Monthly Archives: September 2010

From the trenches

Pfffft, what’s a bit of wind?

Pffft, what’s a drop of rain?

Come on, guys it can’t be THAT bad…

…can it?

Igor came; he rained; he conquered. I picture him as a schoolyard bully who, after not making any friends in Bermuda, promised to take out his wrath on the next island nation who dared cross his path. (Hey, Igor, YOU crossed OUR path! We were here first!) He’s the kid in the back of the class who spent the lesson on meteorology carving “Igor wuz hair” on the desk with his pocket knife. (Hey, Igor! Hurricanes GIVE UP when they blow north! Yeesh, get with the program already.)

Last Monday night Sylvia pulled her new trick of waking up at 1 a.m. Typically it’s bum-boob-back to bed, but that night I turned on the TV to the Weather Network. The tropical storm warning had been just upgraded to a hurricane watch for Newfoundland. The pelting rain on the roof took on an ominous beat.

Five hours later, the rain was belting down just as steadily, and by noon the wind, oh the WIND! Travis was home for dry clothes twice by nightfall. We lost the cap off our chimney and my canoe rolled around a bit, but otherwise I could safely say Igor? Who’s Igor?

Until I took a drive to the main highway. Or tried to. Gone. The road was gone. There was no more road! It was jaw-dropping. It was incredible. And it was only our own little corner of the world. In the days (daze… hehheh, get it?) to come, the magnitude of the destruction kept growing. Cut off as we were, it was hard to imagine anywhere else could be as bad off. As the roads were opened and our world got a little bigger, it was obvious that we were just one devastated town among dozens.

By Friday, Sylvia and I had enough of rationing toilet flushes and reading by flashlight. We we got the hell out of Dodge just as soon as the Barbour Bridge opened. As I drove toward my house on Random Island, I wasn’t sure that there was even going to be a house left for me to visit. But there was! And it was intact! And dry! Not a drop of water got in through the foundation or the roof – a relief, seeing as last I heard from my tenants was via the Weather Network and a video they had sent in of rushing water in Elliott’s Cove (video is entitled Major Flooding). I was so relieved to find my house high and dry (though my tenants reported the water came withing two feet of the back door) I didn’t notice the downed trees. Apparently one came within inches of the sun room.

We made it to St. John’s around 8 p.m. just as electricity was being restored to the Bonavista Peninsula. Travis, who spent the week shuttling people to and from Port Rexton and Plate Cove and responding to a discovery of potential explosives with the volunteer fire department, was glad we were out of his hair safe and sound. And he was probably glad I wasn’t around to fight him for the first hot shower in 5 days. (Oh who am I kidding, the first shower, hot or otherwise).

There’s still a lot to take in. The devastation. The military. The government’s relief efforts. The human kindness and inevitable cruelty that crisis brings to light. I imagine we’ll be weeks getting back to our regular family routine. The province will be years erasing all the physical damage that Igor wrought. What a storm.

Some photos, if you are not already sick of hanging guardrails and chewed up pavement:

I'm pretty sure those pipes belong somewhere else...

Like here, maybe.

Once upon a time there was a happy little road...

...and then Igor came along and smashed the road and stole his lunch money and threw culverts up in the air.

What are we looking at, here? That line in the middle of the picture is the pavement. It's now at eye level from where we're standing in the ditch (of what used to be a whole lane).

From above, the road looks like this.

Impassable. Roadwork was already underway here when Igor hit. Now contractors have some work to do over.

During the storm, (and for two days afterwards) the bay was brown from all the silt and runoff from washouts and waterfalls.

Mind the gap.

The drop here is approximately 30 feet deep.

Sylvia and I are home now. I’m amazed at the reconstruction that has taken place in the four short days we were gone. There is still a long, long way to go, but emergency supplies and travellers can get through if they pack patience and maybe a patch kit.

Winner of the Clothesline Biscotti Contest will be announced this week – there is still time to enter if you haven’t already done so. Also, My run? The longest run of my life? I did it. We were team “The Shore Four” and I ran the first leg.


A great day on clothes (and a contest! Tra la la!)

Laundry is a big thing in our house. I don’t just mean in terms of volume of dirty linens. We spent an inordinate amount of time planning for our washer and dryer when we renovated. The house is itty bitty, so would we have to put the machines in the porch? Maybe the washer in the bathroom and the dryer in the porch? Stackable? But full-size machines won’t jive with our 7-foot ceilings… And holy eff, stackable machines are expensive! And where are we going to plumb for the washing machine? Where do we want the dryer exhaust? OH THE DECISIONS!

In the end we got a set off Kijiji for $500. A steal! They are small. “European-sized,” they say, so they stack nicely in our bathroom. (I’ve lived in Europe, and their laundromats have just as many oversized machines as ours, but I digress). The small size forces us to stay on top of the laundry. Even so, it’s not unusual to do two or three loads a day.

And with that, the dryer would be on duty just as often.

During the winter reno, the post that held the clothesline was knocked down to make way for truckloads of supplies.

Summer passed in a rush of sunny days and friendly visits and outdoor adventures. I would gaze longingly at my neighbours’ clothes flapping in the wind and sigh.

“It’s a great day on clothes,” I said more than once, all while dreaming of the day that I, too, would have a sturdy line and sweet-smelling towels.

Finally I took matters into my own hands. Here’s how I got my clothes on the line at long last…

Step 1: complain about not having a clothesline for four months. Four!

Step 2: buy a clothesline

Step 3: Complain about still not having a clothesline even though the supplies are all in the porch.

Step 4: Threaten to hang the damn clothesline yourself.

Step 5: Thank Travis for hanging the clothesline [photo censored]

Step 6: Dig out your bag of clothespins. Oh, they're not hard to find because they've been hanging by the washing machine for four months, waiting for a clothesline pin themselves on!

Step 7: Hang clothes on the line

Step 8: Admire your handiwork and the fluffy clouds in the background. (Also pictured: The beautiful red twine loft that is not our own, but that acts as a serious windbreak when the wind is out of the North East. True story: When we ripped out the walls down to the bare studs, there was no insulation on the side of the house next to the shed, presumably because the shed took the brunt of the weather from that direction.)

Step 9: Wax poetic about clotheslines and the beauty and simplicity of their function and design, and the sweet smell of clothes dried out of doors, and the bleaching powers of the sun on cloth diapers. Feel moralistic and superior for doing some small part to help the environment all while the environment is helping you! Philosophize on this symbiotic relationship and how humans have come such a long way from caves and hide shelters, and wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the way it all used to be?

Step 10: Find a wasp in your bra. Hold clotheslines in a slightly less lofty esteem. Be glad the wasp wasn’t in Sylvia’s diaper.

So. clotheslines. I promised a blog contest, and this is it: Leave your two cents about clotheslines in the comments. Are they the best things ever or more trouble than they’re worth? Have you ever lived in a neighbourhood where clotheslines were outlawed? What if you live in a smoggy city (I’m looking at you, Claire). Do you have a special secret to pegging out clothes? Has a left-handed mitt ever knocked off your nose?

The winner, whose name will be drawn our of a laundry basket, will receive a batch of homemade biscotti made with their choice of nuts/chocolate combination. Can be shipped via airmail, but special consideration may have to be made if the winner is an international reader (Again, Claire – you listening?).

Bonus batch to whoever can cite the source of the left-handed mitt quote.


The longest run of my life

I come from a family of athletes. Champs, all of ’em – running, cycling, triathlons, Ultimate, cross-country skiing. Marathoners. Masters’ champions. Whoohoo! Go, Mom, Go Dad! Looking good! Finish strong! My sister has competed at at least two nations’ national Ultimate Frisbee championships. She’s got a couple of provincial swim records too, I think (Sarah – feel free to set me straight). Me? I’m a champion cheering squad.

I hate running. Always have. It’s just so much work for very little reward. I like my sports to have a little bit of fun factor: Mountain biking, road cycling, canoeing, backpacking, climbing, cross country skiing… all fun and I pursue them with gusto. Running? Not so much.

I don’t know where my deep-rooted hatred of running originated. If I had to pin it down, I’d probably blame it on the misguided provincial cross country ski coach who told me cycling was “not good cross-training for skiing” and that I was “too fat to run.”

I was 15.

He was a jerk.

A year later, I was the fastest female Newfoundland cyclist at the Canada Games – at least in the Individual Time Trial event. (Held my own on the road, finished the criterium and kind of bombed the mountain bike race, but I would like to direct your attention here: That’s Cindy Klassen at #32, and yours truly at #40. That’s right, I competed against an OLYMPIAN. Take that, Coach.)

But now fitness has to fit in 1-hour increments and fun can’t always be the top priority. (Until I get my Chariot that is. Or should I say Sylvia’s Chariot? Whatever. I paid for it.)

But running? Still not my thing.

Cue epic swelling theme music…

Until now.

I kept “fit” during my pregnancy by walking and swimming and moving house… twice. But Bounce Back is something I did not. We bought a jogging stroller in June, about 8 weeks after Sylvia was born. Our first outing was to the post office, 600m away. I jogged there… and walked back. The next day I jogged there and walked/ran back. The following week I ran both ways. I was ecstatic! Only 2 months postpartum and I could run 1.2 whole kilometers! It was more a thrill of fitness than of running. Because running sucks.

Then in August my friend posts this to facebook: “Alison and I are looking for a team to do the huffin puffin marathon relay!” And I thought “No sweat!” (I later thought, “Oh efff….”)

I immediately called my dad: “I can train to run 10k in a month, can’t I?” And because I wasn’t starting from zero – all those trips to the post office, you see – he agreed.

I ran 4 k.

I ran 5 k.

I ran 6 k.

And after ever long run I would call my parents.

“I just ran the longest I’ve ever run IN MY LIFE!” I’d say, before assuring that no, this does not mean I hate running any less.

I ran 7 k.

I ran 8 k.

The race is eight days away. I know I can do 9.5 k. It’s the first leg of the relay. That will be the longest run of my life. Can’t let the team down. Go! Go! Looking good! Finish strong! Way to finish!

Good run, Mom!

Coming up: A blog contest! No running required. Stay tuned…

A most peculiar cookie

I’ve accomplished a lot in the kitchen, but the one thing that continues to foil my attempts of culinary mastery is the humble chocolate chip cookie. I’ve never made a good one. Why? I can’t say. For much the same reason some people just can’t make jello, or can’t ever hard boil and egg just right, I suppose. Despite following all the instructions, despite using an egg timer, despite trying dozens of different recipes… the chocolate chip cookie continues to elude me.

A couple of chocolate chip cookies

I don’t know why I bother to keep trying.

Nothing out-of-the-ordinary here

But I do. And as I was on a baking kick yesterday I took down a selection of recipe books (I just counted – I own 24, almost one for every year of my life, plus an assortment of notebooks and envelopes stuffed full of clippings, etc) in pursuit of that infallible recipe that has escaped me for so long. I found it in Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious cook book – a book designed to ‘hide’ vegetables in basic meals, like pureed spinach in brownies and pureed carrots in grilled-cheese sandwiches. I remember deliberating for a couple of days over whether to buy it or not when it first came out, because hey, I eat a lot of veggies as it is. But veggies are good for me, so why not learn how to eat even more of them? I am unimpressed with the whole deception side of the equation, but the tips on pureeing and preparing veggies were enough to convince me to hand over $25.95 in exchange for yet another cookbook.

I don’t know if I’ve used it much over the past three years – a lot of the hidden vegetables seem like a lot of work, when I could just serve a regular grilled cheese (and apple! Best. Sandwich. Ever. Worth a post of its own in the coming weeks) with a big ol’ salad on the side. But sure enough, the book had a chocolate chip cookie recipe that I hadn’t tried before. Chocolate Chip Cookies with chickpeas. I had stars in my eyes.

Let's go in for a closer look, shall we? Oh wait...

It wasn’t immediately clear if the peas were to be pureed beforehand or not, but my friend, who had eaten them before, assured me they go in whole. From the start it was a peculiar recipe.

The chocolate and chickpeas were added to the creamed butter-and-sugar, and the flour and oats were the last things in the bowl, instead of the other way around. And it made a LOT of dough. We got 30 large cookies out of it, and there’s more dough in the freezer for next time.

What's THAT? That's a whole chick pea right there.

The final verdict? … They were better than expected! Warm, they still held a lot of that notable chick-pea taste, but cool they were tasty as can be! The recipe called for optional walnuts and raisins, but SOMEBODY in my house doesn’t like them so I left them out. I also had slightly fewer chocolate chips on hand than I needed, so the chocolate-to-chickpea ratio was a little off. With the proper proportions, this cookie has potential! I might drizzle some melted chocolate over these to really balance out the chick peas, or I may suck it up and eat them all as-is.

Question: Did I eat the cookies used for the blog photo shoot?
Answer: Maybe.
Question: Before 10 o’clock this morning?
Answer: What’s it to you?

Other kitchen conquests from yesterday were:


Moosewood Fudge chocolate brownies. I’ve never owned a Moosewood cookbook, but I’ve got a few of their recipes from friends and they are always a hit. This brownie recipe is da’ bomb. (Can I say that?) I can’t find it online, but their 6-minute vegan chocolate cake recipe is equally simple, and divine. What I like about both recipes is how stealthily fast they go in the oven, and how they only make one bowl or pot dirty in the process.

Also hot out of the oven yesterday (but cooled before eaten, because that’s the rule for this next treat):

Almond-carob biscotti and tea in a china mug from... China

Let’s go in for a closer look, shall we?

Mmmm.... almond and caroby goodness

Also fast, easy, one-bowl prep. Perfect. This recipe is really versatile, because you can add and subtract your garnishes as desired. nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, extracts… all options. You can go ahead a dip them in chocolate, but I find the simple approach is best. (Also: less pots to wash).

Biscotti! Everybody’s best friend!

Heat oven to 350F

Whisk 1 egg and 1/2 cup sugar until thick. Add 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (none of that artificial crap) and a few drops of almond essence. Fold in 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of flour and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and a dash of salt. (Incorporate optional nuts, chocolate, candy, dried fruit, etc… use less than you would expect. Like, 1/4 cup max).

Lump batter into a log-like loaf on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 25 min.
Let cool 5 minutes.
Cut, and bake for 10 more minutes.
Turn over and bake for 5 more minutes.

Cool completely before devouring.

This recipe doesn’t make a lot – maybe 6-8 decent sized pieces. Just enough for a gift, or to eat yourselves in a few days. I’ve doubled the recipe to varying degrees of success. I find it’s best in small batches.

I got the recipe from a Halifax friend – I babysat her kids all through university, and almost half of the recipes in my trusty spiral notebook – the one where Mom wrote out recipes for Grandma’s Apple Pie and Nan’s Gingerbread, Orange Oatmeal Muffins and Chick Pea and Pasta Soup before I left home – are copied from her cookbooks.

Question: Did I eat all the treats depicted in this post?
Answer: Who wants to know?
Question: Really? Before 10 a.m.?
Answer: No comment.


Dirt. We’ve got it.

A dump truck came beeping up our lane last week…

beep beep beep

It caught Sylvia’s attention:

What's that? What's that? What's that?

She was quick to see what the driver did not:

uhh, guys? That's not going to fit...

There was no way the truck would be able to maneuver into our driveway. Sylvia wasted no time guiding the truck to a better landing spot:

Right there.


Perfect. Just what I always wanted...

A dirt pile of my very own!

But I was concerned. That was a lot of wheelbarrow loads of dirt sitting on the front lawn. How would we move it from the front yard to the back?

“Don’t worry,” said Travis. “There’s an app for that.”

And so there was:

Dirt-moving app

This too caught Sylvia’s keen eye.

What's going on out there?

Nothing gets past this one. Not even, it seems, a chance to show her father how its done:

It's not so hard!

In no time, Sylvia had that dirt pile moved, dumped and flattened:


And this is what I always wanted…

...parking for two!


Chemical finds

I asked Travis if he wanted me to save this for him to use on the golf course:

I can’t imagine why he turned it down.

Alumni to watch

Laura (BJH ’08) had the world at her feet when she graduated top of her class* in 2008. Job offers were rolling in from across the country** and her work, which had once been described by a professor as “brilliant”*** was sure to take her places.

Instead, she packed up her ’96 Corolla and took the ferry home to Newfoundland, where she moved into an apartment sight-unseen at the top of a steep hill. The only basement apartment in existence with a view. She made a happy home for herself, hosting dinners for her colleague and jam sessions for her band. Buoyed by a couple of newspaper awards**** and a promotion,***** she went looking for a home where you couldn’t hear the neighbours pee through the ceiling. She bought a house in the woods and painted the living room bright blue.

She met a man, moved again, had a baby, and now fills her days singing about stinky poop and stick-out ears. She had her first-ever pedicure at 25. Her living room window offers a view of two waterfalls and the occasional otter. “It’s a far cry from a career as Carrie Bradshaw,”****** she says, “but then again, Carrie Bradshaw didn’t bake her own bread.”

And as for that $80,000 degree? “It hasn’t gone completely to waste,” says Button. “When my daughter won’t go to sleep, sometimes I’ll read a bit of Plato, or maybe a page or two of the CP style guide.”*******

*alphabetically, that is
**from the one place she applied
***true story
****ACNA best resources story, 2008
*****it was forced
****** #1 career goal among first-year journalism students, according to an informal poll
******* Ms. Button wishes to make it clear that she herself LOVES the Style Guide, but its gripping subject matter is somewhat lost on the under-5-month set.

This post was inspired by the Alumni magazine that just arrived via my parents’ mailbox. My fellow grads are working around the globe. I just made chicken-noodle soup from a whole chicken. I love my life (truly!), but it is a long way from my contemporaries who have lofty job titles and their profiles in alumni magazines. I’m proud of what they are all doing.

Last week some friends From Town visited, and as they pulled up our gravel lane and barreled out of the car they cried, “You’re living the dream!” And I am, mostly. I know what they mean – fresh air, ocean view (hell, ocean frontage!), diapers on the clothesline, bread in the oven. It’s a dream for sure, but there are no 24-hour supermarkets handy, and we’re 45 minutes from the closest emergency room, let alone physician. We’re smack dab in the middle of two school zones. And when there are only a handful of other moms nearby, it’s harder to find something in common with any of them.

It’s a dream, but occasionally it’s a nightmare too.