Monthly Archives: October 2015

Niagara Falls

It’s a tourist Icon, a tourist trap, one of those places that is a touchstone of a nation. This is my third trip and each time I have found myself reflecting on my life and where I am.

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This picture was taken in 1974 and was my first trip to the falls with my brothers. It was a big event then.  We were on our way to Saskatchewan to visit my father’s family. I learned a lot about my family and where I came from. I also learned to read a map. I was 14 going on 45 and ready to be an adult. Of course the world did not yet take me seriously.

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In 1990, sixteen years later, I Dick and I went with my kids to Kingston to present our discovery of the waves that would later become the topic of our book Embryogenesis Explained. I was a young divorcee with three young children. Dick and I were early in our relationship so it was a scary but wonderful time for me. I was a second year undergrad. I had just published my first abstract.  It felt like my life had turned around and we were going to be okay.Kingston_0074

Now I am back again at the falls in 2015, twenty five years later. It has been a wonderful mostly happy rollercoaster ride. The kids are grown. They turned out fine and I am so proud of them. I have grandchildren their age. I finished the PhD and earned that big “Dr.” in front of my name. We are retired. The book is done and the story of the waves and their role in embryogenesis is complete. I carry 30 pounds more than last trip and I have a lot of well earned wrinkles and grey. Wow!

I won’t get into visiting the falls. There are dozens of websites about visiting the falls, what to see, where to get good deals, what the latest and best things are. I’ll just share some shots of this trip and hopefully I will have a chance to get back again someday and add a few more pictures to the set. I will say this. Hang on and enjoy the years because they sure do fly past quickly!

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Pijitawabik Palisades

To get from Thunder Bay to Niagara Falls there are two choices staying within Canada. One can either follow the #17 Highway which hugs the lakes and eventually come out near Sault Ste Marie (1132 km/703m) or one can take #11 which goes north through the Pijitawabik Palisades for about 60 km and then head in an arc to the east and then south east (1101km/684m). Both highways meet at North Bay, north of Toronto. There are advantages and disadvantages to each route and the difference in distance is insignificant.

The advantage of the northern route is that it is generally flat and level and doesn’t have a lot of traffic. What little traffic we saw was semi trucks. Once you are on the North Bay half of the route there are many small communities. The northernmost section goes through some empty wild lands where there are very few services, some fishing lodges, lumber camps and mining areas. This includes one 200km stretch with no place to get gas. The route goes through the stunningly beautiful Pijitawabik Palisades. All along the route are picnic/rest stops, most of which are fine for boon docking. There are a few campgrounds but all of them are closed by October. Plan on boon docking. This is also far enough north that it is possible to get a wicked early fall blizzard and some really nasty cold weather so be prepared for that as well. Also both routes hug lakes and so you can expect patches of fog, sometimes very thick.


The Lakes route has the advantage of many small towns, long stretches of gorgeous views out onto the lake as you go up and down along the coast. The drive is much more challenging but there are many more places to stop for gas and lots of charming small towns with places to spend money in. Again the campgrounds are all closed by October. We have driven both routes many times over the years. The American route which goes around via Duluth and the northern area above Lake Michigan and Lake Huron is longer by about 200 km (124m) and somewhat in between the two routes for the challenge of the drive, and the scenery. The American route has some campground open late to accommodate hunters. When pulling a trailer I prefer the #11 northern route. Except for the stretch through the Pijitawabik palisades and another stretch over some glacial ridges north of North Bay, there is very little up or down shifting.

Having been through the Rockies, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Grand Canyon and some of the other fancier spots in the USA I have to say this rugged northern route has some scenes as lovely as any of them. Apparently, no famous country music or folk singer ever drove the route, nor have any movies been made here, and so there is no mystique or familiarity. Most people have never heard of such natural wonders as the Pijitawabik Palisades or Ouimet Canyon. The area was created by a combination of rift valley, volcanic activity, and glacial action so if you are a geology buff this place is a wonder and a joy. You can rock climb here and there are trails in the palisades.

Most people have no idea you can go to an amethyst mine here and pick whatever amethyst you can carry for a modest fee. A chance to see the stunning carved amethyst figures in the gift shop is worth the trip all by itself. The same folks that carve jade also carve amethyst and the deep rich purple in jewelry and figurines is beyond beautiful. Most roadside shops also sell amethyst.

Our trip was uneventful. We boondocked one night at a combination of gas station/campground/general store/restaurant known as Opaz Gas & Outdoor Store in the tiny town of Opasatika. Because the hook ups (including electric) were shut off for the season the owner let us stay for free and use the WIFI. The route has a lot of wildlife and many Moose Crossing signs. We did not see any moose but they are a real hazard after dark.  We then drove to Temagami where an incoming storm with heavy rain and high winds forced us to stop. After a couple of hours, the giant low pressure system developed an open central eye that was relatively calm with wind advisories for the entire next day. So we decided to drive flat out until the weather stopped us or we finally got to a full service campground. We made it to Campark in Niagara falls at about 1:30am. Today we’re sitting in the relative shelter under a wind warning with running water, electricity and a sewer hook up. Nothing like five days of boon docking to make you appreciate the amenities of a full service campground.

One fun note, if you are a fan of the great Canadian children’s poet and author of Jelly Belly Dennis Lee you’ll get to recite the list of Ontario place names he uses in his poems because you are driving through a lot of them.

Some pictures from our trip, starting with the Pijitawabik Palisades:

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And yes we saw snow.

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A typical picnic spot. Only a few of these are marked no overnight camping. You can boondock in many good spots along this route.


Typical small business on the more remote section of the trip. This one is a combination of general store, hunting and fishing outfitters, and a place to get propane and gas. There was a 200 km stretch of no gas just past this place.


A very typical small town statue lending a little whimsy to life.


Meaner than a Junkyard Dog.


We stopped in Thunder Bay to visit our friends Bryan and Patricia. We had dinner with them and then we left to boondock at the Flying J. We had an incident in Thunder Bay. Our friends live downtown and the neighbourhood is a bit too close to some, shall we say, rougher areas of town. We left the dogs in the trailer and the alarm on while we visited. Part way through our very lovely evening I heard the alarm in the trailer go off. I ran outside in time to see someone moving off very rapidly in the opposite direction and I could hear Fred, in the trailer. doing his savage, junk yard dog impression.

Fred is normally the sweetest, gentlest, most easy going dog you could ever meet. We followed the advice of a dog expert who advised us to have both dogs very well trained in obedience school and very well socialized. (Both dogs have their level 3 certificate, I am proud to say. We did the classes with Trusty and I as on team and Fred with Hubby Dearest the other team.) 24 Thursday evenings for one hour with a dig whisperer training us how to be dog people. The dogs already knew how to be dogs. According to this dog expert, a well trained dog is confident and reliable is also well aware of what is normal behaviour and what constitutes someone who is a threat. So you end up with a very well bonded dog who is normally sweet, gentle, and easy going and but knows when some human is up to no good and when to respond with the junkyard dog routine.

I went into the trailer and checked it all over and saw no reason for the alarm to go off. Fred was also very upset, not his “Why do you have to test that stupid alarm?” upset, but his “Danger! Danger! Bad Guys! Alert! Alert!” upset which I have only seen four times before during the ten years we have had him in our life. I shut the alarm off and reset it. I calmed Fred down.

Trusty was also agitated but she depends more on Fred in such situations, preferring to be his back up rather than the first responder. A soft word and a pat on the head and she went right back to sleep.Which is not to say Trusty does not have her moments. We once had a black bear decide to check out our barbecue and Fred did his alert thing and then ran and hid behind Hubby Dearest. Trusty on the other hand parked herself halfway between us and the bear and just dared him to try getting at that barbecue. The bear decided to get dinner elsewhere. So I suspect Fred is the brighter one of the pair but Trusty is more, well Trusty.

The cat was also agitated but it could have been from the dogs, the intruder or the alarm or just his usual general feline peevishness. So he got a head pat. Fred, however remained agitated. So We took our cue from Fred and the rather scuzzy types wandering about a block or two over and decided to move to a safer location for the night after our visit. Now to be fair, between Fred and the alarm we were probably quite safe. These passerby looked like are rubby dubs, drunks and druggies not savage sociopathic killers. We left anyway.

As we got ready for bed we did one final inspection of the trailer and we found the reason the alarm went off. One window was partly ajar. We got some amusement imagining some human tick thinking he had found an unguarded treasure to abscond and then abruptly finding himself facing a junkyard dog and a screeching alarm instead. Ha! Got you, creepy human parasite type.

It was very nice to be out of the city and into the countryside again, safely parked at a Flying J. Fred took a long time settling down that evening. We take about it before we fell asleep. Fred is getting old. I had been thinking once he was gone we should give up having dogs. They are a pain in a lot of ways. However we both agreed when Fred’s time comes, we will be getting another dog. This life on the road is mostly great but there are dangers and it is a good think to have a sweet, gentle, easy going Fred type around who knows when to act like a savage, man eating, junkyard dog.

My House is Painted!



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My tiny house on the prairie is painted! Oh Happy Dance! I started in August with scrapping and then oiling the deck and then everything got a coat of primer. This was followed by two coats of paint. (In stages around the house.) We had one rotting window which we replaced this summer and we will replace the three remaining, one on the west wall and two on the south wall next spring, I hope. The front windows will be replaced after that. The garage will done next year. The exterior doors will also be done next year.

In case you are interested we used Bull’s Eye 1,2,3 by Zinsser as our primer. I really liked that primer because it went on easily and well over really badly weathered old exposed wood, with lots of peeling old paint. It’s thick almost a paste and dried very fast. It’s touch dry in 30 minutes and you can recoat in only one hour. Some of wood had some early rot. The worst spots we did with primer twice. The primer seemed to work very well soaking in deeply and really sealing that wood. In the near to rotten stuff is where we had to put two coats because the first coat basically nearly vanished it sucked in so deeply. This is REALLY GREAT stuff, for paint. It was normally about $39/can but we stocked up when Canadian Tire had sales so we only pain $26/can.

We designed our colour scheme on the Benjamin Moore’s website. Our color scheme using the Benjamin Moore colour maker was Wildflower 325 for the light yellow body, Sunbeam 328 for the dark yellow and Lighting bolt 323.  I will be doing the doors in Golden Bounty 294. That gave me a nice picture to work from.

Color Scheme

Because my daughter works as a secret shopper and she can get paint for free as part of that work, we ended up using Exterior Dulux Diamond Coat (satin). To translate the Benjamin Moore color to Dulux I used the Dulux ap Pull Color From A Photograph to match the color pdf I made with the Benjamin Moore app. My Dulux colors are Citron Ice 348 for the main color, Lemon Zest 602 for the darker yellow, and Soft Yellow 180. For the doors I will be using Tiara 587. Deluxe is doing something with their website now and promising great things. I hope Dulux can make their own site as good the Benjamin Moore site.

The Dulux paint works reasonably well but it does not give one coat coverage that Benjamin Moore promises. (To be fair, I don’t know if Benjamin Moore would deliver.) The Lemon Zest 602 went over a dark teal and even with two coats I’m not sure it is covered. I may add another coat in the spring. My daughter has super duper color vision and she can see the teal under the yellow. I can’t. We went with Dulux mainly because the price was right (i.e. free to me) even if the many reviews I read suggest Benjamin Moore is very slightly better. Both are expensive high end high quality paints. Having worked with both the cheap and the expensive varieties over the year I would have to say paint is not something you should go cheap on.

(No one paid me anything for my blog.)

Snake Migration Season


Manitoba is famous among snake admirers for the Narcisse Snake Pits. Each spring the snakes emerge from their dens in limestone caves that reach below the frost line. They are sluggish and slow and you can handle them. The ground will have so many snakes you have to watch where you go. The town of Narcisse has turned their snake problem into a tourist attraction.

Alonsa also has migrating snakes. A couple of decades back, in an effort to get the snakes out of the local school, the Conservation District created a snake pit like the one nature made in Narcisse on a smaller scale. Each year in spring, the snakes migrate out from the “hibernaculum” and for about three weeks the town of Alonsa is full of snakes. When the fall arrives, the snakes return and for about three weeks we have snakes everywhere again. Since the migration began this fall I have been seeing snakes every day, ten to fourteen at a time, in my yard. They hang around the house and sun themselves. I have to step carefully while painting because of the snakes. The snakes are charming and lovely to me. They are nonpoisonous. You can pick them up (gently) and look at them. I usually just carefully watch them but for the picture I picked this one up and then let it go.

What I like most about these snakes is they are ferocious predators of field mice. I am phobic about mice so these snakes are my friend. During the migration I find myself dashing out onto the street to shoo the snakes off the road so the locals coming in to pick up their mail don’t run them over, accidentally or on purpose. Some of the locals react with panicky snake phobia and either run away screaming or attack these poor little creatures with shovels and rocks and do their best to kill them. I used to have to watch out for my dog Fred tormenting them. Since his tried tormenting a rattler in Florida he has developed his own phobia about snakes and he avoids them now.

Snake1The Narcisse snakes are called Red Sided Garter snakes. The ones we have in Alonsa are Yellow Sided or Prairie Garter snakes. Recent genetic evidence suggests the two are the same species and the colour difference is just a population variant.

I have really enjoyed the company of these snakes as I paint. They like to sit against the foundation of the house and absorb the heat of the sun. Each time I move my ladder the snakes scramble out of the way. I know they are just reptiles and reptiles are not supposed to be very smart, but they also act like they find my activity fascinating. When I am sitting and painting a low spot I will occasionally look up and find two or three of them, heads up, watching me. If you observe them you can see individual differences in the size of the head and width of the jaw and tiny differences in the coloured bands so I actually began to recognize curious individuals in the same area coming back to observe me again and again. Maybe activity scares up mice or bugs and they think I am about to provide them with a meal. I do know for sure that in every other rural community I have lived in, mice are a real problem. I have not even seen a single mouse in Alonsa.

And then there was the one poor little snake I accidentally painted. I was busy cleaning my brush and I turned to find a snake right next to a paint can looking up at me and it startled me so badly I leapt sideways and knocked the can of bright yellow paint over. This startled the poor snake too and it leaped sideways with a sidewinder twist right into the spilling paint. I righted the paint can and went after her but she got away, trailing yellow paint. So the poor snake ended up with a four inch wide swath of bright yellow over its middle. For the next few days I kept seeing the poor snake with yellow paint. Fortunately I used water based paint and they have scales that feel oily and water proof so each time there was less paint than the previous time and the last time I saw her, she had only the tiniest trace of yellow.

I will miss the friendly garter snakes when we head south. They have taken a lot of the boredom out of repainting my house. I like to joke I picked the yellow colour for my house to match the snakes.

Hot Pickled Green Beans: Good!

Hubby dearest loves his pickled veggies. This summer my green beans went a bit nuts and so I decided to try to bring them under control by pickling them. Since he likes hot and spicy, I got a hot and spicy recipe. Today I dug the pickled beans out from the back of the fridge where they have been sitting for the last eight weeks and we tried them. These beans are crunchy-crisp, very hot and not very salty. And the verdict is delicious.

You can find the recipe here thanks to Rita~ who says “I enjoyed these when I was in New Orleans Garnishing a Bloody Mary and had to come home and duplicate them. They can also be enjoyed as a side. Having a nice kick to them. Nice for gift giving.”


    • 1 1/2 cups water
    • 1 teaspoon pickling salt
    • 1 tablespoon agave syrup or 1 tablespoon honey
    • 2 cups vinegar, 5% acidity
    • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
    • 1/2 teaspoon dill seed
    • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
    • bay leaf
    • 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
    • 1 chile, sliced in 8 long strips
    • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
    • 1 1/2 lbs string beans, trimmed
    • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. In a small saucepan, over high heat, bring the first 9 ingredients to a boil, then turn off the heat, stirring until dissolved. Add the chilies and garlic. Remove from heat.
  2. Wash and trim the green beans. Bring a large pot of water with the 1 teaspoon salt to a boil over medium heat. Add the beans. Cook until the beans begin to turn bright green and are just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Rinse immediately with cold water and put them in an ice bath for 10 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Pack beans in sterilized jars then cover with the vinegar mixture.
  4. Place lids and caps on cleaned rimmed jars.
  5. Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes, remove and cool in a draft free spot for 24 hours.
  6. You can also put them in sterilized jars and refrigerate instead of doing the canning process. Let flavors meld for 1 week. Just keep under refrigeration and eat within 1 month.
  7. I canned 2 jars and the 3rd was what I had left over for munching which was refrigerated.

The book is finished!

My husband and I have been working on this book off and on for almost ten years. This summer we have been working very hard, between painting, gardening, building and lawn mowing, to finish it up.

As of today the cover has been designed and the final version selected, All the chapters are written.  We are getting feedback from some great folks who have agreed to act as editors. Our hope is to have the book off to the publisher before we leave our little house behind and set off to the south for the winter.

This is the kind of book that summarizes a life’s work and a world of ideas and and effort in the joint work Dick and I have done together. It is very nice to see it so close to completion! I also feel a little bit sad because it will mark the close of our joint research career, but I have two other books part way written and waiting so I will not be slowing down anytime soon.

If you feel a need to feed your inner nerd, you can read excerpts and ideas at our other website.

Embyrogenesis Explained