The clumsy dance of the colours and patterns of life

Witness the clumsy dance of the colours and patterns of life, the sometimes-harmonic, sometimes-cacophonic combination of the silence and the noise all around, and the heroes and the helpless within.
Welcome to my little corner of The Mighty Interwebs, where it is not likely you will find anything profound (or even very interesting), but where you will find all manner of random. Life is a kaleidoscope of the weird and the wonderful, the awesome and the awful, the blessings and the bizarre, and the collision between them is what you just might stumble upon here if you stick around. Grab your favorite drink and come hang out with me if you dare.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cookie Cornets

Yields: supposed to make 16, but I can only get 14

2 egg whites (large), room temperature
6 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup butter or hard margarine, melted
1/2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350*F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together first four ingredients until frothy. Whisk in butter. Add flour. Whisk until smooth. Drop 1 tablespoon of batter onto parchment paper, spread evenly to form 4 1/4" circle. (Don't do more than about 3 or 4 at a time - you'll need to shape them while hot or else they crumble.) Bake in 350* oven for 8 minutes until lightly browned. Working quickly, shape into a cone and let stand 2 minutes until cooled and crisp. Repeat entire process with remaining batter, for a total of 16 cones.

Garnish ideas:
*melt white chocolate (1 cup melting wafers) and dip 1/4" of top edge, then dip in finely chopped pistachios (about 1/2 cup), place on waxed paper to dry
*melt white chocolate and dip 1/4" of top edge, then dip in finely chopped candy cane pieces, place on waxed paper to dry
*melt milk chocolate and dip 1/4" of top edge, then dip in finely chopped hazelnuts, place on waxed paper to dry

These are lovely to serve mixed fresh fruit in. I filled my cornets with a strawberry-blueberry-blackberry-pineapple-cherry mixture. No dessert plate needed, and I put some cocktail picks next to the tray of cornets so people could neatly eat the fruit out of the cookie cup.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mellie Milk Maid

Once upon a time, there was a silly girl who thought she both wanted to live a farmer's life and was capable of living it. She had a "real job" she enjoyed well enough, an office job, working with and for some really fine people, but entertained illusions of self-sufficiency and bringing the pages of Mother Earth News to life. When these really fine people planned a two-week vacation Far Away From Home and asked her to farmsit for them, she was happy - and even excited - to agree. It would be manageable and fun! There was a cow to milk twice daily, a pen full of steers to feed, two coops of chickens to care for, and a garden to be tended, along with the various and assorted tasks that accompanied those more-major responsibilities.

The days ran together in a long series of rain and exhaustion. As the days wore on, the silly girl's enthusiasm was washed away.

The rolled oats in the feed bin ran out after three days, but the milk cow still needed to be fed grain or she would stop producing milk. The steers still needed to be fed grain so they would be fattened up nicely when slaughtering time rolled around. The silly girl's boss offered to return home early, but the silly girl asked for instruction so she could solve the problem and her boss could enjoy a much-needed vacation. Instructions were given and understood and followed, and the silly girl learned to operate a piece of farm machinery to roll oats and the feed supply for the milk cow and the steers was replenished. The silly girl was able to continue lugging many 5-gallon pails of rolled oats to the steer pen each day and to coax the milk cow to stand more-or-less still while being milked.

The rain continued to fall and the garden became a bog and the barnyard became a mire. The silly girl had prepared for her time as a farm hand by purchasing a pair of rubber boots. They were delightful, with a whimsical pattern on them. They were a far cry from the ugly orange-soled black boots of her childhood. Very sadly, the silly girl's fun new boots were more for fashion than function, and one gave up the ghost early on in the silly girl's farm adventure. The entire back of one boot split completely open when the silly girl was in the steer pen more than halfway up to her knees in cow poo. Now the silly girl had to deal with the mire inside her boots as well as outside, and she was not impressed.

The muddy mucky garden was so sloppy that the silly girl almost got stuck in it each time she tried to cut asparagus or rhubarb or pick lettuce. Somehow, she managed to collect nearly 15 pounds of rhubarb and freeze it for later use. The silly girl tried to keep up with the weeding, but luckily the near-constant rain limited the amount of sunlight and heat that reached the ground, so the weeds were not as rampant as they could have been. Some of her forays into the garden were more successful than others, and the silly girl eventually found herself laden down with several pounds of fresh asparagus and lettuce and tomatoes and beet leaves, and carefully ignored the other vegetables growing and not really in need of much care. It was enough to have to process the vegetables that the silly girl would actually eat without worrying about the ones she wouldn't even cook for someone else.

More rain fell, and the silly girl thought she was going to have to build an ark to make it through the two weeks of her adventure.

The silly girl carried buckets of slops to the 8 laying hens and collected 6 or 7 eggs from them each day. The silly girl didn't mind the laying hens so much, but then one of them chose to lay an egg almost on her foot. That bothered the silly girl; she really didn't need to see that. But in spite of that indiscretion, that coop of birds was not so bad. Crossing over to the other coop was real penance, however. There were several dozen birds nearing butcher weight, with no brain worth mentioning between all of them. The silly girl hated going into that coop. These chickens acted like they were starving, and attacked the silly girl every time she came in to feed them. There's a look that those white chickens that farmers raise for butchering get, almost a blood lust. Their beady red eyes nearly pop right out of their ugly little heads while they cock their neck at an optimal angle for aiming their beak at someone's foot. Oh, how the silly girl hate hate hated those chickens!

Had she actually built an ark, it is doubtful the silly girl would have loaded any pairs of chickens onto it to save them from the flood.

So much rain fell that the phone lines got water-logged. Apparently the phone lines in Alberta are set up such that they will dial 911 when they are disconnected by anything other than a designated authority. The silly girl learned about this feature when the RCMP showed up one evening. Because the silly girl was just a housesitter and farm hand, the policemen had to check the whole house to make sure there was no emergency. The silly girl was happy to let him, but then was too paranoid to sleep that night in the house. The phone line was kaput, and if an emergency were to happen, the silly girl would have no way to call for help. So the silly girl stayed awake that night listening for any suspicious sound and ready with a kitchen knife to defend the farm from bands of marauders. No marauders showed up, and the silly girl only had an exhausted self to show for her perception of bravery.

The sky continued to open and the ground was completely saturated until no more water could soak in. 

Since the silly girl couldn't spend time outside and remain dry, she spent her evenings skimming cream off some 30 gallons of milk and making butter and cheeses and yogurt, which she will need years to use up.

The silly girl only had one run-in with the police during her farm hand adventure. She was sad that they didn't return 5 days later when one of the horrid chickens had died and her method of solving the problem was to chuck it into the bush. The dog retrieved the dead chicken, played with it for a while, and then deposited it on the yard. The dead chicken stunk, and the silly girl found it gross and disgusting in every way, but she couldn't deal with it again. She would have given nearly anything to have a policeman come and take it away. Even better would have been the entire removal of the offensive chicken coop, but even the silly girl's imagination has limits.

The rain eventually stopped. The real farmers came home. The silly girl took her broken rubber boots and her cheese and her rhubarb, and left the farm. She also took with her the knowledge that she was not really cut out for all the elements of this kind of farm life, and intends to use this knowledge to live happily ever after.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sprout a couch?

I need to do this!

Before you begin, figure the dirt you need by multiplying the dimensions of the couch you plan to make (ours was 8x4x4 feet, or 128 cubic feet). Next, put on some old clothes—things are going to get messy—and locate a suitable spot. Placement is key: There’ll be no moving once you’ve begun. Clear the area of grass and weeds until you have a level swath of dirt, then use a stick to sketch the shape of the couch into the dirt with a stick.

Drive the wood stakes into the ground along the perimeter of your sofa-shaped sketch, every 18 inches or so, to a depth of about 12 inches. These will secure the form.

Attach the waferboard to the stakes to create the walls of the form. Use a handsaw to trim the waferboard to size. Drive in a nail every 4 inches along each stake to secure the boards.

Start shoveling dirt into the form. Here’s where things get messy. Once a foot of dirt is in place, water lightly and compress by stomping around on top of it.

Once the basic shape is in place and secure, carefully remove the form works.

Mold the shape to your liking. Remove any loose debris and sprinkle the sofa and other areas you’ll be sodding with a healthy layer of fertilizer and gypsite. Water lightly.

For extra support, lay strips of poultry netting over the arms and back.

Lay the sod. Press down the edges to create a smooth surface clear to the ground. Stagger the rows so the seams don’t fall in a line, and use chopsticks or planting stakes to keep them in place over the wire.

During the next few weeks, water your sofa often, soaking it thoroughly. Once the sod has taken root, remove the chopsticks or planting stakes. Trim as needed.

Monday, May 9, 2011

When she plays, Molly smiles.

I met Molly the spring before I went to college, when I was 20. She joined my family while I lived in another town, and I only saw her for a few weekends before I moved to California for school. She was a beautiful blonde, full of life and happiness, and completely devoted to the people in her life. I didn't know her well, and didn't take the time to get to know her better, but that didn't mean she wasn't happy to see me when I'd come home. Molly's needs were simple - she just wanted to love and be loved. She trusted unquestioningly and never held grudges. She always appreciated any time or attention given to her. Though maybe not the smartest, she did not have a malicious bone in her body. She was loyal, and fiercely protective of those she loved. There were certain activities she loved more than anything, and the mere mention of them would set her quivering in excitement. The last several months of her life, she was plagued with cancer. It weakened her body, but her spirit was always the same Molly we, her family, had known all her life. In spite of her cancer slowly taking away her strength, she never lost her joie de vivre. She enriched lives by being part of them, bad habits and all. By the time she was in her last days, she was so weak, so tired. I think she left us as happily as could be expected. She had lived fully, and loved completely, and knew she was loved in return. Miss Molly was a good and faithful friend, and will always be remembered as such. Run free, Molly, until we meet again!
Miss Molly (April 13, 2001 - May 9, 2011)

Molly's smiles

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Roots and Shoots: Lessons Learned in Life’s Garden

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
       ~Percy Bysshe Shelley~

Although staring out the window at the abundance of snow that hasn’t melted yet may make us think otherwise, the calendar tells us that spring has arrived. With the arrival of spring, many people’s thoughts turn to gardening. Personally, I have been itching to get back to the garden since leaving California in August, where I was spoiled with growing seasons that lasted more than nine months out of the year. My hunger for gardening certainly includes the flowers and produce it generates, but the fruits go beyond something that can be plucked from a vine to include something that is a sweet balm for the spirit. Whether in the care of the seeds, the nurturing of the plant, the pulling of the weeds or the harvest of the produce, gardening holds many parallels to our own lives. Both take work, require patience, go through the cycles of life and death, and produce a standard by which they are judged. These parallels give the gardener a glimpse into the creative and sustaining mind of the Lord, and offer a chance for growth if we but grasp it.

Tending a garden teaches us the necessity of letting go of the old and clearing away the undisciplined to make way for the new. If a plant gets too big, too wild, too unruly, it becomes unmanageable and can choke out other desirable life in the garden while making a habitat suitable for pests. In its proper place and appropriately maintained, however, that same plant can be beautiful, refreshing, and life-giving. In the same way, it is important to look at our lives to see whether there are things – habits, relationships, possessions – that are not unhealthy in themselves but that may have become overgrown and overwhelming. If they are not contained and managed, they can take over, and leave room for nothing else.

In both the gardens in our yards and the gardens of our lives, timing is important. A tender shoot can’t thrive if it is planted at the wrong time or under the wrong conditions. If the shoot receives proper nourishment, warmth, light, and is in a good location, it can mature into a strong and beautiful plant When those are present and balanced, the young plant can become established and is then better able to develop as it is meant to. A seed does not become a flower before it has been strengthened and has gone through the requisite stages of development. So it is in our lives and the lives of those for whom we are responsible. There are things we can do to reduce the time it takes for something to be done, but ultimately, it takes patience and work as we wait for the hard dry seed to produce a blossom and then a fruit.

A garden has a life cycle similar to our own, and goes through seasons of change and growth, renewal and death. Things may happen from day to day that are unpredictable and maybe even seem unmanageable in the short term, but they will subside. The summer storms will blow through and batter the plants, and the gentle rains will feed and cleanse them. Tomorrow will come, and with it, the fruits of a new day.

Harvesting the fruits of one’s labour is cause for celebration. The baskets of fresh produce or the marks of achievement of a goal are a source of pride. What you get out of something in life reflects what you have put into it. In the bleakness of trimmed back bushes and dead stalks, we are reminded that we may go through periods of dormancy in the winters of our lives, but when spring comes, signs of life will start to pop up.

The daughter of a building contractor, and an amateur gardener myself, I recognize that it takes a good foundation and a good root system for something to last. When raising vegetables, flowers, children, it takes deep roots that nourish them and make them grow. Without roots that reach deep to anchor and sustain a plant, it must fight to survive. Without a good grounding in morals, faith, and virtue, a person will struggle to accomplish their days with honour. I am reminded of the parable of the sower, and find hope in the knowledge that, though the heat of life sometimes seems too intense to bear, my roots are deep and my life will bear fruit. “The sower went out to sow. And whilst he sowed, some fell by the wayside, and the birds of the air came and ate it up. And some fell upon stony ground, where it had not much earth; and it shot up immediately, because it had no depth of earth. And when the sun was risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And some fell upon good grounds; and brought forth fruit that grew up and increased.” (Mark 4:3-9)

Now go - put down roots, and grow where you are planted!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Legend of Sheila's Brush

According to popular folklore, St. Patrick's housekeeper was named Sheila. If it snows on St. Patrick's Day, as it usually does in Alberta, legend holds that it is Sheila sweeping the last snow out of Heaven and formally ushering in the Spring.

I hadn't heard this legend before, but was told it today while it was snowing. Perhaps Heaven is out of snow, and Spring is just around the corner!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Free Will or Destiny? Choice or Chance?

As Christians, we believe things happen for a reason. But do we see each of those things as something that happens to us, helpless pawns in a cosmic game, or do see them as the choices we make and the consequences of those choices? We are taught that God gives us free will, but we are also taught that God, our Omniscient Father, knows every detail of our lives, past, present, future. If God knows our actions before we commit them, are we really free to choose? Are we making choices and decisions, or are we forced into a course of action because things are “just meant to be,” predetermined by God’s knowledge and foreknowledge of our lives? How do we reconcile these notions?

God gives us free will, and though He wants us to choose the things that will bring us ultimate and eternal happiness, we aren’t forced into doing so. God, in His omnipotence, could keep us from making choices that are harmful to ourselves or those around us. Doing so, however, would make us slaves, and that is contrary to the teaching that Christ has come to set us free. Instead of forcing us into doing something, God gives us the resources we need to make good choices and to be set free.

Happiness, virtue, health, relationships, life: It seems to me that each is a choice, though some in ways less evident than others. It is fairly simple to see how one chooses to exercise virtue in his or her life, whether it is choosing not to have a second slice of cake out of self-control or choosing to do acts of service out of charity. Identifying things like health or happiness as choices, however, may not always be as obvious. Perhaps we are inclined to consider those as things dictated by our station in life, our responsibilities or job, our genetic makeup, or some other outside source. Even if we consider things beyond our control, we still have the ability to choose how we let them affect us.

There are countless manifestations of choice in our lives, whether they are those things for which we have directly and consciously opted or are the reflections of those choices. Over the course of a day, each of us makes numerous choices, and each of our choices shapes and defines us. Beginning with the alarm going off in the morning, we are faced with choices we must make. Some may be small choices – do I get out of bed and take on the new day, or do I hit snooze and sleep for seven more minutes? Other choices are more weighty – do I go to work and do my duty so that I may be paid and fulfill my financial responsibilities, or do I not show up and go golfing instead? A clear case of cause and effect, choices carry consequences with them. It is often these consequences which prevent us from seeing choices as something we are free to make. If we feel
forced to make a choice out of fear or coercion, how are we really choosing it?

While fear of one kind or another may influence our choices, the choices nonetheless remain ours to make. We are given both the freedom and the ability to consider an action and its related consequences. In doing so, we are exercising reason and free will. Even if our evaluations are only partial, our choices are directed by them. This exercise of both reason and free will should challenge us daily, as these are two of the qualities of man that set us apart as God’s highest creation.

If we never realize our potential, the choices we make will reflect that. We may more readily settle into the mold of what is familiar or what society expects of us, even if it is uncomfortable. On the other hand, if we choose to challenge ourselves and consider the results of our actions, we may find it more manageable to make choices in our lives which will help or allow us to live fully as God intends.

Right choices are not necessarily easy choices to make, but we can rest in the assurance that God’s help is available to us if we but ask Him. I challenge you to look at the choices in your life, celebrate them, and find happiness in them. “I have set before you life and death, blessings and the curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30.19)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lemon Sugar Cookies

Yields: about 4 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsp lemon zest*
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 375*F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar and lemon zest until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, followed by vanilla extract. Gradually mix in the flour at low speed, making sure to incorporate all of the flour and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Place remaining 2-3 tbsp sugar in a small bowl. Shape 1-inch balls of dough, roll in the sugar and place on prepared baking sheet. Leave room for the cookies to spread while they bake; don't bother pressing them with a fork or cookie press. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until set but not browned (or only very lightly on the bottom). Edges should be slightly firm. Cool cookies on the pan for a minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

*Fresh lemon zest is the key to getting a good flavour in these cookies.