Category Archives: Tumbleweeds Tumbling

Home made Yogurt and Ricotta from Powdered Milk and Frozen Starter

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

IMG_2003

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

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

IMG_2004

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

IMG_2006

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

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

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

IMG_2008

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

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

IMG_2009

Ricotta curds after straining.

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

IMG_2007

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

Duck Mountain Provincial Park

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

IMG_8755

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8763

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

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

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

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

IMG_8772

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

Building a Greenhouse – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1993

Vegetable Garden Update

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

IMG_8730

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

IMG_8727

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

IMG_8728

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

IMG_8732

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

IMG_8731

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

IMG_8724

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

IMG_8725

IMG_8723

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

IMG_8726

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

Carotid Artery Dissection is Healed!

We had two updates, one from the neurologist by telephone and one from the interventional radiologist via another telehealth conference. The MRI results were carefully quantified and reviewed and then forwarded to both of these specialist. The neurologist called and told us that the carotid artery shows up in the MRI as healed, no more pseudoaneurysm and, providing the interventional radiologist agrees, we can declare the carotid artery dissection completely healed and stop the blood thinners.

After this news I found myself feelings like I was in shock. It was a pleasant shock, but still a shock. I was trembling. I was in tears. All these longs months, all the worry, all the fear, all the careful watching. We are done. He is healed. We can start thinking longer term again. It was really hard to wrap my brain around the news. I ended up suppressing all my happy happy thoughts a bit and reminding myself the interventional radiologist must agree first.

And the interventional radiologist agrees with one caveat. It can be difficult to do comparisons between imaging modalities. There has been so much improvement between the last CT and this MRI he can’t quite believe it or trust it. He agrees the MRI does indeed look like the artery is fully healed a huge and very pleasant surprise since he did not think pseudoaneurysm ever would given how big it was. He even had another radiologist (someone whose ability and skills he really trusts) look at it just to make sure and this fellow also agreed the artery has healed.

His recommendation is that my husband continue with the blood thinner (generic form of plavix for a full six months since the last time we saw the pseudoaneurysm just to be on the safe side and follow the standard recommendations for a dissection and then image one last time with CT to really confirm the astonishing healing shown in the MRI. We agreed to this. My husband has six weeks of his blood thinner left so he will finish the bottle and have the hopefully one last CT and then we can call the carotid artery dissection incident finished and done with. Amazingly enough, there is no evidence of any kind of a stroke from the dissection on MRI. So if asked, we can honestly say no it was not a stroke, it was carotid artery dissection with transient symptoms.

I had another happy cry.

Can you see me smiling?

Choose Joy

 

Health Update – Carotid Artery Dissection with Pseudoaneurysm.

A short report that is nice because it contains good news. We are seven months since the diagnosis of a carotid artery dissection. My husband got called in for an MRI. The reason for the doctors being concerned about this is because my husband is at a much higher risk of throwing a clot due to the healing carotid artery dissection with a large pseudoaneurysm because of narrowing at the site of the injury.  You may recall there was a debate about stenting (relatively high risk especially when compared with his clinical symptoms which are none.) The MRI was for testing if the carotid artery dissection caused a stroke of if it is throwing off small clots and causing micro strokes. Micro strokes are tiny strokes that do not show up clinically but accumulate over time and eventually can lead to dementia. They can only be seen using MRI. Our doctor gave us a copy of the report on the MRI and the neurologist’s report and it was overall positive.

The MRI did not show sign of anything beyond a “smooth narrowing” of the artery. Compared to the last report from October with a CT that is an improvement. To be properly cautious, it is hard to compare across modalities however since the clinicians seem to think that’s a positive improvement, we’ll definitely take it. There is still a thrombus/clot where there was before but the MRI seems to show it was smaller (again the cross modality issue makes me hesitant to say it.) Also the MRI works by producing a specific signal when a specific magnetic frequency is used. The signal that came back was for a blood clot and not the later final stage of a healed clot. It apparently takes 4-6 months for this process to start so it is not a surprise nor is it bad news. It just means the healing is not finished. The thrombus certainly is no bigger.

The really good news is the MRI could not detect the stroke damage. Strokes show up as bright spots and the brighter and more solid the spot, the worse the stroke. In my husband’s case there is only one very small, very faint and only slightly brighter spot and no where near where he should have he had caused by the carotid artery dissection. Best of all, no sign of any other micro strokes or secondary damage or anything else. He has two tiny plaques in his arteries, matched on both sides, which are often found even in healthy young men and we already knew about those from the previous CTs. The letter from the neurologist states he has ruled out any progressive neuropathies or vasculopathies (i.e. blood vessels and nerves, brain are as normal as can be for 76 years). The specialist thinks it was just the unlucky seatbelt accident. Further our family doctor told us he can confidently state my husband is now clinically stable if a travel insurance company were to ask. (Due to the past history of carted artery dissection that might still be an issue but we’re not ready to start traveling right now anyway.)

We also got permission to try reducing the last of three blood pressure medications he is on back down to the level he was using to control his blood pressure before all this started. (He has been on a double dose of his ace inhibiter since the dissection after using it for many years to lower his blood pressure.) Again, it has to be done carefully with daily monitoring twice a day (morning before taking the pill and evening) but six days into it and my husband’s blood pressure has actually been a bit lower sitting nicely at about 130/80 give or take 5 points with the majority being about 125/75 for the evening check and slightly higher for the morning check before taking the pill.

There we are. Slight improvement, no sign of the bad stuff the MRI was supposed to detect, no need for stenting at this time, no more visits to the doctor until late spring unless something changes. Blood pressure med down to the previous level. At some future point yet to be determined, another imaging check of the artery will be done (likely by ultrasound) and if it is healed my husband can stop taking the generic plavix blood thinner although the neurologist said he should be taking a baby aspirin for the rest of his life.

There is a special Hebrew blessing for when one has had a near miss with death and been delivered from it. I am tempted to ask my husband to arrange now. (It has to be said in a minyan of ten Jews after a Torah reading) but I won’t just yet. Instead, I’ll ask for the continued healing prayer to keep on being said since we are not all the way there yet. (You can hear a woman sing the prayer in Hebrew here.) In English it goes like this:

May the One who blessed our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah bless and heal Yitzhak son of Dina. May the Holy Blessed One overflow with compassion upon him, to restore him, to heal him, to strengthen him, to enliven him. The One will send him, speedily, a complete healing, healing of the soul and healing of the body along with all the ill, among the people of Israel and all humankind, soon, speedily, without delay, and let us all say:  Amen!

Halfway through Winter

Winter in Manitoba up here near the 51st parallel arrives sometime in late October and early November and slowly disappears by about mid to late April. That being said, it is not unheard of for winter to arrive with October (like it did this year) or hang around well into May. The severity of winter varies just as much. Last year there were extended periods of weeks at a time where our home town was under extreme cold warnings with daytime highs rarely breaking -40C (-40F). This winter’s temperatures have so far been mild with many days with the highs running in the single digit negative zone (30-16F range) with night time values dipping into the high teens (-1F). Snowfall is about midrange normal this year with three blizzards and multiple days of light flurries. The ground is covered with 20 cm (8 inches) of the white stuff in the lowest spots with drifts running well over a metres (yard) deep.

I think of the end of January as being the midpoint of winter for two reasons. First there is almost always a brief spell of relative warmth that lasts a week or two. Temperatures will get up to the freezing mark. There will be some thawing and maybe a bit of freeing rain. This is always followed by most of February dropping into the extreme cold range. It’s like Mother Nature comes up for air, takes a breath, and plunges down into the deep cold again. We are in one of those January warm spells right now.

After spending ten years of winters in the south it has been quite an experience for me to live through a Manitoba winter again. Thus far it has been far less awful than I worried about and far more pleasurable than I expected. The main reason is because being retired, if it is bitterly cold outside I just stay home. I don’t have to layer up and go outside and start a cold vehicle and leave it to warm up which my teeth chatter and I freeze. I don’t have to stand in the wind waiting for a bus to arrive because my husband’s work schedule did not overlap mine that day and it was his turn to take the car. I get to miss the worst part of winter.

IMG_8381

A particularly fine example of sun dogs.

The other thing that has astonished me is that winter is far prettier in a rural area. The snow stays a lovely white instead of filthy slushy brown. The trees are beautifully decorated in ice that twinkles like stars in the sunlight. Wildlife is suddenly visible in ways it has not been before because animal leave tracks everywhere. The trees are bare so you can see wondrous sights like one of Manitoba’s official provincial bird, the great grey owl on a post or red flash of a fox in a field. Sun dogs make sparkling bright lights or even rainbows beside the sun. The sky is so blue it almost hurts the eyes and the night sky is stunning in ways it never is in summer. The sun rises late and sets early so even though I am not a morning person I get to enjoy both.

IMG_8338

Animal tracks in fresh snow.

The other thing I have discovered is that my community goes into high social gear in winter. We have had more socials, more dinners, more reasons to be among our neighbours this past month than over the entire summer season. I took up curling to have a reason to get out of the house and get some exercise and discovered I love it. It is a combination of luck and skill and there is few things more satisfying than that perfect two rock knock out or putting your rock “on the button”. I even splurged on myself and bought my very own pink curling broom from Canadian Tire. Twice a week I walk one block to the local curling rink and have a blast playing senior stick curling.

IMG_8372

Winter sunset with lovely clouds.

I decided I would not feel sorry for myself and whine and carry on about the cold. I decided I would be positive. And with that attitude I find I have actually been enjoying this winter. It has passed this approximate halfway point far more quickly than I expected. I still dread February but it begins with curling bonspiels so maybe it will be just as much fun as January has been. Some of my friends in this community have told me they prefer winter. I always thought they were crazy. I can’t say I prefer winter but I can now see why they do.

IMG_8382

Sunshine on frost decorated Trees from my son’s backyard in Neepawa Manitoba

Fixing My KitchenAid Mixer.

IMG_8364

I have allergies of all sorts and my husband is supposed to be on a no added salt diet. This means most processed food is unsafe for us. I make almost everything from scratch to accommodate this. Over the years I have found that doing it all from scratch means better quality at a lower cost, often much lower. There is the time factor, of course, but being retired, I have time. My husband bought me this KitchenAid when he found it on sale many years ago. We paid $399 at the time. I have worked it plenty hard since and purchased most of the attachments that go with it. The hardest chore is kneading my homemade breads which I make weekly. Thus, I was heartbroken when the planetary stopped spinning. It felt almost like an old friend was dead.

Rather than simply toss the machine and run out and buy a new one, I decided to try to fix it. I was delighted to find a number of excellent videos on youtube that explain how to do it. I followed the instructions and took it all apart. After some wiping away of black grease and inspecting everything, I exposed a gear that was obviously stripped. Following the instructions on line, I ordered a new gear and the grease required to repack the mechanism. I had such a ghastly time with my first ever encounter with a retaining ring that I almost gave up and had a good cry. I was finally able to get it off with two carpentry hooks.

IMG_8365

One of my dear friends once told me when you need a tool, buy it. That way, over time, you’ll build up a nicely equipped shop and be able to do more and more. Following his advice I also ordered the special pliers required to deal with retaining ring on the planetary shaft. The hardest part of taking it apart, after struggling with that retaining ring, was wiping away as much of the old black grease as possible. The gear that got stripped had many bits broken off. These little metal bits were embedded in the grease and some of them were sharp. Fortunately, all the other gears looked fine. I went through an entire box of tissues wiping out cruddy old black grease.

IMG_8368

I ordered the part from Amazon and after about three weeks of doing without my wonderful KitchenAid, the parts arrived. I then carefully followed the directions in the videos and put the thing back together with the new part and the new grease. I was relieved that the new grease was clean and white and washed off with wiping, and soap and water. Because it was clear/white it didn’t make much mess even though I ended up smearing it everywhere. I had some issues getting the gears to mesh properly but, with some fiddling and few crude words not be used in front of the grandchildren, eventually it worked. That part was not as easy as the video showed. I also discovered, once again, a job is much easier with the proper tool. It was ridiculously easy to get that retaining ring back in place with the special pliers. Finally, I tested the machine, except for the cover, and it spun perfectly with that old familiar hum.

IMG_8369

Hubby dearest helped me finish up the process. That decorative metal ring around the outside is a three hand job. He finished off the job with me by helping me clean up and he presented me with a case he had to keep all the parts of my newest tool together. My total cost was $49.86 Canadian plus taxes. The new gear was the most expensive part at $24.20. Since I have half a can of grease left I can take $10 off that. I have already used the grease on some other stuff like a super squeaky door. I did not get all new gears. If I had replaced all the new gears, it would have come to half of the cost a whole new machine. According to one video, the machine is designed so one gear goes before the rest precisely so you don’t have to redo everything.

I am very proud of myself. Replacing my machine would have cost me $500-$700 at today’s prices. Many manufacturers deliberately create circumstances so you can’t fix your machine yourself. They do their best to force you throw out the old one at the first sign of trouble and buy a new one. I was delighted to find the KitchenAid people are not among them. My wonderful durable user friendly machine is back in good working order. What’s more, I now know if it dies again, I can probably fix it myself. Today was a good day.

Choose Joy

Good Riddance Annus Horribilis

I sat down and wrote about the top ten things for 2019. It hasn’t been a great year for us. They say retirement comes in three phases. Phase One you are healthy so you travel and do and see things and have a blast. Phase Two something happens health wise and you slow down and enter a period of peaceful quiet living. Phase three, well that’s when you end up in a home so we won’t go there, I hope. 2019 is the year I think we transitioned from Phase One to Phase Two. I still have some hope 2020 will see us back on the road again, but not that much hope.

Here is my top ten blessings for 2019.

  1. One of my children separated from his wife but they reconciled only a few weeks later, much to my intense relief and many thankful prayers.
  2. My beautiful Misty was attacked by two pitbull dogs but she got away relatively unscathed when they turned on each other instead. She also got to swim with dolphins.

    IMG_6892

    Misty had great fun with a friend she made at our second campsite. This little guy was actually faster than her. We don’t meet a lot of dogs who can outrun her but this boy sure could. He was also an important part of helping Misty get over being attacked.

  3. A dear friend’s daughter got married. We feel like she was almost a daughter to us and we saw her grow up so it was lovely to know she is married even though we could not make it to the wedding due to my husband’s health issues. She just recently announced she’s expecting this summer to add to the joy. Can you see me smiling?
  4. I discovered I love curling. I decided to keep active during our first winter out in the country and I joined the local senior curling group. I did it just for the exercise and the social contact so it was a real surprise to discover I really like curling. So living through winter after ten years of missing it is turning out to be not so bad.
  5. We came through the horrible storm of Canadian Thanksgiving 2019 unscathed. We were prepped and we were fine even though we had no power, no cell phone service, no land line, and no internet for nearly three days.IMG_8099
  6. We found a buyer for our precious property we could not longer manage. The buyer is going to continue to care for the property as it should be, including retaining the conservation agreement. Plus he will clean up the horrible mess left from the EF4 tornado of 2018.IMG_8189
  7. I discovered I have a lot more fix it talent than I thought after I designed and installed a new pantry space for our tiny house along with a few other projects to prepare for living here over the winter, like the new garage door opener.
    IMG_1868
  8. My health has been great. I was really worried about my asthma acting up again since it always was worse in winter but so far I have not had any trouble at all. I credit that in part to our fresh air intake which has made our indoor air so much better.
  9. We got through the terrible flooding and disastrous storms in the south and midwest without harm and we had a nice time in our travels in spite of it.
  10. The stroke my husband had in June due to a carotid artery dissection after a seat belt accident was very minor and he has made an almost complete recovery. Plus he is finally tackling some risk factors and he’s lost 14 pounds and dropped three pant sizes just by switching to a treadmill desk. We were very fortunate.IMG_1709

 

So I say farewell to 2019 with gratitude for the blessings and thanks that it is over. Here’s hoping 2020 is better. 2019 certainly could have been a lot worse. I hope we all have the best year ever in 2020!

IMG_1719

The view from Riding Mountain National Park to our home some forty kilometres west.

Death is so Final.

Argo

This is Argo in his prime. He was a good kitty. He had been abandoned in an apartment when his original humans moved out. It was nearly a month before the landlord arrived to clean up and found this poor frantic dehydrated starving cat. He was adopted by my daughter and her significant other. He had a year and a half of being the darling kitty of a childless couple. We got pictures and updates on every aspect of his life. We tenderly joked that he was their practice baby. They sure loved that cat.

Argo got out in the cold. His human went looking for him immediately but on his way home Argo lost an encounter with an orange Kia. His people did everything they could to save him but after a week (and more than $1000 in vet expenses) it became clear he was suffering and would never recover. They made the hard decision to give him mercy. Argo has moved on to wherever it is good cats go when they die.

For reasons I don’t really get, Argo’s death has hit me very hard. Maybe it is because we also got word this week that my mother-in-law finally lost her long hard battle with dementia and mental illness and passed on at the age of ninety seven. One of my friends who is a recent immigrant from China told me that when someone dies at ninety seven that is a cause for celebration not mourning. I kind of see it. My mother-in-law’s brain had been gone for a long time so her finally passing means death is a friend not an enemy. Now that she has passed everyone else is celebrating her life as if she were a perfect saintly mother and wife, which she certainly was not. When I die, no doubt people will celebrate me as if I were a saint too, even though I am far from it.

Our town has many feral cats. Several people in the town put food out for them. Folks try to find good homes for the ones they can catch. Locals take the babies first because if you can catch a feral cat as a baby you can handle it and get it used to people. Older feral cats cannot normally be tamed. Sometimes an adult cat will approach one of us in the cold desperate for help and then you know they are someone’s pet who was lost or abandoned. The truly feral ones just die. Each winter the feral cat population is dramatically reduced by our bitter cold. There is a lone female feral cat who has taken up residence in our neighbour’s gazebo who has resisted every attempt to catch her and get her in where it is warm. We are all afraid she is going to die soon as temperatures are going to -26C each night now. I watch those feral cats with their frozen off ear tips and they scarred faces and I think how few of them had even one single day as good as Argo had for that year and a half. Life is certainly not fair. Why does there have to be pain and suffering in the world? Does the great joy of good times in life really make up for that?

I do hope my daughter and her man take in another cat. There are so many cats that need a loving home and they have big hearts and they gave Argo so much after a really rotten start to his life. Argo is so happy and so fully cat in his memorial picture. They could give another cat the wonderful gift they gave Argo.

I think the real reason Argo’s death has left me awake all this past night is because of how close death came to taking my husband from me last June. I can’t help but think every time he hugs me or I snuggle up for a cuddle in bed “He’s still warm. He’s still with me.” I look in the mirror and I see the wrinkles and the marks of aging. Death is stalking me now too. So perhaps poor Argo’s unfortunate passing has served as a reminder I’d rather not have, the reminder of the mortality that is looking me in the face every single day that remains.

God has much to answer for. I have just enough faith to believe that at some point He will, at some point I will understand why.  In the meantime there is nothing to do but embrace the joy that comes with being alive while I can.

Rest in peace kitty. You actually were a perfect little furry saint. We don’t have to make things up about how truly wonderful you were, for a cat.

Then we cross the Rainbow Bridge together….. – GLOBAL SAFARI