Thursday, December 30, 2010

Winter Wonderland

We are at "our" cabin for New Year's again.  At least it feels like our cabin, since is the second year we will enjoy New Years here - we were here last winter, as well as during the summer.  The cabin was recently sold (listed for just under $1M), but we were glad that the new owner continues to make it available to rent.  We have already pre-booked for New Years next year.

We are on Otter Lake, in the interior of BC.  So instead of rain and mild temperatures in Vancouver, we are enjoying snow and clear cold weather.  The snow here is drier than we are used to, and due to the cold, hangs in the trees for a long time.  In fact, there is no sign of it falling.  It makes for some beautiful winterscapes.  Enjoy!

I wish you all a happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spreading the Christmas Cheer

Christmas present
...but not intentionally, this time. 

Yesterday my kids came home from school to find a package on the front porch.  It must have been dropped off during the day, giving one of our local squirrels enough time to tear his way into the box, and, being that there were only 23 cookies inside, to sneak one.  Well, at least he didn't bite any of  the others, so we have been enjoying the remaining 23.

I wonder if I should let the sending party (a company we have done business with during the year) know about the squirrel's break-in?  So they will know not to leave cookies on front porches anymore?  Or just let it go?  By default, I will likely not say anything.  What would you do?

Christmas tree
Last weekend we finally made time to decorate our Christmas tree (click photo for larger view).  Since at 14' it is much higher than I can reach with our step ladder, I decorated the top from the loft.  I was a bit skeptical when my husband brought home icicles for the tree.  They seem to me a bit old fashioned, and also can be pretty messy.  But I am quite pleased by the effect, and how they shimmer with the light, and sway when someone passes by the tree.

We stayed with the lighter ornaments, not placing all of them this year.  But I think it's still pretty loaded.  Many of them are hand made creations my kids made at school or church, so it was fun pulling those out.  My son cut a lot of paper snowflakes for the windows.

I feel like I'm not quite in holiday mode yet, but by next week, hope to start taking time off work, and enjoying the family.  We are scaling back the shopping this year, or at least that's the plan.  I hope for spending time together and enjoying Christmas carols and Christmas concerts.  My daughter planned out the songs yesterday which our family will sing around the piano, including a couple songs she will perform as solos, and the kids are practising "We Three Kings" as a guitar duet.  That will be highlight of Christmas for me.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Christmas Tree - Beauty and Beast

We are blessed with a beautiful living room with 18' ceiling, so when we pick a Christmas tree (we've been cutting a fresh one for the last 6 years we've been here), it needs to be big enough to fit the proportions of the room.  Every year I think we find a bigger and prettier one.  Yesterday we cut down a monster of a Noble Fir - 14' tall, even after we took about 2' off the top.  The kids (who insisted they keep their brooms for the photo, after sweeping up needles we left on the ground from dragging it in) give the photo an idea of scale:

I strung up the lights on it today, reaching from the loft to string up the top branches, and a from a ladder for the remainder.  The two strings of lights sparsely cover, but still look lovely (click for a slightly larger view):
It was fun driving home, a lot of people were staring at us, thinking we are crazy.  Of course, once we got home and had to tackle the tree off the car, up the stairs, and into the stand (wow, it just barely fit, leaving almost no room for water!), then we also knew that we were crazy.  But what a beautiful tree it will make for Christmas.

By next year, hopefully we'll have furniture in the living room (we've been shopping for some time now, but haven't found the right furniture yet), and then maybe we won't be able to drag in a monster tree anymore.  So in the meantime, we'll enjoy it while we can.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stick Bug Unsuccessful Hatching

In the couple of years I've been keeping stick bugs, I have had a lot of babies hatch, but have not been able to witness any hatchings - until a couple of days ago.  Or sort of.  I saw a stick in the bottom of the cage, which looks like it had a failed attempt at hatching (I've had a couple of those).  But as I reached to remove it from the cage, it moved slightly.

I gently picked it up, and took it into the kitchen, to watch it more closely, as it attempted to free itself from the egg capsule.

At first it looked like it was pushing with its front legs, to free its tail from the egg.  Then as time went on, I realized that the front legs were also helplessly attached to the egg, and only the middle two legs were functioning normally.  One of the back legs were broken off (perhaps by my picking it up the first time).

It struggled valiantly for a number of hours.  Finally I tried to help pull off the egg capsule, which came off but left behind an unidentified clearish white material, in which the 4 legs were firmly and hopelessly attached.  Unfortunately I managed to also break off on of the good legs, in the process.  So the situation was pretty bleak.  Without legs, this little guy would have no means of survival.  I tried to console him that evening with a moistened blackberry leaf, but while his mouth parts moved a bit in response to the leaf, he didn't make any noticeable attempt to chew it.  In the morning, he was dead.

Poor little thing.  It was sad to see him in that predicament, and not be able to help.  But at the same time it was neat to get a little glimpse into the hatching process, even if an unsuccessful one.  I still hope one day to witness a successful hatching.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Preparing for a Harsh Winter

On Friday night, it started snowing, and by midnight, everything was blanketed in white.  This is VERY early for the Vancouver BC area.  My daughter snapped this photo Saturday morning of our wooden bench on the back deck (which I've since pulled closer to the house, to avoid further snow and rain):
Wooden bench in snow
It had been a long week, so I didn't get up early enough on Saturday to get a nice photo, only this one after the snow was already starting to melt, and fall off the branches:
Snowy garden scene
Note the small banana tree on the bottom left.  My landscaper gave this to me (an offshoot of his tree) only a couple of weeks ago.  So hopefully it will settle in and survive this winter, which is predicted to be a particularly harsh one.  Here is it before the cold hit it:
Banana tree
Yesterday I was able to take advantage of the clear weather to provide it with some winter protection.  I have wrapped it in straw, held in place by a roll of chicken wire, which is held in place by a few small posts, and wrapped in twine.  Then I covered it with a clear plastic bag, also tied with twine.  Fortunately, both the chicken wire and plastic bag were just tall enough.  Hopefully it will give the banana a head start in Spring, so it doesn't die right back to the ground.

I was worried that it might look like an eyesore, but I think it actually looks pretty good.  Maybe with a bit of decorating, this little column of plastic-wrapped straw will look like a small snowman:
Banana tree wrapped in straw for the winter
Today I also removed the hoses from the 3 outdoor hose bibs, and put away the hose reels and sprinklers.  I unplugged and covered the transformer for my low voltage lights, and wrapped the glass fixtures in bubble wrap.  I also removed the solar light fixtures from the front yard, leaving only the stake and aluminum tubes in place so it will be really easy to replace the fixtures in Spring (I'm not sure if I should leave them there, or also remove them - any advice?).

Yesterday I noticed a small dead bird, partly covered in snow, in the bottom of our outside stairwell.  Today when I went to remove it, I found it already gone.  A crow or other scavenger must have found it and done the job for me.  So today I am thankful for scavengers, who tidy up for us.

I have cut the gunnera leaves, and piled them over the crown, to protect it for winter.  This method has worked for me in previous years, and this year I had a lot of leaves and very large ones, so hopefully that will be enough.  I cut some of the flowered ends of my beautiful big floppy butterfly bush next to the front driveway, since the wet snow was weighing it down too much, and I was afraid that more wet snow would break too many branches.  I also trimmed back some hydrangea branches which we already breaking under the weight of the snow.  Normally I would wait until Spring, but again, it is better to cut back than to wait until they break.  I could do some more trimming and clean up, but I think there is nothing really critical remaining to be done.

I think I've now ready for winter.  At least in the garden.  Driving may be a different story.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Congratulations Ola! One Million Giraffes!

Do you remember the One Million Giraffes project I heard about just over a year ago, and submitted a photo of my giraffe sculpture, then some drawings of giraffes which the kids and I made?

Giraffe sculpture - one of a million giraffesThe project was started by Ola Helland, as a bet with his friend Jorgen, that he would be able to collect one million images of hand made or hand drawn giraffes.  That was a lofty challenge, and one which I was happy to lend my assistance, as did many people in 102 countries.  I am happy to hear the Ola has recently reached his goal of one million giraffes, after 440 days of collecting giraffes.  The web site One Million Giraffes continues to collect more giraffes - so if you missed being part of the first million, there is still a chance to submit your photos, perhaps toward the next million giraffes!  A nice coffee table book (a sort of Where's Waldo? of giraffe images) containing most of the one million giraffes has emerged as a result of the project.

The book is available from here or here, or possibly at your local bookstore.  More photos and information about the book can be found here.  So if you participated in the project, you can purchase the book and look for your giraffe.  Or if someone is looking for something to buy me for Christmas, this is one possible idea.  :-)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Squirrel Attack Makes a Snack of Jack

This post is not for the faint of heart.  Remember that fearless and menacing Jack O'Lantern we set out on Hallowe'en? 

He has met his match.  He has been reduced to a cowering, whimpering, suffering Jack, his eyes and teeth and chunks of his head viciously chewed by the real dark menace - the neighbourhood squirrels.
It's a funny thing about squirrels.  They wave about that big bushy tail, and we all think they are the sweetest thing.  Even I have been known to fall for their sweet mischievous looks.  And judging by how the squirrels shamelessly mobbed us the last time our family took a stroll through the park, many others have succombed to their charms as well.

I have to admit, even when rushing straight towards you, isn't this one cute little creature?
Or look at this little charmer.  Who wouldn't agree that she's adorable?  Even if she's only after your nuts.  Or in my case, my apples, pears, cherries, plums....
On the flip side of the rodent family, there are the rats.  Since we have added 3 rats to our household, we have found them to be friendly, gentle, inquisitive, intelligent, and very affectionate - snuggling and licking and enjoying being handled.  Quiet, clean, and full of fun.  Look at this little face, isn't he a cutie?
Or this little girl?  Wouldn't she just melt your heart?
But when God was handing out tails, and the squirrel picked his big bushy tail, the poor rat picked the wrong one.  The one which makes us gasp, to stop and stare, or to just turn and run in fear.

Poor dear rats.  If only they had picked the bushy tails, I'm sure they would been the hit of the small pet market.  But instead, sadly, most of those born in captivity are destined to be snake food. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Castor Bean Plant

Until recently, I had only seen photos in gardening books and seed catalogs, but the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) is a stunningly beautiful plant.  See photos here.

Soon (next summer) I hope to have photos of my own, since my mom gave me two young plants which I have happily planted into my garden, one at the front of the house, and one waaay up at the back, near the shed.  Some gardening friends of hers had bought some of these beautiful plants (the beautiful reddish "Sanguineus" variety), but then got scared by the description that they will grow to 15'.  I am not sure in one Vancouver BC weather what to expect for growth, and winter survival, for that matter.  I have only very recently spotted this plant (I don't believe I've ever seen it in "real life" before), growing beside a nearby police station.  Funny thing, I thought, with this plant's reputation for use in chemical warfare and terrorism.

The toxicity of the bean (due to the protein ricin) has discouraged me in the past, but realistically, my kids are old enough now, and I can't imagine anyone picking and eating the beans (kids nowadays have plenty of food, and aren't looking for such culinary adventures).  Except hopefully the squirrels, which are cute little buggers but are becoming a bit too much - this year they picked all my apples (except the few unripe ones I picked first), asian pears, pears, and many of my plums.  In past years, they have eaten all my daffodils and many other bulbs (I don't even think I'm going to try planting bulbs this year).

As for winter hardiness, I am beginning to worry...  I read that it is perennial in zones 8 - 11, but elsewhere I read that it likely will not survive the winter in zones 8 & 9, but will propagate by reseeding.  Mine don't have seeds developed yet, and the winter is already setting in - there was snow on the local mountains yesterday morning.  So I am not sure if I should hedge my bet by digging one of them up, and trying to overwinter it in the basement.Vancouver is usually pretty mild, but the predictions are for a severe winter this year (to make up for last year, when snow had to be trucked in to the local Cypress Mountain for some of the Olympic events).  Does anyone have any advice? 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en

I hope you all had a safe and fun Hallowe'en.  The kids, now 11 and 9, decided not to go out trick-or-treating this year.  So they opened the door and gave out candies to the few (much less than previous years, even though it was a clear evening - perhaps since the forecast was for rain).

We carved a pumpkin as a family, and my son also carved one at school.  Enjoy!
Hallowe'en jack-o-lanterns
Cute pumpkin
Scary pumpkin eating pumpkin
The puppet of my daughter, which we never quite finished, became our greeter on the porch this evening.
Puppet on bench

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Dried Flower Arrangements

A few weeks ago, I made a dried flower arrangement for our master bathroom, from lavender and dried grasses:
I think it turned out quite well. Since then, I have added some dried purple sage along the front, which filled the arrangement in nicely, and hides the green oasis.  I'll try for another photo when we have a bright day, so that the colours will show better.

Anyhow, that intial success encouraged me to try again, with some Nigella from my mother-in-law, and dried Lamb's Ear, also for our bathroom (which may now be the most decorated room in the house!):
Today, I decided to make a more ambitious arrangement for the dining room, from a variety of dried flowers in the garden, picked before it rains tonight.  I found a small basket in the garage which matches the colours of the dining room as well as the colours of the fall arrangement:

I'll try again for a better photo when it is bright enough not to need the flash, but this photo gives some idea of the result.  My daughter thought I bought the arrangement, not made it myself, so I take that as a very nice compliment.  Among the variety of dried flowers are: poppies and nigella seed pods from my mother-in-law, coneflower centers, bright red rose hips, iris seed pods (the dark ones), lavender, crocosmia, allium, and a few stars (bright green, but I suspect they will fade nicely into the arrangement) of umbrella sedge (Cyperus alternifolius).  I am also drying some more stems of purple sage, and may add a few to fill in the arrangement.  We'll see.

I am very pleased with the outcomes, and may make some attempt next year to dry even more flowers.  For example, my globe thistle should make a wonderful cut flower if I cut and dried it before it blooms.  At this point in the year, the little globes are crumbling apart.

9Oct2010: Here's perhaps a better photo of that last arrangement, with some purple sage also added in:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Zucchini Loaf

What do you do when your garden overwhelms you with zucchini?  Or when a friend (in my case, my mother-in-law) is blessed with an abundance of zucchini?  Make zucchini loaf!

I tried this loaf a few days ago, even though I was short one egg, and didn't have cinnamon, so substituted allspice - which smelled the closest to cinnamon to me.   At the time, I doubled the recipe.

I loved it so much that I decided to make it again tonight, this time with cinnamon, and I tripled the recipe.  It was very difficult to mix such a large amount (in retrospect, I should have doubled, then made a second batch), and the zucchini was larger, so the peel was tough.  But the wonderful aroma in the house is well worth the effort.

The recipe is from, this page.

 3 eggs
 1 cup oil
 1 Tablespoon vanilla
 2 cups peeled grated zucchini
 1 teaspoon baking soda
 1 teaspoon baking powder
 1 teaspoon salt
 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
 3 cups flour
 2 cups sugar
 optional : 1/2 cup chopped dates
 optional : 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

 Beat eggs well, add sugar, vanilla and oil and mix well.
 Mix dry ingredients together and add, together with dates and nuts.
 Best done in electric mixer.
 Pour into 2 greased loaf 5"x9" pans and bake about 1 hour at 350 F.
 Remove and cool on wire rack.

I omitted the dates, since I'm not a big fan of them, and also the nuts, so that the kids are able to take the loaf to school in their lunches.

It's funny, now that I'm reading it, I see that this recipe was for 2 loaves.  I was wondering why the pan was so full, and I ended up with such a huge loaf.  Hmmm, next time I'd make it smaller, I think.  Maybe 3 pans for double the recipe.  My oven is always a bit slower than the recipe calls for, but I found it took 1 hr 40 min to be done (use a bamboo skewer to test the center - it should not be gooey).  But then again, I was using twice the batter per pan than the recipe called for!

When I used the smaller zucchini, I left a small amount of peel on, so there were flecks of green in the loaf.  Kinda pretty.  The larger zucchini had too tough of a peel.  The flavour of the loaf is mild, somewhat reminiscent of pumpkin loaf, and not too sweet.  A really nice loaf to go with tea or coffee or a nice cold glass of milk.  Oh, and it freezes well.  If you don't eat it first, especially when it is warm out of the oven.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Colour Mosaic Monday : Black

I almost forgot, this is the last colour - black - in the series at unglazed.  I'm going to miss that series - thanks so much to Jen for hosting!

The colour black made me think of the Orca whale watching expedition my husband and I joined in Victoria BC, when passing through on our anniversary cruise 1 1/2 years ago.  This photo mosaic looks a bit like a series of 3 postcards.
Orca whale watching
I really like the photo with the boat.  We were that close at times, too, so maybe they got such a neat photo of us in our bright orange zodiac too.  Exciting!  The bottom photo shows 3 dorsal fins.  The tall one apparently belonged to a juvenile male.  The other two to his mother, and sibling (too young to be sure if a brother or sister).  For more photos of that cruise and excursion, see this post from May 2009.

The colour black also made me think of my dear curly-haired rat Jenny.  Here she is shortly after bringing her home.  She's quite a bit bigger now, but just as sweet.
Curly haired hooded rat

Curly haired (rex) rat
I know that to anyone who has not experienced a pet rat, it sounds very strange, but we have been amazed at how clean and fun and gentle and affectionate our pet rats have turned out to be.  They are truly the hidden secret of the pet world - very much like puppies in rodent bodies.  If only they didn't have that tail which is a turn-off for most people.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Little Soccer Player

My son is David becoming a very good soccer player.  That's what everyone is telling me.  That's why I let David kick balls (not the soccer ball, though!) around inside the house, even though I don't really appreciate that.

Today turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day and I stayed to watch David play soccer, rather than retreat with my daughter to the library nearby.  Here are some photos I was able to snap this afternoon with my daughter's digital camera:
Don't we live in a beautiful part of the world?  I love the backdrop of the North Shore mountains from our soccer field in North Burnaby, BC.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Colour Mosaic : Brown

When Jen at unglazed suggested Brown as one of the colour themes, I didn't think there would be much to show - at least not from my garden. But when I browsed through my photos, I found a number of brown-themed ones which amused me, which I've combined into a mosaic (click image for a larger view):
Brown mosaic
In the mix you'll find bison from a nearby farm in Agassiz, BC, some of my homemade chilli and ginger chocolates, a campfire cake I made for my daughter's 10th birthday, a photo of my asian pear tree espaliered against the fence, a closeup of a wasp's nest, and a photo of our rat Sam when she was a little baby.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Colour Mosaic Monday : Purple

I was feeling too tired tonight, but I couldn't resist creating a purple mosaic for both Mosaic Monday at Little Red House and Jen's Purple Theme this week at unglazed.

Purple is one of the favourites in my garden, where all but one of these photos - can you guess which one? - are from my garden (click the image for a larger view).
Purple flower mosaic

Monday, September 06, 2010

Otter Lake Adventure

Our vacation this past week at Otter Lake (Tulameen, BC) was the perfect combination of wildlife viewing, outdoor recreation, exploration and relaxation.

The wildlife was abundant.  There were black bears walking through the town, such as this one which appeared in our yard one evening.  We made noises to get him to look our way, otherwise he was quite oblivious to us, grazing on the lawn.  It was interesting to us that the local bears seemed to take no interest in people or in their garbage (as usually is the problem), but rather on grazing and eating berries and leaves from the bushes:
Black bear in our yard
This mom with 2 cubs (one is not visible in the bush) came by our cabin one morning, again only interested in the bushes:
Black bear with cub
There were often Mule deer in the yard also, and we saw moms with their young many times while riding our bicycles and driving about (most of the time while our camera was not handy, thus this unimpressive photo):
Mule deer
We saw loons and diving ducks and an otter (or possibly beaver?) on the lake.  There were signs of beaver activity along the edge of the lake, such as this beaver-fallen tree:
Beaver knawed tree
The recreation opportunities were great.  We enjoyed canoeing, kayaking, and operating pedal boats in the lake:
The kids shot baskets in the hoop next to the house (with one of us keeping watch nearby in case of more bears passing through).  They also tried out go karting on a nearby track:
Go karting
We also enjoyed cycling part of the Trans Canada trail, the portion near Tulameen being along a former railway line, so nice and flat - although it was pretty tough going through the rocks and gravel - more suited to the ATVs using the line, than to cycling.  The first time we cycled from the South end to the North end of the lake, and returned, a 3 hour round trip.  We were somewhat relieved when we were blocked by some cows at the North end, since my husband would have liked to have gone further.
Cows on Trans Canada Trail
He went ahead to investigate whether we could pass through, but when a large bull stepped out onto the path (behind my husband, on the left), he knew this was our sign that we have better turn around:
Bull on Trans Canada trail
Another day we explored the trail in the other direction, this time a 4 hour round-trip, to the town of Coalmont, and the ghost town of Granite City, which was a boom town which resulted from a 1885 discovery of gold by a cowboy named Johnny who apparently stopped at the river for a drink and discovered gold nuggets.  It is interesting that there are only two places in the world where both gold and platinum are found in the same waterways, and one of them in at Coalmont, BC.  The other is in a river in Russia.

On the topic of exploration, we heard from one of the locals that there were fossils which could be found fairly easily at the site of a local mine.  So we spent two afternoons hunting fossils, and were amazed at how many we could discover.  Most of the ones we found (at least the ones that we recognized) were of some conifer, likely sequoia or possibly pine, according to my internet searches. 

Here are some photos my daughter took of some of her finds:
Eocene fossils from Coalmont area of BC
Conifer fossils from BC
From my reading, the fossils are likely from the Eocene era, reportedly some 55 to 33 million years ago.  Pretty amazing.  We found some which looked like tree seeds, and one which is likely part of the head and backbone of a small fish.  There were lots of bits and pieces and shapes which we didn't recognize.

There were also lots of opportunities to just "kick back" and relax, enjoy each other's company, and enjoy the scenery.  It was a beautiful lake:
Otter Lake
And it was a beautiful "cabin" - really a full house, with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and fully equipped kitchen and laundry, and huge outdoor deck - sitting on the waterfront with our own BBQ and fire pit and dock and access to canoes and kayaks and pedal boats:
Otter Lake cabin
The kids and I took some books from the public library with us, and I especially enjoyed reading Artists in their Gardens by David Laskin and Valerie Easton.  It explored - with lots of photos - the gardens of a number of well-known artists in the Pacific Northwest, including Little and Lewis, concrete sculptors who inspired my concrete leaf casting attempt, painter Robert Batement, and architect Arthur Erickson.

So after a wonderful week of enjoying the wildlife, recreation, exploration and relaxation, we have enjoyed a day to unpack, organize, and prepare for the start of school tomorrow.  The weather has even cooperated nicely, turning to rain today, to signal that summer is over.  We are refreshed and ready.
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