Friday, July 31, 2015

A fine crop... of compost

Yesterday was compost day. I spent about three hours sifting and turning the organic material that's been sitting in my three-bin composter for the past month, and I must say it made me pretty happy to see all that good stuff that's going back into my gardens...

It's better than gold (or fertilizer), this stuff, because it's full of nutrients that have been recycled from kitchen scraps and yard waste, and it's the best way to enrich the soil that will grow next year's food. It smells like good dirt, and it holds moisture better than topsoil. I found a few happy little tomato plants growing in the bin before I sifted, so I've transplanted them into pots so they can grow well into the fall.

I've been composting for more years than I can remember -- probably about twenty, but it's only the last eight years or so that I've been doing it more actively. Before I took a Master Composter/Recycler Program offered by the city, I dumped things into my little black stack composter and just expected that it would do its thing -- which it did, but very slowly. Now I know that composting works better when I layer my greens (kitchen scraps and yard waste) with browns (carbon rich materials like autumn leaves, sawdust, dry plant waste) and keep it aerated (I stir it every ten days or so) and moist at all times (it's important to water your compost pile when it's dry, did you know?) I've had even more success since I started vermicomposting using red wiggler worms, because each spring, I turn a few bins of the critters loose in my outdoor composter and their participation seems to make the compost even better.

In my books, the process of making good dirt amendment is quite enjoyable, and I've done a few little experiments with the way I add things to the pile to see how quickly I can get the pile "cooking" (a well-made compost pile actually heats up inside) or to determine how quickly some things will actually compost. 

At the moment, I'm experimenting with a supposedly biodegradable doggie doo bag (filled with compost, not doggie doo). I added the bag two summers ago because I was curious how long it will take to disappear, and I'm always a bit disappointed when it resurfaces. Here's how it looked yesterday, maybe a little less shiny and with a few more holes. I refilled it with partly finished compost and set it in the middle of the pile where it gets the hottest. We'll see how it looks when I turn the pile again in September. Honestly, I'm not expecting much of a change... I'm not sure this plastic is any more biodegradable than any other -- all plastic will biodegrade eventually, but most of it takes a long long time, which is why we should find smarter ways to store stuff. There should be earth friendlier ways of dealing with doggie doo. If you know of any, let me know.

Here are my bins after three hours of work... with lots more space to make more compost.

Helping with nature's recycling program is definitely worth the effort. The three sisters (corn, squash and beans growing in compost-enriched soil) are proof! Taller than me!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Simple Suggestion #238... Save some local fruit

We're reaching the end of raspberry season... so I'm washing and freezing the last few. Saving local fruit is so much better than paying outrageous amounts of money for berries that contribute to global climate change by being trucked in from who-knows-where. (I looked -- $5.49 for 2 cups of frozen strawberries at my local grocery store, product of USA.) At the moment, my freezer also holds organic backyard strawberries, some of Auntie Cathy's Saskatoon berries, and a pail full of Evans cherries from my sisters' tree. My smoothies will be wonderful this winter! Or maybe I'll bake some kuchen...

There are lots of ways to save fruit -- jams and preserves, baking and freezing. Food that's local costs our planet (and often, our pockets) far less than anything that's imported. No carbon emissions, and less packaging! What kind of fruit do you save, and how do you save it? If you have a favourite recipe you feel like sharing, I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dad's marigolds

My father-in-law's yard, 5 hours south of here, is very simple. Stones, a large spruce tree of some sort, and marigolds. I've always loved the marigolds in particular, and last summer, I asked Dad for some seed. He had all kinds of it to share -- probably could have sent me home with a pound of it!

This spring, I decided that I wanted to try to plant my own annuals, so I started Dad's marigold seed, some cherry zinnias, and some coleus cuttings at the end of March. And I'm pleased with the results. The flowers are coming nicely, and I like the pink of the zinnias, the orangey-red of the marigolds, the deep burgundies of the coleus, combined with the white and blue trailing lobelias.

So this post is for Dad, so he can see what's going on. Dad, your marigolds have travelled a little way to brighten our day here. Thanks for sharing!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday reflection #1... A prayer for our earth

I did it! This week, I finally finished reading Laudato Si, Pope Francis' recent encyclical letter, On Care for Our Common Home. If you haven't read it yet, the entire text can be found by clicking here.

I'll go out on a limb and say that Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home is the most important and relevant letter to the world ever written by a pope, and that everyone on the planet should read it. You don't have to be Catholic, or even Christian, for heaven's sake!

Of course, I know that not everyone will read it. Encyclical letters aren't everyone's cup of tea. Even the word encyclical can be intimidating. But really, it's probably the most readable encyclical ever written. No Papal "we" here. Not much flowery language. Francis made sure it was written in non church-ese so it would be accessible to everyone, because care for the earth has to be everyone's cup of tea -- we all live here.

So here's my proposal -- for the next 52 Sundays, I am going to offer some moodlings on Laudato Si, 5 paragraphs each week, for a couple of reasons. One, its ideas are important and imperative for the survival of our planet. Two, it is coming from a man who has both science and religion in his personal history, and who has taken his name and mission from the patron saint of ecology, simplicity, and nature, St. Francis of Assisi. And three, maybe the reflections and practical response of an ordinary lay person who has actually read Laudato Si might encourage more people to read it, think about our environmental and social crises, and find ways to act together to handle these crises before they become more than the earth can handle (there are already warning signs that we're reaching that point). I don't expect miracles very often, but it might be worth a try.

Originally, I was just planning to share a brief review of Laudato Si, but it deserves WAY more attention than that. So bear with me as I write, if you will, and please, feel free to share your own comments, questions, or arguments in the comments section below if you so desire. All respectful comments are worth discussing.

I'm going to start today at the very end of Laudato Si, with A prayer for our earth. I have one little bone to pick with Francis right here. The encyclical is addressed "to all people" and spends some time encouraging us not to engage in dualistic thinking when it comes to ourselves as separate from nature or one another, yet what do Francis and his writing team do? They divide readers at the very end by including two prayers, the first to be prayed by all believers, and the second, by Christians. In my mind, the first is enough! Why must Christians be separate? God is God, and probably doesn't care whether we use a trinitarian formula or not as long as we pray! So I will conclude all my Laudato Si Sunday reflections with the first prayer because I love to imagine standing with people of all faiths, and praying these words:

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: #2... Turn that ship around!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A walk across the Coyote Bridge

Shadow-dog and I have been walking Suzanna to work lately. We've discovered a 45 minute route through quiet neighbourhoods and ravines that takes us by way of the Coyote Bridge. I call it that because two winters ago, I was walking alone through the park toward the bridge and found a coyote watching me from a distance. I felt quite unnerved by its steady gaze, but my blood sugars were low and going around the ravine was out of the question. I pushed ahead, and the animal disappeared into the bushes, but I had to sing loudly until I got through the ravine and across the bridge, just to keep up my courage! I didn't see the coyote again, but it felt like I was being watched...

Friends of ours live near the Coyote Bridge and had wildlife officers visit to tell them to keep an eye out for a coyote and her pups, whose den was just down the ravine outside their backyard fence at the time. I suspect the one who was watching me that day last January was one of those pups all grown up.

Anyway, the Coyote Bridge is a gorgeous spot, a tiny example of the glory of God's creation (which I'm thinking a lot about as I finish reading Pope Francis' encyclical on Care for Our Common Home). There's just a small trickle of creek in a bed which is often dry unless it's been raining. Except for the traffic noise that comes from Gretzky Drive, I'd think I was walking an old wilderness trail. A coyote path.

Today's 15 minute post is my way of remembering this summer, and my walks to work with Suzanna. Precious time, in gorgeous surroundings.

Monday, July 20, 2015

What a weekend!

My silent auction prize -- the family in 1955.
Remember that probable Guiness-Book-of-Records-family I once moodled about? Well, this past weekend there was a pretty wonderful reunion of them all, many of their children, grandchildren, and a few great-grandchildren. As reunions go, it was chaotic and challenging for the introverts in the crowd, but it was also a good opportunity to remember and appreciate our roots and our wings, and our connections with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Eugenia and Wendelin, my grandparents, had 12 children (all still living with the combined ages of 905 years -- at least until the four August birthdays), and 77 grandchildren, of which I am one (#30). Being born in the middle ranks, I was fortunate enough to connect with some of my older cousins, with my age group, and with some of my younger cousins as a willing teenage entertainer of the little ones at family weddings -- they were irresistibly cute in my books! I was also fortunate to be shipped to Saskatchewan for a couple of summer vacations (and my one and only fishing trip) with cousins, and a few of them joined us on camping trips as babysitters when we were little, or stayed with us in the city for swimming lessons and/or to get out of their parents' hair for a week or two in summer.

Of course, a reunion of 250 people is something of an exercise in frustration, because half the faces present were un-place-able. Our last reunion was ten years ago, and we've increased in number and all gotten older, so in many cases it was pretty much impossible to know who's who and who belongs to who among the younger set, except when there was an undeniable family resemblance.

I'll admit that, as an introvert from 'away', I really lowered my expectations of enjoyment for this reunion, and that probably helped create many sparkling moments...

- Returning to the 'land of living skies' (Saskatchewan) and setting up our camper just as this distant downpour reached the regional park...

- Watching a Saskatchewan Roughrider's game out at Uncle Mark's original farmhouse (now owned by his sons), singing along with the 'First Down chant,' and being present for the high fives after a touchdown (unfortunately, the Riders lost in the end)...

- Camping at the lake where we swam as kids...

- An early morning cemetery walk, finding the relatives who are awaiting us in heaven...
- Swimming in a sea of yellow shirts...
- Noticing the amazing young adults that my cousins' kids have become...
- Listening to my youngest daughter converse in French with a cousin-in-law who lived in Paris for 23 years...
- Hanging out at the kids' colouring table with little second-cousins Keira, Ben, Sam and others, and their moms and dads... and seeing the 'big kids' enjoying colouring, too!

- Staying out of the way of all the 5- to 10-year-old energy as the kids played among the tables in the hall...
- Getting updates on the happenings at the bunnock tournament (that I wish I could have been part of, but you can't do everything...)

- Watching a skit by the 'original twelve' unofficial Guiness Book of Records holders...

- Cousin Sara's impression of her fave celebrity, Dr. Phil...
- Playing 'Family Feud' with questions that pertained to the grandchildren's memories of Grandma and Grandpa...
- Hearing a recording of Grandpa Wendelin singing German songs...
- Singing together as a big group...
- Dancing the butterfly with a 40-year-old cousin and her 4-year-old niece...
- Watching the 'originals' dancing the Russian polka together...
- Big circle dancing, like a conga line, following Phil S. out one door of the hall and back in another...

- Sitting inside or standing outside the overheated hall swapping stories...
- Kibbitzing with cousins as we cleaned up/closed the bar around 1 a.m....

- Picking 2 gallons (8 litres) of Saskatoon berries at Auntie Cathy's U-Pick at 8 am on Sunday morning, and getting a garden tour...
- Church music that felt like home and made us all smile as we sang along...
- The comment by Uncle Don (only child and in-law) about "winning the lottery" when he joined the family...
- A picture of Marias who span 30 years in our ages -- born with 14-16 years in between (how cool is that?)...

- Short chats (never long enough to really catch up)...
- Quick last hugs...
- A peaceful pause at the historic Battle River Trestle on the way home...

One thing is certain -- we descendants of Eugenia and Wendelin have been blessed by God in more ways that we can count. Not that there haven't been challenges and losses, but definitely, the blessings win the day.

Thank you, God, for Family with a capital F. And a good, good weekend.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Simple Suggestion # 237... Water less, mulch more

The south side of our house is our yard's hot spot, ridiculously hot in the summer. It's got its own micro climate, situated in the fifteen or so feet between two bungalows and with a rock path where we dug a channel to funnel water away from the foundations. With the sun beating on the side of our house, the temperatures can reach the 40's C (100's F) when really, they're in the high 20's and low 30's (80's-90's). In spite of that, in the soil along our foundation I continue to plant nasturtiums every year because their bright flower faces make me happy -- and they're tasty in salads, too.

Of course, yard hot spots require a fair bit of water, especially in the near-drought conditions in Alberta this summer. I've been running along the south side of our house with my watering can almost daily, ensuring that the nasturtiums have enough to drink. But today's a cooler day, so I took a little time to reduce my watering efforts by adding more mulch to the nasturtium beds.

The nasturtiums below are pretty happy -- when I planted them back in May, there was a layer of leaves on top of their bed that got mixed into the soil.

But their friends to the west didn't have that luxury as the wind blows everything into the east corner and sweeps the west bed clean, leaving bare soil. These plants are smaller, and a bit sunburnt.

What I really should have done was dig some leaves into all the soil before I planted. Note to self: do that in the fall. For now, though, I added some damp and matted leaves around all these plants as I still have bags of them from last fall for use in my compost pile.

Here are the beds, happily mulched.

Watering efforts won't be so frequent now, and I'm betting the slightly sunburnt look of the west bed will dissipate over time. Mulching gives soil and plant roots protection from the sun, adds organic matter for the plants to absorb, makes it harder for weeds to take root, and prevents moisture from evaporating as quickly.

All of these are reasons my city is presently pushing a grasscycling campaign -- if people leave grass clippings on their lawns rather than bagging them up and sending them to the landfill, they're effectively applying a layer of moisture-retaining, nitrogen rich mulch that will improve the health of their grass (and the city won't have to spend so much effort taking hundreds of thousands of bags to the composting facility). Here's a recent video of our mayor promoting grasscycling. I love that he doesn't take himself too seriously and can ham it up for a good cause!

Mulch can be made of almost anything organic -- even weeds (stripped of their seed heads) can be placed around plants to hold in the soil's moisture. Sometimes, as I weed, I leave the unwanted seedless plants on the soil to mulch and give added nutrients.

Do you have any yard hot spots? If so, mulching can cool them down, cut weeds, and save water. I'll post pictures from these efforts later in the summer, so you can see what I mean...

Happy mulching!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Garden days

It was too hot last week to spend a lot of time out in our gardens, but we had a nice rain on Sunday, and things have cooled down. So today and tomorrow I'll be tackling weeds, turning compost, and finding the rock garden rocks that have sunk into the soil. Lots to do. Wonder if I can convince my teenager to help me? Could be tricky as she has a slew of new library books to read.

Anyway, here are a few pics:

Here's the funky sea holly that didn't do anything last summer,
but is making up for it now. Maybe it prefers dry weather?

Gaillardia, zinnias, delphiniums 
and our birdbath hanging in the Russian Olive tree.

The yellow lilies are so showy!

And the orange ones are holding their own, too.

There are smatterings of colour all over the front yard,
at least until the lilies finish.

Sweet peas are my absolute favourite.

In the vegetable garden, things are taking off, too.
Here are Landon and Christina's 2000-year-old squash. 
Still no idea what the fruit will be like.

And the three sisters (beans, corn and squash) 
are starting to overflow their box, too.

The garden is at its lushest, weeds included. 
I've got my work cut out for me!
Enjoy summer while it lasts!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

One week later

One week ago, I was saying goodbye to my husband, who was about to be flown to the cardiac care unit in Edmonton with a suspected heart attack. I was gathering my two oldest girls, and we were trying to get our heads around how to pack up the tent trailer and get back to Edmonton ourselves. And I was praying hard, please let him be okay.

One week later, after a couple of days in the CCU with the families of people who really did have cardiac issues, I find myself praying for heart patients and their families, for doctors, nurses, and counsellors who care for them, and especially for the woman who passed me in the hallway, sobbing her heart out.

Bless all those who need your blessing today, my God, especially those whose hearts are frail or afraid. Help them to know that you are close to them through the care of those around them. And bless our healthcare professionals and give them patience and peace enough to pass along to those who most need it.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015


The morning was perfect. We woke to gorgeous sunshine, and had a good but simple breakfast at our tent trailer, followed by a fantastic time rafting on the Athabasca River with Maligne Rafting Adventures until lunchtime. Then Lee accidentally whacked his right hand hard on the sharp corner of a solid wooden podium when he went to thank Caleb, our guide, with a handshake. "Yow! That hurts!" Lee said, and offered Caleb his other hand instead.

Within minutes, all the colour left Lee's face, and he was sitting on a bench, cradling his hand, his head between his knees, feeling nauseous. Needing fresh air, he moved to a chair near the door. We hovered around him anxiously, and for a few seconds he blanked out and there was no response, though his eyes were open. Then he had something that looked like a small seizure (which we think now was a vasovagal response), and I asked if someone could call 911. A Maligne Adventures guy already had. Lee came back to himself for a moment, complaining that he wasn't feeling well and couldn't see properly. I was called to the phone to talk to the 911 operator, and Lee faded out again, but our daughter had just taken a first aid course and knew to pinch his trapezius muscle, bringing him out of it, and she helped him out of his jacket. In the meantime, I only managed to answer a few basic questions before the ambulance appeared at the door. Lee was still pretty woozy and feeling awful, so the paramedics gave him oxygen and put him on a stretcher before wheeling him to the ambulance.

The hospital was two blocks away (Jasper is a small town of only 4,000 residents and maybe 10,000 summer sightseers) and we found ourselves the only people in the Emergency ward with a team of three paramedics, three or four nurses and two doctors. To make a long story short, Lee's lack of colour, abnormal blood pressure and heart rate patterns, and tired shoulder muscles from paddling a river raft for an hour made him look just like the victim of a heart attack. He was sent by ambulance to Hinton and was flown by air ambulance from there to Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Cardiac Care Unit.

And he's fine now, except for his swollen hand, which may or may not have a slight fracture. The heart attack enzymes the cardiologists expected to find in several blood tests never materialized, so they are running a few more tests to be sure that everything is as normal as can be, that this whole thing was just a shock reaction to damaging a nerve centre in his hand. Lee is patiently waiting to come home, and our guests from Norway, who joined us for our trip to Jasper, got to try out the waterpark at West Edmonton Mall instead of seeing the Athabasca Icefields. They've been most helpful, and are good sports.

I am so thankful that this whole event wasn't as serious as we first thought, that it happened in a small town with an excellent medical team, that Lee's care is so good, and that we all managed to return to Edmonton in one piece, tent trailer in tow. We are so blessed.

Thank you, God, for everything. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

July garden report

Time for a garden report. Sorry to put you through this, my friends, but it's my best way to keep track of how things grow from year to year. It's interesting to look back on garden moodlings from the last few years just to see how our gardens have changed. If you're curious, click on gardening under the Top Ten Topics to the right.

This year, I'm loving my raised bed boxes, as they make weeding, watering, and picking so much easier. I don't worry as much as I should about what grows between the boxes (it's probably time to hoe again), I only water where water is needed instead of sprinkling the entire garden and encouraging the weeds as well as the plants. and I don't have to bend quite as far, or sit on my haunches so much. You could say I'm loving this style of gardening, though a skeptical neighbour was overheard saying, "What's wrong with old-fashioned rows?"

Anyway, here's how the garden grows these days...

It's time to plant more lettuce...

Carrots are still patchy because it's been so dry...

Cucumbers are doing alright (I water every day)...

Something is eating the potato plants...

The onions are holding their own, but don't like it so dry either...

The peppers and tomatoes are happy with the heat...

My goal to always have something blooming out front is working out so far...

All in all, things are pretty good. I'm freezing strawberries 
and looking forward to raspberries, too.

God gives the growth, and I do the grunt work.
Stay tuned... the 2000-year-old squash may yet take over the yard!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In Canada on Canada Day

Happy Canada Day, everyone! Here's a lovely little tune by Dave Hadfield and his astronaut brother -- thanks to Charleen for sending it my way again this year. Love that loon singing right at the end...