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Month: May 2011

Where it all began…

Where it all began…

It’s important to know that I’m not a farmer. Emma isn’t one either. In fact, neither of us have the slightest drop of farming blood in our veins. The closest we’ve come is renting an allotment (40′ x 100′) from the city council in Newcastle and growing a nice crop of blue heritage potatoes. Oh, and that was in England about 10 years ago.

So, farming a 100 acre property in the rural outskirts of Ottawa, Canada, isn’t exactly our comfort zone. Yet, it sounded like a smart idea and so far, we haven’t regretted it.  That said, we’ve barely begun the adventure. If you keep reading, you’ll discover whether it works out for the plucky Brits in the end. There is always a chance we’ll end up scampering back to old blighty, tail between our legs, shaken by the experience and broken husks of our former vibrant selves. But let’s hope not. Either way, it should make for some entertaining reading…

First a disclosure: my language can be colourful. If you’re easily offended, bugger off and stop reading now.

Next, I’d better follow with an explanation of why we’re doing all of this: put simply, I’m restless.

At first that manifested as an urge to leave my hometown of Middlesbrough (affectionately known as the arsehole of England). As anyone that has ever been to Middlesbrough will attest, it’s a completely understandable reaction to the trauma. I didn’t realize the night sky wasn’t supposed to be orange until well into my teens. Steelworks, chemical plants, oil refineries, abandoned heavy industry and a dour population conspire against it. What’s more, the town is surrounded by the North Yorkshire moors and the Northumberland coast that entice a man like expensive whores into a beautifully colourful world outside…

So I left and relocated to Sheffield for university where I happily moved house every year for 4 years, until I then moved to Cambridge University, enrolling in a post-graduate course that required me to move to a different city / project every 2 – 4 weeks. Still, the urge to travel and explore was unquenched and I left for a six month trip to the far east / south east asia. Then back to live in London and then a relocation to Newcastle, all the while working for a consultancy company that kept me on the move each week.

Needless to say, this was all kind of frustrating for Emma. So, on the promise of a more stable life, we naturally decided to emmigrate to Ottawa (but not before another trip to Greece and Nepal for a few months). Five years later, we’re still in Ottawa but have had four different houses.

For her part, Emma just wanted a nice house, some kids and friends. Perhaps a chicken or two. We’ve been looking for a few years, but eventually, the sheer weight of her unremitting demands took their toll on me and 2010 saw an escalation of activity. Spurred on by a crappy economy with uncertain employment conditions, escalating oil prices, food prices, constant war, insane horror stories of unsafe food, products, business practice, corruption and crime…suffice to say we’re opting to get out of dodge. The goal was to find some land to fulfill a dream of building a smallholding (hobbyfarm to North Americans). Our ambitions weren’t excessive; just a parcel of 10 acres, set in a private, rural location with access to the city so I can continue to work.

After madness with Swiss farm owners who refused to negotiate, idiotic landowners with expectations that their land is worth more per gram than gold, we found 100 acres of environmentally protected forest, wetland and meadows that wasn’t officially for sale with no house, lots of abandoned cars and a burned out barn. Obviously we pounced and paid top dollar for it. So now I have a place to call home and if the early indications are anything to go by, Emma isn’t leaving this one. It’s where we’ll build our farm and house.

I’m playing catch up with this blog, so rather than post a monster, I’ll leave the tale of the house design and tractor purchase to another day. But here’s some photos of the laaand in the snow not too long after we finalised the purchase.

Roast Chicken, Butternut Squash, Feta and Pecans

Roast Chicken, Butternut Squash, Feta and Pecans

Ok I think the title has pretty much given the main content of this post away.  If you are still reading I’m assuming you want to eat something delicious, hearty, nourishing and wholesome without too much fuss attached.  Well here it is.

This is one of my favourite meals and it came from the wonderful Nigella Lawson (I think from Nigella Express but I can’t find my book right now, I’ll check later).  It is a simple meal but ridiculously satisfying.  Basically you roast up a chicken (organic really is best), then 45 minutes before it is cooked pop a chopped butternut squash (chop into 1 inch pieces) into the roasting tray and give a good coating of oil.  Pop back into the oven until both are cooked perfectly.

On the plate add a fresh salad with dressing of choice (I prefer olive oil and balsamic vinegar).  To the squash add a liberal dose of chopped feta (I think it would be about a cup full per half squash) and some chopped pecans.  You should tailor the amounts to your taste.

This is the perfect seasonal crossover dinner, you get the yummy of roast chicken without the heaviness of a winter meal.  The sweet comfort of winter squash with the sharp summer tang of feta.  And if you want to go crazy and make this an extra special dinner add that seasonal wonder green beans but make sure you do them Movita style, there really is no other way.

Eat well, you deserve it.

A Prayer for Mothers

A Prayer for Mothers

My friend Katie shared this lovely prayer with me so I thought I would share it with you all.

We pray

For new mothers, coming to terms with new responsibility;

For expectant mothers, wondering and waiting;

For those who are tired, stressed or depressed;

For those who struggle to balance the tasks of work and family;

For those who are unable to feed their children due to poverty;

For those whose children have physical, mental or emotional disabilities;

For those who have children they do not want;

For those who raise children on their own;

For those who have lost a child;

For those who care for the children of others;

For those whose children have left home;

And for those whose desire to be a mother has not been fulfilled.

Bless all mothers, that their love may be deep and tender,

And that they may lead their children to know and do what is good,

Living not for themselves alone, but for God and for others.

Hear our prayer.

Wishing all a serene day.

Meet Mathilda

Meet Mathilda

I’d like to introduce you to a special new member of our family.  I’ve named her Mathilda, though Stephen is trying to come up with a more manly sounding name, but I think she looks like a Mathilda.  What do you think?

She’s got a groovy 80’s vibe and plenty of width across the back end, she reminds me a little of myself.

Like most ladies Mathilda loves accessories.  She comes equipped with a front loader, a bale spear and a bush hog.

Like all new additions we’ve had some teething troubles.  At first a cell in her battery failed so it went flat and her alternator  needs replacing.  We also had a bit of an issue on Wednesday when Stephen took her out for a bit of a spin only to get stuck in a boggy patch at the bottom of our field.  Our neighbour brought out his CAT and dragged Mathilda out and she is now safely ensconced on the drier high ground at the front of our land.  Soon she will have her own special tent to live in where she will be very warm and cosy.

Despite our difficulties we are very happy to have Mathilda as part of our family.  I hope that she likes us and her new name; David Brown Case 1390 just didn’t have a friendly ring to it.  We are looking forward to many farming adventures with our new-to-us and most beautifully retro tractor.

It’ll be nice to have another girl around.

A Single Moment

A Single Moment

Joining Amanda in sharing a special moment from our week.  No words, just an image that captures something wonderful in the life of our family.

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend :  )

Sunny Kitchen

Sunny Kitchen

It is amazing to me how a simple task like baking can bring me a few moments of serenity in an otherwise busy and bustling day.

Flour and butter, eggs and cream.  The weighing, the mixing, the rolling out.  A pastry case turned into quiche, scones rising in the oven and eaten still warm.  Sunshine in the kitchen, warming as it touches.

On Motherhood

On Motherhood

I think it is inevitable that I spent the weekend thinking quite a bit about being a mum.  What it means to me, others that I know, how it has changed my life.  Strangely I chose to celebrate being a mum by leaving my family and going off for a day of relaxation with a friend!  On Saturday my lovely friend Karen (who writes a beautiful blog here by the way) whisked me off to a spa where we spent the day popping our bodies in and out of hot pools, a steam room and freezing but refreshing waters.  In between we had the pleasure of time to chat, catch up, muse even.  A luxury for two busy mamas!

Sunday was a work day and I will tell you all about that in another post (tractor teething troubles and other farm stories) but a day shared with my boys.  But also a day of thinking about my own Mum and missing her as I always do.  And I started thinking about all the other mamas I know, so filled with love for their children, so dedicated, hard working, creative and enduring.  It occurs to me how lucky I am to know these women.

I’ve learned from the women that mothered before me, who are now grandmothers enjoying a new phase of life.  Or those whose children are a little older, teaching me their wisdom, encouraging through their experience.  Reminding me ‘you will survive’.  And sometimes it is a new mother, that joy and intensity of the first year, reminding me of how far we’ve come, how far we still have to go.  And there are the mothers who are raising children they didn’t birth, through adoption and marriage, or those without their own children who channel their maternal energies into guiding other people’s children or families on their own journey.

And there is the inspiration all around me, the new ideas, different thoughts, novel ways of doing.  I really couldn’t get by without this community of women to learn from, share with, lean on, brag to, commiserate with.  Some I know only from a ‘cyber’ relationship, others have been in my life since I was born.  The one thing they all have in common is their extraordinary hearts.

I can’t imagine my life without my children, but more than that, I can’t imagine myself without the changes that being a mother have wrought.  The challenges, the hardships, the learning, the struggles with exhaustion and patience; the triumphs, the joys, the extreme feeling of love and devotion.  Who would I have been without them?  I don’t know and can’t even think it possible, they are so much at the centre of my life and who I am.  Just as we were to our mothers, just as they were to us.

Drawing With Closed Eyes

Drawing With Closed Eyes

Last week we did a picture study from The Art Book for Children, we looked at Women, Bird by Moonlight by Joan Miro.  I really love this book as it has suggestions for questions to ask, helping the child to see more in the painting than might be appreciated at first glance.  I enjoy encouraging Huwyl to look more deeply into the world around him, to look beyond what is obvious and to encourage him to trust his own feelings and interpretations.

One of the suggestions in the book was to draw a picture with your eyes closed to mirror the surreal world created by Miro, so today we gave it a try.  I’m finding that if I work alongside Huwyl it encourages him to be more fully immersed in the experience, so today we got out the paints and we both drew with our eyes closed.

We started with pencil (to mimic the lines in Miro’s picture) and drew the outlines with our eyes closed.  I went for a bird on a branch and Huwyl, much more imaginatively, drew a tree person surrounded by a forest.  Once the outlines were done we filled them in with our paints.   When we work on this kind of project I notice little changes in Huwyl, his ability to focus for a little longer, his depth of concentration, his delicacy of approach.  These changes are almost imperceptible day to day but sometimes I’m able to stand back and see how they add up, how my little guy is growing.

While Huwyl and I were experimenting with Surrealist art techniques Neirin was doing a little experimentation of his own.

Each boy exploring what they are capable of, testing what they can do with colour and brush, interpreting the world in their own way.  This kind of experience is sort of a metaphor for our homeschooling experience.  It creates a lot of mess, is often more difficult than I think it is going to be but the results are always more than worth it.  And always a surprise.

Pear Shaped

Pear Shaped

I’m sure there are many reasons why I will never be skinny, genetics, body type etc but this is definitely right up there.  Pear and Almond Cake.  Oh yeah.

Huwyl and I were watching an old episode of River Cottage last week and we decided that this pear cake had to happen.  We picked out the pears when shopping and today, after doing our school, we whipped up this little number.  It is moist, sweet, light, firm and delicious.  Worth waiting for the 50 minutes it takes to cook in the oven.

Now I’m sure there are women who could bake a cake like this and then watch everyone else eat it without concern.  They could lean their slender botties against their immaculate kitchen counter and smile in a loving and womanly way as their family scarfed down their hard work.  They might even reach for a piece of fruit and head out for an evening run.

I am not that woman.  I love the stuff I cook which is pretty much why I cook it.  I realise that this means I will never be a delicate willow, a teeny flower of sinewy limbs who can slip into any outfit the glamourous stores can offer.  But I will be full of cake and pretty happy about it.  See I’m more of a ‘pull up an old steel fence then head home for mince and dumplings with a side order of roast veg thank you very much’ kind of gal.  Actually I am literally that gal as that is what I did yesterday.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that being slender must be lovely.  I have many slender friends (in fact I’m probably the most ample chick I know) some by genetics, some by insane amounts of exercise, some by being just plain sensible.  I always seem to err on the side of ‘full figured’.  Don’t get me wrong I don’t require specially made clothes or anything but there are always a few extra pounds hanging around.  Sometimes it bothers me, sometimes it doesn’t.  Luckily I have a chap who likes me just as I am and enjoys making me delicious roast dinners followed by a big snog.  A lot of the time I’m more interested in whether or not I can lift a bag of compost/child/large dog/livestock into my car without my arms snapping off.

If a fairy could wave a wand and make me lose a few pounds tomorrow I’d be quite happy but if it means giving up on the things that make life just that bit richer and, well, tastier then no thanks.  I think I’ll make my cake and eat it too.

Welcome Beltane

Welcome Beltane

According to the old calendar Beltane marks the beginning of summer.  Around these parts it barely feels as if spring has started let alone summer!  But remember the old British saying ‘Ne’er cast a clout til May is out’.  Roughly translated this means ‘Don’t go out without a coat until May is out’.  Most people assume this means the month of May but in fact it refers to the May blossom of the Hawthorn tree, found in every British hedgerow.

The blossom of course responds to the weather so is a much better indicator of when summer is fully upon us.  When we rely on the calendar rather than what we see around us we are often confounded, we think it should be so because of the date rather than what the natural world is doing.   Last year April was hot and May even hotter, spring came early and we all rejoiced in the unseasonal warmth and freedom it brought.

This year we have ‘enjoyed’ a long winter and a cool spring.  King Winter doesn’t seem to want to go to his long rest and despite Ostara’s best efforts he keeps resurfacing and brings cold winds, hail and snow with him.  We’ve had some reprieves, some blissful warm spring days but they have been the rarity and we are all longing for the warm season to be fully underway.

This weekend we celebrated Beltane by working on our land.  Due to the kindness of a lovely friend Stephen and I were able to spend Saturday afternoon working together, clearing the debris of the burned down barn that has been sitting for at least a couple of years.  We had planned to put our tractor here but the plethora of nails and precarious trees makes this too big of a job for us right now, so we contented ourselves with making the area safe and set plans for a garage right next door.  The gift of time, given by a kind heart, allowed us to plan and make decisions that are very important to us.  Sometimes it can be hard with the little people around just to get to the end of a sentence never mind a plan!

So on Sunday we returned (with the little people this time) with a new vision and a set of bolt cutters to take out a chain link fence that was overgrown and partially fallen down right where our tractor needs to be parked.  We are reusing the fencing (of course) so we snipped carefully, removing poles and pulling away hay to release the fencing and clear the space.  We dug, carried, raked, clipped, snipped, pulled, dumped and sweated until this little corner was cleared.

A casual visitor would not know what has changed.  They would see some rolled up fencing (and more that needs to be cleared).  They would see piles of hay and wood.   They would see a 5 foot pile of charcoaled wood, most of it full of nails, and a raked bed where the wood used to be.  It may not be a total transformation but it is a beginning.  Each effort we make moves us a little closer to our home farm, to productive earth tended by us, yielding our food and provisions for years to come.  The energy we expend is a message, showing the earth that we are willing to work and nurture her, that we love this place and want it to be home.

As we took a final break from all our work I noticed an eagle above the next field.  I was fascinated and walked over to where she hovered, turning at whim on the thermals above.  She drifted closer to me and, for a moment, was silhouetted above against the bright circle of the misted afternoon sun.  I wondered if she regarded me at all, as I did her.  Probably not but I fancied that she did.  I fancied that she wondered about this creature down below, looking up at her and marveling; that she wondered for a moment why we were there when we had never been before.

But then she drifted away, seemingly so gently but too quickly she was over the field and away.  She was fixed on the horizon that, above the trees, was apparent to her; my gaze was shortened to see only what is immediate, the near by world of the here and now.  I wondered what she saw, her far reaching eyes looking off into the future.  I wondered if she saw summer unfurling across the land, moving inexorably towards us.  A gentle tide of green that eventually will surround us all.