Friday, December 14, 2012

Costume changes required for 2012

Many of our events in Victoria seem to require a costume change:

Old-timey swimwear for the Gorge Swim Fest
Lori's old-timey swimwear
Quote-along movie: "Monty Python & the Holy Grail"

Halloween at Craigdarroch Castle

Cabaret theatre with prizes for costume wearers
Flamenco costumes

Attending the Nutcracker in 1890's style
Jack's Movember  (security guards were attracted to this look)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hard lessons in Farming


Jack & I had talked about getting some backyard chickens for a while. Having pets that laid eggs sounded wonderful, and there were already several coops on the street.
This spring we had an opportunity to share in chicken ownership with some neighbours, a ‘coop co-op’ if you will. We’d get the birds as baby chicks that had graduated from incubation in an elementary school classroom, then we’d raise them in a coop in a neighbour’s yard across the street. Nothing ever goes quite as planned.

The farmer who graciously donated the eggs for the class, gave us 2 dozen fertilized eggs in a great assortment of colourful breeds. The incubator in the classroom, however, only had room for 18 of them. We tried and failed to find room in another incubator in the area, before deciding to do it ourselves. No, I didn’t strap 6 eggs into my bra for the 21 day incubation period, but maybe worse, stuck them in the oven. We fiddled with the temperature for a few days before putting the eggs in.

The setup

(To the chicken experts out there: no, we didn’t have the oven on, just the right combination of wattages of oven lights, and yes, we provided ventilation and proper humidity, and yes we tilted the eggs 5 times per day etc.)
We spent the next 3 weeks babysitting the oven to ensure that the above was monitored properly.


In the morning of June 1st, the English Sparrows that crowd around another neighbour’s chicken coop were louder than normal. It took me a while to realize that the chirping was actually coming from the oven, from inside one of the still-intact eggs. Human babies scream after they come out, but apparently chickens do it to announce that they are about to arrive. 

'June' still wet
Within 30 minutes, “June” had arrived, sprawled out on the floor of the box we’d prepared. Two hours later, “Bug” joined him.  

'June' & 'Bug'

But the rest did nothing. After 48 hours, when all hope was lost, we removed the remaining 4 eggs. I opened one, to try to see what happened, and found a little chick who was perfect, beautiful and quite dead.

could not hatch

We fell in love with our 2 little ones. There was no way these birds were moving across the street. We wanted them to be OURS.  Two chicks, however, is not a flock, so we got 4 more from the same breeder. We then proceeded to brood them in our dining room. Jack frantically built a coop, but not before we had a real “Green Acres” situation inside the house.
'Ginger' Wallenda balances above her friends

Cuddle time

Free Ranging
build faster!


 Dorian (so-named because he was grey, beautiful, and, while friendly to us, not particularly nice to the other chickens) was the one who liked to perch on me. If I lowered my head to clean out a cage, Dorian would be the one to jump up onto my head, or neck or perch on my shoulder.

He was a unique character, charming, adventurous, smart, and beautiful. He was my friend. Right up to the moment that I drew a sharp blade across his throat. Me sobbing.

'Dorian' 2:38 pm

'Dorian' 2:56 pm
 He was the first of 3 cockerels (so far) who had to go. It is illegal to have roosters in the city, and even if I could keep them, a ratio of 12 hens to 1 rooster is about the minimum.  About half of all chickens are born roosters. You do the math. The world is awash in unwanted roosters. In commercial operations that produce laying hens, the chicks that are hens are put on the conveyor that sends them to boxes that are sent to commercial egg producers. The baby roosters are put on another conveyor. No one wants to know where that one goes. Considering that hens naturally live 10-15 years or more, but are ‘good’ egg producers only for about 18 months, well, you don’t really want to know where the chicken in that noodle soup comes from either.


While we all say we want to know our food, and where it came from, I think few of us really want to know our food personally. Know their personalities, habits, charms and faults. But if I don’t love my chickens, don’t give them treats and names and observe their unique personalities, it doesn’t mean they are any less unique individuals and deserving of love. It just means I missed that opportunity.

Have a happy Thanksgiving. I know that this year we will be giving personal thanks to Dorian, June and Patience.  I hadn’t eaten chicken in years before this adventure, but today they will be given centre-stage on our table.

Monday, May 21, 2012

For Norah...

For Norah, a friend who may be going to Newfoundland,

The first rule of going to Newfoundland is never, never, never miss an opportunity to go to Newfoundland.

Because it's there.

The rest are just some of my thoughts about where to go in Newfoundland, starting near St. John’s, and only having a brief period of time. This is by no means an exhaustive list, only some places I enjoyed during my brief stay.  I think anyone would have good luck almost anywhere.

The Newfoundlanders are a different breed in terms of generosity and hospitality, so don’t be surprised when they invite you in for tea. Also don’t be surprised if there are no hotels or b&b’s in the very small places, they often don’t get a lot of drive-thru tourists.

Click on the map for a larger version

One caution: a driving tip we were given, "If you see a tree, there's a moose behind it." I think more moose kill people on the roads than Newfoundlanders kill moose during hunting season. Do your part: eat a mooseburger. (Yes, I know I'm normally vegetarian, but these guys are out of control.)
Don't end up here
Eat a moose

The Avalon Peninsula

First stops: Witless Bay & Ferryland
Witless Bay has a small roadside cafe called the Irish Loop Cafe that has a view to die for. There is also a B&B called Elaine's that looks lovely. We were still camping at this point, so I cannot vouch for it.

At Ferryland there is a beautiful short walk out to a picturesque lighthouse. There is a caterer at the lighthouse that lets you buy a gourmet picnic. (we were too cheap to do this, but here is the link: .) There is also a B&B here, which I think is where you'll find the side by side Liar's & Gossip's benches.
Ferryland Lighthouse

They mean it
Are you a liar or a gossip?
Cape St. Mary's
Cape St. Mary’s bird sanctuary (not St. Mary’s – that’s a town). A beautiful bird sanctuary located on cliffs on the southwest corner of the Avalon peninsula. You hike right up to the cliff edge and watch the birds there. Because they are hanging out on great spires of rock, with cliffs between you and them, they feel quite safe and fly very close. I’m not sure what would be gathering there in June. Wikipedia has an entry that gives excellent information and more photos.
you don't want to fall

The Bonavista Peninsula
Bonavista is so beautiful and we almost passed it by.  We went to Terra Nova National Park and one of the park rangers there actually turned us around and said you must go back. The hiking on Bonavista is better than in the National Park which is really known for being a sanctuary for birds.

Cliff hiking
Skerwink trail – close to the town of Old Bonaventure is a hiking trail that takes you out to the coast and has views of rocky seastacks.  All the edge of Newfoundland is basically one big cliff, so you get some really thrilling views. Since June will probably be iceberg season, you’d likely have a good chance of seeing some off of here.

Beautiful and charming. Has a theatre, good restaurants and b&b’s. Don't expect to be the only tourist there
(just do an image search in google for ‘Trinity, Newfoundland’ and you’ll get a sense of it)

Like most places in Newfoundland, we found Elliston by accident. It is near a puffin colony, but if you're not in puffin season, it's wonderfully quiet. We had a meal in an old converted heritage church. There is a B&B here as well. (There may be more).
The Puffin Colony

Cape Bonavista & the town of Bonavista
The cape is gorgeously rocky and would have great viewing of icebergs. The horses run freely and chase tourists since they know we carry treats and are suckers for charming beasts (the 'charismatic megafauna effect').

Cape Bonavista - cows & horses must be smart enough not to fall off cliffs

if you find this horse, bring her home for me

Bonavista itself has a rebuilt version of John Cabot's ship the Matthew and is worth seeing. (Wikipedia has contradictory entries that says both that the replica of the Matthew is housed here and was sailed back to Bristol for the Queen's diamond jubilee. You'll have to check for yourself.)  I had no idea that John Cabot was an Italian whose real name was  Geovanni Caboto. I think there is also a Marconi site at the Bonavista lighthouse, but I may be remembering that incorrectly. In any case the Italians seemed to figure prominently in Newfoundland history. And the lighthouse sites are wonderfully windy.

Fogo Island:
I could torture you with photos of Fogo Island & Twillingate, but I'm afraid these are a bit far afield for the amount of time you have. 

Remember, if you do take a wrong turn, it may be the highlight of your trip.

Books to read:
'The Shipping News' by Annie Proulx, 1993(?)
'Rare Birds', Edward Riche, 2001 (?)
Both of these show the wonderful Newfoundlander humour & both have been made into excellent movies.
'Random Passage', Bernice Morgan. Fictionalized account of some original Irish settlers & how difficult their lives were. (This unfortunately, was made into a terrifically terrible movie)

Iceberg tracker! Let's you know where they are now.

As I mentioned previously, if you love salads and fresh vegetables, there's lots of that when you get back to Vancouver Island. While you're there, Eat a moose.