Losing Trusty Dog

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Trusty Dog
September 20, 2005 – June 26, 2017

We got Trusty in 2005. We had recently had to put down our dog Princess because she was suffering from senile dementia and she had become aggressive. It was heart breaking because Princess was physically in good shape but her mind went. We didn’t get Trusty right away. Losing Princess was traumatic and it took time for us to get up the courage to try again. Eventually we found Trusty.

Why a bull terrier? I did an on line thing to help you pick the perfect breed and given our lifestyle and expectations a bull terrier came up as our first choice.She was from  championship purebred line with multiple blue ribbons. She was “pet quality”. That was plenty good enough for us.

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Trusty was three months old when we got her. She was such a sweet little girl. She was bright and curious and wanted to please. We kept her in the kitchen at first. That didn’t last long. She picked up the whole housebreaking thing almost immediately and she hated being away from us. Within a week the barrier came down and she spent the rest of her days always nearby if we had a choice.

We didn’t plan on having two dogs. Trusty got out of the yard and she came home with Fred. After some investigation, we determined Fred was in an unhappy place and his people gladly turned him over to us. Fred was the perfect foil to Trusty. Where he was energetic and dominant, she was calm and easy going. Both dogs went through three levels of obedience training with us. Fred only tried for it when he could get treats. Trusty just loved getting it right.

Trusty also did agility for a while. She loved agility and we went once a week for several month. One day, for reasons I do not understand, she abruptly decided she had had enough of this. I suspect she hated how the border collies could always beat her no matter how hard she tried. Whatever it was, we had two sessions where she simply refused to do anything so we quit going. If we were out somewhere where agility equipment was available she would willing go through a few rounds but then move along.

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A couple of days after Trusty brought Fred home to be her buddy

In 2009 we sold our house and spent five years traveling all over North America in a travel trailer. It was glorious fun. The dogs were excellent companions and loved the travel. When we picked out our rig we deliberately chose a truck with room for the dogs to ride with us in the cab. We are dog people. We rarely go anywhere without our dogs and we miss them when they are not with us. Traveling including stops at as many dog parks as possible and many roadside pee breaks, some quite memorable. The back of our truck was their kennel for the most part. We were very careful about heat. We rarely used the kennels but if the dogs could not be left in the truck or trailer, they went into their kennels. We also attended as many dog oriented activities like the great Canadian Dog Party and the Appalachacola’s Wooffest. Both dogs enjoyed these doggy outing but Trusty enjoyed them much more than Fred.

Trusty was a happy dog. That was her main attribute. She wasn’t good at doing tricks and nor did she like to do things just for the sake of doing them. She needed to understand why something was important before she would do it. Rules she didn’t care for, she would ignore, but only when we weren’t looking. Trusty loved little kids and was very protective of them. If she saw a child alone she would get upset and panic and whine and fuss until she saw a parent nearby. Unlike Fred, she could be trusted not to snatch delicious things. Kids were too important for that.

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Trusty was a loving little soul as well. I never knew  dog who loved other animals the way she did. But her absolutely special favourite love was horses. When she saw a horse, she fell apart. Fortunately horses seemed to like her.

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There was one thing more than anything else Trusty loved. She loved it when people stopped and admired her and she was especially happy if they wanted to take her picture. Oh she would preen and pose and be so happy. Love me! I am beautiful and I know it. For some reason Japanese tourists found her especially attractive and there are pictures of her all over Japan I’m sure.

Fred was a swimmer and he would swim every possible chance he got. Trusty would only swim if it was really hot and she needed to cool off. She never stayed for long in the water. She hated cold, really hated it. I would often put on a little coat and boots so she was warm enough in the trailer. She hated snow. Both dogs loved the beach and we had many wonderful winters wandering beaches where dogs are welcome on the east, west and especially the Gulf coast. Trusty loved a nice long walk on the beach. I would say “Do you want to go to the beach?” and both dogs would lose it and race to the vehicle at top speed.

It was at the beach this winter that I first noticed the change in her. I know I was thinking last fall that she seemed kind of depressed. I figured getting to the beach would cheer her up. It didn’t. She acted confused and frightened by the beach. Instead of participating she would stand and cock her head left and right, stare off into space, give a funny shake and then let her head droop. It would pass but afterward she would be remain confused and she would tire quickly and walks became a drag. After one of these episodes she would often attach herself to the nearest pair of legs and follow them even if they were not her own people. More than once I didn’t notice she was following someone else. I would find her halfway down the beach with perfect strangers acting totally and hopelessly confused. I stopped letting her go off leash unless we were alone on the beach. She found it a comfort attaching herself to our friend Jack Rudloe. Jack was not disturbed by her hanging so close to him. I started always walking her with the leash on. One time she got confused and jumped in the car with perfect strangers and I had to drag her out by force.

In this set of pictures she is having one of her episodes.

Here she is exhibiting her ‘attach onto the nearest set of leg’ behaviour.

At the time I put her strange behaviour down to aging and maybe going deaf and blind. Yet, she seemed okay a lot of the time. She had some good days at the beach where she would run and play freely but she seemed mostly content. I noticed she was sleeping a lot more. She would sleep deeply for eight or nine hours. I also would find her under the table stuck or hiding from something. I don’t know what was going on with her. We once spent most of the afternoon hunting for her everywhere thinking she had gotten out of the fence and wandered off which was very much not like her. We found her hiding in a space under the table, sound asleep. She didn’t wake up and notice us calling her.

We got back to our home in Manitoba and I was hoping she would improve. She didn’t. new symptoms appeared. She began pacing at odd hours. On the one hand she would sleep for eight or nine hours without waking, deeply deeply asleep and hard to wake. On the other hand she would pace up and down, up and down, up and down. When she was awake she would often wander about aimlessly or stand without moving and cock her head to one side and the other and back again, droop, shiver and then look all confused. I was no longer seeing her happy expression. Every once in a while we would see a peek of the old Trusty. It became rare and I treasured those moments and would tell myself she was fine. Mostly I saw only the confused and unhappy dog.

Trusty also began to ask to go in and out repeatedly over and over and over again. It began to drive us nuts. It was hard to get any work done. She would stand next to us, let out this loud sharp bark to go out, she would go out and then bark to come back in. Literally two minutes later she would repeat the performance. While she was out she would forget to pee and then have an accident in the house. She had a really superior stomach clock and in the past she wold bark at Dick when it was 4:00pm. She used to always get it within a few minutes except during the period after the changeover between daylight savings and standard or when our travels took us over a time zone. We found ourselves getting impatient with her. This made her worse. She wanted to please us. She knew she wasn’t pleasing us. She didn’t understand why. The solution was to withdraw and do more sleeping.

In May she started a new behaviour. She had always been prone to eating strange things but she began turning walks into battles to eat weeds. if there was any grass or weeds nearby she would stop walking and try to eat them. In the past we had the command “OFF!” and she would stop. The command no longer worked. The result was she would often eat something noxious and then get sick and vomit. She began fighting me when it was time to trim her nails and callouses we always struggled with on her paws got worse. She began passing gas that was so stinky you could hardly stand to be in the room with her. Her breath was often really foul as well. To me it smelled ketosic like she was dehydrated. Sometimes she would start drinking and then do her head tilt thing and forget to finish. When we went for a walk I would keep her on the leash and make her walk in the middle of the road where she couldn’t get at any weeds. Otherwise we didn’t walk. We fought. We started skipping walks.

By June we were no longer including her in activities because it was too hard on her and us. I put it down to canine dementia. She was nearly twelve years old. I read about accommodations for this and tried to institute them. It didn’t help. Trusty continued downhill at a far faster pace than dementia would suggest.

We began doing thing things to avoid upsetting her like not taking her along on outings and trying not to leave her alone for long. Whereas before we saw the old happy Trusty for at least a few hours a day, it now was down to 20 minutes of time each day with the old happy Trusty and the rest of the time just this sad confused strange little dog. It was heartbreaking to see her stand and then tilt her head from one side to the other several times as if trying to figure out what was going on. And then she would stand there in total confusion. She would walk up to us and bump us again and again. After these sessions of confusion, she would sometimes just stare at me with this sad sad look. She also stopped eating. She would often simply refuse her food. She would stand over it and sway her head back and forth and then walk away.  Two or three days later she would get aggressive and wolf down both her food and Fred’s, driving his away from his dish with unusual force. Fred began acting afraid of her and started avoiding her.

The end came this past weekend. She ate something, who knows what. And she was sick all night. Diarrhea and vomiting, and it was a horrible mess. Plus both her eyes were full of white puss and her nose was streaming. I am very glad about one thing. I gave her a warm bath and very gently cleaned her up. I rinsed all the crud from her eyes and the white part was bright red. I put in some antihistamine drops and the red eased up very quickly and she seemed to find relief. For a short time after her bath she perked up. Even so we knew it was time.

We took her into the vet on Monday. I can’t describe how hard this is. At first the vet suggested, since Trusty’s physical shape was so good, that we try fancy dog food and maybe some medication for doggy dementia. I found myself in tears and I described how bad this poor little dog had gotten. How we only saw our Trusty for 20 minutes a day now and how it was getting worse. During all this Trusty just stood there, acting like her confused self.

One very nice thing happened. The window to the office was low down and a horse was being brought in. Trusty became aware of the horse and she got up on the window and made her happy whine. A horse was nearby! In her last minutes she was happy. And then she went back to the head tilt, head tilt, and standing confused. She was gone soon afterward.

I was horribly upset with myself afterward and filled with guilt and regret. I cried and cried. Maybe I had pushed her too soon. Maybe my poor Trusty could have had more good times. Maybe I was cruel and selfish to not try to do more for her. I had another dog years before and I had waited far too long to put her down. I swore I would never let a dog suffer again like that. The dog would be put down as soon as quality of life was gone and not prolong the suffering. Yet maybe I had pushed Trusty too fast. Maybe she could have had a few more weeks.

I had a dream about her the first night after I killed her. She came to me and put her head down and asked me to look inside. I could see into her brain and I could see strange sparks and misfirings. And then she looked up at me, so tired and so unhappy, and she gave me a nose touch. I watched her run off in a meadow. There was a human of some sort with her and she was happy now.  She did her happy bouncy jumping move, the move I had not seen in a long time and she was gone, following this figure. It was someone she knew and trusted. I am not sure who. We had a friend who died a few years ago who really liked Trusty even though she was not a dog person. Maybe it was her. I like to think so. Maybe it was an angel. Why shouldn’t dogs have a guardian angel?

Looking at all of Trusty’s pictures and preparing this farewell has given me sense of calm and peace with our decision to euthanize her. I don’t know for sure what was wrong with her. We did not pay for many expensive tests to try to find out why she deteriorated as quickly as she did. I don’t think it would have helped anyway. I no longer think is was canine dementia. More reading since that vivid dream has led me to think Trusty actually had some form of epilepsy. She was not having full blown grand mal seizures. She was having focal seizures or what would be called in people petite mal. When she paused and titled her head one way and then the other, dropped her head and gave a shiver that was probably a seizure. Maybe she had a brain tumour that was progressing. Maybe it was genetic. Purebred and line bred dogs sometimes have recessive diseases brought to the fore. I have known humans with epilepsy and they describe the after seizure period of confusion and exhaustion and sometimes head pain. Poor Trusty was suffering even if she was not in pain.

Trusty had a good life with us. She got to see and do many more things than most dogs do. She was loved and she had so much fun in her all to brief doggy life.

Good bye happy sweet kind soul. You will be sorely missed. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you. I’m sorry you couldn’t live forever.

“Our dogs want to please us, but keeping them alive for ourselves is a poor return for the love and joy they have given us. Letting them go with dignity when they are ready is a small but significant repayment for their devotion.” Maryann Szalka

Zucchini in containers.

My husband and I are big fans of zucchini. Our typical breakfast includes fried zucchini, lots of it, with mushrooms, onions and eggs. Naturally, zucchini plays a big role in my garden. I have tried for many years to get zucchini to grow consistently and well. It is not as easy as I thought it would be but this is the second year now we have been enjoying early and great abundant zucchini. So I think I have the knack of it now.

As my followers will recall, we live in Manitoba near the 51st parallel and so we have to adjust our gardening for late and early seasons frosts and occasionally even snow in May. Zucchini are delicate when it comes to frost, and slugs and cutworms love to eat them. After trying for years to get really good zucchini, I finally gave up on growing them in the garden and I switched to container gardening. This way, on nice spring days we can put the plants outside but if we have one of our late May frosts (or even snows) they can be carried inside to warm safety until the cold passes.

Since they are going into containers anyway, it makes sense to start them indoors under artificial lights. I started mine April 15th this year from seed I saved from the previous year’s harvest. I had both yellow and green (actually called “midnight” variety) that grew very well for me. Since we like to eat our zucchini young, that meant leaving some to grow large enough to produce mature seeds. That happened more towards the end of the season when we had so much I was actually getting sick of it.

The zucchini grow quickly. In this image they are only about three and a half weeks old. The tiny tomato plants beside them were started at the same time. Zucchini like rich soil, and they require a lot of water but they also like good drainage. This is why some successful gardeners put them on hills in the garden. I started mine out in high quality potting soil. Zucchini are subject to blossom rot (like tomatoes) so I added extra calcium powder and ground egg shells to the soil. Deeper pots work better in the early stages as the zucchini like to set deep roots fast. Zucchini also like to grow with companions so I start with about six seeds per pot and then reduce it down to two plants per pot once the first leaves are open.

Zucchini also need abundant sunshine and so as soon as possible I put them outside in my little greenhouse. At about six weeks, I repotted them into some large pots I scrounged from the local dump that were originally used for transporting trees, again using the best quality potting soil with water conserving beads and fertilizer. (Pot size is 12 inches (30cm) around and 10 inches (24cm) deep.) I topped up the calcium in the bigger pots as well. I started with six pots going. Four are yellow and two are green. I gave one to my neighbour who has also had trouble getting good zucchini in the past.

Another advantage to getting the plants outside well before it is warm enough for the garden is to let pollinators get at the blossoms. My plants had blossoms by when they went into the big pots at 6-7 weeks and they were soon full of busy bees, especially bumble bees. The plants grew and overflowed the edges of their pots. By June I didn’t have to worry about carrying them inside overnight. I moved them into their own sunny location in the back part of the lawn. The nearby trees provide shelter from the occasionally fierce prairie wind and they are near the rain barrel. Even in these pots they need watering almost every day. They do much better with soft rain water than our extremely hard iron laden tap water.

It is important to pick the zucchini young in order to keep the plant producing more. Last year I noted that the zucchini ran roots out of the pot into the ground and seemed to halt growing for a few days when I moved them. So once they are in their place on the lawn I now try to mow around the pots rather than move the pots to mow. My final tip is that as soon as the first two plants are producing zucchini, put in more seeds near the edges. Allow two of these secondary plantings to reach maturity for a total of four plants per pot. The second pair of plants will take over peak production just as the first set are getting too old.

And we are now enjoying the rewards of my not-too-hard work. It is more about planning than work. I picked my first zucchini last week which is nine weeks after I planted the seeds. Yesterday I harvested four good sized zucchini. Two are yellow and two are green. One of the green ones I made into a layered zucchini vegetable lasagna. (Cooking tip; zucchini have a lot of moisture so I find you need to double the typical cooking time fora lasagna and leave the lid off for the last half of the cooking to make a good texture that is not watery.) The other three are in my fridge and will be consumed soon.

 

 

 

Bread Day

The weather forecast was for a miserable cold rainy day followed by a typically Canadian abrupt switch to summer. The high was a mere 12C (54F) for the day I decide to bake but only two days later the forecast high was 27C (81F). I decided it was a good day to get ahead on home baked bread. This would heat our little house without using the furnace so the heat would serve two uses on a cold day. Plus making my own bread costs a small fraction of buying store bought bread.

I bake my own bread for many reason. I started when I lived in a rural community where fresh bread was hard to come by without a long trip to the grocery store. In those days I had no machine to knead the bread and it was a chore. I quit when we left the farm and I went back to work. A few years later the local kosher bakery closed up and I was given a bread maker. On top of that, hubby dearest was told to go on a no salt diet and commercial bread is very high salt. I started using the bread maker. It was perfect for a busy career woman. Set it up on a timer in the morning and at supper walk in to the smell of fresh bread. The bread maker worked very well but….

Bread makers don’t seem to bake evenly. In such a small batch the variations of any batch of bread that have to do with moisture in the flour, temperatures, yeast and so forth get really magnified. You can get a bad “batch” often enough to be annoying and to feel the bread maker is unreliable. I eventually settled on using a Kitchen Aide with a dough hook for the kneading part. I make a four loaf double batch which is far more forgiving of subtle variations compared to the one loaf bread maker. It is a lot easier to get consistently good bread. I also like to make my loaves small so hubby dearest can have a two small slices of bread with crust all around rather than one huge slice produced by the bread machine which has to be cut in half and which will fall apart far more easily. I initially began giving up the bread maker by letting the bread maker do the kneading and then moving the dough to my own bowl and pan. With the Kitchen Aide the bread maker sat idle enough I eventually gave it away.

This particular day I make four double batches of our favourite types of bread. They all ended up in the freezer to be taken out and used on one of those hot summer days when the last thing I want to do is be baking bread.

Batch one is my husband’s special favourite which I can’t stand. It is dark pumpernickel with cocoa, instant coffee and dark rye flour. We both like sesame and poppy seeds so I almost always do an egg wash and add these on the outside. (One advantage off doing four double batches is one egg was enough for all the loaves.) This bread also has a hefty dose of caraway seed. As you can see, someone stole a piece before I got these loaves into the freezer. I don’t think it was one of the dogs although they have been known to sneak a whole loaf. This is my own recipe

Dark Pumpernickel

1 ¼ water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1/3 cup molasses
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup dark rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups bread flour
3 tablespoons gluten
3 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 tablespoon caraway seed
1 tsp instant coffee
2 teaspoon bread machine or quick active dry yeast

In addition to poppy and sesame seeds I also top with oatmeal flakes and corn meal and small sprinkling of additional caraway seeds.

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The second batch I made was a light rye bread. The recipe is from CooksRecipes.com originally.

Light Rye Bread
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups unbleached white bread flour
3/4 cup rye flour
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon stone ground corn meal
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons active dry yeast

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The third batch of bread was honey, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, my own favourite.

Honey Oatmeal Whole Wheat

1 1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoon margarine
4 cups while wheat bread flour
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoons salt
1 cup dry oatmeal flakes
2 teaspoons active dry yeast

 

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And the final two loaves are the special braided Sabbath egg bread called challah.

Challah

1 1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cups unbleached white bread flour (approx you may need more or less to get the tight texture)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 whole eggs

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I normally try to bake challah each Friday so we always have two fresh warm challah for the sabbath. Life doesn’t always cooperate so we have two pairs of emergency challah in the freezer.

All fourteen loaves (less one slice) were double wrapped and slipped into the freezer for future use. We normally use about two loaves a week so I should not have to bake bread again (except for Friday Challah) until midsummer.

There is something mystical and connected about making homemade bread. Even though I let the machine do most of the kneading I do get to handle the dough, work it my hands and feel the connection to our earth home. Baking bread becomes an exercise in philosophy, meditation and prayer. And is there anything to compare with the sweet scent of homemade bread? Homemade bread makes a house a home and sanctifies a holiday. It was a perfect way to pass a cold miserable day and prepare for summer.

51st Parallel Gardening – May

I have been watching the posts from southern gardener friends with great envy. Some of them are already getting fresh beans and greens! I live just a bit to the south of the 51st parallel and winter has barely left. My plants are still in the greenhouse. The locals say you cannot put out bedding plants until either the big northern geese have continued on north or until the first full moon in June. I learned the hard way my first year here that you can’t rush the bedding plants.

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This year I cut back on my ambition and started only tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant indoors under a grow light. As soon as the daytime got warm enough I moved the plants outdoors into my mini greenhouse. I have replanted everything I started from seed into larger containers. At night if the temperature is supposed to go below freezing I put a small electric oil filled heater in set on law. If it is going to snow or get below freezing even daytime (which can happen here even in May) the plants are moved indoors and back under the grow lists for a while. As you can see, my favourite container is the tall yogurt one. It is sturdy, flexible and just the right depth for encouraging deep roots. We have long spells of hot dry weather followed by monsoon prairie downpours. Deep roots are really important for survival under our demanding conditions. It will be another three or maybe even four weeks before these plants will be planted out in the garden.

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Today I moved the zucchini plants into their final container. I will set these out in the yard and let them grow. Last year I got an enormous crop of zucchini from pots and I hoping for one this year. However, I can’t relax yet. Though it is a lovely 22C (72F) right now, the forecast for tomorrow night is below zero and flurries. In spring, I get my exercise carrying pots in and out of the house. The first hard frost does not generally show up until late September here at the 51st parallel but we have gotten them as early as midAugust. Sometimes I am carrying pots in and out again in early fall. For really tender plants like zucchini I find big pots work best. If you plant in the garden you will get zucchini only in some years when conditions are right.

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Two years ago I planted a raspberry cane. I haven’t gotten much fruit in those two years but the plants have grown like crazy and spread, as I hoped they would. We want the raspberries to eventually fill the space between the sump pump pipe and the rainwater pipe. Maybe this year we will get enough fruit to do more than taste. I made sure to get a local hardy variety that can take our extremely cold winters.

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My strawberries I started last year all survived. I planted three varieties, one June, and two ever-bearing. Last year we had about five strawberries. This year I am hoping for more. I am also hoping to create second box for more strawberry plants off runners.

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This is my herb box. It has oregano and sage from last year and lemon balm. I also tried an experiment. I started onions (light green top) and garlic (lower darker green single stalks) from seed produced in my garden last year. I collected the seed. I started it indoors in a couple of pots. Garlic and onions are tough and take the cold so I have already planted those into my herb box. The onions were far more prolific in coming up. I will thin those and use the thinned plants for greens as the season progresses. I have lots of large garlic that survived the winter so I will leave these tiny garlic for next year. I will also be planting some parsley and cilantro. Last year the parsley and cilantro survived the winter and I didn’t have to plant again. This year was not so lucky.

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My chives are from my first year and they are doing very well. I have one flower formed. In a couple of more weeks it will be covered in lovely blooms. We have already been enjoying fresh chives in salad.

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Rhubarb is another plant that does well in our northern garden. I use rhubarb for juice and pies and as fruit bit in muffins, sweet breads and cakes. It also freezes very well. Sliced and frozen on a cookie sheet and then loose packed in a bag, we can enjoy a taste of spring in winter. Rhubarb is extremely tart and so I typically blend it with other fruit. These plants were already in my garden when I moved in but they are small. The previous owner did not like rhubarb and mowed them every chance he got. Last year I got enough rhubarb for only one single pie. You can only harvest about half the stalks once they are fully out. I made Rhuberry (rhubarb and strawberry) pie with store bought strawberries. My husband declared it the best pie he had ever had. Maybe this year I will get enough strawberries and rhubarb to make one from entirely from my own produce. We shall see. Rhuberry jam is another special favourite of mine but these plants will have to grow a lot more before I can do that again.

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Horse radish is one of our northern treats. I planted two plants two years ago. One plant has taken off and is doing very well. The second plant is unhappy and I don’t know why. It barely puts its head up. I have not yet been able to use my own horse radish roots. Fortunately my neighbour has been very generous with hers which are well established and many years old. And of course dandelions are blooming everywhere now.

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Last year I planted Saskatoons. These are northern natives small trees/large bushes. They produce a small blueberry size dark purple fruit. They grow wild everywhere around here but each patch has a jealous guardian and it is considered the height of unneighbourly behaviour to pick from someone else’s patch, and unless you are a bear, you will be chased away. I purchased five little trees last year. The Saskatoon is a close relative of the apple tree and should grow into a hardy apple tree sized bush that will have white blossoms in spring and will produce abundant fruit about the end of June. The taste of the berries is halfway between apple and blue berry. These berries freeze and can beautifully, and make great jam, jellies and pies. They are also one of the reasons people were able to settle in the north. The berries are exceptionally high in vitamin C and when dried and pounded into powder, the powder retains much of its vitamin C. If you mix one part dried Saskatoons with two parts dried powdered lean game meat and stick it together in with some grease or fat, you have traditional pemmican. Pemmican is a perfect food for humans containing every nutrient we need to stay healthy and it will keep for years. Without pemmican, Canada would not have been settled. All five of my teeny Saskatoons survived the winter. It will be few years before I can look forward to harvesting my own. Until then I will have to beg to be permitted to go berry picking with a generous neighbour.

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Sorry about the fuzzy picture but this is tamarack. Again a native tree, this looks like an evergreen tree but in the fall turns golden and then drops its needle like leaves. I had a low wet spot in the yard where the preexisting evergreen had died from drowning. Last year I pulled it up and went hunting for a tamarack to put in its place. Tamaracks can grow in the nastiest wet marshy soggy soil. I found this little one in a ditch outside of town in an area that gets mowed for hay. I transplanted it before haying season and it is coming back. If I can avoid mowing it, the tamarack should one day be big enough to fill in the holes in my windbreak where the ground is so soggy.

I have the loveliest perennial garden. I can take no credit for it. It came with the house but I love it. The one daffodil I saw bloomed this year. Right now the violets are blooming. I will soon have tulips and columbine. After that come lilies of assorted types and colours and Canada anemones. Later into year it will have delphiniums and other late season flowers. If I can keep the grass out, I will enjoy blooms all season. The previous gardener was a clever lady and planted the perennial flower bed with both local native plants and hardy exotics.  I am trying my best to preserve her delightful legacy. Last fall I added a bunch of tulip blooms and they are coming up among the older tulips. I plan to add more daffodils this fall.

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The grass has needed its first mowing and it is full of this little lovely, creeping charlie. I know most gardeners abhor creeping charlie but I like it.It has lovely little purple blooms all summer, it grows in places the grass doesn’t like and it does not need mowing. It happily accepts trampling and traffic. If my entire lawn were taken over by creeping charlie I would be delighted. Right now it has a lot of strong reddish colour. Every spring we have high UV in May. The annual ozone northern hole means we get a lot of UV. The native plants adjust without a problem. Bedding plants need to be exposed gradually by a couple of hours a day or they get sunburnt.

My vegetable garden is not yet started beyond a few onions and some garlic. It is simply too soon to seed anything. The packages say you can plant as soon as the ground can be worked but it really isn’t so in the north. If you plant too soon, the plants come up scraggly and miserable and don’t produce much. So this time of year you just rototill every week or so to kill the native weeds and remind yourself you need to wait. At least this makes the robins happy. The know what a rototiller sounds like and congregate nearby eagerly awaiting my departure after which the dirt gets thoroughly inspected for bugs. I will plant cold hardy seeds that can take a freeze next weekend on the Victoria Day Weekend in Canada. Anything cold fragile will have to wait until that full moon in June.

Today the sunrise was at 5:49am and sunset and the sun will set at 9:40pm. We have very long days in spring and they will be even longer come June. This means that once the stuff is actually in the ground and growing, it will grow much faster than my southern neighbour’s can boast. By the end of July you would be hard pressed to tell my garden is so far north. It will be all caught up.

That is where my garden is today. Northern gardening requires rethinking and more planning but it can be just as bountiful and rewarding as southern gardening.

Where is your garden at these days?

Chicken (or Fish) Broth From Scratch

I finished recounting our trip home. We are now comfortably settled in our little house on the prairie and I am back to being a retired stay at home grandma type. So until next trip, my posts will reflect that part of my life. We live simply and frugally.

As a society we have become more and more dependant on Big Food to provide us with ready made meals. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Moms these days often have two or three jobs including raising children. There is nothing wrong with trading a little money for some convenience and time. The problem is sometimes the skills we once learned from our mothers and grandmothers get lost. So this blog is for the young woman I met in the store who was buying cut up chicken and soup base and complaining to me that she just couldn’t get soup and stew to turn out like her Grandma made it and it was costing her a fortune. My recipe is for two-three people using a small crock pot so if you have a bigger family you may want to increase the size.

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Step one is the chicken parts. I buy whole fresh chickens and cut them up myself. This works for us because my husband likes dark meat and I like light meat so very little is wasted. I prepare packages of half a breast and a thigh and leg in small packets and freeze them. If the “three-fresh-chicken” packs are on sale, I’ll buy those. I will put all the wings in one bag and we will have hot wings one night. In this case, single chickens were on sale and only one was left at the store. After I cut up the chicken I ended up with the back, ribs and wings in one packet. If you don’t buy whole chicken you could use any chicken parts. Back and ribs typically sell for very cheap.

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Broth base requires not just chicken but some vegetable and herbs. I root around in my fridge and find whatever I can that is older. In this case I used grated carrot, chopped onions, and some herbs from my freezer. Each year I “put by” celery, cilantro, parsley and young greens from thinning garden rows. I simply wash them thoroughly, drain the water, and put them on a cookie sheet and freeze them. I then put the frozen herbs in freezer backs, loose pack. I can them use them for cooking. The green in this picture are celery leaves, turnip greens and parsley. I like the grated carrot because not only does it give a nice flavour, the carotene adds a nice rich colour. You can use fresh celery and/or dried herbs instead.

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This step is one that requires patience and oil. The whole thing has to gently fry in order to brown the chicken and the vegetables. This step can’t be rushed. If you have the heat to high it will be burn instead of brown. If you don’t do it for long enough, you won’t get the essential brownings that are the real base of the broth. I tend to put this to brown and do the dishes and tidy up the kitchen, pausing to stir it around as it browns. It may need a little more vegetable oil depending on how fatty your chicken it. In this image you see browning about half done. it should take 30 minutes to get the chicken browned and the vegetables cooked.

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I like to do anything that requires a long slow cooking in my crock pot. It saves power and looks neat and the inner crock can go right on the table as a serving dish. When the browning is done, everything goes into the crock pot. I also add a dash of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Adding the salt and sugar chances the osmolarity of the water during cooking so that juices are drawn out and shared in the broth. I know everything these days is about the dangers of salt and sugar, but honestly, it just tastes so much better and we eat very low salt generally so the extra favour is worth it, especially compared to the amount of salt in a typical purchased can of broth. If you like things like pearl barley or lentils and beans that are dried, this is where you would add them.

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The next step both enriches the broth and saves time with the crock pot. One of things that drives me bonkers about the crock pot is that it takes forever to heat up. This means if I don’t get around to getting the soup on until after lunch it won’t have enough cooking time. This step gives me a little more flexibility in addition to flavour. I used a nonstick pan to brown but I still have a sticky mess in the bottom of the pan. So I add just enough water to cover.

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I bring the liquid up to a boil. I scrape the simmering water and the brown stuff comes up. I then dump this hot water with the pan leavings into the crock pot. I repeat this until the pan is almost clean and there is enough liquid in the pot to continue simmering. Because the water goes into the pot already hot, the crock pot doesn’t take hours to heat. Plus the pan goes into the dishwater practically already clean.

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The last step is to boil some water in the kettle and top up the whole pile in the crock pot with boiling water. I then let the broth simmer until the chicken is falling apart. Depending on your crock pot and how much you started with, your time will vary. In my small crock pot, and starting with hot water, it takes about two hours on high or five to six hours on low setting. Once the chicken is falling apart, I lift out the pieces of chicken with a slotted spoon and separate meat from bones. The meat goes back into the pot and I discard the bones.

The broth can be home canned or frozen at this point, if you want to use it for later.

Using the broth for soup:

For soup, you may wish to strain out the cooking vegetables. Some people strain out the cooking vegetables and puree them and add them back in. After this much cooking they won’t add much flavour back in. I usually just leave the cooking vegetables in the broth as is unless I had some thick older stringy type greens. Those I discard with the bones. I then add additional vegetables we like such as potatoes in chunks, carrots, beans, broccoli, squash, or whatever I have handy and simmer until the vegetables are tender but not cooked to mush.

Using the broth for stew:

To turn the broth into a thick stew you need to add about a quarter cup of flour mixed with a cup of cold water. I put flour and water in a jar and shake well before adding. Let it come back to a simmer and it will thicken. You can top it with dumplings.

Using the broth for chowder:

To make a rich chowder, add finely grated potato with the cut up vegetables and let it come back to a boil.

This recipe also works for fish. When I buy fish I have the fish monger fillet it for me but I ask to keep the bones, skin and head and use this same technique to make fish chowder.

Comments? Can I improve? Do you do something similar? Do you have any tips for me? I would love to hear from you.

Migration Home Twelfth Stop Sisseton South Dakota and then home.

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We left Sioux City north and drove up I29. This has to be the most boring stretch of highway in North America. Miles and miles and miles of nothing. We had some luck in the city of Sioux Falls. We got a recommendation from a store clerk in Staples for a grocery store big on ethnic food. We arrived to find enough kosher-for-passover items that we were able to stock up for the whole eight days. On arrival in Sisseton the folks at Camp Dakota were welcoming as they had been last year and we set up. Our host for tomorrow’s visit, Sister Patrice Colette met us and we had dinner at the nearby Casino. Profits from the Casino go right back into the tribe including the school we were going to be presenting at. We had an excellent meal and turned in early. Sister was going to be picking us up at 6:30am. We fell asleep to the sound of enormous flocks of starlings and black birds feasting on the remnants of last year’s corn crop in the adjacent field.

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The school we were going to visit is the Tiospa Zina Tribal School of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Reservation. Last year we presented to the class and then got a tour of the band offices. This year we spent the entire school day participating and visiting. This was our second stop as visiting scientists and much as I enjoyed the first visit last year, this one went even better. Our day started out with breakfast at the school. All students get a nutritious start to their day. Breakfast was scrambled egg omelet with cheese filling, bacon (which we skipped), vegetables and fruit. Cereal was available, as was milk, but not as the main item and not many kids picked those for breakfast.

After breakfast we attended a ceremony to start the academic day. This included a drum circle and songs in Dakota. I saw a lot of older students watching out for and caring for younger students. Our conference was interrupted by a break for school awards for excellent work, for personal improvement, for good attendance an to announce successes students had outside the school. Students not only got nice little printed certificates. They got something I never got in school, which was nice crisp new bills as cash awards. There was strong emphasis on personal responsibility, duty to the tribe and community as a whole and respect for elders and each other in the ceremony. Everyone helped clear up when the award ceremony was finished.

Officially we were there as keynote speakers for a science conference. The student prepared in advance and then I presented on sea turtles, their embryology, evolution, the dangers they face and how people can help them. Hubby dearest presented his latest research on the original of life in our universe and slipped in a talk about the age of the universe and powers of ten. We closed off our presentations by giving the students chunks of marine fossils in soft sandstone. Their objective was to break out a fossil and use Google and some books to identify what the fossil was. And they succeeded. We have done many of these classroom visits to schools over the years. In this school we were delighted to find curious minds, intense interest, and well thought out questions. We were not just questioned about the science itself. We were questioned about important practical things like how do you balance work and family and why did we become scientists. We were not once subjected to snarky misbehaviour or nasty background tomfoolery that has happened to us in other schools.

We learned a lot too, getting a glimpse into the life of students at the tribal school. Manitoba already has powerful connections to this reserve because they are related to the Dakota people on the reserve south of Portage LaPrairie and many of the students have family in Canada that come and visit them or they come and visit in South Dakota. The Manitoba connections made us feel right at home.

We left Sisseton feeling very positive and began the last leg of our journey. We made a brief stop in Fargo to buy lefse. Lefse is a traditional food of my father’s Scandinavian ancestors, far better than lutefisk and it is not readily available in stores. Additionally, making it from scratch produces a lot of smoke so I had to give up doing it myself due to my asthma.  At Freddy’s we picked up enough fresh frozen to last us and our family members to the next trip to North Dakota.

Our original plan was to stop at a state park on the border with Canada. I had checked the webpage and it said the campground was open. I called the park and I got an answering machine message that cheerfully declared the campground was open and if we needed fresh water we could get it at the ranger station. When we arrived it was different story. As it turned out, the only camping available was walk in winter camping and the roads and campsites were under too much snow to even think of driving in with a truck and trailer. We were subjected to a particularly stupid bureaucrat/ranger who seemed to think we were the stupid ones for not knowing all that in spite of what their message said. I politely suggested the message be changed to better reflect reality. Each time I said that, I was told why I was so stupid for thinking I could get the camper into the park in March. Eventually we gave up and left, muttering imprecations about how government seems to attract a larger proportion of particularly stupid people as employees than other organizations.

Home

We were about three and a half hours from home and it was 3:00pm. We got waved through at the border by the cheerful guard. We stopped to stock up on groceries in the Winkler just over the border. We then just kept driving. We pulled into our driveway at our little house on the northern prairie. To our relief the driveway had been thoughtfully cleared of ice and snowdrifts by a neighbour for our return. It was SO good to be home. We found our house exactly as we had left it except for some extra cobwebs. Our migration was complete.

According to Google we traveled over 2300 miles. If we had driven nonstop, the trip would have taken a mere 37 hours. We took 35 days, most days did not drive more than three hours and stayed for at least two days at each stop. It was easily our best trip yet! The birds were even slower than us. It was two more weeks before the birds we left in South Dakota showed up. They were the smart ones. There was a blizzard between our arrival home and their return to the north.

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