Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I love my wheelbarrow

Of all the tools I use in the garden, this wheelbarrow is my favourite. I appreciate my other tools, for the ways they help me do my work, but I feel affection for this wheelbarrow. Not our plain metal barrow, or the heavy black one that we use to haul rocks, but this light, agile plastic green one. Somehow just seeing this wheelbarrow in the garden makes me happy.

I love its colours: green bucket and orange wheel. Throw in a blue-handled shovel and you have enough colour to brighten a gloomy October day. I love its graceful and simple lines - there's nothing bulky or awkward about it. And it's the perfect size and weight for me. Any bigger and I would end up pushing a load too heavy for my joints. This wheelbarrow keeps me in check, in a good way.

This wheelbarrow has seen me through four massive fall clean-ups of the perennial gardens, and is about to see me through number five. It's my partner in clean-up. When the job is finished this wheelbarrow and I will survey the garden we have put to rest for the winter and feel satisfaction in the job we have done together.

I love my wheelbarrow.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Thanks to the inspiration of Ann at Shim Farm, who reminded me of the pleasures of Lopi, and my friend Elisabeth, who knits socks that are works of art, I recently rooted through my long-forgotten box of knitting supplies, dug out my needles and knit this shawl.

It seems the familiar Leave Things 90% Unfinished Syndrome that governs our home renovations applies to knitting projects, too. The shawl got almost finished quite quickly, but then it stalled, with strand ends waiting to be woven in and the fringe undone. Finally I got my act together and finished it off one day (and took the photo you see), only to come home from tutoring the next day to the news that Frankie had decided it looked awfully soft and cozy and had dragged it off the back of a chair with his paws and snuggled with it on the floor, in the process creating a number of pulls and bobbles. Oh well. Nothing that can't be fixed. After all, people (and that includes dogs) are more important than things.

I mostly knit the shawl in front of the TV, which made the process of watching the latest episode of Boardwalk Empire less of a frivolous use of my time. Does anyone just sit and knit, without something else going on? That's a bit too stultifying for me, and there's only so much TV I am willing to watch. So my new favourite thing to do while knitting is to listen to an audiobook on my ipod. Which I did on my recent trip to Calgary, which involved about 50 hours on a train. What a perfect combination: the rock of the train, spectacular scenery passing by the windows, being read a good book with a pair of needles in my hands, learning to cable knit.

And speaking of needles, I have learned of the pleasures of wooden needles, which somehow feel more fitting in my fingers than metal or (gasp!) plastic ones. They make it easier to channel the spirit of Laura, which is part of the fun.

The next project? Another scarf, with wool made of merino and silk, in a shade of green to bring out the sparkle in my honey's eyes.

Monday, October 15, 2012


If you're not tired of fall colours and the beauty of decay, here are two more photos for you, of a nameless scrubby shrub growing in the wilds at the front of our property. Judging by their ethereal state, especially compared to the foliage around them, I think these leaves might actually be from last year, somehow surviving through the winter thanks to the protection of the large trees overhanging them.

Click on the photos to see larger versions, so you can really appreciate the lacy beauty of these ghost leaves.

I'll be away for the next little while - I'm off the Calgary to visit family and attend parts of this. Until I see you again, stay warm and dry!

Friday, October 12, 2012

The colours of fall

For a recovering perfectionist, I think it's sort of remarkable that I love a garden in the fall as much as I do. After all, autumn gardens are full of falling over, turning brown, self-denuding plants.

There are still splashes of colour, like the rudbeckia and the asters, which bloomed just in time for the Big Party. (How did they know?)

The hydrangea are still going strong...

...as are the gallardia that I grew from seed this year.

But even the plants that have officially called it quits and are dancing slowly into wilt and decay have their own beauty, like the dogwood.

And the peonies! Compared to how this plant looked in June this may seem like nothing much, but as much as peonies are my favourite flower in the garden, I find I am pausing much longer to admire the beauty of the foliage in its last weeks of life.

It's awfully tempting to draw a parallel between my feelings about the fall garden and about turning fifty. But cliche or not, there's something to it. From this perspective, the June garden, as fresh and glorious as it may be, seems to shout "Look at me! Look at me!", which seems a little tedious from here. On the other hand, the autumn garden is full of plants that have a different kind of splendour - less show, more dignity. A kind of beauty that factors in the places the bugs have nibbled, the edges that have become crispy, the spots that are bare, and through the calculation that is life, comes to an answer even more precious than short-lived June blossoms.

My garden continues to teach me, and I am listening hard.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


We haven't had any significant rain for months. People think of southern Vancouver Island as being wet, wet, wet, and it is (usually) through the winter. But our summers are traditionally hot and dry, and this particular summer doesn't seem to be ending when it comes to the "dry" part.

It has been so dry people are worrying about the state of their wells and aquifers, and some communities that haven't ever been to Stage 3 water restrictions are now on Stage 4, which means no outdoor watering of any kind for any reason. It has been so dry there are concerns that our local river, the Cowichan River, doesn't have enough water for the returning salmon to make it upstream for spawning, so volunteers are hand-carrying salmon in crates up the river.

But now - now there is this.

If you can't quite read it, don't worry, The important part is the row of weather symbols along the top. Can you see it? Rain! Three days of rain, beginning on Friday.

Of course forecasts and reality are sometimes different things, but the regular appearance of the rain icon over the next fourteen days is giving me hope. I'll let you know what happens.

Now I just have to find my umbrella.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jam, jam, jam

The windows are a bit steamy these days thanks to all the canning that has been going on, starting with a wheelbarrow full of Cox Orange Pippin apples and 20 pounds of crab apples from the trees here at Mucky Boots.

And then there were those 45 pounds of Italian plums courtesy of my dad's plum tree.

Yes, you read that right: 45 pounds. Last week we spent an afternoon picking them and then two days making plum butter and a couple of kinds of plum jam. Kim, bless her heart, split and pitted somewhere between 850 and 900 plums, and together we cooked and mashed and stirred and processed, and now we have 50 half-pints of plummy sweetness filling the shelves in our cold storage room.

The crab apples have been made into juice, which has been canned until either I have time to make it into jelly or we drink it (which, since it is unsweetened, should send the Tart Meter into the red zone).

We have only just begun on the apples: one big bucket-full has given us almost two-dozen jars of dark, spicy apple butter, and there is an awful lot left to process. The rest will go to apple sauce or will be dried. And even though we'll have plenty for ourselves and to give away, we're feeling a little sad that this year's harvest is less than half that of previous years, because our beloved grand dame Pink Lady tree has succumbed to the massive damage done when a bear climbed it last fall to get the two apples we hadn't been able to reach at the top. As Harry, our master-pruner friend said the other week when he had a look, the tree had been living with a minor case of blight which speedily took over the tree once it was damaged, and now even the few limbs that survived the bear are dead or dying. The tree needs to come down, and that will be a sad, sad day at Mucky Boots.

As if to compensate, our other distinguished old tree, the Cox Orange Pippin, presented us with a bountiful barrow-full of big, fat apples. They are a more utilitarian apple than the Pink Ladies: they are naturally much drier, and consequently good for dehydrating and storing. They don't have the sweet, juicy flesh and amazing flavour of the Pink Ladies, but we're grateful for them nonetheless.

And so the pantry is filling up again with jars and jars of jam, jam, jam - far more than we could ever eat. But half the fun is giving them away.

Can you say "Christmas presents?"

Friday, October 5, 2012


I grew melons this year.

I still can't believe it. I can't believe it's possible to live in Canada and grow melons. I grew four of them, only the size of a softball but full of melon-y fragrance and taste. The essence of melon-ness.

Next year I'm trying pineapple.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Please understand that "finished" is a flexible term here at Mucky Boots. By "finished" we generally mean something that is functional and largely complete except for a few details we'll eventually get around to. We hope.

Our goal was to get the Last Big Project completed before the big birthday party, and even though it was a lot of work, and an ambitious deadline, and we both got really tired and grumpy, we got it finished. Er, sort of. We still need to sort out how to change the fluorescent light fixtures in the mud room and the laundry room to something more charming, and then do a more straightforward light fixture change in the powder room.

Speaking of the powder room, here's what it used to look like. If you're not a really long time reader of the blog, you might want to check out the story about the day we removed the old sink, only to discover that not only had it been tiled in, it had been drywalled in. And, even worse, the studs had been notched out to accommodate it. My oh my.

Finally, two-and-a-half years after demolition, here's the after. If this photo looks strange, it's because it is strange: the room is so tight I had to stand on the verandah and take the photo through the window screen.

By the time we were ready to install the new vanity we thought we were coasting downhill. I should know by now that's a dangerous thought. Because the drain pipe coming from the wall was low enough we would have had to drill a really big hole in the shelf of the vanity to allow enough room for the p-trap. Naturally, we didn't want to do that, so we got clever and sawed an inch off the legs instead, and opted for a p-trap without a clean-out which saved us another inch. Problem solved! Of course the whole thing necessitated five trips to the hardware store, but that's just par for the course...

Now that The Last Big Project is done - sort of - what's left are a myriad of odds and ends. A bit of trim left to paint. A transition strip to install. Some baseboard that needs nail holes filled and painted. One interior door that somehow got missed when all its neighbours were painted. But all that feels really, really minor. 

I didn't know how good it would feel to get the house finished. I look around and instead of seeing projects left to do, I see home. 

That feels pretty darn good.
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