Saturday, August 31, 2013

Folks, This Ain't Normal!

This is the book I was reading this week, and it was incredible. I had heard of Joel Salatin, I had a rough idea of what he does even. Better grass makes better animals, so feed your grass, and then feed grass to your herbivores. That's really all I know. I'd heard a couple of the catch phrases he often uses, like salad bar beef, and pigerator pork, but I didn't really know what was behind these little slogans. What made these food animals so special? I didn't really know, but I thought it was about time I found out.

I loved this book. I thought I was pretty hip to a lot of the issues he would be talking about in his book. How cheap commodity corn and soy are the ruination of our food system, and how we look for increasingly bizarre ways to process and recombine these products into different "food items" to keep feeding the coffers, so we can keep subsidizing cheap commodity corn. How local food is important. Yeah yeah, I got it, I read the 100 mile diet (another great read, fyi). I was wrong. Yes, I have been introduced to a lot of these topics, but I've been introduced to them largely as a consumer. It was really interesting to hear about them from the other side of the fence, the farmer's side. Sure, we the eaters say rah rah, give us local food, grr to the industrial system, why is everyone so lazy, why don't more people provide food on a more reasonable scale near where we all live? It made me think to hear about it from the other side. How fear, and paranoia and a lot of mutual stroke jobs go into creating systems that require close monitoring to keep us "safe" and governmental agencies that institute prohibitive and expensive policies for regulating food that the little guys can't afford to comply with. And since it's illegal not to, they either cave to the pressure, build the infrastructure and turn into an industrial food monoculture like everyone else, or get out of dodge and leave the farm. It's not sloth, it's fear.

And the way that polyface farm is run is innovative, yet ancient. Uses new technology and old, old ideas of normal. The basic premise of the farm is to mimic natural patterns as closely as possible to express the natural behaviours of each part of the food chain, and ensure the greatest health of each element of each species through what they all offer to each other. Cows move about in mob grazing pens that stimulate maximum healthy growth of the grass, weeds and herbs (the "salad bar") and restart the carbon sequestration cycle with each pass. Chickens follow the cows, scratching apart the cow pats to keep down on parasite and insect infestation by eating the larvae growing in the poop. This gives the chickens a protein rich diet that helps them to thrive. In the winter, those cows need to be kept in a barn, but they're kept on deep bedding that gets layered on throughout the winter. It stays smelling great, and then in the spring when the cows go out to pasture, the pigs are introduced who hungrily go after fermenting corn in the bedding. This turns it, aerating it (hence, pigerator) and helping it break down into compost, that goes back out to fertilize the market garden and pastures. This is a vast simplification of the vast  network of interconnected, looping synergies and symbiotic relationships that makes up polyface farms, but know that I will forever rethink my definition of "proper farming". If you want to know more about his farm (and you should!) please pick up this book, or one of his others, such as "holy cows, hog heaven", or "Everything I want to do is Illegal". I'm waiting on the former right now, should be here from by Tuesday, but in that sad lull I feel between books, that feels like forever.

It was a lot of book to wrap the noodle around. I love reading books like this, and like the omnivore's dilemma (which does actually talk about Joel and Polyface farms now that I think about it...) and the 100 mile diet, but they take some time to process. To really let the message sink in. To take the facts and figures and give them the time to penetrate my reality (because lets face it, numbers are prone to roll off me like water off a duck's back). I find myself reading chunks, starting to go cross eyed (not quite literally) and then needing to take a break to process and turn over what I've learned before I'm ready to take in another chunk. Much like trying to digest real, nutrient dense food rather than cheese doodles. This isn't a fluffy beach read. But it's a read that matters.

Crazy Weather...

Thursday was hot. I didn't check the weather network, so I don't know how hot, I just know that I couldn't find anything to wear that fit my growing bump, and was loose enough and light enough to keep me cool. The kind of day you drink gallons of water and just feel wilted. We went to bed with all the windows open and just a sheet. A cold front moved in over night, and I woke up shivering hard. Despite bundling up, I had a hard time getting warm all day. By last night, the temperature had gone down to almost zero! Now, it's back up in the low teens, and raining. Neither of these extremes is particularly uncomfortable really, but when it yo-yo's like that it seems harder to acclimatize to. Hard to choose what to wear for the day. I love when the temperature slowly creeps down, and you can feel fall slowly encircle us with her fingers. This is like being plucked out of bed in the middle of a nice dream, then dropped on your head!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Real Food, Real Wastes.

If you eat a lot of processed, pre-packaged foods, not only do you feel crappy, but with the packaging, and the production processes, you pretty much are left feeling like you raped the Earth (or at least, I am). But if you make a lot of whole, real foods from scratch, you end up with a lot of totally different kinds of waste, and again, at least where I currently live, you're left feeling like you raped the Earth. 

I've always lived in a town with a municipal compost program in place. At the very least since I was old enough to be concerned, and conscious of the problems. It just goes into the nifty little bin they provide, and I mean everything, butter, cheese, meats, all kinds of food waste, gets dumped into a bigger bin when it's full, and carted off on garbage day. Then once or twice a summer, they dump a big pile of black gold in the centre of town during the farmers market, and you show up with buckets, barrows or pick up trucks to cart off what you need or want for your garden. Beautiful. 

No such program exists here. In fact, this town doesn't even recycle. All waste is garbage waste, it goes in a black bag at the curb and gets carted off to goodness knows where, to sit and putrefy, and stink in its little black prison for lengths of time unknown. Even things that would naturally decompose can't do so trapped in the little black wrappers of doom. This bothers me.

Back in the spring, I acquired a double handful of red wrigglers, and set them up in a bin full of paper shreddings with a bowl full of kitchen scraps and thought gee whiz isn't this something! I'm keeping this paper, AND this food waste out of the landfill. I was quite pleased with myself, and I suppose in the end, any little bit makes a difference. The problem is the scale. At the rate my worms consume things, I was only able to put one small bowl (pictured above) of kitchen waste in each week. And I was warned not to add anything greasy, or any meat or dairy products. If you're the kind of person with an active lifestyle, who eats out a lot, who's main contributions to the compost pile are coffee grinds and paper towels, this might work out for you. It wasn't a scale that was compatible with our volume of kitchen waste. Each week, I could easily fill that bowl at least thrice with vegetable stems, ends and peelings, fruit stems, seeds, cores and skins, and the occasional piece of produce that ripens too fast or we open to find rotten on the inside. We try to avoid this, but where we live, the moment food hits the back room of our grocery store, it's already, at the very least, 5 days from harvest. Things like bananas are picked green to give them a longer shelf life, potatoes, carrots, squash and apples store pretty well, but tomatoes, berries, peaches, spinach and some other more delicate produce just don't keep very long. So we have some spoilage. Add to this a filter full of coffee grounds at least once a day (it's our vice, don't judge), some tea bags, and soft paper products (paper towels, facial tissues... I personally think in most cases a dish cloth, tea towel or hanky can serve, but hubby likes the paper towel), and you're looking at a significant amount of food waste. Not to mention the things our worms just can't handle. What about that paper towel I used to grease my baking dish? How about bones, and meat? what about the mouldy bits that form sometimes on our cheese and need to be trimmed away? I'm a little unclear about bread. We're not great at eating up the crusty ends, especially if they're sliced too thinly, so can those go to the worms or not?

I hoped that as my little colony got established it would grow and allow for greater volumes of foods to be stashed away in there, but this hasn't seemed to be the case. They aren't eating appreciably more than they were back in the spring. I would need three or four colonies that size, just to handle the waste from my own kitchen. I just don't have that kind of indoor space! 

I've been looking at composting, but everyone I've talked to discourages it due to the problems with nuisance bears in the area. Now, these bears, for a very brief period in spring and fall (when they're thin and hungry, and when they're trying to avoid being thin and hungry next year) will pillage the garbage bins with great delight. Now lets not forget, everything goes into these garbages. They reek to high heaven, and if I can smell it at the curb from my front door, you can bet the bears can smell it for miles around. I haven't heard of there being problems with bears preying upon bird feeders, or getting into storage sheds for pet food, or really being destructive towards anything except the smelly, ripe, garbage boxes. 

Surely, if I make sure to pad all food wastes with ample carbonaceous material (dead grass, dead leaves, paper, cardboard, sawdust, straw etc) and bury them properly into the pile, the stink shouldn't be that attractive? Especially if I'm still not adding the meats and animal products that they would find especially attractive? What if I refrained from adding the attractive food (like fruit for example) during the lean times, and stuck to just junk mail, paper towel and coffee grounds while the bears are prowling and hungry? Surely they wouldn't be interested in the pile then? We're putting a fire pit in the back yard. Wouldn't adding the wood ash help keep the smell down too? I could release my worms into said compost pile, letting them help break things down faster, and add all kinds of beneficial micronutrients to the compost coming back out. Because lets face it, in my new one bedroom tiny home, I don't have room for even the current worm colony inside of the building, and they won't survive a Moosonee winter in a rubbermaid tote. 

It's all food for thought I suppose, but like farmers who have "manure problems" (hello!? This is garden gold! The key to sustainable land usage! Not a problem!), I can't help but feel like I'm squandering resources, and creating bigger problems every time I put my food wastes out in the trash. I'll keep doing my research, but I can't help but think that a few laying hens would make short work of nearly all the kitchen wastes I could throw at them. I suppose then I'd have bigger problems with keeping predators from eating my chickens!

Good luck to all JBAS applicants!

Well, it's 2013's hiring season for the James Bay Ambulance Service (JBAS), most of you (maybe all of you?) will be done your testing by now. For those of your who made it through, I can't wait to meet you all and get to know you over the next couple of months. If you need anyone to show you around, or just a friendly face in this cold northern town, just drop me a line and we'll get together. 
If you didn't make it through this time take heart. There's always next time, and maybe now you've got a better idea of the things you need to brush up on. You'll get there one of these days. Whether it's here or another service, you'll make it through. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013


I was saying to Andrew that I'd really like to get a good pair of moccasins before this winter. My feet are always cold, and with a "when in rome" mentality, I think it would be neat to have a pair of moccasins while living in the far north, just a hearty stone's throw from a reserve. But a pair of hand crafted moccasins around here runs somewhere between $80 and $120. I understand why, and I don't begrudge them for charging that for something so tough to sew and expensive in materials. Right now though, I feel like that's money I could be putting to better uses. Then I started really thinking about it. I've got a chunk of chocolate brown suede that was given to me by a friend sitting around gathering dust, and I even have a nice, dark rabbit pelt that I could use to trim a pair of moccs... hmmm...

 I drew the template for the moccasins from an online guideline. I wish I had left an even larger margin around the edges of my foot than it called for though, then the slippers would have taller sides on them. As it is, they'll be very low. Oh well.
 This is what that same template looks like cut out in the suede.
 Here I've sewn up the toe puckers and heel cup. All that's left to do is add the uppers (called vamps) that I want to do some beadwork on first, and then the rabbit trim around the edges. Or maybe I'll just add a cuff of the same suede to add a bit of height to the sides, and save the rabbit for another pair. I do have enough suede for another two or three pairs. I might put a liner fabric in them, or I might not. Haven't decided yet.
And this is a close up of the stitching along the heel cup. Pretty happy with how they're turning out so far!! Stitching suede by hand though is no easy task. It's not bad through just one layer, but with a heavy needle, and doubled, thick thread, it's a bit of a bugger to muscle through two layers. I've been wearing my leather gardening gloves to help me grip the needle and help protect my sensitive finger tips. Really not a project for the faint of heart, or upper body strength! Any leather stitching I've done in the past has been through pre punched holes, but the suede really didn't seem thick enough to warrant it. Now I'm not so sure!

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Saw the Lights!

Ok unfortunately I don't have a picture for you. It was a pretty bland, mostly whitish show and my technology just can't capture that, but I saw them! Finally saw them! Only took about 8 months...

If you didn't know what you were looking for, you could almost believe that it was thin, stringy cloud cover. Except that no clouds were in the sky, and no clouds ever moved like that. The lights don't really move I don't think. At least, you can't perceive that wispy, sliding sort of movement that clouds make. I think they just kind of fade in spots while getting brighter in other places. You can stare at it and would swear it's not moving at all, but then you look back a second later and the shape of the spectacle is wholly different. There were two little moments when a bit of green showed up, and perhaps if we'd waited longer we could have seen more. The show is always most intense from 1-2 am, we were watching from around 11:30-12. But hey, in my pregnant state, even that was well past my bedtime. Just so happy to have finally experienced the northern lights.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bird Feeders

Andrew mentioned the first day that we moved in that we should get a bird feeder. I don't think he's ever had a better idea.

I picked up these two gems up at the hardware store today, one is a silo shaped feeder for sunflower seeds, the other is a wire basket that holds a suet cake. I was amazed at how fast the local fauna swooped in! In the past, any time that I've had a new feeder hung up it's taken at least a day or two for the birds to find it and get brave enough to try it. Today, just before I took the picture above there were three birds on the silo feeder. In that picture there, the obvious bright yellow finch is on the feeder, but if you look closely, right on the bottom at the right is a little brown sparrow. The suet feeder is sporting a black capped chickadee. I'm very happy with my purchases, and equally happy that the birds seem happy with them. Perhaps next year if my sunflowers do well I'll be able to save my own seeds to fill the feeder with. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Holy Haystacks!

Today I borrowed a rake from our neighbour and decided that today was as good a day as any to start tackling our lawn. There were big dead brown patches all over the place, and I thought that this is as dry of a stretch as we're likely to get, so I was hoping to avoid ripping up as much of the sod and soil underneath as I could. My was there a lot of dead material back there. In places it had been so dark for so long that nothing at all was growing underneath the brown. In other places the grass was over a foot long, simply trampled down under the weight of the dead clippings. I worked in little shifts. See, the bugs are getting far better. Good enough to enjoy a nice long walk or read a book in the sunshine. But the moment you get sweaty and start churning things up and uncovering wet, rotting patches of earth, the blackflies and mosquitoes appear as if out of nowhere and attack with a vengeance. So I'd go out and rake until I raised an ungodly swarm, then come back inside, guzzle down a glass of water and stand in front of the fan until the sweat all dried from my skin. I may have forgotten to mention, but so far this is the hottest day this year. Then out I'd go again. I made three trips out, and managed to rake up about a third of the lawn. Not bad. Not fantastic either, but not bad. It's a small lawn. I think I'm done for right now, though if I gets cooler before it starts getting dark I may take another swing at it. If not I'll be back at it tomorrow morning. So far, the dead pile is making quite the impressive hay stack, and I think the lawn will start looking a lot less raggedy after it's next mowing. I figure I'll keep the hay pile in a tidy little corner of the yard, add the fall leaves, and see if we can't end up with a bit of compost out of it in the spring. Or perhaps, when Andrew builds me my garden boxes, I'll heap the organic material right into them, let it break down over the winter and plant directly into it in the spring. Will this work? Is there such a thing as having too rich compost? I think I'll find out. I'm also taking a good hard look at the lawn, and trying to decide if I might just have the space to house a trio of hens out there next year in  a chicken tractor. I think if it's not too big of a run, and I move it every day faithfully, there might just be. Of course, plenty of people have stationary coops and I could too, but the goal is to enrich, not ruin the ground under them, and also to make feed bills cheaper by letting them forage for bugs and grass. Hey, if a byproduct is less bugs in the yard, I'm a happy camper.

Monday, August 19, 2013


This post will be a TMI kind of post, so if hearing about pee bothers you, stop now.

I went for a prenatal appointment the other day, and was told that my urine sample contained "markers that could indicate a bladder infection". The nurse practitioner went on to explain that she was going to get me a course of antibiotics to clear it right up.

Hold the phone. Could indicate infection. Not "you have a bladder infection", but you might have one. I had no symptoms, no itching, burning, foul smells, nothing! On top of that, I'm allergic to a lot of antibiotics, so I try to be careful with the ones I can take so I don't build up an intolerance to them. I also try to limit the drugs I'm taking in general while I'm carrying my little bean. Not enough is known about the effects of too many things. I asked if there was some way that we could confirm whether I do or do not have an infection. She actually rolled her eyes at me, and then proceeded to try to bully me into taking the drugs saying that if I don't medicate, an infection could make me miscarry. That I was being reckless with my child's life. Could she at least leave a script for the drugs in my file, and then if the testing came back positive for the infection (which could take a whole 24-36 hours she informs me, like that's a big deal), I could stop by the clinic and pick up the script any time, even if there's no doctor there. I eventually agreed to this, I figured what harm does a piece of paper in a file do, if it's going to make her feel better, so be it. Not a pill will cross my lips until I know for sure that I've got some good reason to be taking them!

That was Friday, and I realized today that I had never heard back from the clinic, so I called them up myself. Turns out I'm all clear, no infection, try to drink more water because it appears I was slightly dehydrated. No antibiotics needed.

Now, I'm not against the taking of antibiotics to cure actual infections, but this kind of cavalier tossing about of these drugs like candy is why we have the super bugs we have today. Over medication! Also, in today's day in age when so much medical information is available to the public, and we're so much better informed, why is it that when a mother makes an informed decision that she thinks will be the best course for herself and her fetus, she gets bullied into an outdated, often detrimental protocol because it's something the health staff have gotten comfortable and complacent with. They're our bodies, and they're our choices to make!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Moved In!

Well, we've got all the major stuff in the new place already. Still have some of our clothing and dishes and a few other assorted odds and ends at the old place, but that'll come with time. That's why we were so happy to keep the old place until the end of the month, so that we would have the time to paint and spruce the place up and then move a our leisure. This pregnancy is really sapping a lot of my energy so I just can't do as much in one day as I used to. Since I took these pictures the kitchen counter has been cleared of it's clutter and we've moved in a few more dishes and things, my hubby thinks we'll be finished by the end of today but I'm not so sure. I think maybe we could stretch it out... take two more days perhaps! Already this place feels very cozy, and in some ways, more like home than the other place ever did.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sporting New Mama Jewellery

Before my friend had her daughter a few years ago, I had no idea that the likes of this even existed. It's a belly button ring designed for pregnancy! The barbell is long (and you can get ones even longer than this) and made of soft, flexible plastic, so that even as your belly stretches and contorts and does the weird things it does in pregnancy, you can keep the piercing open without pain or fear or your body pushing the jewellery out. Genius. I love it. And they're just so cute! Look at those little dangly baby feet... squee!! I also got one with a little giraffe charm, and a plain one incase the dangly bits were irritating me. Very very happy that these exist.

Monday, August 5, 2013


I am sure that I will continue to find paint on odd parts of my body for the next week, but I am happy to report that not only have we taken possession of our trailer, but it's had very nearly every nook and cranny painted. Whew! The paint we used is all benjamin moore (not a choice but a lack of options, all there is up here). The main colour is weathersfield moss (the center of the grey-green panel on the bottom) with some accent walls in durango (the brown chip next to it there) and we painted out the backsplash in the kitchen with baby fern (the middle chip on the bright green panel at the top). All in all the place looks lovely and I'm very happy with our choices! I tried to get some pictures today, but believe it or not there was too much gorgeous natural light to get a decent picture. Nearly every space of wall has a window in it! I'll have to try some pics in the evening (or find a decent camera...).
Of course, Andrew and I can't take all the credit, my parents and his mom came up for the weekend to give us a hand. We'd still be cursing and muttering over it if it wasn't for all their help. They just got on the train back south about three hours ago, and I miss them already... doesn't seem to matter how long or short a visit is, you still miss them when it's over.