The Essence

Living and growing a family in the North awards you with a real and tangible connection to the land. As a mother of 5 and as a home baker and wannabe chef, it is this connection that seeps into everything - motherhood, food, harvesting, and experiencing the very heartbeat of the bit of earth that sustains us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

One of those weeks

This has been one of those weeks. One of those weeks when you feel like you're forgetting to breathe, and your brain is buzzing so loudly it wakes you in the middle of the night. It started on Saturday with the Faro Children's Christmas Party. After packing bags for Whitehorse, getting the girls in their Christmas dresses, doing everyone's hair, cleaning up dried on cheerios off the table, remembering to clothe myself we hurried out the door after recieving an urgent phone call, "The party started at 10, you know, and Santa is already here and asking for Lydia, GET DOWN HERE!" So we rushed down to the Recreation Centre, ran in leaving a wake of coats, hats, boots, and mitts trailing behind us. After the party, we came home, I loaded the van with bags for me and Emily, and I proceeded to travel around town filling my van with girls for our trip to Whitehorse to see the Nutcracker. We had a wonderful time, the girls were awesome as always, and I returned home Sunday with the back bumper of the van barely clearing the road. Monday and Tuesday were spent dealing (or not) with an issue at our school, which resulted in our kids taking an early Christmas vacation. I'll not eloborate here, as in a small town eyes and ears are on you everywhere, you cannot hide! Wednesday T.J went to Whitehorse. And today is only Thursday. Also in there, I held a girls night, made 10 Christmas presents for mommies and daddies with 5 preschoolers, went to several meetings and 2 playgroups. I'm heading into Whitehorse on the weekend for a couple of days without kids to get pampered at my Mom's - if I can find someone to cook a turkey for the Community Potluck on Sunday. Any takers??

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TJ vs Fireplace

I have to take a wee break from the Blind Creek stories to tell the tale of yesterday's adventure. Well, not an adventure really, more like a battle. Between T.J and our propane fireplace. T.J has an obsession with heat. He constantly worries about our heat source crapping out during the winter, and has worked tirelessly to find solutions. He believes a woodstove would solve all his problems, but has yet to just go ahead and install one. He procrastinates because the woodstove really should go into our garage, which we eventually want to convert into a room. And the garage is a mess. T.J is not the most organized guy, and junk is constantly accumulating. I have no idea where it all comes from, because every year we clean it out, take a load to the dump and a load to the free store, and every year the piles mount until there are little paths woven through to get to the freezers. The organization of the garage is most definitely a blue job, and I refuse to touch it. Kind of like how T.J doesn't touch the laundry room. Anyway, because he hasn't cleaned and organized the garage to make room for a woodstove, T.J has invested in alternate heat sources for our home. Besides our forced air furnace, we have a oil monitor and a propane stove.
O.K, I have to admit that the propane stove was my idea, in my opinion the next best thing to a woodstove. It looks like a woodstove, it feels like a woodstove, but it creates no mess and no work collecting wood. The guy who sold it to me also proclaimed an additional bonus - low maintenance. Economical, too, about $400.00 for the whole winter. So it seemed like fate when I was scanning the Yukon News one day and in the classifieds I found a Napoleon Propane Stove - just what I was looking for! I called the guy and he explained that when he and his wife divorced, he had gone over to the house while she was out and stolen it out of her living room. He seemed quite satisfied with himself as he told me all about it, he said he was moving and needed to sell it ASAP. Of course there were a few other people calling about it - it wasn't going to last long. So I bought it. For $1100.00. Not a smart decision, T.J said, without even looking at it or knowing if it even worked. As these things usually work out, we brought the stove home, T.J hooked it all up, and it has been nothing but trouble since. And T.J has no problem rubbing it in, either. After calling around in Whitehorse to all the propane dealers, there apparently are no people who fix these things. Except Superior Propane who will come to Faro for $150.00 an hour plus gas plus hotel plus food.
One unfortunate day I returned home from somewhere and found T.J ripping the stove away from the wall, swearing and sweating as he threw it outside in the snowbank. I got on the phone and arranged to bring the stove in to Griffiths, where someone would take a look at it for us. The repair guy called me one day while TJ was gone and explained that he suspected it was a venting issue, and that he couldn't know for sure without testing it in our home. Which wasn't going to happen, at $150 an hour. So a few days ago, T.J picked it up in Whitehorse and returned home, determined to try again. Yesterday he brought it in and hooked it up once more. He purchased a new thermocouple, and successfully installed it. Things were looking up. It lit up perfectly.
Then we noticed a smell. Thinking it was just because it had been turned off for awhile, we opted to give it an hour to see if it needed to warm up. But the smell persisted. Then our eyes started to water, we started to cough. We felt sleepy. Well the guy said it was a venting issue. T.J climbed up on the roof. I guess the chimney cap was plugged up with ice and snow, so he cleared it and came back in. The house was still filling with fumes. Thinking there was possibly ice build up down the chimney, T.J tied a rope around a broom handle, climbed back up on the roof and lowered the handle down. All clear. T.J started losing it again, kicking and swearing and stomping around. He came in and turned the "stupid" stove off. We opened all the windows. He was getting ready to throw it back in the snow bank. In one last ditch effort, we thought that maybe the problem was the stovepipe wasn't sealed to the stove - T.J broke the seal when he had ripped it off the wall. So I held the stove pipe up while T.J squirted silicone around the base. Just before he gave me the go ahead to lower the pipe back down, he spotted a little corner of red poking out of the bottom of the pipe. He reached up and pulled out a balled up dish towel. One of the new ones, of course, that I had purchased during our last trip to Whitehorse and then lost. Which was now pitch black with soot. He sheepishly grinned at me and said, "Oops, I forgot that I had shoved that up there". Well. HA.
The air started to clear right away and the stove has been running perfectly since. June had an especially good nap, also. I'm sure this is not the end of the propane stove saga, but our house is toasty and my husband is happy he conquered for now. We (T.J) are so fortunate that he saw that towel before we sealed the pipe. That small thing could have easily burned our house down, or poisoned us all in our sleep. A word of advice for everyone out there - DON'T buy a second hand propane stove - no matter what a good deal you found!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


We shared Blind Creek with about 20 horses, 15 pigs, (the wild looking ones with the tusks, not the cute pink ones) 400 chickens,(the smell made your eyes water) 3 dogs, 3 cats and 4 goats, one of which was named Eli. Eli hated me right from the beginning. I don't know why, I have always loved animals, and animals generally love me back. Eli was big for a goat, he had big horns sprouting from the top of his head that he could scratch his back with. Eli had yellow eyes that bore right through you, and a big white bell hanging from his chin that swung back and forth as he walked. Maybe he sensed my disgust, when we first pulled up in our blue 2 door Sundance, when I caught him urinating into his own mouth. Don't ask me how he did it, but he did. I had never seen an animal do this before, and I stared, wrinkling my nose and he stared back with those yellow eyes.

Later, as we were packing our meager belongings into the cabin we were to call home, Eli strolled over to our Sundance and proceded to tear the mirrors off it. I chased him off, yelling and waving Dustin's baby blanket at him. From here on in, the feeling of hatred was mutual.

Eli would wait for me in the morning, when I had to walk from our cabin to the main house to help with breakfast. He would hide behind our wood pile, and when I got to where he could get behind me and block my escape back inside the cabin, he would come out. Almost every day spent on that farm, I ran from Eli. The first time he went to charge me as I went out to get a load of wood, I thought he was bluffing as he reared up on his hind legs and pawed the dirt up on the ground, and I laughed because he looked funny. Then when he came at me at a full gallop, I ran and climbed up on top of the wood pile. I yelled for T.J who came out of the cabin. The goat immediatly backed away and became submissive and T.J looked at me like I was the crazy one. He told me that I just had to let the goat know who was boss, after all, it was only a goat, nothing to be scared of.

I started carrying around an axe. The next time Eli charged, I let him come and when he reared up to butt me, I hit him right in the head with the axe. That didn't even stun him, he just got madder and continued to rear up and paw at me with his hoofs. I held him off (sort of) with the axe as I retreated back to the top of the woodpile. Next I tried throwing a bucket of cold water at him, then I tried an air horn. His hate for me grew.

My battles with Eli greatly amused TJ, who thought I was imagining things until one day he saw me tearing across the yard, Dustin in one arm and an axe in the other, Eli hot on our heels. He gave me a thick leather whip. From then on, I cracked the whip as soon as I stepped outside, just to let Eli know I was ready for him. He would slink out from behind the wood pile, and follow to the main house, bleating at me the whole way. He stayed just out of the whips reach, and believe me, I tried to get him with it. I started chasing him - it felt great.

I also found that I could ride horses everywhere, Eli would chase the horse around but at least he couldn't get at me way up there. I would stand on a log, prop Dustin up there on the horse and hang onto him as I swung myself up. We rode to the outhouse, to the henhouse to collect the eggs, to the main house to do our chores there. When I left Blind Creek in the summer, our car had no mirrors, one headlight was punched out and there were long gouges along both sides. I smiled when, a couple years later when we were chatting with our employer on the phone and he told us that he caught Eli ripping the mirror off HIS truck. He shot him dead on the spot. Stupid goat.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Humble Beginning

When TJ and I were first married, we moved from an apartment in Whitehorse to a one room cabin at a farm outside of Faro. TJ was working at the sawmill they operated during the winter months, and guided hunts for them during the summer months. He was to be paid $500/month, including room and board, and this goes to show how young we were, because at the time that sounded like a heap of money. I thought it would be an adventure, and pictured our little family, TJ, 5 month old Dustin and I, cozy inside our cabin like the Little House on the Prairie books I read as a child. I always dreamed of living on a farm, and pictured us feeding the horses together and collecting eggs from the henhouse for our breakfast. Dustin and I moved there in January, in 30 below zero, me trusting that my new husbands description of our snug cabin was accurate.

It was a shed, 12X14, uninsulated with a huge double barrel woodstove taking up 1/4 of the room. It had no electricity and no running water and no outhouse.

We stuffed our things into it, a table and chairs, a hide a bed that doubled as our couch, a TV to watch movies, and Dustins crib. We had candles for light, (not to mention the light coming right through the walls from outside)a bucket for our washroom, and a blue water jug and plastic tub for the kitchen sink. I hid my horror from my new husband, after all we were still getting to know each other and still getting used to being new parents.

We were 19 years old.

Because the shed was uninsulated, heat from the woodstove went right out of it. The stove didn't come equipped with modern day conveniences like a damper, so we couldn't shut it down to burn slowly. The fire raged, the heat inside went to about 100 degrees, (hot enough to melt both the candles and the television into puddles)and then went out just as quickly. One frigid night, I woke up freezing, and used the headlamp to read the thermometer by our bed. I placed it there to keep track of the extreme temperature fluctuations, so I could kick TJ out of bed to restart the fire. Which he did about 5 times throughout the night. That night, we must have been exhausted, him from working 14-16 hours a day on the sawmill and me from cooking and cleaning at our employers home. Which had running water, and propane lights, and a proper woodstove, and a outhouse just outside the back door.

The thermometer read -26 degrees.

I remembered the wee baby boy in the crib beside us. I jumped up, headlamp and all, and peered into my baby's bed, where he was fast asleep, with all his blankets piled up in the corner because he liked to kick them off. His nose was red as a cherry. I gathered him up and brought him into bed with me, curled myself around him while TJ started the fire again.

My next few posts will tell the stories about our time down at Blind Creek Farm, that first winter together as husband and wife. Our experiences there taught us both alot about perseverance, about patience, about the satisfaction of a job well done, about the bare bone basics of simple love. Living in that shed taught us that it doesn't matter where you are, it is who you are with. Blind Creek Farm provided us a solid foundation for our marriage and our family to build a life on. I wouldn't change a thing about it. Well, maybe the bathroom bucket, I might change that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

picture pains

Taking the annual Grantham Family Picture for our christmas mailout has not been an easy task this year. TJ has been away alot, and I have not figured out as of yet how to just paste his head amongst ours. We arrived home safe and sound on Saturday night, we spent a quiet family day together Sunday, and he has left us again for meetings in Whitehorse until Friday. I figured out on Sunday afternoon that we had better get out and get that picture taken, or our Christmas mailout would have to turn into a New Years mailout. So outdoors we headed, Dustin complaining that we were wasting his time, Emily indignant because she had left her mitts and hat behind after being told she'd better bring them, (she did her very best to cover up her coldness, but her shaking knees and purple ears did her in) Lydia hollering because June got to sit in the front of the sled, and June falling asleep with snot freezing to the side of her face because she had skipped her nap. One big happy family. We ventured out on top of a hill, where the view of the mountains served as a backdrop, and TJ got the camera and tripod set up. We got about three shots in before everyone started falling apart. Upon returning home, we discovered that 3 in the afternoon on a late November day is too late to be taking pictures, they turned out way too dark. The camera wasn't on "night" setting, so it's blurry, too. So the picture will have to wait. It's really too bad that on our last day on the beach in Mexico last spring, we gathered by the water and TJ waved down some random guy with a margarita in each hand to take our one and only family picture on our holiday. We were only there 2 months, you'd think we could have got it together before the last day. Anyway, I look brown and happy,the kids looked right at the camera and grinned,(except for June who couldn't keep her eyes off the pelican who landed on the sand right beside us) the waves crashed on the sand, and the margarita guy proudly looked at the picture, and said "great family!" as he stumbled down the beach. Later, going through the pictures, I discovered that he totally cut TJ's head clean off. So that one won't work, either. Oh, well, a New Year's update wouldn't be so bad. I need to hire a photographer.