Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spring is Sprung

Finally spring is here!  We had to wait a few extra weeks this year--I know that for sure, because I keep a garden journal from April 1 until sometime in September, and our temperatures have been way below normal for May.  But the good weather has finally arrived.

The cottonwoods in town have put out their leaves, and they are just a marvel to behold.  Now, cottonwoods are not a well regarded tree, although the pioneers loved them because they are quite willing to grow on the prairie.  A little later on we'll all be very annoyed with them because of the vast amounts of "cotton fluff" that they shed.  But this week they are a glory.  The new leaves are clean and shiny, a fresh green that is bursting with new life, fresh as baby skin.

One of the glories of spring is the chorus of birdsong.  We are loaded with birds here, since we have planted perhaps two or three thousand shrubs and trees on our eight acre yard. Many of the shrubs are fruit bearing, such as these Nanking Cherries. 
There are also four 350 ft. long rows of Saskatoons (very similar to a blueberry, but with seeds).  All of this makes wonderful bird habitat.

Over winter there are the usual bird species: crows, magpies, and the occasional owl.  But when spring arrives, so do the birds.  This year there seem to be fewer robins, but more blackbirds.  The robin has a beautiful song, but the blackbird sounds like a rusty hinge.  In fact, one species is called the rusty blackbird because of its call.

We also see swans in the spring, but they don't stick around.  They head on farther north for the summer.  But we do have a long term resident Canada Goose pair.  Now the past two years there have been three hanging around together, and that puzzles us.  Since geese are monogamous and mate for life, who is the third wheel?  Is it one of their hatchlings from a previous year?  Do geese ever do that?

A new addition to the yard this year is a pair, or perhaps two pairs, of Mallard ducks.  One morning there were three Mallards on our little landscape pond.  One drake was chasing the other, pecking at his back feathers, while the hen floated unconcernedly nearby.  But that Mallard hen is a real puzzle in that almost every morning, between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. we see her sitting on the gravel near the end of the driveway.  Here's a picture of her, accompanied by a mourning dove:

Whatever is she doing?  One morning she and the drake were standing there together for a little while.  He left and she sat down for her regular stay.  I can just imagine him saying, "Well, okay then, if that's what you have to do!"

One morning she was perched on top of the bark chip pile, and that really amazed me, because last year that was the favorite hangout for a pair of fox kits.  These little guys played king of the mountain there almost every morning, also between 5 and 6 a.m.  And foxes do leave an almost skunkish odor around.  We really enjoyed seeing these little guys grow up. They were beautiful animals, but full of mischief.  One morning they started ripping apart the bales of peat moss, and then we had to discourage them a bit. 

The large greenhouse is a wonderful nesting site in the spring, for we close it up each night, and the nesting finches are perfectly safe from any predators.  This past week we had some infestation of bugs on the plants in there, and there were several yellow finches making a feast of it.  Good for them and good for the plants!

I love living the rural life, being part of the natural world, enjoying the birds and the beasts, the fresh air, the sunrises and sunsets.  We are indeed blessed!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Fun Afternoon Project

For several years I've had a "patio dress" from Sears that I put on in the morning so I'm presentable, without actually getting dressed.  We used to have housecoats, and then we had muumuus, and this is just an updated muumuu.  But it was getting pretty ragged and needed to be replaced.  

About two weeks ago a friend gave me a whole whack of material samples, 100% cottons, and I had a great time sorting through them.  One interesting group was 14" long pieces of width of fabric (42") gold polkadot fabric with changing hues across the width.  This was just the ticket for a replacement of the patio dress.  

I cut the old "dress" apart to use as a pattern and in no time, serging the seams, had the new one ready.  Then I spent two hours handsewing the bindings and the hem.  The result is a really jazzy garment I'm calling a "pop-on".  Just pop it on when you get up in the morning.  Here's a front and back view, since the colors change throughout.
Can't help but feeling cheerful when you're dressed in something this colorful!

Today I spent time in the garden.  Put in 160 Sweet Spanish Onion sets.  The potatoes are showing in several places, nice dark green, crinkled leaves.  But the first planting I did several weeks ago of cold weather crops never put up one leaf.  I think it was just too cold and too dry for them to germinate, so this afternoon I planted some more spinach, lettuce and snap peas.  I also put in the two zucchini plants, two acorn squash, and two cucumber plants that had been started in the greenhouse.  But the parsley is going to live on the window sill of the laundry room.  Last summer the parsley was doing fine in the garden and then suddenly died.  We couldn't figure out what was wrong, but we were without parsley all winter. So this year I'll put it in a good sized pot on the windowsill right away.  

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sam!

Sam was born in our house fourteen years ago today.  His mother was a stray that I adopted, not knowing she was pregnant.  She had these four adorable little "kitty boys" in our back hall.  Three were born totally white, and started to develop some coloring quite soon.  One was black, and seemed totally different, even in terms of the shape of his head.  Could he have had a different father from the other three?

When the "boys" were four weeks old, their mother was hit by a car and killed.  We bottle fed the "boys" over the weekend, and then introduced them to kitty chow, soaked in milk.  They did just fine. Sam is the adventuresome one, climbing in the shrub.

We were able to find homes for three of them, and we kept Sam for our own.  We've never had a cat that lasted more than three years--they get killed by cars, or succumb to illness.  But Sam is the perfect illustration of the "scaredy cat", and I think that's why he's lasted while the others didn't.  He'd always rather run than fight.  Perhaps that's due to his being neutered, but I tend to think it's just his character.  He's also not a great mouser, but just having a cat in the house helps to keep the mice away.

Sam went through a stage in which
he resembled a teen age boy--all long legs and a skinny, small body on top of them.  But over the years he's developed into a beautiful animal.  His coloring is gorgeous, with beautiful blue eyes.  He's a very graceful animal--yes, I know all cats are graceful, but Sam even more so.  When he sits down, his paws are neatly placed together, and his tail curls precisely round his feet.

Sam likes to be where I am.  If go into my sewing room, he'll soon show up there.  Greet me, need a few caresses, and then he'll lie down somewhere close to me.

If I'm sitting on the couch reading, and that covers a lot of the time, Sam is there beside me.  But it's often not quite enough just to be together on the couch.  Sam extends a paw just far enough to touch my leg as we relax together.  If I put my hand over his paw, he withdraws it.  We do these things by his rules, not mine.   

But he's been part of the family for so long now, we have well established routines, and that's what we stick with.  I wonder how long Sam will be with us?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Fun F.O.

Last week I decided I'd like to try something fun and original, and today I finished this little (19" x 22") wall hanging. 

 I'm calling it "Green Dreams #2" because last year I made "Green Dreams #1" as a present for
 son #1.  "Green Dreams #1" was made at a quilting class at a nearby Quilting Store and was
 just my interpretation of the technique that was being taught, so it doesn't count as an original.

Here's a closeup of some of the quilting on #2:

This time I was trying to be quite creative, and make an impression of a tropical garden.  

A few years ago I made a wall hanging using whatever flannel scraps I had.  I cut them into strips, as wide as the scrap would allow, and then sewed them into 6" blocks.  Some blocks had 9 squares, some had 12, and some had 36.  When I started to assemble them I realized the quilt needed to be "cooled down" with an inner border.  And once the borders were on, I saw they needed some decorative quilting.  Here's the result.  I thought it was a lot of fun to see how the block sizes changed, but somehow all fit together:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Small World

Well, our big holiday Monday was a bust!  We sold less than 10% of the amount we sold last year on that holiday.  Fortunately, it's not a holiday like Halloween, when all the orange and black candies and the costumes are finished for a whole year.  We will still be able to sell our stock, just as soon as the good weather arrives.  It's been promised for this coming weekend.

But the cold, dark day was enlivened by unexpected company.  I knew Kathy when we were kids.  We went to the same school and the same church.  Her family lived about 5 blocks from our place. But that was in Michigan, not Alberta.  In the 70's I went to a Ladies' Rally at a church in Lethbridge, and there was Kathy.  We said to each other, "What are you doing here?"  Then we lost track of each other again, until about three years ago, when we ran into each other in High River.  It's good to catch up on old times, so I was happy to see Kathy and her husband Cal when they stopped by yesterday for tea on their way home.  I was especially happy to see 
that she's doing quite well now, because last December she almost died, due to being given the wrong blood thinner.  She was completely out of it for two weeks, spent a long time in Intensive Care, and almost three months in the hospital.  She's looking good now!

We got to talking about unexpected meetings, or relationships uncovered.  One of the most unusual instances of that in my life happened when we moved to Regina.  The pastor of the Indian and Metis Fellowship invited us over and his wife and I got to playing the game of trying to place each other.  (Our nickname for this game is "Dutch Bingo".)  She asked my maiden name, but that rang no bells with her.  But when she told me her maiden name, I said, That was my grandmother's maiden name!  We discovered that her grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister, and that was in the 1800's in the Netherlands.  Small world indeed!

Monday, May 18, 2009

We Were Warned

Today in Canada we celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday, always on the third Monday of May.  This is our traditional first Long Weekend of the summer, comparable to the Memorial Day Weekend in the U.S.  

At the Garden Centre, this is also traditionally the highest sales day of the season.  We did pretty well on Saturday, coming within $250. of our highest sales day ever.  Of course, both Saturday and Sunday we enjoyed beautiful summery weather.  

Today is a different story.  This is the scene that greeted me this morning.
This unseasonal weather had been
predicted as long ago as last Thursday.  Too bad for the campers out to enjoy the first long weekend of the summer, and too bad for garden centers who look forward to selling lots of stock today.

We did have two customers already this morning.  And actually, it's nice for them.  There are no crowds here; they get lots of help and attention, and we're happy to see them.

Because it's such wintry weather, I loaded up the little crockpot with the following layers: bay leaf, cubed beef, cubed potatoes, chopped celery, onions and carrots, peas and corn.  In four hours that should be a nicely blended stew, appropriate to the scene outdoors.  But I'd rather be serving a summer dish, something from the barbecue!

Now I just need to decide: do I want to sew, knit or read today.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

F.O.'s and A Different Delivery

We had a delivery by an unusual means this week.  A friend of ours knew we needed some bags of soil picked up from a supplier in Calgary.  He happened to be there, and made the pickup for us, but we were amused by the means of delivery: he drives a tour bus, and was in Calgary for the day with time to spare, so he went to the supplier with this huge highway bus.  The guys on the loading dock were quite amused.  When he got home he picked up his wife and son, and they helped us unload.  I took the picture on my camcorder with the "night shot" on, since it was almost ten o'clock by the time they got here. 

 There was plenty of light to see by yet, as our days are really lengthening.  When I got up this morning at 5:20, the sky was bright with sunrise colors, although the sun was not up yet.  Likewise, in the evening the sky stays bright long after sunset.  By the summer solstice we will have sunrise shortly after 5 a.m. and sunset shortly before 10 p.m.  I just love those beautiful summer evenings.  And the early mornings are a great time to be in the garden.  But we do pay for it in December, when we get the opposite: very short days, and very long nights. Great time of the year for knitting, quilting and reading.

This is a pattern from Bella Nonna Design Studio in Kennewick, WA (  The petals on the topiary came in a kit, but you had to buy the fabric separately.  Linda B. had bought the pattern and petals, but figured she'd never get around to doing it, so I bought it from her.  It was a pretty simple project.  The petals are just glued on (though you can see a few fell off the bottom bloom).  I thought it was kind of cute, and when I brought it in to show at the LQS, Linda P. convinced me to leave it there (along with two other projects) for them to display for a while.  It's hanging from the ceiling there, with the original shown below and another original that I haven't posted.

Here's a little placemat that I finished this week, made from a pattern I found on the net at www.  The neat thing about this paper pieced pattern is that you can cut all 1-1/4" strips ahead of time, and there's no wasted fabric.  On the site, the pattern is even more striking, because there are one more horizontal row, and one less vertical row, and the borders are half green and half white, which make the inner part blend into the border.  Check it out, it's a great site.

About two weeks ago I finally got around to making a new cover for my EuroPro Pressing System.  I bought this in 1996 for around $600, and have been VERY happy with it.  There's nothing like it for creating a flat intersection, or a sharp crease in trousers.  It has a reservoir to hold water for continuous steaming, and a vacuum that pulls the steam immediately through the fabric.  Red Deer Sewing Centre told me that new covers are impossible to get, so I made one, and am very pleased.  I also picked the  lint out of the exhaust screen from the vacuum fan, and that upped the vacuum power by quite a bit.  It's like new again!
About three years ago I wanted to use some colors I don't ordinarily choose, so I bought these fabrics.  I wanted to use a striped fabric at an angle, and worked on creating a new block that would feature this.  After about four different 
versions  I arrived at one I liked that was simple enough
(only three pieces to a quarter block).  I made up this wall hanging (or lap quilt) and was quite pleased with the result.  Then our quilting group made a trip to Red Deer for the big spring Quilt Show, and what did I see there?  A quilt with this identical block.  Guess I wasn't so original after all! My creation is now hanging in the local quilting shop.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mother's Day Treat

On Mother's Day I was treated to phone calls from our two daughters, and younger son.  Our older son had phoned half a week earlier.  It's too bad that all our kids live far away from us; the nearest is an eight hour drive from here.  But I'm very thankful for generous phone plans and email, with pictures.  In fact, as I mentioned earlier, we had a nice visit with our B.C. son via Skype some time ago. 

When our children were growing up, long distance phone calls were expensive and reserved for really serious occasions--an announcement to our parents that we'd had a baby, or a call from them that my brother had died following heart surgery.  Those long distance phone calls even had a different sound.  When you picked up the phone you heard the kind of static that told you it was long distance calling. 
Of course, we didn't have a 
computer or email then either, so I tried to
send snapshot duplicates quite often.  Those
were the days we used an Instamatic
camera to grab quick shot of something cute
going on.  Like the morning the two youngest got into my underwear draw and found a unique use for panties, like a neck scarf?

Or the time #1 daughter came home from Southern Alberta Summer Games with a gold medal in high jump. Lovely memories to have. And oodles of others for me to call to mind on Mother's Day.

But life goes on, children grow up and move away.  Grandchildren arrive and they begin to grow up.  Our oldest grandchild is now completing his third year of studies at York University in Toronto, and doing marvelously well there.  We're so proud of him. The youngest grandchild will begin Kindergarten this fall.  

It shocks me that life goes by so quickly.  I suppose that's a cliche, but it's a cliche because it's true.  I loved the time of having babies and children.  But I wasn't one of those moms who is lost because her children leave home.  There are always tons of interesting things to do.  

So here's to LIFE, and especially to Mothers, Fathers, Children and Grandchildren.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Plant Delivery

Today we received our order of trees and shrubs from Jeffrey's Nursery in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba.  Of course, the weather today is cold and windy.  So often this order has arrived in wretched weather, and we have been busy potting in the wind, snow and rain.  At least it's not snowing today.  We've had a few light rain showers, but not enough to feel we can't be outdoors in it.
Rather than write a lot about it, I'll show some pictures of the unloading and the stock around the Garden Centre.


We're ready for the long weekend, which is traditionally our time of heaviest sales.  Now we just need some lovely summery weather to inspire people to come and buy!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Planting Potatoes

The weather has finally begun to feel more like spring is in the air.  Sunday we actually reached a high of +20.  There was a lot of gusty wind early in the day and again late in the day.  Jim and I had a leisurely walk around our landscape (the 5 acres with the house and greenhouses) to see what was stirring.  We found one Pasque Flower blooming.  When the flowers dry, they make a nice addition to any arrangement.  But don't touch them, because they disintegrate and the fluffy little seeds float away. The Forsythia were also in bloom, but only on the lowest branches which had been under the snow cover, which was pretty minimal this past winter.  Tulips are poking through and the poppies have been leafed out for at least a week.  In the garden the rhubarb has poked fresh green leaves through to the light.

We were surprised by how dry the topsoil is.  Deeper down there is moisture, but we do need some rain.  Certainly more than the few drops that fell last night, which were just enough to make the downspout drip outside the bedroom window.

So I decided that today was right for planting potatoes.  I started with about 40 hills of Norland reds.  I like them scrubbed, cut up and boiled lightly.  Add a little butter and some chopped parsley, and they taste wonderful and look bright on a dinner plate.
And then finished with a bed of 33 Russet Burbank.  They are nice peeled, boiled and mashed, or scrubbed and baked.  

We used to grow Yukon Gold, but I don't like them because they become so mushy with even just a little boiling.  Last year we had Bintjes for our white potato, but I found they tend to be too mushy also.

I generally prepare the potatoes for dinner a few hours ahead, either scrubbing or peeling them, and then boiling them for just 3 or 4 minutes.  Leave the lid on and let them stand in the water they've boiled in, and by 1 p.m. dinnertime, all you need to do is drain them and steam off the remaining water over a high heat.  Sometimes I cut them into wedges, oil and shake on some salt, pepper and seasonings and roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

When I finished the second bed of potatoes, I saw something that was new to me.  There is a shelter belt just north of the garden beds, and among the trees there are some Larch.  They are one of the first ones to green up in the spring, and in the fall they turn a beautiful, bright yellow.  I hadn't realized that they produce cones, and what I saw in front of me were the spring form of the cones: a beautiful little pineapple-like, delicately colored "blossom".  So here is a photo to share:  

Larch, or Tamarack, are interesting in that they have needles but are deciduous.  But this is the first time that I realized they have cones.  These pretty little conelets are only about a half inch, while the mature cones are one and a half inches.  I was really taken with the beauty of these delicate little cones with their pale green and pinkish lavendar coloring.  They were a lovely discovery in my day. 

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sad Looking Buns

Last post I promised you a recipe.  Here it is:
Cardamon Fruit Buns
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup water
1 egg
3 TBS butter
4 cups flour (can mix white and w.w.)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsp. yeast
Load all ingredients into breadmaker.  Process on dough cycle. When complete, remove and knead into the dough one cup of glazed fruit (candied fruit peel).  Shape into 12 or 15 buns.  Place in 9 x 13 pan, lined with parchment paper.  Let rise until doubled.  Bake in 350 oven for 20 minutes.  Cool.

These are very good with a slice of cheese.

Now, I have to tell you that this recipe is unreliable.  Sometimes these buns turn out terrific, and sometimes, like this afternoon, they look kind of pitiful.  I've tried several different ways of handling them, and am just not sure what the secret is.

Last Saturday I completely abandoned my first batch.  Actually threw them into the garbage.  They did not rise.  Period.  And they were never going to.  After about 4 hours I gave up on them and dumped them.  Then I started another batch.  Which turned out just lovely.

The original recipe called for evaporated milk.  I really don't think that's necessary.  The original recipe also did not call for the glazed fruit peel.  But it adds so much, I always include it.

I've tried adding the peel to the dough when the cycle beeps "Add".  I've also tried just kneading the peel into the dough when the cycle is complete.  I think that's the better option.

When they turn out well, they are light and delicious.  Today's batch looks pretty iffy, but I haven't tried one yet.

The one thing I haven't tried changing is the cardamom.  But could cardamom interfere so much with the ability of the yeast to raise the dough?