« February 2006 | Main | April 2006 »

March 26, 2006

Flirty Flora

Mar26-FlirtyFlora.jpgMy back and my feet hurt, but it's worth having got so much done today. I planted the last dozen or so of my gladiola bulbs in the west side garden, hauling soil from the back yard a bucketful at a time; I set fire to the gigantic pile of scrap lumber, tree trimmings and brush that was five feet high in the back of the yard, and kept it going until it was a foot high pile of charcoal; I planted the dozen impatiens I bought a few weeks ago, now that it's not supposed to freeze overnight (oddly, the containers said primulas), again hauling soil; and I watered, checked all the beds for things coming up that might need help against the weeds and grass, and carried the last of the trimmings to my bonfire. I also couldn't resist Cama's expectant look as she waited by the back gate. I let her and Flora in, and then dragged Richard away from his 4x4 repairs long enough to try to get pictures.

Mar26-AGoodScratch.jpgFlora is extremely curious about new things, including people. Every time we visit she comes up to me to touch nose to nose. I wanted Richard to get a shot of that, only she hadn't seen him in a while and found him – and the camera – much more interesting, so we were only able to get her to approach him then, not me. My efforts to hold out the camera far enough and at the right angle to get a picture of us myself, after Richard left, resulted in some hilarious close-ups of fuzzy nostrils and eyelashes as she went for the camera every time. I did manage to get a few of Cama as I fed her alfalfa. That's the only time she'll let me pet her. Richard has come in from working on the truck, blackened like a chimney sweep, so I'll sign off for the night. Lots of work to do on the computer now that the sun's gone down. It was a gorgeous day.

Posted by anita at 7:23 PM

March 25, 2006

The Crazy Canadians Are Going to Moab

Richard is out in the garage again this weekend, banging and grinding, not stopping to eat, and reeking of grease and welding dust. Mechano is getting an overhaul. It brings back memories.

ToyotaTrails.jpgIn the spring of 2000, less than a year after I met Richard and was initiated into four-wheeling, we went on a cross-country trek to what may be the ultimate rock-crawler's pilgrimage: the high desert mesas of Moab, Utah. However, given that we would be driving the two to three day Vancouver to Moab road trip in our "rigs" (that's wheeler jargon for 4x4s, as opposed to a "daily driver" which could tow the rig on a trailer), we knew half our Moab adventure would be just getting there.

As it turned out, the single Saturday Richard, Chris, Ben, Greg, Elsmere and I actually wheeled with our friends on the trails was the easy part. We condensed a lost week's worth of wheeling into that Golden Crack run (Richard's red Toy is on the Crack, top left, with the Colorado River gorge in the background), not without some entertaining carnage (that's Rick's "Big Bird" at right showing off its undercarriage). The road trip, on the other hand, was doomed from the start.

Being the only woman and less than a novice next to these mechanical geniuses, I stood back and watched the casualties and chaos – days of delay in the shop and breakdowns on the interstate – with my sense of humour pretty much intact. Can't say the same for the guys. I wrote an article about our trip, "Moab Misadventures", for the Cruise Moab issue of Toyota Trails that summer, but when I would have included the nightmarish return half of that trip, the boys swore me to silence. They didn't want to remember, they just wanted to crawl into a hole and sleep it off.

And that's probably how, the following spring, Richard and I managed to set that trip behind us and do it all again. Except that by 2001, we had a tow vehicle to haul the Toyota on a trailer, and a camper so we weren't sleeping in (or under!) our truck. What I remember most about that trip was the photography expedition in Arches National Park with Maria and Chad. (I got some gorgeous photos of the stone arches and the cacti in bloom, and a serious case of sunstroke.) The weather went from scorching heat to a surprise snowfall, but the only real excitement on the trail came when Derrick and Shana tipped their Cruiser on a staircase and baby Gweneth cried bloody murder at being pulled out of the snug safety of her harness to land in the unfamiliar arms of a hairy Venezuelan.

After that, our working lives got so busy that long vacations like Moab and the Rubicon were out of the question. In the fall of 2002, Richard entered the Toyota in one last extreme rock-crawling competition, drove it into the ground, and parted it out so he could begin designing a new 4x4 built from scratch that didn't have to fill any "daily driver" duties (like having to run highway-size tires). He envisioned it as an easy-to-modify "Mechano set", and Stubby Mechano was born.

Clawhammer4.jpg WreckingBall3.jpg

We've done a lot of wheeling in Mechano since its first competition in August 2004, most recently at the Hammers in Johnson Valley (above - thanks Steve for the pics), which rivalled the Moab 2000 road trip for nightmarish bad luck on the road, but with even better wheeling on the trails – which I try to remind myself of, rather than think about the road trip part. Because, we're about to do the pilgrimage again.

Yes, we're going back to Moab. It's been five years, and our wheeling buddies have even more responsibilities, some with work, some with kids, so it's a different group heading to Utah this time around. We wouldn't consider driving our rigs down anymore, and I know it's not just the ladies who relish the thought of ending a day on the trails at a campground that boasts shade trees, picnic tables, a swimming pool, and showers. Not to mention the town of Moab itself, which hopefully still has fantastic shopping. I tossed the rag formerly known as Richard's first Red Dirt Shirt last week, knowing he'll forgive me now that I can get him a new one (which I'll make sure stays red, not pink).

We're going down the week after the annual Jeep event, so hopefully will have the trails more to ourselves. I think there are a few Moab virgins among our caravan, so some of the awe and excitement from my first visit will be in the air. I'm hoping the desert has had a wet spring like in 2001, when the rock was stained the colour of rust and cacti bloomed in every imaginable shape and colour. Last time I had my conventional camera, the lenses ground with dust. This year we have the digital, and with luck, perhaps an internet connection in town, so I can post the photos as we go. Most importantly for me, I can spend some time behind the wheel as well as behind the camera. Mechano is a thrill to drive and I'm sure Richard will spot me through some hair-raising "easy" challenges between those extreme obstacles he's looking forward to playing on. And the road trip, well, it had better be good, because we really need a vacation.

Posted by anita at 1:08 PM

March 19, 2006

Just When They're Getting Friendly

Mar19-Cam-n-Flora5.jpgI can't let them in anymore. The llamas, shown here happily cropping the grass, are our favourite animal guests. We don't let the goats in the yard, because the last time Neru (the billy goat) came over, the greedy beast climbed my tiny cherry tree to reach the remaining leaves at the top, and broke a large branch off under his massive weight. But until now Cama and her baby, who after only a month is just now using her teeth, were not very destructive. Cama couldn't do much damage over the winter, when there wasn't much growing that she liked other than grass and pine needles.

When spring finally arrived, I knew the day was coming when the buds on the fruit trees and lilac bushes would catch their attention, but Flora can't quite chew such tough things yet, and Cama's habitual circuit of the yard had put them in the weedy back half much more of the time than the treed, landscaped front part. That may also have been because I've been doing yard work this week as they were wandering around, pruning things they might otherwise be sampling.

Not today, however.

Mar19-Cam-n-Flora1.jpgSometime during my lunch break, when I left them unsupervised in the yard for a while, Cama found the fresh new leaves of my beds of irises. Since they'd been unscathed the past two weeks since sending up the first bit of green, I thought they were okay. I was more worried about my chomped up lamb's ear and columbine. But when I went back to collecting yard trimmings after lunch, I happened past the irises and noticed a fat pale green root, sheared off cleanly, parallel to the ground. Hmm. Hard to believe my rake had done that this morning. So I checked all the other beds, and every last one was missing its new leaves. She ate everything. When did she go from disinterest to insatiable craving?!

Mar19-Cam-n-Flora3.jpg Mar19-Flora.jpg

So, when I grabbed a bucket of alfalfa cubes and led the ladies out the gate this afternoon (earlier than usual), I tried to explain to them that today was their last visit. I feel so guilty – we really enjoy having them around, and with almost daily visits, Cama will now let me give her a scratch down the neck, and Flora lets me rub her under the chin. But, that's it. At least until we get some posts in the ground and several lengths of sturdy string to create a llama-proof barrier across the back corner between the fences and the barn. Supposedly, unless provoked to jump a llama won't pass through rope hung at chest and knee level, as long as it's a bright enough colour and substantial enough for her to notice it before she goes right through it. (The goats, on the other hand, will try anything to push down, squeeze under or climb over a fence.) We can still enjoy the llamas by heading out the back gate with a bucket of alfalfa for them, and on this side of the fence my flowers will hopefully recover and grow in peace from now until autumn.

Mar19-Gardening.jpgHope you enjoy these photos featuring one-month-old Flora. The yard itself doesn't look very spring-like in the photos yet, especially compared to those of you in balmy Victoria and Vancouver, but you'd only have had to watch Flora investigating things this afternoon to notice the buds and shoots growing everywhere. I can't wait to see what will come up next. (No gardening tomorrow, though – doing my taxes instead. Oh joy.)

Posted by anita at 7:07 PM

March 15, 2006

Won't You Be My Neighbour

I was just looking at my blog posts from spring of 2005 to see how this spring compares to last. I found a photo about halfway down in the March 17th entry of the east side of the house where the apricot tree is, and noticed the shot encompasses the neighbouring property. That reminded me there's a new feature on their yard this week: a big yellow For Sale By Owner sign.

Renters have been living there since Jonathan (the goat&llama man) bought the place from our old neighbours John and Dorothy. They're ready to move on and I think Jonathan hopes to sell the property – one acre with a large "kwanza" style shop and a three-bedroom trailer – for as close to $200,000 as he can get, although I think since it's not a house on a foundation he won't get that much for it.

If anyone is actually interested in being our neighbours, let us know and we can take photos and get more info for you. Jonathan hopes to sell it to "a young family from the coast" who he imagines will like the shop and can afford the price tag. But it's not a house… and maybe trailers are normal around here (we certainly found that to be the case when "house"-hunting), but they sure aren't on the coast. I just hope whomever moves in fits into this friendly and supportive little community. The current residents keep to themselves and one of their two dogs terrorizes the llamas and I every time we come anywhere near the fence. People our age sure would be nice.

Posted by anita at 9:33 AM

March 13, 2006

Ah Hah!

"There's nothing I can do about it," Richard said for the tenth time, regarding me from a safe distance around the edge of the bathroom door. At least he didn't laugh as I stood there quaking with cold, two soapy minutes into a shower which went from a scalding 115 degrees Fahrenheit to pure icy well water because our "instant on" hot water heater doesn't like the dismal lack of water pressure.

This lack of water pressure - flow, more accurately - is partly determined by short-sighted original owners who used a very small diameter pipe between the well and the house. We don't have the funds this year to dig it up right to the concrete floor and replace it. But about the time our cold weather hit, the low flow gradually dropped to the dismal state it's been in for the past two months. So low, that flushing the toilet reduces the tap flow to a trickle. So low that my dishwasher and washing machine take double the usual time, with less success than they should have. And more importantly, in the last two months it's gotten so bad that I was running out of hot water in the shower before I even finished scrubbing shampoo into my hair. Thus the shrieks. But Richard explained this nasty situation by saying that there was probably a crimp in that well-buried line between the well and the house, aggravated by the frost heave. So, there's nothing we could do about it.

Then, he went on several business trips (staying, I might add, at hotels with lovely normal-pressure showers) and when he got back this Thursday night, he was informed he'd be heading out on another trip on Friday. Before I got up on Friday morning he must have had a shower and for once either ran out of hot water the way I had been, or really registered how bad the flow was after being away for so long. He didn't say, but for whatever reason, when he called from the office to say he was going on the road again, he mentioned quite casually that he'd removed the old water filter. I knew it was overdue for a change but don't have the strength to remove the thing myself, and he's been working for a month straight without the time to deal with little things like that. I agreed to drop into our local plumbing supplier and get a new one. "Half a dozen", he said. Okay. He then explained how to change it (with the neighbour's help), and off he went.

The first thing I noticed after getting off the phone with him was that the tub was full of black grit. In winter everyone's wells get siltier, and with the filter removed running any of the taps would send that stuff into the shower head, the dishwasher, the washing machine... so at first I didn't run the water. I was driving into town for an appointment, so I picked up half a dozen filters and tried by myself to put a new one in when I got home. Couldn't unscrew the thing, and the neighbour wasn't around. I figured I could wait another day to do laundry and run the dishwasher, and I was in no hurry to wash my hair and freeze half to death. But I had a few dishes to do by hand. Well, what do you know! The water flow was back to normal! Hmmm...

I was busy most of Saturday and Sunday doing yard work, so it wasn't until Sunday afternoon that the neighbour and I got the new filter installed. There was already a sludge in the bottom of the filter housing just from my minimal water use in the two days since Richard pulled out the old one. Yuck. I got the water running and went back outside to finish my yard work. Yes, the kitchen faucet seemed to stay at that improved flow, but the air in the bathroom plumbing was causing all sorts of ugly sounds from the faucet and toilet. The real test would be the shower.

And how was it, when I quickly rinsed out the grit and rushed to get the shampoo into my hair? Blissful. Too hot, if anything. I'm so used to it running out of hot water that I didn't try to turn it down to about 50/50 hot/cold until I'd started to boil lobster red. Then I got the temperature perfect, and it stayed that way. For the entire time I needed to shampoo, rinse, condition, and even scrub down luxuriously with a loofah. Hurrah!

I can't believe it had to get to the point where you couldn't rinse a toothbrush in the cold trickle coming out of our shower head. All this time Richard has been claiming it's something I've been doing wrong! Hah! I'm going to be hard-pressed not to say anything about it when he gets home. Thank heaven it turned out to be such a simple thing to fix. I don't think I could stand one more cold shower.

Posted by anita at 3:07 PM

March 12, 2006

Ahhh, Warmth

After several days of chilly weather, including a couple mornings with fresh snow, the sun has gained some strength, most of my yard has de-frosted, and all the birds are back to sing of spring. On the north side of the house the yard is still frozen hard as rock and the snow hasn't had enough sunlight to melt away yet, but the south and west exposed beds are showing signs of growth. I walk around every day (when I let the llamas in for a visit) and look impatiently for shoots.

Tulips, about two inches out of the ground in places, a few daffodils (not many in this garden though I hope to fix that next year), irises, lamb's ear, columbine, poppy, and of course the indestructible and prickly wild rose are all starting to come in. But, more often than not, they aren't growing where I want them to, or they're being overtaken by long grasses, mint (a weed, here, though it smells too nice to get rid of), and something I think is called nettle marsh. With the sun so warm this weekend, I thought I'd get a head start on my flower beds and clean up, even though it's too frosty still to plant anything.

I'll need a spade and more patience to get rid of the grass, but I did make a dent in the mass of last year's weeds and leaves (a lovely bonfire pile for next weekend, actually) and some of the beds are clear enough that I could sow my poppy, columbine and lupin seeds, as soon as the ground stops freezing solid.

I did a silly thing, though. When Richard and I gathered most of the seeds from the gorgeous field of poppies on the south side of the house, I added to the bags some seeds from my lupins and columbine. The wild columbine, unfortunately, loves shade... so I have to identify them in the midst of a mass of tiny black poppy grains, and put them aside for the dappled shade under the crabapple tree on the north side of the house.

I hope everything grows - my plan is to transfer most of these flowers to proper beds, of which we have so many, and till last year's "field" of poppies and nasty weeds into a decent lawn with just the maple tree and daffodils round its base to break it up. Also in that part of the yard are a million shoots from the black currant bushes. They're growing up amongst my irises. Not good. The solution, I think, is to dig up all the irises I can salvage, remove the tumbledown rock wall, and carve away that entire section to get rid of the black currant altogether.

My other plan, thanks to several different gardening programs which all say the same thing, is to reduce both moisture loss and weed infestation by spreading a truckload of bark mulch over all the beds that I manage to revive this spring. No point baring all that soil just to have half of it covered in that nasty prickly yellow weed, and the other half dry up and blow away. I'm just lucky the only thing I have to buy is the mulch; all the flowers I could possibly want right now are growing in the garden already, they just need some order and a chance against the weeds.

I'm really muddling through, and having an acre property that was ignored by the previous owners for ten years means I have a heck of a lot of catching up to do. But if I get fruit on the trees this year, some flowers on the forsythia and wisteria, and flower beds that look tidy and colourful even if they're not very aesthetically arranged, I'll be thrilled.

Tuesday is my next free day to spend in the garden again. More raking, more pruning, and maybe even a little digging. It's supposed to get warmer so we'll see. I might sow those poppies after all, considering the giant variety orange ones are well on their way already. I've had enough white - bring on the colour!

Posted by anita at 6:08 PM

March 10, 2006

Lists

Anyone who's shared a meal with me or other members of my family lately knows that we take the phrase "you are what you eat" very seriously. Food allergies were something my middle sister investigated since her teens, when she developed eczema and began looking for other options besides just treating the skin flare-ups. She found when she stopped eating tomatoes and garlic, among other things, the skin condition calmed down. Since then she's been seeing a talented naturopath, and her vast improvement in health convinced my mother, who like myself has struggled with a weight problem all her life, to pay Dr. Hal a visit. To her astonishment my mother found out she also has food allergies, though she had neither the skin problems of my sister, nor my digestive issues. Taking away the wheat and dairy from her diet, along with alleviation of imbalances to her thyroid and adrenals among other treatments, have made a huge difference to her health. I've been certain for several years that I have a wheat allergy, and avoid it most of the time, so to find that both my mother and sister are allergic to it didn't suprise me. But I wanted to know for sure just what I'm allergic to, especially since beginning naturopathic treatment for my digestive ailments. A couple of weeks ago I had a test done called an "IgG Food Antibody Assessment".

This morning I saw my naturopath to go over the IgG results. I'm very surprised, and it explains a lot about how inexplicably sick I've been feeling since starting a very restrictive "anti-candida" diet (to get rid of a severe digestive yeast problem). The things I thought were allergens are low on the list or not allergens at all, and the most extreme allergen is one I never would have guessed. I thought I'd make a few lists to highlight the irony of all this.

Some of My Favourite Foods:

sushi

lasagna

cheesecake

blueberry muffins

yoghurt

French toast

ice cream

calamari

taco salad

cheese

kahlua

gomae (spinach-sesame salad)

peanut butter

pizza

hummous

prime rib & caesar salad

Richard's mashed potatoes

...and lots of other things of course.

For 2 months while on the Anti-Candida restrictions I haven't had:

yeast

wheat

all dairy except butter and cream

sugar or other sweetening additives like honey or dextrose

anything with vinegar in it, ie ketchup

fermented foods, ie soy sauce

mushrooms

oranges

blueberries

cantaloupe

grapes

dried fruit

black or green tea

peanuts

...and to make up for not having cheese or mushrooms or peanut butter, I added:

oatmeal

corn tortilla chips

popcorn (Richard even bought me an air popper)

more seasonings, especially garlic

and what I now know are harmless things like black beans, peas, and butternut squash...

...and after two and a half months I was still having symptoms which could be attributed to the yeast state, to allergies, or to a mild lingering flu. Hmmm...

...so I handed over $450 and two vials of blood for this very thorough antibody test, and here are the things I'm allergic to, from most severe at the top to mildest at the bottom:

corn gluten (which is in everything from corn on the cob to condiments)

coffee

sesame seeds & oil

oats

yeast

wheat

oysters

alfalfa (the closest I ever get to that stuff is the llama's treats so no loss there)

cottage cheese & ricotta (key ingredient of killer lasagna)

cane sugar

blueberries

peanuts

lactalbumin (a.k.a."milk ingredients" or "whey")

olives

garlic

and egg yolks.

The only extreme allergy, the thing I must never ever eat again if I know what's good for me, is corn gluten. I'm three times as allergic to that as to wheat. Also in the no-no list is oats. And what significant change to my diet did I make after ruling out the yeast and wheat and dairy (which was toughest!) this past two months? I added corn and oats. Figures. It had begun to feel "normal" to have to stock every room in the house and every jacket pocket with tissue for my stuffy nose, but now I know better. No more oatmeal or popcorn, no more tortilla chips with my guacamole, and I should feel a hell of a lot better.

I already feel somewhat better knowing I will be able to eat dairy again (other than additives and ricotta). As soon as this yeast flush is finished, I'm going for ice cream to celebrate! But no lasagna for me any more - even with my pasta-free recipe, I still can't get away with it unless I leave out my favourite parts, the ricotta, basil & egg yolk layer and the heavy dose of garlic and olives in the meat sauce. It just wouldn't be the same.

The silver lining in all of this may come in a couple of months or so. When the anti-candida diet is over, and I've removed all the allergens from my diet for 30 days, I can start experimenting. That is, I can add one thing on the mild end of the allergen list (the last 6 items) to my diet, wait a week, and see if I reacted to it (apparently it usually takes up to 4 days for the antibodies to react). Since I've been eating egg yolks and garlic almost daily for years, it's more than likely I can still eat them - occasionally - without affect. Things I haven't had while on the yeast diet, like blueberries and peanuts, could turn out to be more serious offenders than the test could pick up, so again I have to introduce them one at a time and observe. The egg yolk thing has blown me away - I scramble two farm-fresh eggs for breakfast almost every morning - but that's balanced out by soon being able to eat my favourite Italian parmesan and Tilamook 7 year cheddar again. Not to mention my awesome cheesecake, once in a while. Woo-hoo, as Allyson would say. And the corn thing may be a bit difficult for eating out, much as the wheat has been, but hey, unlike my sister I'm NOT allergic to chocolate! So how bad is it, really? Oh... except that there's dairy in chocolate, so I'll have to stick to the good stuff like Purdy's, that actually lists skim milk powder instead of a vague description like "milk ingredients" that could have lactalbumin in it. I think. Grr. Oh, and since cornstarch is commonly added to cocoa, I'm glad I didn't buy the giant Coscto can of Fry's. There's an additive-free brand that my mother buys which I will have to track down in Kamloops.

The rest of March, while I'm still on the anti-candida regime, will continue to be hellish because in addition to losing my routine meals which contain things like cheddar and vinegar, now I have to pass on the oatmeal AND the whole eggs for breakfast, resist when Richard makes popcorn, use god-knows-what-else to season my beef instead of Montreal steak spice which contains garlic, and just stay home because eating out is out of the question. I'm going to have to find a good cookbook devoted to homemade condiments and sauces, too. Caesar salad is still off the menu but so far that's just made me more creative with salads, which is a good thing. It could be worse.

It's going to take some care and a lot of will power, but once I'm not eating the things that make me sick, I may finally be able to eat more of the things I've avoided for years out of concern for my weight. Like high carb foods such as rice (sushi!!), potatoes, beans, bananas, mangoes, cherries, yoghurt, and regular rather than sugar-free chocolate. We have three apple trees, an apricot tree, one mature and two growing cherry trees, crabapples, grape vines, raspberry bushes, red and black currants, and space for a vegetable patch, so it's a relief to me that I'm not allergic to any of my favourite fruits and vegetables (except blueberries) and may be able to eat all of those things to my heart's content this summer. On top of a big bowl of homemade ice cream! Don't I have a one track mind.

So that's the scoop (ha ha). Next order of business: figure out what I can make for dinner. All this talk of food is making me hungry.

Posted by anita at 3:17 PM