Monthly Archives: July 2014



The ultimate in eating local has to be walking outside your door to a nearby bush and picking the food, walking home, and eating it. This is saskatoon season (from the Cree name Mis-sask-qua-too-mina). In case you are unfamiliar with these prairie delights, they are a close genetic relative of the common wild crab apple and prairie rose. They produce a blueberry sized fruit that is a deep blue-purple colour. The berries taste like blueberry and apple crossed with a hint of almond. They are filled with a very fine seed giving it a more crunchy texture than blueberries. They are sweeter and not as juicy as true blueberries. Nutritionally, saskatoons are a wonderful source of all kinds of great things including antioxidants, vitamin C and folate.

Saskatoons (Amelanchier alnifolia) are margin trees. They like wet places at the edge of marshes and forests that get a lot of sun but are protected from the wind and extreme weather. They are drought hardy and extreme cold tolerant though they usually react to drought by reducing the berry output for that year. The blossoms are not affected by a spring freeze the way apples are. In tests the blossoms can withstand cold up to -60C. The tolerate a wide variety of soil types, ph and elevations which is why they are so widespread in western Canada. The bushes are typically 2 metres high and spindly. Saskatoon bushes are inevitably skirted with poison ivy on the base. They bloom in early spring and the blossoms look and smell very much like apple blossoms. They produce fruit for about 3 weeks yielding multiple crops of berries.

It is no coincidence that the traditional First Nations sundance ceremony occurs when the saskatoon berries are ready. Without the saskatoons it is unlikely the prairies would be habitable. In the past the saskatoon was picked in great quantities by settlers and first nations people alike and dried for winter. Mixed into pemmican (dried meat flour), the result is near perfect food for sustaining humans through our long cold winters. The wood is also perfect for making arrows.

When I lived int he farm saskatoon season was a time for the farmwives to head out to their favourite berry picking spots and fill at least a 5 gallon pail full of the berries. They can made into cakes, jams, sauces, pie fillings, muffins and any other recipe you might find blueberries in. They also freeze extremely well. I have picked a lot of saskatoons over the years. How well I recall pulling out a package of frozen saskatoons in the dead of winter and for a moment being transported back to July’s summer heat. My son Alan was only 13 months old when he discovered saskatoons and while I picked at higher levels, he painstakingly picked berries at his level, a little eating machine cooing ‘num num num’ as he munched. This year I introduced my fellow campground host, who hails from the Phillipines originally, to the joys of saskatoons. She learned fast! She delivered tarts for us to try two evenings ago.

Over the last week I have been out picking berries and Dick also was picking. I made him a pie and the kitchen is filling with the scent of muffins as I write. The heat will soon start the saskatoons fermenting on the treetops and then we’ll see a comical result. Squirrels and birds love to eat the fermented fruit and they get drunk and silly. There is little that matches the hilarity of a drunken squirrel or an inebriated blue jay.

“The world is so full of a number of things [such as saskatoons], I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” Robert Louis Stevenson



My Paying Second Life Job

Leandra Profile

I spend a fair amount of time in the on line world called Second Life. I read somewhere the median age of the people in Second Life is 55 so I guess these are my peers. I have some land there and I breed horses there and I have a bunch of pets including a cat (of course!) and a blue whale. I can fly in Second Life. Now I am actually working and getting paid there too.

I am now an interviewer for a study called Mrs. A and Mr. B which is detailed here:

The study is about improving patient care and overall I am well qualified to do the job and I am enjoying it. My primary role is acting as a facilitator for group meetings with subjects and I have to follow all the standard rules about patient confidentiality and ethics. I had to undergo a formal hiring process including updating my CV, proper training and I had to get certified for American ethical standards. The reason I got the position is 1) with my PhD in Human Genetics I am qualified to be one of the people involved and 2) They required facilitators who were not American and would therefore be unfamiliar (relatively) with the American system and be less likely to be biased.

The study has been a real eye opener thus far. I am learning a lot and mostly it is about how great and awful the American system is.  My observations are just being confirmed by participating in the study in case after case. I blogged about this before in my other Tumbleweed blog here:

One of the nicer aspects, aside from being in research again, is that for the next three years I can expect some regular income that should offset my horse breeding habit. To avoid exchange they have even agreed to pay me in Lindens. Now breeding horses in SL, while a whole lot cheaper than in real life, is not free. They need food and salt licks and land to run around on. I have a fair sized herd of about 60 horses. So I am hoping my new job will offset my SL costs. An interesting job, a way to pay for my bad habits, and chance to be contributory in the world of scientific research. That is a bargain!


The heat is back on.

July in Manitoba is supposed to be hot, well hot for Manitoba, which means 30C and higher. The forecast is finally calling for an extended period of 30+ weather. This is harder in a trailer because it is poor insulated and basically acts like a car in sun. The trailer has air conditioning, which helps a lot, but uses a lot of power. For perspective, our generator can run everything in the trailer at once without a problem. It cannot run our air conditioner even with everything else off. When plugged into a 30amp connection we can use the air conditioner but almost nothing else, or we blow a fuse. There is also something obscene about sitting in a travel trailer in a lovely park with all the doors closed in with air conditioning on. I don’t know how people can live in trailers year round in places like Arizona in summer where 40C and higher is commonplace.

The whole issue kind of begs the question, why migrate and if you must migrate, how to optimize the migration. Why migrate is easy. If you can find an optimal climate for winter and summer you are mostly comfortable all the time. Finding the optimal is tricky and then there is the shoulder seasons when you typically freeze. We are bound by the need to be in Canada for a minimum of 6 months a year which means early spring and late fall in Canada. The north south migration is more expensive and a lot harder on vehicles and involves a lot more travel.

The alternative is the up down migration. High altitudes are cooler. When we stayed in Colima Mexico people went up the mountain where it was cooler in summer and stayed low on the mountain in the winter where it is was warmer. The problem with this is you need mountains and Manitoba doesn’t have anything that can be called a mountain without giggling apologetically. To us the mountain solution means we are basically left with either British Columbia and a cold winter, or the Southwest and a hot summer.

The hot weather of Manitoba never lasts long. Typically we get two or three weeks of 30C+ weather and then cooler 25Cish zone is what we experience for the rest of the time. Also Manitoba has the lovely property of cooling off at night even if it does hit 32C daytime. We are only a short distance from permafrost. So overall Manitoba in summer is as nice as the garden of Eden. For the few extra hot days we have, we can just take our vacations and practice siestas like the folks in the hot parts of the world. And after hearing how cold the last winter was, then a few hot days are to be enjoyed not complained about.

Cool Weather

It was cold enough last night that we turned the furnace on and warmed the place up. It s commonly said if you don’t like the weather, wait fire minutes. In fact it is more like three days. Prairie weather runs on the three day cycle. The ferocious storm front came on us with a rush and a roar Saturday afternoon and it has been cool since then. It is supposed to stay cool until Tuesday. The three day cycle typical of the prairies is in evidence. Since I don’t like heat, it’s a nice break. It is a bit alarming to think we would need to have to use the furnace in July. Looks like last winter’s cold trend is continuing. We have yet to have any of the +30C heat we usually experience on the prairies. I am a regular reader of Judith Curry’s excellent and invariably well balanced blog on climate change and the great debate. I hope no one on the side of “We are actually cooling and our carbon dioxide is keeping off an ice age” side of the debate are right. It wasn’t that long ago Manitoba was under a couple of miles of ice. Our insurance won’t cover us in Mexico and I’m not sure if Mexico is even far enough south to go pull our rig if we get another ice age.

Judith Curry’s thought provoking page is found here:

It’s not the usual screechy Chicken Little propaganda page. The science can get thick and the difficult to follow but the debate is fascinating. The debate remains civilized and open. There is very little “Well obviously you are in the pay of big oil if you ask that question” kind of “settled science”. It is refreshing and wonderful and Judith Curry is a gracious but firm hostess.

Semi-False Alarm About Derecho

Living in a trailer means being fanatical about the weather. Environment Canada warned us that we could expect a fast moving front line to come barreling out the of the north east bringing severe thunderstorm in a weather statement Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon watches went up. By mid afternoon warnings were going up and the radar showed an ominous fast moving bow shaped band of storms with reports of 100km/h winds (that being a tropical storm force wind). It looked like we were in for a derecho. Calculating we had about 30 minutes before the storm line passed us, we decided to assume we would see 100km/hr winds and accordingly, we rapidly disassembled our “add-a-room” and closed our awning, and collapsed the TV antennae. Two others campers present were doing the same. The rest of the place was dead quiet with everyone at the folkfest. Surveying the area for potential tree windfalls we also decided to move the truck. We parked it in the open parking lot where the showers are. And then we waited.

The skies went grey, then black, and ferocious howling winds bent trees and bushes over. There was a lot of rotation and up and down drafts but in a broad line without organization that could produce a tornado. There was a single crack of lightening and three rumblings of thunder. We had one really heavy hard rainfall and the temperature dropped 12C. And then it was over. Not long afterward the sun came out. The RCMP drove through the parking lot looking about and they left. We got back into our truck and went back to our camper. After checking our own trailer was undamaged, we did a quick drive around our loops and saw one wrecked dining tent and four downed awnings plus a lot of toppled barbecues, lawns chairs and food containers. The little ground squirrels were eagerly hopping about taking full advantage of the situation. A Folkfester had left a battery with us to be charged and when he came to pick it up, he reported his awning had been ripped right off and now he would find out how and if his insurance would cover it.

Reviewing the radar it was clear we got lucky. The potential derecho line broke up and calmed about 70km north east of us and it broke into a series of smaller cells with lots of bands that had nothing but heavy rains and winds of about 60km/h gusting to 80km/h. Considering there were at least 10,000 people in the park at Folkfest it could have been a major disaster with mass casualties if a full derecho with winds of 100km/h had struck. I only saw four other families taking shelter in the washroom and showers. At the height of the passing wind, rain and lightening, people were still running into the store and driving around as if it were nothing but a minor nuisance. The music from folkfest never stopped. Manitobans have so little severe weather we just don’t react with any urgency to these warnings. Apparently we really don’t need to because nothing beyond ripped awnings happened, this time.

Deer and Mosquitos

We had a visitor yesterday afternoon. It was young deer one of last year’s fawns. This is the time of year when the yearlings leave their mothers and head out on their own and a lot of them don’t make it. Cars, illness, parasites and starvation take many.


The first thing I noticed about this poor deer was that it was covered with literally hundred, perhaps thousands, of feeding mosquitos. The dark markings on the face were not markings. They were clouds of mosquitos. Its legs and belly were spotted with mosquitos full of blood at least one per square centimetre. To the mosquito, a deer is a walking buffet. It was obvious the poor thing was in distress. It would occasionally shake and try to rub its face on the leaves but the mosquitos were relentless. I don’t see how so many mosquitos could feed without making the poor deer anemic.

People who live in the city tend to think of nature as this idyllic place where deer and antelope roam about freely, munching on grass and playing in open fields, or sleeping in a nice spot in sunshine and a light breeze. Hunters are evil brutes who shoot Bambi’s mom. However, the truth is that nature is far more brutal and cruel than any human being. It’s already a mosquito-eat-deer world where most creatures die as babies. There is nothing romantic or free or nice about the natural world. It’s a war of survival with death at every step, often a slow agonizing death. All our fancy human adaptations such as screens, mosquito repellant, air conditioning, clothing, and medicine are what makes our own lives bearable and comfortable. Without our trappings of civilization, we would be as miserable as that poor deer most of the time if we survived at all. I, for one, am glad we have our trappings of civilization. I have no desire to live that close to nature because nature is such a bitch.


Yesterday we spent the day in the city getting some errands done. The errands consisted of birthday cards because all of our family have birthdays in summer or fall. This means each month we have a set of birthdays to think about. July is quiet because it is only one birthday, Lana’s. August used to be quiet with only Justin but now we have a embarrassment of riches with “big” Ethan and Luke on the same day, and then last summer Noah arrived. August is now a four birthday month.

We also had to pick up assorted little items for keeping our trailer from falling apart and making life easier in it. The trailer requires constant maintenance and upkeep. It is far less than a house but it is a demand. We have several small repairs, a frozen and wrecked grey water valve is stuck open. We broke that last year in Oliver. Replacing those valves is supposed to be a four screw job but one has to be able to get into the belly of the beast and then such things are never as easy as they are supposed to be. We read up about another way to keep the cat from opening the door. The cat thing is like an intelligence war. He figures out how to open the door. We modify the door. He figures out how to get around the modification. We also have hardware to get rid of a travel annoyance. All our pictures are mounted in such a way that they stay put while we travel except two large framed pictures in our bedroom. We now have new hardware so we aren’t taking the pictures down, laying them on the bed and putting them back up. We had some banking to do that required we show up in person. We don’t do that very often because when I remarked on the new decor, I was told it went in last summer.

Dick had some library books to return and more to pick up. The book progresses. I am on chapter six and Dick is following behind with modifications and a section he needs to write on chapter four. Plus we have been exchanging chapter two which is being polished to a final stage. Dick is fanatical about being up to date on the latest references (a positive form of fanaticism for a scientist), and each item has to be checked and updated. He is also researching for future chapters on the role of wholeness and quantum effects in embryogenesis. His other job is getting permission to reuse certain figures and one group “Company of Scientists” is being being particularly not collegial and insisting on hundreds of dollars for reprinting figures instead of the standard, “yes, please do, just acknowledge us and reference it” the rest of the Academic world has responded with. This means we are not using any of the “Company of Scientists” figures and I will have to make my own from scratch to replace ones we had hoped to use of theirs.

Finally we went grocery shopping. I had no idea how fortunate we are in Canada in terms of what we eat. Yesterday I bought high quality flour, brown basmati long grain rice from India, Lebanese Tahinna, and fresh blueberries, peaches, apricots, plums, local mushrooms, wild caught salmon and bananas. When we travel in the US we avoid big cities and rarely have access to the really big stores. Even if we find a really big full sized grocery store there is just nowhere near the selection of fresh fruits and vegetables and ethnic foods we have in our Real Canadian Superstore. I don’t know why. I think it is in part American protectionism in the guise of disease control. There are many items that are not permitted to cross the border into the USA because of diseases supposedly present in other countries. This also removes competition to the American agricultural industry in places like California. Compared to fruit from Chile or Israel, California fruit tends to be bland and flat. California fruit is always much more expensive in the USA typically double what we pay in Canada for their flat cardboard tasting fresh produce. Canadian all purpose flour makes bread that is simply far better than even the super expensive highest quality “bread maker” flour available in the USA. You just can’t get anything that matches Robinhood All Purpose Flour. So I feast on certain things I never properly appreciated before when we are home.

Americans do three things better than Canadians. Local food is readily available, especially in Walmarts which are often the only show in small towns. (People love to hate Walmart but in rural America is not for Walmarts determined effort to provide fresh fruits and vegetables, rural and small town Americans would only be eating whatever they could grow for themselves. It is very different from the Walmarts in Canada.) We went to local Walmart in Florida and they had eleven different kinds of oranges, four kinds of lemons and five kinds of limes, all local. You can always get fresh fish in American stores from somewhere other than China. In Canada it would seem China is the only country in the world with fishermen. Americans also have much better meat that is at a much lower price than ours. Americans also have fabulous smoked meats especially prepared turkey. Prepared groceries are also overall much lower in price but since we eat so little that we don’t make from scratch, we don’t get much benefit. Tinfoil, for example, is half the price in the USA but I only buy a roll of tinfoil maybe once in two years.

So several stops and nearly six hours later we get back to the campground exhausted and unpack our groceries and have a rotisserie chicken, fresh salad and fresh blueberries for dinner. The Folkfest quiet continues so our campground host duties have been negligible.

The Campground Host Experience During Folkfest at Bird’s Hill Provincial Park

Folkfest begins today. The campground will be completely full and the group camping sites for Folkfest will also be full. Strangely enough, the event means little to no work for the campground hosts and a quiet week. Folkfest organizers basically rent the space and their staff and volunteers run everything. A shuttle bus runs to and from the campground to the Folkfest site. Virtually all the people staying the campground are here to attend Folkfest. They get up early, hop on a bus, and vanish. They get back late and immediately fall asleep exhausted. No one comes by asking us for directions for a lovely nature walk. No one wants to know how to get to the beach. There are no lost children needing to be reunited with their parents. No one wants the WIFI password. All of that activity is happening at the Folkfest site and is being handled by Folkfest staff.

The park interpreters we normally work with have decided to try something new to attract the “folkies” attention. They are doing a traveling show that will stop at places like the shuttle bus stops and try to do their job of education and interpretation in short bursts while the folkies have to stand around anyway and wait for the shuttle. They don’t need our help for their traveling show. They are not even going to try to hold the more usual activities. Experience has shown no one will show up. They are all at Folkfest.

One of the disadvantages of Folkfest is that the population in the area increases into the tens of thousands and for the five days Folkfest is in operation the cell phone towers are overloaded. This means cell phone service, mobile internet including the park WIFI, and private services like MTS and Rogers crawl and frequently die. The other disadvantage is that the east gate is closed to traffic and while exiting is easy, entry is complicated by long waits and longer lines, particularly on opening day. We will not be leaving the park unless we really have to because it will be so hard to get back in. Thus, we are in for a quiet week even though the campground is full. Hopefully we can get a lot of writing done, since there is nothing else to distract us.

Creativity Restarted

I knew Facebook was taking a lot of my time. I didn’t realize how much creative juice it was sucking out of me. I am writing again, really writing on the Embryology Explained book. I am out of date on molecular biology having last done a full review back in 2008. I have begun a full review again and it is wonderful how far the field has come since ’08. I have some diagrams to draw and chapter to review after Dick added his magic touches with figures and references. (He is the detail guy in this party.) I woke up with imagery in my head that needs to get out as diagrams for this chapter. Feels good. I am no longer having to force myself to write. The urge to be creative and productive has come back on its own now that Facebook is no longer sucking it all away on trivia.

I tried a new meatloaf recipe because it was there instead of the same old same old. It came out very well. Today I will make dark pumpernickel bread. The forecast is for cooler wetter weather this afternoon, a good time to bake.

We had a set of severe thunderstorms roll towards us in the late afternoon yesterday but the system petered out before they hit us. We had gone to the campground washrooms just to be safe but the warning was dropped by the time we got inside there and we only had a blast of wind and some sprinkling rain. I had briefly considered running around and raising the alarm with some of the campers, especially the mom with the new baby next door but I didn’t. I suspected, Environment Canada warning or no warning, it was going to be nothing at all. When storms move that fast they seldom have time to build into anything really severe.

I am following the news of the flood in Manitoba closely. This spring we stayed in Souris and saw their new bridge, built after the old one was swept away in 2011. They built the new bridge stronger, higher and better so that if the floods of 2011 came back the bridge would be fine. They are probably thanking their officials for that foresight now that the once in 300 years flood is back again only three years later. That is the problem with statements like “once in 300 year” flooding. You can have two such floods back to back and yet still have each one occur only once in 300 years.

We discussed volunteering for this flood fight after our campground host duties were finished and we decided not to. We really are too old to be slinging sandbags the way we did back in 1997. Our help would be limited to carrying messages or making sandwiches. Let the younger folk take on the battles this time. May God bless them and keep them safe, especially Lana’s new beau who is in the thick of it, and let the water’s raging pass by without harming anyone or wrecking any more livelihoods. If any place is prepared for floods it’s Manitoba. Dick says maybe we should consider letting Lake Agassi return. It’s not like we can really stop it if Mother Nature decides it’s time to put this province back under water. I will miss the lovely Manitoba summer if she does.

Weather Eye

It’s been a weather weekend. When I was a young woman I developed a paranoid fear of tornados. It began in Saskatchewan after I visited the site of a farm turned to rubble after a tornado touchdown. What I saw terrified me. I began having nightmares and developed a fear of severe storms. In response to that fear, I began learning everything I could find out about tornados and other severe storms. I also became a fanatical radar watcher and weather tracker. I am always following the weather forecast. During active weather I typically check the radar every hour or so. During a storm I will track it constantly. The result is that I have developed a fair weather eye and I did not realize how good I have become until this past couple of weekends.

As we set up before the Bison Days events I used a fairly new and very handy phone ap, called “Meteo Radar” that gives a direct connection to Environment Canada’s radar website via the mobile network. By the radar images I predicted we’d have rain beginning in the final hour of our event. I kept checking the radar and when the rain started I told our interpreter it was going to start light for about 30 minutes and then get really heavy. She announced we were shutting down 45 minutes early. We finished our cleanup just as the heavy rain started.

We had a campfire event the next day and there was a lot of thunder and lightening and one of the patrollers was wondering if we would be able to hold our event. Just before we started I checked my ap and said the distant rumbling we heard was a storm going north of us and missing the park. We would be fine for the event itself but we would need to do the clean up quickly. A second storm was tracking our way and, if it remained on its current trajectory, would likely hit about 15 minutes after our finishing time. I was right. The first storm missed us. The second storm began as we cleaned up after our program. We were running to our vehicles right after clean up. At that point the staff jokingly called me their weather eye.

That afternoon there was a squall line of storms that came barreling through. They were quite scary looking on approach and had blasting winds but by radar I could see it was just a thin fast moving squall line. To my astonishment, I got a call from the other campground host asking if she should evacuate due to a possible tornado. I told her no, it was just a squall line that would rush over, make lots of noise but do no real damage and be gone within twenty minutes. She contacted me twenty minutes later, when the storm had blown by with no damage, to thank me. I told her about Meteo Radar and gave her a lesson using it the next time we met.

Saturday, July 5, 2014, was a wild weather day in Manitoba. We were under a severe thunderstorm watch most of the day. In addition there were no less than three full tornado warnings, including one for the city of Winnipeg 14km south of us. Environment Canada later confirmed one touchdown. Looking at the storm as it approached southern Winnipeg I decided it was likely not going to produce the kind of mega tornado I had seen in the southern USA. We might get, maybe, an F1. The tornado warning was warranted but the tornado was not going anywhere near my kids’ or friends homes. There was no need to worry about it or bother calling them. There were indeed some spectacular funnel clouds but nothing touched down. We were out and about in the campground while these warnings were firing off and more than one worried camper asked about the weather warnings. I assured them thus far the radar showed it was all well south of us and we were not in any danger. Just before our evening event that Saturday, one of the interpreters asked me if we were going to be stormed out and I told her no. There was nothing near us. She announced to the group that I was their weather eye and if I said we were in the clear, then we were.

That was when it occurred to me that my obsession with weather had developed to the point where I actually had a useful skill. It had taken me a decade to learn to follow and predict local severe weather with the tools publicly available. I had gotten to be rather good at it. It’s not that difficult a skill. My daughter-in-law Nola has an equally good weather eye. I guess what puzzles me is why isn’t everyone equally adept. With phone aps like Meteo Radar, it is now so easy to just check and know if you need to worry. More important, most of the time you discover you don’t need to worry. It just makes life a lot less worrisome in general. We can all use less worrying.


Funnel Cloud Over St Norbert and southern Winnipeg)