Thursday 17 September 2020

Thursday, September 17, 2020

 My garden has ghosts at one end. It is supposed to be very cold tonight, so I've brought out the old sheets that I keep for just this purpose and have draped them over my tomatoes, closing them up here and there with clothespins. They are all tucked in, in case of frost.

After work, I picked all of my ripe / semi ripe tomatoes, pulled the rest of my beets, and dug up some of my potatoes (I doubt it would be a super hard frost already), and then did the ghost maneuver. I threw a few starting-to-rot tomatoes to the hens who ran and attacked them.

Here are the tomatoes I picked the day before:

Today there was a giant tomato! Daughter took the picture for me. We often talk about something being "as big as your head". Excuse my dirty-from-the- garden hands in the next picture. Trust me, at work, I use hand sanitizer ALL DAY LONG.

Do you remember my accidental/mystery acorn squash in my compost pile? Here is the final result!

Right now, on a school night, I'm making another batch of my mom's chili sauce. It is very simple and we sampled a bit with sausages last night. It was the way I remember it. Here is the recipe if you want to ever give it a try.

Maureen's Chili Sauce (small batch)

9 tomatoes (skinned and roughly cut up)

1 onion, chopped

1 tbsp salt

1/2 cup vinegar (just white vinegar is fine)

2 cups white sugar

1/4 tsp allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

Put all ingredients into a large heavy-based pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and let it gently boil down for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours (it will reduce to about half and thicken slightly and turn a bit darker). Stir fairly often so it doesn't scorch and stick to the pan.

Process in boiling water bath for about 15 to 20 minutes. Makes about 6 pint jars.

Saturday 12 September 2020

Fruits of my Labour

 Today was a busy day - it was time to do some preserving and freezing. I didn't want my garden produce to go to waste, even though I would rather not be attached to my kitchen all day, but that is what the day involved.

I was up by about 6:30 because that's what my body is used to now, and husband was also snoring up a storm after having cut the lawn yesterday. After a big mug of coffee and opening up the chickens, I went out and picked the remaining beans, both green and purple. I already had some in the crisper that I had picked a couple of days ago, so I did the whole washing, trimming, blanching routine and ended up with two medium sized freezer bags of beans. You'd think it would have resulted in a greater amount, but it will still be good to be able to reach into the freezer in January and pull out one of those bags.

I think the green and purple look nice together. After they are blanched, they are all green. 

I spread my beans out on towel after blanching to dry before they get bagged and frozen.

Next on the list was pickled beets. This is the first time in a VERY long time that I've been able to successfully grow beets. I think it was a combination of adding lots of my own compost to the soil and laying out soaker hoses and using them frequently throughout the summer.

I grew cylindrical beets. They ended up growing up, out of the soil. I didn't make a lot of pickled beets because I think only husband really likes them. Maybe daughter's boyfriend as well. I prefer beets boiled with some butter, salt and pepper. 

Three pints and two half pints of pickled beets. Those stickers from previous years (when the jars had strawberry jam in them) do NOT come off easily. I washed those jars in the dishwasher and processed them in boiling water, and the stickers still held. I ended up just writing on the jar lids instead.

You may recall that one of the successes in my garden was a little hot pepper plant that son brought home. You may also recall that they were deadly hot. Well, son was feeling a little bad that they would potentially go to waste and was hoping I could do something with them. He and his sister enjoy Frank's red hot sauce and sriracha sauce in different kinds of food, so I thought, why not try to make a hot sauce? I looked up some recipes and realized it's not difficult and I had the necessary ingredients. 

Those are the little devils I used today. There are still just as many out on the plant! I grabbed some plastic gloves from husband's shop and got to work trimming them and scraping out the seeds. I've heard that a lot of the heat is in the seeds. I'm pretty sure there's still heat in the rest of the pepper, as I managed to clean out my sinuses by breathing too deeply while they were boiling in their vinegar bath. I might have been able to strip the finish off the kitchen cupboards if I let it boil long enough. Anyway, after whizzing it up in the blender, I poured it into two small jars and sealed them. I don't want to be the one to try it. 

Next on the list was making my mother's chili sauce. This is not a hot chili sauce. It is tomato based and perfect with sausages. I got the recipe from my mom many, many years ago. It just makes a small batch, but it's important to slowly boil quite a bit of the liquid away so you end up with a thicker sauce that has a nice dark reddish brown colour. I think it turned out perfectly and it used tomatoes from my garden. 

I re-use my old jar rings. They really show their age! 

I couldn't even find labels for my canning jars this year, so I just wrote on the lids with a Sharpie marker. 

After supper, there was still one more thing I wanted to make: orchard fruit chili sauce. I've made this a few times, but haven't made it in about three years. Again, my tomatoes were part of it, but it includes so many great flavours that just marry together into a very pretty sauce: tomatoes, onions, peaches, plums, pears, red bell pepper, green pepper, celery. 

I love all the colours it starts out with. 

There are some of the orchard fruit chili sauce jars cooling off on the kitchen window sill. (Note to self: don't take pictures in front of windows in the evening!Can you see my reflection?)

I love the look of jars lining a shelf. It makes you feel like you are ready for any disaster - snow storm, power outage, pandemic (oh hey... ) I still have more tomatoes coming. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we don't have a frost any time soon. Even if I can just can some tomatoes, that would be great, but I do want to try to make Maggie's tomato relish. (The Farmer's Wife Day by Day)

What kind of preserving did you do this year? 

Wednesday 9 September 2020


 I'm done my first day of teaching my kids. I am exhausted, but not due to the students themselves. They are all really quite nice and they did the best they could under the circumstances. Most of the day consisted of going over new rules and practices, but I created a "Please Remember" chart to help remind them, rather than list a bunch of "don'ts". There was a lot of waiting, a lot of lining up and trying to keep a distance between them, and a whole lot of hand sanitizing and hand washing. At one point, one little darling asked, "When are we going to do some work?" 

Too tired to go into detail. It's going to be a very long September. But I have one day under my belt.


Monday 7 September 2020

Labour Day - the beginning of lasts

 Today marks the last Labour Day during which I will be mentally preparing myself to go back to teaching. The whole thing is surreal. It would be enough, in and of itself, to be the last of its kind, but it is also fraught with differences. When I return tomorrow, my own students will not be there. They do not attend school until the day after - Wednesday. Why? In order to ease the burden (?) on teachers, parents, I don't know who, they are staggering the arrival of students in elementary school. I can't speak for secondary school. But they completely got it very, very wrong. Instead of sending the older students, grades seven and eight, the first day, as they are more mature, can handle change better, can reasonably follow the "new normal" instructions... they are sending junior and senior kindergarten students. These are potentially three year, four year, and five year olds. You know, the little people who hug and touch and have NO CLUE what school is if they are junior kindergarten students. As well, the teachers of kindergarten students, I think, have the most complicated transition to Covid teaching. They are not allowed to have any "soft" items in their classes. That means take away any fabric, soft foam, toys, area rugs on which to gather and listen to a story, well no gathering at all actually. These little people who are usually taught to play together nicely and share are now being provided with their own space - perhaps a little desk or maybe one end of a larger table, and they will not be sharing. They will be provided with their own stash of wipeable, hard items which a teacher will be cleansing and letting sit stashed away out of view for at least 24 hours before another tiny person can handle them. The kindergarten students will mostly be arriving on buses, some will walk to school or be dropped off by a parent. In previous years, an older sibling or helpful older student would likely help to tell the tiny person that it is their turn to get off the bus, or show them where to go and what to do. Now they are on their own in a big yellow bus with no assistance, except for a bus driver who is distancing himself or herself from the children.

I'm not complaining about the rules for distancing or cleansing (although how in the world you are supposed to teach as well as wipe down surfaces and toys and make sure nobody touches anybody or shares a pretty mask or continuously washes their little hands is "challenging"), but why the least experienced, least independent students are being sent on the first day of school (no other students are coming that day) is beyond me and shows a disconnect between the decision makers and the people for whom this decision actually affects.

Regardless, these are the times we live in, whether you agree with them or not. I  must play by the rules, and so my students' desks are distanced as much as possible within my room. they have large labeled zip-lock bags containing pattern blocks, base ten blocks, hundred charts, letters for making word activities, math tiles and other counters. They also each have a wipeable dry erase board and a dry erase marker labeled with their own name. There will be no sharing. They will not be working together as partners or in groups. They will be hand sanitizing frequently throughout the day. Fountains are not to be used and are, in fact, covered in large plastic bags with criss-crossed tape and signs indicating so. Students are to bring a water bottle from home and designated times are set aside to use the one bottle filling station in our school. Students can remove their masks when they are outside at recess, but they now have "zones" marked off on the play ground or yard in which they must stay, so they are not mixing with different cohorts of students. The media is filled with the wonderful notion that students will be learning outside as much as possible. Yet, nobody has told us how to do that, while following the curriculum. Shall I get an extra long extension cord so I can wheel my  LCD projector and laptop out to the yard in order to show a video of an activity that we would normally have done if we were allowed to work together but now we don't have enough items in order to do the activities individually and I have to disinfect them before and after use?

I'm forgetting many other "new normal" details. It is a lot to wrap my head around, as an old goat teacher who would normally sail through the first week, drawing from years of experience and bonding with my new students, enjoying my time back with my wonderful colleagues. So, this last first day of school is filled with many emotions. Trepidation, happiness, resentment, stoicism, anger...  Who knows what emotions my students will be bringing with them that first day, but we'll soon find out.

Again, this post is not about whether or not the covid risk is there, or whether or not students should be returning to school. That is for personal opinions and everybody has them. This post is about what I thought my final first day of school would be like, what I've been working toward for 30 years, what it means to be in my last year (actually half year) of teaching - a profession to which  I've devoted a lifetime. The current situation has tilted my reality and it's a little tough to absorb. Everything I've known as a teacher of elementary school has changed. Something as simple as working with a student to help them out with something has changed. First day assembly won't happen. Team building activities in the classroom won't happen. Casually handing a pencil to someone who dropped theirs won't happen. I didn't make the rules, but I am expected to follow them and I will. It is surreal. I could never have predicted that this was how I was going to wrap up my career, and I know I am not alone in this, as university grads never thought they wouldn't be able to properly and formally celebrate their graduation, new mothers never thought the fathers of their babies could not be in the hospital room with them, grandparents never thought they wouldn't be able to hug and see their grandchildren, workers as grocery stores never thought they would be required to wear a mask all day long, the list goes on and on.  

With perfect pathetic fallacy, the day is grey and raining and windy - fat drops are hitting my window and the leaves and branches are rustling and moaning. It is a day for curling up in front of the tv and throwing in a load of  preparatory laundry and drinking red wine and eating toasted tomato sandwiches with my now ripe tomatoes (a highlight in my week!). I am allowing myself this one post to wallow and then no more. 

Tuesday 1 September 2020

A Heron and a Bountiful Beginning

 September 1st. Unbelievable. Today was a P.D. day devoted mostly to health and safety. There are two more P.D. days which is unusual for a school year, as we usually just start the day after labour day with students and classes, but of course, this is a year unlike any other. 

But I much prefer blogging about the little things that bring me such contentment. Sometimes my daughter and I will go out for a walk after supper and we often end up walking down the road toward the Community Centre. There is a pond beside the centre and there was large equipment parked, shut down for the day, and a big generator was keeping a pump going, pumping the water into some kind of holding area. I have no idea what the reason for the draining was, it just looked like they dragged back the banks all around, but perhaps they were also clearing out a line or something. There was still a bit of water in the bottom and there was a group of a few killdeers, running back and forth, calling and twittering nonstop, leaving little criss-cross bird footprints in the mud. After watching those little birds for a while, we realized that there was also another, much quieter, calmer, slower bird. She was so much the same colour as the soil and the dark water that we hadn't even noticed her: a female Great Blue Heron (or perhaps an immature male, I'm not certain).

She slowly bent forward and then shot forward, grasping what I imagine was a little minnow, a number of times while we stood watching her. 

As you can see from the diminished light in this last picture, we watched for quite a while. I love seeing birds, especially large ones, or birds of prey. When we spent a week in Prince Edward Island several years ago, we saw many Great Blue Herons in the lakes and rivers on the island. 

On a walk a couple of days later, we saw that the water was back in the pond, and the equipment was gone. The noisy killdeers were on the bank, but the heron was not there. As we turned to make our way home, a motion caught my eye between the trees, and it was the heron flying in to land beside the pond. I'm so glad we saw that. A heron in the water is nice, but a heron in the air is fantastic! (I hope you read this Jeanie. My photos were just taken with my phone, as I had it in my pocket at the time, and don't come close to your amazing photos of your resident heron. I thought you might like to see a Canadian version 😃).

When I got home from work, later than I had intended, I quick opened the freezer to see what was a possibility for supper. I'm still cooking for four of us, as son isn't returning to his college town until the weekend. A bag of honey garlic sausages seemed just the thing, and then I went out to the garden. A meal (with the exception of the meat) from my own garden just makes my heart sing. It's the little things.

Perfect red potatoes, gorgeous purple beans that turn green when cooked, the beginnings of ripe tomatoes, and a few, albeit small, carrots. We like our new potatoes boiled, so you can crush them with a fork, with butter or maybe sour cream, salt and pepper, and son and I like some diced raw onion on top. 

Now it is evening and the thunder is gently rumbling away in the distance. The rain is light - perfect.