Workaway 2017

August 31, 2017

Darlene and Ken with Andrea, Cristiana and Stevie (and Hanna)

Earlier this year, we signed up for a program called Workaway. Workaway promotes volunteering, work and cultural exchange around the world. In a nutshell, as a Workaway host, we can host visiting travelers at our property and in exchange for 20 to 25 hours of work a week, we will provide them with a room and board. To date, we have hosted four travellers interested in experiencing off grid living and a vegan lifestyle.

Our first Workaway was a young man from Great Britain – Shahyan. He housesat for us while we were visiting the kids this spring. In exchange for watching our pets, taking care of the garden, and doing some chores, we provided him with a stocked pantry and a selection of frozen home cooked plant based meals. The experience was very positive. He did have a bit of bad luck hauling in some trees with the tractor (blew a tire) and working the water pump for the garden (put in diesel instead of gas – but not his fault, the gas can was not labelled); however, he did manage to split a whole pile of firewood for us and took great care of Hanna and Sox.

Making beet salad is bloody work!

Our next Workaway was a young lady from New Zealand – Stevie -who contacted us because she was interested in learning more about the Whole Food Plant Based way of eating. While  not a vegetarian, she had no problem adapting to our vegan lifestyle. She has been a great help with the garden – weeding, harvesting and preserving – and with the cooking and landscape projects. I have really enjoyed her company. She hates to follow a recipe and constantly challenges me to step outside my comfort zone. She is also crazy about beets (or beet root as the Kiwis call it) and I have really made great use of the beets in my garden this year. Stevie is still with us for a few more weeks when she moves on to her next adventure.

Building a stone retaining wall for the Patio

Our last Workawayers were a couple from Italy – Andrea and Cristiana. Andrea is a vegan and Cristiana agreed to give it a try for the two weeks she was with us. There was no shortage of fun and laughs while they were with us. Andrea was a great help to Ken on various projects including splitting and stacking wood and building a stone retaining wall for the patio.

Yoga on the deck





Cristiana served as our yoga instructor, spent countless hours washing dishes and tried her hand on creating vegan desserts, including Energy Balls and a No Bake Chocolate Pumpkin Pie.

Our outdoor kitchen got used a lot this August. Ken got the water hooked up to the sink and we had a professional hook up the propane to the gas cooktop. So nice to enjoy the outdoors while cooking.

Andrea is an accomplished Italian vegan cook  and I enjoyed learning from him. He cooked us Potatoes, Pasta e Pesto; Pasta Salentina; Pomodoro e Basilica; and Potatoes with Crema de Fava.

Chef Andrea






Making Pysanky





While Stevie, Andrea and Cristiana were here we also enjoyed showing them our Ukrainian Culture and the best of the Canadian prairies. They tried their hands at making pysanky (Ukrainian Easter Eggs), borshch (Beet Soup) and bread. They biked and ran the quite country roads and kayaked on the lake. They saw bison up close, as well as numerous other wild life. And they had the opportunity to see up close how grain is swathed and combined.

Baking Bread

Andrea catches a garter snake








Bison up close


Enjoying a picnic at the lake








Thanks to our workawayers help, our woodshed is stacked with wood for the winter and the wood for the following winter is split, stacked and drying. And we have a good start on the landscaping on the lake side.

Filling the woodshed for the winter

Laundry day – Hanging clothes to dry

‘Top and Tailing’ green beans for freezing while sitting on the front porch swing.

Posted in Cooking, Decks, Food, Fun, Kitchen, Landscaping, Outside living space | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

August Garden Update

August 5, 2017

Garden Season is in full swing. Suddenly the garden has blossomed and we are working hard to make good use of her bounty – eating, freezing and drying whatever we can. This is such an exciting time of year. I love doing my morning walkabout, deciding what we can eat or preserve each day. And all the mulching is really paying off, with only a small amount of time spent weeding. It has been hot and dry this year, and we are giving the garden a good watering about once a week. The mulch helps retain the moisture.

We pulled the first hill of potatoes and we astonished to find about 4 litres of nice sized potatoes. We gave these away to visiting guests, John and Gerry, but will be sure to pull another hill soon to eat.

Lettuce, lettuce and more lettuce – romaine,  buttercrunch and leaf lettuce. Stevie, our New Zealand guest informed us that romaine is called cos and the other lettuces I grow are referred to as “Fancy Lettuce”. I like that cause they do look pretty fancy! The spinach is finished and gone to seed, but there is still plenty of kale, Swiss Chard and beet greens. There is more greens than we can consume, but we have been drying some in the dehydrator to make green powder for winter smoothies.

The Brassica Covers that Ken built are working really well. So far I have harvested 3 cabbages, 2 cauliflower, a whole bunch of broccoli and plenty of kale – all without any cabbage worms. Today we pulled out all the kale and collards that were planted outside the covers as they are getting too chewed up. Luckily we have lots growing under the covers and I planted some more today after pulling out all the broccoli as it has stopped producing. I will definitely add a few more covers next year so that I can grown the collards and more kale.

We have been eating snap pea for a week and just started enjoying regular peas. We have been freezing all the snap peas we don’t eat, but the other peas will just be for fresh eating. The green beans are also producing like crazy and we have started freezing those as well.  There is lots of nice onions – bulbs and greens – to eat.







The squash are starting to spread, blossom and produce.  We enjoyed our first zucchinis today and will soon have Scalloped Squash (or Patty Pat).







The cucumbers are blooming like crazy and we should be able to harvest some in another week. The tomatoes are beginning to ripen as well and we have enjoyed some Tiny Tims.

The fancy tomato stakes Ken made have been wasted on the cherry tomatoes. After checking the seed package I see why they are not climbing like crazy – I bought a dwarf variety. Duh!

It is amazing how well the peppers, basil and eggplant are doing in my little greenhouse. The self watering system is working really well and the plants are large, leafy, healthy and full of fruit. The peppers are large and still green, but very tasty. We had some pretty hot and sunny days in the last couple of weeks and a couple of them got sunburned.

My herbs are also doing well – lots of basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley, cilantro/coriander, chives, sage, peppermint and stevia. I have dried quite a bit for winter use as well as enjoyed many fresh pestos and herb dressings.








Raspberry season is in full swing. We have been picking about 1 or 2 quarts of berries almost every day for a week. So far we have not gotten tired of eating raspberries – in salads, on our breakfast cereal, as raspberry lemonade, mixed with coconut milk yogurt or made into a dessert. Any we don’t eat I have been pureeing and freezing for flavoring my kombucha during the winter.

Our garden addition is coming along as well. We cut down the trees this winter and the stumps and roots have now been removed. Ken is tilling it under and this week I plan to plant forage radishes. They are used as a cover crop supressing fall weeds, with the added bonus that their tap roots can extend 6 feet into the soil. I am hoping they will add some good humus to the soil and break it up as well.


Summertime is here!



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

Outdoor Kitchen

July 13, 2017

Another project almost complete. The building of the outdoor kitchen is done. Just waiting for the hookup of the propane stove and the plumbing on the outdoor sink. Although we can’t cook or wash outside yet, we are already enjoying this space.

The outdoor kitchen is right off the indoor kitchen on the part of the lakeside deck under the balcony. The balcony gives some protection to the kitchen and also provides shade. This part of the deck is 8 feet by 20 feet so we had lots of space to play with. The kitchen consists of 2 counters, the one on the inside, against the house wall, is 12 feet long and has a double sink. The one on the outside edge of the deck is 8 feet long and has a propane cooktop.

Waterproof barrier on top and bottom

Ken C was over for the weekend while I was away and the boys managed to finalize the plans and build the carcasses (in between golf games). When I returned home the countertops were ready to finish.

First we applied a waterproof strip to the tops of the studs.

Then we place the concrete board top on.

Concrete Board









Tiles in place

Then the tiles that would form the counter top were put in place. We are using marble tiles that we purchased on Kijiji a few years back. We got them at a great price and were intending on using them in the foyer, but changed our minds. They were perfect for these counters, especially since we discovered they were 2 different colors, brown and black! And we had just enough to do each counter – one in brown veined marble and one with black veins.

Since winters here are freezing, we decided not to glue or grout the tiles, but rather just to lay them tight together. That way they shouldn’t crack over the winter. (but we will tarp the counters to keep the snow off) The tiles are held in place by an outside molding made from leftover pieces of composite decking.

Backsplash from metal clad door jambs


The backsplash on the sink counter is another leftover find. When the boys were planning the counter they decided it really needed a backsplash. While scrounging through the garage they found the perfect solution – metal clad door jambs that we never used.



Double sink in one countertop

The sink was another find. Thanks sister Sheryl for spotting it in the back alley. The taps I picked up on Kijiji for $15.

The sides and deck side of the counter are chipboard covered with Tyvec house wrap and sided with left over vinyl siding from the house. It provides a nice waterproof finish and ties the kitchen into the house well.

The propane cooktop was originally purchased to go in the indoor kitchen, but we changed our minds. I much prefer having the cooktop out here since it will only be used in the summer, when the wood fired cookstove inside is not in use. I can’t wait to get this hooked up and in use! Right now, during the summer, I cook using a variety of small electrical appliances and an induction hot plate. However, electrical appliance use a fair bit of power and so my cooking is limited to when the sun shines. I can’t wait to make myself a cup of tea at 9 pm – a luxury I don’t have now.

We left the insides of each counter open, with possibility of adding doors later. But for now there is plenty of room to store the stools used to create a breakfast bar on the stove countertop.

Stools convert the stove countertop to a breakfast bar

And the view is great.

The outdoor spaces really add to the living space. We enjoy the veranda with its morning sun and afternoon shade and a lovely view of the garden. And now the west side deck with the view of the lake and afternoon sunshine, and a fabulous outdoor kitchen. While this deck can get hot when the summer sun is shining, the kitchen is shaded by the balcony.

When the afternoon sun hits the lake deck, the pets (and people) can always opt to enjoy the cool of the veranda.

Hanna and Sox with visiting Kensi enjoying a snooze on the veranda.

We have lots more plans for the lake side, including a kitchen garden, a strawberry patch, a wood fired oven, a fire pit and much more. Of course not all will transpire this summer.



Posted in Cooking, Decks, Dining Room, Food, Kitchen, Outside living space, Veranda | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


July 6, 2017

OMG, I thought we would never get it done, but I am happy to report that the bannister is not complete – all 4 sides! Ken finished the last of the trim today. The trim covers the joists between the two floors. I must say it looks pretty good.

South side – living room on the first floor with French doors to the sunroom. Media room on the second level

West side – living room built ins on the first floor and walk-around on the second

North side – kitchen in the background on the first floor and French doors to master bedroom on the second floor (I see Ken has left his level on the ledge. Wonder if he will remember where it is when he needs it next. LOL)

East side – view of the staircase and bannister with the two dormers on the second floor.

In the picture above (East side) Ken is securing the last of the spindles. Since our spindles were made from real trees, they are not uniform or straight. When Ken created the rails, he place them so that there would not be any gaps greater than 4 inch, to code. But if you can turn a spindle, you could create a gap. After realigning the spindles to avoid gaps, he screwed any loose ones in place with small head screws.

Including the stair rail, there is 169 spindles, 8 short posts and 5 long floor to ceiling posts. All are poplar trees harvested from our property, skinned, dried, sanded and varathaned. The spindles were all tendoned using a tenon cutter. (See this post for the process). It has taken us 19 months to complete.

With the trim covering the joists around the top of the opening to the second floor finished, the first floor is now totally complete. To do the trim, Ken used bamboo tongue and groove flooring. It matches well with the poplar of the bannister and the birch of the living room built-ins. As the posts for the bannister are lag bolted through the joists, we had to wait until the last post was in place before the trim could be done.

The last two rail sections of the bannister went in while Kelsey and Jacob were visiting. Thanks to Larry and Darlene for providing the extra hands needed to assemble and maneuver the two sections into place. We had the staircase blocked off so Jacob couldn’t venture upstairs, but it only took three days for him to figure out how to defeat the gate. Luckily Ken was ready to get the last sections up by then. We got them up while he was napping but let him pose with his tools for a picture with Gido.

Jacob helping Gido with the last section of bannister

The boys with their toys (aka tools)

Ken also managed to put the frame for the day beds in the dormers (picture below) together before Katie and Tyler arrived. They loved their little beds. The day beds also make a cozy area for curling up with a good book or just admiring the view of the yard through the big windows. Getting the day bed covers and pillows made is on my to do list. Making the doors for the cabinet below the bed will be a winter project for Ken. Left for winter will also be the hardwood flooring on the second level.

Dormer day beds


Posted in Bannister | Leave a comment

Garden Update

July 1, 2017

Happy Canada Day from the Ponderosa.

July 1 2017 garden

We have been busy the last five days since the kids left. The garden and beds were in desperate need of attention. Since the garden is up and doing well, I was able to give it a good weeding and have got most of the rows mulched now. It is really starting to come along.

The little greenhouse Ken made this year is a huge success. Not only did it get my garden transplants a good start but the peppers planted inside them are really doing well.  Below are two pictures of pepper plants. The picture on the left is one planted in the garden. The one on the right is one planted in the greenhouse. Both were identical when planted the beginning of June. I have the same stick propped up by each one to give you and idea of the size difference.

Pepper planted in Garden, 1 month later

Pepper planted in greenhouse, 1 month later










Basil drying in sunroom

Not only are the peppers doing well in the greenhouse, but the basil as well. In fact I harvested my first batch of basil already. We enjoyed a tasty fresh basil pesto and had enough to dry as well.

I have two eggplants planted in the greenhouse as well. One is doing well but one is not. Not sure why. I was sure eggplant would thrive in the greenhouse as it is a heat loving plant.

I have also dried two cuttings of oregano as well as some wild nettle (for smoothies in the winter).

Gogi berries in the making

I was pretty excited to check out my Wolfberry (also called Gogi berry) shrubs and find that they finally have berries on them. I planted 5 of them abut 4 years ago and am down to 2 bushes now. They have never produced before. I have heard that the birds go crazy for the berries, so I have some shade cloth on standby and will drape the plants once the berries are closer to ripening.

Herb garden July 1

My herb garden is also doing well. They are loving the location on the south side of the veranda.

Peonies in turnaround

Our plan for next year is to totally work up the turn around area. It has a bunch of perennials in it that are overrun with weeds.  Most are rescues from my Mom’s place.

Rose bush from Auntie Teenie Yanick in memory of my Mom

The peonies have stopped sulking this year and are busting out in blooms. And the roses are starting to bloom as well. The bed is also chock full of volunteer cosmos, calendula, bachelor buttons and sunflower. The bed is weeded now but I will still need to thin out the volunteers.




House landscaping July 1 2017

Without grandkids around to keep us busy, we have had time to do a bit of landscaping as well. Ken finished off the front of the house. We decided not to put in flower beds next to the veranda, opting instead for low maintenance shale, rock and planters. For this year, the rock and shale are in. Hopefully next year, he will have time to make the planters I want to place among the rocks to add a bit of color.

July 1 2017 Log bench in turnaround area

The beavers cut down this large tree and we hauled it in for a bench. Ken propped it up between large rocks to keep it off the ground and voila – a long bench. Just need a bunch of grandchildren to visit and play on it!







Posted in Gardening, Landscaping | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Family Time

June 25, 2017

We declared June to be a holiday and time to spend with family. The beginning of this month we travelled to BC to visit with Kelsey, Matt and Jacob; and Christopher, Emily and Astrid. It is difficult keeping up with the grandkids when they live half a continent away. And they are growing up so fast.

Jacob and Gido


Gido and Astrid









As a bonus, Kelsey and Jacob travelled back to Manitoba with us for an extended stay. On our way back we stopped at the Enchanted Forest.  Jacob loved all the little houses with little doors just his size. However, it was a challenge to get him to leave each house.

Jacob ready for car trip to Manitoba

A walk in the Enchanted Forest









Fun with Tiger.

Little pig’s house of sticks









We made the trip in three days instead of our usual two. First night stop at Auntie Sheila’s and some fun with bubbles and her souvenir Hawaiian drum.








The next day was rainy but managed a few playground stops along the way.

Playground in the rain








Second night was spent at Uncle Glenn and Auntie Pat’s house. Jacob made friends with She-Ra.

Fun with Auntie Pat










After three long days in the car, we were finally home on the Ponderosa. Everyone was glad to be out of the car. Jacob was a good little traveller and slept a good bit of the time.

Kelsey and Jacob

Jacob and Gido enjoying a nap








Jacob is a busy beaver and we enjoyed having him and Kelsey at the Ponderosa. We got some Jacob time and Kelsey got some time off.

Jacob and Gido playing with their power tools

Jacob mowing helping out with the mowing










Jacob helping out with the cleaning

Dare devil wagon rides with Gido

Jacob and Sox









Jacob and Sox









June 24th we had a celebration and interment of ashes for my sister Laverne, aka Weiner, who passed away last September. Everyone came home, except two spouses, so we had a houseful. This house is perfect for family gathering with lots of room for the kids to run round.

A kitchen with room for everyone

Story time – Tyler, Jacob and Katie









Astrid learning to do stairs

Astrid playing with her Dad’s toy truck. Good toys are made to last generations. This one is 33 years old.










Walks with Hanna and Sox

Wagon with room for two to travel in style









Jacob and Astrid

Cousin Love









Tyler, Jacob, Astrid and Katie

Astrid gives Jacob a kiss and Jacob is not sure what to do









Bikers gather for Laverne’s last ride. A fitting send off.

Tomorrow, the last of the crew, Christopher and Astrid, will go home and the house will be so quiet. It was nice to have the hustle and bustle of young spirits in the house but will we also enjoy the quiet and get back to work. Time to get the garden weeded and some landscaping done.






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

Garden In

June 2, 2017

The garden is all in.

Changed things up in the garden again this year, and we are trying something different. Yes, I do like to try different things. My mom used to laugh at me because I was never content to do the same thing year after year.

I have been following Old World Garden Farms blog recently and they have inspired me.  Our rows this year are slightly raised. I dug out the paths between the rows, placing the soil onto the row, raising it slightly. The paths were then heavily mulched with old flax bales from our previous flax bale garage.

Each row is about 5 feet wide, wide enough for our rototiller to work up. This is a bit wider than I would like, but that is the size of our rototiller. The idea is that each year we will rototill the rows in the fall and spring, leaving the mulched paths intact. After the work in digging out the paths and mulching them, I am hoping this will make the spring prep on the garden easier. Just rototill the row and top up the mulch on the paths.

Right now the rows are bare earth. I will wait until the plants are up and established, then I will mulch the rows as well. The mulch in the rows will be tilled under in the fall, along with the garden refuse, to feed the soil.

Herb garden on south side of veranda

Also following Old World Garden Farms recommendations, I have done some companion planting. I have planted corn and beans together. The corn is a heavy nitrogen user and beans are a nitrogen fixer. The Iroquois used to plant corn, beans and squash together (called the three sisters), letting the beans climb up the corn and the squash run all around. I have tried that before without much success. Maybe the Iroquois harvested the beans dried at the end of the season with the mature corn and squash. That would make sense. But it doesn’t work as well when you are picking the beans young and green first, then the corn young and sweet and then the squash in the fall. However, I am trying planting bush beans at the perimeter of the corn. That way I can pull out the beans once they are finished and be able to get in and harvest the corn without them being in the way.

I am also trying some natural methods to control my biggest pest, the cabbage butterfly. I stopped growing brassicas – cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, because they become loaded with little green worms, the larvae from the butterfly. And they are voracious, and can eat a cabbage head to nothing.  I refused to use insecticide. One lady in town told me the secret was to plant early, harvesting early before the larvae come out. I tried that last year and I did manage to get a few small heads of cabbage and cauliflower and some broccoli but it seemed such a shame to pull out the plants just as they were starting to produce. This year, I have followed some of their recommendations for repelling pests. I planted thyme and dill around the brassicas, which are supposed to repel the cabbage butterfly. I have also planted marigolds and nasturtiums, which are supposed to attract a beneficial insect that controls the cabbage butterfly.

In addition to these companion plants, Ken constructed ‘Brassica Cages”- nifty covers for the plants. Each cage is big enough for 3 plants and light enough that I can lift it to weed or harvest. Ken made each frame out of 2×2 lumber with hoops made out of plastic tubing we had left from an underground sprinkler system we had at a previous residence. The frames are covered in netting. We were going to use black screening, the kind you use to repair screen doors but its kind of hard to work with for this application and we did not have enough to do all the cages. And I found I had a whole bunch of white toule – you know the stuff you make bridal veils from. I had tons of it left over from some craft project years ago. We will see how it holds up but it seems to be doing the trick so far. Its really easy to water through and the plants get lots of light. On my last trip to the city I did pick up 50 feet of shade cloth, which is what is usually used. If the netting doesn’t hold up, we can drape the cages in the landscape cloth.

Three plants are in each cage. After planting I mulched them well to conserve water and reduce weeds. I also planted some kale seeds under the cages along with the cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli transplants. I am hoping that once I do harvest the plants, the kale and continue to grow until frost, protected from the cabbage butterfly.






Another idea from the Old World Gardens I used was their tomato cages. They are a combination of a tomato stake and a cage. Ken constructed one for each of the 16 tomato plants using 3 inch diameter saplings and fencing wire. We made ours a bit higher than called for as I usually let my tomatoes grow to over 5 feet tall.  They are pretty sturdy and I am sure will provide great support for the plants once they are loaded with fruit. The stakes I used previously often toppled over under the weight of the plant and fruit.



The mini greenhouse that Ken made this spring worked very well and the bedding plants thrived in the warm environment. Now that they are in the garden, I have planted most of the peppers, my two eggplants and the basil directly into the soil in greenhouse. I am hoping the warmer environment will provide a better crop for these heat loving plants. I buried a soaker hose in the soil and it is hooked up to the rain barrel. The soaker hose is just an old garden hose with holes drilled in it. It works really well. And I have now mulched the plants in the greenhouse and they seem to be loving this environment.

The hill area south of the house was tarped last year with black plastic to kill the weeds and grass growing there. We have removed the plastic and it did a great job in killing the weeds. Ken rototilled up the section and I planted the watermelon and squash there. I put old tires out and planted inside each tire. I am hoping the tires will provide a bit extra heat for the young watermelon plants and my plan is to mulch the area around the tires to keep the weeds down and conserve water. I had a couple of plants cozies (plastic tubes which are filled with water and surround the plant like a mini greenhouse) which I put around three watermelon. I will remove them once the plants start to vine out a bit more. I also planted a variety of flowers and sunflowers in between the tires, so once those are up I will mulch the area to keep down the weeds.

As you can see I am having a lot of fun in the garden this spring. Ken put up two pea fences for me and I planted one early – May 13, and one late (actually today, June 1) I am hoping to get an extended pea picking season.

While the weather has been nice – sunny and warm, there has not been much rain. Ken hooked up the watering system and we pumped water from the lake and gave the garden a good soaking today. Hopefully that will get all those beautiful green shoots popping out of the ground.

Its been wonderful to have a bit more time to play in the garden this spring.

Turnaround area planted with fruit trees, squash and sunflowers



I love trying out new ideas, and hopefully some of them work out. I will post again later when the garden looks more green and less like lots of black earth!





Posted in Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments