Monthly Archives: September 2017

Renovations Continue

When we got our little house on the prairie we knew there would be a lot of work to make this house our home. The work is ongoing. I have discovered I have some unrealistic expectations about how much effort goes into interior painting. In addition to the paint job, I had a bunch of other work planned. Specifically each room in our house had only one plug and the kitchen was missing some essentials. One plug per room may have been enough back in 1960 when this house was built but it is totally inadequate today. Also every light fixture in our house was simply a plain white wall mount with a bare naked bulb. I’m not big on spending money on home decor but that bare bulb is not acceptable. I needed to put in a new double sink and a stove hood to make life better. Fumes from cooking were bothering my asthmatic lungs. I wanted some new handles on the cupboards. This was a want not a need. Call me OCD if you like but I want all the handles on my kitchen cupboards to match.

The stove hood is in and functional, complete with exterior exit for smoke. It is really nice to have. Yesterday I was making apple pie and juice spilled and started burning and the fan sucked it all outside instead of making me wheeze.

And then there was our new puppy and her need for a front fenced area. This took quite a bit of energy and money. She has also eaten up a lot of potential work hours with her need for attention. Who can do fix-it stuff when a darling puppy wants to play?

Another major cuss addition was this new double sink with a faucet with sprayer. We also installed a separate tap with drinking water that does not go through the water softener. This ate up a good two weeks of fix-it time. I also put in some water proof backsplash where there had been peeling paint I had temporarily covered with white shelf liner. Life is so much nicer with a proper kitchen sink you can get wet.

Another lifestyle irritant is there was no plug in the bathroom and I had to use an extension cord to blow my hair dry. That is problem fixed. The one light was the bare bulb look was too far from the bathroom mirror to be of any use. I now have a nice new fixture above the mirror with its own light switch and a proper GFC plug. The old bare bulb light has a new fixture. It still needs paint but we now have light.

When you start painting you also start noticing stuff that needs upgrading. I painted around every doorknob and I was face to face with old ugly. After considered options we upgraded to new doorknobs with the neat new push/push open and close. This was between want and need. We could have made do, but the doorknobs were not fully functional. Plus push pull doorknobs will be nice as we age. They are already really nice! And, of course the old curtains did not match the new paint and so new curtains and rods were in order. I would have classified that as want not need except that the new curtains are all themoregulating material to cut down on drafts, and heat moving in during summer or out during winter. Because it is my own place and I don’t care what anyone thinks of my taste I also got lace and bows and cute little white birds on the curtain rods.

In the midst of my repainting the interior, the last of the two new windows arrived. That actually worked out well because the men installed the windows and I finished and painted around them and saved some labor. Replacing those 1960 era single pane farm windows with properly sealed double pane windows has made a dramatic difference in drafts already. We can now open the windows and have drafts when we want them and close windows and get rid of drafts when we don’t want them. The cost of the windows will eventually be recouped in heating costs, if we live that long.

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I have concluded that interior painting takes about ten times longer than exterior painting and it generates many more jobs and a lot of extra expense. We are determined to not go into debt fixing up this old house. This summer we kind of blew our budget and so we were frugal through September and we need to live frugally through October to help balance our budget again. The other thing about painting the interior is that you can’t just walk away and leave it until tomorrow. Everything in your living space is in an uproar. When you pause to cook dinner you have to go find where you stowed every single item while the cupboards were drying. I spent more time doing that than actually painting. As my husband says, quoting his old mentor the meteorite scientist Ed Anders, about “when you are estimating how long it will take to do something, multiple by ten and then change units.” That goes for the money end too.

Credit where credit is due. I am the main fixer upper in our family but hubby dearest cheerfully took on any chore I asked him to. That included anything that required being taller, or stronger or jobs that need three or four hands. I also assigned him the traditional male stuff still required by our sexist society, like dealing with tradesmen and sales people in hardware stores. He was very handy for keeping clerks out of my way while I quickly filled my basket with what I needed. (hardware store clerks always go for the men first.) He was also the master of finding help if they happened to not be around when I did need them. Best of all, since he’s partially colour blind, he has been delighted with all my colour choices.

I can’t say I was raised to be a fixit type. I am self taught. When I take on a project I first decide what I want. Then I research all kinds of ways to do it. I use youtube a lot. I just love it when people put up a how-to video. There are some really great videos out there that explain all kinds of stuff like how to add a plug or change a light fixture. Pin interest, Google, blogs and social media are also a great resource. I have also had my work checked by an electrician in the family and plumber who is a friend. The last thing I want to do is cause a fire or a flood. Occasionally, there are a few clerks in the hardware stores who actually know what they are doing and they have been a huge help to me. I have gotten to know some of the good ones at my favourite stores and I always ask them how they would do it first. The good ones have introduced me to better products like shark bite plumbing parts. These work fabulously well and mean excellent seals without soldering. I would not have known about them if the clerk at Ace Hardware hadn’t told me. I often start thinking about what I want to do and spend much more time researching it than the time I actually spent doing it, once I have decided how. I have tried to leave grateful comments and add explanations on blogs whenever I find I have learned something useful the next person doing the job might need.

Once I know how and what I want, I start looking for the stuff I need to do it. I use Amazon a lot but not exclusively. Living in rural area, Amazon saves me trips into the city and have mostly things at comparable or lower prices. Home Hardware has a great website and I can order anything and have it delivered locally to the nearby store. They have beaten Amazon on price and quality many times and get a lot of my business. Ace hardware nearby with the really knowledgable people gets a lot of my business too. I have also used second hand stuff where I could. Second hand stores and garage sales are especially good for picking up tools. Certain things simply can’t be done by us and those are best left to a professional. Installing windows is one of those things. Finally I have been blessed by wonderfully skilled neighbours who are willing to share their knowledge and tools, like the tractor with auger we needed for the puppy’s new fence.

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One final note. I am a procrastinator by nature. I also have this constant voice in my head from my childhood when I got called lazy and useless a lot. The result is I can usually think of something better to do than fixing things. To keep myself motivated and organized, I spent a couple of hours making lists of the many jobs that need to be done. Each one is one simple thing that would take 1-2 hours to do. I also include maintenance stuff because even though you are busy with painting or plumbing jobs, you still need to keep up on those occasional jobs like vacuuming the truck, cleaning the travel trailer fridge, or washing its exterior.  I cut up the list into individuals papers to go into a job jar. Every morning I take one slip out of the job jar to do that day. If I don’t feel like doing what I picked, I put it back and pick another one. If I am feeling ambitious, I will do more than one. The process has been a way to organize myself, and it is very satisfying to take a slip and crumple it up and throw it out when the job is done.

My original plan was to paint the interior of the house this summer and put in new flooring. I was overly ambitious. We got one half of the interior painted and we have done many small things to make our house into our home. The other half of the house’s interior will have to wait until next year. The new flooring will go in after that, hopefully that will be next year as well. Finishing should be much cheaper because I already have most of the materials. I get discouraged when I think about how much we have left to do. I feel better when I think about all we have done. It really helps to looks at a “before” and after pictures.

 

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Life with Misty and Fred

If you thought babies grow fast, you have never watched a puppy. When we got Misty she was 13 pounds (5.8 kilos). By her second vet check she was 23 pounds (10.4 kilos) and on her latest vet check she hit 33 pounds. (15 kilos). She has had all three rounds of puppy shots and her rabies vaccine. She has her own tag and last visit she got a microchip. She turned 4 months old on September 2. Fred by contrast is 88 pounds (40 kilos) he turns 12 on September 20. Almost every day Misty has grown bigger. She eats about four cups of puppy food each day but she has hungry days where she will pack in as much as seven or eight cups. We are feeding her the highest quality puppy food and I must admit I will be glad, for the sake of our budget, when we can switch her to adult dog food. Hubby Dearest makes many jokes about Clifford. She has begun losing those needle sharp puppy teeth (thank goodness!) and clean large new white adult teeth are coming in fast and furious.

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Our vet surprised me by recommending we do not spay Misty at six months. Given her parental breed types and their bigger but slower growth, he recommended we wait until she is at least a year old. This will give her bones time to fully develop and growth plates to close before cutting off her estrogen supply. Given her breed and size she probably will not have a heat in that first year. We had a discussion about handling an early heat if she does, and preventing pups, as well as the pros and cons of letting her have one heat cycle before spaying her. Apparently you trade one set of risks for another but overall it is better to wait because her breed types (given both her parental breeds) are prone to hip issues and tears in ligaments in the knees and early spaying and neutering seems to increase those events. There are cancer risks decreased by early spaying but there are also different cancer risks increased by early spaying. There isn’t really a right or wrong answer. As always, it is about weighing risk versus benefit so we will revisit the issue at her next check up at one year. I always thought spaying at six months was the absolute normal standard but times are a changing and apparently the thinking on this is changing as well.

Misty is a delightful dog and we feel very blessed to have her. She is still a puppy and as such is subject to those bursts of bad puppy behaviour that result from overwhelming exuberance with life and the itch of new teeth. Even so she had learned several commands including “off”, “off cat” (for small animals including our cat), “come”, “sit”, “lie down”, “shake paw”, “quiet”, “out”, “truck” (go to the truck so we can drive somewhere) and of course her favourite “walk”. She will fetch if prodded but it is not her favourite game. Balls, however, well balls are joy. She has also acquired a lot of the manners essential for successful living with humans. She has a pretty solid grasp of the idea that most things in the house are not hers to chew and some things are. We have had very little trouble of late with her chewing things she is not supposed to have. Constantly rescuing objects from her and substituting toys and an abundance of bones and chew things has helped a lot. The puppy mouthiness improves daily.

Walks are the highlight of Misty’s day, no surprise there. She minds very well on the leash and can now heel on command. She is also pretty trustworthy off leash. We leave her off leash for part of almost every walk now and she stays close by but also thoroughly enjoys the opportunity to run flat out. We take her into our back unfenced yard when we work and she stays in the yard and runs herself to exhaustion in great fast circles.

Misty also loves swimming. We were going to the beach on a regular basis while the weather was warm and it took little urging for her to start swimming eagerly and freely. She has big webbed feet, a legacy of her Golden Retriever mother and those make for great paddles.

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One of the pleasant surprise bonus of her temperament is she is what my husband calls “a contemplative dog”. She likes to spend a lot of quiet time just watching the world go by outside, taking it all, watching everything with great interest but quietly. Fred suffers from such severe separation anxiety that he simply will not sit quietly outside. If we are not with him, he wants in right away. A dog who seems to enjoy sitting outside is a real pleasure. I have known a few German Shepherds who like contemplating the great outdoors so I will give her father credit for that. She daily develops more bridling the most recent being new shoulder brindle marks. Genetically she is a “trindle” i.e. a tricolour dog with brindle as her second colour. That is obviously from her father as well. Her ears are still going between up and down. In these picture they are down but when she is alert and attentive outdoors they stand up like a German Shepherd’s. I think Golden Retriever will win on that account long term though. The older she gets, the more the ears spend time down.

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Misty will sleep anywhere but given a choice she takes the big comfy dog bed or she sleeps at our feet. At night she will sneak into our room so she can sleep at the foot of our bed or on my side on the floor near me.

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Today a proper new big steel kennel arrived for our girl. It is currently large enough for both dogs in a pinch. Fred already has his own big kennel. We learned early how important it is for each dog to have a sturdy steel kennel. Many hotels, shelters and home owners who otherwise will not tolerate dogs, are happy to accommodate them if they have a proper steel kennel. After Irma and Harvey the necessity for each animal to have a proper kennel is even more obvious.

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Another thing that is different about Misty is she is clearly my dog. All the other dogs in our life regard me as a useful pack member but Hubby Dearest is clearly the Lord and Master of the Universe. For some unknown reason of dog brain functioning, Misty seems to have concluded Fred may be the big guy’s dog but she is MY dog. This is not to say she doesn’t like my husband, especially at mealtime because he is in charge of food, but if he gives her a command, she will look to me to reinforce him before obeying. If I get up in the night to use the washroom, Misty always gets up and follows me. She doesn’t follow him. Where I go, she always tries to follow. I must admit after 25+ years of playing second fiddle master, it is very nice to have my own dog at long last.

Misty is an easy going puppy. You expect all kind of trouble with puppies. She still forgets her manners and jumps all over me on occasion. She still will give a puppy nip and then be all contrite when scolded for it. But I see improvement every day. She is also endlessly and totally loving. When she runs on our walks she careens off exploring the world and then runs back for a reassuring pat and some praise. Then she is off again. It has been fun seeing the world through puppy eyes again. It is a marvellous wonderful place. Still, I am looking forward to the day we get past puppy antics and I have a quiet well behaved adult companion. Each day I see that adult dog a little more and the EF5/Category 5 puppy little less.

 

Winter is Coming.

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Last night we were under a frost advisory, meaning frost was unlikely but possible. Tonight the advisory continues. The trees have begun to turn. In Manitoba, the lower ground cover herbs and bushes turn first into gorgeous flaming reds, deep purples and brilliant orange and yellows. They are then followed by the trees which turn yellow and then brown with the exception of a few transplanted nonlocal varieties that give a brief dash of colour other than yellow. The lake where we went swimming this summer has already gotten unbearably cold and the swimming season is definitely over.

The four types of swallows we have had around all summer have vanished. yesterday I saw them flocking tightly and sitting on the power lines. Today they are gone. Their nests are empty with their babies all fledged and gone with them. The hummingbirds and the orioles will vanish soon too. I think they take their signal from the frost. One frost and they are gone. In the place of the swallows we have innumerable big heavy northern Canada geese who are pausing in our area to feast on our wheat before they go further south. The farmers are racing the geese to get the harvest in. I expect to shortly see the numbers of sand hills cranes go from a dozen or so that next nearby to over a hundred as they gather to get ready for their migration. By the time they get to the US border they will be numbering in flocks in the tens of thousands.

There is a feeling of fatigue in the plants. They struggled and fought to grow as fast as they could during our long long summer days and now they face frost and with the equinox in only a few weeks, more dark than sun. They have dropped their seeds and the edges of the plants look battered and worn out. It’s time to get ready to sleep through the cold. Time to pull down whatever parts can be saved into the roots and hope for the best when temperatures hit -40C.

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It has been a mixed summer for my garden. On the success list I can put a few items. My decision to move the tomatoes to their own bed against the garage is a huge success. We have an abundance of luscious red yellow and orange tomatoes. (The white is egg shells which add calcium to the oil as they decompose which prevents blossom rot.)

My notes for next year include reducing the number of small tomato and increasing the number of larger varieties. I planted three each of small yellow, red, and orange and three Tiny Tim. I also planted three beefsteak, three medium red and three medium yellow varieties. I have too many small ones and not enough large ones. Next year I will do 2 each of smaller strains and four of medium yellow and red and at least 6 beefsteak. And some better sturdier tomato cages are also on the “to buy” list.

The corn did much better this year and we have been enjoying a corn on the cob for dinner every night for a week now and I think we will have another week yet. I attribute this to being more careful about watering during the early stages and so that will my note for next year. Again, water your garden if the rains don’t fall. I had one giant Russian sunflower plant. I do love those. They dwarf the corn which this year was taller than I am. I leave the seeds for birds.

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My zucchini have done stunningly well this year. We have had home grown zucchini in a steady supply even for a couple that likes to eat one small one each day for breakfast. I have already collected and dried and prepared seeds for next year. Note to self: repeat procedure for next summer precisely as you did this summer.

The perennial herbs I started last year, oregano and sage, did very well. This year I started a perennial (for our area) rosemary, parsley and cilantro. They are doing well for the first year. Perennials I started last year (or the year before as in the case of the asparagus and horse radish) have done very well. My herb garden had three herbs survive the winter and flourish. Hopefully next year that will six.

This has been a year for beets. I have so many beets I am not sure what to do with them all and that includes after giving them away to anyone who wants them. I have made six jars of pickled beets. I won’t make more until I am sure we actually eat them. I froze a bunch of beet greens as one prepares spinach. We haven’t tried eating any yet because we can have fresh beet greens anytime we want from the garden. I am considering digging up some horse radish and making beet horse radish preserve. Yesterday we used or new juicer to make lovely juice from the fresh apples on our trees.

Garlic, onions and leeks which I started from seeds which I collected last year have been very successful. Garlic and onions grow to set size in one season and then you can dry them and replant them the following year for eating and harvesting more seeds. I have a year’s supply of both plus enough for planting as sets from this year’s crop. Furthermore, I have enough seed put away for next year. I planted leeks and while our season is too short for full sized leeks they did grow large enough to be used in place of green onions for variety in salads. I will plant leeks again.

I also had greater success with carrots and radishes this year. I actually got radishes to eat and the carrots have been great. I planted a mixture of coloured carrots and we have erects in purple, white and yellow in addition to traditional orange, all of them delicious. I attribute this to two innovations. I used that seed tape so they were spaced properly and I thinned whenever they got too thick. Note to self, thinning is good for carrots and radishes.

It has also been a good year for lettuce. I still have garden lettuce that has not gone to seed. I planted the lettuce in a shady part of the garden and it has thrived instead of going bitter and seeding. The only downer is that we didn’t get lettuce until much later in the year than is normal. What we got was good but I think two plantings next year, one much earlier, will mean better results.

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I will give only half marks for my cucumbers. They have not produced as much as last year but I have put aside enough pickles for the year given last year was so prodigious and we still have a few jars left. The main reason they did so poorly is because I mixed up my planting rows and put the cucumber plants in the carrot row and too close to the corn. The cucumber plants have been crowded and shaded. Note to self, better signage and don’t trust your memory.

Eggplants….well I got one small one. I put the eggplants in the corners of the herb gardens. I also didn’t start them soon enough indoors. Eggplants are slow growers. They need to be started indoors at least three weeks before tomatoes and zucchini. If I fail again I will give up on eggplants for northern gardening.

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My fruit efforts paid off rather well. My raspberries have gown and spread from the one plant to many in two summers and we had three weeks of a few raspberries a day and a week where we had a handful a day. Plus we have had even more new growth. Next year I might even be able to make my favorite jam. My little Saskatoon bushes have more than doubled their size. It will be a few more years before we get berries but I can dream.

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My strawberries also did much better than last year. I had a battle with slugs and the birds got most of them so I need to consider some way to manage that. Suggestions? I am looking at nets and traps I guess.  Even so we had a few strawberries almost every day. The two cycle ones did very well in the late August bearing round but unfortunately our new puppy loves strawberries so she got most of those. Her nose is far better than my eyes and she finds every last one.

My peppers? Better than last year but not by much. I got two green peppers and some hot peppers, enough to two jars of pickles and two of salsa. They need to be started earlier indoors as well. Earlier for peppers and eggplant, mid spring for tomatoes and only six weeks before potting in the final big pots for zucchini.

This year we planted three times the amount of potatoes and they did very well. We have been really enjoying the potatoes but we only planted one variety, Yukon Gold. Next year I want to expand the potato and corn in the back garden area and plant more varieties of potatoes. I really missed having fresh from the ground red potatoes I love so much. We could triple our crop and still eat them all.

We started three more plants in our yard. We planted many more small evergreens. We got free plants to celebrate Canada Day. (Well not really free since our taxes paid for them.) At the end of the festivities leftover baby trees destined for the garbage were rescued by Hubby Dearest and we found homes for all of them. Some went around our yard to fill in gaps in our windbreak. Some we gave to local folks who were happy to get them. The remaining 120, we planted at our bog/farmland. The trees are a native white spruce that used to be abundant around here but were largely harvested by settlers. Even if a few take on our land then generations of neglect and local species extirpation will be undone. We also added a hardy small apricot tree. We started with four babies but only one made it. (We got a credit for next year with the nursery.) We also started some shade loving perennial ground cover our neighbour kindly gave us and it has settled in nicely and should cover the ugly spaces under the deck very well as it spreads.

I found the planting boxes I made last year are really nice to work with. It is far easier to decide to weed a box than to look at the garden and see masses of weeds and not know where to begin. I have enough material to make four more boxes. I want one for my peppers so they can get more TLC. I want to get the eggplants into their own box and have one box for my leeks, onions and garlic. That will free up my herb garden for the parsley and cilantro and rosemary. I want one box for my “special projects”. I ordered and got a package of seeds for four colour varieties of raspberry. Those need to go over winter into a safe spot where I can find any seeds that successfully grow in the spring. I want to always have one box for fun stuff like that.

Last note to self: I need to be certain to space the row in my garden much wider than I did this summer. I had planned to be able to go up and down the rows with my little electric rototiller but I didn’t space the rows enough. The result was if I tried to use the rototiller, I buried the rows of little plants and so I really neglected the weeding. I also lost the dill, spinach, kale, turnip and peas I planted by rototilling them. That was my big disappointment this year. Live and learn.

And that is how it goes if you are a gardener. Some successes, some losses, and you learn more each season. I am sad the season is coming to an end. I wish I could be thinking about a fall garden like my friends in the south. Up here at the 51st parallel we are lucky to have a summer long enough to get much of anything. It is time to think about stews and soups and electric blankets on the bed, and frost. The snow doesn’t usually stay on the ground until November but we should see the odd bit of flakey white stuff that melts away fast by the time this month ends. Winter is coming. It is not just a theme for a TV series. At the 51st parallel, winter is an ever present reality.