Family Time During a Pandemic

March 30 to June 11, 2020

While most grandparent are feeling blue not being able to spend time with their kids and grandkids during this period of social isolation, we are among the lucky ones. Ours chose to shelter with us.

When COVID-19 struck, our son and daughter-in-law, Christopher and Emily, found themselves working from home with an active 3 year old, Astrid, to keep amused. If you have to work from home, why work from a townhouse in central Vancouver when you can you can work from the Ponderosa. The Ponderosa seemed to have been built especially for a pandemic. A big house with lots of room for little ones to run around in, a big yard, grandparents itching to spend more time with the grandkids, a root cellar and pantry still brimming with last year’s garden harvest, miles of trails to hike and no neighbors for miles. We even converted my meditation room into a nap room; however, Baba was the only one who napped, the kids never did.

Coinciding with the outbreak of COVID-19, was a pancreatic cancer diagnosis for me. Lucky for us, our daughter Kelsey and our grandkids Jacob (4) and Nora (2) also agreed to come shelter with us as well. They all provided a splendid diversion for Ken as I spent 2 weeks in hospital recovering from a Whipple procedure. No time to worry or fret when you have 3 toddlers running around.  My step-daughter Kerry kept Ken company after I went into the hospital until everyone else arrived. Kelsey, Jacob and Nora stayed for the entire month of April. Christopher, Emily and Astrid stayed on into June. Kerry and her wife Megan, who self-isolated in Winnipeg, came out for weekends. Even Katie and Tyler were able to come out for one weekend. There is nothing better for recovery than being surrounded by those you love.

 

 

Wrestle time with Gigi

While Baba was a little low on energy, everyone chipped in with the cooking, cleaning and childcare. Gigi’s daycare is a going concern and the kids enjoyed spending the afternoons with Gigi in the upstairs of the shop playing pool, ping pong, watching old home movies of their parents,wrestling with Gigi, and just plain running around.

 

 

 

Kelsey, Jacob and Nora left back to Kamloops on April 30. All of them were anxious to get back home and see dad Matt, who was still back home working. The house was a whole lot quieter but we surely missed having them around.

 

 

Christopher, Emily and Astrid stayed on for another 6 weeks as Astrid’s daycare had still not opened. Astrid had to be content with Baba and Gigi for companions while Mom and Dad worked but Baba and Gigi loved her cheery company. There are many things you can do with one small grandchild that you can’t do with three.

 

Astrid loves being in the greenhouse. Give her a watering can, a pail of water and some earth and she is happy. She was my little helper in the morning.  While Baba napped in the afternoon, Gigi and Astrid visited the newly opened playground in town. Before leaving they all helped put in the garden, except for the transplants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They came when there was still snow on the ground, lots of snow, and when the left, it was warm out. Only in Manitoba could you stay 10 weeks and see 3 seasons. They experienced snow storms and thunderstorm, made snowmen and sandcastles.

Roasting weiners in the wood cookstove

They used the big woodstove for cooking and weiner roasts when it was cool out and electrical appliances and the outdoor clay oven (fire roasted pizza) when it was warm. They learned first hand how to live off grid, how to think about power and water usage. We had weekly pizza and sushi nights and so much other great food.

 

 

 

Playing Sequence For Kids

We played board games, Jackbox TV, family (Astrid’s invention), the instruction game (Baba’s invention), wrestle time (Gigi’s invention), tea parties, dress up, play dough, hide and seek and sardines.

Adults playing Jackbox TV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry gives Christopher a unique CoVid Cut

We even had a great laugh while the boys got Covid Cuts (curtesy of Kerry and her trusty hair clippers). The playroom, balcony and sandbox got great use and the house has so many places to hide in and so much room to run around in, no one ever felt housebound. It was exactly the type of family time we envisioned when we built it.

Balcony Playroom

 

 

 

We have not been together as a family for this long since the kids were, well kids. The grandkids have never been together for so long either. It was interesting to watch them grow from playmates to more like siblings. When I first got home from the hospital I spent a fair bit of time in my bedroom resting. I used to lie there listing to the sounds of my house. Noisy at times but in a very good way. I loved to hear the kids’ conversations as they played.

Now that everyone has left, the Ponderosa is a very, very quiet place. While we enjoy the quiet, we do miss all of them and are so happy they were able to spend so much time with us. It was a wonderful gift of their time to us.

You can also read Christopher’s version of the visit and more pictures on his blog Canadianveggie.wordpress.com

Nora and Baba

Jacob, Astrid and Nora enjoy a rest during a walk.

Yoga time in the livingroom

Tea party with Baba

Little Milk Maid Astrid

Building forts in the Media Room

Art time, making big hugs for the people back home

Posted in Family | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Farewell Glenn

February 4, 2020

It is with a heavy heart that I post the passing of my one and only brother, Glenn.

Glenn and his lovely golden locks, in 2013

Glenn was born on September 26, 1956, first born of Peter and Joyce Coulson. He was followed by four sisters, Darlene, Laverne, Sheila and Sheryl. He graduated from the University of Manitoba Faculty of Agriculture with a degree in Plant Science in 1978. He worked in the food industry for most of his career. He is pre-deceased by his parents and his sister Laverne.

Glenn, Joyce with Sheila, Darlene, Peter with Sheryl, Laverne 1966

 

He is survived by his wife Pat and his sons Justin, and his wife Erin, and Alexander.

Alexander Justin, Pat and Glenn in 2014

Glenn was always quick to a smile and known for his quirky sense of humor. If Glenn was around you could be assured of a good ribbing and lots of laughs. Glenn was never in a hurry and always had time to chat – with everybody, especially total strangers. If he phoned, you might as well pour a cup of tea and pull up a chair, you would be there for a while.

Glenn also loved music and was an avid collector of vinyl records. Maybe not so much as a collector as a keeper – most of his extensive collection was from his youth, when vinyl records where what we listened to. I have fond memories of his teenage years listening to his Jesus Christ Super Star album. He was a volunteer radio host with Saskatoon Community Radio CFCR90.5 FM. From 2008 to 2013 he hosted Wednesday night So Many Roads and from 2013 to 2018 he hosted Monday night Rollin & Tumblin with the Blues. He was also a volunteer with the Saskatoon Blues Society.

The greatest joys in Glenn’s life were is wife Pat (aka, “my lovely bride”), his boys Justin and Alexander, and his dogs Emily (deceased) and She-Ra. Relaxation to Glenn was a long slow mosey through a nature preserve with his trusty dog at his side. He loved to work with wood and built many unusual features for their backyard. If Glenn built something, you could be sure it would last forever.

Glenn about age 2

Glenn age 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glenn Grade 12

Glenn University of Manitoba Faculty of Agriculture, Food Science Graduation 1978

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Married to Pat in 1986

Glenn and his best friend SheRa 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Babushka Babas – Babushka Glenn with Babushka fur babas Kensi and SheRa 2018

Glenn with his boys, Alexander and Justin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my last picture is from my last visit with Glenn in October 2019.

Glenn October 30, 2019

 

 

 

I will miss you big brother.

Vichnaya Pomyat (Memory Eternal).

Posted in Family | Tagged | 1 Comment

2020_Baba visits the Grandkids

January 2020

In January I had an opportunity to get a little Baba Time in with the kids and grandkids. I spent a few days in Winnipeg with Kerry, Megan, Katie and Tyler before flying out to Kamloops. I spent two weeks in Kamloops with Kelsey, Matt, Jacob and Nora. I took the bus to Vancouver and spent another week with Christopher, Emily and Astrid. Such a wonderful holiday.

While in Winnipeg I got to watch a Parent/Daughter Hockey match, with Kerry playing for the parents and Katie for the kids. Was very impressed with Kerry’s skill level, considering she hasn’t been on skates for years. Guess something of all those years of Ringette playing stayed with her. However, Katie could skate circles around her. The girl is good. Also enjoyed a board game night and helped celebrate Katie’s 12th birthday.

Katie Tyler Kerry Megan Board Game Night

Celebrating Katie’s 12th birthday

Kerry Katie at Parents vs Daughters Hockey Game

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Kelsey’s I was able to watch two of Jacob’s skating lessons. He’s a fast learning and the amount of progress was phenomenal. Besides playing with the kids, Kelsey and I managed to get both Nora and Jacob’s room wallpapered. (These are the bedrooms Ken and Matt built in December.) After I left they had new carpet put in, so the bedrooms are pretty much complete except for final decorating touches.

Jacob’s skating lessons

Jacob and Nora play dough

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nora reading I am Max, for the 100th time. She knows it by heart

Nora making cookies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacob’s wallpaper

Nora’s wallpaper

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacob and Nora fun in the snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Christopher’s, I got to see their new home (the one Ken helped Christopher install hardwood floors in December). Astrid showed me all around the house and told me I could sleep in Gigi’s room. I guess the first visitor gets the spare room named after them. Astrid stayed home from daycare for 4 days so we had lots of fun together. We went to the community center play gym time, the library story time, made cookies and muffins, had a tea party with her stuffed animals, read books and played board games.

Astrid Swimming Lessons

Astrid at community center play gym

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astrid playing in the bike box

Astrid cuddling with her Unicorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astrid has wonderful thick hair and she allowed me to braid it for her every morning. And Baba let her choose whatever she wanted to wear – which was usually an unusual mix of several different outfits.

Braiding Astrid’s hair

The girl has style!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the downsides of life off grid is that someone needs to be home during the winter to keep the house heated with the wood stove. Unless we have a house sitter, one of us stays home. Lucky for me, I don’t mind the winter or the solitude. I am back home now enjoying the quiet and calm of Ponderosa life while Ken is off to Mexico for another of his group trips.

 

 

Posted in Family, Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2019 Year in Review

December 31, 2019

2019 was another busy year here on the Porter’s Ponderosa.  The year started quietly, with Ken going to Mexico for two weeks in February with his travel group and I, stayed home to mind the home fires. While no one seems to understand why I prefer to stay home, I love the fact that we can each do what we love.

Darlene with Dr. Will Tuttle, author of World Peace Diet

Although I had said no more travel for me, I was persuaded to take a spur of the moment vacation in March for a Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend 10 days with 2,000 other vegans and take in lectures from some of the best in the whole food plant based movement – Dr. T Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Michael Klapper, Dr. Neil Bernard, Brenda Davis, Dr. Will Tuttle and many more. I spent my days attending lectures, workshops, cooking demonstrations, yoga, meditation, meeting interesting people from around the world and, of course enjoying great food. And for the first time I could eat everything at the buffet! What more could you ask for in a holiday! We took a few days extra and drove to Miami taking in the sites along the way including, Graceland and Epcot Center. We also spent some time with cousins Phyllis and Harry Barrows in St. Pete’s Beach and Wayne Jackiew (a previous Revival Band mate of Ken’s) in Fort Myers. Ken and Wayne were hits on the senior karaoke scene. Those boys could sing all day long!

 

 

 

 

Baba and Gigi with Jacob Astrid and Nora (who is not happy at the moment)

After returning from Miami we flew to BC (Ken had enough driving) to spend Easter with Kelsey’s and Christopher’s families. It’s always a great treat to see the kids and grandkids and it’s especially nice when we can all be together. Thanks to Kelsey, Matt, Jacob and Nora for hosting us all for Easter in Kamloops. After Easter, Ken and I spent a few days in Vancouver with Christopher, Emily and Astrid before flying home.

 

 

Hannah, Vicky, Darlene and Ken

While we were on our holidays, Hanna, Sox and our house were lovingly cared for by two wonderful Workawayers, Hannah from Australia and Vicky from Germany. We are so thankful that they were brave enough to experience winter in Manitoba, off grid. They arrived mid-February. Hannah had to fly back to Australia the end of April, while Vicky stayed on to housesit solo while we went to BC. Vicky flew back home to Germany May 1, her Canadian adventure completed with an epic Manitoba experience.

 

 

View of Garden from upstairs window

For me, summer was all about the garden.  I am learning regenerative gardening – growing food for us, for the birds and bees, and for the soil. This year, part of the garden was sown with buckwheat as a soil enhancer; and in the fall after each crop was harvested, I planted spring wheat rather than leave bare soil. I also experimented with growing cucumbers in straw bales (a win!), and potatoes in crates (sufficiently good results to warrant another trial). The sweet potato experiment in the greenhouse brought good results this year, harvesting about 20 pounds of delicious sweet potatoes. Two of my tomato plants in the greenhouse grew over 11 feet high and yielded over 70 tomatoes each. And I had a massive pepper harvest. I froze, dried, pickled and even made hot pepper chili paste. After a two year trial, I am writing off chickpeas as a viable Ponderosa crop, and lima beans as well. However, I did get a good harvest of kidney beans, black beans and small brown beans.

Strawberries in early July, companion planted with spinach.

We added a few new garden beds this year. One is mostly flowering perennials from my Mom and Baba’s gardens, plus it has some Saskatoon, blueberry and asparagus.  The strawberry and herb bed on the west side of the house was finished last year and planted this spring. The strawberries were wonderful, producing until the end of September.  The herbs did exceptionally well and I won’t be buying any peppermint, lemon balm, sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, cilantro, dill or basil this winter. I could go on and on all day about the garden but I’ll stop before you fall asleep.

 

2019 McArthur Park Festival

While the summer was all about the garden for me, for Ken it was all about slo-pitch and golf.  Once again, each doing what we love best. Ken joined the Coyotes senior slo-pitch team from Brandon and played several tournaments throughout Manitoba. He also golfed weekly with his Sandy Lake buddies. He was thrilled to participate in the McCarther Park Festival – a local music festival hosted on a neighboring farm. The Cookes and Jackiews attended and Ken had a blast making music with them. He can’t wait for next year’s festival.

In September, Ken had another of his special K. Porter Travel trips, this time guiding 34 people on a Mediterranean Cruise out of Barcelona. They cruised with Norwegian Cruise Lines visiting Naples, Rome, Florence/Pisa, Cannes/Monte Carlo, Palma Majorca and spending three days in Barcelona at the end.

Matt, Jacob, Nora and Kelsey with Pickles

In October, we were excited to have Kelsey, Matt, Jacob and Nora visit us. They were in Winnipeg for Kelsey’s school mate Miranda’s wedding. Unfortunately, Ken and I missed the wedding due to an early season blizzard, but we cleared out the lane in time for them to come spend some time on the Ponderosa. The weather was cool but that didn’t stop the tractor driving lessons or a visit to meet Pickles the donkey at my cousin Larry’s farm.

 

 

 

Finished Clay Oven

One of the outdoor projects on my Honey Do List was an outdoor clay oven, or pietz. We spent last winter researching ideas and built it this summer.  It was fall before we finished, but we did manage to fire it up and make a few pizzas and loaves of bread. I am really looking forward to having an oven to use next summer.

 

 

 

 

This fall, Ken finished off the last project I had for the house – a Hidden Bed (aka Murphy Bed) and storage units for the office bedroom.  With all the drawers and shelves I have lots of room for my fabric and crafting supplies and the bed folds up into a desk for lots of project space, while still having a wonderful bedroom for you when you come to visit.

 

 

 

 

Jacob helping Gigi with the Kamloops bedroom project

While I am running out of things for Ken to build, there are always others to share his talents with. This year, he helped a friend renovate his cabin and in December, spent three weeks in BC, visiting and doing work for Kelsey and Christopher. He helped Kelsey and Matt turn their big master bedroom into two bedrooms, for Jacob and Nora. For Christopher, he is replacing the carpeting, in the home they just purchased, with hardwood. I might just start a Rent-A-Gido service.

This winter Ken has also gone back to another of his sports passions, ten pin bowling. He is bowling with his old team in Winnipeg.  He is living the retirement dream –traveling,  slo-pitch, golf, singing and bowling!

Cross Stitch gift bag I made this winter

Besides gardening, I am still doing whole food plant based cooking classes. This year, I did two classes close to home, in Minnedosa, and three in Winnipeg. (You can find the recipes from the classes at ponderosacooks.wordpress.com)

I continue to volunteer with the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Museum in town and at the town perogie bees. I also made several trips to Saskatoon this year to visit my brother Glenn who is recovering from surgery. I am enjoying the slower pace of winter and have started on two winter projects – organizing and scanning old photographs; and Ukrainian Cross Stitch Embroidery. I am teaching a cross stitch class in the new year, so am brushing up on the skills Baba taught me. My goal is to make a Ukrainian shirt for myself this winter.

I think that about covers the year. From our house to yours, we wish you all a very happy holiday season and all the very best in 2020.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Rent a Gigi 2019

December 2019

With the Hidden Bed now complete there is not too many carpentry projects left to do and Ken is left with some time on his hands. Luckily, we have kids with houses of their own that can use his expertise. To keep his skills from getting rusty, we have our Rent a Gigi (aka grandfather) Service. And Gigi works cheap – a good vegan meal and grandchildren to jump all over him is all he asks.

Carpenter Matt

This month, Ken flew to BC with a duffle bag full of tools. In Kamloops, Matt was off work for the week and the boys turned the big master bedroom into two smaller bedrooms – one for Jacob and one for Nora. Gigi was there for the big job – taking out one closet to make room for a doorway, putting up two walls to create two rooms and a hall, electrical, drywall and the first coat of plaster. After that, Matt and Kelsey were left with the second coat of plaster, painting and new flooring. The kids love their new rooms.

 

Jacob helping with the closet demolition

Matt and Ken installing new kitchen light fixture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nora having a nap with Gigi

Jacob helps Momma prime his bedroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astrid and Gigi removing carpet

After the Kamloops job, Ken headed to Vancouver to help Christopher and Emily out. They just purchased their first house and took possession the day Gigi arrived with his tool bag (sort of like Mary Poppins, but not really). Christopher had a week off work and the boys removed the carpets and installed hardwood flooring. They rented the big tools from the Tool Library, which is a pretty cool service to have. Gigi had enough time to put the baseboards back up before packing his toolbag and flying home.

Astrid ready with her toolbelt to help Gigi

But first all the tools and flooring have to be hauled up the stairs to the house then up two more flights of stairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father Son bonding time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Office Bedroom – Hidden Bed and Storage

November 30, 2019

The built-ins for the office bedroom have been on the To Do List for a long time! Ken started this project 14 months ago, so I am very happy to have it done. There is few touch-ups needed, but basically its complete. The office/guest bedroom now features a Hidden Bed/Desk unit, three sets of drawers and three shelving units.

Hidden Bed/Desk and Storage

The Hidden Bed/Desk was made using Lee Valley’s  Hidden Bed/Desk Hardware Kit. “An efficient way to make the most of limited living space, this kit lets you build a fold-away bed that converts into a desk during waking hours. As the bed is folded down, the desk automatically lowers, remaining level and stable throughout the process; anything on the desktop is concealed under the bed, exactly as you left it.” We built the bed and storage units out of maple plywood.

With the bed down, you can see the desk under the bed.

 

This is the second Murphy Bed/Hidden Bed Ken has made, the first (in the room above the shop) was just a bed, no desk, and the hardware was also purchased at Lee Valley. Both were complicated to assemble; however, the desk/bed was really, really complicated. We were very disappointed with the instructions that came with the Hidden Bed/Desk Hardware Kit. It took us a fair bit of time to figure out how wood was needed and how best to cut it. The assembly instructions were practically non existent. We used several on-line you tube videos and trial and error to figure it out. In addition, the unit turned out to have several design flaws.

  • Bolts sticking out side of desk. Above the desk you can see the square arm we cut back.

    The arms of the bed unit that attach to the desk are square. When assembled, it is physically impossible for the desk to swivel to fold under the bed. We had to dis-assemble and cut a piece of each arm. Looking on-line, most of the units we saw had curved or triangular shaped arms – now we know why! He cut off a piece and re-assembled and the modifications worked, but he now he has to put the finishing edging on the cuts.

  • The bolts attaching the desk to the pistons are exposed on the desk, sticking out over half an inch. Rather unsightly and unprofessional looking. Ken is going to design a piece to hide them.

update – Ken has designed a cover for the bolts

desk top with wooden boxes covering exposed bolts

  • The bolts attaching the bed feet to the bed frame stick out into the bed frame. Ken will also design a cover for these so that they don’t end up ripping the mattress.
  • There was no mention in the plans of hardware required to help pull the bed down. It is impossible for me to get the bed down by myself. We have now purchased handles to attach to the bed frame. Once installed I should be able to lower the bed on my own (since Ken is away, I have no way of taking a picture of the room with the bed down, as I can’t get it down!). Since the unit is heavy, we will have to take care installing the handles so they have sufficient reinforcement to handle the stress put on them as you pull the bed down.

Update – Ken has installed handles on the desktop and, with a great deal of effort, I can now pull the bed down.

Regardless, I am very happy with the finished project. We can still have a queen size bed in the room but have it out of the way when not needed. The desk is very large and should come in handy for projects. I love the way the fact that you don’t have to clear off the desk to lower the bed. The desk folds under the bed, staying level.

Ken built the other desk for our daughter Kelsey around 2002

 

To finish off the room, Ken build drawer and shelving units for the whole wall space. Without these, the Murphy Bed looks large and out of place. They help complete the wall space and tie everything together, not to mention provide a huge amount of storage space for fabric and crafting supplies.

This is the last major building project for the house. Now Ken is off to BC for 3 weeks to do some reno projects for Kelsey and Christopher.

 

Posted in Woodworking projects | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

October 2019 Visit from the Grandkids

October 14 to 18, 2019

We enjoyed a fabulous visit from Kelsey, Matt, Jacob and Nora. Kelsey’s best friend from school, Miranda, was getting married, and the whole family was able to come to Manitoba for a visit. Ken and I were supposed to go to Winnipeg for the wedding; however, we were snowed in due to an early season blizzard. Luckily, the roads were cleared in time for them to come out to the Ponderosa for a visit.

Gigi Jacob, Nora and Baba

The weather was cool and mucky but we had lots of fun, inside and out anyway. Jacob’s warm jacket was left in the city, but luckily Baba’s sweatshirts kept him warm outside. The highlight was a visit to my cousin Larry’s farm to see the donkeys. mules, miniature horses and horses. Pickles, a one year old donkey, was a fan favorite.

Jacob and Nora help clean out the pumpkins before carving.

Jacob and Nora with finished jack-o-lanterns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt, Nora, Kelsey and Jacob with the horses

Jacob making pizza to cook in the outdoor oven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nora enjoying birthday cupcakes

Jacob and Gigi on the tractor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacob and Nora in the greenhouse eating all the tomatillos

Nora going for a walk with Baba in the leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt, Jacob, Nora and Kelsey with Pickles

 

Posted in Family, Fun | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Outdoor Clay Oven

September 2019

Our new Outdoor Clay Oven

An outdoor oven is one of the projects that has been on our bucket list for several years. Being off grid, we don’t have an electric stove and our only oven is in the wood cookstove, a Kitchen Queen 480. During the summer months, the stove is seldom lit, and we do the majority of our cooking using small electric appliance (electric skillet, induction hot plate, rice cooker, slow cooker) running on solar power. We have a homemade solar oven that works great to heat foods up, but not to actually bake in. This year we finally tackled this project and the outdoor oven is now in service.

We spent last winter researching different methods of building the oven. The information can be overwhelming and many times we threw up our hands and said “Lets just buy one.” But finally we took the advise of SimpleNick.com – “Just Do It.”

Our oven is a hybrid of several different methods. A good part is based on Simple Nick’s method, part on the traditional operational clay oven, or pietz,  we have in our hometown, and part on our own intuition.

Ovens of Clay Booklet by Stella Kowalchuk

The clay oven in town was built about 25 years ago and is still in operation. Every August, the museum committee fires it up and bakes 140 loaves of bread, which we serve with homemade borsch (Ukrainian beet soup) and homemade jam. The process they used to make the oven was documented in a booklet written by Stella Kowalchuk, “Ovens of Clay”. (The booklet is for sale at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Museum in Sandy Lake, Manitoba)

 

 

 

Baking bread in traditional clay oven – pietz – in Sandy Lake

The oven in town can hold up to 20 loaves of bread and I love helping at the annual bread making. The experience baking in the clay oven also provided me with some ideas about what I wanted in my oven. Firstly, I didn’t need it big enough to bake 20 loaves, second, I wanted it higher off the ground, and third I wanted a more robust exterior to protect it from the elements.

 

 

 

 

Simple Nick has  great step by step instructions on how to build a clay oven. For compete instructions, visit his site.

Purifying clay

CLAY   We were fortunate to find a great deposit of clay on the property. The clay was pretty nice, but for good measure we processed the clay to remove organic matter and small rocks. To process – Simply mix the clay with water to form a thin mixture. Strain through a screen to get the clay water. Let sit for a day or two until the water and clay layers separate. Pour off the water and let the clay sit and dry out until the desired consistency is achieved. Too dry, no problem. Just add water and let set a couple hours and it will re-hydrate. In hindsight, it probably was not necessary to process the clay, but it wasn’t much extra work and quite a lot of fun to play in the mud. The finished processed clay would make an excellent pottery clay for fun projects with the grandchildren.

DESIGN  We settled on a dome design, based on Simple Nick’s method. The interior of the oven would be about 28 inches in diameter with a 3 inch wall of clay and sand, topped by a 3 inch wall of clay and straw for insulation and finally a layer of concrete and rocks to form a weather protection on the outside. The final size being about 48 inches wide and 60 inches long, to accommodate a front tunnel entrance to the dome oven.

SITE  We chose to build the oven off the outdoor kitchen, overlooking the lake. Its far enough from the house not to be a fire hazard, and close enough to  the kitchen to be handy. Ken shored up the ground and built a shale base.

Build a strong solid base

BASE  The clay oven in town is about 1 foot off the ground, meaning you need to kneel to get the bread into and out of the oven. My first request was that the oven be counter top height. And I wanted a space under the oven for wood storage. So the first step of building our oven was to build the base or plinth.

We built a 3 sided plinth out of concrete blocks. The front is open for wood storage. Concrete was poured into some of the block holes to make it solid. I love the way Ken used a few rocks at the front instead of half blocks.

On the concrete blocks he then made a solid platform of 2×6’s, topped by 2×4’s going the opposite way, and screwed into the 2×6’s. And on top of the wood base, is a sheet of concrete board (aka Hardy Board).

Oven floor – 8 inches of clay, rock and firebricks

OVEN FLOOR We chose to make the oven floor based on the outdoor oven in town, sort of. The oven has a clay floor with rocks in the clay to hold the heat from the oven. We added a topping of firebricks along with the clay and rocks. (In hindsight I don’t think the firebricks were necessary. The oven floor is about 8 inches thick, so little worry about heat transfer to the wood below.)

We then cemented in large rocks around the perimeter to outline the outside of the oven, and put in 2 concrete blocks at the front to serve as the floor to the oven entrance tunnel. We poured concrete in the holes of the concrete blocks.  This gave us a wall around the outside and we could fill the inside with clay. First we put in a layer of plain clay. Then we added a layer of rocks (to hold the heat from the oven) and topped that will a layer of clay and then firebricks.

Build a sandcastle that will become the inside of the oven.

CORE OVEN  We used wet sand to shape the inside of the oven. We had some doubts on whether this would work or not, but it worked unbelievably well.

In hindsight, we should have built the sandcastle a bit higher. the proportions looked good when we were building it, but when it comes to making a fire, there is not a lot of room to work in. However, the smaller size does make it easy to heat up.

 

 

Proper brick consistency

Once you have your big sand castle that will become the inside of your oven, you mix clay (we used our processed clay for this part) and sand together then formed it into bricks that we layered around the sand castle. This wall is about 3 inches thick. Lessons learned – our clay/sand mixture was a bit too wet and kept sliding down the dome. Make sure your clay is not too wet and you can make a nice solid brick, like the one pictured on the right. As a result of the clay sliding down, our dome became a bit bell shaped. To compensate, once it dried, we added another layer of clay/sand on the top.

 

 

Cut the entrance hole and scoop out the sand

We let the sand/clay mixture dry for about 24 hours then cut out the front entrance and scooped out the sand. We then let the dome dry a bit longer and even built a small drying fire in it.

 

 

 

 

 

Build entrance tunnel

ENTRANCE AND CHIMNEY  To make the front entrance, we scrounged around the local garbage disposal site for usable material. We found old bricks and a piece from a concrete fire pit that we thought would work well. Using a cardboard template, Ken built a wooden form for the entrance then used the bricks and mortar to build an arched entrance. The piece of curved concrete for a fire pit worked perfectly to form the curved top of the dome.

 

Connect dome to front entrance and install chimney

Once that was done, he used the same wooden form (with an added piece of old arborite to form a smooth surface for the arch) to install the chimney by moving the form further into the dome so it was in the space between the dome and the arched entrance.

Our chimney is a piece of 3 inch tail pipe we got from a neighbor. He attached some clamps to it help it stand on the arch form and to help the clay adhere to the pipe to keep it in place.He then packed clay/sand mixture around the chimney and between the dome and entrance. After this dried he removed the form (saved it to use as a template to build the door.)

 

 

Mixture of clay and straw

INSULATION LAYER  The next layer on the dome was a mixture of clay and straw to provide insulation for the oven. We didn’t bother using purified clay for this step as we were mixing straw into it anyway. Just mix it all up and layer it on about 4 inches thick.

Let dry and your base oven is ready to use.

 

Let the oven dry out

We made a few small fires in the oven to dry it out completely. Unable to wait any longer, we fired up the oven with a roaring fire and made our first pizza.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add protective layer of rock and mortar

PROTECTION LAYER  As a clay oven will readily absorb water from rain, you need to protect it from the elements or it will rapidly fall apart. We chose to cover our oven with field stone and mortar. We used fairly large rocks around the bottom (the weight supported by the plinth) but smaller ones on the top (so the dome would not collapse). Take care to cover the whole area with mortar and try not to have any dips, valleys or cracks that water can accumulate in. To be on the safe side, we will tarp our oven when its going to rain and for the winter. (we use a small brass pot to seal off the chimney when the oven is not in use. )

DOOR  The final step was to build a good door for the oven. We used two pieces of  2×6 lumber for the outside and a piece of aluminum (scrounged from the farm) for the inside. Sandwiched between the two sides is a piece of asbestos rope, leftover from a chimney install, leaving an air gap between the two sides. The rope also makes for a nice tight seal when the door is in place. To provide airflow to the fire when the door is closed, I asked for a hole in the door that could be plugged. Ken installed a metal drain pipe instead. It actually works quite well and it can be plugged when you want to seal off the oven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OPERATION  To use the oven you simply build a small fire inside. It doesn’t take much wood to get the oven hot. For pizza, you need a pretty hot oven (500F to 600F), so you need to keep the fire going for a couple hours. Then push the coals to the back or side of the oven, slip in the pizza stone, close up the oven and let it sit to get the stone hot. Then place your pizza on the hot pizza stone and it will cook up in 5-10 minutes, depending on the temperature of the oven.

 

 

For bread, the oven needs to be around 350F. Get the oven nice and hot (fire for an hour or two) then push the coals to the back of the oven and let the oven cool to between 350F and 400F. Once it reaches that temperature, put the bread in and close up the oven tight. I put a cap on the chimney (an old brass pot) to prevent heat loss. Don’t peek for at least 30 minutes. It should take about 45 minutes to 1 hour to bake.

 

 

We have used the oven several times now and it works wonderfully. We have made pizzas, buns, bread and even cooked casseroles in it. Now that fall is here, we don’t have much use for the outdoor oven, but it will be great to have it for next summer.

Posted in Food, Outside living space | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Garden 2019

July 9, 2019

 

Garden View July 4 2019

It’s been a busy spring. We have been busy outside – gardening and landscaping. Now all the hard work is starting to show its rewards with big lush plants, fresh veggies and blossoms of all colors. Now for a tour of the yard.

Greenhouse July 3 2019

I will begin in the greenhouse. The greenhouse was built last spring by Ken and Lucas, so this is the first full year of operation. We planted spinach early in April and were able to get a small early harvest. Once the weather warmed up a bit in April, the seedling starts were moved from the sunroom in the house into the greenhouse.

This year, the greenhouse has mostly peppers, lots of peppers – sweet red peppers, yellow peppers and hot peppers. Even a Scorpian, and Ghost pepper, complements of my nephew Derek. There is also about 10 tomato plants – cherry, plum and beefstake, various herbs and a whole lot of basil (over 40 plants). We are trying sweet potato in crates again (T&T Seeds had sweet potato starts for the first time this year. A cultivar just developed for Manitoba.), even though it was not successful last year.  And tucked in the corners is one cantaloupe and one watermelon plant as well.

Water barrel outside greenhouse

Ken set up a water system for the greenhouse. He moved the 100 gallon barrel from our old cabin, where it wasn’t being used, to the outside of the greenhouse. It is up on a stand so that gravity moves the water, and a hose runs through the wall, into the greenhouse. Now with a turn of a tap, I can water the plants. We have been filling the 100 gallon barrel with water pumped up from the lake. We use a ladder to get the watering hose into the barrel. (This is quite a task to accomplish while the pump is running. I have managed to soak Ken really good a few times as he tried to get the hose into the barrel. LOL) I use about 100 gallons every week.

 

One of our goals for this spring was to redo the flower bed on the west side of the shop. As the ground slopes quickly to the lake, we had built up the west side of the shop to the level of the foundation and made a flowerbed with a rock wall. The rock retaining wall was dry laid, with no mortar. Over the years, the wall and bed has become overrun with weeds and grass. It was a terrible mess.

Removing perennials from shop bed

In mid May, we rolled up our sleeves and began removing the perennials from the bed. Mostly there were irises, lots of them, and some delphiniums. However, I had planted some asparagus there about 15 years ago. Only one plant survived but  it continually produced a small harvest of asparagus shoots every spring. The delphiniums and irises were easy to move, the asparagus however was another story.

Asparagus root ball

Over the years, that one plant built up one heck of a room system. In fact, we were surprised to find that there was no way to move this mass on our own.

Moving asparagus root ball with the tractor

We threw a rope around it and hauled it out with the tractor.

 

 

We used a reciprocating saw to cut the root ball into 5 large pieces. Each was then transplanted into a corner of the new North Bed, where it is doing very well.

 

Last week, we finally finished the shop bed, – pulled all the rocks out, cleaned out all the grass and weeds, and reassembled the rock wall. In an attempt to control the grass this time, we put a plastic barrier between the soil and the rocks, extending under the bottom rocks on onto the path. We used plastic saved from our old bale garage. For the path, we reused asphalt shingles left over from shingling the lean-to on the bathhouse. Under the shingles I put a layer of plastic for extra weed protection. When we were insulating the house, I folded up all the plastic wrap from the insulation and stored it in the basement. Now it is being repurposed as a weed barrier.

Finished Shop Bed

The bed itself is covered in cardboard (from boxes) and newspaper as a weed barrier, then covered in straw. We plan to let this bed sit for this year. Next year, I will push aside the straw, cut holes in the cardboard, and plant perennials. Hopefully, this helps cut down the weeding.

North Bed July 3 2019

When the basement for the house was dug, back in 2013, the topsoil was deposited in a huge pile on the north side of the yard. It was affectionately called Squash Mountain, as the first year I planted squash on top of the mountain of soil. Since 2013, we have gradually chipped away at the mountain of soil, using it for various beds. This spring, it finally was leveled and worked up. Now it is another perennial bed, called the North Bed. With this bed ready to plant, we were able to move perennials in and clean out other beds. The bed began with one lone spruce tree, planted about 20 years ago. Around the spruce we planted blueberries, moving some that were in the garden and not doing well (acid loving plants so hoping they love it around the spruce), and purchasing a few more. We also put in a two more Saskatoon bushes (we currently have two in the Turnaround Bed, that are just starting to produce well.). The rest is filled with irises, delphiniums and asparagus from the Shop Bed cleanup; lilies, galardia, poppies and day lilies from the Cabin Beds (all rescues from my mom’s gardens); and peonies and daisies (originally from my Baba’s garden) from the Shade Bed on the north side of the garage. (Yes, I have lots of flower beds and they all have names!)

Last year we finished up a bed on the west side of the house, off the deck facing the lake. It’s 40 feet long and about 5 feet wide. This spring we planted half of it with strawberries, and half with herbs. The strawberries are now well established and producing, as are the herbs. We are enjoying finding a few red berries every day.

South Bed with TeePee July 3 2019

The bed on the south side of the house has a teepee in the center of it this year, planted with climbing beans on the outside, and spinach on the inside. The rest of the bed is a mixture of corn, beans, squash, sunflower and calendula.

The garden proper has a few new twists this year. My sister Sheila gave me a copy of How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. I love the book and am trying to implement many of the practices to grow more on less land with less water. I love the philosophy that we would work to sustain the soil as well as grow food. To this end I have started a rotation and will sew a portion of the garden to a cover crop each year. This year I planted a few beds of buckwheat, which will be harvested green for composting and the remaining plant and roots tilled under to rebuild the soil. Amongst the corn, I planted all types of bean seeds saved from previous years. The beans will be cut down once they start to bloom and be composted, and the roots left to decompose in the soil. And since I had saved a whole ton of spinach seeds last fall, I planted spinach everywhere, including the strawberry bed. I am harvesting spinach everyday, eating what we can, drying some for green smoothies during the winter, and soon I will begin composting the plants.

We are also trying a few new planting methods. We planted cucumbers in bales. Ken built simple crates, big enough to hold a straw bale. Once the bale was inserted in the crate, 3 holes were cut with a reciprocating saw, filed with soil and a cucumber planted in each hole. Three bale crates were placed on the south side of the greenhouse. So far, the cucumbers seem to be growing well.

Potato crate in forground with brassica cage behind it (covered in black screen)

We are testing growing potatoes in crates. We planted about 35 hills the regular way, in the ground, but Ken made one crate for me to try. We planted it very late but we will see how well it produces.

Last year I tried growing dry beans and I managed to grow a good crop of kidney beans and small brown beans. I cooked some of the beans and saved the rest to plant this year.  In addition, I added black beans and am trying chickpeas again (not very successful last year).  Since I have started seed saving, I planted a seed garden. A small area where I can leave Swiss Chard, spinach, cilantro, dill and other plants to grow to produce seed for next year’s garden.

The garden is all well mulched with old straw from a neighbor. They were going to burn the old spoiled bales, so we saved 7 large round bales for mulching. I used 4 this year and have 3 left for next year. While its a lot of work carting, mulching really helps cut down on the weeding and watering, so saves time in the end. Its amazing how moist the soil under the mulch stays compared to bare soil.

Celery in Almond Milk containers

I am growing celery this year as well. Over the winter, I saved the cartons from almond milk, and used them to start my tomato seedlings. After transplanting the tomatoes, I cut out the bottoms of the cartons and used them around my celery and leek plants. The cartons help blanch the plants. The plants are heavily mulched and I keep them well watered. I am looking forward to my first taste of garden celery.

We started a new asparagus bed in the garden this year (yes, in addition to the transplanted one in the North Bed). We planted 30 roots, which hopefully will give us a good harvest in a couple of years.

 

Onions June 25 2019

The garlic we planted last fall is doing well and soon I will be harvesting garlic scapes. Onions is something we use large amounts of, and this year I planted the largest amount ever, both from onion bulbs and seeds. I estimate I have over 500 onions planted. It looks very impressive. Last year’s harvest lasted until mid December. I am hoping this year’s harvest will last well into the new year.

 

 

 

 

We are continuing growing brassicas – cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, collards – under nets to keep out the cabbage butterflies. Our son, Christopher, gave us a mosquito net they were not using and we are using that enclosure this year. I had great hopes of a nice early cabbage harvest but alas, after planting in the enclosure in May, we found every plant devoured by flea beetles. One remedy I found on line was to plant later, once the flea beetles have hatched and left. We purchased new plants and they are doing well in the enclosure now that the flea beetles are gone. We also have some of our brassica cages from previous years being used as well.

The cool dry spring impacted the germination of many vegetables. Some of my carrots, corn and kale did not germinate at all. To fill those bare spots, I started more of those plants in pots and transplanted them into the garden in early July. We will see how that works out.

June 25, 2019

Even the veranda got an update this year. I purchased a bunch of pots from a second hand store, and spray painted them bright red. I love the splash of color they bring to the veranda.

I love to work in my garden, trying out new plants and planting methods. I got my love of gardening from my grandmother and my mother. Most of the perennial flowers in my beds come from their gardens, and I love to see those flowers live on. And I am so happy that this year, all of our kids have gardens of their own. Kerry has a small greenhouse garden with pots of tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Christopher has a small rooftop garden plot and Kelsey has a  backyard raised bed garden. As you can see, they also like to do things differently!

It’s amazing how fast the garden is growing right now. I have been working on this garden post for two weeks and everything is so much bigger now.

 

Posted in Food, Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2019 Workaway – Hannah and Vicky

February 17 to April 28, 2019

Hannah, Vicky, Darlene and Ken

Our Workaway experience continues successfully. Hannah and Vicky were a delightful couple who answered our call for a housesitter for April. When our plans suddenly changed to include a cruise in March as well as the planned trip to see the grandkids in April, they agreed to arrive early and brave a Manitoba winter.

Booksey enjoying a nap with Vicky

Hannah is from Australia and Vicky from Germany. They met here in Canada while on a Workaway experience. I have to admit I was a bit worried about the two of them alone here during the winter. Manitoba has been known to throw out some pretty wild weather in March. However, there was no need to worry as they embraced the chance to experience a Manitoba winter. While they didn’t get to experience -40C, like we had in early February, they did get some pretty cold weather.

 

 

 

Vicky and Hanna

Their job description was pretty simple – walk the dog twice a day, feed the dog and cats, keep the house warm and take care of my plants. Despite the sometimes very cold weather, they faithfully braved the cold to give Hanna her much loved daily walks. As well, both cats, Booksey and Sox, enjoyed their abundance of animal love.

 

 

 

 

Keeping our house warm is not as simple as it sounds, as we use a wood burning stove to heat the house. Each morning, they awoke to a chilly house (around 15C) and had to get a fire going. While we had a good stock of wood for them to use, they did need to forage for small stuff – kindling – to get the fire going. I was very impressed at how much they enjoyed the wood heat and how well they adapted to cooking and baking with a wood stove. We arrived home after each trip to find a pot of homemade soup and a loaf of homemade bread waiting for us. How’s that for a homecoming!

Vicky making her favorite chickpea spread

Both Hannah and Vicky are vegans and I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss many topics with them. They quickly learned the basics of whole food plant based eating and enjoyed the use of my well stocked pantry and collection of cookbooks. Both turned out to be excellent cooks.

 

 

 

 

 

Making perogies

They also volunteered at the town’s perogie fundraisers and turned out to be excellent perogie makers.

Over 400 dozen perogies made

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vicky making Energy Balls

Hannah had to return to Australia the end of March, but Vicky stayed on alone to housesit in April when we went to BC. She did really well alone, not minding the solitude. In fact, without Hannah who was the primary cook, she became a proficient cook in her own right. Before she left, she made up a bunch of healthy snacks to tide her over on her 24 hour travel back to Germany. You can find the recipes posted here on Ponderosa Cooks.

Thank you Vicky and Hannah for taking great care of our home and sharing your love with Hanna, Booksey and Sox. We are so happy to have the chance to get to know you and hope you will be back to visit your Canadian home again.

 

Posted in Workaway | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment