The little pleasures in life

IMG_8039This February in Alberta has been unseasonably warm – relative to some of the very cold Februarys we have experienced in the past.  It has been nice to get out and go for walks along the country roads.  North of Calgary there is still a blanket of snow that covers the fields.  Some days the sky and the ground are both the same hue of greyish white.  It can be a little dreary when the sky isn’t blue but there is also a nostalgia in only seeing in black and white.  It is like living in a 50s TV show or a film noir.

On this particular day it was just around the freezing level so there was no need for the extensive bundling that usually comes with an Alberta winter.  I went out for a walk along the country roads.  I could hear the scrunching of snow under foot with each step.  The sound of woodpeckers and the occasional magpie could be heard in the woods as I walked past them.  I could hear my own breathing increase as I headed up a hill.  As I came around a corner and a pleasant decent down from a hill, I met up with the neighbour farm dogs.  They were as happy to see me as I was to see them.  We walked along the road together for a couple of kilometres.  They would dart ahead to take in all the smells that were undetectable to me.  Then they would suddenly fall behind me only to catch up by rubbing their warm snouts in my hands as they ran back ahead.

A simple pleasure.  Enjoy each day.  Enjoy each moment.

 

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A mystery is solved

porcupine photoThis past weekend after a hike down along the creek my friends and family found some interesting animal scats.  What could it be? They were small smooth bullet sized pellets.  After a few google searches of animal scats the hypothesis was that it was porcupine scat.  Hmmmm…. we have not seen a porcupine yet.  So back down to the creek they went and this time returned to the cabin with some actual quills that they had found near what used to be a beaver home.  The hypothesis seemed to be correct.  They set up the camera for the night and lo and behold…the mystery was solved – it is at least one porcupine living by our pond!

It never ceases to amaze me how the land here keeps delivering mysteries to us that result in more appreciation for nature.  This past weekend we discovered our porcupine, saw a new bird species that we haven’t seen here before, and had two neighbour horses come running through our field in front of our cabin.  Fantastic.

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The Calm of Isolation

DSC_0622Somedays it can actually be quite calming to have moments of serene isolation.  There is a quiet that comes with true isolation.  You can hear your own thoughts without distraction.

Our cabin is a place of isolation.  Most of the time.  It is funny that you can drive an hour and a half out of the city and buy 80 acres of land and still deal with neighbour dogs pooping on your front lawn.  sigh.

This last month after having the cabin for over a year – we discovered that the old antenna can be hooked up to the TV and now we can watch digital HD TV channels that are available over the airwaves.  This has had a huge impact on the isolation of the cabin when we can now watch the morning news and keep up with the same lousy television shows we have at home.  We don’t require total isolation from society (after all installing satellite internet was a critical upgrade we made) – but alas at some point we need to disconnect from it all and go back to the serenity of isolation.  At least turn off the TV and forget about the dog poop.

 

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In the face of adversity

 

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Even when the thermostat reads – 30 celsius the birds continue to amaze me.  They look so fragile and vulnerable but they are designed to withstand such a harsh winter.  While other birds head south for the winter, these little birds stay and flourish in the northern winter season.

I have noticed that at the bird feeder the rules change when the temperature drops.  My suet feeders that usually only have one bird on them at a time suddenly have two or three.  Different species of bird who would normally not come to the feeder at the same time now share the feeder dangling in the frosty air.  Downy woodpeckers and chickadees, nuthatches and flicker woodpeckers – all doing what they need to do to survive.

As the temperature climbs back up on a Chinook day, the usual rules of engagement return into play.  The birds take turns at the feeder and they only eat with their own kind.  It is so interesting how in the face of adversity the drive for survival leads to a demonstration of increased communal behaviours.

 

 

 

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For the Birds (recipe)

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The first lesson that we had to learn was to NOT put out birdfeeders with bird seed too close to the house.  Beyond the mess that the birds made – the problem was actually that we were attracting mice.  We would come to the cabin on the weekend to find small piles of birdseed inside.  Once even in one of our beds!  That was when we switched to suet style feeders which have been a big hit with the birds.

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Our suet feeders attract woodpeckers (Downy, Hairy and Flickers), chickadees, nuthatches, magpies and the occasional other species.  They provide endless entertainment to us and our cat who watches from the inside of the cabin. We use these feeders all year round.

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This week I decided to try making my own suet.  I found various recipes online but primarily relied on a no melt recipe.  (see: Foods.com which reference Birds and Blooms Extra, contributed by Virginia Barnard).

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I made a dozen suet blocks using this recipe:

Lard: 2 blocks (2 lbs or about approximately 900 grams)

Peanut Butter (Crunchy): Most of a 1kg jar

Flour:  2 cups

Oatmeal (one minute): 4 cups

Cornmeal: 4 cups

Sugar: I cup (I note that many folks choose to skip the sugar but I added it to make sure that my first attempt would attract birds!)

Bird Seed: 4 cups

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I melted the lard and mixed in the peanut butter until they were liquified.  I added the dry ingredients while the mixture was still warm.

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I had saved old molds from purchased suet blocks.  I took 12 empty molds and lined them each with a piece of plastic wrap.

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I filled each mold with the suet mixture (approximately two soup ladles full) and then wrapped the excess plastic wrap around the edges.

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I placed them in the freezer placing wax paper between the layers of molds.

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Once frozen I removed them and placed them out for the birds.  They have been enjoying the fresh suet all day! The plastic wrap that I used was very effective to make them easy to remove from the molds.

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Winter is a Mindset

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At first there is such excitement about winter coming.  The excitement of the first soft snowflakes are like magic.  Dreams of snow covered fields and sparkly snow covered trees.  Memories from childhood of playing in that first snow…  Ah yes, winter is coming.

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And then it comes.  Winter can be an evil snow queen. She has the full force of snow blizzards that close down the highways or cause such slick driving conditions that cars slide into the ditch.  The snow covers everything so that you not distinguish the driveway from the lawn.  You dig your path from the driveway to the door but the snow queen hides ice under the snow and waits to cause the unsuspecting passersby to fall on their buttocks – bruising their tailbones.  She laughs.

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Everything is a little but more difficult in the winter.  You need to wear layers and layers of clothing and big heavy warm boots even just to go for a short walk.  If you decide to drive into town then you need to scrape the snow and ice off the car before you can go anywhere.  The windows frost up and you need to drive with the loud burr of the defrost fan so that you can see out your windshield and avoid being one of the cars that slides into the ditch. Winter can be a bitch.

Just as you have started to dread yet another day of her winter…you wake up on a beautiful frosty morning and see that there really is some magic to winter.  Winter can also be a snow goddess.

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If you are of the right mindset then you can see all that she does as being quite sublime.  The way she makes the frost and ice cling to each branch of the trees accentuating their beauty.   How while there is not much colour left in the world all the variations of white form an exquisite palate.  White, silver white, bluish white, grey white, ivory white…

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You get to wear mittens.  You get to go tobogganing, build snow forts and go ice skating.  The dogs frolic in the newly fallen snow, nuzzling their noses in the snow and then snorting it out while their tails wag delightfully.  You get to drink hot chocolate or warm coffee in a mug and wrap your cold fingers around it for warmth.  You can make smoke come out of your mouth like a fire breathing dragon.  You might be lucky enough to see a huge snowy white owl perched on a post, or a white rabbit bounding through the snow leaving small animal paths in their wake.

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Winter is coming.  Winter is a mindset.

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Spaghetti with Mozza Stuffed Meatballs (for 4)

Comfort Food is a big part of being out at the cabin.  Here is an easy recipe for a family friendly dinner.

***This is my first recipe on my site – please let me know what you think.

Make enough spaghetti and tomato sauce or 4 people

For Mozza Stuffed Meatballs:

Combine in a bowl:

1 lb (500 mg) lean ground beef

1 large egg

1/4 cup (50 mL) dry italian bread crumbs

2 tblsp (30 mL) Worcestershire sauce

2 tblsp (30 mL) Soya Sauce

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt – if possible use a coarse sea salt

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Form them into equal sized balls around the size of a golf ball.

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Insert thumb into each of the meatballs to make a hollow centre and place about

1 tblsp (15 mL) of shredded or cubed mozzarella  cheese inside each meatball  – in all you will need about 1/4 cup-1/2 cup  (50 – 100 mL) of Mozza cheese.

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Pinch hollow closed and roll back into shape.

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Cook in a frying pan on medium/high heat in a think layer of oil (canola or olive oil) until cooked (outside is brown and crisp), turning them often.Remove from oil and if desired place them on paper towel in a bowl to remove any excess oil.

Once cooked you have delicious meatballs with a soft cheesey centre.  Sure to be a hit.

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Serve with Spaghetti and Tomato sauce.

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The Sun Rises and Sets at the Cabin

My two favourite times of day at the cabin are the early mornings and the early evenings.

In the morning we wake up to the smell of coffee that was brewed for us like magic (but really because of the program function on the coffeemaker) and the quiet that only morning can deliver.  Before any TVs or radios are turned on, while most of the others are still sleeping, there is that quiet stillness – that sound of morning.  I love to sit by the window and watch the sunrise, with my coffee mug in hand.  Most mornings when cloud or fog aren’t lurking about, the sun rise creates a beautiful palate of colours.

In the early evening there is a sense of closure to the day…the sun sets and then the activity moves into the cabin. Dinner, a movie, a fire in the fireplace, and then crawling under the covers in the cozy beds.

The Sunrise:

It is a quick show and it is a somewhat rare sighting because it is very easy to over sleep in the cozy cabin.

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If there is fog it steals the show by swallowing up the colour and providing an eerie backdrop. Still makes for a beautiful morning.

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In the winter the colours are that much more vibrant because there is a crispness in the air and the snow provides a perfect white canvas on which the sun can paint its colours.

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The Sunset:

The early evenings sneak up on our busy days.  Suddenly the light starts to change into a beautiful golden hue and you know that you have a finite amount of sunlight left to complete any activities that require light.  In the summer we are often at the local fishing hole where the fish tend to feed in the early hours of the evening.

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Every sunset is different from the last one.  Like snowflakes, there are no two alike.  Some days the sunset projects it self on the clouds and create a dramatic fiery end to the day.

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The clouds almost absorb the colours of the sunset.

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Some days it is more of a traditional sunset as the sun slips down across the western horizon.

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Most days there is a beautiful splash of colour that provides a backdrop to the silhouette of the trees.

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We will set our coffeemaker…ready for another morning.

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Happy Halloween – Trick or treat of nature?

We love Halloween.  All things spooky.  We love the fog machines and the costumes that you can buy in the big box stores.  We love the plastic bats and fabric ghosts billowing in the wind that people use to decorate their houses in an attempt to provide a spooky thrill to little children.  We love the eeriness of Halloween.  We love the spine chilling thrills of Halloween.  We love the whole idea of Halloween.

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We were pleasantly surprised how the country has its own Halloween.   It comes with the first chilly winds blowing in from the north.  It comes as the last leaves fall from the trees.  It comes in the night and stays through the early hours of the morning. It comes without the need for any big box stores. It is a spooky treat provided by nature if you are brave enough to be open to its delights.

Nature’s Halloween is in the fog that greets you in the early morning… providing an eerie landscape with distant ghost like trees.

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It is in the pure black darkness of the night where the light of a flashlight only serves to emphasize the absolute absence of light.  Only the brave will wander about in this spooky place!

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Halloween is in the transformational frost on the grasses and flowers creating a mystical world that vanishes in the morning light.

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It is in the moon reflecting on the dark pond creating a spooky tableau… with owls hooting and screeching in the distance.

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Halloween is also in the frost lighting up the spider webs that had sat secretly out of sight overhead during the daylight. Who dare walk amongst the spider webs??

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It is in the dark night creatures who roam the world of darkness. The only thing that gives them away to unsuspecting mice are the bright green eyes that glint in the moonlight.

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And nature’s Halloween is in the bat caught by the morning light before hiding away from sight – like a vampire who didn’t make it back to the coffin before daybreak.

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Halloween comes to the country whether you want it or not!!!

Only thee who is brave enough to walk in the world of Halloween shall survive!

BOO!!!!!

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Photographic Celebration of the Seasons

As I went for a walk down my driveway it struck me how different the scenery was from even a week earlier. The constant change that the seasons bring is something to be celebrated. Nothing is ever dull when you live in a region that has all of the four seasons. Well in Calgary they say there are only two – winter and construction. Out in the country there are definitely all four – winter, spring, summer and fall. It is my birthday month and we are celebrating at the cabin.  It makes me reflect on the past year since my last birthday which we also celebrated at the cabin.  A year of four seasons – a celebration of the seasons.

Winter is definitely a long season. There is usually a blanket of snow on the fields and that means snuggling on the couch with a warm blanket in front of the fire. There is ice skating on the pond, the owls turn white, the frost hangs on the branches and the board games come out of the closet. The walks are lovely and crisp. The world is almost black & white but if you look for the colour it is still there – usually in the sky.

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Spring comes in either like a lamb or a lion – and usually in spits and spurts. The snow melts and then returns, melts and then returns… but slowly the buds appear on the trees, and the baby geese and ducks can be seen on local ponds and creeks with their nervous parents carefully watching over them. The robins come back. The trees blossom. The grass turns green and the colour that was missing in the world comes back in all its glory.

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Summer is the growing season. The ducklings become ducks, the crops grow in the fields, the grass grows and has to be mowed and then the grass grows some more…the crochet set comes out of the closet.  It is a time of flying kites, throwing footballs, fishing at the local pond, walking in the deep grass, and swatting mosquitoes.

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Fall is my favourite season (maybe because my birthday is in the fall) but it tends to be too short. In Alberta it tends to be just a pause between summer and winter – but what a glorious pause it is. It is like nature taunts you with all the possible colours just before they are stripped away in the winter. The evenings are shorter now and there is the occasional evening by the fire. The fields are a hub of activity as the harvest season takes shape.

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The seasons all provide wonderment and are worthy of celebration as we blow the candles out on another year.

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