Category: family

Blueberries

Blueberry Picking as a Competitive Sport

This summer has been a banner year for blueberries – lots of blackflies in the Spring to pollinate, and lots of rain to help them grow. As a consequence I have been involved in several blueberry picking expeditions here at the lake. Each time I was out there I thought about blogging about it – it’s a fascinating activity, after all…

If you’ve never picked blueberries, read on. You might learn something about the sport art of blueberry picking. If you have, well, you’re not going to learn anything, but you might have flashbacks. Sorry. 

It all starts when you pick up the elders others who are going to join you. Choose carefully. You must like them a lot, and they must either know “the code” or be able to pick up on “the code” without being told directly. (Ok, from now on just do air quotes whenever I say “the code”.) If they don’t know the code, you’re in for a very irritating experience. The two elders in this photo taught me the code, so they’re cool. 

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Liz & mom – experienced elders! 

Then you have to go to the secret location. If it’s not secret, you’d better hope you’re first, otherwise, you’re pooched. The best berries will be long gone. After a few days of berry picking season, once others have also started, you really need to start to investigate the crown land (don’t ever pick on someone’s property, even if they’re related … picking someone else’s berries is tantamount to theft and you will go straight to hell). If your fellow pickers are a bit more lithe (under 65 is good) you can have them hop out of the boat and do a quick looksee. This is what you want them to see:

Bushes
Blueberry bushes at the beginning of the season – we knew there was lots of good picking to come!

There needs to be a LOT of berries to make it worthwhile – or at least a reasonable amount of BIG berries – otherwise it’s going to be a long berry picking session. 

Note: Leave your phone in the boat or you will be treated as a teenager, chastised for being tethered to your phone (and the temptation to take photos will slowly overpower your will to keep picking, let’s face it…). 

Once you’re out there picking, you’d better have a lot to think about, because it’s fucking boring as hell. It take a LONG time to pick blueberries, even when they’re big. And if the boredom doesn’t get you, there are other things that will:

– the incessant chatter of the person close to you

– the fact that someone has come along and has started picking IN YOUR PATCH (this only happens with rookies) – when that happens, try not to lose your mind – just move on gracefully, you can be mature! 

Quart basket
Everyone has a favourite picking container. Quart baskets do nicely. But no handle …

– the insidious heat (berries like the sun, and since part of the code is to wear long pants & shirts, shoes and a hat, you’re going to be dying)

– the ENORMOUS horseflies (ignore them or soon you’ll be thrashing about, increasing your body temp even more)

– the pain (deep squats or bending over happens every 15 seconds. If you haven’t worked out in a few months/years/decades, you start daydreaming about laying in savasana.) 

– dropping a berry that is PERFECT (do NOT search for it… omg such a rookie move) 

– knocking over your entire basket (this can lead to weeping so don’t be stupid and set your basket on a rock … always wedge it in somewhere)

– hearing rustling in the bushes (a bear? a snake?) – do not use your imagination – consider the creature to be your competition and pick on

Throughout the berry picking there is often lively banter from patch to patch. Don’t be distracted from the fact that people are in a masterfully discreet competition. Best patch, most berries. Period. You have to FOCUS.

And for Christ’s sake, don’t step on the berries! (Crucial part of the code – almost forgot to tell you this…)

Once you think that you have suffered picked enough, it’s time to see if the others are feeling the same way WITHOUT ASKING THEM OUTRIGHT. Part of the code is that you don’t complain and you can’t be the one who has had enough. So this is a careful move. Pick your way back to the boat. If you’re with an elder, one of them will likely be there already. But if you’re with folks in your generation, you want to navigate this next step fairly carefully. Of course, you also need to have more berries than them, so keep that in mind. If you’ve got more, then just go for a skinny dip or check your phone (to make sure the kids are ok). Someone will eventually suggest it’s time to go. If there’s thunder, that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to leave. Anything other than that and you’re a wuss. If you haven’t got more, you might want to double back and top up your basket. Depends on what you’re made of. 

Once you’re in the boat people invariably congratulate the best picker on their prowess (while secretly noting that they also have more leaves, red berries and stems in their basket).

Berries in the boat
Bottom of the boat comparison. Note the extra foliage in Paul’s basket. Demerit points. Just sayin’

And you leave.

Done picking
After a skinny dip we’re cool and ready to head back.

Go back to the cottage, take note of the location – maybe even mark it on the lake map so that you remember for next year – and start “cleaning” the berries for eating, baking or the freezer. 

Cleaning berries
When cleaning berries you have to pull out all of the purple & green berries, sticks, and leaves.
Garbage berries
This is the garbage that you have to pick out. It’s a total drag, actually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now you Bake Bake Bake! Here is one of my favorite things to bake with blueberries:  blueberry crumb cake (with a shit ton of berries in it).

Pretty much the best blueberry cake I’ve had.

I have also made a LOT of blueberry muffins (see a previous post). They are the same flavor as the crumb cake – just not as many berries or as much sugar. 

Blueberry muffins
These are pretty much the perfect recipe. Check out the link to my older blog post for details.

My most recent discovery is bluberry boy bait (buttery and seriously amazing). At the time it was too amazing to take a photo of. Try it out!

Note that ALL of these recipes are from my fav blog, the smittenkitchen.

Ski Lodge Perspectives

Today the kids are skiing a 1/2 day and I’m not skiing, as I’ve given my skis to Bree and haven’t managed to get a new pair yet. I’m enjoying watching and reminiscing. So when a friend’s boy asked me “do you come here often?” I had to grin. Oh, well ya …

I grew up coming to Devil’s Elbow on weekends. I think I was 3 1/2 when I was first put on skis.  Day to day details are blurry but the general feel of those days remains firmly lodged in my subconscious. Long days. Early mornings. Tired kids. T-bars that lifted me off my feet. Racing. Friends. Dangerous and thrilling forest trails. Catching air on jumps. Puddles in March. Hoarded Mars bars hidden in ski jacket pockets till the time was right. It was an awesome childhood.

fireplace
Lemme tell ya, it was WAY colder back then, and our clothing was NOT as warm. A chair in front of this fireplace was a coveting thing.

Mom and dad were both Ski Patrollers – they helped start up the Patrol at the Elbow, actually. Their dedicated volunteerism meant that we had to get here early and didn’t leave until the bitter end – after the last sweep, when patrollers would ensure that everyone was off the hills. We had the privilege of hanging out in the patrol hut and the knowledge that if WE skied like a Yeti we’d be in very serious trouble. We were victims on training days. It likely happened once, but my imagination has me being rescued from the chair lift every fall and in gale force winds.

Ski hill photo
Early days at the hill. Mom looking swank in her Patroller gear.

As I sit here getting things out of the lunch bag for the kids, I think of mom’s lunches. I think they were much heartier. Always carefully constructed sandwiches (maybe tuna salad …with lettuce even) and veggie sticks and fruit and cheese. We’d plan to meet at a certain time and damn nation if you were late! Invariably there was a family sized Fruit & Nut bar for dessert.  Dad was in charge of portioning it out. I recall the methodical way he did it, smoothing out the wrapper just so and laying out the squares while we did the math. (The sweets were the highlights of the day of course.)

My lunches are whatever is floating around the fridge and cupboards. Haphazard. I don’t measure up. But the kids eat it all up!

We NEVER bought food from the cafeteria… Lou and I looked longingly at the crap our friends ate … the Vachon cakes … OMG. Joe Louis (chocolate, full circle) and Lune Moons (white, half circle) and the square ones with the raised caramel circle on top. PURE. ENVY. Of course I realize now that it was as equally a matter of economics as of health. The caf was and still is stupidly expensive. As Lou and I got older and had babysitting money we’d buy treats on the sly and eat the crap secretly and happily with our friends.

As I sit here writing and observing things and remembering, a bunch of kids are running through the chalet playing tag … shrieking and flinging themselves under tables. OMFG, if we did that we’d be dead!! Ok, we would never do that in the chalet because the owner, an older dude, Fred, would catch you and yell things and it would end very badly. So he’s obviously dead, but honest to god, how do these parents think that’s ok? IT’S. NOT. O.K. (put on a certain tone of voice here) In my day, kids were with families and then skied and if they didn’t ski, they were playing tag on snow banks by the parking lot but their parents THOUGHT they were skiing. We had very limited choices. Ski or be eating lunch. Or pee. Yes, we could do that.

Some things change and some things stay the same. Skiing is still an awesome thing to do with your kids … and it’s still a ton of work to pull off as a parent. And I will never sit in the chalet for 3 hours again. Pretty near killed me.

View from the chalet.

A Day at the Lake

It’s a lovely thing to come to the lake in the winter. We drive as far in as we can then strap on our snowshoes and hike in a couple of kilometers to the Bell camp. This year we didn’t trust the lake so we went by road, dragging a couple of sleds behind us. The girls went ahead, helter skelter, dropping various things off of their sleds with nary a look behind them. Funny how they didn’t notice. By the time Paul and Liam and I got there, we were laden with bags that had fallen by the wayside. Next year, bungie cords.


The lake is dead quiet. Surreal in the lack of wind and waves and birds and children hooting as they get dragged behind a boat.

We hike in the woods when the ice seems too thin for comfort. We wander around our friends’ cottages. There are snow fights and icicle finds. We are overdressed but grateful for it all.

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Inside, it’s so cozy. We all have our books (paper or otherwise) and some have a project – a puzzle, sudoku or a pair of socks to work on. Charades.

Of course lots of great food – and baking is a sure bet with me in the cabin! I get to create all sorts of yummy things – cinnamon buns and cookies and tea biscuits. For dessert tonight is a banana cake. I forgot the ingredients for the topping so I have had to improvise with ice cream bowls, marshmallows, chocolate and pecans. Result? YUM!

All in all, a glorious time at the lake.

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Photo cred @carolbell268

A jumble of goodness.

At the dinner table we always share a “highlight of the day”. This December we’ve had so many highlights. Here are a few:

Oyster Bay Chardonnay from NZ and Sanders caramels from Costco.

Perfect pairing.

 

 

I solicited the help of a wee kindie to assist in making a sample piece of artwork for our craft day next Friday. She was all painted up and gleeful to be in the P office on the rolling chair. I just love the positive energy of the little ones. “I can do it missakenzie!” when I was about to squirt some paint into a tray, and afterwards, shrieking “the soap is green!” when washing the green paint off of her hands. Joyful moments.

 

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So proud.

A follow-up a call from the receptionist at my Endodontist. She told me that she worked something out. What? What do you mean? Well, I wanted to do something, so I … let me just work this out … instead of $2505.00 per tooth… it will be $1791.00. Um … what?? Why would you do that?

“I just wanted to do something.”

I have no idea if how she managed to do it. How she might have approached her boss and explained our situation – with Bree not able to be on my medical plan and the Healthy Smiles program not covering repairs on root canals. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.

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My staff coming together time and again to make school an awesome place for the kids – so much evidence of their efforts in December! Happy kids performing at our outdoor Christmas Concert, kids participating in a full day of creative crafting, sledding sessions on the hill, the creation of gorgeous center pieces, spirit days, secret Santa … the list goes on and on. For me it all comes down to my staff. They are willing to pull together and go the extra mile for the kids. And it shows.


Each year our good friends Michael and Deborah invite us over to decorate Christmas cookies and share a meal. They make a point of inviting different families to participate each year. This year they invited the Syrian family that they’ve been sponsoring. It was a lovely afternoon and I was grateful that my children had the opportunity to connect with Nour and Hashem and their children.

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Our future.

 

My brother is home from his work gig in the U.K. It was the first time in eons that all three of us were together for Christmas. So special!

Sibs.

Lists and Sundays

I heard a while back that creating lists actually reduces stress, and that if you have trouble sleeping, you should make a list right before you go to bed so that the ‘list’ won’t be swimming around in your head all night. I think it’s a bunch of bunk because a few weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night with lists swimming a marathon through the grey matter, got up, wrote a small novella, went back to bed and woke up with hives. What’s my learning from that? I make smaller, more manageable lists, not ones that encompass every aspect of my life: work, kids, meals, birthdays, chores, appointments. Today I present to you my very reasonable list.

As you can see, this blog entry is part of the list … since I have to blog in order to cross of two other items. Huh? Well here it is: Last week I wrote a letter to my cousin’s daughter Tessa who is 5, super cute and will likely be thrilled to get a letter in the mail. I added in photos of what we were doing that night. I mailed it the next day knowing full well that when she got it her younger brother James might freak out because there wasn’t one for him … so I’ve been planning his letter which I’ve decided will be all about Liam (my 12 year old) who he adores. Since I love technology (read: I have a problem), I took a vid of Liam at drumming lessons and made a QR code for the letter so that when James’s mom or dad scan it with their phone, it takes James to this blog page and this video of Liam. Clever, I know. LOL

So here’s Liam at his lesson last week. Playing along to Toxicity. Jaunty tune… HOPE YOU LOVE IT JAMES!

After creating a QR code and finishing the letter I will tackle the knitting tasks … since I can watch Netflix while I do that (I’m binge watching Lie to Me right now. I think it will become very handy when questioning kids about incidents at school. “Did you throw that snowball? See there, that’s a lie.”)

I love to knit! My favourite projects are generally small things – socks, scarves, mittens – since they are done relatively quickly. At this time in the year I’m mending 2 pr of mittens and finishing up a third. Here they are:

After that will be the Halloween costumes. I have a pink taffeta bridesmaid dress that I wore in 1989 that I’m going to turn into a tooth fairy costume. Liam plans to be Nathan Drake. Whoever the hell that is. I’ll post the shots of those costumes later on!

Better get to it!

Wedding Weekend in the Big (Canadian) Apple

Rather than our typical Thanksgiving traditions at the lake, all of the fam and extended fam are in Toronto for my cousin’s big-ass wedding. So here I am, writing on my iPad on a Sunday morning in a semi-dark hotel room while Paul is at the gym and the kids are still sleeping.

Being a mom is always busy, but being a mom when you’re going on a trip of any sort, kicks it up a notch. So much to consider – so much to pack – so little time. So yesterday morning, in preparation for a weekend of city, and as a way to get my chi back after packing (and re-packing) for the kids plus myself, I took a long relaxing walk with the dog – in the rain, no less. Felt awesome!! I love walking through the bush as the colors are changing. The light is magnificent, and with the rain, it smelled magnificent too! I really need to do that more often. Maybe every day. (Ya right.)

Baked up a batch of banana oat muffins for the hotel room while watching a little Grey’s  (while doing some laundry and cleaning up so that the house is in some semblance of order for our return). We made it out by 1 … put Bree in the middle as a strategy for world peace, then a quick pit stop at Chapters to get a card (oops, forgot that!) and the obligatory book for each passenger (who can go on a trip without a book?).  It wasn’t a quick pit stop, but lots of fun. Paul’s book was a baking magazine for me lol. Of course Starbucks was involved and that rounded out the preparations. Who isn’t happier with a chai tea latte?

Arrived in Toronto, checked in to our gorgeous hotel and headed out to explore. Hit Bloor Street and got some deals at the Gap. We also watched a lady boldly walk right out the front door of a store with a $200 jacket. Unreal how that happens. The employees are essentially powerless. Makes me wonder how some people can have no morals.

After considerable discussion about the definition of ‘smart casual’, Paul and I, my sibs and my mom headed up to join other immediate fam for the rehearsal dinner – atop the hotel – good eats, great people! (Many of whom flew from Oz, Ireland and the UK.)  The kids ate dinner with their cousins at a restaurant on Bloor, but managed to pop in for dessert because they’re smart that way. Liam was first up to the mic after formal speeches, relaxing everyone who were considering if they had the courage to say something. His speech went something like this: “Hi. I’m Liam, I’m 12 and I’m not supposed to be here – so this is a bit ‘under the table’… (long pause)… everyone clap.” Hilarious. Stole the show.

Toronto skyline. Not exactly what I’m used to…

Tokay is Wedding Day! Stay tuned! We’ll be off to Casa Loma once we visit the ROM. Guess I’d better get the kids out of bed… (but it’s so peaceful!!!)