A First Bee-Day

Can someone please tell me where in the world a whole year has gone?! I blinked and the next thing I know, there’s this little person standing in front of me and my baby is gone. I still can’t believe we have a one year old in the house.

One full year around the sun for Miss Wallace Anne and what a year it has been. She has been the absolute shining light to the year that was 2020 and she is definitely her Momma and Papa’s whole world. The baby that made me a Mama has grown into this amazing little person, with her own personality, quirks and ticks. She now runs around the house full speed, little tip toes on the tile floors and giggles erupting around corners. She can say Mom and Dad, of course her next word was Hank (are we really surprised by this, no) and now she even knows what the cow says. Mooooooo.

While this year has had it challenges, raising babies during a pandemic is no joke people, it has also been full of some of the most amazing memories and moments. From first giggles, to first crawls, first words to first steps, and all the moments between that melted our hearts and made us smile with joy. Leaving the hospital with Wallace in tow in her car seat was such a crazy feeling. Here we were brand new parents with really no idea what we were getting ourselves into and they just let us walk on out of the hospital with this precious little newborn babe.

Those first few weeks were hard. As we navigated new routines and the changes of life with a baby. Sleepless nights, early mornings, constant feedings, gas, dirty diapers, the list goes on and on. But we survived! There were smiles, and coos, falling asleep with you on our chests or snuggled between us, those moments that gave us hope and let us know we were doing things right.

We may not have had the year I imagined as a new Mom, but we made the most out of the year we were given. While we may not have had to opportunity for visits with family and friends, we spent a lot of time together as a new little family of three. Life slowed down around us, there was no longer the hurry and bustle and stress of being here and there. Dan was home for the majority of the summer with us, as we worked around the farm and settled into this new life.

Now here we are, a year later. Thriving and surviving and getting through the day to day together. I miss my family more than words could ever even describe. Little did I know that when they got on the plane a year ago, it would be the last time we got to see them for over a year. I didn’t know that they would miss out on the whole first year of Wallace’s life, getting to see her through video chats and photos sent back and forth. But not being able to do anything about it, we adapted and we made the most of the moments we could. Thank goodness for technology people!

Wallace’s first birthday party was a quiet affair, guest list three: Mom, Dad and the birthday girl. I had ordered in advance a little cake and cookies to celebrate, and Whisk Bakery in Drayton Valley delivered! Wallace’s cake and cookies exceeded my expectations and were absolutely gorgeous. Not to mention they fit our theme perfectly. Never having had sweets before, Wallace wasn’t too sure what to think of icing and cake at first, but it wasn’t long until, with the help of Dad, she was digging right in.

Donning her birthday crown, wearing her new birthday shirt and sitting in a throne made for a special little queen bee, Wallace Anne was the cutest little Bee-Day girl you ever did see. One day we’ll look back at these moments, and we’ll laugh, we’ll cry and we’ll be filled with joy. So even though it was a small affair, it was the only way I would have had it this year!

As a birthday gift, Dan and I purchased a wooden Ikea play kitchen. Before assembling we had to make some customizations of course! We purchased the most perfect bee themed wallpaper and colour matched our paint to go along with our theme. Painting panels out in the man room after Wallace had gone to bed at night was how we got this project finished. I think her little toothy grin says it all, she loves her little kitchenette. And what little girl wouldn’t, I think I need one of my own! I look forward to adding in all the fun accessories, foods and items as she grows with her little play area.

Starting this new year with Wallace gives us something to be thankful for in a world that is still a little crazy. We look forward to all the memories to come, as seasons change and we are no longer cooped up in the house. I can’t wait to explore the farm and meet all the animals up close and personal this year with our baby girl.

Yesterday is Heavy, Put it Down

It’s been a while since we’ve had a blog update, and if I’m being honest, I just haven’t felt inspired to write over the last couple of months. The world has felt extra heavy lately. I am not a news watcher, in fact no news channels are allowed on in this house when we’re all home together. But that doesn’t stop what is happening in the world around me from seeping in through other platforms, like social media or conversations with friends and family. I am by no means saying I am turning a blind eye to what is going on daily out there in the big wide world, but I’ve found the need to shelter my heart and my feelings more and more. If that means living in a little bubble here on the farm in a state of disconnect, then so be it.

I didn’t know that after having my beautiful baby girl and coming home that the world was about to shift monumentally. My world was already shifting all on its own; figuring out motherhood, navigating life at home with a baby, trying to love this body and all the changes that happened while giving birth to my little miracle, keeping my marriage a priority, dealing with the baby blues. I think life as a new mother is HARD, but life as a new mother during a pandemic is just plain cruel. All I wanted was my own mom to be by my side, to come over for an afternoon to hold a baby so I could shower and grab a nap, to maybe make the pile of laundry building in our bedroom disappear. But more than that, I wanted my mom because she loved ME. While everyone wanted to see the baby, hold the baby, ask about the baby, it was my mom who always asked first how was I doing? What did I need? I think we all too often forget about the mothers when the bright beautiful baby arrives.

A lot of plans for what this year would look like changed dramatically and we managed to roll with the waves as they came. Lockdowns, restrictions, political unrest, social issues. For someone who feels a lot at the best of times, I was feeling all of this very deeply. The holidays came and went looking a lot different this year for many families. There were no family turkey dinners and gift exchanges around the tree. Instead there were Facetime calls and Skype visits. There were outside visits to do chores and take forest walks. There was a lot of divide.

I’m not perfect, and I’ll never pretend to be. I’m just trying to navigate this new world we are living in to the best of my abilities, in a way that will keep me and most importantly, my family, safe. I don’t think anyone knows what the right thing to do in this situation is, government and medical professionals included, because guess what, we’ve never lived through a global pandemic before in this lifetime! I think each of us as individuals have made the choices that best suit us and our needs. Did my choices upset people? Probably. Did I feel like there has been tension? Absolutely. Have I missed out on some milestones in life? You bet. But what I didn’t do was judge anyone for their decision, because it wasn’t my place to decide what was best for them.

I’m tired. I’m tired from sleepless nights with a new baby. I’m tired from the emotional weight I’ve been forced to carry since all this started. I’m tired from having to defend my decisions. I’m tired; emotionally, physically, mentally. But I get up each morning, and I get dressed, and I pour a cup of coffee and I watch as the sun rises outside my window and I know that it’s a new day. It’s one day closer to a possible end. It’s one more day I have been blessed with on this earth. It’s one more day I get to laugh and play with my daughter. It’s one more day I get to walk outside and visit my animals, who in all of this are really grounding in their complete unawareness and absolute innocence. I know I can do this, and I take it day by day. I know I will be standing strong at the end, I will be alive and well, and I will get to see my loved ones again, and I will get to have that coffee with a friend and we will get back to having that turkey dinner. But for now, I leave each day behind me as it passes, and when the sun rises on a new morning, I say goodbye to yesterday. Because yesterday was heavy, and I need to put it down.

Bits & Bites and Everything Nice

Jump to Recipe

I always wonder why Bits & Bites only make an appearance in our household come Christmastime. Then, I pull them warm from the oven and their salty scent fills the kitchen, and it isn’t long before straying hands are reaching into the roaster and sampling the goods. And then we just can’t stop! That’s when I remember how addicting this little treat is, and why I save it for the holidays, so we don’t raise our cholesterol and sodium intake all year round.

There really isn’t a treat that means Christmas more to me than Bits & Bites. I can remember being in my Mom’s kitchen, the warm room from the oven and the same roasting pan sitting on the counter as we measured out cheerios and shreddies, cheese sticks and nuts. My Mom always had a running tally somewhere on a sheet of paper sitting on the counter, ticking off the fifteen minute intervals for stirring and noting what time each one should happen in the two hours it baked in the oven.

As I smile back on these memories, my heart aches a little as I would give anything to be back in that kitchen making all the Christmas treats and goodies alongside her. Christmas is going to be very different this year for a lot of families as we face strict restrictions over the holidays due to the Covid19 pandemic. And so, I’ve decided to share my TOP SECRET Bits & Bites recipe with you, in a hopes to spread a little Christmas Cheer your way this season.


Holiday Bits & Bites

Time: 2 hours

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Cheerios
  • 3 cups Chex
  • 3 cups Shreddies
  • 3 cups mixed nuts
  • 2 cups pretzels
  • 1 box Cheesesticks ( I use Goldfish if I can’t find these crackers)
  • 1 LB butter (melted)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp seasoning salt
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 3 tbsp garlic powder
  • 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 250°.
  2. Mix together cereal ingredients, nuts and crackers in a large roasting pan.
  3. Melt butter and add in seasoning, stirring.
  4. Pour over mix in roaster and stir to coat.
  5. Bake in oven for 2 hours, stirring mixture every 15 minutes. NO LID ON PAN

**NOTEI like to add in my Cheerios at the very end, after I have stirred everything together in the roasting pan before putting in the oven. This way they don’t get over saturated!

The stirring every fifteen minutes for two hours does require some time and attention, but I promise you it is worth it in the end. So grab a cup of coffee, perhaps a good book and prop yourself in your comfiest kitchen seat and keep an eye.

Once finished, removed from oven and let cool completely in the roaster before storing. Fill up mason jars, tie them up with cute ribbons and tags, and voila, you’ve just made yourself some homemade Christmas gifts! Pack away into tins and send out with your Christmas cards this year. Or make some door stop deliveries to friends, families and neighbours to spread the cheer.

However you decided to share them this year, I do hope you’ll enjoy these Bits & Bites like our family does, every season for years to come.

Through Winter Eyes

Look at winter

With winter eyes

As smoke curls from rooftops

To clear cobalt skies.

– Douglas Florian

I wake to the dark of a new day, stirring between warm bed sheets as the baby monitor beside me crackles to life, little snippets of sound from a waking babe. I reluctantly pull off the down comforter, swing my bare feet to the wooden floor and shudder at the cold breeze from the open bedroom window. I creep down dark hallways, push open bedroom doors and greet my morning baby, standing in the crib giggling. Scooping her up she tells me tiny tales of dreams once had, ooohs and ahhhs of excitement to be out of bed and in my arms. We dive into our routine of kisses on cheeks, of changing soiled diapers, of raspberries on tummies, all by the dim nightlight on the change table.

With baby balanced on my hip, we make our way out to the living room, flicking on the overhead light. It casts a soft glow over last nights scattered toys. I set babe gently down on her quilted play mat amongst her blocks and make my way to the woodstove. Crumpled pages of magazines are used to make a bed in the belly of the woodstove. Thin pieces of dry timber stacks are placed on top as kindling and two larger pieces of wood are placed on this. I strike my match, a tiny flame popping to life, and hold the glowing head to the edges of the paper. They take, and flames lick at the wood and glass, filling the room with the faint glow of firelight. On top of the stove the small fan begins to dance to life as the heat wafts up.

We spend the next couple hours of our day with the world outside in darkness, as we play beside a glowing stove. We shape dough rising overnight on the counter for supper’s bread. We complete our mundane tasks, like unloading the dishwasher or folding laundry. We build towers and knock them down in fits of laughter. We stand at the back door barefoot, our toes cold on the tiles, and feed treats to brother Hank, who takes cookies from tiny hands like they were made of glass.

When little yawns form on baby lips, it’s time to slip back to the nursery, lights down low, and rock to the hushed singing of Puff the Magic Dragon. And as little eyes close slowly, slipping back into dreamland naps, the sun is just starting to peek her head above the horizon.

Now, the morning becomes mine.

The boiling kettle whistles from the stovetop, hot water poured over grounds fills the kitchen with wafting aromas of fresh coffee. I pull my favourite mug from its shelf in the cupboard, and fill it to the brim. This morning requires all the caffeine. I seat myself at our little kitchen table, a vintage formica set with matching red vinyl chairs, snuggled into our breakfast nook surrounded by three large windows. This is where I will watch the world come alive with the sunrise.

The sun is slow to creep above the tree line, our yard surrounded by large spruce trees standing guard against the wind and elements. Her golden rays cast beams of light through the tree branches, catching like diamonds on the morning frost. A fresh blanket of snow lay untouched, the world a white contrast to the lightening sky above. Three sleepy dogs take refuge in their doghouse under the Spruce trees, having spent a night of patrol on the farm, the sun rise goes unnoticed behind closed eyelids and soft snores.

Little painted pictures are illuminated on the windows as the sun finally peeks her head above the trees, greeting the morning and little wisps left behind from Jack Frost on the glass. In these moments I am reminded by Mother Nature to slow down, taking in all the beauty that surrounds me through these winter eyes.

Not long after the sun has kissed the world awake, the little suet feeders placed on string hooks outside the windows become a hot spot of activity. Chickadees bob through the air, darting from tree branch to tree branch, landing with little feet on the feeders. Through the glass window I hear them sing a greeting , “Chick – a – dee – dee – dee”. They hop and bounce, flitting from feeder to feeder and taking off into the cover of the trees. In their place, the black and white bellies of little woodpeckers appear, darts of red as they feed clinging to the bottom of the cup shaped suet. Their delicate little toes grasp tightly, anchoring them in place as they feast. From little Downy woodpeckers, to their slightly larger cousins the Hairy woodpeckers, there is constant action at the feeders this morning. The frost and chill in the air brings the birds from hiding, looking for energy to keep warm throughout this Winters day.

I sip on hot coffee, staring and losing myself in the world outside my window. I watch as the sunlight catches on snowdrifts piled high into the branches of the Spruce trees. Whiskey Jacks dive from their branched platforms, darting to the dog bowls left on the deck and cleaning up any food the dogs left behind. It becomes a battle of cries between them and the Blue Jays, perched atop the railing of my clothesline. Tufts of blue feathers, puffed up to look like little balls of fluff trying to keep warm. My camera lens trains in on one, click click, and then it’s gone back into the safety of the trees.

It’s not long before my feathered friends are joined by busy little squirrels. Little red bundles of fur fly from tree top to tree top, running and jumping to the next branch on the next tree. Their rambunctious chatters are enough to draw the dogs from their deep sleep. My three giant protectors park themselves below the branches, waiting for a wrong move. These silly dogs spend hours under the trees, chasing the squirrels. I’m still not sure who enjoys it more, because it has clearly become a game of chase for the squirrels as well. A plume of snow falls from the farthest tree, catching Hank’s attention and sending speeding over to inspect, bouncing up at the lower most branch. A fitful chattering erupts from the squirrel above, pleased at himself no doubt for outsmarting such a big beast.

The beep of the oven timer beside me in the kitchen draws me back inside. I slide quickly from my chair to stop the sound that seems to be echoing off the walls of the quiet kitchen. Donning my oven mitts, I open the oven door to a warm waft of air hitting my face, and immediately the smell of fresh bread is consuming the kitchen. I place the hot loaves of sourdough bread onto the cooling rack sitting on the counter, their brown crusts begin crackling as they cool. They will taste delicious smothered with butter and our own honey, and my mouth waters slightly.

Turning back to the window I hear a faint stirring, the timer of the oven or the smell of the bread has roused the baby. I take one last sip of coffee while it’s still hot, steal one more glance out of the kitchen window at the birds and the beasts outside and turn to make my way down the hallway before she begins to cry. As I pull open her bedroom door and hear those little giggles greeting me, I pause. I am thankful. For these slow mornings I am blessed with, for this house and warmth that comfort me, for the daily bread baked in the oven that will feed my family. I am thankful for the beauty of Mother Nature, her glorious sunrises that greet me and the glimpse of a world all it’s own outside my kitchen window. Oh what these winter eyes do see and this winter heart does feel.

A Love Letter to Autumn

Dearest Autumn,

To write of my love for you would be nearly impossible, for words cannot capture your beauty and very essence. But I shall try to give it my best attempt.

From the moment the sun rises orange among the treetops, you are on my mind. You fill my skies with vivid colours; pinks and purple erupt with red splashes across your vastness, as if the sky itself were on fire. You cast your glow upon everything you touch, lighting up the tiniest leaf clinging to its branch and illuminating a skyline forest of towering trees. Your light and warmth after a night of cold awakens the very soul of Mother Nature, calling good morning to all of her dwellers. Squirrels scurry from their tree top homes, ready for a day of foraging, birds call out in frenzied choruses as they hop from branch to branch.

There is a sparkle to the world as you kiss it good morning. I imagine the way the grass would sound right now, crunching beneath boots, echoing a hundred times through the frosted landscape. You have kissed my gardens to sleep, the last of the yellow sunflowers hang their heads in defeat. I have watched as the leaves on the trees have changed from green to yellow, and now lay carpeted on forest floors. You have changed the world around me into a beautiful masterpiece of art.

As I sit in the darkness of my kitchen, a cup of coffee steaming in my hands, I watch as the world unfurls before your very presence. I see all this from the large window in my kitchen, and then off in the distance my eye catches on something. Gentle beasts in our pasture out back have also risen to greet you this morning. Braying donkeys plod along the fenceline, searching for the perfect blade of grass that perhaps your friend Jack Frost has left behind. I ponder, do the donkeys love you like I do? Or do you steal away from them the warmth and abundance of their summer grazing, of warm nights and sunshine days. If the donkeys do not love you then I will love you tenfold, for what do silly beasts know anyways.

Even as a slight chill climbs my spine, sending little goosebumps scattering my arms, my love for you does not waiver. I rejoice in your cool and calm, for this means the arrival of sweater weather. Who could not sing your praises as they wrap themselves into warm wooly sweaters. I always did like your hugs best.

You have a way of bringing people together. Your changing of seasons is a time for families; to give thanks, to explore and to try something new. We went looking for you in the woods the other day, stumbling upon a little woodland pixie hidden in the foliage. Resting on a mossy bed, dressed in falls orange cloak. We gathered the leaves that you dropped from the trees, giving them one last hoorah before winters clutches turned them to compost. We piled them high and jumped with joy in their crinkling mess. I found you among the rows of apple trees, branches hanging with ripe fruit for picking. In the laughter of my child as she chewed on her first apple, seated bundled in her little red wagon. You called to me between the vining pumpkins, whispering between the orange globes at my feet. I saw your joy dancing in the eyes of my little girl, touching and feeling the coolness of a pumpkins skin for the first time. She will grow to love you as much as I do, this much I know to be true.

And my darling, outside with Mother Nature is not the only place I feel you these days. Within the walls of this farmhouse you have also left your mark. I glance at the shelves in the pantry, brimming with jars full of summer memories. Canning and preserves let us hold onto garden goodness in the depths of Winter, but they don’t fill the shelves until you have arrived. You fill the home with the delicious smell of fresh baked bread, your arrival marks the return of sourdough starters on the counter and baking always coming warm from the oven.

The woodstove crackles to life when you blanket us with the first dusting of snow. Firewood, cut by our own hands, stacked neatly on either side, and in long rows outside waiting to be needed. The aroma of warmth and comfort, the soft smoke rolling from the chimney. You are worth the work, gifting us with fallen trees for splitting and giving us this to the bone warmth only a woodfire could.

My dear friend, my love for you is unwavering, and while maybe only short lived in season, your presence has once again ignited my soul. You have lit a fire deep within that was only flickering, gasping for that sweet, cool air only you provide. I watch as the last signs of your beauty flicker before me, the last falling leaf, the last spot of grass browning in the lawn, or perhaps the way your daylight slowly retreats, getting further and further away. I hold onto these fleeting moments, knowing we will meet again one day. Once the storms of Winter have passed, once the buds of Spring have long since blossomed, and once the hot days of Summer have exhausted their stay, you will come again.

Until then, I wait.

Signed yours ever sincerely,

A little wild farmer.

A Humble Harvest

As I walk past the bee hives that sit beside the garden, sun warmed from a September morning, the sweet smell of honey and beeswax fills my nostrils. The smell wafts along on the warm Autumn breeze, tingling my senses and capturing my full attention. Busy bees dart to and from the hive entrances, dancing between taking off in flight and landing again. They are hard at work capturing the last of the pollen and nectar. A ring of sunflowers stands tall around the hives, thistles in the pasture bloom bright purple and the golden yellow of ragweed spots the ditches and banks. The bees know that seasons are changing.

The end of the Summer is a busy time in our little apiary yard here on the farm. Over the season we increased from three to five hives, one from a split and one a swarm that we caught in the garden. From these five hives, three were established enough to add on honey supers for the warmer months to collect honey. The honey super boxes sit atop the two brood boxes which make up our hives. In between the top brood box and the super we place a piece called a queen excluder, a screen like panel that allows worker bees access back and forth but is small enough to not allow the queen into the supers. We do not want the queen up top in the super laying eggs as it is strictly for honey production. When the days start to become a little shorter and the weather is about to change, it’s time to remove the supers from the hives and process them for our honey harvest!

Mid morning is the best time to deal with the bees. This is when most of the worker bees are foraging and therefore there are a lot less bees in the hive to have to deal with. One hive at a time, the honey super box is removed and placed a few feet away on the ground. We allow them to sit here for a little while in hope that any bees will return to the hive and exit the box. After about an hour, Dan fires up our little leaf blower and uses this to blow any remaining bees out of the boxes. The boxes are then quickly loaded into our trusted wagon and hauled across the yard to our processing station (which also happens to be Dan’s “Man Room” off the garage).

We have two different types of hive setups and therefor two different way of processing our honey. The first hive is a Flow Hive, and at a turn of the tap, the honey flows from the comb out a little tap at the bottom of the frame. The frames in the Flow Hive are made to already have the “honeycomb” structure built inside of each frame. They are designed to be able to shift at the turn of a handle, which in turn breaks the shape of the honeycomb allowing the honey to flow out. While it definitely makes for a much easier honey harvest this way, the bees do not seem to overly love these set ups and we have actually gone from two down to one hive.

The next two hives are conventional setups, with ten frames in each box. The frames we use do come with a premade backing so that the bees have something to start building their own comb on. The frames are removed from the boxes one at a time, one side of the frame is scraped with a special tool to remove the protective capping the bees place over each cell of honey. Once we have two frames of about the same weight with one side cleaned, they are placed into a spinner. The spinner works like a centrifuge, spinning the frames inside and pushing the honey out with the force of the motion. The honey gathers inside of the spinner and a drain at the bottom is opened to filter out the drawn gooey goodness. This method is messy to say the least. I don’t think there was one thing that was saved from sticky honey between the garage and the house.

In total this year between the three hives we harvested approximately 65 lbs of honey. Being only our second year of harvesting honey, we were quite pleased! From the garage, the honey was taken inside the house to be jarred, because making one place sticky wasn’t enough. In the house, the honey sat in our warm room (the boiler room which heats our house) for a half hour or so to increase viscosity for filtering. From the large pots we had collected it in the man room, we poured it through a filter ( a mesh pan which fit perfectly over a 5 gallon bucket) into bowls in the house. From the bowls, it was straight into the honey jars! We had fun labelling and creating cute little packages for our friends and family.

This was the first year we had enough wax cappings from processing to be able to save our own bees wax! The cappings were tied into a cheesecloth bag and set into a pot of water. The water was brought up in temperature, making sure to not let it come to a complete boil. As the temperature increased, the wax within the cheesecloth melted and released, keeping any bits and pieces of debris inside the cloth. The bag was removed and the pot taken off the heat. As the water and wax mixture cools, the wax begins to solidify and floats on top of the water. We were left with a large disk of wax at the end. This disk was then melted down over a double boiler and poured into a container to take on the shape of a brick. I am so excited to see in coming years what we will get for wax and all the creations we will come up with. For this year, I was able to make two cute little beeswax candles for us to enjoy!