Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hidden Gussets, Hidden Thorns

Blueberry season has finally come to an end. I'm sure you're all sick to death of pictures from our local blueberry patch. I promise no more. Well, at least not until next year. Now we're in the thick of blackberry season.

I have mixed feelings about these berries. How can something that tastes so good be so wicked to pick? Plus I've noticed that not all blackberry patches are created equally. Some have yummy berries, and others have bitter things that are reminiscent of a nasty medicine I had to take for tonsillitis when I was a child. There's a patch along the highway right by where we live, but they are awful things. This deer doesn't seem to think so though. He was standing there munching away when I drove to town this morning.

Yesterday I drove to Ladner, a small community just outside Vancouver, to visit my friend Ellen. On our list of things to do was to go pick blackberries at a local park. This sounded like a good idea. After all, Ellen knew the berries there were tasty. And the price was right, since they were free for the taking. Plus the setting was very pretty. It reminds me a bit of Scotland.

Ellen, being an experienced blackberry picker, wore a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. I, being a rookie, had on shorts. Not a good idea. For every berry I picked Ellen must have picked ten. This was partly due to the fact that no matter how careful I tried to be, hidden thorns would attack me. (If you don't think it's possible for thorns to attack, I say you've never been to a blackberry patch!)

The other reason Ellen outpicked me (spell check is stroking out over this word, but I'm sticking with it) is because I quickly discovered it was more fun to take pictures than to pick.

The main lesson I learned picking blackberries was the larger bucket of picked berries will inevitably be the one that gets knocked over. An extension of this lesson was discovering that in spite of the strength of the thorny branches they come from, blackberries are actually quite fragile and will not withstand the trauma of being dumped all over the floor of one's vehicle.

Also on the agenda for my visit was to give Ellen her birthday present. Ellen is a knitter, and we usually end up exchanging yarn or fibre. But this time I decided to actually make her something. I know how much I appreciate getting handknit items, as it's something that doesn't happen very often when you happen to be a knitter yourself.

When the latest issue of Knitty came out I knew right away I would be knitting the Hidden Gusset mitts.

I've never knit a "travelling pattern" before, and found I really enjoyed it.

These fingerless mitts should be perfect for the cool autumn days that are just around the corner.

Hopefully they make up for the bucket of spilled berries, too!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Wee Visitor

My house is very quiet. Too quiet. There are no giggles or sounds of wooden spoons banging on pans. There is no excited intake of breath every time the stuffed owl is spotted on top of the bookcase. Fergus and Jenny no longer have a miraculous source of food falling to the floor every time a meal is served. And I no longer have an early morning companion. (Lucy and I seem to be on the same internal clock, one that isn't appreciated by other members of our family.) It was a wonderful visit, but over far too soon. Here's a little glimpse of our time together.

There was a visit to the blueberry farm.

It was a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Lucy loves blueberries, but they have to be just right or she won't eat them. Not too ripe and not too green. Nothing but perfectly blue would do. Doesn't she look like a little farm girl in those overalls? They belonged to her dad when he was a toddler.

The dogs adored her. She was like manna from heaven. It didn't take them long to realize the best spot in the house was to be stationed directly under her chair. But they were interested in her even when she wasn't eating. I think Jenny viewed her as a puppy without any hair, while Fergus thought of her more as an interactive doggie toy.

I introduced her to whipped cream.

We spent time on the porch.

More than anything else though we played chase. As in, "quick, grab her before she falls or gets hurt!"

The stairs were her favourite place to play. This would have been fine if she had any sense of danger, but unfortunately she's not quite to that stage yet.

Now that she's gone you can see why things are so quiet here at our cottage.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bits and Bobs

I think it really is true that as you get older time goes by more quickly. I blinked my eyes and the two wonderful weeks with Rebekah visiting had come to an end and I found myself driving her and Anton back down to Bellingham for their flight home. (Yes, Anton's plane made it the week before, and was even on time. I'm still never flying Allegiant, even if they are giving away free tickets.) Then I checked the calendar this morning and realized August is almost halfway gone. We still have several more rounds of guests coming to stay at our Free B&B before the summer is over, but today is an "in between guests" day, so I thought I better take advantage and do a catch-up post.


Last weekend Rebekah, Anton and I hiked to Lindeman Lake. It might sound like I'm exaggerating, but this picture doesn't even begin to do justice to the colour of the water in this lake.

Here's a close-up view of the mountains you can glimpse in the background.

There is a walk in campsite near the lake, and they had the best bear warning sign I've ever seen.


My garden is making slow but steady progress. The tomatoes are starting to ripen.

 Rudbeckia is in abundance, both at our cottage and in the common areas.

And then there are my peppers. The good news is my Thai chili plant is prolific. There are over two dozen peppers growing on it! The not so good news is they aren't hot. I did some Googling, and have discovered that peppers need to be "stressed" in order to become hot. I had no idea. I thought I was doing them a favour by watering them, but apparently not. I'm now waiting until the leaves look slightly parched before I give the plant a small drink. Hopefully all is not lost, and they will eventually become the hot peppers they were meant to be.


Of course there is always knitting happening. I've just cast on something in this gorgeous shade of sky blue. More on this project in a future post.

I'm also working on a Tea With Jam and Bread sweater. This is the project that helped keep me warm that horrible night in Bellingham a few weeks ago when I was waiting for Rebekah's plane. The problem is, the warmth that was much appreciated during that long, cold night, isn't so great a feature on hot summer days. However, the evenings are cooler now, and I have plans to pick it up again this week.

I think that has me caught up with the happenings at the Hammond Cottage. This week Karsten, Diana and Lucy will be here, so I probably won't have a chance to post again until next weekend, but promise lots of great pictures from their visit when I do. How is summer treating you?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Let's Talk Bunnies

When I was a kid I belonged to an organization called Camp Fire Girls. It was sort of like Girl Guides/Scouts, except we didn't earn neat badges when we did projects. Instead, we got coloured beads. I'm not sure who came up with that idea, but I don't think it was a particularly good one.

I was always a little jealous of my cousin Kath, who got to be in Girl Scouts. However, when it came time for summer camp all jealous thoughts disappeared. The reason? We had Camp Sweyolakan, and it was truly a magical place. At least it seemed that way when I was a young girl. The camp was just for Camp Fire Girls. No Scouts were allowed, no matter how many neat badges they had earned during the year.

I jokingly said to Rebekah a couple days ago that our time together has felt a bit like being at summer camp. No summer camp would be complete without some craft time, so when Rebekah asked if I might have some yarn in my stash for her to make some Bunny Nuggets for Lucy I said I thought I might possibly be able to find some. (Please note this would be the observational equivalent of the captain of the Titanic saying he thought they would just stop off the coast of Newfoundland for a while.) Rebekah chose some colours and set to work.

The trio of bunnies is now sitting on my dresser, waiting for Lucy's arrival next week.

Rebekah's bunnies were cute, quick, and will no doubt be played with and enjoyed by Lucy. My rabbit project looks like insanity next to hers. Instead of stash busting for materials, I sent away for a kit. As far as being quick, well, all I can say is "if only." I ordered the Maggie Rabbit kit over a year ago, fully intending to have it done for Lucy for Christmas. That goal got downgraded to her birthday, which I am embarrassed to admit has now come and gone. The craziest thing about my rabbit is it isn't even something Lucy can play with. It's meant to be a decoration, not a stuffed animal a child can sleep or play with.

The process of making the rabbits (I decided making one wasn't going to be painful enough, so had ordered two kits) was excruciating. I don't care for hand sewing, which is how these rabbits are put together. In the spring I finally got some momentum and finished the blanket stitch around the body and the limbs. Then I did something no crafter should ever do. I stopped. Instead of stuffing the bits, sewing them together, and making the boots, I shoved it all into a bag and lied to myself. You know the one - "I'll work on it again in a few days." When I pulled it back out last week, a full three months later, this is what I had to work with.

I wish I could tell you the rest of the project went smoothly, but that would be an even bigger lie than me telling myself I was going to pull it out and work on it again right away. I got rid of almost all of my sewing stuff before I moved, and only had two embroidery needles left. As I sat on the porch stuffing and stitching I looked down at the wood floor planks and had the thought, "If I drop the needle it's going to fall through the cracks and be lost forever." Not more than three seconds later something happened (I'm still not sure what), and the needle flipped out of my hand and went directly through the very crack I had been looking at.

Then there were the limbs. I got the arms on with very little trouble, but the legs were a different story. They didn't want to stay in place while I stitched them, which made me want to say bad words. Many bad words. Then, after holding the first rabbit up to admire it, and seeing I had managed to sew one leg on the wrong way, I did say bad words. Many bad words.

After reading this you may be wondering why I chose a project I was ill-equipped to make, and that is ill-suited for the recipient. It's simple. The cute factor outweighs everything I just wrote about. I love these rabbits! One is for Lucy, and the other is going to stay on my fireplace mantle.

The most difficult thing to make turned out to also be my favourite: the boots.

So Lucy, I'm sorry your first birthday present is going to be late and, from the perspective of a one year old, completely useless. I wish I could promise you that this is going to be the only late and useless gift you get from your Nana. But that would be another lie.

Happy Birthday Lucy!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Flights, Fun and Sun

I know it's been over a week since my last post, but I have a good excuse for my blogging lapse. Last Thursday Rebekah came home for a visit. Well, technically she didn't get her until Friday, but I'll get to that part in a minute.

She had booked a flight into Bellingham and wasn't due in until the evening. I have a good friend that lives in Bellingham during the summer (she and her husband teach in Shanghai during the school year), so I decided to make the most of my trip down to the US and spent the day visiting with her and her mom. It was great to reconnect, and to know that now that I live in Cultus Lake we are almost neighbours once again! Here are Kelly and her mom in front of the yarn store in Bellingham. The store was easy to spot due to the yarn bombed tree right outside the front door.

I got to the airport at 9:45 PM, which was two minutes before Rebekah's flight was due in. By the time I parked and got into the terminal the arrival board said the plane had arrived. But then a few minutes later it switched from "arrived" to "at gate." That seemed odd. Then a few minutes later a guy standing by me got a text from his wife saying that yes, they were at the gate. Unfortunately it was the gate in San Francisco. They hadn't even left yet!

I couldn't believe it. Even if the flight had been on time it meant Rebekah and I weren't going to be home until around midnight, and I am not a night person. As I did the mental math things looked rather grim. It was an hour and forty-five minute flight, and the guy's wife said they weren't due to leave for another twenty minutes. I tried texting Rebekah, but it wouldn't go through. I ended up having to phone Rebekah (long distance, and on an American cell phone provider).

The short version of this sorry tale is that three delays, four very expensive phone calls, and a plane change later I finally got a call from her saying they were actually taking off. The time? Midnight. That meant her plane would get in around 2:00 in the morning, and put us home somewhere around 4:00 AM. I wanted to weep. I really did. I put the seat back in my vehicle, found an old towel I use when kayaking, rolled it up to use as a pillow, pulled my jacket over the top of me and took the half knit sweater I'm working on out of my knitting bag and put over my bare legs in an effort to stay warm.

When Rebekah finally arrived we stood around for about ten minutes, comparing notes about the horrors of the evening. She finally looked at me and asked if we were going to go. I said I thought we were waiting for her luggage. Wrong. It turns out all she had was her carry on bag. I was waiting around for a non-existent bag. At 2:00 in the morning. Somehow that wasted ten minutes seemed almost as bad as the four hour delay.

The drive home is sort of a blur. I remember telling her she couldn't stop talking to me. All would be lost if she did. I also remember how eerie it was. There were no other vehicles on the road, and there were no lights on in people's homes. My advice to anyone considering flying Allegiant Air would be this. DON'T. I'm sure glad it's Rebekah who is going back down to Bellingham Friday to pick up Anton, who is coming in on the same flight.

It took us both a day or so to recover, but once we caught up on our sleep we've been having a great time. Alexandra came down and we went out to pick some blueberries.

The girls went over to Victoria on the weekend and delivered the berries to a very happy recipient.

Lucy just celebrated her first birthday. Here she is with her birthday ball. I love the pink sun bonnet!

Rebekah and I have been hiking. We spotted this Indian Pipe at the side of the trail.

We've also been kayaking and had a couple of swims in the lake. Last time we took Fergus with us and it turns out he loves swimming! I'll try to get some pictures next time we go. There's also been some time just taking it easy.

We are in the middle of another heat wave, so have been cooling off with frozen limeade drinks on the front porch.

Kellen and Anita are coming out Saturday, and we have plans for a hike and some more berry picking. The big question is whether or not Anton will be here to join us. After reading some of the reviews for Allegiant Air I must admit I have my doubts.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Blueberry Season

One of the first places I discovered when we moved here last year was the blueberry farm just a few kilometres south of us. Last week they opened for this season, and as I drove down the country road on opening day I was so happy.

I love blueberries in any form - pies, crisps, smoothies, and best of all handfuls of fresh berries that have been picked that very day.

I thought I had picked and frozen enough blueberries last year to feed an army, but I underestimated my consumption levels. Early in April I ran out, and it has been a long wait for this year's berries to ripen. One mistake I made last year was not keeping track of how many pounds of berries I picked and froze, so this year I am being more diligent. As of yesterday I've picked 76.25 pounds. Twenty pounds of those are for a friend, and another ten or so are for my mom. The question is, will the remaining 46 pounds see me through until next year? The farm will be open for another few weeks, and I'll be back many times to pick berries for eating fresh out of the fridge, but I don't dare put too many more bags of berries in the freezer. I have a meat order coming this fall that I need to save room for, and between the frozen strawberries, raspberries and now blueberries my freezer is already halfway filled.

The first thing I made was a fresh blueberry pie. The great thing about this recipe is it works for just about any fresh fruit, but blueberries are my favourite filling. You bake a pie crust, then fill the bottom of it with fresh berries.

 Then you cook a blueberry sauce until it looks like this.

You let the sauce cool for a bit, then spread it carefully over the top of the fresh berries.

Top with whipped cream and prepare to fall a little bit in love.

One of the things that makes this pie so special is you have to have fresh berries. This means it can only be made in season, so go ahead and have a second piece while you can. Better yet, make a second pie!

Fresh Blueberry Pie

Bake one pie shell and let cool completely.

Put 2 cups of fresh berries in the bottom of the pie shell. 

Cook until clear and thick, stirring frequently:

¾ cup sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
¼ cup water
2 cups fresh berries

Remove from heat and stir in:

1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Cool the cooked sauce, then spoon over the top of the fresh berries. Refrigerate pie for several hours. Serve with whipped cream and a smile. 

Just in case you are wondering if I'm still knitting, the answer is yes. I have several major projects on the go and several smaller ones as well. My current sock seems to fit in with this post's blueberry theme.

When I looked back at my post about the blueberries from last year I noticed I was knitting blue socks then too. This might mean I had some subconscious longing for blueberries when I started the socks. But probably it just means blue is my favourite colour. Please let me know if you try the pie recipe. I'll be interested to hear if you like it as much as I do.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July Hygge

Today is the one year anniversary of our move to our cottage here at Cultus Lake. As I drove down the lake towards our new home on the day of our move I remember feeling so incredibly lucky that everything had come together and we were actually going to be living here. And I can honestly say that one year later there hasn't been a single day when I haven't been overwhelmed with that feeling all over again.

So given the fact this is our cottage anniversary, it seems fitting to have this month's hygge post focus on home. For new readers who aren't familiar with the term hygge, here is the definition that seems to best sum up its meaning:

Hygge is usually inadequately translated as cosiness. This is too simplistic: cosiness relates to physical surroundings – a jersey can be cosy, or a warm bed - whereas hygge has more to do with people’s behaviour towards each other. It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one.

Contentment is a key component to hygge, and I have to say I feel more content here than any other place I have lived as an adult. However, I have to confess that I'm still trying to make this cottage feel like home. Yes, I love it, and yes, the surroundings are beautiful. It's a place people spend a lot of money to come spend a week or two, and I have the incredible privilege of being able to live here. I wouldn't trade being here for anything (well, maybe a croft in Shetland or Scotland).

The thing is though, for the past three decades our home has always had children living in it. We went from adding one child back in 1981 and by the time we finished the expansion we had five. Then the gradual contraction started, and now we are empty nesters. It's very different being empty nesters. Please don't misunderstand. Different isn't bad. In fact, I have to say I quite like buying groceries and cooking for just two people, being able to narrow down who Mr. Nobody is, and not having to worry about other people's schedules.

So now I'm learning how to make a different kind of home. One that is smaller, quieter, but hopefully still warm and welcoming. A place that friends will want to visit. A place that everyone from my eighty year old mom to my one year old granddaughter will feel at home and want to come back to again.

I realized I forgot to do a June Hygge post. Between being sick for most of the month, going to Victoria, and then having our friends from England visit time sort of got away from me. And also, Blogger messed up part of this post, so my apologies if what you see is rather garbled.