Family Time – August 2018

August 13, 2018

The Grandkids – Katie, Nora, Jacob, Astrid, Tyler

My house is eerily quiet right now. For the last two weeks its been packed to the rafters with family. Our kids, Kerry, Christopher and Kelsey were here with their families. We had a fabulous time with them and, although I am enjoying the quiet, I miss them all.

Christopher and Astrid canoeing

Emily and Astrid

Christopher, Emily and Astrid were first to arrive on July 31. Astrid just turned 2. They stayed until August 11.





Kelsey, Jacob and Nora

Kelsey, Jacob and Nora arrived August 1. Unfortunately, Matt was unable to get holidays so was not able to join them. But ever so thankful Kelsey was able to brave the plane trip with two small children in tow. Jacob is almost 3 and Nora is 10 months. They stayed until August 12. For the first week, Nora stayed within sight of Momma, but she slowly got more comfortable with the rest of us. And if she did start to fuss, you could almost always calm her down by singing The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round. Baba got really good at that song.


Katie, Kerry, Megan and Tyler playing bocce ball

Kerry, Megan, Katie and Tyler arrived on August 2. Katie is 10 and Tyler is 9. Both were super great with the small ones but unfortunately were only able to stay a few days, and they left August 6.





double potties in the shop

Both Jacob and Astrid where in potty training so the Ponderosa was strictly ‘pants optional’, in case you are wondering why pants are missing in so many photos. There were plenty of hits as well as misses, but overall they did very well.



Astrid and Jacob having a serious discussion in the tent.

Over the two weeks we packed in a lot of excitement. They all enjoyed the great outdoors at the Ponderosa as well as all the little nooks and crannies in the house. Christopher and Emily set up the tent and slept one night in it with Astrid. For the next few days it served as an additional play area for Jacob and Astrid.

Weiner roast






Playroom fun


We converted the storage room off one of the dormers into a playroom. Along one wall, Ken installed shelves with chalk board doors. For now, while the kids are young, the shelves serve as a tunnel with a slide at one end. Later, we will remove the slide and just use them for toy storage. The other walls are lined with a huge assortment of hats and dress up clothes.

Playroom hat collection

Auntie Sophie’s hat collection from around the world is being put to good use. The playroom was a hit and kept them amused for long stretches.

Auntie Kelsey enjoys getting Astrid to play dress up






Tea Time for Astrid and Jacob




Tyler’s block tower









And of course the kids all loved driving the tractor with Gigi, as well as wagon rides. They urged Uncle Christopher to give them faster and faster rides, until the wagon tipped.





Nora enjoying the water


We enjoyed a day at the beach, but unfortunately I got injured while trying out a stand up paddle board. I spent much of their visit hobbling around but thankfully it is healing well.

Tyler on Stand Up Paddleboard









Injured Baba






Perogie makers

Everyone pitched in to make holopsti and perogies for a delicious Ukrainian meal.

Astrid rolling dough for perogies









Christopher and Astrid picking raspberries

And they all helped out with the chores, doing dishes, cleaning house, picking vegetables, making meals and watering the garden. This was greatly appreciated, especially since I was hobbling around most of the time. Meals were very simple. They ate an unbelievable amount of peanut butter and hummus.

Jacob hauling tree branches





Emily watering the garden





Ken built a kids helper stand for the kitchen so they could help cook and do dishes. it worked out pretty good and I am sure we will make use of it for a few more years.

Emily, Astrid (on kids helper stand) and Baba doing dishes







Jacob and Astrid making a Gigi sandwich

Gigi’s (Ken’s) highlights from the visit were the tractor rides and having the grandkids all pile on him for some wrestling.




Baba’s storytime with Astrid

Baba (me) on the other hand, enjoyed the quieter moments, reading stories and just watching the kids interact with each other.



Bath time







Jacob and Nora going for a walk

As a bonus, my brother Glenn and his wife Pat, and my sister Sheryl and her family were also out near the end of the kids’ visit.

Family at the farm

The next generation. My Mom’s Great Grandchildren – Penny, Astrid, Jacob and Nora

Can’t wait to see everyone again. Thanks for the great visit!

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

Workaway 2018 – The French Connection

July 24, 2018

Maxime (with Sox), Sandra and Emilie

A big Thank You to our Workaway friends from France, Maxime, Sandra and Emilie. They stayed with us for four weeks and we really enjoyed having them here. They were a great help with our landscaping projects as well as general chores around the Ponderosa.

The big project that we planned to do with them was landscaping the lake side of the house. So they worked very hard – hauled a lot of rocks and shovelled a lot of shale and earth. And the project turned out really well. We didn’t get time to finish it completely, but the biggest part is done and it looks fantastic.

July 2, 2018 View of lakeside from Balcony

July 2, 2018 view of lake side from below









July 23, 2018 view of lake side landscaping

Before they arrived, we tarped the entire area to help get rid of the weeds and grass growing there. Ken had excavated the lower path already. They  helped cover the lower path with shale, level out the middle garden bed area and upper shale path. Then they helped Ken build a rock wall around each level. They even built stairs leading from the patio to the lower path. Finally, they helped fill in the garden bed with earth. That’s a lot of rocks, earth and shale to move! So grateful for their help. I plan to plant wheat grass in there this fall and then work it under next spring and plant strawberries and herbs.

lower path


shovelling earth for garden bed








rock covered slope on south end








Building muscles

working hard, getting dirty









Besides the lakeside landscaping, they also helped clean out the center turnaround bed. They weeded, mulched and built a log border around the outside. Looks so much neater now.

Sandra splitting wood

And of course there was wood to haul in, split, and stack and dried firewood to load into the wood shed for the upcoming winter. Emilie loved to operate the tractor, while Sandra and Maxime liked to work with their muscles.

Emilie, our expert tractor operator






loading the woodshed








Picking saskatoon berries

They also helped out in the kitchen and garden. With five hungry people to feed there is a lot of cooking and washing dishes to do. Emilie was a great help in the garden. The raspberries and saskatoon berries were plentiful this year. (I wonder if Emilie will have nightmares about the endless raspberry patch.) And my garden has never looked so neat and tidy thanks to Emilie and Sandra’s diligent weeding.

Besides working hard we also had a lot of fun – hiking at Riding Mountain National Park, helping out at a community perogie fundraiser, making pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs), making bread, cooking, baking, playing board games, canoeing, kayaking, playing pickleball, and enjoying time with Hanna and Sox.

Touring local churches

Helping to make 480 dozen perogies









Making Pysanky

Enjoying the lake







Emilie’s chocolate cake. Yummy









Chef Maxime

Three French Wild Animals
















A Canadian Tradition – The Weiner Roast – Vegan Style









Bon Voyage Sandra, Maxime and Emilie. We enjoyed your company and hope that our paths will cross again in the future.

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

Garden 2018

June 14, 2018

Peas up

Yeah, the garden is finally all planted. I put the last of the seedlings – watermelon and cantaloupe -in yesterday and today we are having a nice soaking rain. It is so satisfying to see all the little seeds sprouting up into tiny rows.

While the boys were putting up the greenhouse, I planted the existing garden area. We had a very dry spring and the soil was dry. Since nothing was going to sprout without either a good rain or a good watering, I decided to mulch first, then plant. It worked well to put down the mulch, then make my row and plant. However, a good wind later blew things around a bit. So until the rows got established, I had to go out and make sure my rows were not covered in mulch. But it did allow me to plant, then water right away. Since my watering system is pretty powerful, I wanted the mulch down to prevent erosion.

I planted the existing garden area with peas, carrots, beets, all kind of greens, green and yellow beans and some brassicas under the cages Ken made last year. They turned out to be rather hard to store, but luckily we had room and the netting only needed a bit of patching up for this year.

Last year, I experimented with permanent mulched pathways. Last fall, Ken tilled up the beds but left the rows. While it did help to have the paths still have the mulch from last year, they still needed to be remulched. I don’t think I will be sticking with the established rows next year, and will likely till the entire garden under this fall and re-establish new rows next year. I guess I am still not ready for permanence. I like to change things up.


Last fall, I planted my garlic and mulched it well. This spring it has sprouted up.  I did have to clear off the mulch for some of it but for the most part it grew nicely through the mulch. I am looking forward to seeing what kind of garlic harvest I get as I have never been able to grow great garlic.






Last year we started the garden expansion, taking down some trees, clearing out roots and planting forage radishes in the late summer. This spring we tilled the area and the soil is actually quite good. Still a little heavy, but a couple years of mulch should improve it greatly. Part of the expansion is taken up with the new greenhouse. Once the greenhouse was up, I planted the remaining area with tomatoes, peppers, brassicas, potatoes, corn, beans (black beans and chickpeas), cucumbers and onions. I planted this area and am waiting to mulch it once the plants are well established.

Last year I planted green and yellow beans around the perimeter of my corn area. This worked well, as the beans provide nitrogen for the corn and you don’t have to crawl into the corn patch to pick the beans. This year, I am modifying the method by planting the beans that will be harvested for dry beans – black beans and chickpeas – throughout the corn patch. The beans should be ready for harvest just after the corn. Will see if this works out.

new brassica cage design

The brassica cages covered with netting worked really well last year at keeping the cabbage butterfly off the cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and broccoli. This year, I am growing a bit more broccoli so we created a new cage that would be easier to store. It is a series of hoops held in place by a center pipe. I planted the seedlings but still have to put up the netting.

I also planted kale under the form from a basket chair and will cover that with netting as well. The butterflies come out around the beginning of July, so I will need to get that netting up soon.



I am also trying a bean teepee. Ken and Lucas helped me construct a teepee from poplar saplings and I planted pole beans around the base. I am now weaving willows around the base poles to give the plants something to climb up. I take the snippers with me on our daily walks and bring home a few more willow stems each day. I am hoping to get a good crop of green beans as well as a cool place for the grandkids to play in.

Last year, Ken made me a bunch of tomato stakes with wire attached. They worked really well. As the plants grew I tied them to the wire ‘cage’. They were sturdy enough to hold a fully loaded plant. The plants got plenty of air and sunshine and I had no issues with disease. The stakes were easy to store and are being reused this year.

Our little hothouse is back in use again as well. Since the greenhouse was not up until late May, the seedlings were moved from the house (in the sunroom under grow lights) to the hothouse in early May. The plants did really well and were large, leafy and healthy.





Ken transporting tomato seedlings the easy way

Once the greenhouse was finished, I asked Ken to move the tomatoes to the greenhouse. In typical fashion, he figured out how to do it in one load – on a pallet balanced on the tractor bucket!  Amazingly they made it without accident. About 18 of them are planted inside the greenhouse and the rest (about 22 more!) are planted in the new garden area. The hothouse is once again planted with peppers and basil.



Compost area

We have been using a regular black plastic compost bin. It works great during the summer for the kitchen waste and some of the garden material. However, it is not big enough to get us through the winter and can’t handle the fall garden material. Ken and Lucas built me a new compost system in the garden expansion area. It is built with pallets and is designed for a three year rotation. Year 1 (this year), all the compost (kitchen and garden) will go in one third of the space. Next year, year 1’s compost will be turned, using the tractor bucket, into the middle space and year 2’s compost will go in the first space. The following year, year 1’s compost will be turned into space 3, year 2’s compost will be turned into space 2 and years 3’s compost will go into the first space. There are no

View of compost area from the house and garden area

partitions between the spaces to make it easier for the tractor bucket to turn it over. So there will be some spillover in the piles but I don’t think that will matter much. The opening to the compost area is off a path on the side of the garden, so there is room for the tractor to access. And in the winter, it is on our snowshoe path through the woods, so we can drop the compost off on our morning walk.

Raspberries and columbine

The raspberries are blooming, as is the wild columbine growing in the raspberry patch. The bees are just swarming the area, busy pollinating. Soon we will be picking berries.


Posted in Gardening | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment


June 14, 2018

Spring came late this year and as a result we were quite behind schedule. We planned to put up a greenhouse this year, and hoped to have it up and running before we left for our vacation. However, the snow decided to stay on till almost May, and we left on holiday with barely a start in the foundation for the greenhouse. We returned May 20, in a hurry to get the greenhouse up and the garden in. Lucky for us, our Workaway Lucas, who housesat for us while we were away, stayed on to help out.

We built the greenhouse from the Ana White Barn Greenhouse plans available on the internet. We had to alter the plan a bit as our greenhouse was 14 feet long and 12 feet wide. Our son Christopher worked out the angles for the roof trusses. Ken had some trouble getting the angles to work, until he realized one of his boards was 3 inches too short. LOL. Measure twice, cut once.

The greenhouse sits on a row of cinder blocks set right in the ground. At the north end, the foundation is one block high and at the south end, it is two blocks high, as the ground slopes towards the lake on the south.






For the sides of the greenhouse, we decided to use clear polycarbonate panels from Domtek. They are light and virtually unbreakable. I had really hoped to use reclaimed windows but Ken wanted something more maintenance free. We used reclaimed windows for the hothouse we build last year, and some of the wood frames Ken built for it warped within the first year.




We did, however, incorporate a large window we had stored. We had purchased the window to use in the workshop. However, the inner triple pane cracked during transport and so it sat in storage for almost 15 years until now. It looks great on the south side of the greenhouse, but it was a lot more work to frame around it than to use straight polycarbonate panels.




Since the north side of the greenhouse would not be required to let in light, we decided to finish it in wood. I wanted to plant sweet potatoes against the north wall, growing up a trellis on the wall. The outside of the north wall is finished in vinyl siding left over from the house build.

Since there are no windows that open in the greenhouse, we installed vents near the top on both the south and north sides. These vents open from the outside so you don’t have to disturb the plants inside while opening and closing. It gets pretty hot in the greenhouse on a sunny day, so we generally keep the door open during the day.

We debated on what to do for a door but finally decided on a homemade one. Lucas and Ken originally planned to use rough bark covered slabs of birch to finish the outside of the door, but that turned out to be too heavy. Instead, they stripped the bark off the birch logs and finished the door in birch bark and a rustic log handle.











The greenhouse is designed to be like an enclosed garden area and inside we are planting directly into the ground. The idea being to extend the garden season and grow heat loving crops earlier and longer.  We haven’t figured out if we can collect rain water off the roof yet, so for now we have barrels  fill with water pumped from the lake. Eventually we will hook up a hose from the barrels and have the beds in the greenhouse water automatically using a soaker hose, just like we did for the little hothouse. For now, I am watering by pail.

Sweet potato crates and trellises on north side of greenhouse

The greenhouse contains tomatoes (San Marzano, Amish Paste, Beefstake and Cherry), peppers (sweet and hot), basil, one watermelon and one cantaloupe (hoping they will trail around the peppers and tomatoes), sweet potatoes (I started the slips myself and have them planted in two large crates with a trellis up the north wall for them to climb. The crates are filled with a mixture of earth and straw), a couple of eggplants and several potted herbs. We started all the plants ourselves, first in the house under grow lights and later moved to the hothouse before moving into the greenhouse.

So far the plants are responding well to the environment. Even after one week, there is a significant difference from the tomatoes and peppers planted outside in the garden and those in the greenhouse. Sweet potatoes can’t be grown in Manitoba, our growing season is too short. I am hoping my experiment with them in the greenhouse works and we get a crate full of potatoes.


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

Workaway 2018 – Lucas

June 13, 2018

Lucas making blueberry cheesecake

Our first Workaway for 2018 left today. Lucas is from Belgium and stayed with us for seven weeks. Two of those weeks he was on his own, house/dog/cat/plant – sitting for us while we were on vacation. We are so happy to have had him stay, he was a great worker and an interesting person.

Lucas is the closest to a true vegan I have ever met. He practices the true spirit of the meaning of veganism – a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. Veganism is more than what you eat or wear. Its how you treat all creatures we inhabit this earth with, as well as the earth itself. Because if you harm the earth, you harm her inhabitants as well. We had so many great conversations about veganism, minimalism, the environment, spirituality and life in general. He inspired me to want to be more ‘vegan’ and I will continue to work on that.

Lucas’s Blueberry Cheesecake

Lucas was a great help in the kitchen and a fabulous student. While he was here, he read How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Gregor and was quick to adopt his Daily Dozen foods to add to your diet. I did not get too many days with Lucas in the kitchen as Ken also loved his help, but we did manage to do a fair bit of cooking together. Lucas loved to make delicious desserts that were also very healthy.

Lucas’s Lucious Lemon Curd

Lucas’s Chia Bread with lentil pate and nettle pesto






Lucas baking bread












Separating dandelion petals for honey

Harvesting cattails in the rain

Lucas also like to forage in the woods with us for native edibles. He learned how to find Morels and helped me harvest cattails, nettle and dandelion. The cattails we stir fried for meals; the nettle we used in smoothies and nettle pesto, steamed for fresh greens in maple mustard sauce and dried for our use in smoothies over the winter; and the dandelion we made into a delicious vegan dandelion honey.

Drying nettles

Dandelion honey preserved for winter









Lucas and Ken installing acrylic panels on greenhouse

Ken also enjoyed having Lucas to help out, declaring he was the best worker he ever met. Lucas helped construct our new greenhouse (greenhouse post to come shortly), install a new beam under the woodshed floor, split wood, plant and water the garden and many other jobs.

Splitting wood









Planting tomatoes









In his free time, Lucas liked to play the guitar, keyboard, draw and read. He also loved working with wood, building very rustic items. He made a rustic fence and gate for the garden, a trellis for the turnaround, and trellises for the sweet potatoes in the greenhouse. The hinges he designed for the gate were quiet ingenious, all out of wood. We even built a solar oven (post on that to come later). And he gave me a lovely pencil sketch inspired by walking in our woods.

Fence with gate


Trellis for sweet peas









Fence along garden

Solar Oven









Its been a very busy spring, and we are so thankful for having Lucas around to help out on our many projects. We wish him safe travels and hope to meet up with him again some day.

Lucas’s Woodland Walk Sketch


Posted in Cooking, Food, Fun, Gardening, Landscaping, Wild Edibles, Woodworking projects, Workaway | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

European Vacation 2018 – Part 2 England

May 6 to 19, 2018

White Cliffs of Dover

After 6 days in and around Amsterdam we travelled to London, England by bus. We took the ferry across from Calais, France to Dover England. The first glimpse of England we had was the white cliffs of Dover. Very cool. And I enjoyed the bus ride through the countryside to London. We stayed at the Bayswater Inn. The hotel was a bit tired looking inside, but clean and currently under renovation. And the location was excellent, just a stones throw from Hyde Park, as well as the Baywater and Queensway tube stations.

The first thing I noticed about London, was the traffic. We were in London in 2005 and I remember the traffic being horrendous. Wall to wall vehicles, exhaust, honking horns and noise, noise, noise. My first impression, which continued throughout our stay, was of relatively little traffic – mostly made up of buses, taxis and delivery vehicles. Seems to me that their congestion tax has paid off. I found the city absolutely enjoyable to be in without all the vehicle traffic.

Our first full day in London was a free day. Ken and I, along with four group members, opted to do the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio tour. Since our tour was not scheduled until the afternoon, we did a short tour of Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square in the morning before taking the subway and train to Watford Junction.

The Making of Harry Potter was quite enjoyable. Very cool to see the original sets, costumes and watch how they did the special effects. I really enjoyed watching the kids, in particular, one girl approximately 12 years old. She was over the top excited and knew everything about the movies. Many of the kids were dressed in Harry Potter garb. I enjoyed a lesson in wand combat, which was great fun even though I sucked at it.

Wand Selection

Ken was like a little kid, taking it all in. We are both fans of the Harry Potter books and movies. And of course Ken just had to get a wand to bring home. My stipulation was that it could not be one of the ‘dark’ wands, so he got a Dumbledore wand.

Platform 9 3/4

The Great Hall at Hogsworth

Roman Bath House

Day 2 was a group tour of Bath and Stonehenge. I never realized that Bath, England was really about a bath – a Roman bath. The tour of the Roman bath house was really good. During our free time, we found a quaint little vegan restaurant – Chapel Art – located in the basement of a church that was converted into an art gallery. We always get so excited to find vegan restaurants.

Abbey at Bath



The Abbey at Bath is also worth seeing. The façade has unusual carvings of angels climbing a ladder.

Angels climbing ladder to heaven

Apparently, the person commissioning the building had a dream that he was supposed to build this church and in the dream he say angels climbing a ladder to heaven, which he had incorporated into the building.


Stonehenge was spectacular. In recent years they have stopped allowing people to roam among the stones and you are relegated to a pathway at least 30 metres from the stones. It did mean you could get a good shot of the stones without a whole bunch of random tourists in the shot; however, it was difficult to get a perspective of the size of the stones without standing next to them. Given the number of tourists visiting the site, it’s a totally reasonable step to help preserve the area.

Since both Bath and Stonehenge are a fair hike from London, we also got to enjoy the English countryside.

Magical Mystery Tour Group

Day 3 was the official end of the organized tour; however, most of the group; including us, opted for an extra three days in London. On Day 3, Ken and I, along with four other group members, took the train to Liverpool for a day of Beatles.




Gate to Strawberry Fields, one of John’s favorite places to play as a kid.

We visited The Beatles Story Museum and took the Magical Mystery Tour. It was cool to see the sites that inspired the songs – including Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields.

I think Paul lived in this house????







We also stopped to see many of the homes the Beatles lived in. Kind of funny to take pictures of random doors in residential neighbourhoods.

Ken hanging out with John outside the Cavern Club






And of course we visited the Cavern Club. An enjoyable day.






Palace at Brighton

Day 4 was a day at the seaside – in Brighton. The town has fabulous architecture, a lovely beach and The Lanes are a great shopping experience.



Vegan Shoes- mostly made with Pineapple Leather or Hemp

Brighton is often described as the vegan capital of the UK. I’ll vouch for that. Had the best vegan pizza ever at Purezza. The restaurant was totally plant based and we enjoyed a smoothie with our pizza.

Pizza and a smoothie from Purezza














Our want-to-be model friend

Brighton has a pier that stretches out into the sea 1/3 of a mile. And the pier has an amusement park and many eating venues on it. It also has a number of standup cutouts for photos. We decided to take our picture and asked a young man if he would take our photo. He looked a bit puzzled but said yes, and promptly went to stand in the cutout so we could take his picture. We couldn’t stop laughing, but took his photo and then handed him our camera so he could take ours. While we went to stand in the cutout, we found him browsing through our pictures to see his. Too funny. It seems our photographer/model did not speak any English. Brighton is a hot spot for English language schools and we saw many school groups out and about.



Arundel Castle

After walking our feet off in Brighton we took the train to Arundel to see the castle and walk the town. Fabulous cute little town. If you are looking to see a castle, I would recommend this one. Not too far from London and very easy to get to. The

Church in Arundel

castle and town are a short walk from the train station. Although we did not tour the inside of the castle, other members of our group did and said it was fabulous. We arrived in Arundel about an hour before the castle closed, so we opted for a short walk of the town before catching the train back to London.

Our last day in England we

View from top of Box Hill

spent hiking in the Surrey Hills – which is labeled on the map as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. After almost two weeks of touring we were ready for some quite countryside time. We took the train to Leatherhead where we rented a car (from Kendal Cars – highly recommend, they were very helpful) so we could get to some of the many great hiking spots. We figured driving on the left side of the road might be easier in the countryside – Not! The driving was nerve wracking and right hand turns a nightmare. The small country lanes were very narrow and winding. You never knew what would come speeding around the next corner.

Deer on trail of Box Hill hike

We managed to get to the Box Hill hiking area and enjoyed a very enjoyable hike. While walking through a wooded section we came across a deer on the trail.







We took a wrong turn on the way back to the parking lot and ended up heading down into the valley. We climbed a barb wire fence and hiked up a steep slope to get back on track.

I highly recommend the Box Hill hikes. They have a lovely little café at the parking area as well as volunteers manning a booth with trail maps of the area. We were quite thrilled to find the café featured a bean chilli and a bean soup, so we also had a great homemade lunch as a bonus.

Tower at Box Hill


Lovelace Bridge

After lunch, we braved the roads again to get to our second hike, the Lovelace Bridges. This one was not so well labelled. We did find the parking spot but it was a starting point for two different hikes. We took the wrong one. After tramping around for a while, we happened upon a local out walking his dog. He informed us the Lovelace Bridges were on the other side of the road. We found our way back and onto the right trail. We even found the first bridge without much difficulty. After that, however, we got hopelessly lost. It seems locals make their own trails through the wooded area, for walking their dogs and riding horses. It was impossible to tell which was the actual trail. We gave up without finding any more bridges, but the first one was very impressive. Lord Lovelace built the bridges to even out hills and valleys on his property so he could transport lumber by horse drawn cart. Lord Lovelace was into architecture and each of the bridge was unique in construction. About 10 of the original bridges still exist. If you decide to do this hike, be sure to download a copy of the map before you go. We couldn’t get a signal in this area so could not access the map.

After a white knuckle drive back to Leatherhead – travelling the long way round trying to get there without using the freeway, really small roads or making a right hand turn. Thank goodness for the map book Kendal Cars lent us, as our phone was running low on battery by the end of the day. We made it back safe and sound but next time I would gladly forgo the driving part (just to be clear, I did not drive, Ken did. Non-the-less, it was a very stressful experience)

The final day, May 19, it was up early and off to the airport. We missed the entire Royal wedding of Harry and Megan, as there were no screens showing the nuptials in the airport. It was a long fly back to Toronto and a long layover in the airport (6 hours) followed by another long plane ride to Winnipeg. Was a great trip but happy to be back home.

Ken and Darlene in the London Subway 2005

Ken and Darlene in London subway – 2018

















Workaway Lucas

Thanks to Lucas, our Belgium workaway, who stayed at our place and took great care of the house, dog and cat.

After taking two weeks off in May, a busy time in the spring, we are working furiously to get the garden in, the greenhouse up and the yard in shape. Will post soon on the new greenhouse and garden development.

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

European Vacation 2018_Part 1 Amsterdam

May 6 to 20, 2018

OMG, its June already. Time does fly when you are busy and we’ve been super busy this May. On top of getting the spring yard work and gardening done, we did a two week European vacation.



We are back from another of Ken’s group vacations, – this time, to the Netherlands and England. The trip was arranged through Air Transat and Jumbo Tours. There were 27 of us and what a great bunch of travelers. Many have traveled with us before but we had quite a few new friends as well. Our tour guide for the trip was Bruno, an enthusiastic Frenchman who kept us all walking and on schedule. By the end of the trip Bruno’s “short walks” became the group joke.


The first half of the trip was centered in Amsterdam. Our location could not have been more perfect. We stayed at the IBIS Hotel right beside Central Station in the heart of Amsterdam. It was a “short Bruno walk” to almost everything.

The bike traffic in Amsterdam was awe inspiring. Central Station had a three story bike parking area and it was always packed with bikes. A steady stream of bikes came and went from Central Station all day, but it was particularly intense during morning and evening rush hour. The dedicated bike lanes are used by bikes, motor scooters, and tiny tiny cars. You needed to be very vigilant as a pedestrian crossing the bike lanes as they do not stop for anyone.

Amsterdam by Boat

Our second day included city tour of Amsterdam by bus and boat, and a trip to Keukenhof Gardens. The city is amazing, as is the history of how it was it was created. A series of dikes and canals were built and the water pumped out to sea, turning former lakes into land. Everywhere you turn there is another canal, another unique bridge, and row on row of tall skinny houses. The houses are so skinny that they could not get furniture up the skinny staircases to the upper levels, so the houses have hooks above the upper windows so furniture could be hoisted up through the windows. In fact, many of the houses slope towards the street so that the outside walls don’t get damaged by loads being hauled up.

Not tulips but lovely just the same (lilies)


Keukenhof Gardens was a flower lover’s dream come true. Acres and acres of tulips. So many different colors and petal arrangement. I had never seen double pedalled tulips or fringed tulips before. Lucky for us, we caught the last week of tulip season.

Most of the commercial tulip bulb fields surrounding Keukenhof were already out of bloom, but there was one large field of brilliant red tulips. (Once the tulips bloom, the blooms are cut off so the plant has more energy to put into the bulb.) The flower beds in Keukenhof, however, were still in brilliant bloom. It was amazing to wonder around the large grounds finding so many gorgeous flower beds. Due to the time of year, you could not buy tulip bulbs to take home, but I did order a few to be shipped to me this fall.

Our third day was a museum marathon day. We started with the Anne Frank House. A “short” 30 minute walk from our hotel. I have never read the Anne Frank Diary but will make of point of it now. Quite an amazing and touching story.

Group at Rembrandt Square Night Watch Statues


After lunch we explored the Rijks Museum. We really enjoyed the Portrait Gallery as well as the High Society Exhibit. The most famous painting in the museum is Rembrandt’s Night Watch. On our walk to the Rijks Museum we passed through Rembrandt Square and were able to get a group photo amongst the statues of the figures represented in the Night Watch painting.  

Night Watch by Rembrandt

We ended the day at the Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh is probably my favourite artist and I enjoyed learning a bit more about him. I have a copy of one of his Sunflowers paintings hanging in my kitchen and a copy of The Gleaners hanging upstairs. The Starry Night followed me home. I will have to find a place to hang it.

After a day of walking from museum to museum and then walking miles and miles inside each of them, we were spent. Instead of walking back to the hotel, the group opted to try out the local tram. It was quite an adventure as the tram was packed solid. We laughed ourselves silly as we were practically pushed onto unsuspecting travelers laps.

Day 4 was a tour of a different nature – the Heineken Experience. I enjoyed the first part of the tour – which explained the history of Heineken as well as an explanation of how it is brewed. Ken loved the second half which was pure fun – karaoke singing on a virtual bike ride through Amsterdam, beer pouring contests and of course the beer tasting. Something for everyone. The rest of the day was free time and some of us took in the Amsterdam Dungeons – a humorous re-enactment of a rather dark side to Amsterdam’s history. I thought it was rather cheesy but Ken apparently loves cheesy, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Day 5 was a free day. Ken and I had planned to spend the day biking around Amsterdam and enjoying the myriad of bike paths. However, one of the hotel staff persuaded us to reconsider. She saw too many visitors with broken bones from bike accidents. Biking is serious business in Amsterdam and not for those who don’t know where they are going, lollygagling and looking at the sights. After witnessing the frenzy of bikers, I reluctantly had to agree. So instead we opted to get out of the city for the day and visit Giethoorn.


Giethoorn by boat

Giethoorn is a small town with few roads, but canals instead. Most of the town only accessible by boat, foot or bike. I was really looking forward to visiting this village but was sad to find that this beautiful quaint town of 270 inhabitants was totally spoiled by presence of 5,000 tourists, which we of course were contributing to. Most of the homes have been converted into bed and breakfasts, restaurants, shops or camp grounds. Anyone who does live there has to put up with thousands of people passing by their front doors all day long.

By the afternoon, the canals were bumper to bumper traffic and the paths clogged with pedestrians and bikers. It kind of reminded me of Niagara Falls – nature in all its raw beauty, alongside masses of tourists. It gave me something to ponder – how our incessant desire to see and experience new places can totally change their natural charm.

However, being in the country did give us the chance to do some biking. The bike paths inside the town were nuts, and I opted to walk my bike instead of ride. But once you left the town it was a pleasant ride in the countryside along farm yards and fields. We had a picnic lunch along a small canal. We even witnessed a typical spring event – the spreading of cow manure on the fields – very aromatic. And we did enjoy the train ride out to Giethoorn, seeing the countryside. The country is trying to reduce its dependency on natural gas and oil, and has many large wind farms. Most of the land is devoted to grazing land or fodder for animals. Most of their vegetable crops are grown in large greenhouses.

Dutch Kiss in my new klompen

On our last day in Amsterdam we visited Zaanse Schans which has a large collection of windmills. The day was calm and the windmills not turning but we got a great tour of a windmill used for milling lumber. We were the only ones there so enjoyed an extensive private tour.

We visited the Klompenmakerij for a demo on how to make wooden shoes and some shoe shopping for a pair of bright red klompen for me. Now these are the original vegan shoe! I had hoped to wear my shoes for gardening, but so far have not been able to adjust to wearing them. Although they seem comfortable enough, they press on the top of your foot when you walk. Never-the-less, they are beautiful to look at.


We also visited a cheese maker. The Dutch sure love their cheese. And we visited two small former fishing villages – now resort towns – Volendam and Marken. Both towns were on what was formerly the Zanderzea. After suffering a massive flood, they decided to build a dike to separate the Zandersea from the North Sea, changing the sea into a lake. Volendam is busier and more commercial than Marken, which has more local charm.

Volendam Beach

We were lucky to have a warm sunny day and enjoyed a rest on the beach.









Ghente, Belgium

Day 7 was a traveling day, off to London to visit the Queen. We travelled by bus and had a three hour lunch break in Ghente, Belgium. The downtown area has spectacular cathedrals, belfries and a castle.




An unexpected surprise was a Food Truck Festival, where we found a Dutch Weed Burger. We had searched Amsterdam for this vegan specialty but could not find the restaurant. We were pretty excited to find the food truck in Ghente and took 2 weed burgers to go. And no, they are not that type of weed. These are made with seaweed.





Ferry from Calais, France to Dover, England

They say that Holland gets only six weeks of sunshine a year. The Dutch were very generous with us, we had sunshine and warm temperatures for the entire week. We got a few sprinkles of rain as we left the country, on our way to England.  We took the ferry from Calais, France to Dover in England. The border crossing was very interesting. Not sure if security was tighter due to the upcoming wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but we did get grilled. The ferry crossing was quite enjoyable and very relaxing.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our European adventure – England.

More pictures from the Netherlands.

So many unique beautiful bridges


Amsterdam – Bikes and Bridges

The Klompenmakerj’s workshop

Wooden Shoe Planters

Wind powered saw mill

Posted in Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments