Category Archives: Canada

Starting from Scratch

What you see in this picture is not edible.  Well, actually it is, but it isn’t meant to be.  Let me start again…

About a year ago I started removing artificial chemicals from my home and body as I could.  I had finally had enough.  I’m tired of hearing again and again about how a trusted company or product is now found to be not only be unhealthy to use, but in fact might be down right harmful.  Enough.  I’m not going off grid (not exactly sure what that means) or embracing my inner Puritan (I don’t have one), but little by little, where I can, I’m getting rid of the stuff that I can’t pronounce and have no idea what it is or why it’s going on my body.

Frankly this goal was also driven by my budget.  As a Sessional Instructor (aka Adjunct Professor) my employment is not guaranteed, and we need to be careful with spending.  I was having a harder and harder time justifying the crazy cost of multiple moisturizers to be used at different times of day or on different parts of the face all promising different paths to eternal youth.  Fighting free radicals, etc..  The list of things that these facial creams are supposed to do make them sound like members of the Avengers.  If that was true, Little Man would be impressed.  I, however, was not.

So I decided to start someplace simple, my face cream.  The first time I tried this, I simply melted some coconut oil and added a few drops of essential oils.  That was fine, but didn’t have the same pampering feel that my nice, expensive and unpronounceable face cream from the store had.  Then I tried it again with a bit of shea butter added in, and after some internet research found that this concoction could be whipped with a hand blender.  Oh yes, DIY whipped face cream from ingredients that I for the most part I already had in the house.  Sold!

One note about this face/body cream… a little goes a long way.  I use this twice a day on my face, as well as all over my body.  For the face especially you only need a tiny amount.  If you use too much, depending on your skin type, your skin will feel slick.  I like to use it in the morning right after cleaning my face, and I wait a fair bit of time (oftentimes until after I’ve eaten breakfast) before applying my make up.  Another friend of mine found that in the morning her face stayed too slick, so instead uses this as a night cream for her face and as an overall body moisturizer.  It is especially great for dry feet and elbows.

The whipped face cream is incredibly easy to make.  Here is what I do:

Whipped Face/Body Cream
½ cup coconut oil (preferably organic)
½ cup shea butter
5-15 drops of essential oils (lavender, cedar wood, and frankincense are my favorites)
1 cup-sized container with tight fitting lid


  1. Put the coconut oil and shea butter into a metal bowl, and then set this bowl into a second bowl filled with hot water. Otherwise you can use a standard double-boiler, or use a microwave safe bowl and melt the oil and butter using short, 30 second bursts.
  2. When the oil and butter are almost melted, stir them together until everything is clear. Remove the metal bowl from the hot water and set it aside to cool.  Do not add essential oils to anything hot since that will destroy many of their healthful properties.
  3. Once the oil/butter mixture is cooled (but not set) add your essential oils. I like to do a blend of about 5 drops each of my favorite oils for skin.  My current favorites are Lavender, Frankincense, and Cedar Wood.


    For this batch in the picture I used Lavender, Frankincense, and a Young Living blend called Progessence.  I often use Cedar Wood instead for my third oil.  I use Young Living oils for their purity and high standards of production and sustainability.  If you are interested in where to purchase Young Living Oils, you can send me a comment through this post.

  4. Depending on the temperature of your room (and the amount of time you have), place the metal bowl into the refrigerator (or freezer for a quicker set) until the oils just start to harden or set.
  5. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and use an electric hand blender to whip up the oils until light and fluffy. If your oils are still too warm, put them back in the refrigerator or freezer for a couple of minutes then whip them again.  Watch it like a hawk or it can set up too quickly.  If the oils have solidified before you whipped them, try your blender anyway.  You might need to use a spoon to scrape the mixture into smaller bits and then blend away.
  6. Put the finished face/body cream into your container of choice with a tight fitting lid. I keep my face lotion on my bedside table, so I use a small, wide-mouthed mason jar.  For face/body cream that I would travel with or take to the gym, etc., then try a food-safe plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

* You can double this recipe to make two jars of face/body cream and then save one in the refrigerator.


Young Living Essential Oils Distributor: 3025584
Check out Young Living essential oils at

What I like to do now is to make two jars of the cream at a time.  One I use immediately, and the other I keep as a replacement.  That way I didn’t have to rush to make more when one was getting low.  Also, if you are doing this in the summer or live in a perpetually hot area, you might want to store your face cream (at least the replacement one) in the refrigerator.  While our summer here on the island has been a mild one, normally by mid July all of the coconut oil in my house has liquefied in the heat.  I still used my coconut oil face cream when that happened, but I prefer the fluffy, whipped cream.  And frankly, in that type of summer heat to have the face cream cool when I put it on… sounds perfect!

Click here for a printable version of the Whipped Face Cream.


Let the Games Begin…

Buckle up, Buttercup.  It’s time to get started.

The weather is warming.  We have intermittent sunshine and rain with some longer stretches of warm sunshine.  That means garden.  However, I don’t have my garden plot from the last two years.

Our landlord is consolidating her garden plots into one area, so my plot (actually my old plot) is a part of that.  So, this year we needed to find new place for our garden.  It ends up that this will be the rather oddly shaped southern border to the property that runs alongside the driveway.

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For now things look a bit… shall we say… odd.  Last October I already knew that I’d be losing my plot, but needed to be able to plant my garlic.  I was allowed to plant my glorious garlic (I’ll share the garlic story in a future post) in the raspberry patch that will separate the area with my old plot from my new plot.  This is the only time that you will ever (I hope) see me combine garlic with raspberries.  Just the thought gives me chills.


What you see here is the beginning of the desodding process.  The one good side to the unbroken months of rain that we’ve had (I have to keep reminding myself that we live in a rain forest and therefore that requires copious amounts of rain) is that the sod is really lose and relatively easy to remove (as far as desodding goes).  I did a few rows on my own, but Dave did most of the heavy lifting (literally).  I did do most of the sod cutting, however.

I’ll show more of the changes to this brave new plot as gardening seasons progresses.  For now everything that has been moved from the old plot is in complete shock.  The sad looking limp chives will hopefully rebound soon.  Only one kale plant made the move well, and I’m hoping that the parsley comes along too.

Other than that on the back deck I have two containers struggling through the wetness.  One is my standard bin of mixed lettuces, and the other is half arugula and half of something that I’ve completely forgotten what it is.  It might be chives.  It might be that I actually only put seeds in half of the container with plans on putting something (of indeterminate origins) else in the other half.  Time will tell.  I hope.

In the meantime Dave and I spent a well deserved day post-desodding on the couch.  Little Man didn’t mind too badly since he got more TV than normal, but he did object to the amount of Mommy and Daddy TV rather than cartoons.  Such is life.  🙂

Rainy Day Cookie Picnic

Last week, as we got closer to the end of January, it felt like Little Man and I hadn’t been outside for any run around time in forever.  Having grown up in a semi-arid desert, I still tend to be a bit cat-like going outside in the rain.  Meaning it’s not my favorite thing.  This day, however, I had had enough.  It wasn’t raining (yet) so I bundled Little Man and myself up, grabbed his scooter and my bag full of empty egg cartons and headed off into the drizzle.

As we started off down the road, Little Man scooted alongside of me and commented that there was an awful lot of drizzle.  It had, in fact, turned from drizzle into a light rain.  By the time we’d made it up the hill to the house with the egg stand outside their fence, the light rain was a little less light.

Around this time Little Man started asking for a snack and I told him that we could have the cookies I’d brought with me for a snack when we got down the other side of the hill to the little lake.  He thought that was a great idea and declared that we would have a cookie picnic in the rain.  So empty egg cartons deposited, and new full egg cartons retrieved ($3/dozen for local farm fresh eggs… yup!  No need for eggs from the more… questionable sources of the mega stores for us), we were off down the road again.

Little Man imagined that we were going over a waterfall as we walked downhill, tracking whatever villain was supposedly rampant that day.  We had also picked up our neighbor’s friendly dog for the walk.  She often chaperoned us on our walks in the neighborhood, and Little Man considers her to be his dog.  Or at least a dog on loan when we go for walks.

Finally at the little lake, we sat down on a tree trunk bent into a perfect bench for the two of us, water soaking into our pants but neither of us cared.  Then cookies in hand, we sat on our sodden tree, gazed at the water falling into the lake, and chatted about camping thoughts for when the weather warms up a bit.  For this mom, it was a perfect rainy day cookie picnic.

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Our selfie reflection in the lake.  I love seeing Little Man’s Pooh Bear head and the dog paws on the dock as well.

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Our Rainy Day Cookie picnic.  A toque goes a long way to making it OK to sit out in the rain.  🙂

On the Momentous Occasion of My First Use of a Grill

OK, so maybe for most of you this isn’t so momentous, but for me it was.  I’ve prepped things for the grill, read numerous recipes for grilling, and watched it done ad nauseum on television and on my own back deck.  I had not, however, actually used a grill.

After Dave’s brief description of where to turn on the propane, which burner to light first, how to stand back to preserve one’s eyebrows, and a few other tips that I’m sure were important but that I cannot for the life of me remember, it was time to use the grill.

So far both eyebrows are accounted for.

So far both eyebrows are accounted for.

The occasion for this momentous occurrence was the simple fact that it’s hot.  Beastly hot.  So hot that my jar of coconut oil that I’d left out on my counter liquified.  I don’t know if it’s quite “fry an egg on the side walk hot,” but that’s only because I refuse to sacrifice one of our awesome farm fresh eggs to such an experiment.  It’s so hot that the very thought of turning on my stove or (please forbid it) my oven made me cross and snappish.  So to the deck we went.

Little Man was highly amused and wanted to be sure that Daddy had given me permission to play with his grill.  Then he stood back, keeping his eyebrows at a safe distance, leaned onto the deck table crossing his ankles in the appearance of nonchalance (which in a four year old means that he was preparing to gather information in order to tattle on me to Daddy) and watched.

I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to grill, but then I remembered that I had some boneless pork chops defrosted in the fridge that needed to be used.  So after a few quick moments of internet searching for easy recipes, I stumbled on a Lemon Basil Marinated Pork Chop recipe that fit the bill.  It had only a couple ingredients, all of which I had at hand (the basil in my garden is trying to take over the world), and it seemed pretty forgiving to me.  Meaning that it hopefully would be very hard for me to really mess things up.

Then I opened the pack of pork chops and saw what I was faced with.  They had been hack sawed.  I don’t remember which store they came from, but as you can see in the accompanying pictures each chop was vastly different in size and thickness.  In short, they were a mess, but they were also destined to be dinner so on we went.  Marinade done.  Pork in marinade.  Rice on the stove.  Massive bowl of uneaten kale salad from a potluck bbq where everyone was too hot to cook so we all brought salads… on the table.  The moment had come.

Sorry for the blur.  Apparently I was excited when I was taking the picture with my phone.

Sorry for the blur. Apparently I was excited when I was taking the picture with my phone.

I successfully navigated the propane (after a few fruitless attempts to light the burner before I realized there was no gas) and burners, getting a good fire going and letting the grill heat.  Then on the chops went.  Nothing burst into flames, and I laughed at myself for how nerve wracking that one moment was.  In my head as I hovered with the pork in tongs over the grill I could hear my upstate New York friends saying to get on with it.  So on they went.  I had the best of intentions to take the smaller pieces off first but then just decided to give myself a pass and get the pork cooked.  Sorry, Dave.  I hope I didn’t let you down there, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

I tried to remember the trick for perfect grill marks from when I worked at the Blue Bayou, but no dice.  I'll keep practicing.

I tried to remember the trick for perfect grill marks from when I worked at the Blue Bayou, but no dice. I’ll keep practicing.

I did, at least, remember to let my greatly disparately sized chops rest before diving in.

I did, at least, remember to let my greatly disparately sized chops rest before diving in.

In the end, the pork was delicious.  And, yes, the smaller piece was over done, but Little Man didn’t mind and nothing was overly caramelized (aka burnt).  My kitchen stayed cool-ish, at least in the fact that I didn’t add much more heat to it with my cooking, and I’d gotten over the first fear of using the grill.  Now my summer dinner plans have opened up with the new addition of grilling to my repertoire.  I’m thinking of some grilled tandoori chicken soon perhaps.  We’ll see.

Ta da...

Ta da…

Some day I’ll have to tackle the charcoal bbq beast, but for now the quickness of propane is my new “go to” for the days when I just can’t face the stove.  I’ll just need a nice icy beverage in my hand next time.

Little Man and Pooh Bear decide that the pork was pretty good and that Mommy is allowed to grill again sometime.

Little Man and Pooh Bear decide that the pork was pretty good and that Mommy is allowed to grill again sometime.

The Sheep Are Out Again… Wait, What?

The very first meal that we ate in this house inspired the name of this blog, the sheep are out.  I won’t retell the story here, but you can read about it in the first post that is linked here.

Whadda ya lookin' at?  Can we get back to our snack now?

Whadda ya lookin’ at? Can we get back to our snack now?

Since that time the sheep have gotten out a couple more times, generally their short-lived freedom being spent nibbling and pooping (lots of pooping) in the garden.  There’s also been a loose horse in the front yard, munching by the basketball hoop, as well as various and a sundry other wildlife.

Running with the bulls… I mean the sheep…

So when Dave came bursting into the living room last night after just having put Little Man to bed and said that I needed to look outside, I flew to the front door.  Outside I was greeted by a group of sheep munching away around Little Man’s sand box.  They looked a bit chagrined that their late night snack was being interrupted.  Luckily Dave was doing the sheep herding and steered them down the driveway rather than the shorter distance through the garden (which I likely would have done without thinking about the consequences) since it would have been destroyed.

Wait for me!

I have to say that Dave is becoming a quite proficient with his sheep herding, much better than our first night here back in 2013.  Hopefully the sheep don’t take this as a challenge to up their game.  Until then, the sheep were out, but are now… noisily… back in their pens.

A Red Wheel Barrow

So much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
-Poem by William Carlos Williams

I first read that poem in high school and promptly forgot it.  It was nearly 10 years later, after university as I worked in the “real world” that I decided I liked the ivory tower better and wanted to go back to graduate school.  Only after starting graduate school would I remember the rainwater glazed wheel barrow.

I was in Turkey for my first archaeology field season when Williams’ wheel barrow came to mind.  Maybe it was the pastoral setting with sheep, goats and turkeys rampaging across the golden countryside.  Maybe it was the horizon dotted by slow moving tractors harvesting grain that would feed most of the country.  Or maybe it was the fact that I’d discovered how intensely, mind numbingly boring archaeology can be at times.  I’m not sure what the impetus was, but I was in immediate need of poetry.

Don’t get me wrong, I love archaeology, but there are days when you’ve come across nothing, nothing, nothing, but more dirt, nothing to get your mind working on anything.  It was one of those mornings where I’d found nothing but more dirt… again… that I found myself quoting poems memorized in high school.  Emily Dickenson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”  Random Shakespearean sonnets.  And what bugged me was that I couldn’t remember the one about the wheel barrow and the chickens. It just seemed to fit somehow, but I couldn’t remember the words and there was no wifi for miles and miles.

In fact, not only was there no wifi, but there was no electricity, no running water, no cars at the village across from our excavation site.  My favorite thing was to watch as the donkey drawn cart come trundling over the hill, dangling with plastic bowls, metal pots, children’s toys, and other paraphernalia that the local villagers might want to purchase.  Often on those same days we would see the ice cream donkey hoofing it over the hill.  The donkey was led by a young boy and had two large, orange, insulated drink containers strapped to his sides, both filled with the local ice cream that is blended with pounded orchids giving it a distinctively gummy texture.  It’s an acquired taste.  At the time I didn’t know that this was not the glorious rainbow sherbet that just the mention of caused my parched mouth to water.  When I finally gathered up the courage after weeks of excavation to get some ice cream from the lad… I ended up burying it in my back dirt pile the minute he was over the hill again.  Maybe it was just his local batch, but it had the overall flavor of what I can only imagine old tires must taste like.

My garden plot needed a bit of elbow grease, especially with the amazing kale finally going to seed after a mild winter.

My garden plot needed a bit of elbow grease, especially with the amazing kale finally going to seed after a mild winter.

What brought all of this to mind was me digging in the dirt of my garden patch.  After our relatively warm winter, my plot had begun to look rather… what’s a polite word for it… scruffy… unkempt… bordering on embarrassing.  I hacked away at the clumps of stubborn grass and filled my borrowed red wheel barrow to the rim twice with fluffy, green toupees to dump in the pig pen.  The pigs seemed to have fun tossing them in the air.  Or at least I think they are having fun.  They might have been vehemently stating that fluffy, green toupees of grass are not delightful pig snacks.  Just to be sure I brought them some wonderfully wilted vegetable scraps later.  Those pigs have long memories.

Getting the kale out was the easy part.  That grass toupee was obnoxious.

Getting the kale out was the easy part. That grass toupee was obnoxious.

But that brings me back to the wheel barrow, glazing rain water and chickens.  So much depends upon…  Still makes me smile.  As I swung my scythe of doom for weeds (aka a borrowed hoe that I likely should not be swinging like a scythe) poems from high school streamed through my mind.  Foremost has been the white chickens by the red wheel barrow.  Though in my mind this is followed by a curly haired little boy chasing the said chickens amid much cackling from boy and chickens.

The grass toupees are gone, and I've moved the parsley and chives to their

The grass toupees are gone, and I’ve moved the parsley and chives to their “new” garden plan locations.

Let the gardening games begin...

Let the gardening games begin…

Strawberry Trees

When we moved to Vancouver Island from the American Midwest it was amazing to be living next to the sea with the cedar forests literally reaching to the shore.  These were also some of the oddest shores that I’d ever seen.  Being on the sheltered, eastern side of the island there is no surf pounding the shore, just gentle lapping ripples so there is sound that I generally associate with being at the beach.  Since there are no waves, there are also no surfers or even sponges (aka body boarders… sorry…).  In fact, there is no sand.  Instead we have pebble beaches, save for a few places to the north.  That said, with the occasional eagle soaring overhead, the sun sparkling off of the sapphire waters, and the forests extending right down to the water the views are stunning.

Little Man exploring the shore at Transfer Beach.

Pooh Bear… I mean Little Man… exploring the shore at Transfer Beach.

Nope, that's not a lake. That's the calm Pacific Ocean on the east side of Vancouver Island at Transfer Beach.

Nope, that’s not a lake. That’s the calm Pacific Ocean on the east side of Vancouver Island at Transfer Beach.

The forests are also unique to the island, at least in my experience.  In my defense before moving here I had been living in the corn belt for 5 years, where the land is so flat it seems as if you can actually see the horizon bend in the distance.  When we first moved here there was a certain type of tree that kept catching my eye.  Interspersed throughout the cedar, fir and alder, were smooth barked, rust colored trees that I’d never seen before.  They looked vaguely like the eucalyptus that I’m familiar with from California with their smooth barked trunks, but eucalyptus grow ramrod straight and these are curved and bent into Seussian shapes.  Eventually when exploring various parks with Little Man we came across one of those helpful informational signs informing us that these are arbutus tress.  Apparently one of the original Spanish explorers saw these gorgeous trees and was reminded of the strawberry trees from his homeland.  Or at least that’s what I remember from the sign at Neck Point.  Little Man insists the sign states that we should turn left on the trail and head for China.  One of us must be closer to correct than the other.

My intrepid navigators debate the B.C. Strawberry Tree sign at Neck Point.

My intrepid navigators debate the B.C. Strawberry Tree sign at Neck Point.

One of my favorite views of spring on the island is that of the blooming arbutus trees.  They are covered with large, creamy, star shaped flowers that look vaguely elvish.  It was a lovely spring morning so Little Man and I went tromping outside, me with my camera and he with his “kung fu sticks” (aka a long skinny branch and a green plastic tomato pole from my garden).  In the picture with Little Man blasting past an arbutus, he’s heading to the metal gate of the sheep enclosure to drum for the sheep.  The long suffering animals took off down to the lower meadow where Little Man’s musical offering wasn’t quite so loud.  He insisted that the sheep liked his music and was quite chagrined when I suggested we move on to give the sheep a bit of peace and quiet. Apparently I am not as well attuned to the musical tastes of sheep as he is.

An arbutus tree behind the barn.

An arbutus tree behind the barn.


The sheep have fled the music.

Arbutus blossoms

Arbutus blossoms

With the warm spring sunshine, an amazing amount of blue sky, and the ground drying out from our deluge, it’s time to start thinking garden thoughts… or at least to start wresting my garden from the embrace of the mass of crab grass that sits like a jaunty toupee on my lovely plot.  But that is for a later post.

A crab grass toupee.

A crab grass toupee.

Morning light from under an arbutus tree.

Morning light from under an arbutus tree.

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