Saturday, December 1, 2012

First Snow

My subject line is a little misleading, because the first snow fell on October 13 ... just a dusting, and mixed in with hail. But it didn't cover the ground, and was soon gone, so I don't count it. :) So, yesterday we got the first real snow of the season. Molly is delighted, and I think she remembers snow from when she arrived here as a tiny puppy!

First snow December 1 

View of the barn from the deck. Note the ominous dark sky - at 9 o'clock in the morning!

First snow December 1 2012 

Winter has definitely arrived.  The view from the deck.

The other clue to the onset of winter is the nesting of animals.  We have a resident squirrel who has decided to make his home in our woodpile.  Molly is, of course, intrigued and very excited about this.

Squirrel on rafters 

Here is our house guest on the back porch rafters.

Squirrel on woodpile 

Chirping away on the woodpile.

Squirrel on woodpile 2 

He's figured out that a rather exuberant dog is close by.

Squirrel watching for Molly 

Watching for that dog.

It need hardly be said that Molly can't catch the squirrel; but she has a marvelous time trying. 

Molly in front of fire 

And here she is, warming up after a hard morning's squirrel-chasing. :)

So, now that winter has finally arrived at Willow Retreat, it's time to cozy up in front of the fire with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate. We're excited about all the improvements and additions that we've been working on, and next winter we plan to be open for business: winter camping, snowshoeing, backcountry hiking, winter survival courses, and of course Willow Retreat's signature offerings: Reiki and meditation.

Speaking of winter survival: I'm excited to announce that our affiliated company, Survival School Canada, has a re-designed website chock-full of courses and activities for 2013. If you've ever been lost in the bush, you know what a scary feeling that is. SSC has courses on map reading and navigation, wilderness first aid, as well as survival courses from absolute beginner to expert level.  SSC operates from our home location right here at Willow Retreat in the beautiful Cape Breton Highlands.  Check it out! 

Until next time, I'll leave you with a photo of another recent visitor, enjoying a meal of fallen apples.  Molly had a good old time barking her head off at this young lady!

Moose through window 

A young lady moose snacking on fallen apples outside the sunroom.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Deer's Breakfast

I don't care how many times it happens, it's always a magical experience to see a deer.  The other day, this beautiful animal was out having a good old nosh of the wild apples along Willow Lane.  Don't worry though; I managed to collect enough to make a decent batch of wild apple jelly!  


Checking out the neighbourhood.




That's a big mouthful of apple!


Crunch, crunch ... and it's gone.




She stayed for about 15 minutes just happily eating.


Wait ... is someone taking pictures? (:


Wild apples are everywhere along the pathway.


In this last shot, you can just see the hail which had begun to fall.  She whipped her head around, then suddenly pranced away into the woods. She knew the hailstorm was imminent. Smart lady! :)

Fall Colours

Just a few images of Fall at Willow Retreat.

Molly swimming 2

A certain young lady taking a cool dip.


Abundant crop of apples this year. These are Northern Spy: perfect for making pies. :)

B Camp Fall

The way in to one of our campsites. Beautiful by day; mysterious and otherworldly by night.

Canned Produce

Just a few of the goodies we've put up in the root cellar. Jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys and even marmalade!

Canoe Pond Fall

The pond in shades of autumn.

creek september 6

No shortage of water this time of year!

creek september 13

Avalon Woods are full of hidden brooks and streams.

Fall Colours 3

Glorious highlands in full colour.

Fall Colours 5

The garden at peak colour.

Fall Colours 8

I love to see the hillsides ablaze with orange and red.

H Camp Fall

The way in to our second campsite, named for the fairy hawthorn that stands guard at the centre.

misty fall

The Mists of Avalon Woods ... here there be dragons.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Time flies

Wow, it's been such a long time since I posted an update! So much has happened since the end of Avalon Gathering. Let me bring you up to speed.

We had house guests until the end of August (Hannah and Jacob, our volunteers from Utah) and they were a big help. They also gave us an excuse to be tourists for a couple of days! We visited the Gaelic College, where we browsed tartans and toured the weaving room.  Then we took them to the Lobster Galley in St. Ann's for dinner, where Hannah sampled her first lobster: she loved it. Here is a picture of the newlyweds on the beach at Margaree Harbour:

Hannah Jacob Margaree Beach 4

As well, we drove up the coast to Gampo Abbey, which is a working Tibetan Buddhist Monastery just north of the National Park.  It was really interesting, and we were lucky enough to be able to take meditation instruction with one of the monks.  As Hannah and Jacob are Mormons, I wondered how they would react, but they were very open-minded and joined in the meditation session with everyone else.

Of course, eventually we had to get some work done!  So Jacob went with Paul to learn how to use a chainsaw, and how to split firewood (important skills for a young husband), and Hannah went with me to do some long-overdue weeding of the vegetable garden, to pick raspberries and blackcurrants, pick herbs for drying, and to learn how to plant out tomato seedlings.  She also helped me split and transplant a couple of old, under-achieving rhubarb plants.  Here is Hannah with the baby tomatoes:

Hannah tomatoes 2

I'm pleased to report that they are now two feet tall and giving us baskets full of lovely big tomatoes! 

Hannah tired

Hannah after a long, exhausting day.  Never let it be said that we don't work our volunteers hard here at Willow Retreat!

The guys also got along really well with Molly, who was pleased as punch to make two new friends.  Who wouldn't love this kind of attention?

Hannah Molly

It was great to have some help around the place, and especially from two young people who were so willing and cheerful.  We even broke open the marshmallows around the evening fire! 

Hannah Jacob marshmallows

After Hannah and Jacob left for home, it was time for me to get busy preserving all the lovely ripe fruit that Hannah had helped me pick.  I made raspberry jam, blackcurrant jam, blackberry jam, oregano jelly and lemon balm jelly.  Later, I tried my hand at making marmalade, but it turned out runny, so I have to re-make it.  The herb jellies came out well though.  Next year I'll have to beg, borrow or otherwise acquire some mint, as it's one thing I'm missing in the herb garden. 

herbs 3

Herbs hanging to dry.  From left to right, basil, two bunches of winter savory, St. John's Wort, and oregano.

mystery herb

A mystery herb, which I still haven't been able to identify. It has oval-shaped, wavy-edged leaves, purple flowers, and smells like apples.  It is not apple mint though.  Anyone?

dried oregano

Here is some oregano after being dried.  Just crumble the leaves from the plant and discard any flowers and stems.  It's now ready to go into an air-tight jar for storage.

Speaking of which, I repurposed an empty cable spool to make a herbs & spices carousel.  Here is what I started with:


I then painted it with white primer:

spool 2

When that was dry, I used green paint from a spray-can (it gives a much better finish on cardboard than a brush could) and left it overnight to dry, then painted the lettering using acrylic paint and a small brush:

herb carousel

Et voila!  :)

herb carousel full

Of course, Molly supervised the entire proceedings:

Molly sleep

Okay, I think that's it for now.  More to come!  

Friday, August 31, 2012

Crop Report

So I was out in the garden, turning the compost (don't ask) and gathering the last of the raspberries (raspberries give a "second sitting" of crop ... so now these fresh ones will be added to the earlier batch that are sitting in the freezer, and I can get going on the jam!) anyway I turned my attention to the potatoes, some of which needed hilling up ... and then, I spotted this:

Note: this is not a tomato.  This bunch of fruit is actually growing from a potato plant.  For comparison purposes, here is a tomato plant:

See the completely different leaf shape?  

So the question remains ... what exactly is growing in the potato patch?  There were no tomatoes planted there.  The soil was thoroughly tilled before the potatoes were planted.  The plant this fruit is growing from has potato leaves, not tomato leaves.  So what is it?  A pomato?  Watch this space.

Anyway, the garden is coming up like crazy, despite the extremely hot and dry summer.  We've got pole beans:

We've got peas and carrots:

And as you've no doubt gathered, we've got tomatoes:

And the corn is as high as ... well, maybe not an elephant's eye, but it's as high as my eye, and that's good enough for me:

Oh, and finally, anyone for squash? 

No, seriously ... someone come and take this squash away.  Please!

This week we're finally getting some rain.  It's sorely needed for the creeks are bone dry.  The apples and grapes seem to be growing regardless, but I'm sure they could do with a drink.  Speaking of fruit: I was walking past the old pear tree this afternoon and it's actually put out a few pears!  Just four ... so I picked them all.  Here's the evidence:

Not in the greatest of shape, but I'm sure I can make something out of them.  Hmmm ... pear and raspberry jam ... ?

In the meantime, if anyone has any clues about that mutant potato/tomato plant ... let me know!  

EDIT: The mystery fruit turns out to be the fruit of the potato plant ... yes, it actually bears fruit from time to time ... you can save the seeds and propagate your own potato variety!  Who knew!  :)