Un-quiet but fine.

It’s been a hectic year so far….we just spent our Thanksgiving long weekend tackling the last of the big outside projects – winter can hit anytime now.

The last of the small wood is tucked under the porch – this does not need to be split, the big splitting wood is stashed under the overhangs on the barns. We generally burn ten cords a year – I always breathe a sigh of relief when it’s all in.

Managed to squeeze in a quick batch of soap – still working after all these years on technique- but it’s soap and it cleans 😊

Managed some beautiful tallow from our steer we put in the freezer….turned some into candles, will make soap with some, and likely grind some for steamed puddings.

Cured some egg yolks – despite downsizing our layer count, we still have too many eggs.

Canning canning canning. This batch – beef stock.

That is about half a batch – we go through a lot of beef stock (and chicken stock)

Despite the late spring, then the lack of rain, then the days of forest fire smoke – the garden produced very well.

This photo was taken around nine o’clock in the morning….yes – smoke can make it seem like night time.

More garden bounty

Had a get together (the first one in White Rock, this one in Penticton) with family and friends to remember my mom. She’s now next to my brother (my dads ashes – I spread at the top of a mountain many years ago).

I sometimes wonder at the purpose – why am I still here? This sometimes muddles my mind – probably more than it should – trying to find some meaning to it.

The arrival of our new Jersey heifer – due in February. Daisy- our other jersey was off being bred and is now home – due in April. Bruce has determined running out of butter/milk, possibly cheese during dry up can now be avoided 😂. I say ‘have fun milking two cows honey’.

Hay for the cow (we buy it, not grow it).

Bruce gutted a room at the end of the barn and purpose built a room for all my bee ‘stuff’. It’s amazing how much bee stuff one can accumulate without even trying 😊

A trip to my visit my daughter near Edmonton – canola crops always bring back memories.

Another trip to catch up with my son – camped here as it was close to where he picks up his logging truck for work.

Sahra, Sam. A sad but inevitable day as we said goodbye to the drafts. They are in their prime – Bruce’s knee has never healed well enough to work them on foot. They need work – a friend found them a new home where they’ll have work every day. This was very hard on Bruce…..but he wanted more for them than to stand about in a field being pasture potato’s.

What I do when I’m sitting still 😉

This year was a lot about rebuilding….rebuilding things on the farm that were sorely in need of repair – the chicken barn, and at the moment the floor in the big barn. Rebuilding my health – physically (managed to lose a very much extra 25 pounds) by simply being able to get outside to do physical things, not to mention that being at home I can’t graze on junk because there simply isn’t any to graze on. Mentally – I still find it a bit of a struggle to be at home – I’ve always identified myself by my job and how much money I can earn. I’ve had to learn to put value on the abilities I have on the farm. Work in progress I think. My own cross to bear – we’re budget minded enough we can do fine on Bruce’s income alone. Still – it’s odd not to be depositing a pay check.

I’ve always had an un-quiet mind…..have spent many years thinking I needed to fix it. Slowly coming to realize that my un-quiet mind makes me who I am….and I’m fine with that 😊

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Bees 🐝 bees 🐝 bees 🐝

I’ve wanted to get into beekeeping for years – in fact bought a book on beekeeping many years ago, read it – and promptly realized there weren’t enough hours in a day to work at work, work on the farm, and keep bees.

Well. I now have bees. I took a two day ‘beginner beekeeping course’ and have since discovered – I know nothing about bees. Part of the issue is that it’s impossible to teach a room full of ‘new-bees’ anything other than the most rudimentary basics. I took notes. I asked questions. I ordered and read several books. The rest of the issue – anybody I’ve talked to who has kept bees for any length of time, flat out told me – you can spend a lifetime with bees and still have things to learn. They’re right. 😊

The above picture is a testament to my complete lack of knowledge; I’m standing there in my brand new bee suit, with my brand new hive set up and a package of brand new (to me) bees – that have come all the way from New Zealand with a three day delay because they missed the plane. We were told how to ‘install ‘ our package….sort of. ‘Remove the screen, remove the queen cage, flip the tube over, give it a sharp whack on the hive (the bees will all fall into the hive), install the queen, put the cover on the hive and leave it for a week before you check to see if the queen is out.

Easy. Sure. I understood the queen would come in a cage with a candy plug – and the bees would eat their way through the plug and set her free – in theory being familiar enough with her by then they wouldn’t outright kill her….I wavered between putting her on top of the frames, on the bottom of the box, or using an elastic to sandwich her to a frame of foundation. I chose the elastic method and had everything ready. So I unstaple the plastic screen and proceed to pull out the strip the queen cage is attached to – and pull, and pull, and pull and wonder why the hell the instructor failed to mention the ‘plastic strip’ the queen was attached to was three feet long…..

You can see I am not holding the strip over the hive like I should be (I’m still looking for the queen cage) and aside from that – the bees are not happy. They’re hungry. They’ve been crammed in a tube for days, they’re suffering from jet lag…..even better – I find the queen cage at the end of the strip – and there’s no candy plug…..it’s just a cage with a teeny cork – I have a vague recall of the instructor saying something about sticking a piece of mini marshmallow in after I remove the cork. Huh? I don’t have any mini marshmallows – It doesn’t seem a good time to go buy some – why on earth is there no candy plug? I hand the cage off to Bruce so he can remove the cork; put your finger over the hole when you get the cork out or she will fly away! I shake the strip free of bees (into the hive), I’m starting to rush now- the bees are even less happy than they were a few minutes prior – and snatch the cork free cage with the queen, take a quick look to make sure she has wings and all of her legs and two antennae, and stick her under the elastic and quickly sandwich another frame in next to her. I then snatch up the tube and whack it on the hive and watch a mass of pissed off bees land with a thud in the bottom of the hive. I am now surrounded by a cloud of angry bees and get stung on the hand – I had this idea that I would wear sturdy nitrile gloves for more dexterity – but the top of them is a stretchy fabric of sorts – sure enough one of the girls gets her little bee feet stuck in the fabric and promptly jams her stinger in the back of my hand. I ignore it, quickly drop in the rest of the frames, pop on the inner cover and the lid – and finally remember to breathe. I start picking up my ‘stuff’ – Bruce picks up the tube and informs me that it’s still half full of bees.

I look at the tube. I look at the hive cover. I vaguely recall the instructor saying ‘just leave the tube in front of the hive so the stragglers will find their way into the box’. I decide ‘stragglers’ and ‘half a tube full of bees’ are one and the same – place it in front of the hive entrance and we exit stage left. We are surrounded by a large cloud of angry buzzing, being carpet bombed by days worth of bee poop they seem to have saved up for just such an occasion……or possibly they didn’t like the blinding glare off of my bee suit – we do several circuits around our large yard stopping several times to carefully brush bees off of each other and finally make it into the house.

Bruce declares the installation event ‘a little nervy’. He doesn’t react well to stings…..but being a fair man and no doubt recalling I milked his cow for an entire year because he couldn’t figure out how to milk her…..has decided that stings or no – it is his turn to support me in my decision to keep bees 😁

The hive is about thirty feet from my house – by choice. I’m able to keep an eye on it, I have an electric fence around it – to keep my dogs out – and more importantly, bears. Bears are common around here – they’re brave, they get hungry, they sometimes couldn’t care less about an electric fence. They know bee brood and honey when they smell it. If they’re stuck digging up your garden, so be it – but if they’ve a chance to knock over a hive or two – even better. My dogs will definitely warn me of a bear visit – I have ‘bear bangers’, and a capable rifle along with a bear tag. Bees are not considered ‘livestock’ where I live…..I can legally dispatch a bear if it’s killing my cow say….but not if it’s tearing apart and eating my bees. Hence the bear tag. I’m a fan of being legal – and keeping my bees.

The following morning I see the bees are still ‘in bed’. I know they won’t fly until it’s at least plus 15C. It’s plus 5C – I grab my stethoscope (I use it for the cow should I need to listen to the rumen) and lurk out to the yard to have a listen to the hive. Reasonably quiet – I picture them in a ball in the middle trying to stay warm. I notice the tube is empty, (hallelujah) see a half dozen bees dead on the landing board – think I should bring them into the house – what better chance to really get a close up look at my new project? I lay them out in a row on the kitchen table and wander off to find a magnifying glass – finally returning to see that the bees aren’t actually dead – they were simply too damn cold to do anything other than play at being dead. They are slowly marching around the table, stretching the kinks out I suppose – I fetch them all up and rather hurriedly take them back outside to the hive. 🙄

My instructor emails me to ask if I got the bees installed and did I manage to get the queen in the box. I respond rather casually that yes – all went fine 😂, excepting for the fact that I had expected the queen cage would have a candy plug – and it did not – and I did not have any mini marshmallows on hand, so I simply pulled the cork and popped her in. I could totally picture the poor man rolling his eyes and wondering at my intelligence….

I inspect in a week….remove the vacant queen cage, pull frames and look for eggs….try and find the queen. Bruce points out that in direct contrast to the installation, the bees are remarkably calm – he removes his gloves and helpfully takes lots of pictures. They are storing nectar, capping some, drawing out comb, bringing in pollen. I see no eggs, no queen. Only after the fact when I have tossed some pictures to my daughters phone – do I get to see the queen. She sends the above photo back – “the long fat one to the left of center mom”. Relief. I didn’t screw up badly enough to accidentally lose/kill/maim the queen.

I email the instructor – I mention I did not see any eggs, nor have I seen any ‘mating flights’, I forward the picture. He tells me that it looks like my queen, she is already mated when I get her so will not see any mating flights (that wasn’t covered in the course), and gives me tips on how to ‘see’ eggs. It’s bothering me that I did not paint the queen – and I’m in a bit of a panic on each inspection when I don’t find her, and worried to death I’ll accidentally crush her moving frames/lids/covers….

Regardless, I finally see eggs, larva and empty brood cells that tell me bees are emerging and in theory things are going to plan.

Drone frame with capped drone and larva.

I trap drone in an effort to control the varroa mite population. Varroa is the devil – they will overwhelm your hive and ultimately, if left unchecked – will kill your hive by spreading disease – they are vectors for all kinds of nasty stuff. It’s a hard fact, that to raise bees today – you must also understand you are raising mites. In a fluffy bunny tree hugger world – there would be no mites- but that’s not the bee world any more. Drone frame trapping is one weapon in an arsenal to control mites. Drone cells are larger than worker cells, the bees draw the comb out a good distance and the queen picks those cells to lay drone eggs in (not that she won’t drop a few elsewhere). The theory is that the mites prefer to lay their eggs in drone cells (they scooch in just before they are capped) because drone take the longest to emerge.

In theory when the drone cells are capped – you pull the frame and pop in a new one. The frame you pull gets popped into the freezer for (I do four days) and the mites and eggs are killed.

At this point you can put it back into the hive and the bees will clean it up – but I’m not fond of the idea I’m making my bees stop what they were doing to mess with a system I’ve put into place – I actually scrape the entire thing clean – toss the big fat drone larva to the chickens (they can spot protein a mile away) and scrub the frame clean, wax it for the next swap out.

Does this eliminate the mite population? No. But by trapping drone you are trapping mites and ultimately buying time before you have to treat your hive with miticides (or whatever you decide to treat with). You can’t treat for mites while the bees are filling supers with honey – unless you intend to leave all the honey for the bees. Some treatments are hard on brood or hard on bees. Anything ‘natural’ I can do, I do. The queen already being mated dictates that there is no need for drones, and come fall they get their lazy unhelpful arses kicked out of the hive anyway.

I’ve had bee people tell me that working with bees is very zen. Totally fascinating.

I’m not there yet. Each any every time I inspect the hive I obsess over the details, the order in which I’m going to do things, making sure I’m being quick, smooth, efficient- minimizing my disruption. I feel my inspections are akin to a home invasion – the bees helplessly stand by while I rearrange things and poke about – brushing some bees off to get a closer look when they’re in the middle of cleaning out a cell….once I’m out of the yard I’m sure it takes them a day to put things right, and I imagine there’s some irritation. I’m grateful I have calm bees – for the most part – they ignore me.

The hive population is increasing faster than I can believe. (The comb on top of the frame is burr comb – built when the bees decide they don’t like the extra space between the frames and the inner cover which I chose to leave flipped over in the ‘winter’ position all summer so they would have an upper entrance). I send a few pics to the instructor. He tells me my queen (which I still haven’t seen) has a spotty brood pattern and to keep an eye on that. I wonder what I’m supposed to do if she doesn’t get it together…..off with her head and replace her? Give her a good stern talking to? Considering I can’t find her – I decide it’s moot for the moment.

At some point my brood chamber is packed full to boiling over. I add a second box – they fill that in next to no time flat. Instructor man tells me to keep an eye out for swarm cells. Specifically he says ‘tip the bottom box up and look along the bottom of the frames for swarm cells or queen cups. I’m not thrilled with the idea of tipping boxes up and stooping down to look for cells (I had a vision of accidentally losing my grip on the boxes while looking for cells) – I set my phone on video and shove my arm under the screened bottom board and pan across the entire bottom. I’m relieved to see no cells no cups.

Next inspection Queen Cups!!! On the top of the frame – not the bottom…..I message out for some advice, post the pic on the local Beekeeper’s FB page. The responses are fast and furious and incredibly varied –

your queen is dead – those are emergency cells!

– crush them – you don’t want more queens

– hmmmm – I think your bees have voted the queen out. (I didn’t know bees were that political)

-why are they on the top of the frame?

And so on. What to do? The ‘general consensus’ (if there is such a thing among Beekeeper’s) wait.

Wait for what I’m not clear – but I wait.

Next inspection – they are gone. I have no idea what that means…..possibly they decided to rearrange the furniture and decided it looked better the way it was in the first place. Maybe they were trying to scare the queen into stopping that spotty brood pattern nonsense. Maybe they were just messing with me 🤔

Before I know it the nectar flow is in full swing – my instructor told me so – I wouldn’t know a good nectar flow if you hit me on the head with it (yet). I slapped on a honey super and got ready for the soon to be glut of honey.

I wait. I check. I wait some more.

My supers are of the ‘medium’ size (shorter than the ‘deeps’ for ease of manipulation- they’re damn heavy when full). My supers also have the plastic foundation in them, as opposed to the wax – the theory being, plastic foundation hold up better to extraction. I’m going with the ‘flow’ so to speak – I can’t even find wax medium foundation to buy. Plastic it is.

I wait some more. Each time I peek under the cover there are no bees in the honey super. There is no comb being drawn out – no nectar being stored.

Initially I decide the bees will move up when they’re good and ready – but finally, on an inspection, I realize they are jamming nectar and capping honey in every conceivable spot they can – both brood boxes are full, they’re backfilling brood cells, the invisible queen is running out of places to lay eggs, they’re even building comb between the bars of the wax foundation and the plastic and filling that – they will not use the plastic foundation. I make a corporate decision and grab a deep full of wax foundation and swap it out, move two frames of honey and two frames of brood from the bottom box, plug them into the new box and damn the torpedoes. I do not want a swarm in August. Swarms happen for a few reasons – but sheer hive congestion is one of them. I want them to have space, I know they won’t abandon brood – in effect I’m tricking them into the deep super.

I give them a few weeks (the remainder of the nectar flow season really) and worry about robbing – we’ve had the worst year ever for yellow jackets and hornets….I’ve tried trapping them with everything and anything to no avail. They build big nests above me and massive complexes under grass and hay and in the ground. I’ve been stung three times by these wretched things – each time my reaction is getting worse. I’m avoiding piles of hay, tall grass – I’ve a permanent kink in my neck from looking up for nests. Mostly I’m eyeballing my hive and watching to see if they’re intending to start robbing my bees. I have Bruce build me a robbing screen.

Finally – time to check for progress – the deep is nearly full – surprising to me considering the lateness of the season when I put it on. Now I need a plan. I decide on the next visit I will do a sugar roll test to check my mite load so I can decide on a treatment, I will move the brood from the honey deep down to the first box, install my bee escape so I can return in a day or so to steal the remains honey and not have to deal with bees.

Hah! Not. I don’t know who comes up with the weather forecast – but Murphy’s law dictated that the inspect morning was minus 6C. Once again (as I have all season) I feel like I’m racing the horse to the barn door and hoping to slam it shut before he gets out. I toss my carefully laid double inspection plan out the window and come up with a ‘one size fits all’ plan, wait anxiously until I see plus 18C , watch some rain clouds roll in and figure it’s now or never.

The smoker gets lit, the hive comes apart. The brood gets moved to the bottom box once I make room. I cram two frames of honey in the second box once I make room. I decide whether I see mites or not – I’m sure I have mites – and drop two strips of Apivar in each box.

There are several ways to treat mites, some are temperature sensitive, some not, some easy, some require a certain amount of skill. I have all the equipment to do an oxalic acid fumigation- I’ve also never used it – and after hearing several stories about hives being set alight with the fuming wand and bees roasting themselves on said wand….I thought it best to leave that method alone until someone can show me how it’s done. I do not want to foolishly burn my hive down and cremate all the bees in it. I could have also done an oxalic dribble – but again – have not practiced it, and thought it best to simply stick with what I know.

So – I stack the two brood boxes, pop on an inner cover that I’ve modified to accommodate two jars of syrup as I understand I now have to feed them so as they do not use up their stores before winter. I now set about stealing six frames of honey from my third deep – that is still full of bees I need to coax into the two brood boxes. Gong show ensues – frame by frame I walk to the front of the hive, shake the bees off the honey, brush the stubborn ones off as I’m walking around back of the hive to pop them into a big tub with a lid. Things start to get a little hectic – I keep my focus until I have all the honey in the tub and finally shake the box itself off and place it over my syrup feeders. On goes the cover – done. I cart everything out of the yard and do several circuits around the back yard until the last of the bees decides I’m no longer of interest and return to the hive. I watch from the house – it takes about three hours before they’ve all squeezed themselves back into the hive – success. I think.

I think the girls did a beautiful job 😊

I froze a frame for the bees in the spring. These are also in the freezer until I decide how many I might set aside for them and how many I feel like extracting by hand. I have an extractor – but it’s not worth the mess for such a few frames.

The trick now….is to get them through the bitter cold of winter – next trick – getting through the crazy temperature fluctuations of spring. To that end I’m making candy boards and an insulation box. I’m wrapping the hive with a ‘bee cozy’ (no kidding, that’s what they are called 😄

Winter/spring is tough on bees – especially in the north. Every year stories abound of lost hives – starvation, moisture, mites….other diseases. I’ve done the best I can to date – my goal was to have a strong hive going into winter. I’m hoping I’ve accomplished that.

I will keep you in the loop ☺️

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In Charge

I’ve a piano in my house. (I may have mentioned this previously)

Heintzman & Co. Built in 1928. For the last fifteen years it lived in my moms house, prior to that it spent its entire life in my grandmothers living room.

My nephew Eli was next in line for this piano – but at twenty two years old, he has nowhere for it to live at the moment. Pianos don’t like to be moved – and nobody likes to move pianos – mention you need help moving one and people tend to flee like rats off a sinking ship. It was decided then, that Bruce and I would move it to our house – on the premise that it will live here until I’m gone; for one thing, I’ll be damned if I’m moving it again – and for another – I literally had to throw out a desk and an old recliner to make it fit in my wee house.

We ‘think’ it weighs between six and eight hundred pounds. Doctor Google says so – that and the fact that Bruce and I, familiar with moving bloody heavy things – discovered on the first ‘I’ll lift this end while you shove the skid underneath’ – nothing happened. We both stood there dumbfounded, more than slightly alarmed as we had a two hour window to get this thing out the door, down a hundred plus feet of sidewalk with steps, around a corner, down more steps and into our stock trailer. The time limit was due to the fact that we then had to get to moms storage and load all of that stuff around the piano, before the storage closed for the night – then turn around for the nine plus hour trip back home.

I stood outside the door for a few minutes hoping for a random stranger I could maybe snag for help – it was like the whole complex knew it was piano moving day – there were no random strangers to be had.

Plan B. Tilt instead of lift and try not to let it fall over. Onto the skid. Out the door. Pull, shove, slide, huff puff and swear, repeat until we’re down to the road. Back truck in and jackknife stock trailer up to piano – block the road. One would think blocking the road would produce some random stranger type help – but no, all random strangers were content to sit in their Beemer/Lexus/Acura’s staring at their cell phones while pretending the road was not blocked with piano moving farmers who by now were completely out of ‘oomph’ and almost out of good swear words.

Turns out shoving a piano ‘down’ steps is easier than lifting a piano ‘up’ into a stock trailer. Defeat was staring us in the face – I actually considered leaving the thing where it stood – wondered how many days it would take for some irritated resident to phone strata and lodge a complaint of an abandoned piano, and how many more days the ‘who’s going to pay to move the abandoned piano’ bickering would go on at the next strata council meeting.

Finally – two young women who decided they might need to get their car out before we got the piano loaded, offered to help. Bruce managed to lift it one more time and the three of us managed to shove it into the trailer. Bruce ratchet strapped it to the divider panel and we were off to the storage unit to load before closing.

We had intended for this to be a twenty four hour round trip, allowing for icy snow covered roads and some serious pea soup fog on the way back, two short naps on the side of the road when we could actually see to pull over, one short slide away when Bruce – sound asleep – managed to move his legs and accidentally knock the gear shift into neutral, and one stop for truly awful fast food (cringe) – we made it home ten minutes past our goal. 

The piano got to live in the stock trailer for another three days – while we decided where exactly it was going to fit, and exactly how much ‘help’ we might need to get it into the house. Turns out the dead of winter snow/ice situation worked in our favour – we mostly ‘skated’ the thing right into its new home.

We have wood heat and next to no humidity in the house – my moms house was a stones throw from the ocean – I opened the thing up and started stuffing towels into the innards to soak up the glut of moisture that seemed to be leaching out of the workings. I randomly plunked a few keys on occasion and waited ….. and waited….until sure enough a month or so later it was horribly out of tune. Called a piano tuner guy – turned out to be a young fellow in is twenties who had the thing apart in a heartbeat and spent a solid three hours tweaking it back to life, then sitting down to play something fabulous before making me a re-tune appointment in July.

So the piano sits. I avoid it – but I’m not sure why. I haven’t touched a piano since I was probably eight years old…..I was the typical recalcitrant child that tried everything and anything to get out of piano lessons. I have long since forgotten (or perhaps blocked out) how to read music. There are members of my family that are/were natural musicians – I am not one of them. I fall somewhere in the if I practice and practice and practice I could play piano group. On a random day I decide to fish through all of my moms sheet music. Nope. Might as well be written in Greek. On another random day I download ‘piano for beginners’ onto my kindle and give that a whirl. Ah. Now I remember – it was the tedium of scales and endless repetition of ‘Yankee Doodle’ that had me longing to be anywhere but sitting at a piano.

I let the piano sit some more. There are more important things to do than fool around trying to play the piano – aren’t there?

It takes another month of doing all of the other things I need to do – to realize what I’m up to – I am avoiding the piano because I am still in the habit of thinking that’s if it’s not important to the household, or the farm, or the job…..then it’s not important at all.

I remind myself ‘I am in charge of my life now’.

I drive into town and grab a big fat book of piano classics and find on page 42 a piece I am familiar with by ear – one that’s full of sharps, double sharps, flats, naturals and every other goofy symbol I don’t recognize – and once home park my arse at the kitchen table and set about teaching myself to read music.

Progress? Reasonable. I can play the entire piece and only slightly butcher it. Am I going to become an accomplished pianist? Hardly. But that’s not the point – the point is, I’m learning to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – and I’m not feeling guilty about it. That’s a good place to be for me. 😊

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There comes a point in everyone’s life when one takes a step back, takes a good hard look around themselves – and finally gathers up the nerve to jump into the void of ‘change’. There’s a certain amount of miserable comfort in the sameness of things, the ‘job’, the stress, the workload at home, the routine of everyday life. Then there are the ‘expectations ‘ others have of you – and as an adult, you determine you need to fulfill those expectations – you feel a need to prove you are responsible, reliable, steady. Responsibilities. Ah yes – pay the bills, stay late at work or come in early, pick up the slack when others are shirking their responsibilities.

Odd how so many of us don’t put ourselves first – or second or even third.

Those of you who follow my blog, know I lost my mom last year. In the eight months following, I threw myself into overdrive and set about managing to take another persons entire life and find a way to merge some of it with my own, part with what I couldn’t accommodate, and divvie out what I thought others could; all the while remaining responsible, reliable, steady and meeting expectations.

That’s the simple version. When I finally came up for air, when I finally had a minute to think – I knew it was time for change.

I left my job. Gave the boss a months notice, and with little care about whether or not he would find a replacement, with a definite ‘it’s my turn’ attitude, set about winding down thirteen years of standing in the same place doing the same thing every single day. Winding down twenty five years of effort and commitment to the same industry – an industry that’s taxed me physically and mentally, and returned to me nothing more than a steady and decent paycheck – mostly due to the fact that I’ve stuck with it for so long.

My toolbox is now home.

I. Don’t. Miss. It. One. Bit.

Automotive is a thankless industry. Nobody pulls up to the garage with their truck needing a five thousand dollar repair, and walks in with a smile on their face – so in reality, you’re never seeing anybody at their best – and you need a thick skin because you know that although you didn’t build their truck, or break it – you are in the line of fire anyway.

Don’t miss that one bit either.

Thinking way back – I have been in the workforce since I was thirteen – so forty two years. Long enough I think. Am I ‘retired’? I actually don’t know……I’m not averse to going back to work….but I have decided to play it by ear, and I have decided it has to be something not in automotive. Something where I am creating, not resurrecting – there is a difference. I have been asked – “what do you want to do?” Honestly, I haven’t the faintest. I – like many people, have always done whatever I’ve had to do. Initially, the very idea of not going to work had me in a near anxiety – it’s taking some getting used to. I’ve been home almost a month now – oddly it seems longer, but I still find myself trying to cram chores in at the end of the day simply because I’m not used to having ‘tomorrow’ to do them.

I’m a list maker – I’m known to make lists of lists – always feeling more organized and accomplished as I’m checking things off. Things that surprise me now that I’m home? The lists are getting longer rather than shorter. When I have a few moments to sit and think, it occurs to me that I now have time to expand the garden. I have time to stay on top of the weeding – as opposed to scheduling a day to weed. The lists are markedly different – split firewood’ makes the list again – it’s not all on Bruce because I have time to split wood. The lists are now leaning in a different direction – I’ve decided to keep bees – something I’ve considered many times but not acted on for lack of time. There’s a lot of planning and prep to get ready for when the bees arrive. I’m looking forward to the challenge – and now recall that I’ve always done better in my life when I have a challenge in front of me – something new to learn. Challenge has been sorely lacking in my life for a lot of years.

My health is improving – that grinding mental fatigue and physical exhaustion is slowly fading. No more standing under banks of flickering fluorescents for hours on end, inhaling buckets of exhaust fumes for lack of ventilation, soaking up all manner of petroleum product that when I dump out a transmission has been chemically changed into god knows what. No more having to know all of the things – my job, the service writers job, the bookkeepers job.

No more rage. Rage when my only hard fought for heater that keeps my hands from cramping up in the winter because I have no heat in the back where I work – gets snatched up and taken to the office because despite the office having heat – the service writer is complaining her feet are cold. Rage when the boss decided that because he can’t actually lay eyes on me every second of the day, decides to have me fill out lengthy ‘reports’ on every single transmission I build and make the many treks to the time clock each day to punch on and off that particular job. Reports that got stuffed into a filing cabinet, that were never read, that I snatched up and brought home with me when I quit. So many rages. Gone. Goodbye to micromanagement. No more having to decide which battles to pick – we all know the squeaky wheel gets the grease -but in my industry it’s smart to understand that at some point, that wheel simply gets swapped out for one that does not squeak. Don’t. Miss. That. Either.

I’m not a spur of the moment kind of person – rather I tend to overthink things, which does not lend itself to much spontaneity. Paralysis by analysis is sometimes the norm in my personal life. I did not leap into the void of change lightly. I crunched numbers. I made sure I had the support of Bruce who is now by default the main breadwinner. I had to decide if I could live with lack of change around the farm – there is still so much to do, things to repair, house projects – and now, little spare cash flow to do them with.

At this moment – I feel I made the right decision. Each time I catch myself wondering if I should reconsider that decision, I remind myself; I do not owe anybody their living. I do not need to provemyself or my worth to anybody. Bought and paid for that t-shirt a long long time ago.

I try not to look back – after all I’m not going that way. I am now looking forward, focusing on what’s to come, what I can accomplish. Our farm year is still scheduled as usual, only now I’m adding to that schedule in a productive fashion. Bruce has noticed a change – he says I am less bitter, less hard, smile more often. He might be right…..the difference I notice? I finally feel like I can breathe.

Stay tuned….😊<


Posted in Rants, Raves and Ramblings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

What the hell…..


April 30 I lost my mom. Chatted via text message (as we did every single day)at 8:00 in the morning……nothing much – just a quick conversation about the fact that she should see some sunshine (as opposed to many past days of rain), she responded that she was definitely going to get outside and enjoy it.

Sometime before noon I received a call from my nephew (her grandson whom she has raised since he was two years old) – he had called an ambulance, she was in the local hospital – chest pain.

I ‘shut down’ the minute I heard this – my mom is bulletproof. A healthy, happy, fit, going concern – seventy three going on sixty.  Anxiety attack – I thought. She’s been burning the candle at both ends – trying to wind up her bookkeeping business…..sorting, downsizing, packing, moving stuff to storage in preparation for listing her townhouse and moving on to her ‘retirement’ on the Sunshine Coast.  It does not cross my mind for a second that this might be serious.

My nephew and I messaged back and forth – she needs more help sorting and packing – I say – I’ll see if I can get a few days off, come down and give her a hand. My nephew tells me he’s helping as much as he can – when he’s not at work. We are both worried – I tell him to keep me in the loop – my big concern at the moment is her level of stress – and how can I alleviate some of it. She is going to be fine.

My next phone call – he tells me they’ve done a CAT scan – she has a bulge in an artery close to her heart and it’s very serious – she is being transferred to a large hospital where there is a surgeon waiting for her. Her friend (and his ‘second’ grandma is there) and he is following the ambulance.

He signs the paperwork for her to have the surgery as she is unable to do so herself – we message back and forth as he tells me she is going into surgery, I tell him I will be there the following day – I have messaged my daughter and she is already on her way from Edmonton to pick me up in Prince George (nine hours away), we will get some sleep and head out in the morning – another nine hour drive – but we will go straight to the hospital.

I carry on doing the dishes, chatting with Bruce, anxious – but relieved she is in surgery – confident that she will be fine, I will see her tomorrow……

My phone rings again. It is my nephew. He is crying so hard I can’t understand him at all. But I didn’t need to. The bulge in moms artery let go while they were prepping her for surgery. There is – no fixing – a dissected artery when it lets go.

I manage to calm him down enough to get him to pass the phone to her friend – who is also crying, but coherent enough to understand me when I tell her ‘do not let Eli out of your sight. Not for one minute’. It matters nothing he is twenty one years old – the only parent he’s known – was his grandmother. I tell her friend I am on my way.

I hang up. I do my very best to not come unhinged – but fail miserably – it is several minutes as I try to process that I no longer have my mom – I am a mess – I cannot stop shaking – I cannot catch my breath. When I finally manage to get my shit together – I message my daughter to ‘pull over’ and call me, I rather frantically try to get hold of moms sister – but can’t seem to get through…..I start pitching random things in a duffle bag to travel with, Bruce phones my boss and tells him what happened and that I’ll be gone at least a week. I get hold of my son who is working on the island – ‘anything you need mom’. Auto pilot kicks in. 

I feel like I’ve stepped in front of an oncoming train. At fifty four, I’m not supposed to be the oldest in my immediate family. I’m not supposed to be fatherless, brotherless, and now motherless. I am not remotely prepared for this – an entire and large part of my future has been wiped out in the blink of an eye.

What. The. Hell.

The following morning, sorely lacking in sleep – my daughter and I head to the coast. She has managed to get hold of my aunt and she too is on her way.

I am numb. I don’t feel capable of driving. We pretend we’re fine, we stop for lots of coffees, junk to eat in the car, we talk about everything and nothing. My head is spinning with ‘things to do’ lists – I am worried about how to cancel the offer on the place she made where she was going to move. I don’t know if she’s forwarded a deposit, or signed off on the subjects. My daughter is practical – and smart and is now the glue that is holding me together. 

‘At the risk of being crass mom – they can’t sell a house to a dead person’

Good point. I worry about her bills, what about her credit cards?

‘Not to be crass mom – it’s not like we’re worried about her credit rating. ‘

Good point. And around we go for hours until we get there.

Auto pilot. We walk in the door, exchange hugs with my aunt, my nephew who is pretending with forced cheerfulness to be fine but is next to manic with his chatter and his obvious inability to sit for more than a few seconds.

Auto pilot.

My daughter is an absolute rock. We know there is no Will – so there are dozens of phone calls to make – chief among them – a lawyer – mortgage broker, listing agent for the property she offered on, friend and listing agent who was waiting in the wings for mom to be ready to list. Then there are the friends. The clients she did books for. I search her cell phone for any and all contacts that may need to be contacted. My aunt had the incredible foresight to bring her laptop and printer – she gets busy making lists of people, email addresses, phone numbers. My daughter makes every single call that needs to be made – I cannot -make myself do it.

I knew mom was sorting and packing and moving stuff to storage – but looking around – I couldn’t comprehend the sheer amount of stuff that still filled her three story townhouse. I set my aunt to dealing with moms room – I headed straight for her office – she did many clients books at home – I start hunting for year end stuff that needs to be given back, personal stuff I need for the lawyer…..paperwork. I know she has storage – I don’t know where, or what unit, or the gate code. I ‘think’ I know where she banks – but I’m not sure. With no will – I will not be allowed access to any pertinent information until the court grants me probate. I don’t know if her bills show up in the mail or she gets them email version. Turns out both. Auto pilot – I am good at shutting everything off in my head and doing what needs to be done – I know if I stop and think I will be useless.

We start packing. Boxes and boxes of ‘things’. Grandmas China. Crystal. Cabinets full of stuff. I load box after box of paperwork into the car – I need to file her taxes. We create piles of donations. I start obsessing about random things – what in the hell am I going to do with the dozens of large plants she had growing up on her rooftop deck. Wonder what to do with all her treasures – I spend my time and thoughts de-personalizing her things because I can’t imagine how else to do this. This sweater is just a sweater. This vase is just a vase. I wonder how full her storage is…

I am told I cannot access her storage until I have ‘paperwork’ stating I am the executor. I find the storage contract and the gate code and the three of us head over there and waltz in like we belong there – and open the door to find a ten by twelve room about half full of neatly packed and labeled boxes. Thank god room for more.

We meet the mortgage broker for lunch – a stellar man who in fifteen minutes emailed me any and all information I might need – something a bank would not have done without ‘paperwork’. I ramble endlessly through lunch – not comfortable in a social situation on a good day – let alone in this circumstance. It was ramble on or stare at my plate. I wanted to make the effort – her mortgage broker was also her good friend.

We meet with the lawyer – a woman who in half an hour of scribbling on a yellow legal pad and copying paperwork – had me more than confident she could and would kick ass with her stilettos should the need arise.

Auto pilot to the funeral home.

I never understand, how one is supppsed to make decisions at a time like this. My daughter and I are shown to a boardroom sized well appointed room and seated at an expensive round table for the ‘presentation’. I call it the ‘sales pitch’. I feel immediately claustrophobic. I feel like I can’t breathe.

‘Are you wanting to have a viewing?’


‘Is there something special you would like her dressed in for the cremation?’

Are you kidding me? ‘No’.

And on it goes, the lady remotely clicking the mouse and scrolling along the presentation on the big wall screen.  I start attacking the bowl of mints – maybe if I eat the mints I will be able to breathe.

‘We have several choices for vessels for a cremation’ nice lady scrolls through photos of actual caskets worth more than I make in a month, half caskets, plain pine caskets…..

I point to the one at the end. ‘The chipboard’

‘Excuse me?’

‘The chipboard. OSB. Whatever you call it’.

My daughter rescues me. ‘She would like to select the one in the last picture at the end’.

It seems to take almost forever – I want the hell out of there – but on cue, near what I thought would be the end, a woman named Sheila strolls in and takes the empty chair. She is there to discuss the burial and services offered at their cemetary. I find myself looking at Sheila – there is something different about her that I’m too weary to put my finger on. I explain that we will be putting mom – next to her son – in the cemetary in Penticton.

Sheila promptly removes herself from the room. At some point, I have signed enough paperwork to sink a battleship – and I am let out of funeral home class. I wonder what percentage of the many dollars forked over go to nice sales lady’s commission. I have no idea if I made all the right decisions – but I let it go – the decisions have been made.

We head back to the car. ‘There seemed something odd about Sheila’ I say to my daughter.

‘I do believe,’ she deadpans ‘Sheila used to be a Stan perhaps’.

‘Ah’ is all I can think to say. As I’ve already fallen through the rabbit hole – why shouldn’t Sheila turn out to be Stan?

We stopped at the post office to make arrangements to forward her mail to my house. The mail lady behind the counter burst into tears – ‘what do you mean she’s gone??!! That’s impossible – she was just in here last Friday – she gave me hockey stuff for my grandson- I’ve been here twenty years! She’s been coming here for as long as I’ve worked here!!!’

Auto pilot – I don’t recall what I said to her – but it was apparently enough to have her pull it together and complete the paperwork.

I finally catch my nephew on the evening of day three – he has calmed down some, he is able to sit still. He wants to talk about ‘the day’. He takes me through it from the beginning – tells me that on the phone to 911 he answered question after question after question until he lost his cool –

What is this – a fucking survey?! Get somebody here – there’s something wrong with my nan!!!’ At which point he flung open the front door and held the phone out: ‘911! Somebody take this!’ A lady from a unit further down the complex – happened to be outside – took the phone and dealt with the call as he hung onto mom.

They got somebody there – fire department first responders, and ambulance.

When he is done telling me the entire story – I can see – at no time did anybody drop the ball. There were no delays in the diagnosis, no delays in the transfer on the ambulance. No delays at either hospital. I have been told – that it’s remarkable she made it to the hospital at all – apparently fifty percent of the people who have a dissected artery – die before an ambulance arrives.

This does not make me feel any better – nearly every day since – I feel absolutely tormented by how truly frightened she must have been.

I decide to go pick up a ‘thank you’ card for the lady down the way who helped with the call – she has stopped by and spoken with my aunt. It seems the right thing to do for whatever reason. I walk over to a drug store and am brought up short. The entire twenty foot section of cards has been rotated out for Mothers Day cards. I want to sit down on the floor and cry and never get up. Auto pilot. I dig and dig and rifle through the cards until I come across a section of ‘message-less’ cards and find something not tasteless. I can write my own message.

In five days, we manage to pack almost the entire place and move all the boxes to the garage/basement. We manage to get most of the bookkeeping stuff to most of the clients. We managed some cleaning, we managed to remember to eat. We managed to drink a years worth of coffee. We manage to find odd moments of grim humor:

‘Look’ I say, standing at a box of first aid type stuff I hauled downstairs to the kitchen. ‘It’s one of those wrist style blood pressure checker things’. I wrap it around my wrist and hit the button and wait for the result – the numbers look as though I’m about to suffer a cardiac event of my own. ‘This can’t be working’. I state, taking it off. My daughter tries it – professes it to be ‘inaccurate’, my aunt tries it and thinks it’s ‘close’ …..I take my daughters side – she’s a paramedic – therefore in my head – she knows ‘all of the things’ – and can certainly declare a bp checker to be a dud.

We all decide we’re just fine and with some ceremony – pitch the thing in the trash. Just fine 😬. Of course we are not.

We finally leave the place as tidy as we can for the time being and I leave my nephew in charge – he ‘sort of’ still lives there anyway – mom liked for him to come and go and be nearby – she liked to cook for someone other than herself, he didn’t like the idea of abandoning his nan on a full time basis.

I make it home – unload the car – walk back into work Monday morning. My boss immediately takes me aside.

‘Do you need more time?’

Only the rest of my life. ‘No. I need to work. I need the routine’.

I spend the next two weeks digging through paperwork, doing moms taxes, trying to decipher the books on her laptop as I am still getting requests for paperwork I have not found, working working working. I discover that if I just keep moving – I won’t have time to think. I go through her cell phone and start moving important emails over to mine, moving pictures to mine – I start dumping irrelevant contacts – until one day I have a near anxiety attack as I suddenly feel like I am erasing her life. Deleting who she was – like she was never here.  I stop.

I make the drive down again – my daughter flies down, my aunt drives – we are there to clean. And pack more. And organize more. At some point I will have permission to list the place – it needs to be decluttered, clean. My son arrives with his truck and starts hauling more boxes to storage, and incredibly – manages to haul every single plant off her roof top deck – down three flight of stairs – to his truck and off to her friends place where on a five acre parcel, she has room. My daughter in law and granddaughter make the trip – we clean, scrub, paint, shampoo carpets. I wire in a new light switch to replace a broken one, fix a closet door….I scrub the roof deck free of the common coastal algae and note that the finish is gone in some areas. It looks like crap. I tell my son to load any furniture he wants – he helpfully removes some of the larger items I think are just too big – things that I certainly have no room for. This time we leave the place spotless – and my nephew still in charge – with instructions to keep the place clean. 

He gets a new job that comes with a place to live – some distance away. He makes arrangements to move at the end of the month – another two weeks away. This is a good step for him – though he is worried about leaving moms place empty. I arrange for her realtor to grab a key and keep an eye on things. I find myself awake at night worrying about the stupid roof deck – it’s some 14 feet by 40 – a feature of that particular townhouse complex. I decide to make the drive one more time and paint the deck – and help my nephew sort and pack and donate……

I get there to find he is like a deer caught in the headlights. He can’t decide what to take, what to give away, what to donate, what to keep in storage at a friends place. He is missing mom something fierce – he is trying to ‘adult’ as he says – but he is ever so glad I am there. His efforts to sort and pack and sort some more – have made the place look as if it hadn’t been straightened out in a year. I take a deep breath, I get him on the right track – I go buy three gallons of obscenely expensive vinyl decking paint – and get to work – and encourage him to stay the course and get it done. I need for him to be settled in his new place before I leave for home. I manage two coats of paint, a sunburn and some heat stroke – live on yogurt for three days while I try and ‘hustle’ my nephew into moving like he has a plan. Which he does – but his plans (quite like my moms) operate on a much different clock than mine. I mention this to him after waiting two hours for him to drop off a drum set, pick up a buddy and drop off some donations. I am tired. Tired of running up and down three flights of stairs, tired of the whole project. I am trying very hard not to be bitchy.

‘Eli. I know you have a plan here – but at the rate you’re accomplishing it – you won’t get it done today. I’m leaving again tomorrow’.

‘I know – I’m sorry. Nan and I call it ‘living on ocean time’.

I try a smile. ‘Sooo….you only move when the tide does?’

He tries a smile. ‘Something like that’.

My nephew does not own a vehicle – living at the coast – with the cost of insurance, the prohibitive cost of parking – if you can find any, means most kids his age are fine with transit, the sky train, bike, skateboard – whatever. If he needed a vehicle on occasion – he simply borrowed moms. Now he has made arrangements to borrow a truck for moving and at last, all but one load is where it needs to be before he has to return the truck. It’s pushing eight o’clock – I have been vacuuming behind him, double triple checking everything – jogging those stairs like I mean it –

‘Mom why the hell did you buy a place with three complete bloody flights of stairs?’

‘Places with no stairs are for old people’  she would state.

My nephew returns the truck and a buddy picks him up to grab the last load. I am alone by nine.

I was – relieved, to see him off to a new job, a new place to live. I was sad for the circumstances. This particular job was in the works before mom died – but still……he too – is on auto pilot.

I loaded my car, piled my stuff by the front door and fell onto the couch exhausted. I could have been asleep in seconds – but I lay there instead – eyes burning from fatigue, a view from where I lay of the living room, the dining room, the kitchen…..just looking. Looking at the retro table and chairs she bought at a furniture store close out for a song, laying on a couch that went from ‘don’t sit on that!’ to cheerios under the cushions as she raised her grandson- to somewhere to sleep when I came to visit. I found it incredibly sad that she wasn’t a part of ‘getting the place ready’ – that she couldn’t see how nice it looked. That she wasn’t there. Every time my eyes started to close I’d force them open again – unwilling to give it up for some much needed sleep. Trying to memorize the details.

I feel – so very broken. 

Life moves on. The farm is still farming, there’s a new calf, there’s milk coming in the door, butter and cheese being made. The fencing is getting done, the garden is producing, I’m canning beets, freezing beans. Last years calf is in the freezer, as are the meat birds. The pigs go in next weekend. I wait for word from the lawyer that the probate has gone through the court. I pay to keep moms hydro on, her car payment made until I can sell it…..I go to work and try to focus. Try not to make mistakes. Pretend I’m just fine thank you very much.

I try to tell myself I will get through this – but I’ve little faith I will anytime soon.

Going through boxes of moms stuff I brought home from her office – I find a zippered binder. I open it – to find every blog post I’ve ever written – printed out on thick quality grey paper with a matte finish. All of them. 

It goes without saying – this post will not be printed out. I don’t know If I want to blog any more…..

What. The. Hell.


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Every year about this time I get the urge to reset things.  Sort of like when the computer wont boot up properly and starts to get glitchy because something didn’t load right – just click Restart and try again.  We plan our year on the farm by grabbing a new calendar and hammering down dates.  Dates to get the weaner pigs, date to order the new layers, the meat birds, date to process the meat birds, date to slaughter the pigs.  There are blocks of time set aside for processing the gardens, canning the salmon, a date when Miss Daisy Duke is likely going to drop her calf. Everything is pre-planned. Twelve weeks from the date of the meat bird arrival, is a date set aside to process the meat birds. A date to process the old layers and put them in canning jars…and so on. 

For the most part, its a rigid system.  One cannot just ‘wing it’ when it comes to livestock, or putting food up for the winter…..well you can I suppose – but then the entire year turns into a gong show.  Then there are the long weekends – those ‘dates’ are set aside for projects.  This year we will set aside a long weekend to get the new fence around the lagoon strung, a corresponding cross-fence strung, and because horses are horses and the grass is always greener on the other side – we will electrify the top wire.  Projects – there are always any number of projects that need to be done on the farm, not necessarily new projects, sometimes dates have to be set aside to fix things that didn’t survive the wear and tear of winter, or the wear and tear of livestock. 

All of these dates, are also nailed down for budgetary reasons.  If we’re going to string the lagoon fence, I need to budget the purchase of more wire and more fencing nails.  If we’re going to have neighbour down the road swing by with his handy dandy bobcat with it’s handy dandy auger to churn up some clay so we can plant more fence posts – I need to budget paying the man.

This yearly reset has been something we’ve done for years – I’m very much not a fan of surprises, of the unexpected.  I’m capable of dealing with an upset to the carefully set out schedule of ‘things that will happen this coming year’, but it’s not something I like to accommodate. That calendar, with it’s blocks of time laid out, with it’s little notes in the margins, is reassuring to me, and it means I’m not going to forget something obvious.  This past year for instance – while we were up in the mountains on one of our cut down firewood trips, I happened to notice my cell phone screen flashing (generally there is no cell service up there), picked it up to see a message that our salmon was ready to be picked up. What?  Now? Today?  In an instant we are double timing the firewood project, racing (but trying not to speed and draw attention to the fact that we are hauling wood that is not cut to the required 24 inches) down the mountain, down the highway, through town and home to drop the trailer and grab the cash to go pick up the fish on the north end of town.  As I’m grabbing the cash I see a message flashing on the land line.  I stop to listen – neighbour down the road is in the middle of haying and something has run amok with his tractor and can we come take a look at it.  What?  Now?  Today? We race into town, fetch up all the salmon, race home and toss it on ice, race back down the road and see if we can figure out what’s going on with a nearly new tractor that suddenly won’t pick up a round bale.

Ultimately, this is how ones carefully laid plans fall apart.  We had scheduled zero dates for getting our own firewood, as a result I completely forgot about the salmon – and well I can’t fault the neighbour for a faulty part in his tractor.  Normally we process the salmon the day we get it….for the first time ever – it sat on ice for two days and Bruce spent his ‘day off’ canning and smoking the salmon.

I suppose adaptability is the name of the game when you farm, or homestead….and we’ve certainly learned to be adaptable in our near thirteen years here.  This coming year however….I’m not going to hit the ‘restart’ button.  I’m flat out going to pound on the ‘control/alt/delete’ keys until the entire past year short circuits into the stratosphere.  I want a clean, clean page to start over on – a page with no wrinkles, no doodles, no coffee cup stains.  I am going to take the next calendar and block out dates for me.  Yes – me.  I want a set in stone time to go and visit my mom and my nephew, to spend time wandering downtown Vancouver and pigging out on the best Samosas made fresh in the tiniest space of a store-front, to go to Banyan Books and stock up on odd things.  A set in stone time to go and visit my daughter and her family, and maybe get another ride on the street car over the High Level Bridge and spend a day on Whyte Avenue and hit all of the stores, including Spice Island. A set in stone time to catch up with my son wherever he might be hauling this equipment to that place or the forest to the factory – and spend time on a ride along either in my old stomping grounds where I grew up in northern Alberta, or if I’m lucky on one of those awesome mountain ‘goat trails’ with a load of logs – where I can look out the window and know that if the road gives way, we are in for a four thousand foot ride.  I have not set foot off of this farm other than to go to work – for over a year.  It shows.  I have forgotten how to appreciate where I live – at this moment – I barely like the place – let alone appreciate it.

I am, at heart, a homebody.  Still, there is something to be said for being able to get on the ‘outside’ and look in.  Whenever I come back from the lower mainland – I totally appreciate the breathing room, the open skies, the complete lack of population by comparison. When I return from a trip to my daughters I appreciate the peace and quiet of my house – her place is much like grand central – and I love it – but I love my quiet house more. This past year – I made the mistake of not setting aside those ‘dates’ on the calendar.  I figured (incorrectly) that I could just ‘pick a time’ and make a run for it.  I tried.  More than once.  Lots of last minute cancellations on my part……there was just no room to accommodate me. 

This year….I am going to move my job from the top of my priority list, to somewhere else on the list.  Of course employment is a priority of sorts – but in this entire past year, I have only managed to take four, count them – four (and not all in a row) extra days off.  It’s daft. I have, for several years now, been owed three weeks holidays a year. Hahaha! I have never, not once in eleven years at the same job, managed to squeak more than a single week of time off in the span of the entire year. Because I am the only employee that does the job I do – there is no one to step into my shoes while I am gone.  Excepting for the boss, who has no desire to work that hard any more, who is by his own admission ‘out of the loop’ on many of things one need to know to do what I do.  In short – I’m weary of feeling like I’m being held hostage to the place.  Some of the issue of course, is mine – I don’t like to leave the man hanging, if I’m not there, it creates a lot of stress on the rest of the employees. Still – it occurred to me not so long ago – my loyalty to the place has become a detriment to my sense of well being.  I don’t have a horse in that race – therefore I need to back off, understand that the place will still function without me in some fashion should I be ‘away’ for a week.  Or maybe two.

Well.  Here’s to a new year, a new plan, a different approach.  Here’s to recognising that I need to bring my ‘A’ game and apply it to my life, not just my job. Last but not least – here’s to a well organised, hopefully successful 2017.  Stay tuned 🙂

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Do over part 2: Homesteading harder


There are only so many hours in a day.  I have to tell myself that – often.  This year in particular I’ve finally tapped out on available hours, and discovered that there is a price to pay for running out of those hours.

The above pic: Daisy Duke – contented cow and supplier of great quantities of butterfat laden milk. (sorry about the blurry – I’m not often near her with my phone and had to crop the pic). Do we actually need a house cow?  No.  And yes. It’s not that Daisy is a lot of work – she takes pretty good care of herself – it’s that everything she provides, creates a lot of work, and requires a lot of planning.  Last year – come March, when I threw the towel in on milking and sent her down the road to be bred (literally down the road), I gave little thought to when the calf would be born, other than figuring on a New Years baby.  Good enough.  Now if I were raising beef cattle for market – that’s a great time to drop a calf on the ground – it’ll be about as big as it can get when it goes off to market.  But we’re not raising beef cattle – I did not think about the fact that miss Daily Duke would be churning out gallons of gallons of milk – totally at the wrong time of year for me.  I do not run my cook stove in the summer.  No cook stove – no way to make any cheese other than what I can make without heat.  Of course I got many batches of cream cheese and a few pressed cheeses made while we were still sharing her with the calf- but once that calf was weaned off (to a measured amount served up in a bucket), well – my entire life became about milk and what to do with it when you are not running the cook stove.  Creative thinking 101: we had pigs.  Now I don’t like feeding pigs straight milk – they pee a lot.  So much so – I don’t think they’re getting much out of the milk.  It dawned on me that I could make Creole Cream cheese without heat – (milk no colder than 70, no warmer than 80) – so off and running I was.  So yes – two pigs were raised on wheat, refuse from the garden, and two gallons of Creole Cream cheese a day – they were slaughter weight a month early – win win.  Problem? The piggies went to market.  Plan B.  Feed it to the chickens.  Problem? The chickens can only eat so much clabber a day. Now all this effort does not use up all of the milk – far from it – even after I skimmed and made butter, there wasn’t a day I did not open my fridge and stare at a minimum of six gallons of milk. I’m not kidding when I say there were days when Bruce came in the back door with that pail of milk and I wanted to promptly open up the side door and fling it into the yard.  There seemed not a moment of my ‘home’ time where I was not skimming, cheesing, churning, washing washing washing jars.  Solution?  This year – we trailered miss Daisy Duke to the farm where we bought her, in September – where she will continue to be milked, and certainly get bred, and we will have a June calf – and when we wean that calf, my cook stove will be up and running.

This past April – Daisy’s first calf went to the butcher as a two year old.  Sooooo worth it.  Roast on the left? From the calf.  Roast on the right? From the grocery store: Eighty some odd dollars.  Win, win and win again – there’s not an ounce of that beef that isn’t top quality, best tasting beef I’ve had in years.  Raising a beef/dairy cross gives us enough ‘beef’ to the meat, and less weight – as in we don’t need a thousand pounds of beef in the freezer.  The calf dressed out at seven hundred – I’m good with that.  Raising Holstein steers – which we did two years running – not even close for comparison.

Never a dull moment when you have a house cow: milk/cream/cheese/butter and one cooler day where I could light the stove in the house and put some of the milk to use.


Firewood.  Getting firewood is bloody hard work.  Before you set foot in the bush you need: a permit (free, but must have one), fire fighting equipment, chainsaws, water, mixed fuel for the saws, a wedge, an axe, and if you want to bring a decent amount down from the mountain – a decent trailer to haul it with.  There are ‘rules’ about getting your own wood: you must only cut windfall, or standing dead, or beetle kill.  The tree must not be more than one foot in diameter at the base, you must take all of it up to the four inch diameter at the top.  You must spread the debris around and not leave a fire hazard, you must cut it within a foot of the ground.  You may not take any trees that look as though they are in use by wildlife (bear scratched/moose rubbed etc.) You must not cut in a logging block/private land. All the wood you transport must be cut into lengths no longer than 24 inches. (Yeah, we thumbed our nose at that last one).  Finding trees that aren’t owned/blocked out/ marked by logging companies around here – that’s a project.  One would think there’d be maps of this nonsense – but none that I’ve managed to find. Regardless – some friends about an hour away kindly pointed out that behind their sixty acres was a previously logged, replanted, acres of crown land we could harvest from.  The pic above is the road on the way up the hill.

Now no matter how much one would wish, the trees we can take simply aren’t beside the road all handy to take.  You drive along, eyeballing ‘clumps’ of promising looking dead trees or blow down that’s hopefully not too far from the road, park, go scout it out – making sure to watch for irritated bears (lots of bear sign up there), decide whether or not the standing dead are not leaning the wrong way because of prevailing winds (therefore impossible to fall without snagging, as you can’t ‘make’ it fall where you want), head back to the truck, grab saws and get at it.

I can’t lift and carry a ten foot log that weighs somewhere between two and four hundred pounds – anywhere.  So I flip them, as does Bruce.  Pick up, get to the knees, the waist, the chest – walk under it and stand it up and flip.  Kind of like the caber toss – but on the ground.  It’s work.  Lift, walk, flip – lift, walk, flip, trying desperately to not flip it onto any replanted young trees and smash them, until you zig zag lift, walk, flip your way back to the truck where it can be loaded onto the trailer.  One trailer load is just under two cords of wood.  One trailer load takes about six hours of grunt to fill. It’s hot up there, incredibly humid – we are drowned rats, sweating, sawing logs, heaving logs until we can’t realistically add more weight than the trailer is designed to carry. We get the trailer loaded, we get back home – we unload trailer and saw logs into the size we need for our stoves, we stack it.  Actually, Bruce cuts and stacks on his day off.  Next free (?) day – back we go again.

Am I happy about getting our own wood this year?  Yes.  It has always bothered me that as ‘self sufficient (haha) homesteading’ type people, we bought our wood.  And no – because every day we’re up getting wood is a day something else is not getting done.  Back to the ‘only so many hours in a day’ thing.  This year – I determined I would suck it up and use the BIG SAW as I like to call it.  I’m not afraid of the saw – but it’s damn big.  Twelve years ago when I bought it – I had a go at starting it (can’t unless I stand on it and pull the cord), had a go at cutting through a log – and promptly handed it back to Bruce who has been using a chain saw his whole life. This year, I got fed up with caber tossing longs and decided I’d rather use the BIG SAW, skip chain and all. It gave me a break from the grunt, I still have all my limbs 😀


Getting hay – in my perfect world (eye roll) we would have our own hay, as it is, we generally drive down the road or so every two weeks and pick up what we need for the next two weeks.  This year was one of those ‘rain at the wrong time sun at the wrong time’ years – we drove by our regular go-to hay fields that belong to farmers we regularly buy hay from and watched in dismay as the daisies and buttercups flourished while the grass did not. We wondered how we could possibly feed that to our house cow, or our horses – we could not. As it turned out – not everybody had a bad hay field.  Neighbour to the North has a son who has a small field on the other side of the highway – premium hay.  Baled into squares for the cow. Now neighbour to the North is seventy some odd years old and works twenty out of every twenty four hours and is an absolute machine.  Anybody who can’t keep up to him, regardless of the reason – is a waste of skin.  He marched over one day and said something like “There’s four hundred squares in that field you can buy – same price as last year – come get it – it’s gonna rain by Saturday!”  And he fully expected that despite the fact I’d worked all day, despite the fact that Bruce had spent the entire day cutting, splitting and stacking firewood and doing his regular chores during one of the hottest days of the year, despite the fact neither of us had eaten dinner – we would round up a trailer and come and get the hay.

We did.  Neighbour to the North helped load it – lecturing all the while how he had the stamina of ten men while we did not – how he used to work a day job AND farm and still had the stamina of ten men and we did not….. Wow.  I bit my tongue and loaded hay – managed to totter down the road and back across the highway with 150 bales on that trailer – and a promise we would be back the following night for more hay.  I spent my entire day off humping that hay into the feed room – making hay stair cases so I could get the stuff all the way to the 12 foot rafters – five bales at a time – rest in the shade.  Four bales at a time – rest in the shade.  By the end of my day I was sitting there telling myself ‘two more bales then rest’.  Then it was ‘one bale at a time and rest’.  I walked away from the project with fifteen bales still on that trailer and likely some good old fashioned heat stroke.  When Bruce got home, we headed back over and loaded more hay. Listened to more lecturing.  I suppose if I had a desk job, I would have welcomed the exercise – but I don’t have a desk job and neither does Bruce.  It was a tough haul – we did not have all those bales over here and stacked until Sunday.



Despite all but ignoring the gardens this year (so much to do, so little time), they did well – that is to say, what didn’t outright drown in the glut of rain at the wrong time of year, did well. We’ll be okay til next year. Didn’t get hardly any pictures this year… but dry beans and carrots were banner, as was the broccoli, peas, potatoes, beets.



Chickens got processed, beef stock made, fat rendered, horses got attention – but as always it seems, not enough use – ‘hours in a day’ again.



I’ll finish off this post with what I did NOT do this year.  I did not make soap (oh I really miss my home made bar soap).  I did not get to replenishing my home made laundry soap – two weeks ago I stood in the store, more than slightly dumbfounded at the price of laundry detergent – and  baffled at the fact that liquid laundry soap seems to be the norm.  I bought some – a small bottle that professed on the label that it was good for 51 loads.  I stood in the laundromat (our last wringer washer died to death and I need a new wringer for my ‘swish it yourself’ tub) and tried to decipher the instructions for just how much of this stuff I was supposed to use per load.  Ultimately I did the guess and pour – managed to burn up half a jug on five loads.  No….the laundry did not look any cleaner or smell any cleaner.

I did not can a single tomato, or make a single jar of tomato sauce – this will come back to haunt me this winter, I’m quite certain. I did not manage to pick a single wild twin berry, or saskatoon – thinking oh well – there’s rose hips to come.  There are zero rose hips this year – I’m assuming the ‘rain at the wrong time’ knocked all the flowers off at exactly the right time to not produce fruit.

Still, the year is not done yet. The cook stove is now running most every day, I’ll still manage to get the kidney fat from the pigs rendered for pastry lard, more beef bone stock in jars, soap made again, more cheese once the cow is back from her ‘date’, possibly get on my horse for a quick ride (what? you have a horse?), and if I happen to catch a good deal on tomatoes, knowing me….I’ll buy up a hundred pounds of them (so long as they’re at least from this province) and can them up anyway.

That – is the price you pay for not enough hours – for taking on more things than you normally take on.  For every one thing you add to your work load, once you reach the tipping point – one other thing falls off the end of the list.  This year I found that tipping point – next year I need to find the right balance – the one between ‘too much and not enough’ that I think all farmers/homesteaders strive to find. Ultimately – more land (as in my previous post) is not necessarily the answer – I mean it’s all fine to grow your own hay, but now you’re adding cutting and baling it to the equation, getting wood is still getting wood whether you get it off your own property or not….. in the end, it’s about balance.  Finding the right balance is definitely something I have to work on.

Until next time….. 🙂

Posted in Rants, Raves and Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments