This year’s decorations, in the works

Today, I finally started working on the Christmas decorations I was planning to make with the dehydrated orange slices I’d prepared earlier.

Of course, things didn’t work out to plan! 😀

Do they ever? 😉

I was going to use cinnamon sticks, plus some little decorations I’d saved from Christmas crackers over the years – they would have been the perfect size – to decorate the orange slices.

I couldn’t find them.

Many of these were collected before we moved, and now I’m second guessing myself. Did I bring them along with my other craft stuff, or did I give them away before the move? I had to pare things down quite a lot for the move.

And yet… I’m sure I saw them since the move, as I’ve had to reorganize my crafting materials a couple of times, since unpacking them.

No worries, though, I decided to use some pine cones I’d gathered from our spruces a while back.

I didn’t have enough to put two on each slice, though. We kept finding them with our feet, around the house, before I discovered one of our cats digging in the container they were in, stealing a pine cone, and running off!

I had enough left for this project, though. I just made sure the biggest cones went on the smaller slices, and paired up the smallest cones on the bigger slices.

Now, I just need to see if the adhesive will work. If not, I’ll break out the hot glue gun, but it’s not like anything is going to stick to dried orange slices very well! 😀

I haven’t decided if I will do more to these or now. I might use a spray adhesive on them, and dust them with ground cloves. It’s more about making them smell unappetizing to cats than anything else! 😀

The Re-Farmer

This is going to be an odd Christmas

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

Leyendecker is undisturbed by human regulations and restrictions! 😀

Normally, our tree would have already been decorated, and the Advent wreath, with its candles, set up.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to have a tree this year. The cats just seem to wait until we’re not around, then go after it. The main problem is, there’s really just one place that works well for a tree in this house, and there isn’t any way to stabilize it. At least not without making holes for hooks in places I really don’t want to put holes.

So we’re thinking of using a garland that looks like spruce branches in place of a tree, and focus more on decorating the house.

At least, up near the ceiling! 😀

As for the Advent wreath, I forgot we no longer had candles. There are supposed to be 4 of them. Three in blue or purple, one in pink. One after another is symbolically lit on each Sunday of Advent. A 5th candle, in white and representing Christ, can be included, to be lit on Christmas day.

If I’d remembered we burned away the last of our supply of these candles last year, I would have gone hunting for them long ago. I’d found them at Michael’s before, but outside of boxed sets specifically put together for Advent, it’s hard to find the right colours, this time of year. Michael’s, of course, is shut down right now, along with all the other “non essential” stores. Churches are shut down, too, so there’s another potential source no longer available.

I did have other candles, though. I have a silver candelabra my husband bought for me years ago, that holds 3 candles – and I had kept the candles from the last time we’d used it. They’re gold instead of blue or purple, and only about 4 inches long, but they’ll do. In place of the pink candle, I have a white one. For the Christ candle, I have another white one, marked with a cross, that had been included in our traditional Easter basket for blessing.

Yesterday, I helped my mother do her grocery shopping. Her building is closed off to all but residents and staff, so she had to meet me outside. She wasn’t wearing her face shield, but the surgical mask under her nose again. When I asked why, she ignored me, so I suspect she’s afraid of being hassled, even with the shield. She had to go to the bank, first and had called ahead to make an appointment the day before. She was told she could come any time during opening hours, and given instructions. They don’t allow anyone into the bank anymore. There’s a table set up in the vestibule. Only one person allowed at a time. Not that there’s room in there for more. My mother filled out what she needed, then knocked on the door. When someone came over, they couldn’t even open the door very far, because there was no room with her walker in there.

I waited outside while she sat in her walker. Some guy came by, wanting to go in. After confirming with me that my mother was not waiting in line, but had already been helped, and that I was not waiting in line, either, he read the signs while putting on his mask. He read the “one person in the vestibule at a time”, then asked, “what’s a vestibule?” 🙂 It is not a word that is commonly used out here!

Then he decided to try and get into the bank.

Yup. Went in, with my mother, and tried to open the locked inner door.

*sigh*

I don’t know what my mother said to him, but I heard him answering “I know that” as he left. 😀

We started chatting about the ridiculousness of it all (seriously; in that tiny space, if the virus were an issue around here, which it isn’t, it’s like they’d created the very conditions it would most likely be spread!), and he started going on about how the reason we were having so many problems was because all the kids are allowed to go to school and spread the bacteria.

Yes. He said bacteria.

Thinking he may have misspoke, I mentioned it was a virus, and he just brushed it off and kept talking about how all these asymptomatic kids are getting everyone sick by spreading the bacteria.

Thankfully, my mother was soon done and I had to help her with the doors. Because, of course, they’re not using the entry with automated doors for persons with disabilities.

*sigh*

The rest of the trip was uneventful, and my mother is now well stocked for a while. I made a point of bringing our folding wagon along, so while my mother unlocked the side door closer to her apartment, I loaded it up and brought it over. She then had to push her walker while pulling the wagon to get her groceries in, then bring it back. If I weren’t concerned about her being hassled, I would have gone in anyway. 😦

Since I was out with my mother yesterday, it was today that I started something for Christmas that I’ve been wanting to try for some time.

I cooked up a baking soda and cornstarch dough. My intention was to make cookie cutter ornaments with it. I have a set of cutters that are meant more for gingerbread house type dough, that make interlocking pieces. Once dry, the pieces can be put together to make a 3D tree, star or reindeer. I had another set of cookie cutters in a variety of Christmas themed shapes.

It didn’t work.

I think I might not have cooked the dough long enough or something, but I cooked it until it was so thick, I couldn’t stir it anymore, so it should have worked. Yet it was way too soft to be able to do anything after cutting the shapes I wanted. After several attempts, I gave up and offered the dough to the girls. They made a bunch of little sculptures, instead, which will take several days to dry.

I guess I’ll just stick with the orange slice decorations I was going to start on while the baking soda dough ones dried.

It’s funny. With having moved so many times over the years, and now with my husband’s mobility so reduced, there is nothing unusual about having Christmas with just the 4 of us. Since we were already living on my husband’s disability payments, we’re used to being extremely fugal. Living in relative isolation, a lot of the restrictions and regulations don’t affect us directly most of the time. Yet, the long tentacles of government overreach is affecting even us. When we do go into town, we’re not allowed to buy anything Christmas related (unless it’s for pets; you can buy all the Christmas themed pet toys you want, but you can’t buy toys for human children), nor books and magazines, most clothing, and so many other things government talking heads have decided are not “essential”. All of this is affecting everyone, as prices for basic necessities, have to go up in response. So people like us and my mother – who at least have incomes, as small as they are – are going to be having a harder time of it. Gas prices are going down again, but there is nowhere to go. Supposedly, the lock down is going to end on Dec. 11, but our premier is already saying it’s not going to be lifted much, and telling people not to get together with family for Christmas, even with the reduced restrictions.

Meanwhile, it’s our seniors in long term care in the city, surrounded by people in PPE, but no family or loved ones, and no activities to help combat cognitive decline or loneliness, that are dying. Not necessarily of the virus, but of starvation, dehydration and neglect. Meanwhile, my mother can’t even find out how her sister is doing; her niece isn’t returning her calls (not sure what’s going on there), and my mother can’t navigate the automated phone system to talk to a human being. I’m not on the list of people they’re allowed to talk to, so I can’t find out for her.

I think I’ll call, anyway, and ask them to phone my mother or something.

It’s going to be a very strange Christmas.

The Re-Farmer

Babcia’s Bread Experiment, part 4, and baking day!

Last night, I prepared the dough ball from our previous baking. I was really curious about our bubble!

Seeing this reminded me of a story my mother told me, when I was a child, helping her bake bread.

There was a young couple and, while the husband was at work, the wife decided to bake bread. The only problem was, she’d never baked bread before!

She followed the recipe and set the dough aside to rise.

It wouldn’t rise.

After a very long time, the wife decided she had failed somehow and was feeling quite ashamed of her failure. Her husband would be coming home from work soon, so she decided to hide the evidence by burying the dough in the garden.

It was, however, a sunny and warm day. Some time later, her husband happened to glance out the window and saw what appeared to be a giant white mushroom growing in the garden!

The wife didn’t realize the house was too cold for the bread to rise properly, but once warmed by the sun, it rose quite enthusiastically!

Alas, the poor woman’s secret was out, and she had to explain to her husband why there was a giant bubble growing in their garden. 😀

I was talking to my mother on the phone just a little while ago, and told her about the bubble that emerged from the flour, asking if she knew what it made me think of when I saw it.

She knew exactly what that was!

We got a good laugh over it!

So what did this bubble look like when I dug the bread egg out?

Rather funny, I thought!

Like last time, it was light, with a dried, crisp outer shell, and lovely, bubbly dough inside.

I broke it up into pieces, putting it in a crock with 2 1/2 cups of warm water – the full amount I would be using in the dough – and set the crock into a warm oven with the light on, and left it overnight.

Here, you can see how it looked the next morning, after a good stir, and how the finished dough looked as it was set aside to rise.

Since I expected this to take a while, I decided to make a 2 loaf recipe of basic bread. In the time that took to rise, the old dough bread still needed more time!

With the plain bread, I took half of the dough, cut it into a dozen pieces, rolled each piece into long, flattened strip, which got wrapped around a hot dog wiener.

It’s been a long time since I made these!

That worked out quite well!

The other half of the dough, meanwhile, also got split into a dozen pieces, which got made into buns.

I baked those in a cast iron pan, to make pull-apart buns.

My Babcia’s Bread experiment still wasn’t rising, so while the buns and wieners were rising, then waiting their turns for the oven, I made another batch of bread.

This bread was my usual oatmeal flax bread, with the addition of chia seeds and hemp hearts. I made a 2 loaf recipe, but divided them into 4 smaller loaves.

By now, my Babcia’s Bread was still not risen a much as I would have liked, but with the oven in use, there wasn’t anywhere I could keep it warm. Besides, it did rise at least some.

I decided not to do three risings this time.

Plus, I cheated.

The bread egg is the same principle as a sourdough, without the moisture levels. Which means the developing yeasts would become increasingly acidic.

I decided to take advantage of that and employ a bit of chemistry.

What happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar?

Lots of bubbles, of course!

What happens when you add baking soda to an acidic bread mixture?

More bubbles!

I sprinkled some baking soda onto my kneading surface and worked it in quite thoroughly. The dough turned out to have risen more than it appeared to have, so it was already pretty light and fluffy. As I kneaded in the baking soda, I could actually feel the dough becoming even lighter and puffier in my hands!

After kneading it enough to ensure the baking soda, along with a little more flour to keep it from getting too sticky – and remembering to take off a ball of dough for the next baking! – I divided it into 4 small loaves and set them aside to rise some more more.

While my Babcia’s Bread dough was still rising, I had time to make yet another batch of bread. Surprise bread!

This time, I made a plain 2 loaf recipe, then added parsley, garlic granules, paprika and dill. After letting it rise, I made a dozen buns, each stuffed with 1 cube of mozzarella and 1 cube of old cheddar cheeses.

It turned out pretty awesome, if I do say so myself!

Here is my bread baking for the day – minus the hot dogs, which were already eaten! Top left is 2 loaves of Babcia’s Bread. In the middle is the pull-apart buns that were baked in a cast iron frying pan, and on the right are a couple of surprise bread buns. In the foreground is one of the oatmeal flax loaves.

This made for quite the productive baking day!

The Re-Farmer

Half shop, and bubble!

First up, Happy Thanksgiving to all our visitors from the US! I hope you are having a wonderful day! 🙂

Today was my day to go into the city for our monthly stock up.

I was really dreading it.

I’m part of a local, private, online group where people around our province share where it is safe to shop for people who can’t wear masks. Since our province went into “enhanced lock down,” some places have gone full gestapo. The Costco I normally go to has always been really great, but something changed. Now, masks or shields are required, or no one is allowed in. I know quite a few people who cannot wear even a face shield, at all (largely due to PTSD), and they reported some pretty awful responses from the management. Worse, people were reporting that police have started patrolling the stores and parking lots at all Costco locations. They have been approaching people in their vehicles, when there is more than one person, demanding to know if they were from the same household. One woman had an officer come back to her vehicle and ticket her, for being part of a freedom protest a couple of weeks ago. How the officer determined who she was or if she were even at that protest, she didn’t know. Inside the store, people were reporting being hassled, medical exemptions being denied, and management being downright abusive. A different Costco location than the one I usually go to, which was already known for not being a safe place, has gotten even worse.

As you can imagine, I was quite concerned. Yes, I would be wearing a shield, but even people with shields were reporting being denied entry to some stores, getting harassed by security, and so on.

Normally, a daughter comes with me, but with the “enhanced lock down”, I wasn’t sure we would both be allowed into any stores at the same time. So I went alone, just in case.

Normally, we do a drive through breakfast, then Walmart, then an international grocery store, then Costco, so that stuff that is frozen, or needs refrigeration, is in the vehicle for the shortest possible time.

Today, I skipped the drive through, and bought most of what was on my list at Walmart. I walked in with my shield, and no one batted an eye. I was the only person I saw with a shield instead of a mask, the entire time. I did get odd looks from a couple of customers, but with their faces hidden, I really couldn’t tell what their full expressions where. One old guy just stopped dead in his tracks and stared at me. ???

The last thing I got at the Walmart was a small tray of sushi for breakfast to eat in the van, then headed to the international grocery store. I was able to get the rest of what was on my list there. This place is awesome, and I probably would have been fine without even the face shield, but I didn’t want to take a chance of them getting fined $5000; something else our provincial government has started to do.

Along with what was on my list, I also found something I was quite excited about, in the Indian food aisle.

Duram wheat flour!

We’re going to be making pasta! 😀

It doesn’t take much for me to get excited. 😉

Best of all, though, I was able to skip Costco entirely.

Since neither place had flat carts, I wasn’t able to get things in the same amount we normally would. I basically did a half-shop, as far as quantities go, so we will need to make a second trip. Especially for the heavy stuff, like cat food and litter. Most of the smaller, lighter stuff, we can get locally without hurting the budget too badly. The lock down is supposed to end on Dec. 11, so we have at least enough to last until then. I don’t expect the lock down to actually end, though. From what I’m seeing, I expect things to get worse, not better. And I don’t mean the virus. I hope I’m wrong.

Once I got home, and the girls and I were putting everything away, I happened to see something odd through the semi-transparent lid of our flour container. So I opened it to check.

It’s a bubble!!

The “bread egg” I buried in there managed to expand a bubble far enough to break through the top of the flour!

Well, at least I know that yeast is still active and happy! 😀

Tonight, I’ll be fishing it out to soak overnight, to continue my Babcia’s bread experiment.

But I digress…

One thing I made sure to do as I headed out, was bring our pulse oximeter. After the issues I had before, I wanted to monitor myself. I used it before I left and I can’t say I was surprised to see my heart rate was at 112 – I was already pretty stressed! – but my oxygen was at 95%. I typically read at 97 or 98, so this is low for me. The “normal” range is 95-100%, unless a person has something like COPD or some other lung disease. Anything from 88-94% is still considered safe, but below that, it’s recommended to get medical help.

While I was shopping, every now and then I would pause and take a reading. When my levels were below 95%, I would do some breathing exercises, watch my levels go back up again, then continue. I remember one reading where my % was okay, but my heart rate had gone up to 126!

I am really glad I brought it along.

I’m really glad we had one I could bring along!

One thing all of these mask mandates and trying to wear a shield has done, is make me more aware of my own breathing. I mean, really, who even thinks about it normally, right? Well, I’ve started to notice that I’m having issues at other times. Like while I was driving home, I found myself short of breath, and opening the window a bit to get more air flow. I’ve even noticed times when I’d be sitting at my computer, then suddenly gasping for air. What the heck?

I have kept the oximeter with me since getting home, and every now and then, I’ll do a quick test.

My heart rate has gone down to about 68-70, which is good.

My oxygen has dropped down as low as 93%.

What the heck is going on?

I don’t feel anything is off or out of the ordinary, except possibly my sinuses. My husband suggested I might be having an allergic reaction to something. Normally, I get that in the summer, when I’m working outside. I have no idea what I’m allergic to, other than it’s something environmental. I’ve had allergy tests to try and find the source of my chronic cough, and I’m not allergic to pollen or cats or any of the other usual stuff. So I think I will try taking antihistamines for a few days and see if that changes anything. This is all so very strange.

Anyhow.

We are now stocked for about half the month. With Christmas coming, we don’t expect to do much for special shopping. Most of us have already purchased gifts online, which I hate doing unless it’s for things we cannot buy locally. I’ll have to increase the number of times we go to the post office for the next while. 🙂

One thing I did do, since we will be starting to make pasta, is order a manual pasta machine and a pasta drying rack. They should arrive in the first week of December.

Meanwhile, my daughters let me know we were running low on yeast. At the Walmart, they were mostly out. I got a vacuum packed brick of “instant yeast”, and a small jar of traditional yeast, which is what we prefer. At the international grocery store, however, they had plenty of large jars of the traditional yeast, so I snagged one.

Between our ample stock of flour, yeast and other basic ingredients, we’ll be able to do all sorts of bread baking in the next while, if we want. 🙂

Now that this trip is done, we shouldn’t need to go anywhere, other than the post office or the dump, for quite some time! Hopefully, I’ll at least be able to help my mother with a grocery shopping trip. No visitors are allowed in her building right now, but I can pick her up outside, then bring her bags to the outside doors. The social workers at the senior’s centre have offered to get groceries for her, too, so she should be okay. In her building, they slid notes under everyone’s door, telling everyone that they had to wear masks, even in the hallways – but “graciously” allowed them to be mask free inside their own apartments. !!

How did we ever get to this point? Have we learned nothing from history?

The Re-Farmer

Foiled?

Every year, before we are ready to decorate our artificial Christmas tree, we dig it out of storage and set it up. The idea is to get the cats used to it being there, and we get a chance to remind the older cats, and train the newer cats, that this is NOT a thing they are allowed to go into.

It usually works fairly well, but it’s hard to train the cats to stay out, when there’s no one in the room to catch them in the act.

We have several Christmas trees. One 6 ft “family” tree, and the girls have their own smaller trees for their rooms. Now that they have the second floor as their own “apartment”, they’ve been setting both up in the same room.

With so many rambunctious “teen aged” kittens in the house, my older daughter suggested we use her 4 ft Ikea tree. If we could find a way to raise it up, perhaps we could keep the cats out of it?

Well, we’ve had that tree up in the dining room for a few days now. I went into the storage shed and dug out a couple of tall plant stands to see if one of them would work as a stand.

On the first attempt, the girls set it on one of the stands and used Bungee cords to hold the tree stand in place.

That got knocked over pretty quickly, even though it was on the more stable of the two stands.

We set the tree directly on the floor, and hoped the cats would just investigate it and leave it alone.

Which is generally what they did, when we were around.

Then we could come into the room and find it knocked over.

I even tried putting it on the dining table, which they are not allowed on. Of course, tiny paw prints on the table in the morning shows they still go on it while we are asleep.

Today, I think I found a solution.

I flipped a plant stand upside down.

This might actually work.

We might still have to find a way to attach it to the wall to keep it from being knocked over, but so far, so good!

After a while, we’ll put the lights on and leave it for a day or two. If all goes well, we’ll get it decorated, then hide the stand with something pretty.

Big Rig, at least, appears to have been foiled by the stand! 🙂

The Re-Farmer