Happy New Year

It’s been a while.

When did I last post, anyway?  Definitely sometime before Christmas…

So I’ll go back a little, to November when we had some really good blows – up to 100km/hr.  We’re inland from the water by a few km, so it could have been worse.  We never lost power either, for which I was grateful, with a freezer full of chicken and three pigs outside being contained with electric fence.

I was surprised to see the heron on the dairy roof in mid November, in all my years (decades) here, I’ve seen one on the farm maybe once.  This heron preceded the storms by just a few days.  The hawk is a regular unfortunately – I see him almost daily, and maybe I shouldn’t say unfortunately, since he does do his bit with rabbits and mice, but he also hangs around the chickens way too much.  Late November was the first time I was able to have the camera ready to hand when he showed up.

Big Leaf Maples are native to these parts, and they’re beautiful graceful trees in their prime.  Sadly, as they age they tend to rot inside, and eventually shed branches.  We have a few of these on our property, the largest, at least 100 years old, in our front yard.  It has provided sheltelr, shade, climbing and grace to the front of our house for the better part of a century, but sadly had been succumbing to the rot in the last few years, causing us some concern for the roof of our house quite close by.  In the last storm, one of the biggest branches let go, on the side away from the house fortunately, and so it was time for our friend Mike (he who prunes my apple trees and takes payment in chicken) to come and do his thing.  It was over in half a day, and though I don’t have a picture of the result, the tree has had the equivalent to a buzzcut, just the main trunk and a few short stubs of branches sticking up and out – the theory being that it will work something like pollarding, as the big leaf maple is very prone to forming a new tree from suckers/shoots.  I hope so, because right now it looks pretty stark.

One nice thing that came out of all that cutting was the big pile of logs that was left behind.  I didn’t have time, equipment or energy to deal with it, but an acquaintance from church who does his daily early morning walk past our house stopped one morning when I was out there and commented on the wood.  I explained and he offered to come and cut it all into firewood for me. I offered him half the wood in payment and we had a deal.  A few days later, this guy showed up with an axe and a pair of gloves.  One swing for every piece, he just drove that axe through each log as though it was butter.  He’s easily in his late 60’s and wasn’t even puffed when he was done 20 minutes later.   Turns out he’s been cutting wood since he was 8.

Christmas rushed upon us.  Anyone who remembers my frustration with Christmas lights last year will be glad to know that when I turned them on this year I got about 10 seconds of light from them before they quit – well, all but 6 of them.  I know when to give up, and this was the time.  I now have two strings – one 150 m of regular sized lights, one 50 m of small lights, both LED. And they BOTH WORK.   It was a lot of ladder work to replace the 10 old strings with the two new ones, but totally worth it.

The older daughter was house sitting in the nearby village over the holiday, but came over first thing Christmas morning, complete with the dog she was looking after and spent the day with us.  Sula was a delight – we’ve not had a dog around for more than a year, and it didn’t take her anytime at all to show us how much we were no longer dog proofed.  Our poor cat was outraged and didn’t show up again till midnight.  Dinner on Boxing Day was at our place, with a free range turkey from my buddy Bryce, and was followed by a rousing game of Scattergories, a very successful Christmas gift.

A day or so after Christmas, we got the last mileage out of our annual passes to Butchart Gardens by going down to see the Christmas light display.  This is much the same every year, and we try not to miss it.  The gardens with not much growing this time of year are an extravaganza of light and creativity, with all the 12 days of Christmas featuring throughout.

New Year’s Day we went for our annual stroll at nearby Island View Beach, on an absolutely fabulously bright, beautiful first day of 2016, and I of course did not take the camera.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.  I’ve posted pictures of Island View in past years, if you’re super keen to go looking for them.

A family birthday always winds up our Christmas/New Year’s season, and we celebrated with a visit to the Royal BC Museum a favourite haunt, where we thoroughly enjoyed the Nature Photography of the Year exhibit from the Natural History Museum.   Chocolate cake rounded off the day nicely.

Not a lot of farming stuff in that long litany…because there’s not much happening.  The pigs are gone, the hens are being grudging about eggs, there is a lot of mud around, and it’s always dark before I get home from work these days.  Outside work has been sporadic on weekends thanks to the weather and the festivities.  Oh, there was a cougar.  I never saw it, but the older daughter was just coming back to the house from shutting in the hens when her flashlight caught a pair of eyes.  She assumed deer and scanned to double check – not a deer.  A dog maybe? Nope,  definitely a cougar.  It loped off at a leisurely pace and that was the last we saw of it, so hopefully it was just travelling through.

Resolutions?  I don’t usually make any, but goal setting – well – I’m working on it.  Something about balance, I think.  Between family, farm, work.  Do I grow the farming business?  Maintain the status quo?  Drop the pigs or broilers?  Hire someone part time whether for cash, barter or whatever? What is it I want out of farming?  What’s the plan for the farm 5 years down the road, 10 years?  Meanwhile, what about family plans?  Work, university, school, health, recreation, togetherness.  Our home – paint, maintenance, cleaning, decluttering, redecorating.  The garden? Travel?  And so on.

So here you go, the few photos I took in November/December:

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Christmas Traditions

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A few years ago, we made a decision as a family to each make one gift for each of the others (small family of 4).  For some, the creative, artsy ones, this was not that hard.  For others, they had a plan going in and also found it not so hard – time consuming, maybe, but not hard.  And the last family member? He found it difficult.  He googled, he cajoled, he asked around at the office, he looked for loopholes in the agreement that would allow him to buy something, like, maybe something from a craft fair – that would be home made, right?  But not by him. We made him stick to the rules.

On Christmas Day we were all presented with beautifully arranged mason jar kits to bake cookies or brownies or soup.  The youngest, 13 at the time, had knitted for each of us (mine was a dishcloth).  The eldest, then 16, had made something different for each of us – mine was a cardboard frame for a picture, decorated with beach glass.  I had typed up my trip journal and made a copy for each member of the family from our Europe trip that summer, and added photos of each of them in their copies.  The forethought and effort to think of something the other person would like, that our skills could manage, was far, far more challenging than paying cash for something from the store.  We had plenty of that too, under the tree, but the exercise of just one present for three other people was exhausting – but pleasantly so when we saw their pleasure in receiving it.

So much so, that we did it again the following year.  And the next.  We don’t have an official policy anymore, it’s just if someone wants to do it, and sometimes we don’t – time is a factor for the working stiffs among us, and for the students too.  But there’s always special baked goodies for each of us now, and sometimes something crafted from wood or wool.  Maybe a photo montage.  Last year, the younger one did special little things for each of us in her metal jewellery shop class – mine was a cat shaped pen holder (it’s tail is corkscrewed to hold the pen).

The inspiration for this tradition came originally from reading Bill McKibben’s “Hundred Dollar Holiday”, one of his older books.  But it’s one of those ideas that seems to surface in different places and at different times.  Here in Canada, on our public radio station (CBC Radio) we have a storytelling show called The Vinyl Cafe, hosted by Stuart McLean.  His stories revolve around Dave and Morley and their kids Stephanie and Sam.  The story that resonates with me just now is called The Christmas Gift.  If you have time in the next few days, and need something to doze off to after eating all the leftovers, give it a listen.

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Merry Christmas from all of us at Sailors Small Farm.

Christmas Decorating

Family tradition decrees that we don’t start our decorating here until Advent begins (4 Sundays before Christmas.  If things go according to plan, we decorate a little at a time – well, that’s my plan anyway – hubby is more of an all or nothing kind of decorator.  At this point in the calendar however, we’re still on my schedule.

Today, the 16 yr old put together a lovely centrepiece for the advent wreath.  There is no way I can safely light even my tallest candles with this arrangement, lovely though it is, so I think I will use separate candle holders placed well away from the greenery – most of our meals would not benefit from the flambee treatment.

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Earlier in the week, the 19 yr old decorated the hand rail of the porch – lovely don’t you think?

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Last Sunday, the younger one made the door wreath for me – gorgeous.

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And then there’s my effort… Mine is the exterior Christmas lights on our house.  10 strings, each 25 ft long of LED lights secured along the eaves of the house on two sides, the road and driveway sides.  I realize you only see a very small portion of the total length in this picture, but how many bulbs do you see shining there?

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I can confirm that yes indeed, the single red light you see there is the ONLY light that comes on when I turn on the outside lights.   I spent three hours battling with these lights last Sunday and I was not in a very Christmassy mood by the time I finally gave up, having convinced 4 of the 10 strings to come on.

I moaned about this to hubby over dinner, he who used to be responsible for this particular aspect of Christmas decorating until this year, who said brightly “oh, you know what, that happened last year too – they don’t work well when it’s cold”.

Wait, what did you say – they don’t work when it’s cold?  THIS IS CANADA!!!! Are you kidding me?  Christmas is cold in Canada.  Always.  Even here, in the warmest corner of the country in the winter, our night temperature is typically hovering around 0 C this time of year.  Last week, when i was up and down the ladder a million times tweaking and adjusting and replugging and swearing…the night temperature was -3.

But sure enough, as long as the temperature is above 0 C, they seem to work OK.  Not right away – it takes a couple of hours for the rest of the strings to come on, but if you wait all night, you might get to see both sides of our house lit up by midnight.  If only I could stay awake that long, I’d see them too.