Author Archives: tumbleweedstumbling

About tumbleweedstumbling

I have three blogs, embryogenesis explained, tumbleweed tumbling AND fulltimetumbleweed. I am a scientist, and my husband and I have written a book which will be published soon by World Scientific Publishing called Embryogensis Explained. Full time tumbleweed was my first blog which I worked on during five years of living full time in a travel trailer. I have now retired that blog in favour of Tumbleweeds Tumbling since we bought a stick house in April 2015 and are no longer full-time. I have a blended family of five sons and one daughter, all grown up now. I am (step)grandmother to nine boys and one girl. My husband and I have two dogs and a cat. We spend summers in Manitoba, Canada, in a 480 square foot house on a half acre of land in the tiny town of Alonsa. We spend winters in the USA. My husband is retired and being a US citizen, he does volunteer work in winters for Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea Florida as their emeritus. I retired in Sept 2013 and so far I am loving it.

My kitchen cupboard renovation.

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Sometimes I need to go back to old pictures to see how much progress I’ve made because it gets depressing to think about how much work this little house has needed. When we first bought it I could see immediately it was all cosmetic stuff. Everything about the house was solid. What it needed was all “easy” stuff. Paint, new windows, a better kitchen sink. Working our way to getting all the easy stuff for the third summer is getting exasperating.

House

So I stand back and look at the house today and think, well we have come a long way! The exterior is all repainted. The wooden decks were all given a coating of waterproofing stuff. The vegetable garden was rescued. This summer we built a nice little fence outside to create a doggy space. The garden is coming along so nicely. Tending the flower beds is cheap and gives such immediate rewards. If I only look at the outside, the house feels entirely and comfortably mine.

This summer we began tackling the inside. The kitchen is in so many ways the heart of the home. I really wanted my own kitchen space made over the way I like and want it. And so that is where I began the inside.

I went through a whole lot of internal debate about whether or not to raise the counter and whether or not it might just be better to tear out these old cabinets and buy new ones. It certainly would have been easier! (I think.) In the end we simply upgraded the old ones. We did this for three reasons. One, it is much cheaper to repair and repaint old cupboards than to buy all new ones. Two, these old plywood cupboards are far sturdier than anything you buy on the market today short of custom designed solid oak cabinets made the old fashioned way. That would likely cost more than the whole house even if you could find a real old fashioned craftsman to drive to Alonsa to do it. My drawers even have dove tails on the ends! How often do you see those these days? If you have ever lived with pressboard cupboards that start falling apart by the time they are five years old, you know exactly how nice solid plywood can be. These cupboards are as old as I am and they are still working perfectly. Third, call me old fashioned but I really felt the handmade plywood cabinets were integral to the character of this little farmhouse. That went for the lovely old fashioned counter top. I simply don’t like the granite that is so popular these days. Ripping the old cupboards and countertop out and putting in new modern cupboards and counters just would not feel “right”. I was going to raise the countertop but then one of the older residents pointed out that lower cupboards are easier as you age and need a walker or to sit while doing dishes. Since we are hoping this home will be our last until we go into the ground, we need to think of things like that.

Sink

The single most irritating thing about the kitchen was one medium size sink. I like having two sinks. Call me crazy, but a kitchen isn’t right to me without two sinks. Since it is a small kitchen, it took some time to find the right double sink that fit but Home Hardware had it. Now I have a medium sink that is the same size as the one I had before and smaller sink on the side to dump things in when I do dishes and all those other times it is great to have two sinks instead of one.

We added a spray tap that pulls out (what a great new fangled gadget that is!) and a second small faucet for drinking water. We have the most delicious well water you can imagine but it is as hard as anything and so we have a water softener in our basement. But who wants to drink that stuff? For a while we were going outside and getting drinking water from the outside tap which does not go through the water softener. This was fine in summer although I did get some weird looks going out in the morning in my nightgown to get water for my morning coffee. Last fall I then installed a basement tap that allowed us to get drinking water without going outside. It also allows us to drain the system of water before we left for the winter. That was a huge improvement for morning water runs, especially for November when we had snow on the ground. Now we have the deluxe model with a separate tap right in the kitchen.

The other addition was a much needed stove hood. Our house is small and so if you burn something or fry something the fumes fill the entire house really quickly. We also have humidity issues so a way to quickly clear the air is very handy. The new hood (again compliments of Home Hardware) turned out to be a really big job because I had to wire it in. We soon found the charcoal filter was inadequate and we needed a vent to the outside. The precise vent was hard to fine but Amazon provided what I needed to install an exterior vent. Both jobs were successful but many cuss efforts. I also discovered that not everything in my lovely handmade plywoods cupboards was perfectly square so we added “trim” to the “must have” list.

Kitchen Prep

The kitchen in our small house also has few cupboard spaces and unfortunately two perfect good cupboards were inaccessible because one of the previous three owners painted those old fashioned sliders shut. Fortunately, the application of a little superior male intellect from hubby dearest and some more plywood and a trip to RONA for just the right hinges meant the old impossible doors could be replaced with new ones that actually open and close with a touch. We made new doors for that inaccessible set of cupboards over the stove and now I have two new lovely additional cupboards on top.

 

We decided to keep all the original hinges. They are sturdy and working just fine. Plus at an average cost of $5/hinge that was $180 we could use elsewhere. We did opt for all new matching handles. If you look at the picture where I am installing the sink, you can see how we had three different kinds of handles. I found these lovelies on sale very cheaply ($1.50 each) from Amazon. The ones I really wanted with lovely twinned ivy leaves and acorns were $70 each and they were just not lovely enough for that much money. What a difference a coat of paint and all new handles makes! (Thank you hubby dearest for cheerfully joining me in the effort of repainting and being ready to jump in anytime I needed another pair of hands or some brute strength.)

The four drawers turned out to be the biggest nuisance. Drawers have multiple surfaces which means many more sessions of doing a coat, then waiting then applying a coat, over and over again. The different handles meant that I also had to fill the original holes with wood putty and make new holes and then sand. That resulted in almost as many cusses as stove hood installation required.

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I have ordered new curtains in a pretty green and blue plaid to unify the teals and greens. We have a couple of men coming in maybe some time this week (depending on how much time ranching takes up first) to install the last two new windows we need, including the one in the kitchen. (I am hoping for more rain!) And I have to replace the yucky old yellowing electric outlets and face plates with fresh new white ones and then repaint the walls. The walls I am doing in “Alpine Air” the fanciful name for a near to white lightest possible teal.

Our original plan for this summer was repaint the entire interior of the house and install new flooring. I know kitchens are the biggest fussiest job there is but I am beginning to think just getting the kitchen done might be enough for this year. I don’t have an after picture yet because we aren’t at “after” yet. I still have lots of touch ups and clean ups. I can say, the cupboards are done!

“Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.”

 

 

 

One Week With Misty.

IMG_0490Death is terrible but life goes on anyway. When it comes to dogs there are at least two ways dog people cope with grief. Some need to spend time quietly mourning and eventually they heal enough to be able to open their hearts again. Others are like us. We enjoy not just the individual dogs but the things that go with having a dog around like going for walks and getting greeted with a happy wagging tail. So for us being without a companion dog is a double loss, the dog itself and the companionship of the dog. For us, moving quickly on to the next companion eases the profound sense of loss and grief after the passing of the last one.

Enter Misty. We were very aware how both our Fred and Trusty were aging and that was a source of stress and pain to us. In many ways it was wonderful to have two dogs the same age because they were companions to each other in addition to being companions to us. However this meant facing the loss of both dogs at the same time. We decided before we lost one of this pair would get a new puppy so that the new puppy would already be well integrated into our life. Also, we have noted in the past that the arrival of a new young dog tends to rejuvenate the older dog while the younger dog is learning. There is a few happy months and then a realization for the old dog that this youngster is ready to take over the duties that have become a burden due to aging. The old dog can let go and sleep longer, leave barking at passing dogs and strangers to the young one, and not push so hard. It seems to me it eases their passing. They leave knowing we are not left alone.

 

Our home (purchased two and a half years ago) was not suitable for a new puppy. We have a front area where the dogs went out  to do their business or sun, but that was a pair of much older dogs who were accustomed to being on leads, leashes and tethers when not in the house with us. That is too hard for a young puppy. Puppies don’t understand being tied and it makes them miserable. They need a safe place to just be puppies and run and jump and roll unless the owner is ready to spend a lot of time going to safe dog parks. We knew we needed a fence. Our wonderful neighbours came through for us, a big sale was going on for lumber at the local co-op, and we soon had everything we needed to fence the front dog area. Puppies are also clumsy and silly so Dick added lots of extra boards to the front deck so the puppy couldn’t fall off and break something.

The choice of dog was tough. Fred was our first big dog. We didn’t plan on having a big dog. Fred came to us because Trusty brought him home one day and introduced him. Fred taught us there are some real advantages to a big dog. Primary among them is that being big, just their presence can act as a deterrent to those up to no good. During our many travels we have had humans try to attack us four times and each time Fred transformed from the sweetest gentlest doggy you could ever find to a snarling killer dog whose bad attitude drove off the attacker. A well socialized, properly trained dog who knows people also knows when they up to no good. I have to wonder how many other times having a big dog made some predatory human decide to go hunt elsewhere before we ever knew we were being assessed for vulnerability as prey. Also many years ago while we were at a riverside campground, a boy of four got in over his head. Fred noticed the child in distress well before any of us humans. He leaped into the water, wrenching the leash right out of my hand and swam straight to the little guy. Dad was just entering the water when Fred got there. The child (who had been floating just at the surface) pulled himself up onto Fred to lift his head up with a huge gasping sound. Fred swam back with the little guy clinging to him meeting the father halfway. A small dog would never have been able to do such a miraculous thing. So we knew this time we wanted another big dog.

We also knew we didn’t want an older rescue. All of our dogs but Trusty were older rescues. All of them had been mistreated and came with baggage from something awful in their past. Even our current dog Fred came with separation anxiety, roaming behaviour, some minor aggression issues and intense food anxiety that made him a real handful for the first three years we had him. It took him a long time to finally bond to us. All of these dogs adjusted to us and bonded but the process of untraining bad habits and establishing trust and making the bond with the older dog took a lot of time and, for some things, it was never fully accomplished. An older dog often comes already housebroken and spayed or neutered but, frankly, we were tired of dealing with all the other issues. Having already adopted so many older rescues over the years, we just didn’t want to do it again. We wanted a new puppy like Trusty had been, who would be ours from the beginning. Trusty was the most cheerful, happy, trusting little girl and I think that was in large part because she went from an experienced show dog breeder to an experienced dog home as a young pup. (I know some people think all breeders are evil. I personally do not accept the position that a responsible show dog kennel owner who is raising grand champion dogs, does not allow litter to happen unless she has a waiting list of adopters, and even then only has puppies about once in five years a part of carefully planned breeding program, is in the same class or deserving of the same scorn as a back yard breeder or a puppy mill.)

You would think finding a young rescue puppy would be easy. It was not. We came head long into the phenomena know as “retail rescue“. Naturally we wanted to avoid this. One rescue near us boasted of over 80 puppies needing rescue, puppies of all kinds of breeds and types, but they wanted an astonishing $850 for these pups. How does one have a constant stream of rescuable puppies if one is not in retail rescue? The other rescues acted in ways we found repugnant. One rescue took three weeks to answer us about a puppy they had available for adoption on their website only to say that puppy was gone. Even though their website showed nearly a dozen new babies desperately needing homes and they were pleading for donations of money and supplies, they would only offer us a totally different and entirely unsuitable older dog instead. And then there was the other dog they had who was in a doggy wheelchair because his back legs didn’t work but it wasn’t much extra trouble to care for him. He just had to have a wheel chair accessible ramp at the door or to be carried up and down the stairs each time. They gave us a “well if you just want a healthy puppy you don’t deserve a dog” attitude.

Other rescues were what seemed to be outright neurotic, far more interested in passing judgement on us evil humans than actually rehoming puppies. One rescue wanted us to agree to take a dog that might have aggression issues and a biting history and promise we would not ever put the dog down for aggression. That is simply not happening because my sense of responsibility to my community is far more important than to my dog, so sorry. In my book the only good aggressive dog with bite/attack history is a dead one.

One rescue appeared to be run so the owner could have a constant supply of young puppies. No puppy could leave them until after the age of six months, fully housebroken and trained, and at substantially higher costs. When I said we wanted to train our puppy ourselves, I was told very firmly that should always be left to professionals and rehoming a puppy before such professional training was dog abuse. (Utter nonsense!)

Another one said they would not let us adopt because we were too old and the dog was likely to outlive us! (My husband is 73 and I am 57.) Another wanted to see five years worth of our income tax assessments to be sure we could really afford a dog. (Uh no. We’re not doing that.) Several demanded we agree to home assessments before and after placement and one wanted us to give them the legal right to swoop in and seize the dog back with no refund of the adoption fee for any reason they decided on, plus the right to bill us to recoup any and all costs associated with taking the dog back. In the event of any dispute we had to agree to pay all legal fees. That was not acceptable to us either. A pre-adoption home assessment was fine but not the other stuff. Speaking of home assessments, two rescues refused us because we lived too far from the city for them to send someone out to do a home assessment.

I was once accused of abusing Trusty Dog by a vet technician I met at a dog party. She thought Trusty Dog was too thin compared to her dog. In fact, Trusty was a perfect weight by our vet’s estimate at her regular check up a month before. Trusty Dog had also been assessed by an expert team raising awareness of dog obesity at the dog party we were attending. Yet this fruitcake asked me all kinds of questions in order to determine who to complain to and she called the owner of the kennel we got Trusty Dog from. She created such a fuss that the kennel owner reluctantly and apologetically contacted me to make sure Trusty Dog was not being starved. Trusty Dog simply had a more “rangy” terrier build. This was why she was sold to us as a pet quality animal in the first place! I also learned that the people running the obesity clinic was apparently fools because they had told the crazy person that her dog was overweight. (Surprise, surprise.) The kennel owner reported to me how this nut had already had her in small claims court over false dog abuse charges once and she warned me to be careful of her. After that experience, I was certainly not about to give up my legal rights to the dog, in advance, in a contract. I know for certain this woman would have seized Trusty Dog from us for our perceived abuse if she could have. I just knew from that experience that I would spend the rest of that dog’s life waiting for a neurotic nut to swoop in, accuse me of dog abuse, and seize the dog and break my heart. It would make bonding with the dog extremely difficult.

My story is not unique. Unresponsive, difficult, neurotic individuals in rescue organizations are common place. I felt all the rescues I contacted were either unethical “retail rescues” or they were making it so difficult to get a puppy that we despaired of ever finding one. Even the shelters that we knew were good ones reported that rescues swooped in and immediately adopted any puppies that they did get so that regular folks like us would never have a chance. We kept looking. Meanwhile, we kept working on the fence.

And then a small miracle happened as such things tend to. There was a small ad in a local paper. Golden Retriever mother and German Shepherd father (probably). I talked to the woman selling the puppies and it soon became obvious this was no puppy mill. Her 12 year old Golden Retriever (who had never had puppies before and was assumed to be incapable) had unexpectedly produced a later of eight puppies after an unauthorized visit from two full brothers who lived two farms over. The young woman was embarrassed, even apologetic, about the unplanned litter. Mom was an older but still fit and lovely girl who had spent many years as a farm dog/family pet and she had been used for hunting. She was a real working dog.

 

The young lady who owned the pups said they had to stay with their mother for a full 8 weeks and she would not release them until after they had their first puppy shot and vet check. Mom was fully vaccinated and healthy in spite of being skinny from nursing pups. She asked me a few appropriate questions that indicated she was making sure the puppy was going to a good home but she was not a neurotic fruitcake. She was asking far less than any formal rescue, basically enough to cover the vet costs and a bit extra for her trouble. She was also local to us and her family’s reputation was excellent. We decided to go see these puppies.

I read up on Golden Retrievers as a breed and on German Shepherds first. I also read about Golden Shepherds, a so called designer hybrid. All of this looked very promising except that we wanted a dog who would be reserved and protective and if the puppy took after the golden side too much, we would get a big happy goofball who would likely wag her tail and lick a stranger out to rob or injure us. Goldens are not exactly noted for their protectiveness. Both breeds are highly intelligent, attach firmly to their people, need lots of activity and long walks and a lot of time just being with their owners. These are all pluses for us as an older retired couple. It seemed a good match of breed to owner.

On our way to see these puppies we stopped and saw the pair of big males of which one was the presumed father. They were also assumed to be purebred German Shepherd. These were working farm dogs, in glowing good health. Being from a  working dog line I was pleased to note they did not have the long sloping back so prized among German Shepherd show types but associated with hip dysplasia. I watched the owner of these two boys interacting with them. He was using hand signals and the dogs were immediately and correctly responding. We met the mother and she was a delightful and typical Golden Retriever. So both parents of these puppies were real working farm dogs, intelligent, healthy and of excellent temperament. We decided to take one puppy. We wanted a female since we felt that a female puppy would be more likely to integrate into our existing family. We also had a family wedding to attend and we wanted her to stay one extra week with her Mom after her shots. I also wanted the shot to have some time to work before taking her home. I am crazy afraid of parvo. The nice woman immediately agreed to the extra week.

All this settled, we finally went to see the puppies. They were happily running about in a box stall, healthy, fat and sweet tempered.  Young children were present so the pups were already well accustomed to children which was a plus. There were also horses, cats and goats nearby and the pups were therefore likely to be tolerant of all kinds of animals. This was no puppy mill litter. If anything it was an accidental litter from responsible pet owners (aside from the lack of spaying and neutering something very common in farm dogs) who were now trying to do the right thing by these puppies. The next task was simply picking the right puppy for us out of the five females in the litter.

When the woman opened the door to the stall the puppies came tumbling out, joyous happy tail wagging bundles. One puppy started with the crowd and then spotted us and immediately paused. She held back. Her little sweet puppy face was hesitant. I read “Wait a minute, do I know you? Are you safe?” After a proper introduction she immediately became a happy friendly pup but that moment of hesitation was critical in my assessment. She was a reserved dog, not fearful, just reserved. And when I picked her up and gently flipped her over to check she submitted gracefully and, yes she was a female. The pause she exhibited was more German Shepherd than Golden. She was our pup.

We had left Trusty at home because traveling upset her too much but Fred was with us. We took her over to introduce her to Fred. He immediately did a full body joyous melt as if she was the cutest thing in the entire universe. She did her reserved hesitation thing again. After assessing Fred and deciding he was okay, she wagged her tail and gave him a puppy kiss and I thought Fred would pass out from his joy. Fred approved of her. Now we had nearly four long weeks to wait until she could come home.

 

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We have had her for a week now. It has been almost pure pleasure. She is intelligent and adaptable. In one week she has already learned her call name and the commands “off” (as in put it down and/or don’t touch it), “come”, “out” (as in we are going out to the yard now), and “down”. The crate was a strain at first but she went in at bed time and slept in it all night last night without a whimper. Being a puppy, she hasn’t much attention span but she’s listening and responding to the commands for at least a few minutes. She is testing us to see what we are consistent about. She is walking well on the leash although we aren’t yet doing more than pleasure walking. Heel, sit, and stay, lie down and the formal stuff will all come later when she is a bit bigger. She has enough to learn right now. A friend of ours came to see her and she reacted by barking at him and backing off until she had a chance to look him over. Now that she knows him, he gets a joyous greeting. I like a dog that is a bit suspicious and reserved but soon learns who she can trust. We took her to the beach and she is a natural water dog. She followed Fred right in and swam eagerly with him. And she chases and fetches a ball already.

Fred adores her though she gets disciplined by him. She worships Fred and happily does anything she sees him doing which is making housebreaking really easy. As long as we get her out of the house we have no accidents. She hasn’t figured out how to let us know she needs to go out yet, so we still have a puddle or two each day, which is to be expected. I no longer get to sleep in because she has these spells of being frenetically active and the only cure is a walk around town until she is tired out and that begins when she gets up at about 7:00am. This is actually good for me. (I keep telling myself this.)

We named her Misty for two reasons. We wanted to memorialize Trusty Dog and another dog from my husband’s past named Rusty. She is mostly black but she has a few hairs that just make a mist patch of white on her chest. Plus she has gold brindling highlights. Trusty Dog was a brindle and I love that on Misty. People who see her assume she is a lab because she has the golden/lab shaped face. For campgrounds that don’t allow German Shepherds she will be a lab cross.

Best of all she has firmly and absolutely bonded to us. We are her people. She is our dog. And we have a joyous house full of puppy kisses and happy exploration and just plain fun. Right now as I write she is lying at my feet sleeping. She is happiest beside one of us and she often sleeps in a place halfway between us both. Trusty Dog, I miss you still and thinking of you still makes me eyes tear up but don’t worry about me. Fred, we know your time is coming sooner rather than later. Your hips hurt so long walks are no longer possible and your lumps and bumps keep getting lumpier and bumpier. You’ll be able to go in peace when it is time, knowing we are well taken care of. With Misty, we are fine.

At this point there is only one family member who isn’t happy. The cat is not a big fan of puppy kisses and being bowled over with exuberant puppy greetings. Klinger has had to be very stern and unforgiving in teaching her that cats are not fellow puppies and must not be treated as such. Klinger was horrified when she arrived and he is still not a bit happy with us for bringing this canine nuisance into his otherwise well ordered life. As of yesterday, he has stopped growling, hissing, spitting and threatening to take her eyes out, mostly because she has learned about his sharp claws on her tender nose and she has begun keeping a properly respectful distance. Life goes on. Praise G-d.

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Losing Trusty Dog

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Trusty Dog
September 20, 2005 – June 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zucchini in containers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Bread Day

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

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

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

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

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

Dark Pumpernickel

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

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

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

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

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

Honey Oatmeal Whole Wheat

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

 

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

Challah

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

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

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

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

51st Parallel Gardening – May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is your garden at these days?