Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

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It’s that time of year and we had a lovely pumpkin to make a traditional Jack-O-Lantern with. We decorated with some fun decorations for the kiddies and we have our treats ready! It’s not technically our holiday and we don’t really celebrate but we do like to give out candy and have a Jack-O-Lantern anyway in the interest of being good neighbours. This Jack-O-Lantern art also meant we had pumpkin seeds. Over the years I have tried lots of pumpkin seed recipes but about 15 years ago I found a really good one. The result is delicious roasted pumpkin seeds you can eat whole without taking the shell off.

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The first step is get your seeds sort of cleaned up. They don’t have to be perfectly clean, just mostly. Put the seeds in a pot and add a teaspoon of coarse salt with enough water to float all the seeds plus two inches. Bring the seeds to a boil and then simmer gently. You will need to simmer a long time until all the seeds have a clear cooked look. It takes about 45 minutes but you use the look of the seeds not the time to decide. How long the seeds need depends on the type of pumpkin you use and the ripeness. As you simmer, occasionally stir and the uncooked ones will show up as lighter. You’re ready to start baking when all the seeds are greyish and don’t float.

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In this image the seeds are about half cooked. Some are clear and have sunk down. Some are still floating. You can’t really over cook at this stage so keep simmering until they are all boiled and greyish. Don’t rush this step or you will have tough seeds.

Once all the seeds are soft and greyish, drain the water.  Add enough margarine or butter to generously coat all the seeds and spread them on a cookie sheet. They will be salty from the boiling but you can add more salt if you like. Bake the seeds at 350F until they are all dry and golden brown. Every few minutes stir them and spread them again. Be careful with baking and watch closely because you can easily burn them.

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This is what they look like as they bake. They will brown in spots which is why you need to keep stirring them or you’ll end up with burnt spots.

Once the seeds are all baked to a uniform golden brown they are ready. No need to shell the seeds. The outside shell has been softened by the boiling and you just pop them in your mouth and eat them whole. I have been told the seeds will keep for a long time prepared this way, but they never have lasted to the time we blow out the candle on the Jack-O-Lantern at my house. YUMMY! Happy Halloween!

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Riding Mountain National Park’s Mount Agassiz Day Use Area

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Last Sunday we awoke to a lovely warm sunny day that was beyond inviting. October is a weird month up here on the 51st parallel. It can be warm as summer and as cold as winter in the same day. Smart people take advantage of nice weather because chances are it won’t be nice the next day or in a few hours. Even though it was a lot earlier than I would normally care to be moving in the morning, we packed up the dogs and drove to one of our favourite places. We live on the east side of Riding Mountain National Park. It’s not a true mountain. It’s a long escarpment at about 732 metres (2400 feet) rising abruptly about 100 metres (320 feet) above a really flat plain going down to Lake Manitoba. From our house about 45 km (30 miles) away we can see “the mountain” clearly.

There used to be a ski resort on the east side. The nearest town of McCreary has as it’s statue symbol a funny cartoon fellow with downhill skis. In places like British Columbia the old Aggasiz Ski Resort would barely be a bunny hill and “the mountain” likely wouldn’t even have a name. On the Manitoba flat plain, this is a startling and steep place. Many years ago the old ski resort went out of business and the road up to the lodge was rarely used by anyone except the odd bunch of horse trailers bringing in riding horses for trail riding. We saw both white tail deer and elk on the drive in. Last trip we saw several bears. It is a wild place. More recently the Federal Government has decided to develop this spot. Very little on the east side of the mountain is accessible and so it has been designated as a day use picnic area. We took advantage of the lovely weather to take a hike.

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The only facilities are garbage cans, recycle bins, an outhouse and a big wood pile. There are several picnic tables and a typical “warm up” shelter, a place that in winter is sheltered from wind with a big wood stove to provide heat. There are some paved trails that follow a small creek.

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Because it was late fall, the deciduous trees were bare and the native plants were long since brown and finished. People mowed lawn was the only thing still green and that not by much.

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The narrow creek is lined with round glacial boulders. It was recently made over and so no sand has accumulated in the creek bed. The flow is constant from a flat plateau above that is a large swamp marsh. All of the water runs down into this valley and from there wanders out of the park onto the plains. It’s not a big creek. You can almost jump over it and it was barely ankle deep on this. It is a novelty here though because it is not a typical sluggish green ribbon a most creeks on the flat plain are. It is a genuine babbling laughing creek running merrily over pretty rocks. There is a small bridge over the creek at the end of the path. From there you can start climbing uphill.

The land is clear on wide trails of what used to be the old ski runs. It is a steep but easy trail up to the tops of the old ski hills on either side of the creek. This is the view looking north. We took the south side. We stopped for about twenty minutes to watch a huge flock of mixed Canada and Snow geese circling above in a lazy flock that never quite made proper Vs. We also saw three ravens chasing an golden eagle out of the area with many indignant caws. Except for chickadees we did not see any song birds. The chickadees flocked nearby and then moved off to other things.

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The trail was lovely climbing up the hill. It was wide and easy and dry. Soon we were high above the creek and the valley floor. The sun was bright and the breeze was light and the dogs were having a blast. I resisted the temptation to let Misty off the leash. There are a lot of animals in this park including bears, wolves, cougars, skunks and porcupines and it is just not safe for an enthusiastic puppy. Even so, she had a great time looking at all the plants and sniffing a whole world of new scents I can only imagine.

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At the top of the hill the trail thinned down to a little track suitable for a deer or horse. You would not get lost following it but the footing was a bit more precarious. Even as we admired the view and contemplated continuing, heavy clouds came rolling in from the west and lowered ominously. Soon the sun was covered. We decided to head back to the truck and call it a day.

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Looking into the rapidly disappearing sun, we could see that our trail followed an old cut for electric supply to the ski resort. It would have been fun to continue but with the weather changing fast, not wise. We were not dressed for cold and had no survival gear.

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By the time we got back to the truck, the wind was really roaring, the sky was completely covered and the dark grey clouds were low on top of us. By the time we drove out of the park and into McCreary, a cold fall drizzle had started. We just made it. Oh, it was a lovely time enjoying the sun on a fall day before the weather turned and we plan on going again once we get back home in the spring. A full Alberta clipper blizzard has hit us since our trip to Agassiz and the ground here is covered with snow. Full winter is here. We head south soon, so we won’t be back to Agassiz until spring.

Hollywood Beach Manitoba

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Hollywood doesn’t just exist in California. There is also a Hollywood Beach in Manitoba. A historical marker on the beach says the beach was created as a public space in order to celebrate the Canadian Centennial in 1967. No one seems to know how it got its name although “there was a movie made there once” and “when they named the beach it had a downed holly tree on it” are the two most popular explanations I have heard.

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Hollywood Beach is near Langruth Manitoba and has something to do with the now ghost town of Lakeview. It is about three kilometres long and one of the nicest of the Lake Manitoba beaches as far as quality of sand goes. We have been here many times. There used to be a long narrow sand bar that trapped the water on the beach so it would get smelly and greenish and the beach would be very unpleasant in hot weather. That’s why we haven’t been there in several years. We were delighted to arrive and find the past floods and very high water seems to have cleaned the beach out and restored it. The choking sandbar is gone and the beach is clean and lovely.

 

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Technically the beach is a campground. There are no services, no gate, no fees, and no amenities of any kind except for fire pits, ‘recycle everywhere’ bins and someone regularly mows the grass. It would be a really lovely spot to boondock for free if one had a self-contained trailer that could manage without hookups. We have never camped here ourselves. That may change now that we have seen how nature restored the beach. There are also no “No Dogs Allowed” signs. Misty loved the beach. She will be five months old tomorrow and she has grown so much.

 

Manitoba is in full fall gold and yellow display and the lovely colours included the beach. We enjoyed the 53 kilometre drive to the beach due to the fine fall colours. The beach was littered with gold leaves.

 

The beach is on a narrow spit of land with a marsh on other side of the road into the beach area. We have canoed in the huge marsh behind Hollywood beach. During our visit today we saw innumerable arctic terns, curlews, gulls, ravens and even a small flock of tundra swans on their migration south. There was one large blue heron, a straggler, as most have long since migrated. In the past, during summer, we have seen huge flocks of red wing black birds and yellow headed blackbirds among many other marsh birds, as well as white pelicans. Those have apparently already headed south. Beyond the marsh is a lot of pastureland and this makes a trip to Hollywood Beach a bird watcher’s delight.

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The beach is on a thin strip of land with deep wide marshes on the other side.

We enjoyed the fine details of the beach as well, including a spot absolutely full of tiny snail shells, both rams horn and pond snails. I don’t know why so many empty shells covered the area at the end of the beach. We also found evidence of the flood’s work on tree roots still in the sand. This demonstrated again that the terrible floods of the last decade have ended up doing some good. These floods, difficult as they are for humans, seem to be part of the cycle of the lake itself.

 

There was a family having a picnic when we arrived. They had made a fire and the little ones were having fun. Otherwise we had the beach to ourselves. It had been warm and sunny when we left Alonsa and we had planned on trying to get one more canoe trip in. The wind had picked up and it got cloudy and cool as we arrived. The water was bitterly cold. We decided to skip a freezing cold canoe ride and just enjoy a long walk on the beach instead.

I think it would be especially lovey to do an overnight trip in summer with our trailer. With absolutely no amenities or nearby towns, the night sky over the lake would be perfect for stargazing or watching the aurora. The start of the roadway into the beach and the campground spots are big enough for even a big rig. The further on ones goes, the more the road deteriorates and the smaller the “campsites” which are really just big mowed areas with a fire pit.

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After a nice walk down the length of beach we had our own nature call in this lovely but no facilities place and headed home. We really enjoyed the visit and we will be back. Hollywood Beach in Manitoba is a very special place.

Renovations Continue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Life with Misty and Fred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Winter is Coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

All The Windows Are Done!

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Yesterday was a banner day at our little house on the prairie. We got the last of the old windows ripped out and we now have all new ones. When we moved into the house it had all the old original windows from when the house was built circa 1960. We had to change one window right away.

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There was only one spot in the house where we could get a halfway decent cellphone signal. That was near the west window.  You can see why my daughter soon felt her allergies kick into overdrive. This old window on the west side was rotting and full of black mould. We hired a local fellow to come in, rip the old window out and tear out all the crud and rot and install a nice new window.

We wanted to do all the old windows but there was no way we could afford to do it all at once unless we were willing to go into debt. One issue was that the windows could not be replaced by any standard window because the house’s window space was 5 3/4″ not 6″ wide and of nonstandard lengths and widths. So each replacement window had to be custom made.Our provincial power utility has a mechanism whereby you can borrow from them and pay back on your power bill. The problem is they only allow triple pane super high efficency windows and they charge 8% interest which at today’s rates seemed very high. We debated the double pane versus triple pane question. We have lived with both types in our house in our past. Triple pane is the most energy efficient but it comes at a much higher cost than double pane with only a small gain in efficiency. To recover that extra gain in energy savings going from double to triple pane, we would have to live to be about 200 in this small house. Double pane is just as draft free and comfortable feeling when the north wind blows, which is what is really important. Plus there are inspections required before and after with the utility plan and it all just seemed like too much hassle. When we bought the house we promised ourselves we would not create debt fixing it. And so each month I put aside a bit of money into a “window fund” instead and that fund slowly grew.

That first summer we bought some old fashioned screen things that would expand to fit the space and we forced the windows in the bedrooms open and closed with a rubber hammer and many cuss words. The front was just beyond movement even with all of hubby dearest’s strength so we gave up. When I repainted the exterior, I simply sealed in the old window’s storm fronts with calking and painted over everything. We added that thin shrinkable film stuff on the inside to improve the very marginal protection those old sash style single pane windows offered. Since we were away in winter we didn’t have to suffer but we did have to pay the cost of heating the a house with leaky old windows.

By the following spring our window fund had grown enough money to purchase three more windows and have them installed. Fortunately none of these had any rot so we could wait without endangering our health. Three new windows went in and life was instantly much easier in our old house.

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We still had the two biggest windows left. One was in the front room and one was over the kitchen sink. Both windows were impossibly dirty and scratched up and just plain awful. And so we continued our window fund and I increased the monthly deposits after getting an estimate on what two double windows would cost. After much debate we decided to simply get a nice solid picture style window in the front living room space. It had to have a centre post though because of the structural needs of the house so it would be two larger windows in one frame with a post. With the door on one side and another window on the west wall, this north facing window was not required for circulation. Hubby dearest likes to have an open window with lots of natural light where he works. He already had air circulating past him from door to small window and installing a window that could open and close would reduce the light because the window would have to be smaller. The light aspect was more important to him. By going with the double windows that don’t open we saved almost 1/3 on the cost. I did insist on having a window that could opened in the kitchen and who cares about the cost of that!

Today, the last two windows went in! Oh joy, I have a nice kitchen window that opens over the sink. We have a big beautiful picture window in our living area behind Hubby Dearest’s desk.

We have two steps left. When we first moved into this old house I knew we would changing all our windows and repainting eventually but we needed window covering now. I went into the Sear’s clearance catalogue and mail ordered clearance mini blinds and pretty but light very cheap clearance valances for all the windows. After the new window went into our bedroom last year I replaced that mini blind and valance with a proper thermal, light darkening curtain set. This means in June when the sun rises at 4:00am, the room stays dark until I actually get up. I now had to choose proper new curtains for our new windows in the front room. I wanted them to be thermal room darkening as well. This should help compensate for the fact that our new windows are double pane not triple over night and during winter when we are not here. They are on order.

My last step is to convert the window fund to new doors fund. Our screen doors are hanging on by lots of calking and bolts and fussing, along with a few prayers. The old wood doors are almost as bad as those old fashioned windows for energy loss. In the meantime, they have been sanded and repainted while I sanded and painted the interior doors and they look quite good now.

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I can’t begin to say how pleased I am to have all the old single pane sash windows almost out of my life. I did keep the old glass frames to use in my garden as spring cold frames so they will still be around but I won’t have to swing a rubber hammer to get some fresh air. I couldn’t help but do a little happy dance while admiring the new look in front. Our puppy Misty was happy to join me and turn it into a cuddle/wrestle session. Life is good!