Monthly Archives: October 2013

Frost Morning

The locals are starting to look at the sky in a suspicious way.  As we’ve hit the end of October and November is upon us, people native to the island are starting to look at the bright, cold, dry sunshine with mistrust, and keep muttering that it simply won’t last.

Evening is falling faster, and once we have dinner Little Man is constantly asking if it’s dark yet since he wants to go outside and say hello to the moon and the stars.  The moon, however, has been fickle of late.  Dancing through the bright blue morning skies, and then disappearing at night, leaving the riot of stars to sparkle on their own.

To further underscore our movement towards winter we have woken to a couple of mornings sparkling with frost.  It’s time to bring in our potted herbs and find some open space (some how…) in the basement where they can get light to wait it out until it’s warm enough outside again.  Until then, I’m trying to find more indoor things to do around town, and on those sunny, dry days we greedily head to our favorite playgrounds to soak up the cold Autumn sun for as long as we have it.

I’m feeling the need to track down some good, local, apple cider.  That would go nicely with the massive bag of cinnamon sticks that I just unpacked.  It must have been lost at the back of our pantry in Iowa, but will make a great fall and winter addition to hot drinks.  Along those lines, I think it’s time to introduce Little Man to warm cider with cinnamon.  Maybe after our next frosty morning tromp to say “good morning” to the chickens.

Cold morning light from behind the cedars on the way to the hen house.

Cold morning light from behind the cedars on the way to the hen house.

The Horse is Out?

Last week I had just gotten Little Man up from his nap and was carrying him into the living room when I caught movement in our front yard out of the corner of my eye.  I glanced over expecting a couple of quail or maybe a dog, and instead found a large white horse munching grass contentedly about four feet in front of my window.

This won’t go down as my best mothering moment, but my first thought was that I had to get a picture of this.  I had failed at getting photo documentation of loose livestock for the opening incident that gave this blog its name, and then again a couple of weeks later when Dave was wrangling a pig that had gotten out of its pen.  I was not going to fail today…  Remember the part where I said I was carrying my sleepy toddler?  Yes…

I unceremoniously plunked Little Man down on the couch and ran for my phone.  The horse was already moving on, so I had to be fast.  No time to grab the other camera in my office.  Of course my phone’s memory was full and wouldn’t take the shot.  Quick a delete of a couple of (hopefully) already downloaded pictures, and I was able to get these photos.  The horse had already moved farther away, but was still in our yard and was now apparently interested in playing a little basketball after his snack.

Let me also introduce this “horse” a bit better.   He belongs to a neighbor who originally named him Pegasus, but he just goes by Gus.  While I was trying to find a phone number of that neighbor to call about the escapee and hoping that the Farmer-Landlord’s dog didn’t find Gus first, another neighbor came out and escorted Gus home before he got too much of a nibble going in her flower garden.

In the meantime, Little Man had started to protest his abrupt drop on the couch.  I went to assuage the bruised toddler sensibilities with a little juice and story time, secure in the knowledge that I had FINALLY caught a photo of a beastie loose around our house, and that Gus was no longer out.

horseC

Splitting Wood

Let me begin with a brief thanks to whoever it was that created the electric wood splitter.  This is a brilliant, if improbably heavy, machine.  I love it!

Dave splitting wood at the farm.

Dave splitting wood at the farm.

"Coco Smash!"

“Coco Smash!”

With the first trip for wood, Dave started doing some log splitting to transform the log sections into actual fire wood.  Using a maul (doesn’t sound promising…), he started muscling through the pile.  I watched his technique and figured that it would take me only moments to lose a toe (we all know the luck I have with foot injuries… see “Family Dinner” post) and/or tweak my back beyond redemption.  So when Farmer-Landlord said (only partially joking) that the Men get the wood and the Women do the splitting (more hunter-gatherer references here), I knew I was in trouble.  Then Farmer-Landlord introduced me to Betsy… the name that I’ve given to his beloved electric wood splitter.

Me and Betsy posing.

Me and Betsy posing.

Betsy is worth her considerable weight in gold.  To help us out the first time, Farmer-Landlord backed his pickup to the wood pile, plunked Betsy down on to the open tail gate, and showed me how to use her.  The splitter looks more or less like a narrow chute with an ax bit at one end.  You plop the log onto the track, make sure one end of it is snuggly abutted to ax bit (aka the sharp end), and then in Betsy’s case you hold a button down while simultaneously pulling a lever (safety first) and a moving panel forces the log down onto the bit, splitting the wood.  For larger logs you can do multiple splits.  Easy Peasy.

Dendrochronology pop quiz...

Dendrochronology pop quiz…

In no time I had split my way, pink gloves and all, through about half of the pile of dumped wood.  There was still the large trailer full and the person-sized logs that still needed portioning, but all in all not a bad start.  At around the same time that my hands and arms started to complain loudly, Little Man woke from his nap complaining loudly too.  His poor little face was swollen from the yellow jacket sting from earlier that day, and the copious calamine lotion didn’t help the look.

The next day I went out again to the pile to split wood; good little wood chuck that I am.  The pickup was still parked next to it, the tailgate down at the perfect height for Betsy.  I just needed to go get her from the work shed.  Dave was off playing soccer, Little man was sleeping, and I was going to play Lumberjane.

wood 3

I knew where Betsy was in the shed, gave her a quick spritz of oil along the track, tipped her up and started to wheel her out to the pile.  Or I should say, uphill to the pile.  I wheeled her over to the low rise that we had to clime together and dragged her like a dead body up the hill, finally getting to the pickup.  I could hear the steady plunk, plunk, plunk of Farmer-Landlord “harvesting” rocks from the sheep pasture.  Apparently they were messing with the idyllic scene, so one by one, plunk, plunk, plunk, then went into the maw of the tractor.  Luckily the “rock garden” was around the corner from where I was attempting to work, so no one (I hope!) witnessed that pathetic struggle between myself, Betsy and gravity.

Now that I had gotten Betsy to the pickup, I needed to get her up onto the tail gate.  Oy.  I knelt down, grasped Betsy at both ends and made to lift her properly with knees bent, etc.  Nothing moved.  Betsy is a sturdy piece of work.  So I tried again, and she just wiggled a bit.  Now I was getting nervous that I would have to ask Farmer-Landlord for help, but I didn’t want to interrupt his chore to help with mine.  So one last harrumph and I got Betsy most of the way to the tailgate.  A lovely double-bruise on my upper thigh marked where I gave her a little extra boost up.  I would forget about that bruise until I took Little Man to the pool a couple of days later.  In my swim suit I looked battered, and got quickly into the water that miraculously hides a number of evils.  Once I had Betsy on the tail gate, we were off to the races.

A winter's worth of wood to be split.

A winter’s worth of wood to be split.

Again I made pretty quick work of almost all of the loose pile of wood, making quite an impressive (if not properly stacked) wood pile.  But I have to come back to that “almost all” from the previous sentence.  About five or six of the larger, more recently harvested logs were a bit wetter than the others.  A few of the dry logs sounded like a gun shot when the log finally split under the pressure.  The more recently cut logs sometimes fought a bit and would split, but not completely.  They hold themselves together in remembrance of what it was to be complete with fibrous fingers.  I “split” these larger logs four or five times and for my troubles ended up with my own wooden rose sculptures.  Do you know those pictures in Thai restaurants of the fancily carved fruit?  The watermelons carved into intricate flower baskets, the mango carved into a swan, etc.?  This is my own, much less appealing, version.  These wooden roses have been set aside in a pile for the stubborn, to be resplit by Dave.

My wood pile.

My wood pile.

In the meantime, Little Man managed to sleep through the wood splitting for a second day in a row, and was just waking up when I was finishing the pile and Dave was just getting home from soccer.  All three of us were a bit dazed afterwards, and while Betsy had done all the hard work for the splitting, I started to feel the exhaustion of lifting and hurling all the wood.  Now it was time to make dinner.  We wanted something hearty befitting our efforts, but not enough to induce a food coma.  And it needed to be quick.  As luck would have it, I had recently stumbled across (literally, one was on the floor of the grocery store aisle) prepared polenta in a local store.  Angels were singing when I found this tube and quickly plunked a couple down in my cart.  Little Man used one as a microphone for a bit.  This would be the basis for a super quick oven roasted polenta with marinara and oozy cheese.

This recipe is about as no-fuss as it gets.  The polenta is already prepared and in handy tubular form for slicing.  You slice, bake and crisp.  Then top with a heated from-the-jar good quality marinara sauce, top with some freshly grated cheese, broil, and done.  At least it is normally easy…  I didn’t fully realize how tired my upper body was until I was putting a full tray of food into the oven and my hands simply gave out.  The tray tipped forward and as I tried to compensate so as to not lose our dinner to the floor, I tagged my hand on the preheated oven rack.  Then I tagged the same hand again on the other side while I tried to compensate again.  So now I had two spectacular burns on my hands to compliment my lower body bruising.  Let’s just say that I was a vision of loveliness at the pool a few days later, bandages and bruises, and runny mascara (I’d forgotten to leave that off that morning on the way to the pool).  The glamour continues…

plating (2)

Oven Baked Polenta

Serves two with leftovers.  Easily up the quantity by just doubling (or more) the ingredients.  The method stays the same.

Ingredients

1 tube of prepared polenta

1 jar of good quality marinara sauce

1 cup grated mozzarella

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Olive oil, to drizzle

Salt and Pepper

Directions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 425º Fahrenheit.  Prepare a baking sheet by drizzling about one table spoon olive oil over its base.  Too much oil and the polenta will be greasy, too little and it sticks.

2.  Slice the polenta into ½ inch thick coins.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over both sides.  Place the polenta coins on the baking sheet, and drizzle the tops with a little olive oil.

Sliced polenta coins.

Sliced polenta coins.

3.  Bake the polenta coins for about 25 minutes, or until crispy and golden on both sides.  Meanwhile heat the sauce, either in a pan on the stove or a bowl in the microwave.

4.  Once the polenta is golden, pull the pan out of the oven and sprinkle the grated mozzarella and parmesan evenly over the polenta coins.  Crank the oven up to broil, put the pan back into the oven, and watch it like a hawk.  Don’t answer the phone, don’t refill any juice cups, just monitor the melting cheese.  You want golden, not volcanic ash.

Golden brown polenta coins topped with chesse and ready for the broiler.

Golden brown polenta coins topped with chesse and ready for the broiler.

5.  Resist the temptation to simply top the polenta with the sauce in a nice large casserole.  You went to a lot of trouble to crisp up that polenta.  If you top the crisp food with the wet sauce, you will get soggy polenta.  Instead, be a little bit fussy (you can afford to be fussy here since the dinner took next to no prep) and pour a bit of sauce onto each plate.  Top the sauce with a couple cheesy polenta coins, and enjoy!  We served this with a great, simple fresh lettuce salad from the garden.

plating 3

Click here for a printable version of theOven Roasted Polenta recipe.

Pink gloves and all.

Pink gloves and all.

Foggy Bottom

With Fall we are seeing the island wrapped in fog.  It’s hard to capture a good foggy picture since everything ends up looking rather… foggy.  And while the monochromatic look might wear on me after a bit, we live high enough up in the hills that we are often driving down into the fog rather than being shrouded in it every day.  This morning while we were driving Dave to work, it was gorgeous to look at the varying shades of dark greenish grey trees rushing towards us along the highway.  Then we climbed a hill again, broke through the fog and were greeted by a nearly full moon in the bright blue sky just above the cedars.  The ocean was hidden in the fog, but maybe when we go out again later it will be visible again.

Up at the farm, we are starting to see the fog rolling in and holding shape above the fields, and along the drained lake bed.  One of the favorite pastures of the sheep is just above the lake bed in this little grove of trees.  Tendrils of fog were just starting to creep towards the sheep when I took these pictures.

I think that Little Man and I are going to need to go fog exploring soon.  We just need some better shoes before we accidentally step in a fog covered “present” from the sheep.

Sheep taking it easy under the trees while the fog starts to roll in.

Sheep taking it easy under the trees while the fog starts to roll in.

Lumberjack and Lumberjane

A continuance of Poking a Wood Fire (see earlier post).

First year wedding anniversary, and just back from a field season in Turkey.

First year wedding anniversary, and just back from a field season in Turkey.

The other day I stumbled across some pictures of our first wedding anniversary when Dave and I were camping at the much missed Highpoint State Park in New Jersey (best campsites ever… and a really good winery call Westfall Winery nearby too).  The weather was so miserable that most of the other reserved sites were vacant and the park rangers looked pityingly at us whenever they drove by.  We, however, were having an amazing time and didn’t even notice the bad weather.  Dave and I had just come back from a field season in Turkey, had both lost ridiculous amounts of weight from a combination of hard work and dysentery, and were simply reveling in being on vacation… for our anniversary… in weather that was not topping 140º Fahrenheit.  After the sizzling, dry plains; the wet, dripping woodlands seemed miraculous.

Dave proudly standing by his tent; the one dry spot of our campsite.

Dave proudly standing by his tent; the one dry spot of our campsite.

What also seemed miraculous was Dave’s ability to start a fire in that wet pond of a fire pit.  While looking at the pictures from this trip and with fire-starting on my mind, I remembered that Dave had made a sort of Jenga-like construction of kindling, had filled it full of newspaper, then lit it.  Once that initial fire was established, he put logs around it and the resulting fire was amazing.  I’ve since used a variation of that as my “new” fire method, and so far so good.

If I look at it hard enough, it will burst into flame and warm me.

If I look at it hard enough, it will burst into flame and warm me.

Fire pit or bog?

Fire pit or bog?

Back on Vancouver Island and on the road to fire mastery, I turned my sight to our non-existent wood pile.  It is daunting to think how much wood goes into keeping a fire going, especially when you try to extrapolate that out to cover the unknown quantity of our winter.  For weeks I have been watching industrious neighbors and friends gather and split immense piles of fire wood, filling sheds from stem to stern with neat stacks.  Now I was also noticing how BIG these sheds are, and I was starting to think that we could be on the brink of trouble.  This woodchuck needed to start chucking wood, and fast.

Luckily our Farmer-Landlord was thinking similar thoughts, and approached Dave about heading up to The Mountain to gather firewood.  I don’t know which mountain.  I don’t know where this mountain is.  But you can hear the capitalization when people speak of it.  Farmer-Landlord sent Dave off to buy a wood gathering permit, and $20 later they had plans in place for the following weekend to drive to The Mountain to get wood.  Whatever that meant.

We weren’t really sure what to expect from Dave’s wood-finding mission, or how to prepare him for it.  What was it going to be like?  What equipment beyond closed toe shoes and gloves did he need to bring?  What exactly did one “do” to gather enough wood for an entire winter season?  My anthropologist friends will understand this, but the expedition was also starting to have a bit of a “hunter-gatherer” feeling to it.  Dave was leaving our home site to hunt and bring home wood, while I was staying around the home to gather… I don’t know… something fabulous I’m sure.

Then the day for the wood hunting expedition came; cold and misty.  Dave left with Farmer-Landlord in a beat-up old pickup truck with trailer attached.  On the way up The Mountain an elk sauntered across the road in front of them, the first sighting of such a beastie by either one.  Then they came to the timber yard, and it was like nothing either one of us had expected.  Dave’s cell phone photography showed a place that looked oddly like the messy playroom of a giant toddler.  Massive tangled mounds of the better parts of trees were piled around the clearing.  Dave and Farmer-Landlord started pulling logs out of the piles, chain sawing them into smaller pieces (ranging from ready for the fireplace to person-sized) and filling up the truck bed and trailer.  Once both truck and trailer were filled, they headed back down The Mountain, getting back to the farm midafternoon after a long day of hard labor.

Massive piles of the better parts of trees available for harvesting with a permit.

Massive piles of the better parts of trees available for harvesting with a permit.

A closer look at the timber pile.

A closer look at the timber pile.

This will keep us warm all winter... right?

This will keep us warm all winter… right?

In the meantime, back on the ranch… or in our case farm… Little Man and I had our own travails.  My lovely little toddler boy was stung in the face by a yellow jacket, initiating what I’m sure is the first of many medical panics of my parenting life.  That is a story for another time, but when Dave and Farmer-Landlord pulled into the yard I had just gotten my swollen-faced angel baby to sleep for his nap.  I was a mess.

Arriving like triumphant hunters, Dave and Farmer-Landlord dismounted from their trusty steed and posed in front of their bounty.  I was impressed, but still distracted by the sting and hadn’t had a chance to tell Dave of what happened since The Mountain was well out of cell range.  Farmer-Landlord misinterpreted my lack of praise and chastised me for not being more glorifying of my MAN.  He had hunted.  He had brought back fire wood.  I was not being as adoring as befitted a gatherer.  I stuttered out something not quite as idolising as Farmer-Landlord thought appropriate, applauding them both on the success of their hunt.  Farmer-Landlord rolled his eyes and looked pityingly at Dave who was finding all of this quite amusing.

The next few minutes were filled with me explaining what happened to Little Man, and then there was a flurry of logs being tossed through the air into piles bordering our property.  I pitched in as much as my bright pink gardening gloves would let me, and surprisingly missed being drilled in the head with the flying pieces of wood.  We now had enough fire wood to (hopefully) last us the winter… we just needed to chain saw most of it into smaller pieces and then split it all.  This was going to take some time…

The saga of the wood splitting will have to wait for another post, but in the meantime I knew that we would need snacks.  Power for the muscles, and comfort for the hunter-gatherer-wood splitter soul.  These Zucchini Oat Muffins have been a huge hit with Little Man’s buddies at play dates.  The last play date when I served these muffins at snack time, one of his little friends informed me that these were delicious and much better than the previous ones I had made, which happened to be quinoa muffins.  With the toddler vote strongly in my pocket, and with Dave attempting to snatch these muffins off of the cooling rack, these are some seriously delicious muffins.

Zucchini Oat Muffins

I am often trying to make baked goods a bit healthier so that I can feel better about feeding them to my toddler… and to myself, of course.  That is how I came up with these muffins in the first place, since most green things are on Little Man’s “persona non grata” list.  These, however, he gobbles up, and will try to snag from his friends’ plates if they are not vigilant.  The batch photographed here was made with the last summer zucchini from the farmers’ market (sigh…).  I had been told by someone wise (my brother) that you could freeze grated zucchini to use in future baked goods, so I gave that a shot here.  I grated the whole zucchini, put half into the batter and half into a plastic baggie in the freezer.  I haven’t used my frozen zucchini booty yet, but will let you know how the experiment works.

Ingredients

1 c. flour

1c. whole wheat flour

1 c. rolled oats (not instant)

½ c. brown sugar, packed

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3 large eggs

¼ c. canola oil

½ c. plain yogurt (fat free is fine, just use good quality)

¼ c. milk (same as for yogurt)

2 c. grated zucchini

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Prepare a muffin pan with papers, or you can grease the pan.
  2. In a large bowl combine the flours, oats, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Dry ingredients

Dry ingredients

With the oats

With the oats

3.   In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, yogurt and milk.

Dry and wet ingredients before being combined.

Dry and wet ingredients before being combined.

4.   Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir to combine.  Add the zucchini to the mix and combine gently.  Do not over mix the batter or you will toughen your muffins.  Not good.

Combining the two

Combining the dry and wet ingredients.

Adding the zucchini into the batter

Adding the zucchini into the batter

The final Zucchini Oat Muffin batter

The final Zucchini Oat Muffin batter

5.   Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown on top.  Test your muffins with a tooth pick to make sure they are cooked through.  If the tooth pick comes out wet, give them another couple of minutes in the oven.  Let the muffins cool in the pan on a rack for about 5 minutes, then remove them from the pan to the rack and cool.  They can be served warm.  Enjoy!

Zucchini Oat Muffin batter ready for the oven.

Zucchini Oat Muffin batter ready for the oven.

If you can believe it, I was so focused on getting the muffins out for Little Man’s buddies at the play date… I forgot to take pictures of the final product.  I’ll be making them again soon, though, and will update the post with the final glorious picture of golden brown deliciousness.  Until then… just use your imagination.  🙂

Click here for a printable version of Zucchini Oat Muffins.

A hiking trail behind our campsite at High Point State Park, New Jersey.

A hiking trail behind our campsite at High Point State Park, New Jersey.

25th Post and Counting…

This is my 25th post on The Sheep Are Out…, a blog about our lives on Vancouver Island.  We’ve lived on the island for about 3 ½ months, and are starting to get a feel for the area.  We’ve wrangled sheep (and our toddler), explored the ocean coastline, played in what feels like a myriad of parks and playgrounds, and begun a quest for the best fish and chips in the greater Nanaimo area.  We feel closer to family (at least our north-of-the-border family) and farther from friends; though that equation is starting to shift as we are making friends here now too.

Little Cowboy touring his new acreage.

Little Cowboy touring his new acreage.

As inevitably happens with any move, it starts to feel impossible to have lived anywhere else.  We know where things are in the house… mostly (please don’t ask for anything in any box in the basement).  We know where to go in town for great sushi or for Little Man’s favorite fried rice.  We know which grocery stores carry the foods we want, which gas stations are the fastest to get in and out of, and where we most want to go when we have the rare chance for a baby sitter.  In short, we are starting to find our feet.

We all know who's the boss here, right?

We all know who’s the boss here, right?

In honor of this 25th post, the recipe I am sharing with you is for what I’ve named the Manic Monday cocktail.  Right after the semester started for Dave, there was a Monday that left us both a bit frazzled around the edges.  It was one of those days when it feels like the wheels are just about to leave the track, but you might be able to hold on for just a moment more.  To celebrate that crazy day being over, I made these Manic Monday cocktails and we toasted the survival of our own little tornado of crazy.

End of a long day.

End of a long day.

In the spirit of joyful survival; to all of our friends and family that we’ve found here; and to our friends and family who we would love to come and visit… Cheers!  May your home feel like home.  May your days be filled with family and friends.  And may you come visit us soon!

463

Manic Monday Cocktail

Makes one cocktail

Ingredients

1 ounce dark rum

1/2 ounce orange liquor

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1 ounce mango juice

Ice cubes

Optional: lightly sweetened citrus soda

Directions

  1. Put all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and secure the lid.
  2. Shake vigorously until the metal shaker gets nice and frosty.
  3. Strain the ingredients into a rocks glass with new ice.  This is a great opportunity for ice spheres if you have the forms.
  4. Optional: Top the cocktail with about an ounce of a lightly sweetened citrus soda if you want something a bit brighter.  I love the extra sparkle on a hot evening, but if I want to taste more of the mango then I just keep it simple.

P.S. For those of you who would prefer an alcohol free cocktail, and let’s face it sometimes it’s nice to serve a fancy drink without the booze, try mixing equal parts of mango juice, orange juice and the sparkling lemon soda.  Delicious, refreshing and a special treat for those who can’t have or don’t want the alcohol.

Click here for a printable version of the Manic Monday Cocktail.

Here Pig, Pig, Pig…

While the sheep are pretty, and the chickens are my favorite, the pigs are the animals that keep the farm running.  We will hopefully be getting our own 1/2 hog within the next month or so.  In the meantime, the BIG pigs from our pen have been… harvested… and a new group has been dropped off.

Here on the island we have variable trash pickups, with one week being for recycling and the next for trash.  We actually have very little organic waste to get rid of, since most of that goes to the pigs.  Pretty much everything that isn’t bone or pig-based (no cannibal piggies, please) goes to the pigs, and we empty their slop/snack bucket over our back fence.  Supposedly pigs don’t poop where they eat, so the theory is that we drop the food in the pen closest to our house, and there should be less piggie scent.  So far so good.

The new batch of pigs.

The new batch of pigs.

pigs

Night Skies

Night skies are one of the best reasons to live in the country.  A riot of stars.  While I’ve loved living in large metropolises the light pollution hides the sky and everything remains a dark, dull grey.  Not here.

The long, slender crescent moon was low in the sky when I left home last night.  Just over an hour later, I was back from yoga, the moon had sunk behind the tree line and was gone.  The night was inky black, swallowing any light from cars or the occasional street lamp.  The velvety blackness completely enveloped my car as I drove.  Any animals ready to dart into my path would be completely invisible until the last second.  Their eyes lighting up like torches in the oncoming lights.

I got home without meeting any of these creatures up close and personal, something that I’m grateful for.  I’ve been surprised by a few deer and raccoon, Dave saw an elk lazily cross the road last week, and there have been a couple of cougar sightings in the local area.  A reminder that we aren’t the only ones living in our wilderness; but that is what makes it “wild.”

I stepped out of the car into the Milky Way.  Stars eddied across the sky and through the trees.  I tipped my face up to their light like I’ve done to the sun on a first warm day in spring.  While the sun warms from the outside in, stars do the reverse.  They fill me with joy that soaks from the inside out.  I want to simply lie down in my driveway and stare.  If I knew where our sleeping bags were I’d grab them, Dave and a bottle of wine to watch at the stars all night long.

But it isn’t the weekend.  Dave waits inside, hopefully having had an easy time helping our toddler son to fall asleep, likely trying to finalize his lecture for tomorrow.  Fingers crossed that bed time was successful.  Chocolate cake (an unfortunately healthy version) waits inside too.  Life is good.

Early evening moon to the left of the tall pines.

Early evening moon to the left of the tall pines.

A Flower Out of Time

The other day I headed outside to visit the garden for some end of the season vegetables, and as I entered our backyard I caught something out of the corner of my eye that stopped me in my tracks.   There were four large bunches of crocus blooming like mad behind our house… in October.  I am not much of an ornamental gardener, but I thought that I understood the basics of which flowers tend to bloom when.  After my years of living in snowy places, come March my color starved eyes are scouring snowy gardens looking for just these types of flowers.  Seeing the spring-time narcissus in our fall-time backyard stunned me for a moment and I stood there staring at the riot of lavender.

I would later learn that these flowers are in fact Autumn Crocus and they bloom in the fall.  Thank you Ruth and Corinne for helping me out with that.  Corinne’s mom had the same reaction that I did when she saw what she thought were spring flowers popping out of her fall garden.  I love being surprised by nature.  There will be many things that I forget about this first year in Canada, but I will never forget that feeling of wonder as I stared out these flowers that appeared out of synch with time.

Narcissus blooming in early October.

Crocus blooming in early October.

Floating Like a Mer-Baby

Up to now Dave and I have done a pretty job of ensuring that Little Man is afraid of water.  He is more like his mother who likes warm, tropical waters, than his father who must be part polar bear. When Little Man was 6 months old we dipped his little baby feet into the subarctic waters of Barrier Lake where Dave’s family has a cabin.  Little Man responded as any 6 month old should, pulled his feet up to his ears and wailed his protest.  About a year later we repeated this process at Laguna Beach, California.  Now admittedly the ocean water was a little bit warmer… a little bit… but it was still January temperatures for California and Little Man’s response was the same as his lake water experience.

Most recently, while living on Vancouver Island, we found a lovely area of the Nanaimo River where it is very calm and still.  Winnie the Pooh would describe this part of the river as an area where the river itself was calm and sure about where it was headed, and therefore not in any particular rush to reach its destination.  If there was a little bridge this would be the perfect place for a game of Pooh Sticks.  The river is also, fed by numerous mountain streams coming from heights where even in the warmth of July snow still blanketed the peaks.  While calm, these were not tropical waters.  On this particularly hot day I was able to wade in just past my knees before refusing to go much deeper, while my polar bear husband was splashing and swimming with reckless abandon.  Our cautious two year old dipped his toes in the water, intuited what his sneaky parents had in mind, and did his best to turn tail immediately and head for the hills… literally.  We, on the other hand, thought that we would help him over his fear of the water and brought him in deeper, with Little Man clinging to his daddy like the best koala bear imaginable.  A little bit later with chattering teeth and blue lips we all got out of the water and went home for some well-deserved grilled cheese sandwiches and a warm bath.

Amongst these arctic water experiences we had a couple of pool excursions that were fine, but Little Man was by no means excited about the idea of playing in water.  At this point I was starting to get a little nervous that my own reticence towards water was rubbing off on my son.  I am the first to admit that I am not the strongest of swimmers, but Dave’s family just might be part mer-people.  They all love the water, doesn’t matter how warm or frigid it might be.  My parents also love taking the grandkids to special pools through a time-share that they are a part of, though most of this has been done with my brother’s fantastic children and not with Little Man since we’ve lived so far away.  My biggest concern was that I don’t want Little Man to miss out on special family aquatic adventures just because his mom is more of a land lover and his well-intentioned parents keep dipping him in arctic waters.

Around the same time that I was mulling over this “dilemma” I heard about the Nanaimo Aquatic Center.  I filed the name away, associating it with the sad, little indoor pools that I remember as a child; the fumes of chlorine wafting heavy above the water.  My memories are further soured by a couple of teenage swimming instructors that were too young to understand how to work with a child who was afraid (or at least strongly concerned) about the water.  In my mind, therefore, the Aquatic Center was something that we might try in the dead of winter when no other outside activities were at all possible.  That would have been a horrible mistake.

The Nanaimo Aquatic Center is one of the coolest public access indoor pools that I’ve seen.  It contains multiple pools, some for laps, some for aquatic aerobic and other exercise classes, some for great heated soaking, and a large one for kids.  The “kiddie pool” is the first thing you see when you leave the changing areas, and you come face to face with what appears to be the better half of a schooner suspended over ankle-deep warm waters.  The ship has stairs leading up to its cockpit and a small slide splashing down into shallow waters.  When Little Man first tried this slide he ended up ankles in the air with a stunned fish-like expression.  The shallow waters lead to a small, secluded pool where the water is half a meter deep and protected from the splashing of the other areas, perfect for tired parents or nervous kids.  Both of these areas lead to the larger Wave Pool.

I have not yet seen the actual waves in the Wave Pool, since the machine is turned on later in the afternoon after we’ve had our morning swim.  The pool itself, however, is pretty cool.  On one end you can walk in from a shallow slope until on the far end it reaches a depth of 1.5 meters.  The pool is ringed by a series of low walls designed to look like the craggy rocks lining the shore, with a diorama in the deep end of a few pine trees complete with seagulls.  The ceiling over the pool is festooned with colorful banners depicting artists’ views of the ocean.  My favorite is the one of a person and a dog swimming in the ocean, but the view is from underneath the water looking up like from a fish’s point of view.  The other end of the pool has a small lazy river, or Magic Waters in Little Man’s parlance, and a heated bubbling cauldron of a jacuzzi at its center.  In short, Little Man loves this pool and all of its waters.  So do his parents.

Our first visit there showed me just how well we had trained Little Man to fear the water.  He cried at the shower where everyone starts out rinsing off before hitting the pool itself.  Then when we cleared the changing rooms and he saw the  expanse of water that we were carrying him to his experience told him that this could only end one way; with him being dunked into ice cold water.  His feet zipped up to his ears, his cries echoed off the far walls, and his koala-bear hold on his Daddy near choked Dave out.  It took us a good 30 to 45 minutes of warm, shallow water with him sitting in our laps or clinging like a koala before he was ready to stand on his own.  That first day we considered it a success when he let us hold him and just move around the pool.  The second visit I took him by myself since Dave was working.  That visit went better than the first and Little Man was more comfortable in the water.  He let me pull him through the deeper parts of the pool, ran around splashing in the shallows, and the only tears shed were those of a tired toddler who didn’t want to leave the fun when it was time to go home for lunch and a nap.  Since then, each time we’ve gone back he’s gotten a bit braver and a bit more adventurous, until now he asks to go to the pool.  Dave and I have to use code words like “Warehouse 13” (aka place of wonder) when we talk about the pool at home.  If we forget to use code Little Man will head straight to the closet where we store his swim vest and declare he’s ready to go “float like a mer-baby.”

That term comes from when giving Little Man a bath I wanted to rinse out his curly locks, but he didn’t want to get his head wet.  So when I laid him back to rinse out his hair, I would say that he was “floating like a turtle” referring to one of his favorite bath toys.  Then one bath time he corrected me saying that he wasn’t a turtle, he was a mermaid.  I didn’t want to debate the gender differences here, so instead we used the term mer-baby and it stuck.  From that moment on, floating on his back, letting his curly locks flow in the water, has been called floating like a mer-baby.  Now that’s one of his favorite things to do at the pool, float on his back, with his curls rippling in the water, gazing up at the beautiful banners hanging from the ceiling, and singing softly to himself.  This has become one of my favorite memories of our first few months in Nanaimo.

Since first discovering the Aquatic Center I’ve found numerous other pools like this across the region.  Beban Pool has a similar, if older, version to what we have at the Aquatic Center.  Down in Victoria there are six different pool centers like this, the one described by my friends as the best is the Crystal Pool.  Unfortunately it was closed for maintenance the last time we were in Victoria, but I can’t wait to check it out the next time we get to visit.

When we got home from that first successful day at the Aquatic Center I wanted a simple, but celebratory lunch.  My goal was to continue the great feelings from the pool with something special at home too; linking memories of water to fun comforting times with family.  What popped immediately to mind was a Bacon and Tomato sandwich.  The best Bacon and Tomato sandwiches are made by Dave’s dad, Joe.  In fact, one of Little Man’s favorite books is Up, Down, and Around by Katherine Ayres, this book was first had read to him by Miss Katie, the excellent Children’s Librarian at the Pella Public Library in Iowa, and describes how different plants grow in a garden.  At the end of the story the little boy sits down with his dad, a friend and some animals to feast on the bounty of the garden.  Little Man likes to point out all the different foods being eaten.  The dad in the picture is biting into a sandwich, and when we ask Little Man what it is that the dad is eating he replies “Bacon and Tomato Sandwich.”  Then when we ask him who likes that kind of sandwich, he says “Papa Hopwood.”  So from the mouths of babes, this sandwich is elevated by Joe.  The best one I’ve ever had was up at the cabin this summer.  It’s a simple creation of lightly toasted wheat bread (the whole wheat can be accredited to Ruth’s influences) with a generous slather of mayonnaise, lots of great summer ripe tomatoes and of course the bacon.  The pictures here are of that delicious sandwich that Little Man devoured, and would have licked the plate clean if I’d let him.

Joe's Bacon and Tomato Sandwich

Joe’s Bacon and Tomato Sandwich

For my version of the sandwich I’ve made a few tweaks, all of which Dave objects to since the original is already perfection.  I can’t disagree with that, but I wanted to make this more of my own so I had to mess with it… just a little.  I like to add peppery greens to the sandwich to cut through the richness of the bacon, and arugula or watercress as my two favorites.  I also like to mix a little Dijon mustard into the mayonnaise before slathering it into the bread.  I find that the mustard brightens the heaviness of the sandwich without taking away from any of its bacony awesomeness.  So while this is not, Joe’s Bacon and Tomato sandwich, it is awfully good.

Not Your Daddy’s Bacon and Tomato Sandwich

(Serves 4)

1 lb. good quality, thick cut, smoked bacon

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 large ripe tomatoes

8 slices good whole wheat bread

2 cups fresh arugula, or peppery lettuce

Preheat the oven to 400º Fahrenheit.  Line a large sheet pan with paper towels, and then top the paper towels with a cooling rack.  Lay the bacon slices down without overlapping them onto the rack and roast them for 15-20 minutes.  Be sure to check the bacon periodically to be sure that it isn’t browning too quickly.  Once the bacon is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool.  I love cooking bacon this way, since it not only allows me to multitask other parts of the meal, but it also gets rid of the splattering mess all over my stove and therefor cuts down on clean up.  Double bonus.

While the bacon is roasting, combine the mayonnaise with the mustard in a small bowl and set aside.  Then slice the tomatoes thickly, lay them on a plate and sprinkle them lightly with salt.

About 7-10 minutes before the bacon is done, toast the bread lightly.  This should be just enough to give the bread a little bit of a crunch, but leaves the interior nice and fluffy.  Once the bacon is out of the oven, slather one side of each piece of bread with the mayonnaise/mustard mixture.  Layer the tomatoes across four of the pieces of bread.  Top the tomatoes with the bacon, dividing it up between the sandwiches.  Then top the bacon with the arugla or other greens.  Lastly, crown the sandwich with the remaining slice of bread, cut each sandwich in half (if desired) and enjoy.

Click here for a printable card of the Not Your Daddy’s Bacon and Tomato Sandwich.

Little Man, having completely devoured his own sandwich, was now working his whiles to get mine too.

Little Man, having completely devoured his own sandwich, was now working his whiles to get mine too.