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A little help from my hens

Last week I found out just how much chickens LOVE hostas. For some reason they ignored them for the past four years, but this year have been nibbling the new shoots to the ground. I now have various pieces of chicken wire propped around what remains of the poor plants and will hope for the best.

Today while I was weeding and edging a flowerbed, older hens Anni-Frid and Agnetha stood by as ususal to eat any worms or insects I uncovered, but they also plucked the annoying black flies that encircled my head. I guess a few flat hostas in exchange for pest control is sort of worth it. Sort of.

Snip and Sift

For all the new bakers and gardeners out there, two useful hints I’ve learned over my time dabbling in both pursuits:

  1. If you have planted more than one seed in a pot and only want one plant (think tomatoes and squash, not parsley or basil), snip the ones you don’t want with scissors rather than pulling them out. The roots of the little plants will often be intertwined and you’ll end up dislodging the one you want to keep as you tug out their potmates.
  2. Your recipe probably won’t tell you this, but always sift cocoa that is going into cakes or brownies. Even the freshest cocoa clumps together, and those clumps are hard to break up once you incorporate wet ingredients.
Bonus hint: make your own pots out of paper. There are ten billion online tutorials to help you figure it out. I roll mine around an old Keen’s mustard bottle. These are loofah seedlings because you should always try to grow something impossible to grow!

Bright Light

Now that we are racing to the summer equinox, the added hours of sunlight have been a big boost to our solar energy production.

Our 22-panel system was turned on in mid-November and struggled to generate much electricity at all. I certainly expected less output in winter, but it was almost none on some days. The panels were often covered in snow and ice, and as it is a roof-mounted system, there isn’t any safe way to clear them.

Last month things really took off and the electricity bill that arrived today was only $34, and there is even a 160 kWh credit that will carry forward to next month! Up until this bill, our net metering credit was for the full amount generated because it never came close to what we used; on our January bill, the credit was $3.74!

Our solar production since November 2019

The process to hook up to the Maritime Electric grid was a bit mysterious, and there wasn’t much explanation from them or my system installers on how the billing would work. All I knew was that we received a second meter to measure the outflow of solar energy from our panels into the grid, that amount would be deducted from the original meter that we have always had, and we would pay the difference.

I now see our net metering credit will only be for up to what we actually used from the grid and not the entire amount that went through our second meter. We will, therefore, never have a $0 bill, which makes sense as we would have to pay the service charge to stay connected to Maritime Electric. The credits will build up over the summer and be used up in winter.

April 2020 Maritime Electric bill

Our average monthly electricity usage since we moved into our house in 2002 was 605 kWh. It went up to an average of 850 kWh the first three months of this year with the addition of our EV (and I was driving to Summerside a lot), so to have it drop down again is really encouraging! I haven’t been driving much since March 13, so have only used 148 kWh to charge my Bolt EV compared to 459 kWh the previous month, which would explain some of the reduction.

The other drop in our bill is because the electricity from the panels goes through the house panel first and what is left over goes through our second meter and into the grid. Our solar system produced 897 kWh of electricity over this last billing period, and the second meter received 617 kWh, so we used 280 kWh of direct electricity that didn’t make it to the second meter, and that we didn’t pay HST on! I try to charge my car during sunny days to be able to drive on sunshine, and yes, I do sing a modified version of the Katrina and The Waves song when I’m doing it!

Solar production March 10 – April 9, 2020. Snowy days are pretty obvious!

So if you get a solar system in the winter, do not despair. Someday the sun will shine and you will see the benefits. As with everything these days, just hold on and things will be brighter.

Barter

One of the ten jillion articles I’ve read in the past week asked if bartering is ready for a comeback. I’m not sure where the writer thought it went, as I believe most of us trade our skills and gifts with others all the time. The transactions are not always immediate and direct in the “I’ll give you these magic beans for that cow, young Jack!” kind of way, but the kindness of friends and neighbours is certainly a form of bartering. It’s the kindness currency.

I had a late-evening call this week from a friend who said her iPad had restarted and now wouldn’t let her Pad. A storm was predicted and she was anxious to reconnect to her Ontario family. I tried to walk her through a recovery over the telephone, but an onsite visit was necessary.

The sanitized iPad was waiting in her porch, along with a container of Lysol wipes. A bit of fiddling got her back online. I headed off into the night with a wave through her window and a homemade gift to thank me. An excellent barter within the kindness economy that raised the Gross National Happiness by one connected person and one protected person.

Collections

Caroline Weaver owns CW Pencil Enterprise in NYC, home of the tempting quarterly Pencil Box subscription (which makes me almost want to break my “no new things” rule!). She, or one of her staff members, shared some collections discovered during shutdown cleaning and sorting, something I’ve been doing as well in a quest to find order in this upside-down time. The cat and veggie paperclips are too perfect.

My own tiny 6″ ruler collection. I recently found the bottom one in a pile of travel brochures from the 1970s.

Valued Member

We have subscribed to both of PEI’s daily newspapers for as long as I can remember. This morning we only received The Guardian and a letter explaining that the Journal Pioneer has been “combined” with The Guardian. Most of our neighbours only receive the Journal as it has always been the paper for the western end of PEI and The Guardian for eastern areas, so they will be very surprised and possibly upset by this change in routine.

I also found out this morning that I am now a member and not a subscriber, which I suppose is to give me the sense that I was part of this business decision and approve it, rather than being a customer who paid for a service that I’m not going to receive.

In the Saltwire Network CEO’s letter, they say their advertising revenue dropped by nearly two-thirds almost overnight, so they have been forced to temporarily lay off 40% of their workforce, including journalists. Instead of publishing nearly three dozen papers today across Atlantic Canada, they published four.

Other than being quite a thin paper, today’s edition doesn’t really seem much different from recent ones. Both of PEI’s dailies were already carrying heavy amounts of content from the other Saltwire Network papers and the Postmedia Network and were starting to look like each other, save for different local advertising and obituaries (one of the big reasons we kept The Guardian). When you read one, you had almost read the other as much of the local content in each was shared.

We were already seriously considering dropping our subscription to The Guardian this spring because the price for each was closing in on $400 a year. My mother does not use digital technology so receiving the newspaper is a big thing for her, but the content duplication was becoming very obvious and we couldn’t justify spending nearly $800 a year anymore. I think that decision has probably now been made for us, despite the assurance that this is a temporary measure.

When the Journal Pioneer stopped being an afternoon paper many years ago and moved to morning delivery, and since both papers have been owned by the same companies for many decades, I was always amazed they didn’t amalgamate the two publications years ago. This time of crisis could be the time this decision is finally made. I’m sad that other than the concern I feel for those who will lose their jobs, I just don’t care.

Controlling the Uncontrollable

As I watch all my volunteer and social activities dwindle away due to the COVID-19 situation, I have been trying to find ways to keep busy and not obsess over the news and the break in routine. There are many projects around home I kept saying I would get around to doing if only I wasn’t so busy, so now, alas, I have my wish.

The projects I have been tackling seem to all involve wanting to put things in order, to have a feeling of control at a time when everything seems very out of control. I am cleaning corners of the house that haven’t been touched since we moved in 17 years ago. I emptied a dish that held last year’s beach walk treasures and also some Rescue Remedy I had forgotten that will come in very handy right now!

2019’s bits and pieces.

I’ve started to tackle putting my shop building back in order after a new concrete foundation and floor was added a couple of years ago, which raised everything six inches, often out of easy reach for 5′ 2″ me. Hoes and spades have hung in the same place for 60 years, placed in their spots by my parents, but I have pulled out all the nails and hooks and started again. It’s a big building with a lot of stuff just thrown in after it was emptied for the construction work, so this will be a long project.

This looks good…

…this needs work!

A week ago today the Prince County Hospital Auxiliary reopened our newly-renovated Wishing Well Gift Shop that had been closed for three months of renovations and restructuring. We had a great day, laughing about bumping elbows instead of shaking hands, getting used to the cash register, chatting with the hospital staff who were happy to see us back in business. I made a quick sign for our used book section. It was a busy day in a busy hospital. Beyond remembering to clean my hands more often than usual, I didn’t think much about the coronavirus.

Opening and closing day April 13, 2020
The Book Nook

Today I drove to our veterinary clinic to pick up cat food. I called ahead, told them what I wanted, and paid in advance by credit card. When I arrived, I called them again to say I was oustide and the receptionist unlocked the door, waved at me, and set the bag on the porch. I got out of my car, carefully picked up the bag, put it in my trunk, and used hand sanitizer when I got back in the car. I washed the bag off when I got home; it is drying in the laundry tub.

Sanitized.

255.9 km/h

I was in Summerside yesterday when our Acurite 5-in-1 weather station recorded a 255.9 km/h wind gust just before 2 p.m. Just glad the house is still standing and the chickens didn’t blow away. What powerful spirit could have flown by and gave the anemometer a spin? Maybe the gitpu (eagle) I spoke to earlier this week as she flew over our house checking out our hens. Message received.

Aprons Without Strings

While sitting quietly before a yoga class this fall, I thought of the enormous privilege I had being in a warm sunny room with nothing to do but breathe and think only of myself. 

I looked down at my hands and realised that no matter how hard some days can be, I am at the easy end of a line of women who worked hard and had difficult lives, a line that reaches back and back beyond what I can imagine. I can name many of these women six or seven generations in the past, but beyond that, the women fade away. But they do exist in the lines and size and shape of my hands. 

When I hold my mother’s hand, I can reach back to 1848, when her great-grandmother Martha (Ellis) Sharpe was born. Here they are together, likely around 1927, a year before Martha died. My mother, Vivian, would be about five.

Four generations: Eva, Martha, Vivian, Wilbur, 1927

The woman standing on Martha’s right is my great-grandmother, Eva (Sharp) Hardy. Eva’s son, my grandfather Wilbur Hardy, is the fellow in the back. His wife, Thelma, died in 1927, and my mother and her younger brother went to live with Eva and her husband, Ernest.

Stories my mother tells of life with her grandparents are a big part of my story. Eva died in 1952, 14 years before I was born, but if she walked through my door right now, I know I would be able to start up a conversation with her as though we had been together forever.

She lived a simple and humble life and didn’t have many possessions. Eva and Ernest had a small house with tiny closets, really just a couple of hooks behind a door. Her two or three everyday dresses would always be covered by an apron. She cooked every day, of course, baked bread, fed hens, gathered eggs, kept a wood range filled, so an apron was necessary to keep those precious dresses clean.

Ella Oatway and Eva Hardy in their aprons on the cookhouse steps, Hardy’s Channel Sandhills, 1941.

In trying to live more lightly on this earth, I am really just trying to live more like Eva. It has been a long process. I do not live her simple and humble life, and have far too many possessions. I’ve never been hugely into fashion or having lots of clothes, but I once had many more than I do now. My goal is to only have what I really need, take better care of what I own, and buy clothing either used or, if new, produced ethically, sustainably and locally, and only when necessary to replace what is worn out.

I happened to be in Summerside before Christmas on a day when Emily and Amanda, the lovely women who are Ureshii, were having an open studio. I have gotten to know Amanda from another one of her ventures, and we have followed each other on various social media for years, but this was the first time I had looked at their beautiful clothing.

I bought a lovely t-shirt with a block printed strawberry on it, and a pair of their famous (and very comfortable!) underwear. Then I asked if they made aprons, describing what I wanted without using the actual word of what it is: a pinafore. Yes, they did, and after many measurements were taken and fabric options discussed, an apron was in the works.

As busy as they are, the apron was finished in just a couple of weeks. I popped by to pick it up a couple of weeks ago, and it fit beautifully, perfectly. Emily, who is the seamstress of the pair, noted that she had sewn and not serged the edges, thinking I would appreciate it. I certainly do.

After a bit of guidance on how to don the apron, I managed to pull it over my head and they stood back and checked that everything was just right. We all declared ourselves pleased, and off I went to run my weekly errands.

I put the apron on when I arrived home from town, and begrudged taking it off that night to put on my pjs to go to bed. I wore it while I made soup the next day and have worn it every day since. It has a beautiful big pocket ready to hold some eggs from the nesting boxes or a tomato or two from the garden, to shove my hands in when I’m pondering something, to hold some scissors or a little snack. It feels timeless, like I could be here in 2020 or back in 1820. It is perfect.

Unexpectedly, it wraps lovingly around my back. The apron hugs me, keeps me warm, and when I put flour-covered hands on my hips to consult a recipe, the apron is there to keep me clean. Unlike a chef’s apron, there is also no tie to cut me in half (and to be a tut-tutting gauge of how large or small I am at any time!).

My mother and I talk often about her grandmother. We wonder what she would make of this modern world that is so convenient, where laundry isn’t an all-day affair, where you are free to spend your time doing yoga if you feel like it.

Aprons aren’t really necessary now as fewer people cook at home, laundry is a daily occurrence for many, clothing is cheap and almost disposable. But maybe we need aprons, a practical costume to ground us to the tasks at hand, to help us make better decisions about the clothing we wear.

Eva wouldn’t recognize many things in our house if she did walk through the door right now (oh, how I wish she would!), but she would feel very comfortable with this beautiful apron. It connects me to her, and to the women of my past who allowed me to be here, wearing an apron just because it is beautiful and I want to. Thank you Emily and Amanda, and Eva and Martha, and on.

The apron, which deserves a vintage wooden hanger (even though it was likely stolen by my father from the Chateau Frontenac in the late 1960s…je m’excuse.)