Friday, July 31, 2009

Our Woofer, the mouser.

'Woofing' is a term used often in these parts and refers to an organization of labourers working on organic farms in exchange for room and board. I think the actual term WOOF is an acronym for 'Workers on Organic Farms'.

We have known several people to enlist a 'woofer' or two during peak gardening season here in the Kootenays, and the farm here is no exception. This summer, the resident woofer is a lovely girl from Quebec named Ani.

Brenda and Gail are terrific people to work for it seems and they have people clamouring to 'woof', several of them that come back again and again, many of which become like family. We met Ani on the day we arrived, and I am sure she had no idea what she was in for - living amongst a gaggle of children, all under the age of 5. She came out from Quebec, having finished her first year of college and in search of a summer experience different from out east, and I have no doubt she got it!

She's been a huge help in the garden, having had no previous experience, she's come a long way she ensists. Her english is really exceptional, and she works hard to correct herself when she slips, as that was part of her reasoning for coming west, to learn to speak better English. We do our best to make sure the children don't drive her too crazy, perhaps making up somehow by providing yummy meals. She really knows how to flatter me, by always raving about what is being served up, whether it's cabbage rolls or fresh baked bread.

One of the best parts about eating from the garden is coming up with exciting meals with as fresh as it gets ingredients. Right now it's all about the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage heads- larger than my own.

Ani has many talents herself, she is a wonderful musician, loves to sketch and her latest skill that we discovered was her ability to catch mice, with her bare hands! I am totally not kidding, she came to me this afternoon, looking quite thrilled with herself and exclaimed that she had caught a baby mouse that had run across her path into her bedroom. I was curious how the heck she had actually caught the little rodent, but more disturbed that it was a baby - which means there are likely more somewheres in the house. We realized we had a difference in opinion when she insisted on letting it go free a good distance from the house, while I on the other hand would have let Lizzie the cat have a nice treat for supper.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

All things familiar

Some days it feels as though we never left the Slocan Valley and that our Utah adventures were all just a hazy dream. But then I take a look at my bank account and am rudely reminded that that isn't the case.

But regardless of the red, we know what we've taken on will be worth it in the end, that we will have experiences and meet people that we will hold on to forever. In the meantime however, it does feel great to be amongst all things familiar: the swimming hole, the coffee shop, the gas station/liquor store etc. And our cherished house made of straw on the mountainside. I do miss it. We know it is in good hands though which makes a huge difference. Cam has even been making improvements to our place where he can between his full time work as a contractor and his own ceramics career.

One thing that has been invaluable is that Robin was welcome to come back for this break and work in his own studio. Cam and his roommate Amanda made space so that Robin could come back and crank in the studio for a month, and that is exactly what he has been doing. Since we came back from our unexpected trip to Oregon he has been in the studio everyday and some nights. He is getting ready for a studio sale that we will be participating in on the 15th of August. It is part of a larger studio tour or artists and art venues in the greater Columbia Basin region, hosted and organized by the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance.

So he pumping out the pots this month in the hopes to make some income to help fund our ongoing adventures south of the border. It's sweet to see him in his own space again, slightly altered by the newcomers, but with the same plastic lined walls, behind that same muddy wheel, cranking out the work.

We have however been able to tear him away most days late in the afternoon to join us for a swim at that favorite local swimming spot. By 3 p.m. the heat of the afternoon is almost debilitating and a plunge in the river feels amazing. Isla and Roscoe have both frequented this sweet spot since before they were born, when I used to float around in there with my emerging pregnant belly attempting to try and beat the heat. And they are loving it at this age too, happy to throw rocks, eat snacks and take the occasional dip in the cool water. 

Some of us are not always as excited about the temperature of the water!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

And Presto, it's Pesto!

Sue and her boys have gone off to enjoy a few days (and nights) of music and madness at the Starbelly Jam Musical fesitval on the east shore of Kootenay Lake and she has left Ani and I in charge of all things garden-related.

One of my first chores this morning was to get up early and check the basil plants in the greenhouse. Sue and I had picked a good deal of basil almost a week ago, and I learned all about how to properly harvest the plant to ensure it doesn't flower and to be careful the underleaves are not picked to encourage further growth all summer. With the hot weather we've been having, the plants were already due for a second major picking and I spent nearly an hour trimming and piling up the delicate leaves.

By the time I was finished I realized I had picked an enormous stainless steel bowl's worth of basil, organic basil to boot! The next step was to grind it up with some pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice and parmesan cheese to make the freshest tasting pesto I have ever had. Isla and Roscoe were big helpers by picking the stems and working the Braun handheld mixer.

We packed up several plastic containers for Brenda and they found a home in the deep freeze, and tonight we're having pesto pasta for supper - go figure!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dirty toes and tan lines

We're in the thick of summer here and that means it's hot, hot, hot and the garden is going off! I've found the best time to work in the garden is in the early hours of the morning before the kids have woken up and the air temperature is a bit cooler and more bearable. Although, even by 9 a.m. these last few days it has been 30 degrees outside and even warmer in the green houses.

Ever since we arrived back at the farm here in the valley I have been blissing out on our incredible fortune to be staying here this summer, the experience is just so wonderful. Each day brings a new lesson in horticulture and living off the land. We've been staking peppers and pulling tomato suckers, thinning beets and carrot rows, top-watering plants and of course harvesting the fruits of our labour. I love looking down at my feet, moistened by the morning dew and revealing whether it's been a productive morning in the garden.

Those first few hours in the day are typically the most productive, and then my focus switches to breakfast and the continuous requests of small people for a little while. The kids though do seem thoroughly engaged in the chores and ongoings around the farm too. Roscoe is totally enamored with the chickens and will hang out and converse with them for hours if you let him.
Isla is a big helper as well alongside her pal Tamias, doling out twist ties for staking and running to and from the water tap to keep the mamas hydrated. The two of them also spend much of their time jumping on the trampoline and in the sandpit.

By the early afternoon we have been retreating to the coolness of the house or making a trip to the beach for a dip in the river to drop our body temperatures down a notch. Life here on the farm is all I assumed it would be - just lovely!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Life's Lessons

Why is it that the tragic loss of a loved one is usually followed by such clear and meaningful thoughts of personal intent and life direction. I liken those moments to a good stomach punch, and am left wondering why I haven't lived each day as though it will be my last. I suppose with death there is finality and the fear of never seeing that person again, so in order to cope we seek out what meaning and lessons we can take from having known that person.

Thankfully, we have learned so much from our friend Tom and his wife Kathryn in the 12 years that we have known them and I am certain that we won't be the only folk to 'live out the gospel of Tom', as Kathryn put it. Robin and I spent much of the two day return drive to the Kootenays remembering Tom and talking about the urgency to live fully.

We made it back safely to our idyllic summer retreat and have spent the last couple of days decompressing and catching up on sleep. The garden is in full bloom and our biggest decisions of the day are what to harvest for supper. We've also taken our intentions to heart to spend time with those that we love and have had some great visits already with friends, both new and old.

A close friend of Tom's who had also made the trip to Oregon for the funeral, Martin and his wife Andra and their two kids, Ben and Freya, came through and stayed with us enroute to their home in Saskatchewan. They overnighted here and we were happy to spend a few hours showing them around the gardens, picked some raspberries and took them on a tour of our home and kiln, down the highway before they deadheaded it to Alberta.

The kids have been blissed out to not be strapped in their carseats anymore and to be able to run through the sprinkler, jump on the trampoline and help pick (eat) ripe berries, all while we've got in some great visits with my friend Josee, Grandpa Wes and the delightful Druitt family that spent the entire day with us here today. I really do feel lucky to be spending the summer in this beautiful place with so many of our loved ones close by.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Peace, Love and Pots

On Wednesday last week we received the devastating news that an incredible and very much loved person in our lives had suddenly passed away. There are so many ways and words that I could use to express and describe what kind of person Tom Rohr was to us and to so many other people, but I believe the outpouring and gathering of his friends and loved ones this past week at Pleasant Hill Pottery in Eugene, OR is a more accurate telling of the impression Tom left on so many in such a short time.

We arrived in Pleasant Hill, OR on Tuesday to celebrate Tom's life and to embrace his spirit and passion for all things celebratory. Tom was Robin's very first ceramics instructor at Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, AB (96-97) and undoubtedly the friend and mentor that sent Robin off on his trajectory towards a life of clay. We will miss him immensely.

But we'll keep Tom alive in our hearts through our cherished friendship with his equally inspiring life partner, Kathryn Finnerty. We love you Kathryn and are so grateful for all that you mean to us.

Peace, love and pots. - Rohr


Tom died of a heart attack on July 8, 2009. He was born in Detroit and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Tom received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, apprenticed with John Glick at Plum Tree Pottery, and earned an MFA in ceramics from Louisiana State University. After teaching pottery and making pots in Montana, Colombia, Spain, Alaska, Calgary and Winnipeg, he moved to Oregon in 2000 with his wife, Kathryn Finnerty; together, they founded Pleasant Hill Pottery. In 2004, he became a pottery instructor at Lane Community College. Tom taught and mentored scores of young potters in the U.S. and Canada, and designed and built kilns in Michigan, Alaska, Winnipeg and Oregon. Tom’s pots have been exhibited throughout North America, published in ceramics books and magazines, and featured in the film The Go-Getter, for which he was a creative consultant.

In addition to being a celebrated and beloved ceramic artist and teacher, Tom was a gourmet, gourmand, musicologist, sports aficionado, adventurist, master of ceremonies and world-class bon vivant. His joy was contagious, his wit superlative, his hospitality bountiful and his spirit immeasurable. To meet Tom was to know joy, to know Tom was to learn it.

Tom will be celebrated and enormously missed by his wife Kathryn, his mother Ann, his siblings Margaret, Sarah, Matthew, Lisa and Martha, his nephews and nieces Casey, Claire, Mike, Laura, Stephanie, Dan, Teresa, Anna and Emma, father-in-law Tom Finnerty, brother-in-law David Finnerty, godchildren Freya Tagseth and Ian Bruggeman, and hundreds of other colleagues, friends and relations. He was predeceased by his sister Mary and his father, Richard.

Tom’s funeral Mass will be held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Eugene on Tuesday, July 14 at 12:15 PM. A celebration of his life will follow directly afterward at Tom and Kathryn’s home in Pleasant Hill. (Map) In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Food for Lane County and Studio Potter Magazine.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Extended family

We've been here less a week and it already feels as though we are all one big family out here on the farm. We're not quite finishing each other's sentences and have a few details to work out for the divying of chores and such, but it's been great to share meals and childminding duties and feel at ease in one another's back pockets. 

It was Krispen's birthday today and we extended the celebrations over two days, the first with an afternoon at the lake and today with a big family supper. Much to Krispen (and Robin's) delight they were able to get out on their bikes both days. Robin is keen to be biking again in his old stomping grounds, on familiar trails with familiar faces. 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Home sweet Kootenay home

I knew that I wanted to live in the Kootenays from the very first time I visited here, over a decade ago. It's funny how a place can strike a chord for some, but not others. It took us a few years to eventually make the leap and go about setting down roots, and we got a good start on building a house and family here before deciding to take on graduate school. So I wasn't at all surprised to feel instantly at home again the moment we crossed the Salmo-Creston pass last Thursday. Funny thing is, we aren't staying at our actual home this summer......

We have been blessed with the most incredible opportunity and fortune to be staying at our very dear friends small scale organic farm, just 15 minutes up the valley from our own strawbale house and property. It didn't seem right to ask our friend and tenant Cam to put us up (or put up with us) in our place for the summer, and when we heard Brenda and Gail might need a few extra hands working in the garden and tending to the chickens, just a ways up the highway, we jumped at the chance to housesit and help out.

Brenda and Gail have headed out on the highway for some well deserved vacation time, as they have already put their hard work and time into a bountiful season of planting and sowing. We will be the lucky ones to enjoy the fruits of their labour and help with harvesting their incredible garden. Under the lead of their son and daughter in law, our very good friends Sue and Krispen, we'll be sure to weed, pick, stake and water whatever needs weeding, picking, staking and watering.

We've already sampled the fresh greens, beets, spring onions, many herbs, cucumber, snap peas and strawberries. I am so looking forward to learning as much about gardening as I am about canning and preparing foods for storage so that Brenda and Gail will have several months worth of produce in their freezer and pantry.

Their property, surrounded by mixed forests and cupping a bow in the Slocan river, is a stunning example of what 30+ years of dedication and intent can create. It is both inspiring and daunting, as I think about what we have begun just a short ways down the highway... there is plenty yet to do at our property, and we've got a few projects in mind that we hope to get to this summer. Little by little, who knows what we'll create one day.

For now, I'm ecstatic to enjoy what they have created here, for I know herein also lies that same fondness for this place we all call home.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Oh Canada!

Happy Canada Day! It's great to be back in the homeland. We pressed the pause button on our Logan life last Friday morning and made the fourteen hour trip north to the border to spend the remainder of the summer up here in our home and native land

The road trip itself was fairly uneventful. We typically split the trip into two days, and drive about 7 hours each day which is about all the kids can handle. But the first day this trip ended up dragging out to closer to 9.5 hours, as once we found ourselves in Helena there turned out to be no room at the Inn (any of them). Too many events and conferences planned for the weekend forced us to keep moving north along the highway. The kids were troopers and didn't seem to mind the extra leg of the trip, but proved to be harder to get down to sleep in their overtired state once we finally found a hotel room that night in Great Falls, MO. 

At least the next day they slept a little better enroute to Calgary and the only major event was the random dinosaur encounter just south of Lethbridge, AB. But other than that, nothing out of the ordinary. 

We arrived in Calgary mid-afternoon on Saturday and settled into a fabulous four day visit with family and friends. The purpose of our trip to Calgary was primarily to meet a couple of new family members and to give Isla and Roscoe some quality cousin time. They both loved staying with their cousin Nolan and new baby Landon, and we had some terrific meals and playtimes with Ryleigh, Cian and Auley too! 

We snuck in some visits with friends too, caught the tail end of a woodfire unloading at the art centre, several trips to the passport office (many thanks to my friend Kate back in Logan that got us out of a pickle and was more than happy to make a trip to Fedex on our behalf), a quick roadtrip to see the new ceramics program facilities at Red Deer College and we finished it all up with fireworks and a show of thunder and lightening to celebrate Canada Day. 

Canada Day (July 1st) is actually a celebration of the Date of Confederation (1867) when the four original provinces joined together into a federation and became the Dominion of Canada. For Calgarians, it also preempts the start of the "greatest outdoor show on earth" - The Calgary Stampede. We figured that leaving town before every redneck and rockn'roller descends on our birth city is probably a good idea. Besides, Kootenay lake is calling our name.  

Many thanks to all that went out of their way to see us and make us feel so loved while we were back, special thanks to all the DuPonts. Now it's time to head back to the land of tamaracks and Paddywhacks (Nelson Brew)........