Thursday, February 11, 2016

Real Life Food No. 1: Five Food Additives to Avoid

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To paraphrase the Alice in Wonderland inspired ditty
"White Rabbit": "One additive makes you larger
and one additive makes you small..."
I have been feverishly working away on a new design for my blog (and I'm not being metaphorical about the fever as I have been sick, sick, sick). After debating long and hard over the course of this little blog's life (three years and three months to be exact), I've finally decided to include a section on my new site where I can share recipes and write posts on food topics I'm passionate about (so, basically, everything – as I love all the foods).

The reason I hesitated for so long over including recipes and such on this blog is because it seems like the interwebs is absolutely dripping with recipes. Seriously, it’s like food and porn and that’s it. 

Then I started thinking – many of my own recipes were initially inspired by something I found online. I may have heavily adapted them to my specific likings, but where would I be without the initial inspirations and the people who took the time to share them? Salut to sharing!

The primary reason for my recipe adaptations is that a few years ago I started reading food labels. I'm not talking about the little white nutrition box printed on all packaged foods (though I do still take a peek at that info every so often). I'm talking about ingredients, baby. 

Have you ever found yourself wondering "what is maltodextrin and why is it in my crackers?" Or, "I wonder if azodicarbonamide is a kind of sprouted grain?" What about "how come I can only pronounce three of the seventeen ingredients in this delicious nougette-y granola bar?"

If so, then you and I are now best friends. If not, then I encourage you to keep reading because things are about to get real. 

Here's a "taste" (oh yeah, I went there) of things to come on the new and improved Of Houses and Trees with a list of food additives that'll make your skin crawl. Let's hope that this time I am being only metaphorical... (I've also included a few of the products I buy in order to avoid potential crawliness.)

Artificial Colours

Nature's Path Corn Flakes
Ingredients: Corn Meal and/or Yellow Corn Flour,
Grape and/or Pear Juice Concentrate, Sea Salt
Where I Buy It: Superstore
(For more availability go here.)

It says it right in the name – I mean, who wants something "artificial" going down the gullet and into the gut? But it happens all day, every day, because many popular foods are jam packed with fun-sounding ingredients like Yellow 5 and Citrus Red 2. Cereal, taco chips, canned frosting, frozen pizza, juice crystals and, my favourite, pickles (more on that delectable topic below). Now, I don't think any of us buy these foods because we expect them to be "healthy" choices, but once you know these artificial colours have been linked to ADHD and cancer, well... they stop sounding so fun.


Also known as the "yoga mat compound," because – you guessed it – it's found in yoga mats as well as materials such as shoe soles and foam insulation. Azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a common additive in bread, pizza dough, tortillas and other carbolicious food items. It's used to bleach flour and make dough more dough-y. When I first started researching ADA a couple years ago I learned that it's been banned in Australia, but not in Canada or the United States. And why has it been banned down under you may be wondering, as I certainly was? Well, according to this Forbes article it's known to increase the risk of allergies, asthma and skin problems. The article then goes on to mention several companies that sell food containing ADA and also links to this report by the Environmental Working Group that lists hundreds of food items containing ADA, including items from "healthy choice" companies such as Weight Watchers and several breads that tout themselves as "100% Whole Grain."

Silver Hills Squirrelly Bread
Ingredients: Organic Whole Sprouted Wheat, Raisin Nectar,
Vital Wheat Gluten, Sunflower Seeds, Sesame Seeds,
Cultured Wheat Flour, Yeast, Water, Sea Salt, Sunflower Oil
Where I Buy It: Superstore
(For more availability go here.)
High Fructose Corn Syrup (and other Refined Sugars)

I feel almost silly including this. I mean, we all know good ol' HFCS is actually bad, right? And yet it's still a common ingredient in a whole schwack of food items. If only staying away from chocolate bars and pop was the answer, but bread, cereal, juice, nutrition bars, salad dressing, yogurt – they're all swimming in the sticky stuff. And while the other additives on my list have been linked to health problems you may not expect from every day foods (behavioural, heart, respiratory, etc.), HFCS's main problem is it makes food taste so damn good it leads to the very thing we all know is a possibility when overindulging – weight gain. However, there is controversy over whether HFCS is even more problematic than regular refined sugar with some experts essentially stating "sugar is sugar – if you eat too much of it you'll get fat," while others in the know argue that HFCS is even more of a concern because it contains chemicals such as mercury.


Unlike the much maligned HFCS, maltodextrin is a bit more of a slippery additive to pin down. It's usually derived from plants such as corn, potatoes and rice and plants are good... right? (I'm sure by now you know where I'm heading with this.) Maltodextrin (also known as modified corn starch) is used as a thickener or filler and is found in canned fruits, dressings, protein shakes, sauces and so much more (including beer!). Aside from it being highly processed and as high in carbohydrates as table sugar, it also has been linked to disrupting gut bacteria by feeding the bad guys and helping them adhere to the intestinal wall, in turn causing inflammation. (Gut health is a current obsession of mine ever since watching a fascinating episode of The Nature of Things called "It Takes Guts," which you can watch here.)

Polysorbate 80

Sunshine Farms Dill Pickles
Ingredients: Cucumbers, Water,
Vinegar, Salt, Garlic, Dill Seed
Where I Buy It: The only store I've ever
found it at is Save on Foods
(For more availability go here.)
This one really burns me (and perhaps it literally could as it has been labelled as "slightly flammable") because of pickles. You could honestly say, without being remotely overly dramatic, that pickles are the love of my life. But I don't love the fact that the brand I used to buy (Bick's Dill Pickle Garlic), as well as many other brands, include the "defoaming" agent polysorbate 80 (also known as "tween 80," which sounds like an event for twelve year old girls that I definitely would not want to attend). According to this website, it has been linked to the development of intestinal issues (particularly for those predispositioned to colitis and Crohn's), blood clots, stroke, heart problems and potential tumour regrowth in cancer patients. It took me quite awhile, but I finally was able to find a brand of pickles sold in my hometown (well, technically one town over), that has no crazy bowel-aggravating additives nor any refined sugar (which is another food topic I'm going to be talking about in my Real Life Food series... a lot).

Do you read ingredient labels before you buy food? Are there any specific additives that you try and avoid? Are any of the ones listed above new to you or have you heard of them all before? I love you and your comments... and you can return this love by commenting some more!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Freewriting... About Trees

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Live trees, dead trees standing, dead trees taking a nap...
we've got it all out on our land.
So I just wrapped up rehearsing and performing in a dance piece called DIG by Edmonton-based choreographer Kathy Ochoa in which we explored automatic writing/automatic talking. If you're unfamiliar with the practice, the non-vocal version is usually called freewriting (something I was often required to do when I was working on my degree) and consists of a person writing for a set period of time without stopping to consider what should come next or edit what came before.

It was after the fact that I learned the term automatic writing actually describes messages that pass through a person's hand, but do not necessarily come from the mind of said person. You know, it comes from ghosts and stuff. While what we were doing in DIG didn't seem to have anything to do with channeling the paranormal (or did it?), there were definitely moments where I felt I had fallen into a trance-like state and the words were just tumbling out of my brain and through my hand or  in the case of automatic talking, where you essentially just let loose any thought that crosses your mind  out of my mouth.

So now, in honour of DIG, I shall write for two minutes on a subject that is near and dear to both mine and this blog's heart  trees. Things are about to get crazy... if you define crazy as someone behaving only slightly more strangely than they usually do.

trees trees the magical fruit oh wait trees aren't a fruit are they but sometimes they do have fruit so what is a tree then it's a... a... something that I can't recall right now it's a plant no it's a tree probably just a tree and then there are shrubs yes shrubs what a silly word shrubbery and now I'm writing all in caps no I'm not oh I thought I was because I had hit the cap lock button in order to emphasize the word shrubbery but I guess it didn't work things that don't work well dead trees I guess but yes oh wait they do work because they decease no that's not it they decompose yes! and then the organisms all come a creeping and a crawling and then the tree becomes part of the earth and the earth becomes part of the tree and that's what it's all about my friends the cycle the cuticle the circle not cuticle oops look I just edited a tiny bit but you can forgive me for that right

And there you have it. 

What we were instructed to do in school was to go through the unfiltered babble and pick out something that could be, well, something. I'm digging (DIG!) the line about "the earth becomes part of the tree" as it always amazes me when I think about the world that goes on beneath our feet. Again, I'm not talking about supernatural/underworld type stuff  I'm talking about soil and worms and extensive root systems and aquifers and layers upon layers of things we cannot see and thus forget are there, but if not for them... then what of us?

Have you ever done freewriting, automatic writing or automatic talking (whether it came from your own psyche or that of the deceased)? Did anything in the above ramble stand out to you? Please comment below  either in unfiltered or regular thought-out writing.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 Resolution: Save the Planet

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I mean, who wouldn't want to save something that looks like this?
Much like I was inspired by a few home blogs I follow to do an online Holiday Home Tour, I was almost inspired to do a "Design Resolutions" post. But, you know what? You'll read about my 2016 design ideas and projects if/when I get around to them. For now, let's talk about something a little bit bigger. Something we all should be trying to do – every day  and not just as a New Year's resolution that invariably will fall to the wayside come February. What I'm talking about, my dear friends, is saving the planet.

Can it be done? Some say no. Some say we're in too deep. We've gone too far. To this I say pish posh. Of course, I just so happen to be one of those super annoying idealists who thinks that every little change we make counts and that starting small is the best way to integrate a leaner, meaner and greener way of life into your 2016. So, what say you? Want to be tree hugging, organic cotton wearing, SUV forgoing, alternative power touting hippies who not only make their own soap, but eat it too? (I have no idea if people actually make edible soap, but in this crazy world I'd take a wild guess and say yes... yes they do.)

Here are three simple ways to green your 2016:

Think Before You Buy

This just makes me so sad... and strangely hungry.
I used this phrase in a post I wrote a few years ago and it's stuck with me ever since. Now it's time to take a cold, hard and sometimes yucky (see image) look at the cost of buying before you think. Take food waste for example...

A 2014 study estimated that Canadians throw away $31 billion dollars of chow per year according to this Global News report. The implications go far beyond the fact that wasting food is, well, wasteful. Food waste means not only is the discarded item being wasted, but all the resources used to produce the item have now also been wasted. And don't forget about the additional resources required to dispose of the food.

And what about the packaging? You ever notice how much cardboard and plastic and paper ensconce our food items? Why do so may brands of cereal need to have both an outside box and an inside bag? That's twice the waste right there.

Have you ever thought about those plastic produce bags you likely use every time you go shopping? I hadn't until I came across some washable fabric produce bags awhile back. Now I use them all the time. If for some reason I do end up using the plastic ones, I reuse them too.

Not so super anymore, huh?
On the subject of packaging, may I also add that the quantity of packaging on children's toys is mind boggling. And don't even get me started on what happens to toys one they're broken, the kids have grown out of them, or once they've become bored with them. You see, $31 billion dollars of food waste (and that's just in Canada) only scratches the surface. We're constantly replacing electronics, clothes, home decor items and so on. And, even if you donate them, you're still contributing to the cycle of stuff, stuff and more stuff.

But enough with the doom and gloom. I promised "simple" solutions to herculean-sized problems. So... what's my solution? As the title of this section reads... Think. Before. You. Buy.

That's it. Take a moment to think before you add something new to your shopping cart and ask: What am I going to do with this? If it's food  will I eat it? If it's clothing  will I wear it? For how long? Do I already have something similar and thus don't really need another one? If it's for the home  where will I put it? Is there something I already have that it's going to replace? If so, what am I going to do with the old one?

Once this pattern of thought becomes habit it will literally require zero effort to quickly ask these questions as you stand there with item in hand.

Well, maybe it'll take 0.1% of your effort. 0.5% tops. But the planet is at least worth that, am I right?

Clean with Care

David Suzuki, rocking a moustache since 1936...
assuming he was born with one.
Do you love to clean? Me too! Oh... you were being facetious? Yeah... me too...

While we may not all agree on whether scrubbing the floor fuzzies behind the toilet can be described as "fun," I think we can all agree on one thing  chemicals are bad. And if you also disagree with me over my chemicals equal badness statement, let's  once again  take a look at the dirty (pun definitely intended) details, courtesy of the website belonging to my second favourite moustachioed man (after my dad), Mr. David Suzuki.

Phosphates, which are found in dishwasher detergents, laundry soap and bathroom cleaners build up in our water systems and promote harmful algae blooms leading to decreased oxygen supplies, which in turn kills fish. Certain algae blooms also produce chemicals that can be toxic to both animals and humans (oh no  that's us!).

Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate, which is used in toilet bowl cleaners, deodorizers, surface cleaners and disinfectants is toxic to aquatic organisms and may cause long-term disturbances in aquatic ecosystems.

Did I also mention that the above chemicals, as well as a host of others (with lovely names such as 2-butoxyethanol, quaternary ammonium compounds and trisodium nitrilottriacetate) can cause skin, eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, may cause cancer, kidney damage, liver damage and reproductive defects, while also interfering with the function of hormones? And that's just the short list, my friends.

And, because there is no requirement in Canada for manufacturers to warn us about the health and environmental hazards associated with the chemicals in everyday cleaning products, we are likely being exposed to compounds that linger in the air of our home for days, weeks, months, years, ever.

So, once again, what's my solution? Why, it's clean with care, of course! As an example, here is a photo of the cleaning items I keep underneath my sink...

All my cleaning supplies on one toilet seat:
Nature Clean All Purpose Cleaning Lotion, baking
soda, vinegar and Dr Bronner's Tea Tree Soap.
They can be combined in a variety of ways to create all sorts of cleaning agents and most of them are incredibly cheap and  da da da DA  far less narsty than the aforementioned chemicals. The ones that cost a little more, like the Nature Clean All Purpose Cleaning Lotion and the Dr Bronner's Tea Tree Soap, are concentrated and last a long, long time. Seriously. I think I've had that bottle of Nature Clean for over a year and it's still half full.

Here are a few easy recipes I found online that you can use to make your own cleaning supplies:

Homemade Baking Soda Tub Scrub (there's a whole bunch of cleaning recipes on this page, but scroll down for the bathtub scrub)
Homemade Baking Soda and Vinegar Drain Cleaner (you could also use this recipe to simulate a volcanic eruption)
Homemade Toilet Bowl Cleaners (three different recipes, depending on the level of disgusting your toilet has reached)

And don't worry, you can just whip these up when you need them, taking only a minute away from your precious cleaning time!

Eat Less Meat

I already went into the impacts of food waste above, but what about food production? You may have heard that meat is the most environmentally taxing food item, but what exactly does that mean? (And since I live in the province of the "I Heart Alberta Beef" sticker, I realize this topic is enough to get me shot in some circles. Just hear me out first and shoot me later, nmmmkay?)

For example, according to this Time article, livestock production uses one third of the world's fresh water (and, as we now know, water is not necessarily a renewable resource).

And though it's hard to an make accurate estimate as to how much meat production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, some have stated it's about 18% (a number which has been called both way too high and way too low, depending on whom you ask).

Worldwide meat consumption is also unequally distributed, with Americans eating an average of 270 pounds of meat a year and residents of Bangladesh eating 4 pounds.

Let's be more like Bangladeshis and eat less meat. I'm not talking about becoming a vegetarian here (but if you think you can do it or would like too  go for it!). I myself am not a vegetarian, though I have tried before. The difficulty I had was that if the people in your life are meat-eaters it can be incredibly hard to avoid it entirely. So my solution to that problem has been not to banish meat, but to instead reduce mine and my family's consumption of it.

I don't cook with red meat ever and I only buy two small chicken breasts a week, which I then divide up into four small portions  each portion being a part of one meal. Thus, you can still have chicken in your strifry, just a really small amount. And who needs a lot of chicken in your stirfry anyway when there are so many amazing veggies to be had!

Oh... dear... god... Is this what steak tartare really looks like?
Over time, I also have conditioned myself to like the heartiest meat substitute there is  beans. Let me tell you, I hated beans as a kid. When my mom made chilli, I spent the majority of meal time picking out all the kidney beans before I'd even take a bite. And while kidney beans still are not my favourite, I do eat on a very regular basis things such as black beans (go awesome with fajitas), garbanzo beans (so good both warm in a pasta dish or cold in a salad) and red lentils (which are technically a legume and are full of protein goodness).

If the whole "eat less meat" movement intrigues you, but you aren't sure how far you can take it, you could start with Meatless Mondays, which  as the name suggests  means you cook one meatless meal a week.

I mean, we're talking about saving the planet here  I think you can forgo your steak tartare for one night.

Did you make any green resolutions for 2016? Is there anything you already do on a daily basis that's environmentally forward-thinking? Did you make any other resolutions for the New Year? To try steak tartare, perhaps? Please don't. Just... don't. Instead, consider making "commenting more on Of Houses and Trees" one of them!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Home Tour 2015

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Several of the blogs I read do a "Holiday Home Tour" every year where they basically take pictures of their Christmas decorations and then talk a little about the things they do to make their house feel all cozy and shit.

This practice may sound a bit self indulgent to some, but I actually quite enjoy it. It's nice being invited into someone's home to learn a little about the things they do and traditions they have that make their little corner of the world festive  even if I was only invited in a virtual sense.

I am by no means a nosy person – except for when it comes to seeing what the inside of people's homes look like. And I'll take some artistically shot photos of rustic stars and artisanal Santas if it's all I can get.

This year I figured what the heck, why don't I do the same? Particularly since I've really pared down my holiday whosits and whatsits (from six rubber totes last year to three currently) and only put out the things I actually like or that  tacky as they may be  have some sort of special meaning or story behind them.

Because stories are what homes are all about. Stories about people and places and things and life and meaning and sometimes a little self indulgence and frivolousness thrown in to boot.

So, here's a few of the Christmas-related stories from my home. Come on in and stay awhile... or at least until I start shifting around uncomfortably because I'd like you to leave, but am too polite to ask. Sound good?

This somewhat homely looking angel is one of only two Christmas decorations I put out in my front entrance this year. And I can say it's homely because I made it. It was actually a gift for my Grandma, but after she died my mom came across it while going through her stuff and gave it back to me. I was probably about 12 or so when I sewed this. I was pretty into crafty stuff around that age and it's nice to be exploring that side of my personality again. There aren't any more stuffed oddly shaped celestial beings in my future, but for next Christmas I'm hoping to add some homemade burlap stockings and a tree skirt to my seasonal collection.

Next stop is the living room where the majority of holiday doodads hang out. As you can see, I have a thing for snowmen... or my mom does, because every one of these guys/gals were a gift from her. Although most of these snowmen look homemade  no I didn't make any myself, but someone did! I did assemble the burlap garland and  as you soon will see  it isn't the only one this year. This corner of my living room is hard to photograph as it's kind of dark, but does get some sunlight slanting across it at certain times of the day. I'm still trying to figure out how to best shoot interior living spaces. I'd say I'm much better at outdoor shots, though I have recently learned how to use the aperture function on my camera and have been playing with that. Any helpful tips from you seasoned photogs out there would be greatly appreciated!

I've never been a huge fan of our rounded-cornered, painted drywall mantle. One day I'd like to build it out with some wood or MDF, but dressing it up for the holidays helps make it a bit more interesting to look at. My favourite decoration this year by far is the burlap garland with the white stars (which used to be burgundy, but didn't stand out enough so I had Devin spray paint them  thanks buddy!) and the Christmas lights. At night it looks so warm and inviting I often find my eyes drifting away from the  the critically acclaimed docuseries I'm currently watching (translation  season 10 of Friends on Netflix) and zoning out on the glow for awhile.

And, of course, here's our tree. Forgive the somewhat bent and unevenly placed silver candy canes. They're the one decoration my daughter is allowed to touch (not that she actually adheres to this rule) and thus she moves them around on a daily basis, often just leaving them on the floor. I think next year, aside from the aforementioned burlap tree skirt, I'm going to add some burlap ribbon to fill in the tree a bit more. Yes, I love burlap. I love to wrap my outdoor planters in it during summer and my artificial tree in it during winter. It's a versatile fabric that, according to this website, was once used to clothe German soldiers.

And, with that educational tidbit, it's about time for me to start drifting away from the conversation and start doing dishes. Oh, you're leaving? So soon...? Okaybyethanksforcoming. And also – a Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus or just another plain old Friday from all of us here (it's just me) at Of Houses and Trees.

Do you have a lot of holiday decorations or do you like to keep it pretty sparse? What's your favourite item? Which item has the most interesting story? Christmas is a time for sharing  both baked goods and comments!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Did It Myself No. 8: Refurbished Chair

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Those of you who were my Facebook friends back in March 2014 may remember a little fabric survey I put up for an old chair that I had acquired and planned to refurbish. I had ordered the winning print promptly after the votes were tallied and then... nothing. Well, not nothing exactly as there has been child rearing, writing, teaching, dancing and many other around the home and yard projects tackled in the two years and nine months since.

But, alas, the chair is complete! And, as with many of my DIY projects of late, I cannot take all the credit because the lovely  albeit manly – Devin Patterson was of great assistance on this one. He reinforced the chair, painted it, cut out the foam for the cushion and stapled on the fabric. Sounds like he did the entire project on his own, right? Well... there was one small "incident" that I will not detail for all of the interwebs to read, but let's just say the fabric had to be removed, repositioned and re-stapled under the very watchful eye of your's truly.

Another of my favourite colour combos,
more yellow and grey things to come!
Onwards! The past is in the past, even when it comes to botched husband/wife DIY projects that have to be corrected at 11pm on a Thursday night. Besides, we have much bigger happenings on the horizon and this chair is just one small project amidst a very large one  which I will be posting more on in the somewhat near future.

Oh, and I just reread the aforementioned Facebook post and see that I had boldly declared I was planning on selling the chair and not keeping it for myself like I do with every other piece of furniture I finish. Well, I lied. It happens. Get over it.

Have you ever refinished or created something intending to sell and then just couldn't part with it? Or, alternately, tell me about your own botched husband/wife DIY projects. This is a judgment free place where I pledge only to laugh with you and never at you... in writing. What I actually do behind the veil of my computer screen is an entirely different story.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Tree of the Day No. 3: Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo)

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A shrub by any other name would smell, well... like a shrub.
It's been a long time since I've done a "Tree of the Day" post (the last one was way back in my pre-motherhood days of January 2013), but I've decided to dust this series off because my Google calendar keeps reminding me I have a blog post "due" (because I'm the kind of person who enters every one of their to-dos into an online calendar and then procrastinates on actually doing them).

Ah, majestic Pinus mugo! Also known as mountain pine, dwarf mountain pine, scrub mountain pine, Swiss mountain pine, creeping pine and  the name by which I know it – mugo pine. And, if that isn't enough names for you, it sometimes is referred to as Pinus montana and sometimes spelled "mugho pine," due to a typo in an 18th century encyclopedia.

From the website of a nursery located in a community called  get this  Boring, Oregon: "Many growers and retailers find Pinus mugo (mugo pine) possesses many appealing qualities. The plant is attractive, adaptable, available, inexpensive to produce, easy to sell and relatively free of pests. It is also extremely cold-hardy… Yet, mugo pine is not a favored selection for homeowners due to its unpredictable growth rate, size and shape." The website then goes on to state mugo pines can range from 3' to 45' in height. Yeah. I'd call that unpredictable.

Hugo: Before (Having trouble seeing him? He's just to the
left of the entrance, nestled down in the topsoil. My mom
said he was 1' x 1' when they planted him...)
My family can relate. My interest in this particular species is due to the fact that a very, very large mugo pine resides in the front yard of my childhood home. And when I say "resides" I mean "has completely taken over." Once a teensy little shrublet, "Hugo" as we affectionately refer to him, has been cut back and then cut back some more and yet still he remains like a monstrous coniferous creature, ready to trap innocent bystanders within his prickly pine scented grasp.

Overly-dramatic? Yes, you could say that is one of of my many... let's just call them "quirks." Both of my parents walk by Hugo on a daily basis and have never been attacked. And my brother, sister and I all grew up in his presence and emerged (relatively) unscathed.

I say relatively because there were a few "incidents," one involving my loving older brother shoving a fistful of Hugo's needles into my mouth. I'm sure he just assumed I was hungry (and apparently mugo pine syrup is a thing?). Now, you could say this traumatic event was entirely of said brother's doing, but maybe, just maybe Hugo sinisterly whispered the idea into his ear...

Then there was the time my brother (what is up with brothers?!) and I believe it was my cousin fell into the centre of Hugo and were nearly lost through a portal into another realm. Or, you know, they just squished the bejesus out of the poor tree. There was also the time spiders of Tolkienian size took up residence within Hugo's piney depths, but this was after I'd moved out so I'll just have to take my parents word on that (and then dance around frantically rubbing my neck because I can't talk or think about spiders without completely wigging out).

Hugo: Now (Don't think you need guidance to spot him in
this picture...)
The thing is, Hugo is massive. He dwarfs the front of the house. Little is able to grow beneath his shadow. He's deformed from the aforementioned squishing and basically looks like a giant's bowl tipped on its side. But he's part of the family.

And that's the thing with trees. Like children they start out so small we can hold them in our hands. And then they grow. And grow. And they take up space in our houses (children) and in our yards (trees), but they also take up space in our lives and our hearts. They live life right alongside you and your stories are their stories.

Countless times my parents have considered removing Hugo entirely. And countless times they have come to the realization that they just can't do it. One day they'll sell their house and the people who buy it, having no sentimental attachment to Hugo, will not even shed a tear when his overgrown body hits the ground. But then they'll plant a new tree and it will become part of their family and it will be a part of their stories.

Because that's what trees do.

Do you have any trees in your yard (or in the yard of your childhood home) that you are particularly attached to? This is the place to share your stories! After all, the blog is called Of House and Trees...

Monday, September 7, 2015

You Shall Not Pass: A Tale of Two Gates

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Gate in Progress. Still needs posts to be trimmed (and
possibly ensconced in brick), surrounding rail fence
to be finished and some red, red paint.
I'll use anything as an excuse to throw down a Lord of the Rings quote (and apparently a bastardized title of a Dickens novel, because I'm all about literary reference mashups), even when it comes to something as innocuous as a handmade wooden gate. But it's a pretty awesome gate! Designed by Devin and I, built by Devin and his dad, our new gate took the place of our previous method of securing the land  a very long, very heavy metal chain that was the bane of my existence on several separate occasions. The bane!

Let me break it down for you. In order to lock the chain to a post, I would have to sling it over my shoulder, drag it through the gravel, and then pull with all my might until I could get the lock through it. A few times my hair got
Partial photo of makeshift chain gate, because it was
shady like that.
caught between the chain and my shoulder. More than a few times I pinched my fingers between the chain and the lock, or in the lock itself. This all makes me sound pathetically feeble and incompetent, but I swear it was quite a process. Hence the new gate.

There's something about an old red gate and
an old red barn in newly fallen snow.
It still needs to be painted and I am dead set on red. Devin's reaction to this ranged from "bitch you crazy" to "cedar stain is sort of red" before he finally proclaimed "you just pick the colour and I'll close my eyes and paint it on." Now that's love. I've narrowed it down to three colours from Benjamin Moore  "Caliente" (very red), "Merlot Red" (reddish-orange) and "Mars Red" (reddish-brown). Every time I go to pick out paint colours I always end up wishing there was one called "This is the Colour You Want." (I'm paraphrasing a line from a TV show or movie, but I can't remember which one at the moment... because that's just how my mind works these days).

How do you feel about a red gate? Too bold? Not bold enough? Just right? Do you have any gates (or evil gate-impersonating chains) at your house? If so, what colour? If not, what  you just let strangers come and go as they please? You a hippy or something? Please scroll down... just a little further... little more... too far! Okay, right there... click on that link that sadly says "no comments" and make it go away already. Thanks!