have been quite generous with family and friends.  And neighbours.  Colleagues.   Random people who have helped us out.  Our various clubs.  Even the homesteaders in our area who we’ve met from internet forums.  We can afford to be generous like that – we have lots!  It feels good to be able to give people something nice, and folks seem to appreciate it.

Now, to see who holds up their end of the bargain…

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The Plan

Well, it all went according to plan, for the first few months at least.

We wanted a hobby farm, or, more accurately, a homestead.  Which we could never afford in Central Alberta, so we decided to find something in Saskatchewan.   Weeks of short-notice long drives to look at disappointing parcels of land turned into months of determination to find something ‘just right’.

Just Right turned out to be a half-section of land in central Saskatchewan, which my Mom and her partner went in with us to buy.   Three hundred and twenty acres of rolling pasture, with a nice fence, a couple of big sloughs and a run-down yard site.  For just the cost of a car payment, we were in business…or so we thought.

Mom started building a house, which got stalled when her contractor disappeared into the night…with quite a lot of her money.  Then the economy crashed, and my husband found himself working very part-time, with no prospects for decent work.  I applied for a transfer which, two years later, is still pending.   Such is life.

We got tired of waiting, and applied for a transfer to a different town in the province, which, to our surprise, went through about three weeks later.   A rush trip out to scout homes, and we made an offer on a run-down farm house on ten acres…accepted, pending subdivision.   I start work at the new location in mid January, and the subdivision could be approved any time between now and October.

So now we need a New Plan, but this two-year journey to get into the countryside is almost over…then the REAL fun begins…

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