Happy Canada Day!

Belleville Canada Day - 123Dentist

Canada is currently going through many of the same ugly nonsense about the evils of our nation going on in the USA. Our founders were not perfect but they had a great goal and they started a nation with the hope of great things. Just because some Canadians were left behind for a while does not negate with the greatness of the founders’ lofty and high ideals.

I do not accept that Canada is flawed, systematically racist, patriarchal and beyond redemption. I do not accept the title of white colonizer and oppressor nor am I filled with guilt for the color of my skin or for sins committed by others mostly from long before my birth. I am a fourth generation Canadian citizen. I don’t feel I have to explain myself to anyone or apologize to anyone for that fact. I embrace a paraphrased dream of Martin Luther King Jr when he said: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin (or the languages they speak or do not speak or their birth place or their treaty status or their ethnic/ancestral homelands) but by the content of their character.

I am proud of the ideals Canada stands for and I am proud to celebrate Canada Day and to thank the founders for this great nation. And if you don’t like it, tough.

1867 competes with 1812, 1608 and 1982 as ‘founding’ dates ...

Home made Yogurt and Ricotta from Powdered Milk and Frozen Starter

The whole COVID-19 thing has really made me reevaluate my dependence on stores for the fresh foods I love. I already make just about everything from scratch. I started doing this because it was so hard to find low salt anything in processed food when my husband first got diagnosed with hypertension. After I developed a wheat allergy, it became even more important. During this pandemic, the stores ran out of things like toilet paper and then many items were severely limited or missing altogether. Here I am trying to avoid going into stores more than once every two weeks and milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt were limited to one brand and one small container each trip!

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Today’s batch of yogurt from powered milk. Hubby dearest likes to add a little jam and some grated unsweetened coconut. As you can see it is nice and thick like Greek style.

Hubby dearest and I are big yogurt eaters and for many years we bought the largest pail of plain yogurt whenever we went to town. The problem was we often ate all the yogurt before our next trip. Plus the cost of good yogurt by the bucket was just plain prohibitive even before the pandemic. I decided to learn to make yogurt by the pot at home. Turns out, it’s really easy! You need milk and a good pot and a most critical, a good thermometer. I am also lucky because my old oven oven can actually be set for 38C (100F) for incubating. I start with 4 litres (about 1 US gallon) of milk plus 1 cup of skim milk powder (homogenized fresh milk is what I personally get the best results from.) I heat it to 77C (170F). This is the hard part because you have to “mind” the pot. The heat has to be low and the milk needs to be stirred as the temperature rises to avoid scorching on the bottom. I generally do this while I wash up the supper dishes so I am in the kitchen anyway. I then let the milk cool down to 39C (~100F) and stir in about one quarter cup of high quality starter yogurt from a brand I like. Generally this is done before bed. I leave the pot overnight and by morning I have a large pot of fresh yogurt.

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Yogurt is a bit tricky. Sometimes it takes a little longer, sometimes it comes out watery. I started adding the extra skim milk powder to reduce the watery low yield end product. Even good yogurt that comes out right will always have a little whey. However I am prepared for that. I ordered this lovely strainer and if I leave even thin watery yogurt in it for a couple of hours I get really nice Greek style thickness. If I want really thick yogurt, say Balkan style, I leave it even longer. I can even get to a cream cheese consistency if I keep pouring off the whey and leave the yogurt sit in the strainer for about twenty four hours.

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My yogurt strainer for converting thin yogurt to Greek or Balkin style. The fine mesh also works well for straining the ricotta from the whey.

Watery yogurt with lots of whey is not such a bad thing. The whey can be used to make smoothies or added to bread instead of milk. Hubby dearest likes whey smoothies. I’m not such a big fan of them. To me they have a bitter sour taste. I don’t put whey in my bread because we often eat meat with bread and we don’t mix those in one meal. However, if I take the whey, bring it to a boil and then let it cool and strain it, I get ricotta cheese. I really like home made ricotta.

Yesterday, I decided to try making yogurt from ingredients that can be stored long term. For starter I used a small single serving package of plain yogurt in a cup which I froze months ago in the lead up to the COVID-19 lock down. I used all powered skim milk for the yogurt. And it worked! No powder milk taste. The disadvantage is it was only about half yogurt and the rest was whey. No fear. After straining, it was nice and thick and the whey made a lovely ricotta. (Four litres of milk from skim milk powder made according to directions with one additional cup of powder made 2 litres of Greek style yogurt and just over a cup of ricotta cheese.)

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Fresh spinach from my garden that will become part of my ricotta lasagna after another washing.

I have lots of fresh spinach and basil from the garden and some lovely rice based gluten free lasagna noodles (since I allergic to wheat). We are going to have a vegetarian lasagna for supper. Next time I will add more skim milk powder. Now I know I can successfully keep the ingredients for yogurt in storage for months ahead and make it whenever I want to. Pandemic shortages will not prevent us from having fresh yogurt when we want it.

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Ricotta curds after straining.

What have I learned from this? I can freeze yogurt starter and I can make yogurt from powered skim milk. I will add extra skim milk powder to reduce getting a watery product next time. I might try adding some butter too, to put back some fat. Yogurt starter can be reused over and over again but I personally prefer to only reuse my own starter a few times as I find the flavour drifts. To be really “preppie” I suppose I should have dry powdered starter on hand. That is readily available ordered on line. I’ll consider it.

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One of several herb plants awaiting dishes including the large leaved fresh basil.

Duck Mountain Provincial Park

Even just preparing this post has left me close to tears. It’s hard to contemplate how life might have gone and what a blessing it is that it didn’t. We decided in May that we would try camping as part of Dick’s recovery from the March stroke, one, three night trip, per summer month. Due to COVID-19 our options were limited. We were allowed to stay in a provincial campground but it had to be one close to our home. There were also a bunch of rules and regulations about reserving on line in advance, not going into the ranger station/campground office and very minimal services where people might end up getting too close. We were advised we had to bring all our own toiletries and have proper footwear if we wanted to use the showers. We were also not allowed to shop in any nonlocal stores along the way. We were supposed to bring everything we needed. Since we own a travel trailer, we were prepared to be entirely self sustained and we knew we would not need to use any of the park washrooms.

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We picked Wellman Lake in Duck Mountain Provincial Park for our June trip. One of the rules is you are not supposed to go so far that if you need a hospital, you are not going to one you would not normally attend. Since Dick was in the Dauphin Hospital after his stroke, Duck Mountain Provincial Park seemed like a good bet. Wellman Lake is one of three campgrounds in Duck Mountain. We had been there once years ago at Child’s Lake. We picked Wellman because we had never been there before and the campground is on two lakes Wellman and Glad Lake. Glad Lake is a small no power boat lake and looked especially promising for our first canoe ride in over a year and two major illnesses ago. Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 8.50.43 PM

One thing I did not take into account is that from just north of Grandview to the campground is all gravel road. Most of it was well maintained but there were a few rough spots and it was gravel. This mean our maximum speed with the trailer was only about 70 km/hr (45m/hr). It was slow going and Duck Mountain is mostly heavy woods with lots of little lakes. This meant very little to see. Plus it is logged in certain parts in a controlled fashion and there is also a lot of gravel harvesting. This meant there was a lot of big truck traffic on those gravel roads. Fortunately the trip was uneventful. The first thing I noted on arrival on our huge campsite, was glorious boreal forest bluebells. I’ve seen a lot of bluebells but this particular variety was brand new to me. Wild onion and wood roses were also in bloom everywhere around our campsite.

The second thing I noticed was one of our underside access pipes for winterizing our fresh water system had been hit by gravel and cracked. This mean the water we added began pouring out on the ground as soon as we started the pump and no chance for it to pressurize. Fortunately, we’ve dealt with this one before so it took me only ten minutes to pull off the offending part and fix it with a spare cap. We are kind of fanatical about spares of everything. Whenever we have to fix something we always get spares. I now have ‘only’ four spare caps left for the water system. Dick did the rest of the trailer set up while I did the repairs. This included cleaning cat vomit. Klinger apparently got motion sick, as he sometimes does, I suspect due to the gravel. I figured I had the better deal of those jobs.

We were tired from the long drive so we decided to have dinner at the little lodge. We ate on the patio. It was a plain but very well prepared huge burger and real homemade fries. They even had a gluten free bun for me. We took a long hike along Glad Lake in the evening. Misty was beyond thrilled. Walks are her favourite thing to enjoy. That involved some steep up and down and a lot of rough terrain over roots and rocks. Dick managed it very well. He went slowly and carefully, picking his footing, and we all enjoyed the walk. He only began to fall backwards once at a very steep part but he caught himself and got upright again even as I put my hand on his back. In some ways it made me feel little sad because in familiar territory I can hardly tell he had a stroke. On this walk I was reminded that while he has recovered to a remarkable, near miraculous degree, he isn’t all the way back yet. I look forward to seeing how much he has improved again on our next trips.

The main impression of nature I got on the hike was stunning green, green ferns of all sorts many I had never seen before. The wildflowers were everywhere. There were surprisingly few birds. Boreal forest is not the habitat most birds like. Birds generally prefer open parkland with some gentler woods. We did hear the incessant screaming monkey cry of the pileated wood pecker. We saw grebes, ducks and ravens and as a special treat, the sight and long call of the common loon. We sat around a campfire and we talked and talked. We talked about how the stroke had felt from both our perspectives and we shared some more intimate feelings about it than we had to date. It was a good talk for both of us.

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We went to bed early. It was still light because it was the longest day of the year but we were both really tired. I checked my telephone and I was horrified to find there was no cell service out here. This gave me a sense of panic. If he had another stroke how would I call for help? I talked myself out of the panic by reminding myself he’s stable and there’s no reason for him to have another stroke. There is a nearby ranger station with a land line if I need it. I felt angry that had risked this but then reminded myself what the doctor in hospital said. He’s 76 and he’s had two strokes so we need to think about quality not quantity of life. There is not much quality to wrapping him in cotton and refusing to go anywhere out of fear of lack of cell phone service. The sense of panic faded and I was able to fall asleep. I think we were both far more tired than we realized because we both slept a solid ten hours. That is extremely unusual for us. It was a healing sleep.

We got up and took Misty for another walk and then we left her in the trailer with Klinger (the air conditioner set even though the trailer was sitting in shade) and we went to Glad lake. This was our first canoe ride in a very long time and first since the carotid artery dissection and the March stroke. I was a little nervous but Dick managed just fine. The boat launch had a nice shallow beach and a dock and he was able to get in and out with little effort. The darn left leg had to be lifted out with his two hands because it was a little too high but he did it. He sat down and stood up without help. We paddled about the lake for in a big circle for over an hour enjoying every precious of minute of the experience. We finished with ice cream at the lodge.IMG_8757

That evening we had another campfire and another long deep sleep. Dick got up once to look for northern lights but the sun is very quiet now going into its minimum so there weren’t any. The weather forecast was for hot (well by Manitoba standards hot at 26C (81F)) with no breeze. We decided to take the canoe out again early and this time take Misty along. We went to Wellman Lake which allows motor boats and sea-dos and things we generally try not to canoe around. It was midweek and early so we had the lake to ourselves except for some fishermen trolling far away. The view wasn’t as nice because Wellman Lake has lots of cottages but we enjoyed being out canoeing again so much. It felt like a miracle to be able to be doing this.

Misty was mostly well behaved but she kept giving us these looks of total disgust like she could not figure out why we would bother to do this crazy boring thing when there were walks and stuff to sniff instead. She started getting hot in the canoe and complaining so we turned around and headed back spending only about forty-five minutes on the water paddling. We returned to our camp site and spent a couple of hours planning our second book together. During the heat of the afternoon we napped. Even Klinger seemed to enjoy himself watching dragon flies outside the window. After that we went for a drive and sat on the shore watching the sea-doers race about and people on the beach. Misty had a swim at the dock which was nice for her in the heat. We had a quiet dinner in our trailer, with two more short hikes, before and after. This was much more to Misty’s satisfaction and we had another early bedtime. I can’t get over how much sleeping we did.

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The forecast on our return day was for thunderstorms and rain by noon. We were on the gravel road heading home by 8:00am. We made a brief stop on Dauphin for brunch, groceries and some odds and ends for the greenhouse and pool. Since we normally shop in Dauphin anyway it did not break the “no shopping in nonlocal stores on your trip” rule. We got home well ahead of the rain. At suppertime, a thunderstorm rolled in and dumped a perfectly lovely 18mm (7/10 inch) of warm summer rain in a long easy shower. That was a perfect end to a perfect summer break.

Building a Greenhouse – Part 2

My greenhouse project is coming along. The progress is slow because I will not let myself work on it until I am caught up on my other yard chores. This is a very busy time of year for the garden and lawn. It has been dry so I have had a lot of watering to do. We’ve just had two days of lovely light rain allowing me to devote a good block of time and get two of my three planned shelves in.IMG_1992

What have I accomplished since my first post on this? I have finished all the interior and cross bracing. I have put in strips to attach the polycarbonate waiting in my garage. I have two shelves. One shelf is low and my plan is it will be a place to plant lettuce and radishes at the beginning and end of the season when the sun is very low. The space between the first shelf and second is the height of my tallest tomato plant before they went into the garden this summer. I have as much shelf space there are all the space I had in my little pop up greenhouse. The second shelf is just right for seedlings. I can hang some plants in the middle if I want to. The opposite side will be a kitchen counter height shelf. I am going to use some leftover smooth lumber from my pantry project and this will be my work area. I can use the area under my work bench for taller plants like peppers or beans. Somewhere in there I will put some storage space too.

I have two vents built on and I have special temperature sensitive hinge latch affairs that will open and close with the temperature to provide ventilation and prevent overheating. I intend to add that brown half rain barrel by the garage at the end opposite door to help regulate the temperature inside on cool nights. I think I will be adding some gutters and eaves troughs to catch rain. We shall see. The cost of this greenhouse has crept up to about $1000. I suspect it will be $1200 or so by the time I am finished. That’s still far less than the $4000 for the dream greenhouse and this one is designed exactly how I want it.

Dick is repainting our wooden Adirondack chairs from two years ago. He paints while I work on the greenhouse. Those chairs were getting pretty worn looking. Rather than throw out the little bit of primer he had left, he started priming my greenhouse. If it has all white wood, more light will defuse for the plants. All the wood at ground level is treated but he’s concerned if the greenhouse is high humidity the bare wood might start rotting so a coat of paint will add protection. He’s promised to finish the priming as soon as I get the interior completed. It’s such blessing that he can be painting a mere three months after his stroke.

My container garden is doing very well this year. I am imagining having the greenhouse built by the fall and I can move my containers in there to extend the season. We are eating zucchini, radishes and greens now. My cucumbers are blooming and the raspberries are full of bees. I am having so much fun with my little greenhouse project.

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Storm Season – One Eye on the Sky

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This is today’s Environment Canada thunderstorm outlook. This whole thunderstorm prediction page is new for Canadians. Until recently, there was little to no monitoring of  severe storms and even less warning. I did a post about that back in 2014. Back then I pointed this out:

“The Canadian system of forecasting tornados is so primitive that professional storm trackers from the USA consider finding and tracking a tornado in Canada to be the ultimate test of their ability because they get so little help.”

Canada’s one and only confirmed F5 tornado in Elie touched down without anyone at Environment Canada noticing until someone called them to tell them it was happening. Even if Environment Canada noticed, they had no way to warn the public in those days because well….it was Friday evening and everyone had gone out to the lake.

Much of this has changed. There are still issues with storm warnings. In 2014, a storm crossed over from Detroit into Windsor with no warning. I was actually awake watching this particular storm system on radar and I could see it was dangerous. The folks at NOAA were going crazy with red patches all over the map. A local private weather forecasting and warning system known as Ontario Tornado sent out warning tweets to those lucky enough to have their ap. There was silence out of Environment Canada, not even a watch, as tornados pummelled life. There was a lot of justifiable outrage from the Canadian public over that one. When bad things happen in Ontario the government will fix a problem the west of Canada has been complaining about for decades and we finally got our national AlertReady system.

During the Alonsa tornado of 2018 which actually crossed our property, hit with EF4 strength and killed Jack Furrie, 77. The tornado arrived with no local AlertReady warning because MTS-Bell had recently done “upgrades”. In spite of three months of complaints from residents, including official ones from local government officials like our Reeve, Stan Asham, they were apparently totally unaware their “upgrades” had ended all local cell service. Mr Furrie had a landline and he knew people would not be getting the cell phone warning. He also had no basement so fleeing was his only option. He died fleeing to his truck after spending too much telephoning warnings to his neighbours. (If there is a special place in heaven for those who give their lives savings others, Mr Furrie is there.) Meanwhile, the rest of Manitoba all knew Alonsa was being hit by the tornado. Environment Canada was spot on the job that day and they started issuing warnings almost half an hour before the tornado touched down. On the bright side (yes, I say this with heavy sarcasm) Bell-MTS did finally get our local cell phone service working.

And so June has arrived and tornado season is on us. Today we have to keep one eye on the sky and be situationally aware. The sky is already covering with floating popcorn balls that typically indicate severe storms might happen later in the day. My first chore for this morning is to double check the stuff in our tornado shelter/storage closet and make sure we’re ready, just in case.

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In March, we developed indoor drips on the south side of the house. Our neighbour is a retired roofer and he came over even though it was nearing 10:00pm. He and I together got up on the roof and we cleared off some ice dams. He told us we needed a new roof. This May he installed it. Once it was all done he posed for us with his fiddle. We were expecting something like a rousing round from Fiddler on the Roof. Our cultural differences became immediately apparent as they sometimes do around here. He’s Metis and he played Devil Went Down to Georgia. We enjoyed it anyway.

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He told us yesterday our new roof, made with all the best possible, highest quality of ice and water underlay and finest shingles Canada makes, combined with his skillful application, can take any hailstorm nature cares to throw at us. I find that comforting as I watch the sky although you must excuse me if I hope we never get to test his boast.

“A fiddler on the roof? Sounds crazy, no? But every one of us is a fiddler on the roof!”

And that is especially true during severe storm season.

Building a GreenHouse – Part 1

I have wanted my own greenhouse for as long as I can recall. To me, greenhouses were places of peace and quiet and the bigger the better. At about age 14 or so I created a place in the basement crawlspace and raised plants on an old door under some lights. It was a truly wonderful but rather short experience. It was the start of my love of gardening, an addiction I have never recovered from. Every time I thought of getting myself my own greenhouse there was always something better and more urgent to spend the money on. So I made due with small portable greenhouses such as my pop up 6X6 tent (I found at a church bizaar for $5.00) and the little $40 four shelf one that fits so nicely on my deck.

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Spring was unusually cool though not record breaking. I used my greenhouses daytime but for many nights had to bring plants indoors for the nights. This picture was April 26, 2019 which shows how cold our spring often is.

This year I am finally doing it. A big wind came and knocked over my pop-up tent greenhouse and I lost some tomato plants. I was so upset. I reasoned, well, if I can’t get a real greenhouse when I am retired and no longer traveling, when am I ever going to get one? I started shopping. My dream come true one is made in British Columbia and is aluminum and polycarbonate. However, at a mere $4000 and arriving still needing to be put together, I decided I could do better trying something by myself.

After a lot of youtube video and pininterest research I had my plan. I started with this kit from Amazon. It is a basic 2X4 construction kit with end fitting thingies so you only need to cut straight edges. It looked like something I could manage myself. I then bought the lumber they said I would need. (The frame sits on treated wood which you can not see in the picture.) The frame will be covered by polycarbonate sheets that are no where near as strong as the plywood exterior the shed was designed for. To account for that, I am adding lots of extra screws. I am also planning extra cross pieces. I am going to build in my greenhouse shelving so the shelves add to the strength of the frame as well. (I got that idea from this video by Mike Montgomery of Modern Builds.) I made careful note of two major criticisms of Mike’s build in the comments. I have plans for ventilation and I used some two foot rebar spikes to avoid lack of ground anchoring. I even found polycarbonate sheets at 25% at our local Co-op home hardware. So far I have spent just under $800 for the supplies.

I also decided to leave the bottom open and not have a floor after seeing several videos where that ground space was used to grow cold hardy plants like carrots and lettuce in during early spring and late fall in places like Alaska. Since my home is way up near the 51st parallel and is as cold as Alaska, I’ll take whatever I can get in the way of season extensions.

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How is it going? The frame is taking shape and I am really pleased! It wasn’t hard so far and I have even been having fun! The directions on the kit are very clear and easy to follow and it works. I am measuring twice and cutting once . (So far.) This is what it looks like as of today. I am working at a slow pace doing an hour or two a day. It is my retirement hobby project after all and I don’t want to work too hard. I’ll keep updating as I go.

I added this picture of one my soft sided flower pots simply because I am so pleased with how pretty it looks. The pansies and marigolds I grew myself from seed. (Now off to get caught up on my weed whacking.)

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Vegetable Garden Update

In Manitoba we don’t go from winter to spring to summer. We go from winter to summer with hardly even a few days to catch our breath in between. After the frost last Friday night, summer came roaring in with temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s. (80s for my American readers.) I took full advantage of this abrupt warming to get my garden in. Maybe I should say my gardens, plural, because I have more than one. I have a tradition dirt patch in one corner of my yard. That is where I started gardening when we moved here some years ago. At the time I moved in, it had almost gone back to grass. A neighbour with a huge tractor came in and worked it up and I’ve been battling the grass ever since. I use this patch for larger crops usually potatoes and corn. Last year we had a cob with a corn borer in it so this year I went for potatoes, onions, cucumbers and a row of mixed carrots lettuce and radishes.

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I then have two small gardens with cedar board edging. One contains my strawberry plants. For some reason this winter was really hard on them and very few survived. I am at a loss because the winter was not that cold. it might be the way winter came so fast, before the leaves fell off the trees and the plants were caught off guard. I dug up the plants that survived, cleaned out all the grass, put in fresh soil and fertilizer, and replanted the strawberries. I am hoping they will send out runners and refill the space but I will be very surprised if I get any strawberries this year. I am also considering making these beds into raised beds to try to keep the grass out.

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I have an herb box with perennial herbs and oddments. I also started taking seed from my asparagus plant and planting in the box and wonder of wonder, two baby asparagus have started. In intend to keep this up and if we get enough I can devote the entire box to asparagus. Asparagus has no trouble competing with our prairie grasses. It acts like a native and rapidly takes over. I also had a lovely perennial oregano which was, like he strawberries, decimated this winter. I thought it was gone entirely but a small bit is coming up in one corner. I cleaned out the grass and filled the rest of the space with onions, celery, and parsley. The shortages we had due to the COVID-19 have thoroughly spooked me and I am worried about the predicted second wave. I planted more and I planted that which I use. Celery and parsley are staples in many of my soups and stews and both freeze and dry beautifully for winter use. The dandelions are really thick this time of year but I always let them go to seed in the lawn because the American gold finches love the seed and hubby dearest loves the bright cheerful yellow color of both the birds and the dandelions. In a few weeks they will vanish into the green grass.

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I also have two large cedar enclosed gardens in a particularly sunny spot. One, against the garage, is for my tomatoes and one is mixed peppers and seed vegetables. I had a large amount of garlic I had started from seed three years ago in my herb bed. It grew up but was getting really crowded so this year I broke up all the tiny garlic plants and spaced them out. With luck I can use these some of the garlic plants for pickles. The rest will keep over winter in the garden. The balance of the mixed garden is the usual lettuce varieties, spinach, beans, radishes, carrots and beets. It’s not a lot of them but then with just two of us, we don’t need a lot. If I get any excess I can always freeze or can it.

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Because of the corn borers I had last year I am planting my corn over in one of the community raised garden boxes. These were put in with a community grant for seniors some years ago and they are all used. I said I would take a box only if no one else wanted it and fortunately for my corn, one box was free. Having battled corn borers in the past I know a one year break from corn should mean next year it is safe to plant corn again.

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Finally I have my containers. I grow several things in containers, especially my zucchini squash. I already have some tiny squash! Last year I also purchased six marigold plants and stuck them in odd spots and they did seem to work keeping bugs away. Even if they didn’t, they were so cheerful and bright looking. This year I started five dozen marigolds from seed indoors and I have popped them anywhere there was space.

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This year I added extra tomato, pepper and peas and I did a little experiment with a container having a mix of peas, lettuce, carrots, radishes, beets, spinach and a few onions. The idea was to get a jump on the homegrown veggies by starting some indoors. I’ve already pulled all the onions. Yesterday I harvested enough spinach and a few radishes for a nice snack. As the radishes get pulled there will be more room for the carrots and beets. I can eat beet greens with the spinach. So far it has been worth the fuss and it’s felt fun doing it.

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A few years ago I had a container garden and planted a single potato in one container. I didn’t think anything came of it until I dumped the soil and discovered, to my astonishment that the container was packed full of potatoes. So I trying that again. I am also doing two containers of peas, one a regular variety and one edible pod snow peas. I’ve never had good luck with peas. I’ve never harvested enough for a meal. So I feel I have nothing to lose trying a container dedicated to peas. I have one just for a mix of green and yellow bush beans. I also made some extra containers of peppers and tomatoes. I have a container of cucumbers I am hoping will give enough to eat. We’ve had two very cool springs and very late frosts so I am chary about what fall will bring. Last year, winter came in with a harsh blast very fast and very early. I am hoping that if winter comes in early, or even earlier, this year I can at least move some pots into a safe place and get a little more of my own veggies.

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So far the year has begun well if a little cold and late. Last year was cold and exceptionally dry and my garden was poorly at best. Gardeners are eternal optimists. Maybe this year will be better and maybe by having a variety of gardens, I will also have of my own veggies for a longer stretch of time.

Frost!

When you live up near the 51st parallel as we do, frost in late spring is a constant threat. Here it is May 29 and my tomatoes plants spent the night sitting in their pots because I knew this might happen. Container gardening is much more popular in this region for that reason. Now one might think that our short season means no time for vegetable growing and for some crops that is the case. It is a rare thing to get a full sized watermelon up here. However our days are long enough here that the plants grow at a tremendous rate, My pepper plants are already making peppers and my tomatoes will be transplanted into the garden already blooming. The frost issue is a constant fear though. Last year we had a frost that killed off the tops of my zucchini plants and took several of my tomatoes and cucumbers. This year I have been far more diligent about repotting into larger pots instead of putting things in the garden and keeping things longer in my popup tent greenhouse. Yesterday, after two weeks of lovely frost free summery weather, I moved everything back under cover. I am running out of room and some of the tomatoes plants are getting tall and spindly. We typically get weather that comes in three day rounds. We have a forecast for risk of frost tonight to be followed by hot summer weather in the 30C range (86F) so the plan is tomorrow all the bedding plants get planted. They will love it, growing freely in the garden with heat and sunshine.

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The other awful thing about these late frosts is it makes getting fruit problematic at best. A bad frost on the wrong day means that particular fruit tree will not produce any fruit at all. My husband was very disappointed because last year’s late frost happen just when the apple blossoms were in their full glory and we did not get even one single apple. Every tree in town was similarly affected. The strip along the Railway Ave (so named where there used to be a railway there sixty years ago) there is a strip of apple trees planted which are available to anyone who wants the fruit they produce. My husband took great pleasure in making fresh apple juice from them. Last year there was no apple juice. However the saskatoon bushes were not yet blooming and so they produced abundantly. The previous year the last late frost came later and hit the saskatoon bushes and so we had no saskatoons that year.

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Now that we have stopped our nomadic life and there is no sign we will start it up again, we are looking at our lovely little home for things that will make life easier and better. I have decided to make myself a proper greenhouse. We were going to buy a professional one but the $4000 price tag for the simplest model that can withstand our prairie wind and snow loads ruled that idea out. I have been consulting Pininterest and youtube for ideas and I now have a plan. I think I should be able to make myself a nice greenhouse for under $800. We shall see.

You may recall I was in a state of fearful despair after a bad diagnosis last September. I planted daffodils and crocuses in response. Not one crocus made it but we enjoyed a glorious and lovely brief blast of daffodils that gave us both great joy. Daffodils can take a late unexpected frost and come out unscathed.

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Update on FitMi for Stroke Recovery

It has been two weeks now since we got the FitMi and Music Glove. I thought folks might be interested in where we are at with it. Hubby dearest has been faithfully using it every day. All exercises are done while sitting down. He does ten minutes of each. There are four sets in total, Core, Leg, Arm, Hand. He always picks the three that have the lowest score so that way he gets 3 ten minute sessions but he gets through all four sets of exercises over two days. The four workouts started with only three exercises. He could not access the other seven until he had reached a certain level on the first three. After he passed a certain level a new exercise was “unlocked” and added to the routine. Each unlocked exercise was of increasing complexity and difficulty. Each of the ten exercises for each region also has ten levels. So that is 40 different exercises with 10 levels each for a total of 400 levels.

Once he reached level ten on his first exercise he got a gold star on his chart and his goal is now set to infinity. He still has to do that exercise as he cycles through a workout but he does not have to increase the reps. He likes to add one rep to his current score. Every time you beat your own score this little computer crowd sound cheers for you and it is surprisingly gratifying.

When we first got the FitMi he could not even manage the 10 reps for two of the exercises. One exercise was a leg lift and stomp for the affected leg. There is a video you can watch that explains how to do each exercise. The woman in the video said if you can’t do it, use your hands to lift the leg. That’s what he did. He used his hands to lift the leg. Surprisingly enough, as soon as he could do a few lifts, his brain seemed to remember what it was supposed to do and after only two days he could suddenly do the lift without his hands helping. It was like his brain “woke up” and remembered how to do it. He soon began progressing rapidly through the levels for the leg stomp. He has now reached level ten.

Click to access Updated-Exercise-Library-FitMi-RehabStudio-copy.pdf

 

My husband now has all the exercises unlocked. He has worked three/ten exercises in each of the four up to the infinity level. It is hard work. Even though he is doing these exercises while sitting down, he works up a sweat and he’s huffing and puffing doing over one hundred reps of the unlocked exercises.

Is it working? YES! The day we got the FitMi we walked down to the store where the truck was ready to deliver. We stopped at the post office. A pair of new slip on style shoes without laces had arrived because he was having so much trouble with laces. While I waited my turn at the store, I watched from across the street as he opened the package and then took out the new shoes, removed the old shoes and tried the news ones on. I was shocked and upset. It was painfully obvious he was really weak on the left side. His body was leaning over at 45 degrees. More alarming, he was not using his left side at all. Everything he did was with his right side except for swinging his left arm to use as a brace. He was letting the weak side slide farther into disuse without either of us realizing it. The FitMi has stopped that because he is forced by the program to consciously use his weak side.

The result has been a remarkable improvement in his overall balance and movement. Just today he made breakfast and was whirling from frying pan to cupboard to take out a plate and spinning back to pick up the spatula (with the weak hand) and then loaded my plate and handed it to me. It was all effortless, thoughtless, with no sign of left weakness. When we take the dog for a walk, the heavy left foot swing stomp is gone. He is now rolling his foot almost normally. He also used to stagger a bit so it looked like he’d been drinking as he walked before the FitMi. That’s gone. His gait is not completely normal but it is close to normal. To be fair, it was not normal before the stroke because of an injury with severe break and a big steel plate in the leg plus some arthritis in his knee. It is nice to not know if his slight limp is due to the stroke or the old injury.  He says the leg, especially the calf still feels kind of weak and numb, not entirely normal. He has to consciously remind the leg how to work. However it is working and that says a lot.

So would I recommend the FitMi? Absolutely with one important caveat. One of our friends had a heart attack and he bought a treadmill. He made many promises to himself to use it. It sits in his bedroom, a very expensive clothes rack. The FitMi is the same. If you aren’t going to use it, it will sit in the computer, a very expensive icon on your desktop. You have to be willing to persist in using it because it is hard work and it is all too easy to just skip it and do it later. My husband is really determined to get better so he’s working hard at it every single day. I have had to remind him some days and he quietly grumbles while he sets it up. I also sit with him and watch him work through his routine every third or fourth time to make sure he has the puck in the right orientation and so forth. I am honestly always amazed at how much he has progressed since the last time.

(I got no discount or special benefit from Flint Rehab for writing this.)

Misty Is Three!

Today our Misty is three years old. That makes her an adult dog. Finally. Cute as puppies are, as wonderful as it has been to go on this three year pathway to her adulthood, I am so glad the puppy days are over. I am a dog person not a puppy person.

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I went searching for a quote or a saying to describe Misty as a unique dog among the many dogs I have been privileged to share company with over the years. I found this one and it has our Misty written all over it.

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“It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” – John Grogan (Author, Marley & Me)

Misty is a wonderful dog. She has that quiet easy going, love all people temperament of a typical golden retriever. (Admittedly only after appropriate introductions.) Yet she also has the resolute stand by and guard attitude of the German Shepard. When you first meet her she is standoffish and cool, acting to assess your personality and how her people feel about you. If she knows we’re good with you, then she is good with you.

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I’ll never forget the time she went swimming with dolphins. And Pawdy Gras will also be a special memory. One of the worst moments of life with her was when I saw her attacked by two pit bulls. It was then I learned just how fast and tough she can be. When they attacked, she leapt up like a deer and spun like a dervish so they never did get a good grip. She even had one pit bull on the ground on its back pinned by the throat in fight, yet she did not kill that dog even though she could have and it certainly would have killed her if the situation had been reversed. Once she had one dog pinned the other attacker went after the downed dog instead and we were able to make our escape while they fought each other. Misty was bloodied and punctured but the injuries were all minor.

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When Dick had his first query stroke, Misty was the one who stuck right beside him during his recovery, guarded him every second and alerted me if he did anything funny or weird. We had a lot of false alarms. She once came to fetch me because he was yawning and then he sneezed at the same time. One should sneeze or yawn but not do both together. Even so, I was so very glad she was there because I felt comfortable going out and working in the yard with him inside. I knew Misty would fetch me if anything happened. She seemed to be able to sense his blank out spells well before me. If I watched her, I could see one coming and make sure he got to bed safely to rest. As he recovered, she became less and less intense in her minding of him until by December he had reverted to his usual place of ‘mere’ beloved Master.

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Misty proved her worth again at the second stroke. I am a heavy sleeper and he collapsed at 3:15 am and could not move or speak. It was Misty who woke me up, fussing and whining because this was not right and he should not be lying on the floor waving one arm feebly. I called an ambulance and she seemed to immediately “get” they were there to help. She greeted them with joy and sat watching nearby, her tail wagging, even though she is usually so wary of strangers at first meeting. While he was in hospital, she stayed with me in the hotel or waited in the truck while I was with him. I would drive to the nearby MacDonald’s going to and from the hospital. She was always sad when I came back without him. I would get myself something and then ask her if she would like her usual, a small plain burger with cheese and bacon. She never said no. She would hang out the truck window watching them in the drive through and bark at them if they didn’t bring that order quickly enough. Even after weeks at lock down if you say “Drive through” she perks up. She almost fell apart in her joy when he finally was helped into the truck to go home.

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What else can I say about her? She’s a dog. If it’s weird, bark about it until we come and say it’s all right. She likes to chew on bones. She loves cheese and bacon treats. She likes to play with two big horse balls with handles. She doesn’t like fireworks. She’s indifferent to gunfire. She’s still trying to excavate the foundation and looks so upset when I refill the holes. She has a selection of precious stuffed toys that she tends and guards like a mother dog would her babies. She knows a lot of commands, sit, stay, lie down, heel, come, go get, stop that, go to the truck, wait, stop torturing the cat. (That last one is a toughie.) She has big brown eyes and sharp white teeth and flecks of gold so lovely I sometimes think we should have called her Golddust. She has such an endless variety of vocalizations beyond mere barking that she almost talks. She sheds at an incredible rate, ranking number two of all dogs I have owned. (So glad I got her used to being vacuumed as a puppy.) She’s easily the most beautiful dog I have ever owned. When I was in grade school I drew a picture of the most perfect looking dog imaginable. Misty looks just like that dog from her long noble muzzle with her gold speckled fur down to her elegant fluffy tail. That’s Misty Mine.

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Good dog!