Friday, February 28, 2014

For a Sweet Friend - The Tiniest Horrors

****This is being reposted from last year. It is for a friend who is waging a war right now in her home. 

Friend, so many of us relate and can tell the story of using duct tape to tape our pants to our boots while cleaning out the grain bins. Don't worry, these days will come and go and somehow they will make a good story - it just might not be one you want to repeat. 

The Tiniest Horrors

Sometimes it's the tiny things in life that are our biggest nightmares. Things that make grown men turn as white as the snow covered prairies in the dead of winter and ladies full of maturity shriek like a two year old. Kids growing up amidst the wheat fields in cheerful, tidy old houses and worn trailers know of these nightmares and know how to watch for the signs of them. 

At a young age, I remember opening the drawer in my Auntie's beautiful old farmhouse to my delight to see a plastic mouse -  I thought that it was a great thing she kept toys in her kitchen. My Auntie was working hard to overcome her fear of mice and thought that by becoming so used to seeing this dreaded creature in her cutlery drawer, it might fill her with the strength to stay on the home place when, yes folks, a mouse was found in the house. 

I suppose my Aunts' came by their fear of mice honestly. Engraved in my mind is my red headed Irish Grandma going after a tiny grey creature, with the strength of ten men, in the aged farmhouse with a straw broom in hand. Our Grandpa, a hulk of a man and hero in our eyes, perched atop his chair, face bleached white too full of fear to holler. Luckily in our house, our Dad took care of these lil' "problems" and when I heard a rustling in my closet one night, and came out to let my folks know, Dad emerged from the bedroom in a short time, after some thumping abounded, and let me know it was fine to go back to bed, it was only a "big moth."

We were carefully trained as children to take a peek in our boots before we'd pull them on to head outside, so strong are the memories of my mom's of pulling on her chore boots only for her foot to meet a wriggling mouse. I am not sure what it is that makes us shriek, holler, and claim them as some of the nastiest creatures to endure out here in the wild west. Those little field mice, out there destroying crops, carrying disease and seeming to pop out of nowhere like some sort of terrible Halloween prank make so many plumb near lose their minds. 

So many of these stringy tailed creatures meet their fate nowadays in a bale buster, but in days gone by when  everyone set out bedding with small square bales, a much more fearsome blow was found - not so much for the mouse, but for the one who came across them. Family members love to tell the stories on my dad while bedding the cattle, when all of a sudden the giant man was doing the hippy hippy shake, ripping clothes off, as a mouse ran up his leg - the memory of it scurrying around his skin making him shudder now. Similar things happened to others, like my Uncle, but both men are quick to mention the neighbor lady who had a similar experience putting her hand in her pocket and screeching like a banshee. As she hopped around hollering, ripping at her coat, she somehow lodged that balled up wad of Kleenex in her pocket to realize that the "mouse" was just remnants of a cold.

Now, I know all those outside of the Alberta border, who don't know about the Alberta rat patrol, are probably scoffing at our arch nemesis and you'd like to tell your rat stories, but for now let me revel in my mice stories. Come Fall, when we are all crying and fighting the battle with any of these dreaded creatures, we'll commiserate, laugh, and curse the dickens out of them. We'll also know in our heart of hearts that along with the Red Tailed Hawk, the swift Pronghorns, and the old mother Badger, that the bitsy Deer Mice are more a part of these prairies than us grizzled old folks who have taken up residence here. It still doesn't mean we have to like them.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Head Outside - Take Two

A little ironic, isn't it? 

On top of this old uncomfortable chair, I like to sit with one leg tucked up, shaking my words out onto the computer. The technology is booted up in the hours when quiet takes over the home and babies are sleeping soundly in their beds. 

My eyes soak the irony in as I see the big chalkboard sign hung on the wall, right above the computer stuffed up inside the house. 

I do believe, folks, it is in everyone's favour to get up and go outside. Post-Olympic depression? No problem. Go outside. Even if minus twenty temperatures swirl around you, somehow, something good happens deep inside when soaking in the great outdoors. Be bolstered by the snow and sun. Give a little fist pump to the lone bird that bravely flies through the sky. Look up, look way up and know this is the most amazing screen you will ever see. A picture show created just for you - hypnotic green lights dancing in the cold, dark night or thousands of twinkling stars appear after the sunset of wild colours we can't recreate. 

Shut the computer off for the day, put your phone away and help haul tiny hands into mittens. I hear a lot these days about shutting your phone or computer off to be in the moment with your children.  I don't only want to make an effort to put the phone away while my kids are awake for the sole reason that I'm in the moment with them. I want to be careful what I model. I don't want these tiny imitators growing up to feel a constant need to be checking their phone, mail, and text messages with the attitude that if they don't get it right away, the world is just going to up and end.

Let's model a love for the great outdoors, not our phones. Let's play in the yard, walk down the street, lick a little syrup off the snow and give February a big kick in the pants, because fellow Albertans, it's almost over. 

So, when all else fails, go outside. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Why Cattle are Valuable in Alberta's Forest Reserve and the Feral Horse Controversy

As sourced from the ESRD, there are currently 980 feral horses just on the Southern East Slopes, and it is suspected there is actually a higher count. Currently, in Alberta there are capture permits out to cull some of the horses. It is important to keep in mind that based on the stocking rate formula, established by the ESRD, that in ONE grazing season (based on a five month grazing season) the number of 980 unmanaged horses is equivalent to 3435 cows/calf pairs.   Conservation and grass management is not only important to producers, the Alberta government, and livestock, but to other wildlife on the hills. ** Numbers are calculated through the current stocking rate formula, for a complete breakdown and photos of the formula from a current grazing permit, send me a line & I'll get back to you. **

Tucked deep into the Albertan forestry on the eastern slopes of the untamed Rockies, cabins are hidden away and cow camps look like a snapshot from one hundred years ago. Grazing permit holders are still cowboying the old way, packing salt in on horseback and pushing their cows high into the mountains to graze. Although far from cell phone service and bright lights, with approximately 16 500 cow/calf pairs coming off of these ranges in the fall, how they are managed is far from primitive. 

The provincial forest reserve is a land mass that stretches around 23,000 square kilometres and has had cattle grazing under government management since 1915.  In 1930 the provincial government, replaced the federal government, as the acting custodian of the reserve and continued to implement the same values that were brought to light in the early nineteenth century. Conservation of timber and watershed were recognized as important; therefore, cattle were brought into the forestry to help protect it against fires by clearing away dead grass and brush. This proved to be mutually beneficent, as the continued success of ranchers hinged on the need for more grass. Since the grazing permits’ inception in the early 1900's, both the science of range management as well as the overall health of the forest reserve has grown.  

Unlike government leases, grazing permits are set up on a preference quota (PQ) giving the rancher rights to graze a certain number of Animal Unit Months (AUMs).  The ranchers are required to follow a number of legislated conditions; one condition is to have a Range Management Plan (RMP). Ranchers work closely with government employed agrologists in the writing of their RMP, a valued manual which is meant to stay current and updated. Management strategy is held in high esteem by both ranchers and the Alberta government alike and details down to salting techniques, dates of grass use and range riding are all recorded. Producers today know the value of educated range management, going as far as helping to fund their own vegetation inventory studies and continuously putting forth the effort to trail blaze in the way Alberta's forestry is grazed. 

In the late 1990's, ranchers utilizing the forestry grass, bound together to form the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve Association (RMFRA) because they recognized the importance of a collaborative effort to continue to promote stewardship of the land. The association is made up of a board of directors and members who pay fees of $1 per AUM, with a current total of 83 000 AUMs in the association. This association has also received grants to help pay for studies to promote rangeland health and its impact on livestock. The collective group of ranchers strive to produce unbiased and educated studies for themselves and the public alike. In the past, this group has completed studies on wolves and feral horses and their impact to livestock health, prescribed burning of timber, and  recreation and land use. The RMFRA has been recognized and received an international award for their conservation efforts, but director Keith Kinnear humbly puts it, "For the most part it is in our best interest to graze properly as we are the first to feel the impact of overgrazing."

With the cow/calf sector being critical to one of Alberta's leading industries -- beef production, grazier Jim Bauer says, "With no calves, there is no beef. A beef cow can take rough range land pastures and make relatively low quality forage into a big healthy calf in the fall." Beef production doesn't just help feed the world, but continues to sustain many farming/ranching families and create a wealth of jobs inside the industry. It is noteworthy to see the provincial government and producers working hand in hand to provide guardianship to the forest reserve. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014


1. Forget the Olympics, weather seems to be the great unifier. Everyone wants to talk about it.  Polar Vortex, storms in Texas, how cold their run to the car was that morning - it seems to have a flurry of chatter going on. Have you ever had the moisture from your eyes freeze leaving you with some kind of odd white mascara look? This is winter, gentle readers, winter. 
Walking down the road from my house, the snow is piled so high on either side, I can't 'see out'. It is like walking through a tunnel with the big sky above me. With the drifts looming above me, at eight or nine feet, I feel like if I'd scale up the side, what would peer up at me on that big open field?
Snowy Owl - Twit Twoo - It warmed up to -25 C when I took this photo today. Balmy really, compared to the past few days.

Please note, this is the top strand of a barbed wire fence peeking above the snow. Please also note the put, put snowmobile tracks. Where the snow was too great to push with a tractor and a blade anymore and the snowblower hadn't gotten into the leases yet, men were checking the oil & gas wells on snowmobile. 

2. I loaded up my children and hauled them a few miles down the road so we could watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. The Olympics make me want to get TV - for each room of the house. 

I remember helping in the local Kindergarten room years ago, and at the beginning of the year you'd ask the children what province or country they lived in and maybe one kid would stop picking their nose and take a guess. When the Olympics were on, they would come to school cheering about what medal Canada had won or in deep discussion of the previous day's hockey game. They became globally aware. I loved it. 

3.I like Kirkland disinfectant wipes. A lot. In a random discussion over doing dishes, my sister in law claimed her love for the wipes as well. She says she would go as far as to wipe the bottom of her children's feet off with them as they came in the house in the summer months.  I can't say that is too looney tune, as I stashed them into my big satchel to take with me to the hospital this past week. A little scrub, scrub around a hospital sink never hurt anyone. One can never be too careful. 

One may not get out enough either. 

4.My son, he is six months old now and the apple of every single eye of this house. Do they make Weight Watchers for babies? Brother Bear is weighing in three pounds heavier than both of my girls were on their first birthdays. 

Dear Baby Bjorn, 

Would you please sell a sling/baby carrier that comes with a person to do the actual carrying? 



Lately, this wee man has been called Hoss, is anyone from the era that they know what I'm talking about? He is so big. 

5. Glory Hallelujah, we are in the business of feeding birds.The girls seem to whip out these feeders at a record rate and it can keep them busy for quite some time. After a good half hour of cheerful singing and making their little feeders, I realize that the two year old wasn't chiming in anymore. Do you think eating copious amounts of bird seed is a bad thing? I don't either. 

Let it also be noted, I do not normally buy unsweetened peanut butter, but when it comes to feeding the birds, I thought they should have the most healthful option. My husband laughed when he heard me say I wouldn't feed that gross stuff to the girls! Nope, the healthy stuff is for the birds, my friends, just for the birds. 
Slop a little peanut butter on some pine cones and toss on your bird seed, tie up with a pretty ribbon, raffia, binder twine - whatever - and throw on a tree. Your kids will be so pleased and you can watch the birds while you eat your breakfast. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Canadian Farms

Information sourced from here.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mennonite Sausage Soup

I am not sure if you have that friendship with soup like our home does. Is there nothing finer on a cold day (or hot day) when you're sick (or in health), than peeking in your fridge and seeing lovely jars of soup all lined up? For the day when the chaos of children seem to shake our home and the floor looks like Toys R Us spit up everywhere, I love the convenience of putting a jar of soup on the stove to heat. 

Now, I'm not sure if your family pulls tricks like mine does when it comes to cooking. The favourite the womenfolk around here love to voice, "I don't really have a recipe for that, I just make it by taste." 

Okay, then. 

Making it by taste? Is that sort of like going by feel when you are blind? Somehow I think my 'by taste' isn't quite as seasoned as my momma's or my grandma's. 

Yoo hoo! Grandma! I need you to stop adding random ingredients and to start writing things down. 

Now, shall we mix up a pot of some of the most kid friendly, tasty soup around? Don't let the little ones discourage you by asking about the grass in their soup (why is dill a foreign object?) Just press on, dear readers, don't even try to explain the dill, just tell them to look at the cows - they seem to enjoy the grass. 

Now if you aren't from these parts, please substitute your own sausage for Chetin sausage. Does anyone else local have Chetin sausage written into their recipes? Let's chop, chop, chop that sausage and cook it up in a big old pot. 

If you are from the hinterland like us, haul up your stash of potatoes from the basement. Do you have carrots left from the garden? Haul onions and carrots in - chop these morsels up in a uniform fashion (or not so uniform, we are laid back). 

One cup of fresh chopped dill (or 1/4 cup of dried) will round things out nicely. 

Cook it up with two boxes of chicken stock, with a few extra tablespoons of bouillon for extra measure, a pat of butter, and some salt and pepper. Cook those veggies till they are good for the eating, with the drained off sausage and folks - THIS is when you add the peas. Do not put them in earlier. Unless you have a love for mushy peas. 

I like to cook this with double the ingredients or more, and then can the rest to keep in the fridge for a few weeks so we aren't eating leftovers until the end of time, and can space the soup eating out a bit. Best kitchen tip ever - can your soup. Rather than freezing your soup, because who likes frozen mushy tasting potatoes? Grandma would tell you this is a poor idea. 

Best of luck to you, do not be afraid to enlist small helpers, it may increase prep time, but will provide you with hoards of entertainment. 

Mennonite Sausage Soup

2 litres of chicken broth (2 boxes)
1 package of Chetin sausage chopped fine
6 cups of diced potatoes
6 cups of diced carrots
2 cups of chopped onions
1 cup of green peas
1 cup of chopped fresh dill (or 1/4 cup dried)
2 tbsp of chicken bouillon powder
1 pat of butter

Boil chopped Mennonite sausage for 10-15 minutes, and then drain the water out. Add all the other ingredients and simmer until vegetables are cooked. Except peas, which you add at the end - unless you are six months old and mushy peas are appealing.  

**A short update - Chetin sausage is a locally sold sausage - some of our favourite, it is just the type of Mennonite sausage we often eat. Mennonite sausage is a smoked pork sausage mixed with basic seasoning (salt & pepper). We eat it far, far too much. Farmer sausage is what you should look for in the store or come visit us and we can hook you up. 

Linking up here.
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