Monday, April 30, 2012

Have you EVER thought about getting a REAL job?

OK so the title says it all... NOPE! Haven't! Thanks! I kind of figure being home for my kids, helping them for 1-4 hours a night with homework, ensuring they have healthy well balanced meals, getting involved with 4-H so they have an opportunity to be part of the community, working part time, running a little "hobby" farm .. (Don't get me started on the word Hobby!) ... is kind of LIKE a real job!

OK back up Sarah! Who do you think you are anyway? Well, let me tell you! I have worked outside of the home. I successfully advanced in the field I chose. I have run my own business. I have worked with children - in a daycare no less! I have commuted for work. I have been unemployed.I have dedicated thousands of hours to my parent advisory council at the school and I have been a stay at home mom. My thoughts? Every one of those options involved me working. 
I started my working life at 11 babysitting, moved up to house cleaning, medical office cleaning, two weeks of hell cooking at A&W, more babysitting, two weeks of hell as a chamber maid in Banff, Alberta, live in Nanny aka crash test dummy in Calgary, three months McDonald's late night drive through, part time office staff in an insurance office (highlight was never getting paid after three months) and finally a real "adult" job working as a Financial Assistance Worker in the government Social Services Department. 

I started working in social services at age 21, rather naive and incredibly shy. However after years of the job, having clients scam me left and right because I was so gullible and working in Downtown East Side Vancouver, to Kitsilano to Steveston near Richmond to Kamloops, BC and all the way back to Nanaimo , Duncan and Victoria... I did grow up. I grew up enough to realize I had a good job, great pay, amazing benefits and I realized I could have some kids that I could actually support. 

Of course none of us know what will happen in our lives. I really thought I would stay in government forever. Yet life seemed to have different plans for me. So after working from May 1988 to February 2004 - with a few leaves during the time... I ended my (I can say it now!) cushy job with pay that has never been equalled and medical and dental to die for. Yes I worked hard there and it was emotionally taxing at times - but 8 years later I have never seen or done anything that equalled the security of that position.

Of course opening a wedding planning and coordination business seemed like a great idea and it was lots of fun. Five long years of plugging away and earning relatively nothing in the winter and working like a crazy woman in the summers did take it's toll on me and the girls. It didn't help that during this time I became a 38 year old widow and single mother of two girls age 3 and 10 with severe obstacles to overcome. 

I look back now and have to wonder how we survived. God was definitely on our side, watching over us and helping us struggle along. I of course made very wise decisions like selling Partylite, Love the stuff! (Not a great choice when you have to decide to spend the last $10 on food or fuel for the car though!) Having said that, nothing like kicking back with a glass of wine and beautifully scented candle burning (we needed the candle to cook the marshmallows!) $14,000 per year for a family of 3 in an $800 townhouse, made for very creative accounting and lots of borrowing from family and good friends that I am proud to say I paid back.

So, since event planning was not enough to survive and Partylite was great for spending not so much earning, I had to find an alternative. I never expected to get a call one day, mid July 2005 to ask me to come work at the Deputy Minister's office in Victoria as an assistant to the Customer Service Manager. (Yes, customer service in social services sounds like an oxymoron, but it was a pretty cool job!) I was stunned this opportunity came right out of the blue and it was very exciting. What was wrong with it? 2.5 hour commute each way to work in a van pool for about $400 per month. (Total of about 12 -13 hours a day away from home.) I needed to hire a nanny to take care of my kids - yup that spelled disaster. First nanny also helped someone else, my kids were not allowed in the house and they were barely cared for. (Suffice it to say that when my baby who had just learned to walk again after critical injuries was falling down the stairs - I knew changes were necessary) and so 4 weeks ended that employee's term. Second nanny, appeared helpful and wonderful until she asked weekly for pay advances, didn't feed the kids and finally after 3 months ended up stealing $2000 from me. Not such a great single mom working experience.

I could go on incessantly, however, Have I EVER thought about getting a real job? Hell ya! Here? NOPE! It is simply not worth it to me to take  job that pays starting wages of $10 and tops out at about $11 hour, work 30-40 hours a week, drive 1-2 hours a day, spend $300 of those earnings on fuel and still have to do all that needs to be done at home. 

I am going to stick with my 2 days a week home maker job, 2 days a week baking/market and seasonal summer time coffee shop. No medical or dental coverage. No extra money, but the peace of mind knowing that I have dedicated my time to my children to help them with homework, learning to cook (should they choose to take the opportunity) and spending quality time with my husband and family. As Mastercard says "PRICELESS". 

So, now that I have been called farm girl and Betty Crocker (which are actually pretty good compliments!) and hopefully explain clearly that I am NOT lazy or refusing to work, simply have different priorities and I know there are no naked starving people living in my house - I shall continue to lead my crazy little farm life. I will continue to know that I have the freedom to take my girls to appointments, help them with homework, yell at them as required and just be a "stay at home mom".  FINALLY if it is not clear, I AM A WORKING MOM! The day I sit on the sofa all day eating bon bons, pulling a Peg Bundy watching soap operas and not taking care of my family - feel free to say I don't work.

Kudos to you working moms! All of you! Staying at home and working outside the home - both are important, exhausting and can really make you say "CALGON take me away!"

Saturday, April 7, 2012

One a penny, Two a penny, Hot Cross Buns!

I will always miss family most as a holiday weekend encroaches upon us. I loved gathering together, planning the big meal or going to share it with who ever was in charge of it that year. (I did prefer doing it myself since I would start on the wine as I cooked and by the time the meal started I was happy, happy, happy!) The memories of Len, the girls and I, contemplating who would do what this year, various reactions from family members, who would say or do the most memorable thing and praying that the meal would turn out. Those were the things that made an impact or the event one we would discuss, mourn or laugh about for years to come.

Several years ago, a cousin I hadn't seen for aeons, was on Vancouver Island from High Level, Alberta and she and her husband were joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. I invited any and all family from the area who might want to join us, including my parents of course. Everyone gathered, enjoyed our visit, had a fabulous meal if I do say so myself and then I served dessert. I had baked pumpkin pies, apple pies and apple crisp. I was excited to offer an array of choices and several people had a little bit of each on their plates. I cut and served and was still slicing up while my guests were starting in on their pie.

It seemed the table was a bit quiet and my first thought was, "always a good sign when the table is quiet and people enjoy their food." I then bit into my pie, mmm the pumpkin was amazing! Then I bit the pastry, I literally gagged and spit my food back into my dish. I looked at everyone and said "This is disgusting! How can you people eat it?" Being kind, they said, in a variety of ways, "oh, it's just a bit salty", "I thought the pudding part was wonderful", "Well..." I know everyone was relieved when I told them I would NOT let them finish the pies and removed their plates. We then split the one apple crisp into pieces and had coffee to attempt to wash away the horrendous flavour of my pie crust that somehow contained way too much baking soda! EW!

No holiday or pie can ever be eaten again without my family commenting on that memorable meal or complimenting me on my immense improvement of my culinary and pastry skills! Family meals at holiday times, yes I miss them, salty pie? Not so much!

I am working hard in my "new" life to do things in a way that are more eco friendly and put less stress on my environment. Hence our Easter egg decorating fiasco. I continue to read blogs about how to dye eggs the natural way and see Facebook posts that explain how to make your natural dyes from things like onion skins, blackberry or beet juice and spices such as Tumeric. So, I set off to show my girls how to be more environmental while continuing on with a long standing egg decorating tradition.

I decided that since we had to boil eggs, (I had saved some so they would peel better and weren't too fresh  - the gases around slightly older eggs allow for easier peeling.) I had found a recipe on a blog, 2 cups water, 1 Tbsp vinegar, 1 cup of the fruit or vegetable juice, cook for 45 minutes, cool, put your boiled eggs in the water for a half hour. So I proceeded to boil up some mango dye and some blackberry dye. The kids couldn't quite get where I was going with this thought. I boiled a dozen green Araucana eggs.

I put everything on the table and started peeling eggs. My girls, 10 and 17, asked me what on Earth was I doing? I said, dying the eggs, the natural way. I then plopped 2 peeled eggs into the mango dye and 2 peeled eggs into the blackberry dye. The girls said, "now what?" I said, "Every few minutes roll them over and in a half hour they are done, cool, eh?" They asked, "How do we decorate them?" Me, "Well, you ... don't...?" Them, "Ya, mom, THAT's fun!" Me, "What???"

Stock Photo, Can't take credit!
OK so apparently, like chemical dyes, when dying Easter eggs the environmentally friendly way, you DON'T peel them! You DON'T use green shells when you want the dye to stick! You do leave them in the shell and dye then decorate, duh? OK so apparently (I did re-read the blog) they did NOT explain this... I don't know! Dumb and Dumber: Dye Easter Eggs in Fosterville... Starring "Sarah Sherman!" Quite the laugh! I boiled MORE eggs and we went to Len's shop to get some real paint so they could at least TRY to create the traditionally dyed Easter egg! (Not one of my brainier moments... Yes, this will be up there with my salt pie and discussed and teased about for YEARS to come!)

Since Good Friday was a holiday the local Woodstock Farm Market was open so I had to bake for Thursday market instead of Friday. This year, I must say, (patting myself on the back) that I believe I perfected the Hot Cross Bun! I made a triple batch and sold out! Now I have to make some for our Easter dinner! Market was good for a Thursday and the weather has been quite nice albeit a bit cold at night. Today however, they are calling for snow over night so I am not too sure how tomorrow will fare.
Can you say YUMMY?

The plan for Easter Sunday? Church breakfast at 8:30am (we will see, it's a bit early), Easter service at 10am and then home for Easter egg hunt and treats followed by a traditional Easter Chicken (passed on frozen turkey and bought a fresh chicken) with all the trimmings including gingerbread cake, hot cross buns and our creepy decorated eggs (those may be passed on as well!) 

Yes our little family, continuing on with new traditions. Rachel only has one more Easter before she officially moves out and may or may not come home for every holiday. It is too strange to think about not having my children with me for every holiday meal.... So, as Scarlett O'Hara says "I will think about that tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day."

Happy Easter everyone! AND special thoughts and Easter wishes go out to my family in Coalhurst, Alberta, who lost their father, my uncle, yesterday morning after a brief battle with illness. I am thinking of my Aunt Agnes, Cousins Barb, Donna, Doug and Leah and their families and wishing you all beloved memories during this difficult time. 

Thinking about their loss makes me wonder, when will I see my parents again? Will I be with them when it is their time? Will I have many more years to tell them I love them? Even though every family event held a little bit of crazy, a pinch of bizarre and a dollop of drama... It was a recipe that created an armful of love and beautiful memories.

We spent many summer holidays, with our camper parked in my uncle's yard, as we made the obligatory family visits across the city and province. I always felt welcomed by my Aunt Agnes and Uncle Curt and their kids. My older cousin Doug would tease me mercilessly, but I always liked it. Cousin Leah who was older and more worldly would show me the ropes as I looked on in awe. Donna and Barbra were often busy with boyfriends and then husbands and children but I always felt close to them and found them to be so much older and wiser than me.

Many an extended family gathering with all of my aunts and uncles was held in their home and it is where we all gathered to commiserate after our beloved Grandma Giesbrecht passed away. Dad, Uncle Bill, Uncle Dave, Uncle Abe, Uncle Peter, Aunt Annie, Aunt Eva and of course, Aunt Agnes and their husbands and children - we all knew we could go to Aunt Agnes . 

Those were my formative years and although our families grew older, drifted our own ways and had less contact, they were my wonder years. Aunt Agnes, my cousins, your family home holds warm memories in my heart. God Bless You All and I wish Uncle Curt peace and no pain as he moves along his journey.
One of the last photos of my Grandma and her surviving children.
From left to right:
Aunt Agnes, Dad, Uncle Peter, Uncle Abe, Aunt Eva
and in front, Grandma Giesbrecht
Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of Uncle Curt
PS: Not sure that Aunt Agnes will be happy with me, so don't tell her I posted this!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Good bye Simba... Hello Saint John!

Cable Bay Ferry - Kingston Peninsula
How can so much and so little happen in the same month? I have now officially been to Saint John that seems to border several rivers as well as tho world famous Bay of Fundy. It was shocking to discover   the ferries are FREE! No, minimal fee, no reduced passes for locals, but FREE! What truly stunned me when we crossed the   Kennebecasis River,  the ferry that took us across to the Kingston Peninsula was what my new goat friend called a "Bubble Ferry" ... it does not freeze up ALL winter! It is on a pully system actually it is called a "cable bay ferry system" and it pulls the boat across the river. It looks like one of the small BC Ferries but the only means of transport is the pully and it appeared only one employee was required on each boat to make the crossing. A ferry is kept on each side so the crossings are continual all day.

I felt like it was 150 years ago, when travellers came to the river and the ferryman lived on one side and pulled the ferry across for payment. It was kind of exciting to imagine that old Buddy the truck was my horse and wagon as we floated  across. I posted a picture of the two ferries almost side by side as they cross and a picture of the numerous FREE ferry systems in New Brunswick. You know, for being one of the poorer provinces, the Ministry of Transportation sure has it's "poop" together! BC could learn a thing or two! (To the BC'er's this is NOT a slam against BC, I think we all know that some improvement could occur on the BC Ferry systems, especially for the smaller islands for the full time residents and interior rural locations of BC.)

The trip to Saint John was for medical reasons and it took us almost 3 hours to get there in old Buddy, along our windy bumpy country roads, out to the highway and then  the highway to Saint John - seemed like an old highway, which could be wider in places and definitely use a little repair. Overall not bad, seeing so many watch for moose on highway signs were kind of freaking me out! I didn't know the area and wasn't sure of what to expect... So yes Anita, I am sure I could have made it faster, but limped along watching the fuel tank get lower and lower.... It was an incredibly expensive day trip.

These days whenever I am travelling somewhere I try to include some eggs and/or baking sales. So I advertised and was able to get some giant sticky bun sales and Mediterranean bread to deliver. (Hence the trip across to the Kingston peninsula.) I also try to do any livestock sales or pick up while I am at it.

As you may recall, little Simba, the baby Nubian goat born to Freya at the end of January, was scheduled to move to a petting zoo in Moncton, but alas, the day before the transfer the deal fell through. The buyer's wife had obtained a full time job and was no longer going to open a zoo so they didn't need Simba. I told them, life happens, plans change and wished her luck in her future endeavour. Very kindly, they mailed me a Tim Horton's gift card - which was sweet... Sweet - mmm, donuts! Coffee! AND it paid for Rachel and my food for the day on our trip.

However, we still had to sell Simba and he was re-listed on Kijijii with the hopes that he would be bought as a pet or breeding buck - but knowing he may be meat. Fortunately the day before we headed out a buyer called. Let me say, he was a bit of a twit on the phone. He tried to chisel me down in price, which I expected and which is why I listed Simba for about $20 more than I expected to get. My main problem was this man's attitude, he was belligerent and mouthy - however, I surmised he was only trying to be funny - in his weird way.

Having made the deal and needing to leave Fosterville early, Len helped me pack up Simba in the dog crate and load him onto the back of the truck. Freya was NOT impressed. She had never been without her baby since he had been born and she sounded soooo sad.... Simba was nervous and whenever I had to stop for gas or coffee or to pee, he cried... Muuuuuum! MuuuuMMM! MUUUMM! He sounded like a tortured baby in the crate behind us. Rachel and I felt awful all day!

Well, we did laugh, as we found and wound our way through Saint John (happy to have Maggie the GPS guide us) ... As people looked at us... we said "Don't worry! We brought  our OWN goat!" It made us laugh and we contemplated going to the dollar store for a dog collar and walking him nonchalantly along the street.

We  tried to park in the hospital parking lot which was difficult since I couldn't see well to back the truck up and pull into tight spaces and the canopy made it even harder to get it right. It didn't help though, as we parked, got out of the truck and opened the back windows to ensure Simba had air ... for him to cry. A guy (kind of cute!) was two vehicles away and looked at us with curious eyes and a hesitant voice and asked , "Is that a GOAT in your truck?" I answered, "Of course! We brought our own goat!" Rachel laughed, almost hysterically and ran across the street to get away from me and the ultimate embarrassment.

Having travelled to visit a medical specialist we expected we might be in the hospital for an hour, but by the time we were done, it was almost three hours. We were so worried about Simba! How would he be? Was he OK? He had never been away from mom and only ate grain or drank water when  she actually shared with him, would he be... alive? It seems I over worry, yes, true story, I tend to worry more than necessary.

We came back to the truck and half a block away heard... MUUUM! MUUUUUUUUUM! It seems he had survived. Since there were other people in the parking lot and construction workers about three car lengths away, Rachel grabbed the keys and got in the truck to hide. I,  calmly, with confidence, walked back to the truck, opened the tail gate and pulled the crate forward to pet my goat. I attempted to give him some of my water but he would have none of it. I pet him and explained the appointment had been longer than expected and I was sorry for having made him wait. I knew it was tough being away from mama and... Then, I looked up, ALL of the construction workers were looking at me and ... laughing?

Freya and Simba
A few days before
 he moved out

I looked at those guys straight on and said, "What? Have you been listening to my goat bleat?" The men, mid 40's, been around the block, look at me and say, "We didn't think it was a goat... we thought it was a baby, so we checked." Me, "Seriously? Like I would keep a baby locked up in a crate in my truck for three hours!" They sheepishly looked at me and laughed. I guess for the babies of the world, locked up in crates, in the back of trucks, in hospital parking lots, it IS good they checked.

We finally find the sell location for my buyer  to trade Simba for cash. The fellow complains I am late (ten minutes - we got lost.) He then tells me to put "the goat" into the back seat of his car. I thought that was weird, however according to goat people, this is used as a method of transportation at times. I turned to Rachel and told her, you get the money and I am going to hug Simba good bye and pass him over after he is paid for.

Well, the buyer starts to get cheeky again. He hands me $45 and says (as I look into his bulging wallet) that is all I have - basically take it or leave it. I advise him, I will leave it, the deal was $65 and I already came down to that from the original listing. He says, "Well you don't want to take him home again." Me, "Oh I don't mind. Or you could walk over to that bank machine and get me the money." Him, "Fine!" as he pays me. I then took Simba over to the front seat and handed him to the guys' wife. She seemed nice, poor, rough around the edges, but kind. That was all that mattered to me.

As they drove away, my daughter and I looked at each other and felt sad. Poor Freya, what was she going through now, missing her son? How would Simba be, would he eat or drink? Well, after about crying for five days until she almost lost her voice, Freya seemed fine. I am going to get her a friend though and perhaps they can both have baby does next year so I don't have to sell them or eat them.

We left and headed to Saponetta Divino and met our new friends Marla and Diane and their seven lovely pet goats and started to feel a little better. (Click the link and check them out.) They are building their business making and selling goats milk soap and products and it is divine! (I bet they do mail orders!)

In the meantime I am milking Miss Freya and only getting about a litre or so a day and feeding it back to her or the chickens or the cat. Meanwhile I am deciding what to do with the milk. I am planning to make cheese but with my limited funds I don't have all I need to get started, including a stainless steel bucket. Now, I need to run, make more bread to sell to buy a bucket so I can make some cheese!

Dear Anonymous, I hope you enjoyed this and I am sorry I have not written for awhile. Things have been kind of busy but just a bit tough for me financially and a bit emotionally. Time to get off my butt, back on track and being positive! Thanks for the little boost!