Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Trail Blazing - quite literally...

At first glance, we could envision much for this property of ours, even before the papers were signed when purchasing it.

Our home is situated on three acres, and consists mostly of house, forest and raw natural land.

Over time, and bit by bit (sweat on brow), we have been realizing our original envisioned and intended goals towards a final completion of sorts.

It's year two, and we are currently working towards the grand finish of our "part two" at the back of the property.

"Picturesque" is one word we could use to describe the beauty and splendor of owning such a piece of property.

Last year, our immediate goals for spring included removing trees within our building envelope, especially all those leaning precariously towards our roof top.

What was to be 38 trees removed overall, turned out to be 42. And they were BIG trees! The first of our *part one* goals were crossed off.

Then the party began!

Actually not.

Try as we might ourselves, multiple duties were too difficult and overwhelming for us alone, so we brought in the big guys who in turn brought in the big equipment for removing the brush, forest floor materials and the abundance of new tree growth.

Next and in proper order was the delivery of extra soil, and eventually the sculpting of the newly formed areas of the front and back of the property, resulting eventually into its initial stages of order.

More of *part one* complete. CHECK

See how fast the forest floor fills in?

Next all was seeded (sprayed and buried) so there would be grass out back in place of brush return. Passing over all with the lawn tractor would make it easy to maintain.

Another thing crossed off...

By September 2009, the grass had grown just right - like this;

Oh, I forgot to mention we had to build this deck beforehand... another list item crossed off.

Fast forward to Spring 2010.

Psst... that would be about right now folks.

Right from the beginning, we had envisioned the creation a few meandering and joining forest trails. One had already been forged during the same timing as the landscape sculpting by bribing the bobcat driver with cold water (grin) in the heat of the day.

It just never connected to anything else, only a dead end at the back of its long grassy length because of the fallen trees resting there and blocking the way.

One year later, here's when our *part two* begins, the part when we begin racing against time before the black fly and mosquito season begin, taking over all possibilities for a pleasant outdoor work effort.

Before heading off to work, my husband made all of us decide which pair of safety glasses we would be wearing. I chose the one with bright yellow lenses. So cool!

All of our intended tools for the day were brought outdoors, and we were ready to begin.

An equipment rental center was the perfect place to pop in and acquire a few bits of proper gear to add to our own.

A small chainsaw and a weed whacker were perfect for the big job ahead, but not your ordinary weed whacker, this one was fitted with a 7.5 inch wide skill saw blade for cutting through small trees, and forest bramble.

Dangerous but so effective, I felt like Paul Bunyan working on a westward expansion for trail blazing in the wild yonder.

I could take down trees with this blade, and once in a while it was a bit annoying to skim a rock or a log lying in my way.

I knew it would be my duty this year to man this equipment, something of a challenge for my hubby. So, outfitted with a safety strap over my head, resting on one shoulder, and holding on to the handles in view in front of me, I set off for making wide 6-8 ft. sweeps, for what was to end up being a spectacular and physically enduring feat I never thought I would be able to complete.

But I did.

At first I hummed along slow and steady, filled with enthusiasm and great patience for the job ahead and trying to maintain some sort of endurance level so I wouldn't get too tired.

And then, forget it, I was anxious to just barrel through, trying to keep a steady pace, trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel at one point in the day.

With the strap on my left shoulder rather than my age-old injured right shoulder, eventually the weight was beginning to take its toll, especially when the gas tank was refilled, like a lead weight to hold up.

This contraption was really quite awkward and heavy, requiring not only to be whisked and moved around but also to be held up off of the ground at the same time. Superwoman I am not, but this was one job that had to be done! :)

My helpers followed behind me as I forged new trails and cleaned up along the fence lines on two sides of the property.

One had garden sheers, the other removed cut debris from the trails themselves.

The task was much more difficult than I had first thought. In the photo above, I was just edging some of the prickles on the forest edge. I tried to work into the bramble about 6-8 ft. from the grassy edge, hoping this summer to have less bushy, mosquito filled foliage growing there.

And then, the real work began... and THIS below was what I had to forge forward and wade in to. There are just no trees in view in the scene below to give and full effect of the actual challenge;

Imagine having to complain about the sun's warmth this day, so hot by noon, we all became overheated shortly before ending our day, ultimately abandoning our duties for shade and water, but returning after a break to complete the job.

I laughed at the photo snapped of me by my photographer husband, smile. I look like I'm licking the tree or something silly, but in actual fact I was taking a brief moment and a deep breath, just looking for a bit more ooomph to keep on truckin. I had become severely overheated near the end. We all were.

Our supervisor instructed us well and kept cheering us onward. He kept the gas levels topped up for my equipment, and suggested which way to move while trail building. Frustrated with the inability to offer his total assistance for the project, he did what he could, overdid it often and recovered when abruptly necessary.

Working as a team, when we were done, we were DONE!

Our daughter fixed us all a plate of nachos on her favorite paper china plates (grin), and believe me, if we never ate the food with the water, we all may have been sick about then.

Water was great.

Food was good.

Shade was better.

And then we noticed all the burrs on our clothing, gasp!

And felt all the cuts on our arms, legs, everywhere - right through our clothing in fact. Ohhh, they began to hurt. Like many paper cuts stinging, and bleeding.

All this trail blazing took place two days ago.

Yesterday I was able to finally hobble back to take a look at what we actually completed. The following photos are what I was able to discover out yonder, before another cleanup round.

While working, I had only pressed forward and really didn't take a moment to turn back. I had my little crew working behind me and felt they would assist with whatever I may have missed. They were incredibly helpful I might add!

Today, leather gloves were donned once more, rakes in hand, a continuation of our trail blazing resumed with the final bit of clearing from the remaining wilted prickle bush piles, tree trunks and wooden logs cut up along our pathway.

These photos do NOT do the area justice for one cannot see in them the amount of sheer sweat and labor that went into this project. so happy it's done!

One more thing on our list for these trails will be to transport the pile of chipped wood from last year's tree removal, placing one wheelbarrow at a time along the mouth of the connecting trail and continuing as far as we are able.

Obviously we won't have enough for all, but it will assist in compacting the ground's ability for instant regrowth.

From our experience last year, once the overhead growth is chopped back, the ground's bramble and new tree seedling growth just explodes with the summer sun.

Here's hoping we can keep it all back and these trails will be such a refreshing calm to our days, walking and taking our dogs back there during our days.

The best part since has been watching everyone's enthusiasm when taking a stroll out yonder, with friends, with siblings, and chatting about having picnics back there this summer. Even my husband suggested we take a walk on our own property. Love it!

And this concludes another segment of our (property) goals accomplished, which is to be continued....

Wordless Wednesday

(Pssst....Easter season remains until Pentecost)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A game of pool anyone?

With so many restrictions now offering more limited physical activity levels for my husband, it's been intensely frustrating for him to note new ones from year to year, sometimes from month to month or even from week to week.

Helping him maintain a balance, it's also been bittersweet and heartwarming to see how he is adapting to positive alternative options for rendering himself a few fun activities during relaxation and wellness modes.

Since the gift of a lung disease often zaps one of energy within fair warning, sometimes in a split second if oxygen levels deplete quickly, usually a simple activity like a short walk or having to step up a few steps, both often require a recovery period when those moments very suddenly come to visit.

Recently both my husband and myself have also had to come to terms with the fact he fatigues easily during long conversations, something becoming a bit more difficult for us as a couple because after a long day at work with often many telephone conferences to attend, once returning home for the dinner hour, often we just sit, nod, and enjoy one another's company instead of entering in to torrent lengths of conversation.

We have found communication sprinkled throughout the day seems to suffice, all those techno abilities like; text messaging and email "I love yous" among others.
We save what we can for those after dinner chats we used to enjoy while walking around our neighborhood.

Oh, but we haven't been doing that either, outdoors much lately anyway for it's either too cold, too hot, too humid, too hard a moment, or too windy.

We hop into our exercise room instead, side by side on treadmill and bike.
When the spring weather decides to steady itself and remain tolerable, chances are we'll get out more often to meander about and tag the dogs along for the exercise, allowing them to stop often to sniff and check out the extrasensory overload awaiting them from the great winter snow thaw.

And we'll allow the sun to kiss our face, warm our bodies and offer us a great calming while aiming to enjoy our deck in the back, the one we had built last year, the one holding our new wooden chairs.

There have been so many limitations imposed from digressing health abilities, so something so simple as positive and gratitude thinking has become the family mantra for gathering round and creating new hobbies and fun times together.

One of those has been the introduction of the Wii video system in our home for physical movements which have benefited my husband greatly, one he also has had incorporated into his out patient physiotherapy activities with other patients once each week. We've also acquired a pool table in the past year where gathering the family round with pool cues in hand has swiftly become a common occurrence.

My, oh my we are a competitive bunch though!

In between culinary cooking sessions or evenings together at home, guess what everyone participates in? You betcha, games are sprinkled during the hours of the day or night in our sports-room-to-be.

Girls day, Boys day

I can't quite recall just how it initially began.

At least eight years ago now, my husband and I began a new family tradition of "Girls Day/Boys Day" on the August holiday long weekend, (when we lived in the west), that of B.C. day in Canada.

The children who still resided at home were divided into two groups; girls and boys (ha ha). My charge included all our girls, and my husband took charge of the boys.

As parents, we each developed our personalized strategies for what our day would include; where would we go, what would we do, how would we execute our final plans and when agenda for the day was complete, where would the entire bunch would regroup again for our evening dinner.

Every year saw huge variations with the simple to more complex, and usually memories were born from the out of the box wackiness included in a few of our outings.

As many businesses were closed for this holiday Monday, sometimes we were able to take part in a local fair, a farmers market, we took to the beach, a picnic to the park, strolled downtown to new spots, went to the zoo, sat by the ocean and watched cruise ships at port, had haircuts together as a bunch, enjoyed manicures from my mother - or whatever else came up as a good idea for that particular year. No two years were alike.

We left very early in the morning and took our time throughout the day to just enjoy being together, on purpose. Bonding sessions were in progress and typical schedules were thrown out the window - on purpose.

One year we bought tickets to attend a Vancouver Whitecaps soccer game (once reunited) in the evening and when one of our gang had a shift to work in the evening, we gave her ticket to an older married son when his wife was out of town to accompany us. Good thing we brought him along, soccer not being our kind of game so he helped familiarize us with game plays, player names, and the works.

What a good time we had!

Fast forward to three weeks ago to when our entire family was together.

I remember with great fondness, the photo below of myself and our girls (youngest was too little), snapped after a memorable evening when we gathered to take our soon to be new daughter out for dinner for a private family-only wedding shower, followed by a lovely evening stroll at the beach. We were bonding afterall, just us - me and my girls.

I thought we needed to update the photo, so I asked all if they'd like to gather again for another night and make a point of updating the photo experience. All agreed.

Our youngest daughter noted her older sister had been her exact age in the former photo and requested to be part of the evening dinner. She did have a point there, for she was my girl like all her sisters.

It was set. We were going to get "outside of the box" yet again and try some Indian food. It sounded pleasant to me, though I have never even tried such food fare at an Indian cuisine type of restaurant before.

And then, I thought of our other girls - our older Grand-Girls and thought to also invite them along to our evening dinner time. Our group is sure growing...

Meanwhile the male testosterone began to brew with my husband at the helm, thinking he too should have an evening with the boys, but when?

Originally my husband and our two younger sons were going to babysit for our daughter in law so she could get out if our son was called to work that evening. At the last minute, as it turned out, he was on a day off. Their services were no longer required for childcare duties.

Like old times, he began to make a few plans at the last minute, not sure of what others had for their own obligations. He decided, those who could make it would enjoy the evening together, no pressure.

Our son and his wife were able to hire a babysitter at the last minute. Alas, a couple of hours beforehand, all seemed prepared on both our parts, so it seemed until the "boys" venue changed at the last minute, even closer to the girls than previously planned.

Nothing was on our agenda, it just happened like in days of old. The evening ended up seeming reminiscent of a "Girls Day and Boys Day".

Traditions still abound in our family when least expected, many carrying with them great fondness and joyful memories to trigger instant smiles. Well, maybe at times not for everyone, but for my husband and I, we thought so.

After the girl's dinner together, we all strolled over on foot to crash the boy's party for a time, snapping a few more photos and squeezing in a few more hugs.

And a lovely dinner was had by all.

Would we return for again for Indian food? Oh yes. Delicious was the general consensus for all present at the table.

The girl's updated photo was a bit of a challenge though, a little blurry due to another photographer trying his best to accommodate our request. Thanks honey.

Oh but wait!

On a whim, some suggested why end the evening there. Two of the gals visited the local grocery store to purchase a rather large bucket of ice cream and the boys joined the girls at the condo we were staying at for dessert and after dinner chats.

Our Girls Day and Boys Day came together at the end of our evening, for a great closure, complete with ice cream for all.

Realistically, who knows when or if this type of activity will ever be able to happen again in the future.

As the family grows, it's becoming more and more difficult to get everyone together with the general busyness of schedules and family lifestyles when we fly into town. Even with lots of notice, there is only so much availability for everyone.

I suppose, such is the way life goes. With the many miles now situated between us, we can only make the attempt and see what happens.

Maple Syrup Festival Blessings

I've really enjoyed being able to partake of the largest annual Maple Syrup Festival again this year, no matter the lousy weather we encountered.

To have discovered so many Ontario Maple Syrup producers this year and last, and to know there are many sugar shacks local to the general Toronto area, why not then show up in support of the "locals" where we as consumers can support them, rather than be on the lookout instead for only Quebec's maple syrup brands instead as we've done for years in the past.

The funniest thing ever was purchasing a new syrup dispenser last minute, and bringing it home. I've owned several of these things before, all ending up broken like the rest from well intentioned dish washers.

When I brought this new one home, the two youngest were almost giddy-silly announcing to all, we were just like a restaurant now, for "Cora's" had these on their tables.

Sometimes a mother just has to shake her head, envisioning yet another bit of deja vu, having to purchase yet another item to replace one broken one.

I had to remember too, these two are yet again another younger group in the family, thrilled with our new maple syrup because they don't remember all those things I've had to replace in the past and not seen again for some time before becoming replaced.

All they see and appreciate is the simple pleasure and joy of kitchen creations while making a new stack of flapjacks and using something so grand as a new syrup dispenser.

Now, if only they remain this easy to please for another LONG while. grin, grin...

Pancake Song

by Christina Rossetti

Mix a pancake,
Stir a pancake,
Pop it in the pan.
Fry the pancake,
Toss the pancake,
Catch it if you can.

Maple Syrup Festival

Maple Syrup

Deep in the woods you'll find a tree
Beside an old man drinking tea
All the branches will touch the ground
And singing birds will fly around
And in this tree you'll find a friend
Covered in animals from front to end
With a plate of pancakes by the tree
While sap drips off on all three

One week ago, this was the scene of an annual Maple Syrup Festival.

This festival event is the largest in the province of Ontario, the most popular and the very one seemingly bringing this town enough business to last a full year with the reaped financial boom gained from hosting such an big event.

Parking is a premium.

In other words, one is lucky to find any. At all.

We had the advantage of now knowing this area, back roads and all, so we had no problem catching the perfect parking spot early in the morning.

My husband had not been to the festival before, nor our sons, both also along for the event. Our girls were, surprise - at the barn with their horse loving girlfriends.

The morning weather patterns were not conducive to enjoying an outdoor activity, most people feigning off the cold though to make all worth their while.

As we strolled along the center of the roadways I couldn't help but think of how it was last year, shoulder to shoulder busy, and so incredibly HOT. Quite the opposite this year, it was COLD, very COLD. When it wasn't raining, it was snowing, windy and COLD. Imagine that!

We ducked in to the library at one point, where a book sale in progress. Ah ha!

With one eyebrow raised, my excitement tattled on me, my husband snickering with that all knowing look, the one where he knew what I was thinking.

Later on, we ducked into a coffee shop where standing room only was the order of the day for many. Luckily, we were able to fetch a table in a short period of time to sit and literally begin to warm up.

Finally, the sun winked upon the crowds for a few select minutes, just long enough to stand and enjoy the local talent on stage in the main area reserved for entertainment over the course of the day's agenda.

A young neighbor of ours, friend of our son, was ready and lined up with his marching band, all eager and ready to perform for the crowd gathered before the grand outdoor stage.

Naturally we had to remain and cheer him on, his parents near to us, and all only hoping their time on stage wouldn't be ruined with rain dropping upon them and their instruments.

So many vendors were out in force, all local sugar shack syrup producers showing off their wares and offering samples for all to taste.

From the selection of; light, medium and dark varieties, my husband decided to choose this year's favorite brand.

The light was a preference, though we ended up with a medium.

As our son and myself hadn't been feeling well in advance of this outing, when the weather became unstable again, we opted not to take the bus tour for the sugar shack tour and head home.

Bearing in mind the unexpected weather difficulties for both spectator and vendor, a good time was still had by all.

Bags of syrup, fresh multigrain bread, homemade sausage were a few of our purchases this year.

And then, the afternoon was spent napping, at least for me because the small excursion took all my energy away, still not feeling like doing much.

Happy but pooped, at least we had more fresh maple syrup again.