So: soul food?

Certain sweets are irresistible to me. White cupcakes with white frosting. Homemade oatmeal raisin cookies. Wine gums. Dark chocolate covered jujubes. Coffee Crisp chocolate bars. Old fashioned donuts. Dark chocolate Cadbury Mini Eggs. Yum! My mouth is watering.

But the one treat that I love above all others is the butter tart. Basically they are tart crusts filled with a mixture of lots of butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, eggs, vanilla and sometimes raisins or chopped nuts. Sounds healthy, right? (here’s a recipe from Canadian Living magazine if you want to see the basic ingredients)

When our Toronto-based friend Liz was visiting Dallas, she imported a package as a gift for us. So I did what I had to do: I froze them. I did it because I knew that they would be hard as rocks and would need serious thawing time to become deliciously gooey again. It was the only way I knew to save me from myself and still have butter tarts in the house. They freeze very well. They also thaw well, but you must practice your patience as you wait for them to thaw.

It was only fitting that on my birthday this year, instead of birthday cake or a cupcake, I had the last remaining butter tart to celebrate. It was delicious. It was also good that it was the last one left in the freezer.

I never had a butter tart until I was 25 when my then-boyfriend Bruce  introduced me to them. Oh man. I was hooked. I’ve never seen them outside of Canada unless I’ve made them myself (which I have and they are amazingly delicious). They are a bit of work, but totally worth it. To save time, I’ve also made them in a bar version which is just as good but doesn’t have as much crust.

My father-in-law Ed also loved them. And because I loved them too and he knew I wouldn’t buy them for myself (because I’d eat the whole package), he would often pick some up when he knew Bruce and I were visiting. He did the same thing with donuts, by the way.

When we lived in Canada, I also used the excuse of visitors, especially American visitors to ensure butter tarts were in the house when company visited. After all, they hadn’t had them before and who was I to deny them a delicious, though extremely sweet, taste of Canada.

Now, when I go to Canada, I use the excuse of not being able to have them very often to treat myself. I’ve sampled the grocery store versions, upscale bakery versions, small town bakery versions, farmers market versions. I’ve had ones made with chocolate, dried cranberries, and other exotic flavors. They’re ok, but the kind that I crave the most are the ones made in someone’s kitchen because they’re baked with a secret ingredient: love.

They may not be not good for me in terms of nutrition or calories, but they’re sure good for the soul.

So: the journey begins

Like many people in the US, we’re packed and ready to go. We’re joining the crowds at one of the busiest airports in the country and on the craziest travel day in the US, we’re off…to Toronto. Yes, the American-Canadian and the Canadian-American are off to the Great White North to celebrate US Thanksgiving.

We’ve got three big pieces of checked luggage, crammed full of various household essentials that we are repatriating to Canada. We’ve got our UK adventure backpacks. We’ve got toques, mitts, snow pants, winter coats, and snow boots. We were informed at check in that we could have brought three 75 lb bags each because we got bumped to the front of the plane. This is more stuff than we’ve ever traveled with, but good to know for future reference, I suppose. Kind of crazy if you ask me, but I guess it makes sense if you’re moving or going on a very long trip and you want to hedge your bets in the wardrobe department.

We’re headed to The Owl House for the long weekend. And I may be skipping a blog post since we may not have wifi until Friday.

Here’s a taste of the solitude taken in October:.

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We’ve already planned our next trip: Christmas with the Gs. We’re road-tripping that time. You know it will be an adventure!

So speaking of the Gs, here’s your gratuitous holiday dog photo of the day, taken in December 2013:

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Happy Thanksgiving!

So: ode to my in-laws


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Some people make jokes about their in-laws or complain that they aren’t liked or appreciated by their spouse’s parents. Not me.

From the moment I showed up at their house on American Thanksgiving 20 years ago, I knew I was welcome. Ed cooked a Thanksgiving dinner, even though Canadian Thanksgiving had been the month before and everyone had already enjoyed the fall turkey dinner together. Marge invited Cathy, Linda, Peggy and their spouses and kids over for another feast and to meet Bruce’s new girlfriend from California.

It was an overwhelming day for someone who spent very few holidays with a big family. My ears rang and my head hurt when Bruce and I finally left that night. My family’s Thanksgiving dinners were tiny, sedate and quiet by comparison. I realized quickly that I’d have to speak up or never get a word in edgewise. It was the first of many excellent lessons, useful in many situations.

Maybe that’s why Ed was always so quiet. With all those females talking at once, there was no space for his words.

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After Bruce and I got married, I always looked forward to Canadian Thanksgiving more than any other holiday. While I really didn’t have to do anything since Ed did all the cooking up until he was not well enough to do it, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping however I could. He taught me how to make his “secret” stuffing recipe. He taught me how to make gravy the old fashioned way with drippings, flour, and plenty of stirring. He made me brussels sprouts because he knew how much I liked them. So I became his helper and dishwasher (up until Marge and Ed got their first dishwasher in the early 2000s).

And I learned that while he had a recipe for his secret stuffing recipe and many other treasured family favorites, he always improvised and added new things. So try as I may, it will never be quite as good as his. The same goes with his potato salad. I have the recipe for that too. Ed liked to tinker and adjust, but he knew that perfection was a never-ending quest and it was through striving that he got satisfaction. Raising the bar each time on the task at hand was an another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

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Ed gave me more than cooking tips, great food, and recipes. He taught me about other things he loved like Canada, cottaging, boats, and fishing. He gave me tips about plants. He told me about the company he retired from. He told me stories about long gone stores where he and Bruce went when Bruce was a boy and other bits of trivia of the area. He insisted that I visit the historical sights. He showed me things that he treasured and kept around just in case.

He didn’t even mind that one summer day he took Bruce and me out in his boat on Lake Ontario and I fell asleep because my allergy medicine knocked me out. He knew that I was just overwhelmed by the whole experience—and the pollen. Ed taught me that being still and quiet was ok, that I’d learn a lot if I just watched and listened. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

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Marge and her mother Marie Antoinette

I knew I was loved every time Marge bought me socks and underwear for Christmas. Or a gift card from a store that she knew I liked. She gave me chocolate for Valentine’s Day and Easter. She’d press Coffee Crisp bars on me like I was one of the grandchildren because she knew I loved them and she enjoyed giving them out. She was very kind to me and extremely generous with what she had. She threw me a bridal shower even though Bruce and I got married on a beach in St. Lucia because she wanted people to meet me and she wanted us to have a good start in married life. And while she may have considered the things she did to be expected, they’ve stuck with me. Small gestures can be mean a lot. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

As a newlywed, I also learned about the huge wardrobe in the bedroom that was Bruce’s as a kid. It was crammed full of toilet paper, tissues, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, bandaids. You name it, if it was for personal hygiene, it was stockpiled there. She did the same thing with towels. You see Marge grew up poor and even though she and Ed weren’t exactly rich, she knew that a family of six went through a lot of that sort of stuff. But after the kids all moved out, Marge never really scaled back. While I don’t stockpile on the same scale as Marge did, our pantry is perpetually full. So is our freezer. And our linen closet too, though it’s not all about towels. We always have extras, just in case. Having a backup is another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

But the way I really knew I was loved was that Marge repeated her most treasured stories to me, over and over again, because she wanted me to know them and know how much those memories meant to her. While her kids may have thought the repetition was tiresome, I didn’t. I enjoyed sitting at the kitchen table with her as we drank cups of the retched instant coffee she favored, she with her little cup and me with a big hand-warming mug so I could put milk in it to cut the taste (and that is why I drink all coffee with milk to this day). Marge just waved the bag of milk over the cup and added the tiniest drop. (A note to non-Canadian readers: in Canada milk comes in a big bag with 4 smaller bags inside. You put one bag at a time in a plastic pitcher and cut off the corner of the bag to pour the milk. The first time I saw one, I accidentally poured milk all over the table.) Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations: if something is unfamiliar, ask how to use it.

IMG_4909Marge was sentimental and knew I’d appreciate her words—and just listen quietly. Each time, the story came alive in a new way with additional characters or a layer of detail that wasn’t there in previous tellings. That’s why I treasure having a porcelain tea cup that was part of her mother’s collection—I knew that her mother collected them one by one as she scraped together a little extra money. This collection of cups was one of the only nice things that Marie Antoinette LaPointe Glover had (and yes, Marie Antoinette was French Canadian). I heard family stories, stories about Ed’s Scottish farmer family and their big reunions, stories about the people on the street that didn’t live there anymore, stories about Bruce and Sweet Feet the cat (also known as Toes), stories about waiting up for teenaged daughters breaking curfew to come home. Stories about the grandchildren when they were babies. All of it was very useful to a new person to the family—it was because of those stories that I could follow mealtime conversations and comments made by Bruce and his sisters. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations: get the new person up to speed as quickly as possible, then fill in the details after.

I could go on and on with Marge stories. One of the sweetest memories I have was how she would talk about the one place we had in common several times a year. Marge and I bonded over her memories of her trip to California, the day she went to Disneyland, how much she enjoyed seeing Palm Springs, how beautiful she thought the state was. The trip was not especially long, but lingered years later as an important milestone and a common ground with her daughter-in-law.

It’s why sometimes I catch myself thinking, “Hey, I should call Marge and see what she’s up to.” Then I remember, I can’t.

While we said goodbye to Marge in January and Ed left a few years earlier, today, Cathy, Linda, Peggy, and Bruce along with the rest of the extended family will watch as they are put in their final resting place. They’ll be in the cemetery’s mausoleum in the Ontario town where they spent their life together. Whether you call it an “inurnment” or “interment,” it’s not important. After today, instead of the two story brick house with the big yard, we’ll have a new place where we can visit them.

But for me, they won’t be in the carved wood box or behind the marble plate at the cemetery. In my mind’s eye, they’re hanging out on that bench on their porch with our bulldog Daisy beside them. It’s one of my favorite photos (you can see it below) and I hope the happiness that all three of them felt in moment never disappears from my memory.

My only regret is that I didn’t have more time with them. But I believe that we all made the most of the time we had together.

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Today’s gratuitous dog photo is in honor of Marge, Ed and Daisy, our bulldog, may they all rest in peace.

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Daisy, Marge and Ed

Daisy spent a chunk of the later part of her life living at Marge’s and Ed’s house. When Bruce and I decided that I should accept the opportunity to move to Texas, our house sold quickly—to the first couple that saw it. Bruce and Daisy were supposed to join me in a matter of months when Bruce got his Green Card. But that process ended up taking about a year. So Bruce and Daisy moved in with Marge and Ed. And while Bruce’s commute was awful, I think Marge and Ed enjoyed their time with Daisy almost as much as Daisy enjoyed her time with them. I’d like to to think that they’re all together again, Ed throwing the ball for Daisy, Marge feeding Daisy dog treats from the stash in her pocket.

 

So: ice ice baby

this is not what winter looks like in North Texas

our winter is not pretty like this

In some parts of the U.S. and lots of Canada, there’s a mythical event called a snow day, usually when the snow comes down so fast and furiously that the plows and salt trucks can’t keep up with keeping the roads safe for school buses.

In north Texas, we have ice days because we have such extreme temperature swings,  no snow plows or salt trucks, and the sand that they throw down on the streets and highways just makes the ice dirty. It feels like we’ve had at least 4 ice days this winter. Usually we’re lucky if we get one, and it’s a lovely day at home with hot chocolate, fires blazing in the fireplace, maybe a little snowman building.

The rule of thumb at my office is if the school district you live in is closed or delayed, you should stay put at your home for safety’s sake. This works well if only you remember to bring your laptop home and any important papers you might need.

My rule of thumb for this winter is to always bring home the stuff I need to work on the next day because this year, the ice days are nothing, but massive inconveniences. Instead of bringing people together, they make everyone very grumpy. Parents have to work from home and try to figure out how to get work done and kids occupied. Kids get irritated about Mom’s conference calls and Dad’s presentation building. Pets are a bit better, though the Gs saw me sitting next to the back door at the kitchen table and suddenly realized that my opposable thumb could let them out whenever they sat by the door. Bruce left for somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard this afternoon so he and I didn’t have to deal with dueling conference calls or staking a claim to working space.

So I’m one of the lucky ones today. I got tons done and was pretty much able to do everything I usually do on a Monday at work, and then some (I have a bit of homework tonight so this post is a little break). Since I was working in the kitchen, the microwave was handy for thawing out some frozen leftovers for lunch. My slow cooker made me a pretty good soup for supper. And the rice cooker made enough brown rice for a while. I managed to finish the last cup of coffee that never usually gets drank. George slept on my feet during a conference call which was awesome since Gidget ate my Christmas slippers after the first time I wore them. And I caught Gidget in the act of naughtiness twice, so maybe she’ll learn eventually that she can’t tear up her dog bed.

After I took Guinness and Godiva for a walk, I put ice melter on the parts of the driveway that was still icy despite the sunshine this afternoon. Gidget and George got their walk next and I noticed the peach tree is still looking ok. Hopefully the weather didn’t ruin its chances. The collards, kale and cilantro look a bit frostbit but that’s my own dumb fault for not covering them. If they don’t rally, well, it’s going to be time to plant new stuff this weekend anyway.

The polar vortex has moved east and is now torturing the rest of the south. Tomorrow it will be North Carolina’s turn for an ice day.

Gratuitous dog photo of the day:

The Gs were hoping to go for a ride, but instead they figured out that a bag of dog food had spilled in the bed of Bruce's truck. Photo by Bruce

The Gs were hoping to go for a ride. Instead they realized that bag of dog food had spilled in the bed of Bruce’s truck.    Photo by Bruce

 

 

So: epic (culinary) fail

Perhaps you’ve gathered that yet again, work’s consuming me. If you were my clients, surely you’d be delighted, although all work and not much play in the dirt makes Julie a less than ideal worker bee. Still, I’ve eaten some great ice cream for dinner in an airport and met some very cool people.  I can’t really complain.IMG_3952

But I will grouse about yesterday. You see, I had a holiday. Yes, a real “freebee” day from the company. It wasn’t even a national holiday. It was Columbus Day. We won’t get into what that all means since I try not to discuss anything more political than the anarchistic act of growing food in the Dallas city limits.

It was also Canadian Thanksgiving. And while I joked with my Facebook friends that I get two Thanksgivings because I have so much to be thankful for, I really wasn’t joking. I love having two opportunities to be grateful because I really and truly am doubly grateful.

 [For those readers who are unacquainted with Canadian Thanksgiving, it is very much like the big dinner American Thanksgiving except without the pilgrims and Indians mythology. Nice dinner with family and friends. Except it’s not the biggest holiday on the Canadian calendar. I think Christmas, even amongst non-Christians is a bigger deal, perhaps because it’s really three days, the Eve, the Day, and Boxing Day and usually at least two of those days are days off from work.]

That aside, yesterday I was not grateful for my temporary (I hope) lack of culinary prowess. Or perhaps it was just one of those accident-prone days, you know, when the moon is in the wrong phase or Jupiter is aligned with Mars. Something like that. Better to be in the kitchen than at work, however!

Anyway, the day started innocently enough. I packed Bruce’s lunch since the poor man’s company doesn’t like holidays (or vacation time) one bit. I tidied the kitchen. Then I made two giant jars of refrigerator pickles in anticipation of upcoming guests. I pickled okra. I pickled peppers.

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I’ll let you guess which one I should have been wearing gloves for.

I’ll let you hypothesize which one I kept top of mind for the rest of the day.

I’ll let you gather which jar Bruce thinks I should empty right now.

It’s not the okra. Ugh. (By the way, I have two huge freezer bags in the freezer crammed full of okra. If you are visiting this winter, I hope you like stewed okra or some of the various leafy greens which are now thriving in the rain-sodden mess that is the Urban Farm.)

Next, I made a delicious butternut squash soup: the only culinary success of the day. I was very glad it turned out nicely since it would be a distraction from the rest of the meal.

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 After that, I went about my day-off business of painting the inside of a cabinet, filling nail and staple holes in the trim, organizing a couple of closets and cabinets, and then the arduous task of bookkeeping and bill paying. Ugh again. Not because of the paying, but because of my several month neglect of being organized.  I do love my shredder and filing cabinets though. Godiva loves sleeping under the desk while I work. The rest of the Gs were sprawled across the office sectional and on the newly reupholstered bright orange ottoman. We are not afraid of color in this house.

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Then, lo and behold, it was time to get busy on the Thanksgiving feast since Bruce would be home from work soon. We had a difficult time finding the traditional fowl this year for some reason. In past years perhaps we were living amongst more ex-pat Canadians or people who liked turkey more, but the grocery stores did not have the bird. Even the yuppie-hippie grocery store had slim pickings in the turkey department and we settled for a boneless breast wrapped up in string to look like a pork roast.

At least that’s what I thought it looked like from memories of childhood. Generally Bruce is the meat man and he figures out the preparations of roasts and such.

Not yesterday. I consulted the Internet, found a simple roasting guide and, since our trussed up bird was smaller, I figured the minimum time would be perfect.

Not likely.

Post-dog walk, I knew the evening was going down hill fast. Guinness hates rain and it had been raining all day. His parasympathetic nervous system problem that makes his brain and bladder forget about communicating didn’t really set the mood well. Nothing like catheters to make everyone anxious. Ugh.

As for dinner, either the bird was frozen on the inside or our oven didn’t work. Well, I know the oven worked because it set off all the smoke detectors. Apparently it was dirty from something else cooked in it. I wouldn’t know what since we haven’t used the oven in ages. It’s too hot here for ovens in summer.

I baked pumpkin cupcakes before Bruce showed up with no issues. No smell, no smoke. Today my coworkers all thought they were muffins which tells you how good they were, despite being a recipe from a famous Food Network couple. I didn’t like them much, but I knew many of my coworkers would be jones-ing for sweets mid-morning and they’d vanish into thin air. No waste!

And I knew it was hot since I burnt my arm. Again. I have a lovely patchwork of cooking scars that hopefully my clients don’t assume are from teenaged cutting or something even more sinister. They are mostly from baking cookies and cupcakes.

Back to the football-shaped turkey breast. It browned nicely, but took its own sweet time cooking through to 155° F. And every time I opened the oven, it belched out smoke. The house still smells like it. So does my purse—it happened to be on a chair near the oven.

The sides were done about 1 hour too soon. I reheated the soup we were supposed to eat while the turkey rested so that we didn’t resort to cooking something else for dinner when we were ravenous. We picked at the riced potatoes and tested the gravy repeatedly.

Only the Gs seemed excited about the bird when it was ready. Between the smoke detectors barking “fire, fire” and the smoke signals, we were done. And we had killed the wine we selected with the dinner already. I was thankful it was finally done cooking.

The Gs were thankful for the lavish handouts, probably a bit more heavy handed than usual once we realized how dry the little football was.

That my friends, is the story of Canadian Thanksgiving 2013 on a rainy night in Texas.

And here is tonight’s gratuitous dog photo of a black and white puppy stuffed with turkey (photo by Bruce):

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So: different welcome

IMG_3905If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I was born and raised in the US, moved to Canada when I was 26, became a Canadian citizen after living there for 5 years, and then I moved back to the US 6.5 years ago. And you know that pretty much any time have the opportunity to go to Toronto for work, family or friends, I go.

Here’s a little story that might explain why:

Last Thursday I hopped on a American Airlines flight at DFW to YYZ (Toronto’s Pearson Airport). It was uneventful and perfect for working since the miracle of a row with 2 empty seats happened. When we landed I grabbed my stuff and made the longish trek to Customs and Immigration. With a Canadian passport, you can now go through a automated line  which lets you check out faster. As you walk out of the section with the automated lineup, there is a line up of Customs and Immigration officers and each person speaks to one of them and shows them their receipt from the machine that scanned their customs form and passport.

I did not know the customs agent nor had I ever been in his line in the past. He greeted me with a hearty, “Welcome home!” and proceeded to ask me what I would be doing on my trip. I mentioned that I was having a girls’ weekend in cottage country with two dear friends. His next comment was, “Well, then, when are you coming home to stay? Your friends and family miss you and Canada wants you to come back.” I was a little shocked by his comments (you’ll understand why in a minute), but I laughed and thanked him. He wished me a wonderful weekend and I was on my way. I really wanted to hug him.

The weekend was wonderful, the weather was perfect, company excellent, everything you’d hope a fall colours weekend with your girls would be.

Late Sunday afternoon, I was back at YYZ. I got my boarding pass and took my completed US customs form and headed for the US Customs and Immigration line (flights to the US are often processed in Canada). After standing in line for 30 minutes, I reached the officer. He took one look at me and one look at my passport and asked me if I was going home to Arizona. I told him no, that I was born in Arizona but I now live in Texas. Maybe he was trying to stump me. Next he asked the purpose of my visit. I said, I was visited my friends and had a girls’ weekend. He said, “why would you come here for that?” to which I replied that we were at my friends’ cottage and left the husbands, kids and pets at home. He then asked me if I ever lived in Canada. Of course, I said yes, and mentioned that I lived in Toronto for 12 years. After that he grunted at me and chucked my passport at me. I took that as I was free to go and headed towards Security which ended up taking over an hour.

I boarded my plane, grumpy and hot from rushing to the gate. And while the miracle of the a row with two empty seats happened again (perfect for working on the way home), it took me a little while to feel cheerful. I was glad to that I was going to see Bruce and the Gs in three hours and a bit, but that’s because home is wherever they are.

Of course, everyone came to DFW to pick me up. There were lots of tailwags and kisses, then Gidget insisted on sitting in my lap for part of the way home.

Here’s your gratuitous G photo for tonight:

Gidget really likes to be in the car, even when it's in the garage.

Gidget really likes to be in the car, even when it’s in the garage.

So: Canadian content

It’s weekend like these that I miss Toronto the most. Never mind the surface of the sun temperatures here in north Texas. It’s not just that. It’s another three day weekend in Canada, people!  I miss all of the long weekends. If nothing else, it gives everyone who works for a living a chance to have an extra day to take a deep breath and enjoy an additional day off. Shops are closed. Businesses are closed. Everyone has to do something else.

No offense, but the US of A could really take a lesson from their neighbors to the north and add a few more holidays to the calendar…

But perhaps I need a break a bit more than usual since it was a crazy travel work week, spent mostly in North Carolina. That’s why you heard not a peep from me since last week at this time. Lots going on during the day and then of course, time to make up the work that didn’t get done well into the night. Rest assured it was all work and not much play, although I did attend a minor league baseball game on Monday night with some of my colleagues and their families. Good fun and so nice to meet their spouses and kids, plus how could you not smile with a grasshopper as a mascot?

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The Greensboro Grasshopper

As for the rest of the week, I’m really lucky to that I have great clients and colleagues from the other agencies to spend time with. Despite that, I was really glad when Friday at 5:30 pm rolled around.

Which brings me to the Canadian August Civic Holiday. Bruce and I did our part to enjoy an abbreviated one: we bbq’d, we listened to plenty of Canadian musical content this weekend, and we built something that even though it’s a southern US house party/tailgate tradition that we could bring back to the Great White North with us.

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a cornhole set

Yesterday, we put together our cornhole set. Yes, it’s a bean bag toss game favored by beer-drinking tailgaters and Texas bbq attendees. It’s a great way to spend an evening. Don’t worry, like everything in the Mortroski Mid-century, it’s not enough without a special paint job. A professional art director (thanks, Ward!) created graphics that will be printed on vinyl and applied as soon as I get around to sanding it and painting it ultra shiny white. Ward created the awesome red door logo for the MMC and we just love it. I promise to post photos of our cornhole game escapades in action.

In the meantime, here’s how to learn the game before you come by with a 2-4 and challenge us to a game: http://www.americancornhole.org/cornhole-rules.shtml. Canadian friends: want one for your cottage? If you do, invite us up for a week (or maybe more) and we’d be happy to build one for you too! It really is a lot of fun and a great way to hang out for an evening.

Basil-zilla

Basil-zilla

If you need basil, you may also want to come by. I’ve already given away a bag of okra to the G’s best pal Tracy because without me here in Dallas, it didn’t get picked or eaten (NOTE: apparently even more got given away and the stuff just grows like a weed too. Sorry, Bruce, I was not calling you out for poor caretaking of the Urban Farm.)

Holy cow, everything hasn’t been killed by the surface of the sun temperatures is just growing out of control. The malabar spinach is growing everywhere and we have to keep our eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t try to choke out a fall tomato plant. Gorgeous and leafy and insane!

If you live in Dallas and want some basil or spinach, let me know—you can come by and pick some at the Mortroski Mid-century U-Pick Farm. That basil in the photo is destined for the dehydrator and the food processor. Thinking of an Italian herb blend for holiday gifts and some pesto as a surprise and delight for friends this week. There’s still tons more. Please, help us out.

It was a catch up weekend across the board. We tore the spring tomato plants out so that I could plant the fall green beans tomorrow at 7 am. They’ll be ready in September, but I’ll be covered with sweat even at 7 am. It’s just too hot to work the garden much later than that. This morning we were out in the garden at 10 am and it was really hot and I feel like I got an insta-tan.

Despite it being so hot, it’s actually the time to start planning for fall. We also did bits and pieces around the house that we haven’t been able to get done and got the garage back in order. We’re busy hitting that DIY to do list right and left.

green yard

green yard

And an important milestone: our front landscaping has now been in for a year. Everything has established quite well and because of the unseasonable rain, it’s all very green. Usually this time of year, everything would be much more golden—we are so pleased with how it’s going so far:

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front yard: see what I mean?

It was a great weekend for the Gs. Thanks to our friends at Three Dog Bakery Texas, we finally have some toys that Godiva and George cannot destroy. Though the gator and clown fish in the photo with Godiva do not look very lively on their backs, let me assure you that they have no holes and no fluffs scattered throughout the Mortroski Mid-century:

graituitous Godiva photo

Godiva is exhausted from trying to destroy toys

Truly a record for the Gs. The gator has lasted three weeks with no wounds and the squeaker still working. A record!

Hoping you all are having a wonderful weekend and making the most of your summer. As for me, it’s back to the RUSH program on the Palladia channel. If you’re reading this from Canada, I’m more than a little jealous that you get tomorrow off.

Sow: mort

These days, with North Texas temperatures headed back up to the 100°+ days, early morning is the best time to head out to the raised beds and stock tanks for a little harvesting, cleaning up, watering by hand, and digging before work. It’s getting closer to surface of the sun weather, by next month, it will be here and I’ll be devising shading systems for some of the raised beds. And even at 6 am, it’s still hot. But it’s cooler than at 6 pm so I doused myself with OFF, grabbed my buckets, garden scissors, watering can, and compost bucket and started to get busy.

It’s usually a good time to clear the mind and get focused for the day ahead.

Just not today.

While watering the tomatoes, I found something that made me very sad: a poor bird that looked like it died trapped in a bit of the bird net. The net covers the tomato plants but this bird was on the part on the ground. It’s the part that I pin down to keep the critters out.

I say it looked like it was trapped, because I have a feeling that it was dispatched by one of the Gs, most likely Godiva the Huntress, since she wasn’t coming near me or the garden. It didn’t look crushed or torn, but a little bit flattened, like maybe someone tried to de-squeak it. I’ve found dead birds before, killed by cats or other predators, dead on impact with windows or walls. But this one made me feel terrible as I wondered if the bird net wasn’t there, this little bird would have had a chance.

resting up for tomorrow

resting up for tomorrow

Death was a theme in the garden from that point on. As the weather gets hotter, the lettuce crops are on their way out. I pulled some that was going to seed and began to ready their bed for the fall tomato crop (yes, it’s almost time to start thinking about planting them). I noticed that all of the cucumber plants were toast except one (partially because of not getting watered while we were in Canada). I pulled out the dying and dried up pea plants. I pulled some of the brown bean stalks. I harvested the remainder of the 3rd crop of bok choi and put the stalks in the compost bucket. As the bucket got more full, I felt even more sad.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve gotten really attached to these plants. Yes, of course, I talk to them and encourage them to grow and do their thing. I know they have a lifecycle and that when they reach the end, they have to go to make room for new plants.

Today it was a little like saying goodbye to old friends. The lettuce and all of the leafy greens have done so well for me. They’ve looked so pretty and brightened up the Urban Farm. And for just $2.50 a seed packet, they produced tons of green stuff since January. An excellent return on such a small investment. But they’re done.

today's leafy harvest: bok choi (right), lots of lettuce (left)

today’s leafy harvest: lots of lettuce (left), bok choi (right),

It’s really taking me a while to get used to the garden circle of life. Just when I get used to a rhythm and a routine, something changes. That’s life though.

But in the midst of all of this death, life. A small toad hopped by as I was doing my thing. He startled me out of my funk. I’ll take him as an omen of unexpected goodness to come.

Sow: first tomatoes

first tomatoes

first tomatoes!

When we got home from Toronto yesterday, I was anxious to see how the Urban Farm did when we left it alone for four days. Last week was very wet, but unfortunately the weekend was not. We watered on Thursday night and rain was predicted all weekend.

No such luck.

Everything got watered well last night and again today. I think everything will be mostly ok, although several plants looked a little crispy. The okra has tripled in size.

But best of all, the first red tomatoes have appeared. The tiny ones in the picture are sweet 100s. The heart shaped one is a Celebrity. We do have some casualties though: blossom rot. It appears to still be isolated to the Burpee Big Boy plants and maybe the plants that got frost bit. I need to get out there tomorrow and clean up—harvest and compost the bad tomatoes and clean up some of the yellowing branches.

On a separate note: the Gs are exhausted from their four days of playtime with four other dogs. Their humans tired too.

So: postcard perfect

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YYZ photo op

We’re heading back to Texas after an action-packed long weekend. The weather is unseasonably cool (a nice change for us) and very clear which made all of the city view and highway shots on Breakfast Television (the local morning news) looks like they were straight out of a expertly retouched postcard.

Toronto is a pretty city, especially this time of year when everything is ultra-green and flowers are blooming.

Yesterday we crammed in a bit of shopping, a quick visit to our favorite winery (fielding estates), a trip to Costco, the Beer Store, the local pizza and wings place, and the grocery store for supplies for an impromptu dinner for 20 at Bruce’s mom’s house. We had another nice visit with Bruce’s sisters and their families plus a cousin’s family too.

Whew!

We may need a vacation from our little trip. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start reading all of the Canadian magazines I picked up for the trip back. Or maybe I’ll just nap.