Woodstove Surprise

Yesterday, I did my mid-winter cleaning out of my wood cookstove. I had planned it for then because the outside temperatures were predicted to be about +5C (41F). The stove and ashes need to be cold when I clean it out – the last log went in around 4 p.m. the night before. This mid-winter cleaning means that I scrape off the soot and ash that has accumulates under the burner plates and around the oven box inside the stove. Let me explain how a wood cookstove works: when the stove damper is open, the smoke goes out of the firebox straight up the chimney. When I close the damper, the smoke circulates around the oven box, which sits below the cast iron burners ,and exits the stove at the bottom/back and up the chimney thereby warming the oven and in fact the entire stove.
All this burning season, I’ve had trouble with smoke escaping through the loading door when the damper was closed. I’ve had to resolve this problem by only half closing the damper. I had planned on replacing the door gasket to hopefully tighten the seal. Everything began normally: I was dressed in my ‘work’ clothes ready for this usual black sooty chore. This time I decided to wear vinyl gloves to help keep my hands from getting black.

SootYuckWM

Soot under the burner plate

 

I scraped the backsides of each burner as I removed them and placed them on newspaper on the table. Then I began the ritual of scraping off the oven accessible via the burner holes. When I got to the side, I thought something was amiss. I scraped dutifully and began to remove the soot through the clean-out ‘nameplate’ access but not as much was coming out as I thought there should be. I grabbed my flashlight and took a look – it looked like soot as far as my poor vision could see and I couldn’t understand why. It was time for an investigation! I placed my portable barbaque light to see down the 2 inch side of the oven. This BBQ light is awesome! I keep it on top of the warming oven of my cookstove – it has a magnetic bottom so it sticks to the steel and cast iron surfaces of my stove. The light is connected to a flexible neck that I can position however I like. I often use it to quickly check how something is cooking on the stove. Anyway, when I had it positioned to shine down the side of the oven box, I took a look through the bottom clean-out expecting to see light shining through – but only darkness. Hmmm, it’s plugged. I wasn’t sure why but I was determined to find out. It certainly explained all the smoke leaking out of the loading door when the damper was closed. For the next hour, I scraped and stabbed at the soot at the bottom side of the oven box. I even went out to the garage to get reinforcements: a giant screwdriver that was about 30 inches long! Thanks Chris.

burnersWM

I discovered that rock-hard ash and soot had compressed to form solid chunks all along the bottom of this side of the oven box. It was an impossible (almost) space to work in but I kept at it until finally a chunk broke loose! I used the scraper to carefully pull it up to where I could reach it, dropping in many times before I could grab it and force it out through the burner hole. I had to use the giant screwdriver to break them into smaller pieces that would fit up the side to be removed. It was extremely hard. I used the shopvac to suck up some of the stoney soot too. After 2 hours, I was done!

SootchunksWM

Soot chunks

I put the burners back in and wiped them down with olive oil on a cloth. To give it one final sparkle, I washed the rest of the cookstove and dried it. Voila! It looked like new. Unlike myself, who was black from head to toe! It’s a good thing I have two tanks of solar-heated hot water. I vacuumed up the floor and washed the four feel around it until tomorrow when I can wash the pine floors in the whole room.
Heating with wood is not for the faint of heart. Oh sure, visions of a nice, warm, cozy fire dance through your head. But you need to know that any wood stove requires regular, messy maintenance to burn efficiently and safely. Wood heat might be for tree-hugging (carbon neutral) lovers of the environment …….. ah, like me I guess.

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Clean and ready to burn

Challenger

Thirty years ago on January 28, 1986, the U.S. Space Shuttle Challenger met a disastrous end 73 seconds after lift-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. I recall clearly what I was doing when I heard the terrible news – I was at home with my youngest child when I received a telephone call from my husband telling me what happened. In those days, I usually did not have the television on so I had no idea that such a horrible thing had happened. However, I turned on the TV to see for myself and confirm the shock and sadness I was feeling. I’ve always been a ‘space fan’ from the very beginning, following the race to space in the early 1960s, the first landing on the moon (I wrote about it here) in 1969, and other events that followed as I was busy becoming an adult and mother.
I remember some debate about this particular space shuttle launch. The Challenger’s 10th mission had been delayed for weeks and on the night before the scheduled launch, temperatures in central Florida dropped to record lows in the mid-20s Fahrenheit (-4 C). They were chopping ice off the launch pad that morning!
When they first started going into space, all the space shuttle launches and landings where televised live and interested people like me could keep informed and watch them. But after a few years, public interest waned, I guess, or it simply became ‘normal’ and the TV networks stopped televising the space ship launches. Most TV stations were not covering this particular Challenger launch live on that tragic day. But THIS space shuttle was carrying the first civilian passenger, high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was chosen from over 40,000 applications by NASA to be the first ‘Teacher in Space’. Thousands of impressionable school children were watching the live broadcast that day, in schools across North America. Most other people were in school or at work on that Tuesday morning and cable news networks or satellite dishes were relatively new at that time.

SMChallenger Crew. Back row, L-R Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnick. Front row L-R  Michael J. Smith, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Ronald McNair.

Challenger Crew. Back row, L-R Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnick. Front row L-R Michael J. Smith, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Ronald McNair.
Shockingly, 73 seconds after lift-off at an altitude of around 50,000 feet, an explosion in the shuttle’s fuel tank and rocket booster devastated Challenger and tore it apart, claiming the lives of all seven astronauts. This was clearly witness by family and spectators on the ground and on TV sets in schools. Investigations afterwards concluded that the shuttle’s crew cabin remained intact until it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean 2 minutes and 45 seconds later and it’s speculated, sadly, that some of the crew may have been still alive, although unconscious. After 30 years, I was shocked to discover something new during my research for this post that I wasn’t aware of before: those poor 7 souls did not die instantly when the booster rocket exploded …..
In March 1986, the remains of the astronauts were found in the debris of the crew cabin at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The major parts of the shuttle were recovered, but most of it remains on the ocean floor. Ten years after the disaster, two large pieces from the shuttle’s left wing flap washed ashore. The Shuttle debris, around 5,000 pieces, were placed in two abandoned missile silos.
I can’t conclude this post without recognizing the other Space Shuttle Columbia disaster which occurred on February 1, 2003, when Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. During launch, a suitcase-size piece of foam insulation broke off from the Space Shuttle’s external tank and struck the left wing of the shuttle, creating a 6-to-10-inch (15 to 25 cm) diameter hole. Hot gases generated during re-entry entered the wing and cause structural collapse. After the disaster, Space Shuttle flight operations were suspended for more than two years, similar to the aftermath of the Challenger disaster.
I know this has been a pretty negative and sad post but I really wanted to pay tribute to the memory of those 4 women and 10 men who didn’t make it home: Challenger – Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnick, Michael J. Smith, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Ronald McNair. Columbia – Rick Husband, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool, Ilan Ramon.

SML-R Columbia Commander Rick Husband, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool, Ilan Ramon

 

L-R Columbia Commander Rick Husband, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool, Ilan Ramon

Christmas Baking Recipes

It’s that time of year again for Christmas baking.  Even though Christmas is less than two weeks away, I still haven’t started any of my baking yet and I blame it all on global warming.  Yes, that’s right, global warming a.k.a. climate change.  IT’S +10C OUTSIDE these days and the temperature doesn’t go below zero overnight!   Two all-time record high temperatures were shattered in the last two days.  There has been no snow (this time last year we had 25 cms of snow) and the grass is still emerald green and growing!  How’s a person supposed to get into the Christmas mood?  I’ve tried by getting out my Christmas village and decorating the house to raise my Christmas spirit…..  I usually do most of my Christmas baking a few weeks before Christmas and freeze the baked goods in tins in my garage but since it’s unusually warm, my garage isn’t cold inside.  This year, I’ll be baking the day before Christmas unless we get a sudden cold snap.

I want to share my favourite Christmas recipes including Hello Dollies, Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters, and Rice Krispy Squares.  You’ll find my other Christmas recipes I previously posted for Cherry Cheesecake, Chocolate Cocoanut Macaroons, and Peanut Brittle by clicking on their names.

Macaroon

Chocolate Cocoanut Macaroons

 

Hello Dolly Recipe

I have no idea where this name came from!  I got this recipe from Karen Sibbett almost 45 years ago.  My son Darin really, really likes these.

¼ cup butter

1 cup graham wafer crumbs

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup shredded, unsweetened cocoanut

1 cup of chocolate chips

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Melt butter in a 9X13” pan and spread around including sides.   Add graham wafer crumbs, spreading evenly around.  Add the walnuts, cocoanut, and chocolate chips sprinkling evenly.  Top with sweetened condensed milk.

Bake at 325F for 20 minutes on the oven rack that is place one slot higher.

Cool completely and then cut into one inch, bite-size squares.  These freeze very well.

 

Chocolate Chow Mein Clusters Recipe

I believe that my son Taylor prefers these.

In the top of a double boiler, combine:

½ cup butter

1 ½ cups chocolate chips

½ cup butterscotch chips

¼ cup peanut butter

Stir often until melted.

In a bowl, mix:

2 cups dry chow mein noodles

1 cup peanuts

Add to melted mixture, stirring well to combine all the ingredients.  Spoon blobs on a cookie sheet.  Cool then store in a container with a well-fitting lid.  Freezes well.  Serve at room temperature.

 

Rice Krispie Squares Recipe

Of course, who wouldn’t love these anytime – my grandchildren sure do!

In a large pot, melt:

¼ cup butter

1 package of marshmallows

Add and quickly mix:

½ teaspoon vanilla

5 cups Rice Krispies

Press into a buttered 9X13” pan.  Cool.  Cut into bite-size squares…… or bigger.

Enjoy!

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Cherry Cheesecake

I Love a Real Christmas Tree!

There’s a lot of debate about Christmas trees.  Some people like an artificial tree for many reasons.  They feel that it’s less messy because there are no pine tree needles from a real Christmas tree falling all over the floor when they put up a fake Christmas tree.  Some say it’s more environmentally sound because no real tree is cut down and they reuse the same Christmas tree year after year.  Others feel that an artificial tree is easier to assemble and take down every year.  I appreciate all those reasons that fit other people’s lives.  BUT I LOVE A REAL LIVE CHRISTMAS TREE!

Searching

Searching for the Perfect Tree

Tradition.  I’ve always had a real Christmas tree for as long as I can remember.  When I was growing up, we used to buy a Pine tree for Christmas – they are the ones with the short needles.  I went with my Dad to the Woolco plaza parking lot and we picked out the perfect tree to bring home.  Later, after I got married, I always bought a Scotch Pine with the longer needles which didn’t seem to fall off as much.   We usually went out to a Christmas Tree Farm to cut our own tree but occasionally we bought one from a lot.  When Marty worked at a garden center once, we picked a gorgeous Balsam Fir from their selection – we hadn’t intended to buy one already cut but we couldn’t resist the urge.   One year when I was 9 months pregnant, we went out to a tree farm and picked the closest tree because I couldn’t walk too far – my poor husband was worried I’d give birth right there in the field!  Hahaha – I waited until 6 days before Christmas.  Some years, we went to a nearby Christmas tree farm where they had horse-drawn wagon rides and hot chocolate, but the commercialism of the entire operation began to nauseate me.  The whole spirit of Christmas was becoming depressing from the beginning of cutting a tree!

Timber2

Timber!

So I scouted out another Tree farm that just sold Christmas trees (and homemade wreaths) – cut and cut-yourself – at a reasonable price.  THIS is what I was searching for – driving into the tree farm fields, walking around (sometimes for a LONG time) to find that perfect tree, and sawing it down ourselves.  Some years, there is no snow while other times, there’s lots of snow to trudge through.  One year it was unusually mild around 0C degrees and another time it was -20C!  You just have to dress for the weather to stay comfortable.  There is plenty of room for everyone and the farm is never crowded like some other ‘wagon rides and hot chocolate’ Christmas tree farms.

I feel that Christmas Tree farms are very ecologically responsible.  The farmers who grow these trees use hands-on, labour-intensive practices to grown and prune their trees –  I remember my oldest son Robin working for a Christmas Tree farmer one summer, when he was a teenager, to prune them by hand.  The farmer’s livelihood depends on the seasonal sales of Christmas trees.  I support Farmers and I try to practice local consumption – Christmas trees are no exception.  After Christmas is over, I take my tree outside for the birds to land on or find shelter in for the rest of the winter.  Then in the spring, I cut off the branches and spread them around my blueberry plants.  I’d say that’s environmentally sustainable.

All my grown children and their families who live around here will drive out to the tree farm this year:  Nellie, Melvin, Sarah, Kristi, Mike, J, Josh, Taylor, Darin, Amanda, Kalia, Livi, Janet, and Frank.  After a fun afternoon searching for our perfect trees, we’ll come back home for a nice warm supper beside the toasty, wood-burning cookstove.  Our tree will have to wait till after supper to be brought into the house.  I just love the pine smell from a freshly cut Christmas tree!  Then we’ll let it warm up overnight before we decorate it.  And again, it will be the best Christmas tree ever!

Tree

The Last Frontier

I arrived in snowy Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada’s far north after a remarkable flight over British Columbia mountains.  My son Marty and D-I-L Jeanette were waiting excitedly for me at the airport – they drove nearly 2 hours from home to pick me up!  First stop was downtown Whitehorse with it’s amazing ‘old town’, gold-rush looking buildings which date back 100 years.  We strolled around in the windy, cold, snow-covered streets wandering down to the mighty Yukon River.  This place oozed history!  It was exciting to think about days gone by when gold prospectors filled this town and others like it hoping to strike it rich.  After a stop at the used book store, we headed out of town passing the S.S. Klondike, a dry-docked sternwheeler riverboat along the Yukon River and now a National Historic Site.  Then we turned on to the infamous Alaska Highway and headed towards Marty and Jeanette’s new home in northern British Columbia near the Yukon border!

Marty & Jeanette

Marty & Jeanette

What magnificent country!  Towering mountains on all sides!  Glacial lakes!  We even saw two mule deer and a family of three moose sauntering on the road on our journey!  We arrived in town just before dusk and made a quick tour of this historic ‘gold rush’ town along Atlin Lake.  The whole area is surrounded by giant mountains and glaciers.  It’s like a picture out of a National Geographic magazine.  Then we arrived on Monarch Mountain at their new home overlooking all this splendor.

On my first full day, we drove further down their road to The Grotto.  Warmer, demineralized drinking water flowed out of a cave at the side of the road and rushed further down towards the lake.  Water cress was growing abundantly in the fast flowing creek so we harvested a handful to add to our stirfry.  A couple of local guys stopped by on their way home from their logging camp to get a few jugs of spring water and chat for a bit – they were interested in the new ‘Outsiders’ who had just moved to town.

Atlin Mountain overlooking Atlin Lake

Atlin Mountain overlooking Atlin Lake. View from M & J’s living room.

Day two found us taking a country drive back along the Spruce Creek to Surprise Lake.  In the early part of the last century, 10,000 gold prospectors lived in a town they created called Discovery, in tents, and panned for gold.  Remnants of old log homes and wooden gold ‘mining’ equipment still remain, like a monument to the past.  As we drove along, we suddenly spotted a wild lynx sitting along the far bank of the river!  At first I thought it was a wolf.  Jeanette skillfully skidded to a stop on the snow-covered road while Marty literally jumped out of the car with his camera and ran to begin taking pictures and video.  The lynx stayed for about 10 minutes which shocked us because they are normally shy animals.  It was amazing to see such a wild, majestic animal!

We arrived at Surprise Lake Recreation Site and followed wolf tracks to a clearing which had picnic tables and an old cast iron Franklin stove, stocked with wood logs ready to burn.  All this overlooking the big lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  Marty told me that anyone can camp free at these B.C. Recreation Sites all over the province.  Who wouldn’t want to with all that privacy and breathtaking scenery!  On our way back to town, we stopped at a log cabin from the gold rush days which was being restored by the province.  It brought back memories of that bygone era when men and women came by ship up the west coast of North America and trekked over mountains by foot or dog sled, to arrive in these parts in hopes of finding their fortune in gold.

Jeanette’s been cooking up a storm – she’s an awesome cook and I enjoy flavours from around the world when I’m with them.  We even had delicious breaded moose steak with salad – I’d never tasted moose before and enjoyed this wild game.

The next day, the clouds finally cleared out and I was able to see the tops of the surrounding mountains!  From Marty and Jeanette’s living room, I had to remember to breathe as I couldn’t believe that I was actually seeing this incredible site of a glacial lake and snow covered mountains.  Their lake is fed by hundreds of mountain rivers, creeks, and the Llewellyn Glacier and is the source of the mighty Yukon River, which has huge historical significance in this country’s past.

After cleaning the wood stove chimney, we ventured out to the beach on Atlin Lake.  We followed fresh wolf footprints along the shore in the bitterly cold wind taking pictures along the way until we were chilled to the bone.  Then we drove up the road to a viewpoint of the Llewellyn Glacier.  WOW!  The Juneau Icefield in the distance was enormous and the mountains went on as far as we could see, even to Alaska I think – wow this country is beautiful!  Then we ventured into town for a look-about and stopped at the infamous beached riverboat Tarahne which carried gold prospectors, supplies, and visitors across the lake back in the day.

The riverboat Tarahne

The riverboat Tarahne

I’ve seen more wildlife this week than in the past few decades:  Orca whales off Vancouver Island; Bald Eagles on Van. Isl. as well as soaring over Marty and Jeanette’s house; Mule Deer including the one who sauntered right outside the front of the house, eating fireweed; a female Moose and her two calves crossing the road on our drive here from Whitehorse; a wild Lynx sitting along Pine Creek just outside of town at the old gold mining area of Discovery; a tiny Pygmy Owl that landed on a tree beside the front porch at dusk; a coyote sitting beside a frozen lake; and a pack of wolves crossing the road on our way back to the airport.

We went on a walking tour of town and explored the century old buildings, most of which are still in use.  This town is classic Frontier at its best!  I half expected to see a moose walking down the street (although there were moose tracks in the snow).  Remnants of the old gold rush days are still scattered among the town’s buildings and even the buildings themselves are historical monuments to this bygone era.

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Century old log building

I wasn’t disappointed when the clouds cleared to reveal the spectacular Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, on two nights I was there!  WOW they were spectacular!   We watched swaths of green (and once purple) swaying and waving, expanding then contracting, continuously moving as if a gently breeze of breathtaking colour in the night sky.  Our eyes were focused on the horizon and up in the night sky for hours while we stood at the windows snug inside the house, in the dark, watching in awe and taking photos.   I felt inspired.  There are SO many scenes I want to paint now.

I’ve had an amazing time in this part of the country.  It truly is the last frontier of Canada.

Thanks to my son for allowing me to use some of his photos.

http://mmellway.wix.com/photography

https://www.facebook.com/martymellwayphotography/

Land of the Midnight Sun

I left beautiful Vancouver Island behind and travelled to the far north to the city of Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory.  Vancouver was a balmy 12C degrees and raining while my destination boasted -8C degrees and snow.  I had my winter boots on and my winter jacket was in my backpack.

We flew over the west coast mountain ranges at 32,000 feet in the air and I clearly saw snow covered mountains and greeny-blue glacial lakes.  What a site to behold!  And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I saw the spectacular site of even taller mountains in the distance, thrust above all the other peaks in majestic form.  I discovered later that the tallest is probably Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada.

British Columbia mountain ranges from above

British Columbia mountain ranges from above

Our flight attendants on Air North, Yukon’s airline were a welcoming and jovial bunch and made the 2.5 hour trip a fun, do-it-again adventure.  The service was the best I’ve experienced and they kept bringing around beverages, lunch, and dessert, all included in the flight at no extra charge.  And as we began our decent from the brilliant sun through the thick cloud into Whitehorse, flight attendant David brought around candy!

Being early November, the days get ‘shorter’ and darkness blankets this country for more than half of the 24 hour day.  But that’s a good thing for someone like me anticipating seeing the Aurora Borealis – Northern Lights.  I’ve only witnessed this marvel of nature 3 times briefly in my life.  Verses of Robert Service and Jack London danced through my head…… and I thought fondly of my dear departed parents-in-law who lived in the Yukon 65 years ago.

The historic Yukon River @ Whitehorse

The historic Yukon River @ Whitehorse

I stayed with my son Marty and D-I-L Jeanette in their new home in northern British Columbia, lovingly known as an adopted part of the Yukon.  Next blog post I’ll share my experience as an ‘Outsider’ in this last frontier.

Visiting Vancouver Island

I spent last week on the west coast visiting my sister Betty, my son Robin/D-I-L Nici, and other family.  I love it when I have the opportunity to share time with my family in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.  Betty and I had a week full of adventures – and a pot of barley soup to eat – after I arrived late Sunday night!

We started off by visiting my cousin Jacklyn, her daughter Melody, and her mom Kathy.  It had been a long time since I’d seen Kathy so it was a real treat.   My niece Brodie, a talented singer, also dropped in for a quick hello too.

Robin and I Beachcombing @ Powell River, B.C.

Robin and I Beachcombing @ Powell River, B.C.

The next day Betty and I were off on the ferry to go across the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia.  Waiting for us was my son Robin and later my daughter-in-law Nici and their german sheppard puppy Gerda, who was actually the size of a miniature pony!   We had an awesome time!  Robin drove us up to the little town of Lund which is SO picturesque – it’s actually Mile One of a highway that will take you all the way down the west coast to South America’s Chile, 15,202 kms.  We had lunch on the patio at Nancy’s Bakery overlooking the small harbour and the ocean dotted with gulf islands.  Afterwards we went back to the farm to check on the goats and chickens.  I even learned to milk a goat!

I milked a goat!

I milked a goat!

Robin spoiled us with delicious homemade dinners and desserts using veggies from their own garden and milk from their goats.  I’m proud to say he’s an awesome cook!  In the evenings, we enjoyed watching videos on the computer of our Family Frolics – 20 years of videotaping of family life now stored on my external hard drive.  We also spent hours beachcombing, looking for beach glass and unique shells which I’ll make into Christmas tree decorations for our tree this year.  Finally, all too soon, it was time to catch the ferry back to the Island and leave Powell River behind.   A small pod of Orca whales graced us with their presence as if they were bidding us goodbye.

Rob's pumpkin pie made with fresh goat's milk, fresh eggs, and garden pumpkins

Rob’s pumpkin pie made with fresh goat’s milk, fresh eggs, and garden pumpkins

Next, we drove down to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, picking up Betty’s granddaughter along the way to bring her down to her daddy Curt for halloween.  Betty and I stayed at our favourite hotel, The Mayfair, where the rooms are clean and affordable.   We spent a relaxing evening on our computers, each one of us propped up in our individual beds, watching more Family Frolics videos and laughing hysterically until the wee hours of the morning.  We leisurely drove back up Island, stopping along the way at a few new thrift stores and lunch in Ladysmith.  Once back at Betty’s ‘cave’ a few hours later, we got in our comfy clothes and ‘chillaxed’ for the evening since I was leaving very early the next morning.  A week sure flies by way too fast and now I was on my way back to Vancouver to catch another flight to the Yukon/Northern B.C., the land of the midnight sun.

Linda and Betty

Linda and Betty

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