So the letter to the editor I struggled to write a few weeks ago just got published in the online edition of the paper!  I am not sure how many people read the online edition, but those who do will see me with a letter both yesterday and today!  Go big or go home I guess!

I am also very happy with how it was edited - it is more concise and to the point now.  So bravo to the editor of the paper on this one!

I'm still finished with my adventures in writing letters to the paper, but I feel like I have now finished on a high note.  Nice!

Posted by Jen B On Friday, April 30, 2010 2 comments
There was a pork bone in the freezer so I decided to make Pea Soup.  My Grandma was making it the last time I was over at her place, so I called her for the recipe.

Boil the following in 2 Quarts (about 8-10 cups) of water for 2 hours.
Pork bone (mine was from a smoked ham)
2 1/4 cups of yellow split peas (soaked overnight)
Majoram to taste

According to my Grandma, you'll know that it is done cooking when it looks like baby poop! I won't post a photo, but trust that her description was accurate. :)

Remove the bone.  If there is any meat left on it, cut it off and add it to the soup.  I finished my soup at this point; I thought it tasted pretty rocking.  If I had followed my Grandma's recipe to completion, I would have also added chopped carrot, onion, celery, and extra ham.  Apparently the veggies give it a little extra something.  I'll be sure to give the whole recipe a try next time.

The soup I made was thick, filling, and tasty.  While I was making it, I couldn't remember if I even liked pea soup, but I do.  I am actually the only one who likes it in the house, so I put four bowls in the freezer for future lunches.  Yum!

Posted by Jen B On Friday, April 30, 2010 No comments
So I called the editor at the paper and asked why he added the word "don't" to the letter I submitted.  He said he assumed that it was a simple typo on my part; that I forgot to put in the word "don't" myself.  Not sure how one could assume that, as that statement is completely opposite of everything else I said in the letter.  Oh, well.  He did apologize for the mistake and changed the letter on the website, so at least history will remember what I was actually trying to say.

Today I learned that getting something published when you have no control over the publishing, is really unpleasant.  If I ever get the urge to write a letter to the editor again, I will submit it to this blog least I know the editor. ;)

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, April 29, 2010 No comments
A few follow ups to some things I've posted over the past few weeks.

1. I just checked the website of our local paper and my editorial letter was printed in today's paper. Only problem - they misquoted what I wrote (...even though I sent them an email...). So the message of my letter is confusing at best. I was writing in support of recent editorial cartoons and my whole letter shows my support except one line:

I wrote: "If you like the cartoons, I think you should contact [the paper] and let them know."
And they printed: "If you don’t like the cartoons, I think you should contact [the paper] and let them know."

Urg!! Why would I want people to tell the paper they don't like the cartoons, when the rest of my letter is talking about how much I like them??  How frustrating!  So anyone reading the paper today, I didn't write that.  Also, I have learned my lesson about entering into local politics via the paper.

2. On a recent visit with my Grandma, she gave me a counter for my knitting needles so I don't have to rely solely on my cheat sheets anymore. Nice!

Also thanks to everyone who has been reading this blog over the past few weeks - I really appreciate your support!!

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, April 29, 2010 No comments
A year ago, my parents moved out of the family home they lived in for more than 32 years. During the clean up and move we got rid of literally tonnes of junk and donatables, and discovered some treasures that had been accidentally hidden many years ago. One of the treasures we found turned out to be incredibly important to me: Grandma Barb’s knit sweater.

I didn’t know my Grandma Barb. She was my Mother’s Mother, and she died in a car accident in 1964. It is somewhat awkward to write about because the Grandma I do know, Grandma Sue, has been married to my Granddad for 43 years, so calling her “step” Grandma seems weird to me because she is not my step anything - she’s my Grandma. Finding the knit sweater reminded me that Grandma Barb is my Grandma too, and wearing it gave me a connection to her that I had never really known how to find before.

My parents move was overwhelming in a lot of ways, so when I brought the sweater home last March, I didn’t know how much I would fall in love with it and how much impact it would have on my life. That is why it spent some time on the floor with the countless other things I brought home that day. At least Gary knew it was special right away and showed it the love that only a cat can.

Gary knows a great sweater when she sees one

The story goes that Grandma Barb knit five sweaters in 1960, one for herself, her husband, and each of her three children. They were made from Mary Maxim patterns, each sweater having a particularly Canadiana type theme; my Mom’s sweater had figure skates on it. Adorable. The sweaters were put away for the summer in 1961, stored in garbage bags, which resulted in four of them mistakenly being taken to the dump and lost forever. The only survivor was Grandma Barb’s sweater, the one I have now, and it has amazingly made it all the way to 2010. It is hard for me to wrap my head around it, but this sweater is fifty years old! What a life it has had.

My Mother wore the sweater constantly throughout her twenties. She recently showed me some photos of herself, at twenty years old, wearing it out to a winter carnival in Barrie, circa 1968.  Somehow the sweater is still as colourful now as it was then.  My Mother is too, actually.

My Mother and the coat circa 1968

My Mother is a beautiful person - inside and out

Every place my Mother moved, the sweater moved with her. It eventually ended up in the house I grew up in, hidden in plain sight in the coat closet. My sister wore it for a few years in the ‘90s, but returned it when she was finished, and back into the closet it went. I claimed it in March 2009, and began wearing it non-stop when the temperatures got colder in Autumn. I fell head over heals for this sweater, decided it was a coat, and was determined to wear it all winter long, regardless of how cold the temperature got.  I wore a fleece jacket underneath the sweater, providing it with a make-shift lining that every northern Ontario coat needs, and wore it for the entire winter.  I even knit myself a matching winter hat to go with it - I could not leave home without this coat!

I would be the first one to tell you that I don’t know a thing about fashion. I don’t follow trends and I definitely don't know anything about what’s “in”. That is why it completely floored me when every outing I made in the coat led to compliments from, and conversations with, strangers. I started wearing the coat when the world was gearing up for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.  The official Olympic clothes riffed on the Canadiana style, so Grandma Barb’s coat was fashionable. A stranger even told me I was “sooooooo in right now”. For the first time in my life I was fashion-forward, and I just so happened to be using a coat that was fifty years old to do it!

Every time I got a compliment, I would tell the person: “My Grandma made this coat in 1960!” This lead to conversations about legacy at the grocery store, discussions about how awesome knitting is, and being able to share the Grandma I never knew with strangers who fell in love with her coat as much as I had.  Over the winter I got to know Grandma Barb a little better by taking her with me and telling people about her. I also got to tell everyone that I stole the coat from my Mom, which brought her along with me as well.  All this heritage surrounded me, just by wearing and loving a pretty amazing old coat.
Me, Mom, and Grandma Barb, all in one!
The Olympics are over now and Spring is here.  I still don't know anything about fashion, so I don't know if this coat will still be "in" this coming winter.  I'll still be wearing it regardless and if anyone asks, I'll gladly tell them all about my Grandma Barb and the sweater she knit, all those years ago.

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, April 28, 2010 4 comments
My brother and brother-in-law recently got a GPS for their car so they can more easily navigate road trips.  We went on a road trip together on the weekend, and by the end of the day, I wasn't convinced the GPS made the trip easier.  The nice GPS lady who would tell us to "turn right in 250 meters" never made us drive into a lake or anything, but by the end of the five hour trip I was pretty fed up with the way we were relying on it for everything we were doing.  In retrospect, my brother was trying out a new gadget, so I should have expected that it would be a main focus of our trip.  I also should have had a coffee before I left the house that morning.  Hindsight is always 20/20.

It all started with radio interference.  My brother's GPS system runs through his laptop.  The laptop allows for a bigger screen and direct access to his iTunes playlist.  We set out on the road with the GPS lady directing us and some Thompson Twins rocking us along.  But then: "what is that sound?"  We had to pull over so Dave could figure it out.  After ten minutes of fiddling with it he diagnosed that the power outlet that was charging the laptop was causing interference with the car radio.  So no iTunes while the laptop was charging.  The GPS lady could still speak to us through the internal laptop speakers, so not all was lost.

One of the places the GPS directed us to was a town called Bala.  We found a nice park where we stopped to eat lunch, foregoing the GPS actually announcing that we had arrived in Bala. When we were ready to leave, the nice GPS lady kept trying to direct us back to Bala. "Make a U-turn" she kept saying, as she didn't realize we were already there and trying to leave.  We pulled over again so it could get figured out.  Dave kept updating our route information, trying to get it to abandon it's desire to head to Bala.  I got out of the car and took photos because I couldn't watch him fight with the GPS anymore.  I was probably overly irritated due to my lack of coffee intake that day as I mistakenly assumed that the GPS would find me a Tim Horton's somewhere early in our road trip.  It just so happens that we drove through the only part of Ontario that doesn't have thirty Tim Horton's in a row.  I would have gotten a coffee elsewhere, but I kept holding out for a Tim's to show up (they always do!).

Our day trip took us in a giant loop with the final destination being Orillia.  Having spent several summers working in Orillia, I knew for sure that they would have the Tim Horton's I so desperately wanted, possibly even fifty of them.   Regardless of my familiarity with Orillia, "Tim Horton's" was typed into the GPS.  The GPS lady modified our route just as we passed the highway exit she instructed us to take.  No worries, there would be another soon.  And it just so happened that the next Tim Horton's off the highway had a sign that directed traffic to it!  All we had to do to get there was follow the giant blue signs with the Timmy's logo on them. This is precisely when I had my "haven't-had-a-coffee-yet-and-I'm-annoyed-with-the-GPS-freak-out."  The conversation went like this:
GPS: In 250 Meters, turn left on West Street
Dave: Is the GPS trying to direct us back to the Tim Horton's we already passed, or is it directing us to a different one?  Because I don't want to drive all through town.  Maybe we should update it?
Dave: Wow, Jen is freaking out!
Me (upon seeing the entrance to the Tim's): In 250 meters turn left into the Tim Horton's!
I got my coffee and I stopped fighting the future.  Don't get me wrong, I think the GPS is an amazing resource and I am overwhelmed by all it knows and all it is capable of.  I just don't want the nice GPS lady to tell me where to go...especially if I already know how to get there!

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, April 27, 2010 No comments
We go through a lot of canned beans in this house.  Curried chick peas on rice, kidney bean tacos, and baked beans on toast, are just a few of our favourite meals around here.  I have always bought canned beans, but recently began to wonder what the dry beans were all about.  I knew nothing about them except they required soaking, and they didn't sound as easy as opening up a can.  My interest in the dry beans grew as I noticed that canned beans have been rising in price.  I thought they were $0.79/can, but then they were $0.89/can, and on my most recent visit they were $0.99/can.  Keep in mind I am buying the store brand of beans; I think the name brand is $1.19/can.  So my desire to get a deal pushed my wonder into action and I bought dry chick peas and kidney beans to give them a shot.

Dry beans do require a little more effort than canned beans, but to my calculations, it is well worth it.  Also, the effort is limited to the soaking/cooking process, which only needs to be done once to make quite a few Ziplocks full of beans.  The beans can then be frozen and used just as conveniently as opening up a can.  Even though the cooking time for the beans is 90 minutes, it is not an active 90 minutes that requires constant attention.  While the beans were cooking I was able to do quite a few other things (dishes, prepared dinner, tidied the living room, played on the internet); I wasn't stuck in the kitchen.

Preparing Dry Beans

The preparation instructions are the same for the chick peas and the kidney beans.  First, soak the beans for 12 hours in cold water in the refrigerator.  For every cup of beans used, soak in 3 cups of water.  I soaked mine overnight - time moves faster while you are sleeping.  Sort of.  ;)

Next, boil the beans in fresh water for 90 minutes.  Once boiling, keep them cooking on medium high heat (about 7). If the water becomes too foamy, add 1 tbs of olive oil to lessen it.  My beans foamed a little, but not enough to require adding oil.  About half way through cooking, top up the pot with more water to ensure the beans remain fully covered while boiling.

Kidney beans (back left), Chick peas (front right)

After the beans finish boiling, drain them and soak them in cold water to bring their temperature down.  For the chick peas you will have to pick out any casings that have come loose; you will see them floating in the water.  I stirred the chick peas a number of times to loosen and remove as many casings as I could.  Next measure desired amounts into Ziploc bags (I stored 1.5 cups of beans/bag, the equivalent of 1 can of beans).

Store the beans in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to three months.  Mine are all in the freezer until I am ready to use them.

Benefits of Dry Beans

I found preparing beans from dry to be lot cheaper than buying them canned.  A can of beans can cost anywhere from $0.79 (if on sale) to $1.19 (name brand).  For my calculations, I will say an average can of beans is $0.99.

Chick Peas:
5 cups dry = $1.99.  Once cooked, 5 cups dry = 13.75 cups cooked.
If approximately 1.5 cups = 1 can of chick peas, then 5 cups dry = 9.17 cans.
Which makes the price: $1.99/9.17 = $0.22/"can"

Kidney Beans:
5 cups dry = $2.29.  Once cooked, 5 cups dry = 11.5 cups cooked.
If approximately 1.5 cups = 1 can of kidney beans, then 5 cups dry = 7.67 cans.
Which makes the price: $2.29/7.67 = $0.30/"can"

That is savings between $0.69 - $0.77/can.  Over time those savings will definitely add up!

Less Ingredients:
The other bonus of using dry beans vs. canned: less salt.  I am not too salt conscious, but less sodium is probably a good thing in the long run.

Ingredients, Chick Peas, canned: chick peas, water, salt, disodium EDTA
Ingredients, Chick Peas, dry: chick peas

Ingredients, Kidney Beans, canned: kidney beans, water, salt, calcium chloride, disodium EDTA
Ingredients, Kidney Beans, dry: kidney beans

From here on out, I'm definitely going with dry beans.  Pulling a bag of beans out of the freezer instead of a can from the shelf, is a small change that will save me both money and added salt/preservatives. Sounds good to me!

Posted by Jen B On Monday, April 26, 2010 2 comments
My favourite thing to do on a Thursday afternoon is to read the local paper and check out the weekly grocery flyers that come with it.  The previous sentence could have easily been written by my mother, but it was in fact me, and I don’t begrudge inheriting this rather enjoyable past time. My number one interest is looking for deals in the weekly flyers, and secondly I like to see what my local community is talking about in the editorial section of the paper.

Last Thursday (Apr. 15) I was taken aback by an editorial and it enraged me so much that I wrote a rebuttal letter.  I wish I could say that the process was as easy as “I was mad, I wrote a letter, I sent it in”.  Far from it.  I spent countless hours over far too many days this week trying to find the right words that would adequately express my thoughts, feelings, and level of outrage.  I was also struggling with the confidence of expressing my opinion, and of letting my community know who I was and what I believed.

So what made me so mad?  Someone expressed that this society no longer has the values of yesteryear, with the main argument being that not enough people celebrated Easter properly this year.  The letter didn’t say anything specific, but made a number of statements that seemed to imply a lack of tolerance for other people and their beliefs.  As someone whose belief system mainly surrounds not caring what anyone else does (so long as they aren’t causing other people to suffer), I was completely offended that someone thought it was okay to write into the paper and tell me what to do.  For the sake of flow, from here on out I am going to refer to this letter as the ‘April 15 Letter’.

My first reaction to the April 15 Letter caused me to write a very incendiary rebuttal that put words in the author’s mouth and was very much a full out attack.  I spouted everything from accusing him of hating women, gays, and other races, to accusing him of supporting fascism.  I admit it, I was extreme, but it was just the rage talking.  The roots of rational discourse had not yet begun to sprout in my head.  This very incendiary first response taught me a very important lesson in writing: never get too attached to the first draft.  Which reminds me of an amazing quote the writer/director of Toy Story said about his own movies:

''Every Pixar movie at one time was the worst motion picture ever made.'' - John Lasseter.

This reinforces the idea that having a good editor is crucial to the writing process.  I have several editors in my life, including myself, and for this exercise, John helped rein me in to actually write something more than just an incendiary attack.  I wrote my first draft on Friday, my final draft didn’t fully appear until Monday night, and I didn’t even send it to the paper until Tuesday. It all seems like a blur now, but I really struggled to find the right words, argue my points on solid ground, and express what I actually meant.

Beyond expressing myself properly, I also had to combat my own psychology when it comes to saying opinions out loud.  I have strong opinions but I can be guarded and hesitant when it comes to conflict; don’t rock the boat.  So not only did I feel l was fighting someone who I thought was trampling my beliefs, I was also fighting with myself on whether I should be fighting at all.  Would the community judge my letter?  Would I just be seen as attacking someone?  Would anyone agree with me?  I was unaware of my audience and that helped fuel the fires of my paranoia over how my letter would come across and what kind of conflict I would face for submitting it.  Who knew that simply writing a letter to the editor would turn into a week of learning how to express myself and face my fear of “putting it out there”? 

It took all weekend and most of Monday, but finally I felt confident in a letter that I would submit to the paper.  The final draft of my letter still had a lot of fire in it as I attempted to dismantle the author’s statements and expose the flaws in how he had stated them (the guy relied heavily on rhetoric).  Although I was proud of my letter and it said what I needed it to, I could never really get away from feeling like I was just fighting with the author, when really I just wanted to express, “hey man, don’t tread on me.”  My letter would have taken much less time to write if I had said only that!

I submitted my letter on Tuesday, the same day the Tuesday edition of the paper printed a rebuttal letter from another reader.  The rebuttal letter was great and I feel it expressed an opposing opinion of the April 15 Letter, but wasn’t a direct attack on the author.  Something I will definitely learn from.  The rebuttal was basically to the tune of to each their own and thank goodness for freedom and democracy. This reader said simply what I had struggled to say and I realized that the finished content of my letter didn’t actually matter as much as what I had learned during the process of formulating my argument and rounding up the balls to send it in.  Which is mostly why I wasn’t upset or surprised when my letter wasn’t published in the Thursday edition of the paper.  It turned out that this week for me wasn’t about trying to school an old man in basic human rights, but rather learning how to express myself, both articulately and confidently.  Plus, at least someone was able to tell the old dude that we live in a democracy that celebrates diversity.  Really, somebody had to.

The printing of the other rebuttal letter also reminded me of something that I already knew: there are like-minded people here. Any paranoia or lack of confidence about expressing my opinion has to do with me and my fears, not with my audience.  Which is why yesterday, when the paper came and I was driven to write a rebuttal to something that had been said, I was able to write, edit, and submit the letter in under twenty minutes.  For the first time in a long time, writing felt easy. This week of process, though incredibly hard and tedious at some points, actually taught me important lessons in writing, expression, and confidence, for which I am tremendously grateful.

Posted by Jen B On Friday, April 23, 2010 2 comments
April is Birthday month in my family which means there are plenty of genuine excuses to eat cake.  I like experimenting with cake decorating, and this year I decided to make birthday cakes based on the favourite chocolate bar of the person celebrating.

First up was my brother-in-law Tab.  Tab's favourite chocolate bar is Kit Kat, so I set out to make a very chocolate, two-layer cake.  I most often use cake mixes when I bake a cake, as they are so quick and easy to prepare, and decorating is really where I want to spend my time.

For Tab's Kit Kat Cake, I used a Devil's Food Cake mix, Chocolate Fudge icing, and five Kit-Kat bars.  I crushed half the bars and spread them between the cake layers, and I cut each of the remaining Kit Kat sticks in six and scattered the pieces over the top of the cake. The cake was extremely rich and I am proud to say I was the only one able to finish my entire piece.  I can handle my chocolate!
Kit Kat Bar Cake - it tasted as amazing as it looks!

For my brother Dave's cake, his original selection of chocolate bar was Eat More.  I suggested he choose something a tad less disgusting (sorry Eat More lovers!)  His next favourite choice was Crunchie Bar, which I thoroughly supported, and was happy to make.

For Dave's Crunchie Bar cake, I started with a yellow cake mix and added Golden Yellow gel food colouring to it for an extra golden colour.  I covered it in Milk Chocolate icing, so that the cake looked like a Crunchie Bar - yellow on the inside and chocolate on the outside.  I crushed four Crunchie bars, spreading half of them between the cake layers, and the other half was spread over the top of the cake.  I definitely enjoyed the crunch of the sponge toffee mixed with the softness of the cake.  I needed a full glass of water after I ate this cake - it was pretty loaded with sweetness.

Using a chocolate bar as a design for cake decoration is a simple and easy way to enhance any cake.  I am definitely going to try more chocolate bar flavours...just not Eat More.

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, April 22, 2010 2 comments
I have been experimenting lately with tofu in my cooking and I am surprising myself with how much I actually enjoy it.  My first meal was a stir-fry, and I marinated the tofu overnight in a ginger-soy-garlic sauce that mixed beautifully with the vegetables.  My second attempt was "chicken" nuggets, and I went way overboard and made about 50 of them, but they turned out great and we ate them all (over a few days).  It cost about $6 to make the 50 nuggets from scratch; compare that to the pre-packaged ones that cost $5 for only 20 pieces. They were deal-icious!

My latest venture in tofu cookery is Sloppy Joes.  I borrowed the Giant Book of Tofu Cooking from the library and this recipe looked easy and tasty.  I don't remember ever really making Sloppy Joes before, so this was new for me on all fronts. I tried to make the recipe even easier by picking up a Club House packet of Sloppy Joe seasoning mix.

First I pressed the tofu. Not all recipes require this, but as it is often packed in water, it is important to try and drain as much of the water from the tofu as possible, so that the flavours and spices you add are more easily absorbed. I pressed the tofu on paper towels lined between two plates, and I put my teapot on the top plate to add pressure to help press the water out.  I changed the paper towels every half hour or so for about two hours.

Next, this recipe called for crumbling the tofu which gave it a ground meat like texture.  At this point I realized I was making home made Veggie Ground Round!  That stuff can cost upwards of $4 per pound, so this is another deal-icious use of tofu, as a pound brick of it is only $0.97. Awesome.

Mmmmm.... ground beef texture

Next I sauteed the tofu with garlic, onion, and 1 tbs of olive oil until everything was browned.  I had to fry it on a high heat (about 8) to get the Tofu browned enough and ready for seasoning.  I added the seasoning mix, a can of tomato paste, and 1.5 cups of water, as per package directions.  I quickly learned that tomato paste is a really overpowering taste and had to get John to help me season it back to spicy.  Next time I think I would use 1/4 can of tomato paste only.  With John's new spice mix and some more water added, I let the mixture simmer to the desired Sloppy Joe consistency (about 20 minutes).

We served the Sloppy Joe mix over crusty rolls with some shredded cheese and lettuce.

I am on the fence about Sloppy Joes.  They tasted great but were really messy.  While eating my sandwich I sort of wished it was a taco instead of a bun.  I am definitely going to use the leftovers for some kick ass nachos!

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, April 20, 2010 No comments
When I first started knitting a year ago, my friend Tasha sent me a link to a pattern for Coffee Cup Sleeves.  These sleeves wrap around your take out coffee cup (or non-handled travel mug) so that your hands are protected from the burning hot coffee.  If you carry your coffee sleeve with you, you'll never have to use the disposable ones from your favourite Coffee Shop.  This project is practical and eco-friendly!  When I first saw it, I knew this pattern was awesome, but I hadn't had a chance to try it out until now.

The Coffee Cup Sleeve is a quick project to complete and you could probably make two in an evening, depending on your ability to work through distractions.  I am still relatively new to knitting, so I still find it difficult to concentrate on knitting and anything else at the same time.  If there is a movie on, my hands frequently stop moving if I am focusing on a scene.  Also, I still haven't mastered the art of knowing how many rows I have made in a certain stitch so I really have to focus on keeping track.  I often use a cheat sheet and check off each row I complete, so if I am doing 10 rows of Stockinette Stitch, I write the numbers 1 through 10 on a piece of paper and check off each row as I finish it.  I'm not sure if this is how expert knitters do it, but it works for me.

I really like this pattern because it is easy and practical.  My mom now has one in her purse and I went out and got myself a Tim Horton's just so I could try mine out.  I like when my reward for knitting is Tim Horton's!  

Posted by Jen B On Monday, April 19, 2010 4 comments
Anyone in the Simcoe County area wishing to enjoy a pancake breakfast, local vendors selling a wide assortment of goods, and some sunshine, might want to check out the 45th Annual Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival happening tomorrow.  It always draws a huge crowd so get there early if you want to partake in the fun. :)

Posted by Jen B On Friday, April 16, 2010 2 comments
This past weekend we made our way to Midland for some Dairy Queen and a visit to Little Lake Park.  Though it was wonderfully sunny on Saturday, it was only about 8 degrees, so still a little on the cold side. That didn't stop us or the other people we saw there from enjoying some Spring sunshine.  That afternoon we saw geese playing, a dude canoeing, and a kite flying.  I am really looking forward to Summer when we can leave our jackets at home and spend the entire day by the water without getting a chill.

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, April 15, 2010 No comments
I grew up in the country, born and raised on a cattle farm.  Beyond the fields of hay and wheat were endless acres of woods that my brothers and I would wander and play in.  My dad was in charge of entertaining the kids, so he would often take us on walks through the many trails that Simcoe County had to offer (many of which were right in our backyard).  There was one spot that was often the destination of our hikes that we called 'Wonderland'.  I'm not sure if we were referencing Alice in Wonderland or Canada's Wonderland - but either way, once we got to that spot, my little four-year-old self would be beside herself with excitement of making it all the way to Wonderland.  It really was a magical place.

 My bro's and I in Wonderland

Since returning to the country a few years ago, I had yet to explore any of the Simcoe County Trails around my place.  I have gone for walks since I've been here, but all have been on the road, and most involve having to look over my shoulder every minute to ensure I'm not in the path of oncoming traffic. The road we live on leads directly to the waterfront, so in the summer time it is an endless stream of people racing to the beach, which makes it a little too nerve racking for me to enjoy a relaxing walk.  There are no sidewalks on country roads; we make due with the soft shoulder and the hope that all the drivers are paying attention.  I definitely have been walking less here than when I lived in Toronto, which recently started to seem like such a shame as I am surrounded by all this wonderful nature.  As of last week I discovered my local Simcoe County trail so I am able to get my walking shoes back on and take extended, car-free hikes.

The trail closest to my house runs parallel to the road and is used for snowmobiles in the winter and dirt bikes in the summer.  Though not the same worry as with cars, I do have to keep an eye out for small recreational vehicles, but so far I haven't bumped into anyone on my walks.  This trail then connects to an entrance of the Simcoe County trail system which I am happily getting myself acquainted with.

 The snowmobile/dirt bike trail and the entrance to the Simcoe County trails

I haven't found my Wonderland yet, but I have been on some pretty long walks that make my late twenties self happy to be getting some exercise.  Plus the views are scenic and I find great comfort in knowing that I am so close to home yet surrounded by endless rows of trees.  The forest is full of ideas that arise from the nature around me and the solitude of the walk.  I make sure to bring my camera and a notebook along in case inspiration decides to find me out on the trail.

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, April 14, 2010 2 comments
I began knitting just over a year ago and I am always looking around for new and free patterns to try out.  I love knitting as both a pastime and as a practical skill; knowing that I can make my own clothing and accessories is incredibly satisfying.  This year I didn't have to buy a new winter hat to go with my new coat - I just knit one.  The total cost was $3 for wool and a few nights spent knitting. Right now I have a knitting "To Do" list that is miles long and I have two or three unfinished projects on the go.  As with the many creative projects I am working on, sometimes starting/completing a  knitting project is all about having the right amount of motivation and inspiration.

This week my inspiration and motivation were sparked by my nephew Earl's upcoming birthday.  Earl is turning five years old this week and I decided to knit him a gift that reflected one of his favourite things: farming.  Living in the country, my nephew is definitely an up and coming country boy who regularly rides on tractors with his dad, collects John Deere farm toys, and owns a pair of cowboy boots!  I found a perfect (and easy!) farm knitting pattern online: Farm Finger Puppets.  There are five characters to create (one for each digit!) and each one takes about an hour or so to make, depending on skill level. 

Farmer, Dairy Cow, Duck, Horse, and Pig.  The Duck is by far my favourite.

I only started knitting a year ago, so often while working on a new project I have to learn new techniques as I go.  For the finger puppets, I learned how to knit an I-Cord, do a Make-1 Increase, and finish with a Mattress Seam.  By no means can I execute any of these new techniques perfectly or do I have them completely memorized, but working as I go, I am able to get the basic idea enough that I can complete a project and be proud of it.  I have a feeling that being an expert knitter comes with years of practice, so until I get to that point, I happy to know that I am able to learn the basics free and easily online.  No project is off limits!

Will a five year old in 2010 even like these finger puppets?  I definitely think they are adorable, but I am not sure what children think of toys that don't blink laser lights, or make loud noises at the press of a button. These might not be a technologically advanced toy, but they are simple, cute, and hopefully will spark some ideas in my nephew's imagination.

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, April 13, 2010 3 comments
About a year ago my parents moved from the family home they had lived in for over 32 years.  It was a two month process of organizing, sorting, and getting rid of all the junk that had accumulated over all those years of living in one spot. The easiest day during the whole process was moving day, though it was not without its hiccups.  My mother's Christmas Cactus, which had hung in the living room my entire life and had previously belonged to my Great Grandmother Reid, got jostled during the move and fell out of its pot, damaging it and exposing the roots. 

Stressed to the max by the move, my mother said: "Before I change my mind, I'm just letting you know that I am going to throw this out."  That wasn't what she wanted but in the heat of the moment she didn't see another option.  The Christmas Cactus was over sixty years old, and throwing it out would be a tremendous loss.  "John's good with plants" I told her.  "John will fix it."

So I brought the Christmas Cactus home with me and John re-potted it, gave it fresh soil and water, and nursed it back to health.  Over the past year it has shed some dead leaves, had ample new growth, and has made it's will to live quite clear to all of us.  At Christmas time, when it is supposed to bloom, it didn't, but we weren't too surprised.  "It had a pretty traumatic year" Mom agreed.  "Maybe next year."

This morning when I woke up, the Christmas Cactus was blooming!  It is almost mid April, so not quite on schedule, but it has been roughly a year since we started taking care of it.  I patted the Cactus and told it "Good for you!" and I called Mom to let her know the good news.

A Flower of our Christmas Cactus

I can't help but think about the life of this amazing plant.  Over its sixty years it has had at least three different care givers, lived in three separate residences, and as recently as a year ago, almost died.  Not even a year after it's near death experience and it is blooming again.  This plant is teaching me that despite the set backs and traumas we experience in life, we can always bloom again.  Even if it takes a little longer than we thought.

Posted by Jen B On Monday, April 12, 2010 2 comments
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