My family lived on a Ranch full time from 1993 until 2015. We were a 5th generation family farm.
I am writing this blog to share my experiences living there. It is best to read the blog chronologically by going through the archives, starting with the introduction in January of 2010.
The blog starts with the arrival of my great-grandparents to the farm in 1947 and will follow the families to the present.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The coffee pot is always on.....

I recently was forced to take an extended time off work due to a particularly nasty cold. I spent the days alone in our home on the farm and it was during this time that it occurred to me how isolated this place has become. I reflected back to when my great grandmother moved here with her husband in 1947 and I know from her correspondence during that time that there was a flow of people through her house. I spent days alone here and nobody came by until the late evening when my family would come home from school and work. The only connection to community was through the internet.
I became truly thankful that when I was home as the only adult with three small children that the social climate was more palatable to socialization. Not a day would go by when there was not someone "dropping" in, starting with my father arriving to the house before 6:00 AM. My oldest son would be sure to be awake before the arrival of his "Papa" in order to turn the porch light on. He would also at times attempt to make coffee with questionable results. This routine started when my son was just over two years old and continued until his papa's death.
My son Mico and his papa, one early summer day.

There was one other young family that lived a couple of kilometeres down the road. They also had three small children around the ages of mine. Her oldest were girls, rather than mine being boys, and I contribute this gender difference to her ability to marshal her children for the walk over to our house. She would be arriving at our door just as I was finally getting the outdoor clothing on the youngest. I would never learn to dress myself last so I would be absolutely overheated and sweating profusely. My friend's children were truly accomplished walkers. I am not sure if it is because of this early training but as young adults they are all naturally athletic. Our children are as well despite the lack of the same type of walking regime. Their exercise came more in the form of aimless wandering.
Mico and Aidan wandering aimlessly

It seems to me during that time that everyone was a visitor.  For example, we were friendly with the "grader-man" who would leave the government road and continue on to grade our driveway, coming right up to the house. The children would dash outside to wave wildly at the very kind man. It was truly impressive to have the massive machine right up to the house. They were as excited as their urban counterparts would be with the arrival of an ice cream truck.
I never used the expression the "coffee pot is always on" as I had become a bit of a snob when I left home, and developed a taste for expresso or freshly ground and brewed drip coffee. However at my parent's house the coffee pot was always on. I can still recall the bitter burnt smell of old coffee. My father would often microwave himself a cup later in the day.

As they day wore on the coffee developed a veritable patina of old age, sometimes to the point that my parents would make a fresh pot.
To live in a functioning community is a gift, an exchange of services and friendship. During my years with young children my emergency list of numbers stated to phone the neighbors first and then 911.  Social events constituted of a large number of guests that were within the close proximity.  There is statistical evidence, but common sense would also lead us to believe, that children that grow up in such a community have a lower incidence of mental health disorders, addictions issues and juvenile delinquency. I have a very small sample to draw from but my children and my friend's children certainly are 100% well.

A beautiful table of local children.

Our children are 100% well.

Our friends have moved away and my father passed in 2000, bringing an end to that era of a caring community.
It is now the loneliest place on earth.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pumpkin Soup from Hermance

Recently I spent a cold and rainy November day in the house, unable to go to work due to a sore throat.  I was too lazy to light the giant wood stove so the only heat was the meager waves from the small oil heaters. It was just the new kitten and I, a recent arrival who still regarded me with suspicion. The yet unnamed family member was already quite formidable, even at his young age. I found myself wanting diversion from his steady gaze so brought him into the kitchen and decided to make my Aunt Michele's pumpkin soup, partially to warm up the kitchen with the heat of our commercial propane stove.
I had purchased the pumpkins in early October, thinking of my Aunt as I did so. The pumpkin soup was one of her favourites and made a regular appearance in her home. In March and April of this year I spent time with my Aunt who was bed ridden. She had a lovely room with a view of the roof tops of her village, Hermance, where she had spent the greater part of her years as a wife, mother and grandmother.

The roof tops of Hermance, with the Lac Leman beyond.

 My Aunt, like her mother Renee, was an accomplished cook and had a fine palate. During my stay with my Aunt I was often left with the challenge to prepare lunch and supper. I struggle with cooking, although I believe that if I had lots of time I would eventually become a fine cook. I think I demonstrated that point on that November day when I undertook recreating my Aunt's pumpkin soup.

I had the Aunt's instructions still ringing faintly in my memory, but decided to do a quick search for pumpkin soup recipes on the internet. I discovered that they all used pumpkin puree or roasted pumpkin , my Aunt always used fresh pumpkin. I then went into a food blog from a New Zealand writer as I remembered that "kiwis" consume a lot of pumpkin. There I found a recipe very  reminiscent  of my Aunt's creation, thus encouraged I set about preparing the pumpkin.

It was then I recalled that I had purchased the pumpkin already prepared in Geneva, neatly wrapped in plastic, only needing to be cubed. I have never been a big pumpkin carver, more the encouraging bystander. I choose the biggest knife, and with the kitten looking sceptically on, I started carving.

The pumpkins were beautiful in their natural state.

The new member of our household withheld his vote of confidence.

Even with the biggest knife I very quickly encountered problems. I started to doubt the wisdom of wielding such a large knife all alone in the house, not being able to count the cat as a First Aid attendant, or in fact useful in any way.  I am not known for my manual dexterity and after some massive chopping and hacking decided not to photograph the results, deeming them unhelpful. I just wish everyone good fortune with this task, and to go about it safely. I will be trying to find prepared pumpkin in the future as I found my lack of skill quite profound as well as disliking the texture of the slimy seeds within the pumpkins.

The knife became strongly wedged in the pumpkin.

Finally the pumpkin was chopped up into uneven chunks. I started a soup pot on the stove with olive oil and onion, adding the pumpkin and a few potatoes from the garden. I could not help but to notice how nicely the potatoes were chopped in comparison to the pumpkin.

The potatoes from the garden gathered up in one of the original milk pails from the days on the farm when the milking was done by hand. The pail is a pleasure to use, being both beautiful and practical.

I added the pumpkin and the potatoes together into the pot with the onion and added enough water to liberally cover the vegetables. The vegetables were then brought to a slow boil, and then allowed to simmer. I added some grated fresh nutmeg and black pepper. Once the vegetables were cooked I put in some fresh Thyme from my winter garden.

I used water to cook the vegetables in, opting for a vegetarian dish. Chicken stock can also be used.

These small blenders do a great job of rendering the soup to a creamy consistency.

The final product served in one of my grandmother's Willow Pattern soup bowls with a spoon of sour cream and fresh ground black pepper.

The soup is  a good use of the pumpkin carved out to make way for the Jake O Lantern.

Food is a delicious connection to those who love us and a very nice way to express love to others. After all that cooking I enjoyed some of my Aunt's marmalade that I had carefully stowed away in my suitcases after our last visit. She made beautiful jam but we never did that together so unless someone else in her family did that recipe is lost.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Buggy Highway

I have started to walk again on the farm, although I won't yet go alone on the public road where I feel too vulnerable and exposed to what I perceive as not a very friendly place.  My first walk was on Buggy Highway which was made in the early 1930s to connect the two pioneer farms together; the farm that was located on Canoe Point with the Ferme Fleur-de-Lys. The path now follows along a rough pasture, but in the 1930s it was a narrow track through thick bush.
On that walk I started to think of all the other landmarks on the farm and the names associated with them; Bear Lookout, the top of the Big Hill, The Secret Field, the Gravel Pit, the Lean To, Broken Thumb Hill.  The names of these places are like a secret code, with only a select few people knowing where they are. In the next few months I will visit all of these places. It is a process of reclamation of what I thought was lost.

Buggy Highway, September 2012

I followed in the path of my bovine friends,
where the fence was down, twisted and broken.
Somehow seeing that gave me permission, where they went,
I went too.
Everywhere there were signs of their passage, the grass down close
to the earth.
Manure, dried and grey.
A true comfort to find myself in the field,
To remember what I love.
Right up to the top of the hill where everything below lay gently,
barns, all the grass and the thrilling green of the trees.
How could I have let the fence stop me for all these months?
The cows knew better, and now I do too.
Feet follow soul.
Around the rocks that my father lay for his mother’s ashes, and then his own.
Will I be buried there?
Behind the wall of trees that have grown thick around this burial ground.
My friends do not go there.
That fence would be better down as well, to allow the animals to trim and prune.
Liberate the view that my father so loved.
No, I decide at that moment. Not below the stones on the top of this hill.
This place is for wandering, breathing, a prayer.
This place is for life.

I followed in the path of my bovine friends.

Right up to the top of the hill where everything below lay gently.

Around the rocks that my father lay for his mother's ashes, and then his own.

Beyond the wall of trees that have grown thick around his burial ground.

This place is for wandering, breathing, a prayer.

This place is for life.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Art of Preservation - Canning Tomatoes

The last few months have been an active journey of reclamation; land, rituals, and words.  I feel as if I am making a new ground to plant my dreams in, our future. I have not felt such a sense of optimism and joy living here in years. This energy started "brewing" at the time of our large summer party, "In Good Company" where over a 100 people came out to the farm to celebrate.
Over the last few years I gave up so much that was intrinsic to living on a farm; horses, chickens, goats, garden. I am putting these pieces back, starting with canning tomatoes.

Canadians are deeply devoted to canning, drying and otherwise preserving the summer's bounty of fruit and vegetables. I have not seen this skill as avidly practiced in my travels in Europe. This time of year the grocery stores have over half an aisle set aside for canning and jam making supplies. At the office the lunch room talk often touches on what people have "set aside" over the weekend. How many jars of peaches, plums, tomatoes, beans, carrots. It is truly endless what Canadians freeze, can, dry and make into jam. In our circle of friends and family, all this accumalates into a huge Thanksgiving feast.  Many of our friends have gardens and raise their own livestock, which finds it's way to the table. As we are all so bound to the means of production there is a genuine feeling of being grateful for the harvest.

My garden, September 2012

I started canning tomatoes in 1991 during a period of time that I was living on the farm. We were so devoted to our canning that we packed all our jars up and moved them with us when we returned to University in Victoria in 1992. That year started a long term commitment to canning tomatoes and other produce that continued without interruption until the last three years. Nothing would deter me from canning my 100 jars (approximately 300 pounds of tomatoes). The canning tomato season starts around the end of August and extends to the beginning of October. The most challenging year was 1996 as my daughter was born on August 23rd., leaving me recovering from birth, in a hot kitchen, with a newborn, truly possessed in my quest to reach a 100 jars. A friend of mine from my University days was visiting during this ordeal and I think that she truly questioned my sanity.  It seems the drive to preserve is a vestige of our pioneer days.  I was discussing this with one of our volunteers on organic farms. Sandra is from Spain and has farmers in her family. She recalls being on her grandmother's farm where the entire family, men and women, would be processing vegetables or fruit, gathered at a table. It was a time for visiting as well as getting the work done. She noticed that in Spain it is now rare to see people preserve produce.

Sandra remembered her canning skills learned in childhood and helped with a lot of the processing. Here she is peeling the tomatoes after they have been immersed in boiling water.

To ease my way back into my canning habit I purchased small lots of tomatoes instead of 150 pounds at once. A large order adds a lot of pressure as it always a race to can the produce before it starts to rot.

This year I bought about 15 pounds and canned them as they ripened. Tomatoes are best canned when they are very ripe.

The tomatoes ready to be immersed or blanched in hot water. Sandra remembered a trick from her childhood of cutting into the peal. The tomatoes quickly lose their skins in the hot water and are ready to be put into sterilized jars.

Fill the tomatoes jars to the top and then add one teaspoon of lemon juice and half teaspoon of salt. Put on the canning lids and process in the canner for 10 minutes.

I like to let the jars decorate my kitchen for a few days before I store them in the pantry.

I learned a valuable canning lesson in 1994 when we acquired the historic Herald house at Herald Provincial Park. As we were cleaning the house out preparing to move it we came across an entire room in the basement devoted to canning. There was jar after jar full of old produce gathered from Jessie Herald's garden and orchard. Jessie lived for many years alone in the house, only having her mother for the first year in the home before her mother passed. The canning collected, unused, for all those years. I vowed at that time never to process more produce then we could reasonably consume as it is such a waste of resources given the work that is put into canning, freezing and making jam.

The original canning cupboard from the Herald House. It was full of old canning done in the beautiful blue jars and sat in a room lined with shelves full of old canning. The waste of the effort was overwhelming to see and I vowed never to preserve more than we could consume.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Summer on the Shuswap

Recently I attended a 30 year high school graduation reunion in Salmon Arm.  For some this would be an iconic nostalgic event, but not for me. High School was not awful but uneventful, and in no way do I look back at those days with fondness. Even after all these years there is a palatable sense of relief that high school is over. The event was certainly a lot more fun then even the very best moments of high school. I met with a friend I had not seen for a number of years that had come into town to visit family and attend the reunion. She had her copy of the high school year book and brought to my attention some of my literary contributions. There was one piece I had always liked as it was written about a  boating trip during the summer I turned sixteen. My own daughter just turned 16 this summer so reflecting on this trip had a certain poignancy to it. There were many events that unfolded during this one night camping trip and I am left with the feeling of wonder at our absoute freedom. Thinking of this trip leads me to remember many other boating adventures during my teen years; sunburns, boats threatening to blow up, being rescued by house boaters. My own children have only boated around the corner to cliff jump, and I was nervous about that, certain that they would be injured or at my worst, drown. I really can't imagine giving my children the liberty that I had as a child.
The trip I wrote about all these years ago took place with two canoes and a small motor boat. One of the travellers decided that we had too much gear to transport to use only the canoes so she volunteered herself to pilot the motor boat. The rest of us piled into the canoes and we set forth to Marble Point. This is not very far, but given the attention span of teenagers it probably took a few hours to reach our destination.
1980, preparing for departure.

The beauty of Shuswap Lake, 1980.


The same Frontiersman canoe 32 years later transporting a boat load of children to the jumping cliffs.

Marble point is the location of one of the few pictograph sites on Shuswap Lake. Pictographs, or rock paintings, were created by the aboriginal people to record significant events such as a battle or treaty. They also depict the spiritual beliefs of the people at that time. I have always been profoundly moved by pictographs, and most poignantly the ones on Shuswap Lake as it is my home too. I understand the desire to record events as it is the same motivation that makes me write this blog week after week as it may have been for the people that painted the stones all these years ago.  I think it is a common human trait to want to communicate a story.
The following is the piece that was published in the Salmon Arm yearbook in 1982 that told the story of cliff jumping during the camping trip at Marble Point in the summer of 1980:

The Braves
The afternoon sun glares upon the ancient Indian paintings on the rugged cliff, as a group of children stare down at the water far below, respecting the sacred place. It is a beautiful spot, shimmering blue water, dancing sun, warming rocks, swaying tall tres. There is a dull murmur from the group as they inspect their surroundings; laughing, teasing, and finally they all stand in a row on the cliff's edgue. Apprehension is on the faces of the gathered group, regarding with fear their mission, as the height is high enough to ice over the noblest heart, and the group is silent with this thought. Suddenly with a cry of "Yee Haw" the first is gone, with that another, screaming with terror, as the rest go, yelling, giving themselves to air and water. Six triumphant heads appeared on the surface of the lake, eyes gleaming, faces glowing, shining from the moment of bravery.

A cliff jumper from the rocks on our property, summer 2010.

There were 7 people on the trip in 1980, but only 6 "triumphant heads appeared on the surface of the lake" as my cousin was unable to jump and instead crawled her way down the cliff front, which I think required more bravery than jumping.

The pictographs at Marble Point. A very dramatic backdrop for cliff jumping.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dying To Go Home

I believe that Edmond's Bastion, the home as well as the story, are a product of nostalgia.  I have always been an advocate of living in the present and never supported the notion of the "good old days".  I have argued against those that believed that the world was a better place in the past; that there was less crime or that the youth were more responsible.  I just don't believe this to be true, and in fact statistically we do see some crime figures declining and less discrimination. It does go beyond simple optimism, which I generally fall under, but is supported by going beyond the media hype and looking at how our world is actually functioning, which I do believe has improved with time. Given this belief in the present moment I have been very humbled with the realization that I have fallen victim to a serious case of nostalgia.
The term nostalgia derives form the Greek words nostos (return) and algos (pain). The literal meaning of nostalgia, then, is the suffering evoked by the desire to return to  one's place of origin. Given that I am currently living where I was born my current condition is even more perplexing.
The term nostalgia was first used by a Swiss Doctor, Johannes Hofer. who diagnosed Swiss mercenaries serving European monarch in the 17th and 18th centuries as suffering from nostalgia. Symptoms included "bouts of weeping, irregular heartbeat, and anorexia". The condition was attributed to "demons inhabiting the middle brain, sharp differentiation in atmospheric pressure wreaking havoc in the brain, or the unremitting clanging of cowbells in the Swiss Alps, which damaged the eardrum and brain cells" (credits to Tim Wildschut et al).

The practice of using bells extends into France. Even the smallest herds of cattle wear cow bells. This was taken during a recent trip in the Rhone-Alps.

One of the cow bells that made it's way over from Switzerland and was used for a short time on the cows at the Ranch. Friends and family often ring these bills as an expression of joy and free will. We like to hear the "unremitting clanging of cow bells" over our lands.

By the early 19th century and into the 20th nostalgia became more closely associated with depression or the "immigrant psychosis "(Frost, 1938). It was regarded as a "regressive manifestation... related to the issue of loss, grief, incomplete mourning and finally depression" (Castelnuova-Tedesco, 1980). It was clear that nostalgia was being seen more as homesickness, or "mal du pays".  I have not encountered the sense of homesickness in any of the correspondence or stories between my father and his family nor my grandmother. Perhaps because my father was born in Canada, and my grandmother came as a young girl, the sense of home was always Canada rather than Switzerland. The message I always received from my father and grandmother was that Switzerland was always a nice place to visit, but it was good to come home. I do believe that I actually experience more feelings of homesickness for Switzerland than my father or grandmother ever did.

My Aunt's bedroom window, Hermance, Switzerland

Today homesickness and nostalgia are two separate "conditions". The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines homesick as "experiencing a longing for one's home during a period of absence from it" and nostalgia as a "sentimental longing for the past". Now that I had diagnosed myself I went searching for a cure and instead came across an interesting article "Nostalgia -From cowbells to the meaning of life" that has led me to embrace my condition. The writers of the article undertook a study on the psychological significance of nostalgia. What they discovered is that nostalgia enhances mental health by increasing a person's positive feelings, enhancing self esteem, strengthens social bonds and gives life meaning. People are more likely to turn to nostalgia during times of personal strife or grief in an effort to restore psychological equanimity. Nostalgic recall can be about sad events as well as happy, and are in fact often mixture of emotions and events from injury, death, separation to absolute joy. Many nostalgic reminiscing progress from a negative to a redeeming or positive life scene. I see my Edmond's Bastion story in this description. My nostalgic journey of my farm's history has helped me to recover from the never ending losses and find a personal sense of resolution. The story liberates and strengthens. I am thankful that I have such a wealth of nostalgia to draw from.

View of the farm with the expansive forest, circa early 1980s.

   Late 1970s, preparing Mr. Ed for a trail ride. One of our favorite places to go with the horses was on the trails that interlaced the forest on the farm.

Using the saddles as seats for a picnic on one of our trail rides, circa late 1970s.

Passing of a Forest

Tell that to the dead tree,
that it is part of a master plan,
skin scrapping on earth.
Stripped clean.
As I make my way along the many paths
of this life I sometimes think of the trees,
turned to logs.
I wonder at my own transformation.
Trust, I am told, bent over in pain, trust.
There is a purpose, stay faithful.
Often I am witness to other’s suffering,
I am there, unflinching, as they twist and turn.
a grace of sorts.
A moment when we see, recognize all that binds us,
earth, water, our precious life,
and then to all, a passing.
A softer word than death.
So, the forest has passed.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The First Swiss Picnic 1954

Eddy, Gus, Renee and Grandmother Caroline attended this picnic in August of 1954. They are one of the few guests that did not add their Swiss home, listing only Sicamous. The guests site a range of locations from all over Switzerland, encompassing both the French and Swiss Standard German speaking regions. There does not appear to be anyone from the Italian and Romansh regions, the other two official languages in Switzerland.  Swiss Standard German, referred to as Schriftdeutsch by the Swiss, is the official written lauguage of the German speaking Swiss. The spoken language is Swiss German, the Alemannic dialects that are the normal everyday language of the German-speaking part of Switzerland (credits to Wikipedia).

Swiss German is not easily understood by German speakers and many French speaking Swiss do not understand Swiss German nor do Swiss German necessarily speak French. In all my years of travel to Switzerland I am still caught by surprise at the distinct cultural and linguistic regions of a country that is only slightly larger than Vancouver Island. Understanding this I wonder how people got along at the picnic. I have detected some rather negative judgements between linguistic groups in Switzerland and can only hope that torn from all that was familiar brought a greater civility and even curiosity between people. Perhaps they discovered that they actually have more in common in this foreign land then they would of ever imagined possible back in their home country.

Cultural groups use language as the main anchoring feature for their communities. Canada is compromised of so many different cultural entities that continue to practice their traditions in their newly adopted country, including a strong desire to retain their language of origin. Given the small amount of Swiss immigrants to the Shuswap and the added challenge of the large geographical area it is doubtful that the picnic was repeated as was urged in the notice to come to the next Swiss picnic in August of 1955 "preferably with Swiss costume and musical instruments". In 1954 the attendees ranged from Anglemont to New Westminister.

I thought about this Swiss Picnic when I started to organize a large party on our property this past August.  I like parties to have a theme and our family party was to "celebrate what we were, what we are, and what we can become". I felt the theme reflected a realization I developed over the years of studying my family's immigration history; the desire to retain your identity from the past yet embrace who you are in your new country and to have hope for your future. There is no real reason other than hope to immigrate. The hope that your future or your children's future will be better in a new country or for those fleeing persecution, the hope that you will live a longer life free from harm. I started with the name "Free Edmond's Bastion Farm" for our party to reflect this transition we are all on, the desire to live with ease and grace. I had thought of this name as I was reading one of Nelson Mandela's autobiographies and came across one of his many famous quotations;

"There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires".

Nelson Mandela while in prison. 

 As it was a family party I eventually lost my name choice to "In Good Company", the title preferred by my son, Mico. Regardless of the name of the party it was great fun with well over a 100 people attending. It was wonderful to share our home with so many, some of them seeing our place for the first time. It was good to be reminded of the beauty of our home and have others feel the unique magic of the place and to share it's rich history.

We all enjoyed a potluck dinner at our "In Good Company" party.

I had a lot of fun decorating one of our barns for the dance.

Seal Skull Hammer, a local jug band, played for us. They put on a great performance that inspired lots of dancing.

It is interesting to bring so many people together in one place. We have never had such a large event on the Ranch before although we have had four weddings on the property as well as some large birthday parties and my parent's 25th wedding anniversary. However never has there been well over a 100 with a great number of the guests being under the age of 19. My husband stayed up well past his bedtime insuring all the young guests were safely installed in their various sleeping accommodations; tents, cars, and hammock.

Inspired by the orignal party's theme of freedom I had done some research on Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada's Charter has come under some harsh criticism of late, brought to light by the student protests in Montreal. The UN High Commissioner voiced her concern at the recent events in Quebec;

"Moves to restrict freedom of assembly in many parts of the world are alarming. In the context of student protests, I am disappointed by the new legislation passed in Quebec that restricts their rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly.”

Canada does not have Freedom of Assembly, but only Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, which leaves the government and the police to interpret what is peaceful. There is a lack of definition of what constitutes "peaceful" and much is left to the police force's discretion.

None of the gatherings on the Ranch, nor the First Swiss picnic for that matter, have ever given any cause for concern, being completely peaceful in nature. I felt infused with good fortune that I could bring such a large number of people together, some who stayed the entire weekend, and house them in comfort with so many things to do. Over the weekend people went out in the variety of non-motorized watercraft that we have on our shores, busied themselves in the machine and wood shops, cooked on our huge industrial stove, played games, went cliff jumping, read books, slept, and visited.

Mico and his friend Travis decided it was better to face each other during their canoe trip as it was easier to talk.

cliff jumping

We are ready to bring everyone back together next year for another weekend of music, dance and fun.