Monday, January 31, 2011

To Bee or Not To Bee

A few weeks ago, I was out photographing the process of grafting an apple tree for this blog.  Trudging along through the snow I spied something out of the ordinary (I'm always on the outlook for unusual natural phenomenon and occurrences). There on the ground, pretty much covered in snow was a very large wasp nest.  I had nearly stepped on it.  Not that, that would have been an issue this time of year, because any live bees would have been too sleepy and sluggish to defend their territory anyway.

The other reason I'm glad I didn't trample it was the fact that we are rapidly losing our wild bee populations, supposedly due to our cell phone habit - you can google that one for all the lurid details.

I got to thinking ( I know I write that phrase a lot - really it doesn't happen that frequently) about bees, and how much our existence relies on these little fellows (actually nearly all of them are lasses).  Without bees, our crops would not be pollinated, most regularly cultivated species would quickly die out, except dandelions which wind-pollinate.  So I guess we would have to find new and inventive ways to serve dandelions as our main food stock.  I know my front lawn could feed most of the community, if we could discover a way to make them palatable.  Yes I am aware that young dandelion greens are edible, the flower buds make great jelly and wine, but again hardly mainstays of the human food chain.

But back to bees.  For several years I was the keeper of three or four bee hives.  I had studied them in college and thought they would be something interesting to try.  I was able to find a couple of supers and frames and I ordered my nucleus of bees from a supplier.  It's all fine and dandy to learn in class, and read books, but actually having the little critters is a different story.

My grandfather was a apiarist ( a fancy term for a beekeeper) many long years ago, but this was many years prior to my birth, and he was long dead, before I decided to pursue his hobby.  So obviously I could not rely on family members to educate me in my newest pastime.

Grandpa with a captured swarm of bees

There are family stories of Grandpa and his bees.  Apparently Grandma was deathly allergic to bees, but that did not deter Grandpa in any way.  And to make matters worse, he used to bring the supers (boxes and frames, complete with brood, honey and bees) and store them in the basement over winter.  Charming man!  Of course this is the same man, who made Grandma let his dog out in the middle of the night to do its business.  Did I mention that Grandma had a wooden leg and their bedroom was upstairs?  And this was the same man who forgot to come out from the hunting camp for his 50th wedding celebration.

But back to my bees.  They were fascinating creatures to watch.  I loved to sit at the entrance to their hives and just watch their comings and goings.  They were so organized and cooperative.  One thing I could never figure out though, was why such clever little beeings (huh is that punny or what!) could find their way home from a three mile flight, but if you moved the hive in their absence, even a few feet, they could not locate it.  They would huddle in a frightened mass where the hive had been, completely and utterless confused, abject, and homeless.

If a hive gets crowded, which happens if the beekeeper is not vigilant, or somewhat bee savvy (both applied to yours truly) the queen bee will lay a few eggs in specially constructed cells.  From these cells, one new baby queen hatches.  She is not a pleasant little perosn, as she immediately goes around and stings all her embryonic rivals to death.  This newly minted matriarch takes to the air on her maiden voyage, copulates with the most handsome drone (a male bee), kills him in the process, takes half the worker bees from the existing hive and flies off in a swarm, to a nearby branch or tree to sit and contemplate life for a few hours.  This swarming process, reduces the original hive to the point, that there is once again plenty of room and food supplies to begin the whole replenishing process.

Back to the swarm in the tree.  Several worker bees, have been sent out as scouts to scour the area for a suitable permanent home.  This may be a hollow tree, the side of a building or, if you are well organized, a super and frames that you have preordained to be home to a rogue swarm, should it happen.

Yours truly capturing a swarm on a branch

While the swarm is clinging in a large ball, to a branch, a good beekeeper can cut the branch, carefully carry it over to the waiting receptacle, tap the bees gently into the waiting home, check to make sure the queen is there and happy, put a lid on the whole shebang and voila you have a second beehive.

Just about to the new home.

Several times I was able to capture swarms and thus increase my inventory.  However, hard, cold winters can quickly reduce any increase you might make.

And then there was the process of extraction (getting the honey out of the frames into jars). This was a sticky, gooey endeavour, best done out of doors (if you could keep the bees from finding your spot).  Done indoors,the centrifugal force of the extractor, spun fine webs of stickiness throughout the house.  Most people, with any quantity of bees, have a separate extraction building.

The other story that comes to mind when extracting was of a certain kitten.  We had extracted all the crop for the fall and left the last big roasting pan full of honey, waiting for any wax or impurities to rise to the top.  Said kitten disappeared and then a while later could be heard, but not immediately found.  My missus finally located the plaintive mews.  Just a tiny nose was sticking out of the bucket of honey.  Plucked from a certain sugary death, the kitten did survive to adulthood, but never really developed much of a sweet tooth.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Storage Devices

I talked about chimney fires a few blogs back.  I've always had a healthy respect for the vulnerability of personal possessions.  Okay, perhaps it is more of a paranoia.  Don't get me wrong, I'm really not all that hung up on material things -- they can all be replaced should I lose them to fire, famine, flood or pestilence.  Well, that may perchance have been a tad poetic, but I think you catch my drift.  The things you really cannot replace are records and photos.  By records, I am not referring to the vinyl disks (the mention of which dates me somewhere in the far reaches of the Dark Ages) but to diaries, journals, letters etc.

important papers and documents

Because I am the keeper of the family history, I always fret what might happen to all the photos, letters and other historical documents, should we ever suffer a fire or any other destructive force hit. 

Photos -- early on, I had colour photocopies made of most of the old photo cards.  I took the originals, put them in plastic, acid-free sleeves and tucked them away in sealed boxes -- my own version of archives.  I then took the coloured photocopies and organized them into photo albums for others to enjoy.
This is my 'yet-to-organize' box
The open binder on the left is the archived photocards.  The second and fourth are refurbished vintage albums and the rest are just plain binders containing all the more recent photos and photocopies of various family lines
Then along came scanning.  Suddenly I was able to take all the pictures and quickly place them on the scanner bed. All the computer had to do was to collect the data and save the photos in a digital format as jpeg folders.  These files, initially were huge (well really they still are, but storage device capacities have expanded exponentially since), so the most precious, I saved to 3" floppy disks and stored them in boxes out in the garage.

 I was just going through my 3" floppies the other day (yes box after box) and decided that this technology is obsolete, by about three generations.  Let's see, there were rewriteable CD's that you burned (that phrase always worried me) data to.  Then there were jump drives or thumb drives or flash drives or memory sticks, depending on which hamlet you heralded from.  I guess you could throw your Blackberry or IPOD into this mix as well, if you were young and upwardly mobile.  Since I really qualify as neither, I did decide to leap ahead just one small step. I went out and bought myself a couple of 4 mgb thumb drives (two 4's were cheaper than one 8!) and transferred everything over onto something smaller than a bread box. Now the issue will be, not to lose or misplace something so tiny.

Evolution of storage systems - what's next?

The next storage venue, that I'm hearing murmurings over, is on-line.  I gather this is a system, where you upload or download (depending on the direction you are standing and which way the wind is blowing) all your valuable files to a remote cyber bank, pay a monthly or yearly fee, and your files are stored for perpetuity, or until you forget to pay your perpetual care fund.  At this point, I guess they'll be assigned to cyber-purgatory, doomed forever to be analogue flotsam and jetsam.

So because I'm frugal, I don't see that option becoming reality for me in the near future, so it is back to the thumb drive storage with the back up files on my computer.  Now if I could just remember where I put them.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The First Month In Review

I've been blogging now for a month, 31 entries -- hard to believe.  It's probably a good time to review the process and see where I'm at.

I've tried to keep a pretty varied menu, being the eclectic soul that I am.  I said originally that I would be discussing gardening, music (hence the name themusicalgardener) genealogy, supply teaching, and cooking.  You will note I have since added nostalgia to my list.  I just found there were so many ideas popping up  that didn't really fit any category.  I seem to be happiest writing about experiences and reminiscing.  Any advice I've read, says to blog from your heart and your personal experience.  I'm too private to divulge much 'heart stuff', but experience and anecdotes are pretty fair game.  

My gardening topics have been pretty limited so far.  It's not really gardening weather, as the thermometer dips to -30 C and the only tool I handle these days is a snow shovel.  Shortly I will be starting to plant seeds indoors, and I hope to devote a blog to that very topic in the next couple of weeks.  I also have an apple tree that needs some serious pruning, so I hope to tackle that one on a warmer, sunny day.  I also promise I will get a lot more photos once spring begins to rear its long-awaited head.

I'm finding music is not the easiest topic to write about.  I don't have the technology to record and digitize anything to a format my readers can enjoy.  But I'm thinking about going out and splurging to get a mini digital recorder. I think I'm also at a bit of a creatively stagnant point, musically. Maybe I'll devote a blog to my musical frustrations, some day soon.  The problem here is that I want to be positive and upbeat in my blogging -- frustration is not that conducive to positive energy.  Blogging should be humourous and uplifting, inspirational even, not a rant (more advice from my blogging mentor).   I do have a couple of musical venues that I am currently pursuing, so I may tackle those to tell you about them.

Genealogy is always a fun topic for me.  I've done a couple of blogs on specific relatives and I intend to continue this trend, every so often.  I have so many great photos and info that are just great general human interest stories, even if the reader does not know the individuals.

Supply teaching, I do every day.  Yes there are some great stories, but it is often the same hum drum routine effort - not much blog-worthiness to it.  The other problem here is pictures.  For privacy reasons, obviously I cannot take a camera in, to take pictures in  classroom situations, or of the great little students I meet on a daily basis.
So for illustrations, I have to rely on the generic internet photos, which possibly parallel the situation, but do not fully capture my day.  I will probably continue to share my art lessons etc, that I feel have been successful.

Cooking:  I enjoy this topic and the results of course.  I think about once a week is enough though. I find these blogs require taking a lot of photographs of the process, which means a lot of importing and manipulation.  Stay tuned as we are going to tackle apple dumplings and taco pie in the next fortnight or so.

As I mentioned, I am definitely going to pursue more nostalgia in my musings and meanderings.

So far I have been able to get a blog out per day.  That is a fair challenge, and a reasonable goal this time of year, but I also want it to remain fun.  I want the process to be a good servant, not a taxing master. I may put out a few shorter narratives just to keep my head above water.  Right now I am trying to have a couple of weeks worth of blogs in process, but it doesn't take many days of robbing from that bank, before you start to panic.  Well maybe panic is not the right word.  I also like the percolating process, where I write something, let it sit and fester, and then edit it a few days later, maybe visit it several times, before I finally publish it.  And you thought I just whipped these off in a single setting!

So what are my feelings to date?  Well I'd certainly like to get a slightly larger readership.  I really only get feedback from a few of you, although I see by the stats that I am getting more lurkers (hopefully not just spamming sites).  

It is nice being the newspaper owner, editor, publisher, delivery boy all in one.  Okay that maybe makes me sound like a bit of a control freak. I guess you are at my mercy, and if the topic of the day doesn't click with you, hopefully tomorrow's or the next day's will.

It is great to feel I am writing daily, maybe gathering enough material and experience to tackle something bigger and better some day.  My hope is that I can hone my writing skills, develop my own personal writing voice, as well as improve my story telling and procedural writing techniques. Along the way, I hope I can brighten your day a little too, or inspire you to tackle a new venture. 

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lingering Noxicity

There are days when I feel there is a little black cloud hanging in the sky just above me.  Eeyore would be proud of my self-lamentations.  But after I tell you about my yesterday, maybe you'll understand, how it is that I seem to live by Murphy's law.  In fact, I think Murphy may have been the former owner of both our houses.  And I sometimes worry that if I keep doing family research, Murphy is going to show up in the family tree. 

But let me tell you a story from three years ago first of all, just to lay a little groundwork.

We lived on the Addison farm for eighteen years.  With both girls in high school we were constantly running the roads in to town every day and we made the decision to move closer.  Also it was time to drop the 'money pit' as we lovingly referred to the old farm house, in favour of something a little more maintenance-free.

The night before the realtors were to come to list our farm, my wife went to the attached garage to get food for our cats from the bag she stored there.  She had her plastic dish with her, which she dug into the bag to grab some kibble.  But the dish, didn't seem to be scooping anything, so she reached her hand in and felt fur.  At the same instant, the fur came to life, lifted its tail and well you can pretty much connect the dots from there.

Now the smell would probably have been pretty much confined to the garage, but for the fact she grabbed her plastic dish and ran into the house.  Unfortunately, some of the perfum de skunk was on or in the bowl, and she dripped it through the foyer, before realizing her mistake.  I was working night shift, when she called to tell me her tale (tail would work here too) of woe.  "I don't think it's too bad though", were her fateful words, "just kind of smells a bit garlicky."

I knew we were in trouble when I could smell skunk, half a mile from home the next morning.  The missus has a keen sense of smell, but she was obviously just too close to the situation -- it was truly noxious.  

This was one of those foolish times, when I had agreed to teach the next day, after working a night shift -- oh the silly things I've done in my life!

So I made my lunch, changed my clothes and off I headed to the local school to teach grade 3/4.  I was only nicely in the door, when people started asking if I could smell skunk.  So I had to tell my story, and there was no point in returning home for another set of clothing, because everything I owned was christened with the joyous odour of Pepe Le Pew. 

I made it through that day relatively unscathed, the kids smelled it initially and then it just became one of the classroom scents, and I'm not sure any of them made the connection directly to their teacher.  I know I remained mum on the subject.

Okay, so now you have the backdrop, in place, to my yesterday.  

Booked by the same teacher for the same class (how coincidental was that!!) I started my day in the usual manner.  Up, shower, shave, dress, pack the lunch, -- oh and it's Thursday, better put the garbage out on the side of the road.  There wasn't much garbage in the upstairs can, so I thought I might as well fill it from the can in my workroom in the basement.  We pay for garbage pickup by weight, so I like to stuff the bags as full as I can -- old Mr. Frugal. 

I'm not sure what got dumped into the downstairs can, but as I dumped it into the bag, there was some liquid spilled on the side of the bag.  This can has been there basically since we moved in, and usually only gets the water softener salt bags.  Anyway I don't know if a mouse crawled in, died and then liquified or if someone accidently dropped a package of meat from the freezer into it -- who knows! And do the logistics really matter, at this conjecture in time, point is, it was RIPE.

I took the bag to the curb and thought nothing more about it, until.....  "What's that smell?"  This from my wife as I'm sitting typing at the computer.  "Oh must have been the garbage," I replied.  I forgot to mention, that my sense of smell is not great for the first hour or so in the morning.

I'd already washed my hands, so I thought, maybe I'd better change my shirt too.  So I did that and then headed off to school.  I could smell something, but I thought it must just be lingering in the air or maybe just cloyed in my nose.  

As I unpacked my bag and changed into my shoes, I spied the telltale stain on the cuff of my pants and reality suddenly dawned its ugliness upon me.  What to do - too late to go home and change.   I quickly went to the washroom and got a damp paper towel and cleaned the offending area as best I could and sprayed a little of the available air freshener on it.  Little did I realize I was just diluting and revitalizing the whole horrid stench.  It was kind of one of those times, "I'm aware of it, but hopefully it's that bad".

My new theme song from yesterday

The first order of the day was to get some photocopying done in the photocopy room.  Murphy was firmly perched on my shoulder.  That copier was out of service.  So this left the only available one in the staff room.  I was only in there a moment, before I started hearing "What's that smell?"  Still sort of in denial, I kept copying or should I say, attempted to keep copying.  This photocopier was functional, but just barely.  And it was just like in class, when something technical breaks down, ten little people jump up to help you.  Only this time it was ten very helpful teachers, all jumping in to assist, all the while complaining to each other about the awful smell in the staff room.  

Then an announcement came over the PA system that they were investigating the smell in the school, and would turn the air conditioning fans on to try to dissipate it before the students arrived.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Okay it wasn't me, there was something else fouling up the air in the school.  Perhaps Murphy had found another shoulder to perch upon.

Back in my class room, the awful truth started to sink in.  It was ME!  How could one little spot on the cuff of my pants permeate an entire building.  The shoulder that Murphy had found was just my other one.

So I made my decision, I would just stay cloistered in my room all day, teach from the far corner, go home and never admit anything.  And that is pretty much what I tried to do.

Of course the kids complained about stinky socks etc, when they entered the room, but they didn't seem to equate it with me fortunately.  And that was kind of what it was like, like you had worn a pair of socks for about two weeks without changing them, and then dumped a pound of rotting hamburger in, just for good measure.

A teacher I had supplied for last week, popped in to ask if I would mind helping her mark the art project we did that day, on my break.  "Gee you've sure got someone with stinky socks in here today."  Blush and mumble agreement.

By recess, I wasn't noticing it so bad, and I welcomed the opportunity of yard duty.  Great, a chance to get out and get the final whiffs carried away by the Mother Nature's breezes.  Not to be.  Murphy insisted I trail through the snow to talk to some offending reprobates tossing sticks at each other.

Snow melts when you come inside, and my pant stain returned to malodourous life, as the heat worked its magic.  And now I have to mark that cursed art in close proximity with another teacher, who is suddenly going to realize that the stinky sock smell from my room is now suspiciously following me.  I admitted nothing, but I did note, she kept a healthy distance, as she recorded the marks I called out.

I can just imagine the staff room conversation today, thank goodness I got called to a different school.  Get off Murphy... go visit someone else for a day, a week, a fortnight, a year!

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lady Catherine Booth Wharton

I showed you one of my more handsome forefathers a few blogs back.  It's always good to give a balance in life.  Here is a photo of my great great grandmother, Lady Catherine Booth Wharton.

There is not a lot of information that has come to light, but it is known that when she married my great great grandfather Cooper, it was with considerable reservation she left England to come to the wilds of North America.  Apparently she did come to Parry Sound eventually, but then refused to move further north along the Great North Road, a colonization road out into the wilderness of McKellar.

 This may possibly be her wedding day, on June 30th, 1852, judging by the clothing ensemble.  

Unfortunately a picture has never surfaced of her husband. 

What follows now are some of the notes I have on Lady Catherine and her husband Richard Cooper from various researchers and other sources:


Catherine was always referred to as 'Lady'  Catherine Booth Wharton by Lillian Bell, nee Cooper
from Along Memory Lane with the Hagerman People Volume I


From the Parry Sound North Star, Wednesday, July 13, 1994, by John Macfie

English immigrant Richard Cooper and his son Thomas Richard landed in Parry Sound when the town was in its infancy.  A tinsmith by trade, Richard found employment for a while with "Governor" William Beatty, sawmill owner, general merchant and town father.  About 1870 he joined the land rush up the newly surveyed Great North Colonization Road and where the ox trail crossed a cool creek a mile or so south of Dunchurch, he claimed his homestead.  That stream which bisected his 120 acre lot as it wound its way to Whitestone Lake, has been known since settlement days as The Jordan.  Whether it was Cooper or some thirsty wayfarer who blessed the stream with its Biblical name is now forgotten, but Cooper's Hill where southbound travelers leaving its valley often had to rest their horses, certainly does commemorate Richard Cooper - even though improvements to Highway 124 have now all but leveled it, and only the oldest citizens still refer to its former location as Cooper's Hill.

LCBW and daughter

Once settled, Cooper sent for his wife Catherine and their daughter, who had remained behind in England.  Family lore has it that Catherine was so appalled by conditions here that she quickly returned to England, but in the end came back to stay - perhaps after her husband promised to give up trying to make a farm out of his rough and rocky location, and return to making a living as a craftsman.
The school's initial intake of pupils, including Arthur Millin's daughter Mary, and to continue the story I quote from a memoir she wrote nearly 50 years later.

" All they needed now was a teacher.  So they thought Mr Cooper (an old English gentleman) would just suit for the job, so they engaged him to take charge of the school.  And the school was opened in the fall of 1875 if I remember right.  With a row of girls and boys sitting close together holding books and slates in their hands.  And Mr Cooper undertook to make seats and desks while he taught us, brought his tools and glue to put up a work bench to the side of the school.  So he would give us a lesson and his glue pot on the stove  and go to his carpentering.  Thus we learned our lessons ... as a general thing he was quiet and patient with us but 'woe be unto' the one who dared to try his patience too much for he always kept a birch limb by him."

(see perhaps my urge to beat insolent school children is genetic)


from Kirk Quinn - cousin and Cooper researcher:

To the best of my knowledge, few if any of the descendants of Richard Cooper (born in 1818) have a great amount of information concerning the Coopers in England. Many may know that both Richard and his wife Catherine were from Cloughton, Yorkshire and their children were born in Hunmanby, Yorkshire; that Richard was a tinsmith before he was a school teacher in Dunchurch, Ontario; and that ‘Lady’ Catherine Booth Wharton came from a family with marine interests.

Census records list Thomas’ son, Richard Cooper, as a blacksmith, tinsmith, and ironmonger - all attributing to his metal working skills. Richard is noted in Hunmanby history as instrumental in bringing gas lighting to the town. In 1852 he married Catherine Wharton in their home town of Cloughton, Yorkshire. Catherine Booth Wharton had been born in 1817 to a Yorkshire shipbuilder named William Wharton and his wife Catherine Hill. Richard and Catherine were married in the Cloughton Chapel on June 30, 1852. (A copy of the Marriage Registration Record exists).

In 1855 their first son was born in Hunmanby. Thomas William Cooper was named after both of his grandfathers.


from the Ottawa Mormon Family Historical Research Centre

Catherine's death certificate is on file # 011718 on microfilm.

following facts:

-died Sept 03, 1888
-73 years old
-born in Cloughton, England
-died of old age diarrhea for 10 days
-Church of England 


That doesn't seem a very dignified epitaph for the matriarch of the Cooper clan, but it is about all the information that has presented itself. 

As mentioned Lady Catherine died on September 3, 1888, and is buried in Parry Sound, Ontario, in the Upper Hillcrest Cemetery beside her late husband Richard Cooper.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Horseless Carriage - Necessary Evils in a Modern World

On my drive to work yesterday morning I came across two vehicles in the ditch.  The first fellow was out of his vehicle and talking on the cell phone and the second, the ambulance had already arrived.  The roads were not great, but neither were they terrible, a bit of snow -- slow down accordingly, I say.  The first one, I had trouble feeling much pity.  He had tailgated me for several miles.  I turned off the main drag to drop my wife off at her destination, and when I got back on the road, about a mile up, there he sat in the ditch.  Perhaps my reduced speed should have been a warning!?

I got thinking about the countless miles and hours we spend in our vehicles, and how our dependable cars get us from point A to point B, every day, pretty much without incident.  My mind goes back over the automobiles I've owned.  Don't get me wrong, I am really not a car,  van or truck enthusiast, but perhaps it is time to pay homage to the long line of vehicles that have delivered me safely to date.

I had just landed my first real job, fresh out of college and needed a vehicle to get me back and forth to work.  My oldest brother, an auto mechanic, found me an old green GM truck, that his company was wanting to get rid of.  Never deal with family members.  For $750 I got a piece of junk that should have gone straight to the scrap yard.  It worked dependably for about a week and then started leaving me stranded.  So unfortunately I don't have the fond memories of my first vehicle that some folks do.

In need of something at least slightly road worthy, I sunk $3000 of my hard earned shekels into a little red Chevette ( I know you were hoping Corvette).  My brothers used to laugh and call it my 'Shove It'.  But I liked my little red tin can on wheels.  It was a comfortable little buggy and very economical to run.  It did have a weakness in the brakes department, and I had to have them done on a fairly regular basis.  Probably the most interesting cargo I ever carried, was two little Angus calves, that I'd purchased from a nearby dairy farm.  I was going to make my fortune in the veal industry and this was the only way I had of transporting them home.  It was risky business, but as I recall both boys held their little bladders and other things, until we arrived safely home.

No that is not me, but you get the idea!

My next vehicle was another Chevette (see I told you I liked them).  This one was a little sportier, wine with vinyl racing stripes down the side, and considerably newer.  Not much stands out in my mind in regards to this vehicle, but I guess, no news must have been basically good news.

I was getting more and more into farming at this point, and there was a distinct need for a truck.  I was also single and earning fairly good money (or so I thought).  I wanted a new vehicle.  So it was off to North Bay to the Toyota dealership.  Toyota trucks came in very few colours, and I narrowed it down to red, grey or blue, my first three choices.  Wouldn't you know it, none were immediately available, but there was a white one that they could deliver in the next week.  Think about it, white..... farm truck.  Obviously, I didn't.  The thrill of being the potential owner of a brand spanking new truck was too great.

My Toyota was terrific for the first couple of years I owned it, then the box began to rust along the midseam, and I don't mean just a little bit.  This was a major flaw in the late 1980 model Toyota trucks.  I probably should have taken it back to the dealership and demanded something be done about it.  However at that point in time, I had other things on my mind -- namely a certain lady, who would shortly drive to Prince Edward Island in said Toyota truck, with me on our honeymoon.
Tin Lizzie and the new bride

 I'm kind of getting ahead of myself here though too.  As well as the Toyota, I picked up a 3/4 ton Ford truck from a co-worker.  Her husband had just died suddenly.  He had this truck that he used for hauling scrap metal.  She knew I was looking for a vehicle for around the farm, and she no longer had any need for something that heavy duty.  So Tin Verna became mine (Verna named after the former owner).  Tin Verna could handle quite a load of hay, fifty bales or better if you stacked carefully. So there I was with two WHITE farm vehicles.  To distinguish, the Toyota became known as Tin Lizzie.  

Tin Lizzie with terminal rust ( do you really think the picture is about the truck?)

Tin Verna performed faithfully for many years, just around the farm and the feed and dump run.  Of course there was the one six hour excursion when I moved across the province.  Here we came, a veritable cavalcade of trucks, Dad with his GMC, the missus with the Toyota and me with Tin Verna.  All three trucks were loaded to the gunnels.  I neglected to tell the other two drivers that my Tin Verna had rather limited brakes, didn't want them to worry.  All I can say is, I was never so glad to finally arrive safely, and Tin Verna rarely ventured far from the new farm again.

When the news hit us that we would soon be parents, the Toyota really did not suffice as a family vehicle.  My father-in-law was able to find us a hardly used Ford Topaz, driven by a little old lady on Sunday afternoons.  Well perhaps I hyperbolize slightly, but it was in fairly mint condition.  The most noteworthy feature I remember of this car was its propensity to rupture a wheel bearing at the most inopportune times.  The last one I recall was on the coldest morning of the year, on my way home from a twelve hour night shift. I heard it start to grind, and rode that sucker all the way home.  I'm sure the neighbours heard me coming five minutes before I arrived and of course I did major damage to the spline.


With two small daughters, the two door Topaz was not feasible. Strapping babies into car seats while straddling the front seats was neither pretty nor ergonomically wise.  At work, they occasionally held raffles to get the opportunity to purchase (usually quite reasonably)  their used, but still useful vehicles.  I was the lucky winner of a 1990 silver Ford Taurus.  This was a great family car for several years.

Times were pretty good, and we decided to join the trend and become minivan owners.  I recalled the thrill of new vehicle ownership from the Tin Lizzie days, so we headed off the the dealership and came back with a beautiful new maroon Plymouth Voyager van - ah that new vehicle smell!  

Unfortunately my two new vehicles have neither had great starts to life.  I hit a deer, or rather the deer hit me, in the first month of ownership, with the Toyota.  Three weeks after we purchased the Plymouth, my three year old daughter decided it was a nice big canvas to draw a happy face on....with a stone.  Needless to say that was the last happy face she saw that particular day.  The only other noteworthy adventure, with this van, was the fire under the hood on the four lane highway in front of the Corel Center in Ottawa.  

Although they were able to fix the van, the smell of burnt plastic was always there and we soon dealt it, on the Dodge Caravan we drive to date.

The other two vehicles I must mention are the two trucks that came after Tin Lizzie and Tin Verna met their final demise.  The first was a maroon Ford Ranger, a good serviceable little vehicle that transported me back and forth to work for several years and moved many bags of chicken feed, wood and whatever else was required of it.

The second is the Dodge Dakota I presently drive.  She's a bit of a gas-hungry little beast, but again very serviceable.  When we moved two years ago, she made 68 trips between the two houses, moving all the furniture and trip after trip of perennial plants to their new location. 

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

A Little Farmer

I was a farmer when I was four.  I was the proud owner of a herd of cows and fine green-roofed barn.  Of course the fact that my cows were plastic, may be important to you, but it wasn't to me.  They were just as real as the cattle out in the barnyard and they didn't require the daily attention that the real ones needed.  However, I doubt that there were many days that went by, that my cows suffered neglect.

All that is left of my beautiful herd!

I recall my first set of farm animals was made of  a very hard, opaque plastic, carefully molded and hand painted.  They were by far the nicest specimens.  There was one Holstein cow and her calf, a red bull (who ever after was the herd sire, despite the fact that many more bulls came and went), a white goat, a white horse with a black tail and mane, several sheep and a piece of brown rail fence with tufts of grass at the base of the posts.

The next set I recall getting was a Christmas present from Mom.  Somehow I found out about them prior to Christmas, probably from squeezing the packages!  I know I played with them a few times prior to Christmas morning, being careful to retape the package, each time.  I'm not sure whether Mom was aware of my shenanigans or not.  She probably was, and it was likely one of those "Don't tell your father about it" situations.

Every few months, I would add a few more critters to my menagerie.  For fifty cents, I could increase my herd by three cows, a bull, a horse, a goat, chickens and two lengths of white board fence.  Most packs came with one lying-down cow and two standers.  Because our real herd was a motley rainbow-coloured group, my paintbrush and oil paints soon worked their magic on my little beasts. 

My barn was a gift from a neighbour lady.  Her children had outgrown it and I still remember her taking me to her attic and offering it to me.  The barn did not survive my rough play too long, but most of the cattle did, although some lost body parts.  When Dad would dehorn the young cattle on the farm, my toys had to suffer the same indignity.  Unfortunately my veterinary skills were somewhat over-zealous and more than one cow had her ears, as well as her horns, lopped off.

A few years ago, I spied the same barn at a garage sale and purchased it, purely for nostalgia.

About the same time a fire claimed the home of farming friends.   My wife went through my farm toys and packed a bag for the little boy.  Even at this point, I doubt anyone will ever realize what a sacrifice that was for me.  Here I was an adult, able to buy any material possessions that I might desire, begrudging a poor little lad that had just lost his home and all of his toys, the simple pleasure of a few of my old friends.

Every once in a while I go on Ebay and check out the listings for 'plastic farm animals' just for old time's sake.  There is nothing like a trip down nostalgia lane.

And that is all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Perfect Tea Biscuits

If you've ever had a meal at Red Lobster, you'll understand what I am about to discuss.  Their tea biscuits are the best!

Tea biscuits add a certain something to any meal and they are so simple to make.  They are great with soup or stew, or just by themselves with Cheez Whiz (yes that is about processed cheese's only desirable function in my humble opinion) or slathered with jam.

Mom taught me how to make tea biscuits,although mine are rarely as light and fluffy as her creations were.  It is a tried and true recipe, found in her old Purity Cookbook, copyright 1932.  My particular revision is from 1945.  I'm assuming it may have been a wedding gift for Mom in 1947.   Below is a picture of the open pages with the tea biscuit recipe.  It is just about as stained as the pages for Chocolate Cake.

The funny thing is that the book just about falls open at this spot on its own; the binding is definitely cracked between pages 24 and 25. 

So there are just five simple ingredients, and yes even the most minimally stocked kitchen should have them all.  I see in the margin of the book, some childish handwriting, doubling the given amount for each ingredient.  I'm not sure whether it was my writing from years ago, or one of my daughters (although they have only tried the recipe a time or two, more on that to follow).

The recipe, as transcribed straight from the text:

2 cups sifted Purity Flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-4 tablespoons shortening
2/3 cup milk

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Cut in the shortening with a knife or pastry blender until mixture resembles fine cornmeal. 

Add milk to make a soft dough (do not over-mix).

Turn dough on to lightly floured board and knead slightly.  Roll 1/2-1/4 inch thick and cut with a floured cutter.

Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet, 1 -  1 1/2 inches apart if crusty biscuits are desired, otherwise no space need be allowed.  Bake in a hot oven (425 - 450 F) for 10-15 minutes. 

So there you have it the purist Purity version.

However I've done a lot of deviations over time; most have been successful.

For example, the batch I photographed for this blog, I used whole wheat flour.  You may need a couple tablespoons more milk to moisten whole wheat properly.

Baking powder, I usually tend to be on the generous side.  Four heaping teaspoons will make them lighter and fluffier.  My daughter wanted to learn how to make tea biscuits, so I volunteered to teach her.  However, one should never assume anything with a young cook.  I was obviously distracted doing something else when she added the leavening.  Her biscuits looked fine coming out of the oven, but the first bite was not so great.  She had substituted baking soda for baking powder -- most definitely a no-no!  The chickens enjoyed that particular batch.

Shortening, I rarely use.  I prefer margarine.  Make sure you cut it into the flour/BP/salt mixture thoroughly with a pastry cutter before you add the milk.  Always err to the generous side when adding margarine.

Milk must be added all at once, the dough mixed quickly and just until it holds together.  Over-mixing is what makes a hard, tough biscuit.

Roll the dough out on the floured counter. The dough should be soft and a bit sticky. Toss a bit of flour on top of the ball of dough before you start rolling, to keep the rolling pin from sticking.  I rarely roll it any thinner than 1/2 an inch, as I like nice tall biscuits.  I use just an ordinary drinking class to cut the circles with.  Mom used to have a tin can that she kept in the top of the old wood cook-stove specifically for cutting biscuits.  You can roll the scraps up and make another biscuit or two after the initial cutting (but be aware, these will be tougher and harder because of the additional handling).  If you prefer square biscuits, roll your dough out and cut it accordingly.

I usually don't bake much higher than 400 F.  Just keep an eye on your biscuits, you want them just to be starting to turn golden brown on the top, no more.  If you have one of those baking stones, they are excellent, but may require a few more minutes in the stove for heating up.  We used to have one of those, but we discovered that while they are hard to break, it is not impossible.  We keep threatening to get another one, but to date it hasn't happened.  The old pizza pans still turn out a good product.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Happy 80th Orma

Just after Christmas, I challenged the missus to write a list of ten people in her life who have influenced her positively and helped create happy memories.  Of course, I had already made my list (and I was secretly wanting to see if I made her list).

Well one of the people on my list just celebrated an 80th birthday this past week, and I want to share with you why Orma made my top ten list.

photo courtesy Tom North
Actually she and her husband, Don, shared this spot, because you really can't name one without the other.  They are just one of those teams you can't separate.

From what I can see on Facebook, and hear from relatives, quite an occasion was celebrated in the local community for Orma.  This is one of the times I wished I lived a little closer.

You see, this is a couple that everyone knows and loves.  Orma is probably best known for her cooking skills and Don for his unfailing sense of humour.

Orma Margaret Audrey Francis Crisp was born Jan 17th, 1931 to Frank and Margaret Crisp, the youngest of five children.

I went to my family tree maker file to get information on Don and Orma (Don is my second cousin) and found I had very little data.  I'll have to rectify that situation.  I was able to locate Don and Orma's wedding picture, but have no idea of the date.  I know they celebrated their 50th anniversary some time in the last ten years, so I would put the wedding picture circa 1950-1955.

photo courtesy Macil Moore
And here is the 50th anniversary photo, scanned from
another relative's photo album.  Again unfortunately no date was included.

I love this next photo of Don.  Too many of his photos, he is on his best behaviour, not so in this case.  The jolly grin you see here is the real Don.  The dog which is no longer with us, was one of Don's projects.  Through a lot of patience and treats, he was able to have her say "Or-ma".  And it was a very believable sound. The 'Or' kind of from the back of  her throat and 'ma', just as she closed her lips.

 This next photo is just one of those candid shots that captures the couple's character so well.  Don has obviously just made some foolish remark, judging by the silly grin on his face, and Orma is doing her silent, shaking laughter over her spouse's silliness.

But I've got the horse way ahead of the cart.  I wanted to tell you why they were such a positive influence in my life.

After they were married, Don and Orma farmed on the Quinn farm located on the east shore of Whitestone lake for several years.  Then the old Marshall Dobbs farm came up for sale, south of the village on the Farley Sideroad.  This was about the era I start to recall.  Actually I can remember going with Dad to visit Marshall Dobbs just prior to his death (a farming accident, involving a runaway team of horses, I believe).  What my early recollection recalls is a roll of Maple Leaf, wax-covered bologna sitting on his kitchen table.  It is funny the way our early memories are so distinct and selective.

I think I do recall visiting Don and Orma at their old farm, but it was this new residence that imprints itself on my mind.

We did not have a television in our house, but Don and Orma did.  I'm not sure why we were allowed to watch TV at their house, when the devil's box was not allowed in ours, but anyway, we did.  On occasion our family would drop in for a visit on Saturday or Sunday night.  I'd politely listen to the adult conversation for a few minutes and then quietly ask Orma if I could watch TV.  Then I would slip into their living room, turn on the old black and white and watch what was left of Bugs Bunny or Walt Disney.

I also loved to visit their place in the winter, when their calves started to arrive.  Don always maintained a sturdy herd of Hereford cross beef cows.  Their barn was always clean, and the new calves healthy, lively and everyone of them pets.  Don and Orma loved their animals, and spent the time with them to make them quiet and docile.

As soon as I was strong enough to lift a bale of hay, Don started to hire me to help each summer in haying season. It was hard work, but Don paid well, he was always pleasant, humourous and understanding, and meals were part of the deal.

Did I mention that meals were part of the deal?  Orma was just as busy as the rest of us in the field and hay-mow.  She drove the trucks and loaded bales on to the elevator.  She would leave the last of the load and head to the house, while the rest of us finished up.  I'm not sure how she did it, but in fifteen minutes, a feast would appear on the table.  She obviously spent a lot of time the night before, and early in the morning, prior to the dew's departure, cooking and baking.  If we were working at another farm, then the picnic basket would arrive heaped with all manner of goodies, enough to see us through a long hot day in the hay field.

When our family got invited for a weekend evening meal, things got even better.  It was always a meat, potatoes and two or three vegetable meal.  There was always pickles, usually refrigerator coleslaw, cheese ......... and desert.  Oh the deserts!  Orma, undisputably, made the best pies in the district, probably the whole county and possibly even the province.

After an evening of pleasant conversation (and some TV in my case), Orma would always ask if anyone wanted coffee.  I do not recall an incident where that was ever refused. A second meal would magically appear. Orma's cookies were unparalleled and her butter tarts, sheer ambrosia. And that would suffice for a week or two.

It wouldn't be long though, until I would casually suggest to Mom and Dad that we should go visit Don and Orma again.  And you know, it was never a hard job convincing them either.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Curse of Modern Conveniences

The other day I was listening to a radio host talking about the good old days, one hundred years ago.  He mentioned there were only 8000 cars in the world and 144 miles of paved road in total.  I got to thinking, life must have been so much simpler without all the modern equipment, machines, motors and gadgets.  I'm not saying it was easier, not by any means, but it had to be simpler.

I thought about all the equipment that makes up the trappings of modern society.  As I started to list all the modern conveniences, my thoughts were, the more we have, the more we have to go wrong

Maybe what sparked this whole vein of thinking was the snow-blower, with the leaking gas line, that the king of procrastination has to get fixed.  Oh yes and there's the water softener, that is flooding the brine tank and not really softening the water. The three wheeler that won't start, and needs to be disposed of.

But then I also also remembered all the things that are working and working well and making my modern existence comfortable.  Let's see there are the two vehicles, the lawn tractor, the push mower, the rototiller, the washing machine, the dryer, the dishwasher, the microwave oven, the oven, the fridge, two freezers, the air conditioner, the pump, the pool pump, the sump pump,  the furnace, the dehumidifier, the stereo, the TV's, VCR and DVD players, the computer, the printer, vacuum cleaner, chain saw, whipper snipper, hedge trimmer, chop saw, garage door openers and the hot water tank.  Whew, I'm tired out just thinking of all the labour-saving devices I actually own.

Any one of these items begin to malfunction and our lives slide into major inconvenience mode.  We probably can't go more than a couple of days without vehicles.  A week without the major household appliances would be reasonable grounds for divorce in this day and age.  A season without the lawn and garden equipment, would have us reclassified or maybe just certified as red necks.

But then what about all the little gadgets: camera, cell phone, hair dryer, curling iron, hair straightener ( I wouldn't miss that one), dust buster, toaster oven, coffee maker, tea kettle, can opener, circular saw, electric drill, jigsaw, flash lights, answering machine, remote controls, clocks, phones, electric toothbrush, clippers, and razor

If any of these smaller items go on the fritz, we don't really panic.  We just toss the offending item, rush out and buy a new improved version with ten times the capacity or speed, complete with all those useless bells and whistles, that we'll never need or take the time to learn.

We all complain about the 'busyness' of our lives and the stresses of modern living.  How many of these same dilemmas faced our forefathers? 

Tranportation: well you had to keep the horse fed. You had to grow your own. Hence your plough and scythe had to be kept sharp. Shoes and boots were hard to come by. You either had to make them yourself or get a cobbler to do the job for you.  And there wasn't just you, your significant other and your 1.8 perfect children.  There was a whole brood. You had to grow enough food to keep them all somewhat healthy, and hand sew every stitch of clothing they had on their skinny backs.

Gardening: you had to keep your hoe and axe sharp.  Everything from the garden had to be preserved for winter. Wood had to be chopped, split and carried home, and you were probably never truly comfortable from November to May. 

Household appliances.  You had to keep your lantern chimneys clean and wicks trimmed. If you had the foresight and storage space you might have cut ice blocks in the winter for your summer icebox.  The scrub board saw a lot of skinned knuckles and red, chapped hands.  The clothesline wasn't just an energy-saving afterthought.  Central heating was the fireplace in the middle of the room, which fought valiantly to stave the frost from the doors and windows. 

As for the gadgets, well lets see: if you were wealthy you might have an apple parer, so you could at least have a bit of dried fruit in the winter. A straight razor gave you the smoothest shave once a week, albeit you did risk the possibility of a slashed jugular vein.

Communication: well you visited regularly with the neighbours.  You dropped in on people and shared Sunday dinners.  Bees were neighbourly gatherings, where barns were raised or quilts were quilted.  Blackberries were wild fruit that you picked alongside bears and raccoons.
"How many of our problems are a result of abundance and plenty?"~Boyd.  Thus started my sister-in-law's Facebook post the other morning.  Obviously we were tuned into the same wavelength.  So I got to thinking about the things on my to-do list, right now.  You know the things that are nagging away at the back of your mind -- round-to-its so to speak.

My great grandfather didn't worry about the gas line on his snowblower.  He just hoped he could somehow get the horse and cutter through the storm to fetch the doctor to attend his sick child.  

Soft water wasn't even a concept he was aware of.  Just make sure there was a bucket of drinking water in the house, and the waterhole chopped out for the livestock to drink.  

So I guess I'll quit my whining, load the snow-blower on the back of the truck and take it to someone in the next county, who better understands what he's doing.  The water softener toll-free number is right beside the unit. I better grab the cell phone and give that fellow a shout.  And since none of the neighbours can translate smoke signal lingo anymore and the Pony Express does not pass by our door, I best blog these thoughts your way.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.