Pandemic GardeningJul 19, 2020

I've had a garden for years, and we always like trying something new. This year, as Covid-19 made itself known at the beginning of the year and as we started our social distancing and shut-downs in March, there were several articles about potential food shortages and all kinds of predictions of what was to come. We had the time and we had the supplies, so we decided to increase out planting space from our usual 8'x10' garden plot, and our u-box, by constructing five 2'x3' raised garden boxes. We put these four in the front yard. 

We have our favourites but because we had the space, we decided to try a few new things this year, for a total of 22 types of fruits and vegetables.  It's been two months since we planted; here's how things have progressed. * means it was our first time.

1. Watermelon*.  We planted the seeds. They sprouted and shot up two inches with their bright green leaves. They're still alive and two inches tall. RESULT: utter and complete failure.

2. Pumpkin*.  We planted 12 seeds not expecting them all to sprout. Surprise! 4 went into a box and the remaining 8 lined our backyard fence.  We have 9 remaining plants, averaging 1 viable pumpkin per vine. We say viable because while there are many buds, not all the wee baby pumpkins get fertilized.

3. Spaghetti Squash*. We planted 12 seeds and again they all sprouted. We gave away 7 and planted the remaining 5. We currently have 3 viable squashes.

4. Purple beans. These took up a lot of space in the garden last year so we moved them to a pair of garden boxes. They loved it and climbed the frame. Now we're waiting for them to start producing fruit.

4. Potatoes. We planted two. The first shot up right away. The second had a two to three week delay, but they are growing like mad now. We are using a new potato box this year, and ensured it had very good drainage after our disastrous summer last year. We're leaving these for a while longer, hoping to get a good haul come fall.

5-9. My herb box. Parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme. My basil and parsley have gone wild and I love it. My oregano is a little slow, and the rosemary and thyme are fine.

10. Corn*.  We had 12 stalks come up. They are starting to flower, or whatever the term is for corn, and so far only three stalks are showing signs of producing cobs, but we still have time.

11-14.  Zucchini, onions, carrots, beets (and corn.) This is our main garden. The zucchinis are across the short (far) end. We've had four zucchinis so far this year. The first was about 500gr (1 lb) and the largest was over 1000gr (over 2 lbs.) We thinned the beets for the first time ever this year, and wow, did they take advantage of the space. They're huge! As a bonus, we were able to sauté the beet tops, so that was another meal. The carrots are well on their way. The onions are all tops and no bottoms at the moment, so we wait. 

15. Cucumbers. Some neighbours gave us an open packet of seed, so we started these from scratch. They are good slicer cukes, but did not grow up the ladder like ones we've planted in previous years. We will have to buy cucumbers for pickling, but we did get some fresh ones to eat.

16. Peppers. The selection was limited when we got to the nursery, so we only got three (2 Cajun Reds, and 1 Hungarian Wax). All are hotter than jalapeños. Unfortunately, the thieving squirrels around here ran off with two of them! One was so hot, they took one bite left it in the garden. We'll have a few Cajun ones left for salsa, but they aren't as good as the Mucho Nacho peppers we had last year. No photos because we've had to put covers on them to protect the remaining peppers from the furry thieves. 

17. Tomatoes.  We tried a type of cherry tomato from seed and they look like they are going to produce exceptionally well! They're green right now, but soon! We also bought two large, beefsteak-style tomatoes. They are also looking good. We won't get enough to supply what we need for our canning needs, but we'll definitely be able to contribute some homegrown tomatoes to the sauces.

18. Green onions. We have limited success when we plant these in our main garden. And NO success when we plant them in the tomato box. RESULT: complete and utter failure. Nothing even sprouted.

19-22. Strawberries, Raspberries, Saskatoon berries, and Rhubarb. Our u-box garden has three parts. One has strawberries. We finally had a good year, and got enough for a couple bowls of ice cream. Now that we know how much water they need, we anticipate good things next year.  Our raspberries grow quickly and get quite bushy, but we never get any berries. RESULT: utter and complete failure. It's been 4 years, so we are pulling the plants. Our rhubarb did well; we've pulled a few stalks already and used about 12 cups in baking and jamming.  We have a saskatoon bush at another property, and it does well every other year. This is an other year. We got an ice cream bucket of berries (about 2.2 kg/5lbs) so far - enough for jam, muffins, and pie. 

We're very fortunate to have the space to do this, and to have had it as a hobby for several years so we weren't starting from scratch this summer.  I hope you new gardening are enjoying digging in the dirt, and are getting some tasty veggies to reward your hard work. And to my fellow long-term gardeners, happy hoeing!

Happy birthday, AmericaJul 4, 2020

I hope my American friends are enjoying a great Independence Day (as part of a long weekend, if they can.) Barbecues, camping, and fireworks for the win!

FALL A MILLION TIMES is out today!May 4, 2020

Need some good luck? Let's see if some rubs off from Andie and Freddy, who won both the lottery and in love!

She's a retired hockey player. He's a retired soldier. And now they're both millionaires.

How do you start over? You find someone to lean on.

Andie Ronald has all kinds of luck. The bad kind where an injury ends her professional hockey career, and the good kind where she wins part of a fifty-million-dollar jackpot a couple months later. Now she's back in Hopewell with nothing but time on her hands, and a dream that may be out of reach if she doesn't accept a little help from her friends—especially Freddy.

Co-winner Freddy Turnbull used his share of the lottery winnings to buy a fixer-upper and start his own construction company, but after a series of accidents, all the plans he's building with Andie could come tumbling down.

When Andie puts up walls to protect herself after a huge loss, Freddy must share his own problems before he can help Andie with hers. These two fiercely independent millionaires must remember strength comes from helping each other up and dusting each other off before they get to the happy ending they deserve.

This full-length sweet romance is available everywhere:

Amazon -- Kobo -- Apple Books -- Google Play -- Barnes & Noble

Back of the pantry mealsApr 16, 2020

Hi, my friends. I hope you are all hanging in there. If you have already re-organized the pantry, cleaned the fridge, and alphabetized your spice rack out of boredom, I'm sure you've discovered some dusty bottles of spices and condiments in the corner. Now is the time to put them to use.

I'm in the same boat, so I've put together a bunch of easy recipes which might ease the strain of "What's for dinner" when the pickings get slim.

Mustard Crusted Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 lb pork tenderloin 
  • 2-3 tbsp Dijon mustard 
  • 2-3 tbsp bread crumbs 
  • 1 tbsp Herbes de Provence, or 1/2 tbsp dried thyme* and 1/2 tbsp dried rosemary*

Brush mustard evenly over tenderloin. Mix breadcrumbs and spices. Sprinkle over mustard. Cook for 1 hour at 350F.

(Note: if you only have ground thyme and ground rosemary, reduce amounts to 1/2 tsp of each for a total of 1 tsp)

Spicy Potatoes

  • 4 medium potatoes 
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano (or 1 tsp ground oregano)
  • 1 tbsp paprika

Cut potatoes into wedges. Mix all ingredients in bowl. Ensure potatoes well and evenly coated. Cook for 1 hour at 350F.

Orange Chicken

  • 1 pound chicken pieces, thawed (3 breasts or six boneless chicken thighs)
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce

Mix first three ingredients. Pour over chicken. Cook for 1 hour at 350F. 

Tuna Pasta Salad

  • 1 box macaroni and cheese (hold the cheese packet for another recipe), or 3 cups dried rotini noodles
  • 1 can plain tuna*, drained and flaked
  • 2 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Miracle Whip, (or mayonnaise, sour cream, or plain Greek yogurt, or any combination of these for the dressing)
  • Salt and pepper as needed.

Cook pasta as directed. Drain well and rinse with cold water. Add all other ingredients and mix well. If you do not have all three vegetables, add the ones you have available to give it some texture and crunch. 

(Note: if you have one small can of flavoured tuna, you can add it as well, but do not make the salad with ONLY flavoured tuna because it can easily become overpowering. I, personally, like the Thai Chili or Lemon Dill flavours.)

“Chag Sameach!” to my Jewish friendsApr 9, 2020

This is an image of food often eaten at the seder. I did some research to find out what Passover was, so I could have some knowledge of what I was wishing my Jewish friends, and found a very good explanation here.

Things to do at home Part 2Mar 24, 2020

The calendar says it’s spring. Is your weather saying the same? We’re slowly melting, but I’ll take the improvement.   

I’m entering my second week of social distancing. This is hard, but doable. I’m still walking daily, but I’m looking for more things to do because even my knitting is losing its appeal. I need to feel productive, so here’s what I’ve been up to.   

1.     Quick cleans. I already did my closet. If it didn't fit anymore, if it was torn/worn and I hadn't got around to throwing it out, if I never liked it in the first place, or if it was barely serviceable and badly out of style, I got rid of it. To be donated, to be tossed, or to be turned into rags. Next up are my dresser drawers. I only need to one at a time. After that, the kitchen cupboards. Then the front and back closets. Even if I only do one a day, I will be close to done by the end of March.   

2.     Photo Albums. I’m finally getting them all organized. If you are a scrapbooker, now’s a good time to catch up on that pile of pictures in the drawer. And for goodness sake, write down the names of people, especially those who aren’t immediate family so the next generation knows why Joe Who has his arm around Aunt Carol! My poor dad has been inundated with photos of “Who is this?”  Spoiler – it was my maternal grandparents’ wedding photo.   

3.     Summer maintenance. The snow will be gone soon. (We can hope.) Odds are good that a lot of our usual summer sports teams will not be organized in time for a full season, so we’ll be on our own. But it’s important to stay active. Check those bike tires. Dust off the rollerblades. (I did this. I discovered I need new knee and elbow pads.) Fix the hole in the goal netting. Get prepared to move that body in the sunshine.   

4.     Play in the dirt. It’s only two months till planting season starts in Winnipeg, and I’m not prepared. I'm plotting out my vegetable garden this summer. I have some seeds left from last year, but I know I can get 3 or 4 packages for under $10 and get 10 times the value in fresh from the backyard produce later. I may expand beyond my regular plots and find extra space this year. After two years of bad tomato harvests, we’re do for a good one, and we have a killer salsa recipe and jars waiting. Also, we finally know what we’re doing with beets and carrots, and they are a tasty treat. I may experiment with something new – like watermelon, pumpkins, or corn.  

5.     Be hometown proud. Even after the borders reopen and flights and hotels are having “back in business” sales, most of us will not be in a place financially to take advantage. Plan now for a stay-cation this summer. Be a province or state booster. You know that museum that you haven’t visited since your fourth-grade field trip? Hit it. The zoo? Wave to the polar bears for me. The big city park with the nice flower gardens? Plan a picnic. There will be lots to do, and now is a good time to do your research on what is available locally.    

We were planning to attend our first Blue Bomber (CFL Football game) this year but I don’t know if the season will still be on, so now I’m looking for alternatives, just in case. We did Lower Fort Garry two years ago. If they are still on, we may try the Morris Stampede, the Morden Corn and Apple Festival, or Stonewall’s Quarry Days. We’re definitely going to the zoo, and one weekend we’re going to Gimli to check out their beach. I see much Googling in my future.    

Keep on keeping on, my friends. This isn’t fun, but it’s the most effective way to stay healthy and keep others safe.   

All the (virtual) hugs, 


Things to do at homeMar 18, 2020

Spring is right around the corner, but right now everything is grey in so many ways. 

I work from home, so this situation isn't totally foreign to me. I did, however, try to get out at least once every two days to talk to another person besides my sweetie. Now that face-to-face socialization is no longer an option, here's what I'm doing.

1. Take a walk.  You are allowed to go outside and for a walk. Just stay 6 feet/2 metres away from others. The fresh air and break from the media are a great mental break for me.

2. Reader's Digest crosswords. New ones come out daily. Keep your mind sharp.

3. Cooking. I love sitting down with cookbooks and flagging recipes I'd like to try. This is more challenging when you are trying to stay out of the grocery stores and use what you have in your pantry. I'm planning ahead, scouring recipe books for stuff I've always wanted to try (hello, Shepherd's Pie but with mashed potatoes instead of cauliflower), and making lists *by recipe* of what I need. The next time I hit the store, I will try to collect these items like I'm ticking off a bingo card. If all are in stock, Bingo! If not, I'll get what I can and wait.  

4. Baking. A lot easier than cooking when it comes to ingredients. (And, honestly, I have 8 - I counted! - bags of shredded zucchini in the freezer. We are going to be having so much zucchini fruit bread and chocolate zucchini cake.) So long as I have flour, sugar, and eggs, I should be good. I'm also dusting off my bread maker to try this simple Italian bread recipe.

5. Read and review. I have tons of free books on my e-reader that I've picked up over the years. NOW IS MY TIME!  Also, it only takes a few minutes to leave a review. You wouldn't believe how much reviews (especially on Amazon) help a writer, so please, take a few minutes to help out someone if you enjoyed their book.

I'm hoping to keep upbeat, so please check out my Twitter feed and Facebook page for more things to try.