Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Garden Munchers

We are not the only ones who like the basil. And we have lots, so I am willing to share a little bit with those who chew.
But I don't share tomatoes!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Is It? Or Isn't It?

Makes you wonder who, at Environment Canada, is in charge of what?
Is someone responsible for putting up warnings and a totally separate person responsible for ending them?
Can they not see what the other is doing?
How else do you explain this?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Have Tools, Part 2

The laminate was not as easy to install in Mom and Dad's dining room. There was a 3/8 inch subfloor under the vinyl and it was well nailed-probably 8 nails/square foot. But Tina ripped it all out and we set about putting in the laminate.

A proper tool to cut the vinyl out from under the cabinets could not be found, so there is still a strip of that floor there.
But all in all, it looks good.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Rootbeer Wrens

See this little rascal?
S/he, along with two siblings, are hanging out in a hollow section of the baler accessible by this cable outlet to the left of the yellow signal light.
Momma Wren did not make the best choice is a nesting location. Both parents and the babies were in quite a state when Dad brought the baler home after a few hours in the hayfield.

We didn't think they would survive eight hours in the field the next day, so we popped the lens out of the baler, the Geek cut a hole in a root beer bottle, I filled it with dried grass, and moved the little critters to their new home.
For such small birds, they have a lot of attitude.
I set the bottle on top of the gas tank close to the baler. The parents scolded me for ages but their chatter made the little birds chirp and the parents started feeding them right away.
I went to check on them the next morning and two were in the process of hopping out of the bottle and onto the tines of the spring. I'm glad I saw them leave, otherwise I might have thought the squirrels had killed them.

Friday, 23 July 2010

You Can Believe What You Read

Vacation in Iceland? Why not?

Land of Fire and Ice an extreme experience

Midnight sunset in Reykjavik, Iceland. This photos was taken around 12:30 a.m. on June 21.


Midnight sunset in Reykjavik, Iceland. This photos was taken around 12:30 a.m. on June 21.

Iceland is not a destination for a relaxing holiday.

Oh, it's a fantastic holiday destination. But it will not be relaxing. If you're looking for a nap in the sunshine in an exotic locale, Iceland is not for you.

Seaside rock formations in Arnastapi, West Iceland

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Seaside rock formations in Arnastapi, West Iceland (WENDY SAWATZKY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Snorkelling at Silfra, on the fault line where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet.

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Snorkelling at Silfra, on the fault line where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. (WENDY SAWATZKY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Deep inside Buri Lava Tube, a kilometre of challenging subterranean hiking that ends in a 17-metre vertical chasm said to be the deepest lava pit on Earth.

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Deep inside Buri Lava Tube, a kilometre of challenging subterranean hiking that ends in a 17-metre vertical chasm said to be the deepest lava pit on Earth. (EXTREME ICELAND)

View of the seaside village of Arnastapi while climbing the 4,600-foot Snaefellsjokull glacier in West Iceland.

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View of the seaside village of Arnastapi while climbing the 4,600-foot Snaefellsjokull glacier in West Iceland. (WENDY SAWATZKY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Blue Lagoon is an enormous outdoor geothermal pool; its milky opaque water is a mix of sea and freshwater loaded with silica, algae and minerals.

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Blue Lagoon is an enormous outdoor geothermal pool; its milky opaque water is a mix of sea and freshwater loaded with silica, algae and minerals. (WENDY SAWATZKY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)


Getting there:

Reykjavik-based carrier Iceland Express started direct Winnipeg-Reykjavík flights in June. The service was intended to be twice-weekly, but many flights have been cancelled; check with the airline for details. Icelandair offers flights out of Toronto six days a week and Minneapolis daily through the summer.

Where to stay:

Hotels and guest houses are pricey in Iceland, and we found many of the "lower-priced" options rather spartan (offering only twin beds and shared loos). We rented an apartment for a few days in Reykjavík through Vacation Rentals By Owner (, saving on hotel costs and allowing us to cook a few meals for ourselves, conserving a few more kronur.

If you're looking to splash out on a hotel, try the Radisson SAS 1919 in Reykjavík, offering luxury modern accommodations in a historic building downtown, just blocks away from most attractions. See www. for rates and availability.

Be forewarned that the midnight sun can be quite oppressive in the summer; pack an eye-mask for sleeping or inquire about blackout curtains at your hotel.

Getting around:

Central Reykjavík is much easier to get around on foot than by car, so hold off on renting a car or park it in one spot while you explore the city. Outside Reykjavík most attractions are located near "The Golden Circle," Iceland's national answer to the Perimeter Highway. That's easiest to travel by rental car; a Canadian driver's licence qualifies you to drive, but note that road conditions are often rugged -- ask the rental company if your vehicle is suitable for the trip you're planning, and check on road conditions in advance.

What to pack:

It's summer in Iceland, but their weather is chillier than ours: daytime highs average around 13 C in June. The sun is warm, but in the frequent rain or near the sea it can feel considerably chillier. Wear thin layers. But don't bother bringing a sweater; you'll inevitably purchase one of Iceland's ubiquitous woollen sweaters, and naturally they're perfectly suited for the weather.

What to buy:

Iceland offers a value-added tax refund, which returns about 15 per cent on purchases greater than around $35 that you take home with you (including any woolen items, such as high-quality hand-knitted sweaters, hats, mittens, socks and scarves).

Also popular: All things volcanic, including lava-rock jewelry, volcanic-rock-filtered vodka, and even bottles of ash from the eruption under Eyjafjallajökull.

If, however, you want to stay up around the clock, snorkel in crystal-clear ice-cold water, ride a snowmobile up the side of a glacier, tramp over a lava field to climb a volcano, dance in nightclubs until 5 a.m. -- then get thee to the Land of Fire and Ice.

"Why Iceland?" was the question my husband and I heard most often after booking a week's holiday there this June.

Certainly Winnipeggers aren't known for vacationing anywhere with "ice" in the name. But casting about for a holiday destination this spring, we were wooed by new budget, direct Winnipeg-Reykjavík flights. With prices and travel times comparable to New York City or other cosmopolitan points south, the question became: "Why not Iceland?"

As a holiday destination it has much to offer: untamed wilderness, a virtually crime-free, sophisticated European city, and friendly, welcoming locals -- all just a few hours away.

We started our adventure in Reykjavík, home to about two-thirds of Iceland's 317,000 residents. The compact city centre fills a small peninsula; most of its main attractions are within walking distance. It's a pleasure to spend a day browsing downtown's two main drags, Laugavegur and Skólavördustígur -- the former leaning toward high-end clothing and jewelry, the latter toward arts and ceramics, and both rife with cafes, bars and tourist emporia.

At the top of Skólavördustígur, stop for a long view of the Hallgrímskirkja, the modernist concrete church that dominates Reykjavík's skyline. The lovely building is open to the public, so stop in to enjoy its austere interior, featuring an enormous 5,275-pipe organ (concerts on summer Sundays), and take an elevator trip to the top of the tower ($4), which offers a 360-degree view of the city and, on a clear day, the sea and surrounding mountains.

If you're charmed by the ever-changing nature of Winnipeg's Salter/Isabel/Balmoral/Memorial/Osborne/Dunkirk/Dakota, you'll love Reykjavík, where many street names change after just a few blocks. Laugavegur is one of these, changing to Bankastraeti and then Austurstraeti as it runs into the city centre, where you'll find a park and peaceful lake in the city's centre as well as the city's main tourist office.

Iceland's numerous tourism offices are bursting with information on Reykjavík and beyond. We brought a guidebook but barely looked at it; everywhere we went we were able to find free maps, pamphlets and guides to accommodations and local tours. Some of our favourite adventures were not even mentioned in our guidebook -- such as midnight whale-watching.

Whale-watching? At midnight? It's not as strange as it sounds.

Located north of 64 degrees latitude, Reykjavík enjoys round-the-clock daylight in June, which means plenty of late-night activities are on offer. It's a real boost to jet-lagged North American travellers whose body clocks are set six hours behind: Go ahead, sleep till noon if you're so inclined; you can still pack in 12 hours of activities and not even notice the day passing.

Our whale tour left Reykjavík's harbour around 8:30 p.m. and circled Faxaflói Bay for roughly four hours. We didn't see any whales, although we did see hundreds of puffins and other bird life. Our guides with Elding ( seemed genuinely surprised at the lack of sea life spotted during our trip -- according to their online diary, they usually see minke and humpback whales, as well as dolphins and harbour porpoises.

Elding handed out certificates allowing us to take a second trip -- usually priced at around $65 per person -- free of charge on another day. A word of warning: when Elding describes sea conditions as "a bit rolly," that translates into "tossing high seas" for Prairie landlubbers. Take the freely offered motion-sickness pills before you get on the boat if the tour guides recommend it.

Next to the whale-watching centre on the pier you'll find another unexpected late-night activity: cycling. For about $35, Reykjavík Bike Tours ( provides comfortable cruiser-style cycles and helmets and heads out on a low-key, chatty, 2.5-hour tour around the peninsula that starts at 10 p.m., ending around the scenic northwestern shoreline just in time to see the reddish glow of the sunset over the sea.

Another evening we were collected by two enthusiastic AdventureBOX guides for a snorkelling trip at Silfra, on the fault line where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet (, about $115).

Snorkelling in Iceland: It's as cold as it sounds. "The cold is all in your head," our guides insisted, encouragement that might have been more effective on visitors from warmer climates; we were skeptical. We had a choice of full bodysuits to protect ourselves from the 2 C to 4 C water: Wetsuits, which let water in but allow more maneuverability, or drysuits, essentially buoyant snowsuits that keep you and your clothing dry. Jason took the former; I, the latter.

The water was possibly even colder than we imagined; any skin that came into contact with the water first tingled, then went numb within a couple of minutes. But we could not have imagined the stunning beauty that awaited under the crystal-clear water. AdventureBOX advertises that snorkelling at Silfra "feels like flying" and they're right -- with visibility down the rift of up to 300 feet, it feels like you're floating above a canyon.

Even with the bodysuits, we were shivering at the end of our 40 minutes in the water. Returning to the city, it was the perfect time to warm up in one of Reykjavík's many geothermal pools.

There's no shortage of hot water in Iceland -- the piping-hot volcanically heated water is used to heat homes, pools, and even the sandy Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, in case you feel like taking a dip in the North Atlantic. Reykjavík's many swimming pools are much warmer than pools in Canada -- a comfortable 29 C or so -- and most pools have at least one "hot pot" or hot tub, often outdoors, at 39 to a steaming 42 C -- as well as saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools.

Swimming and soaking are social activities in Iceland; admission is very reasonably priced ($3 or so) and most pools open early and close late. Note that swimming pools and hot pots are not chlorinated -- there is much signage in them about properly showering without swimsuit before entering, and we're told not complying is a major faux-pas.

Iceland's abundance of superheated steam and hot water is borne of its volcanic geology; the island was formed by volcanic eruptions that continue to this day, as evidenced by the eruption under Eyjafjallajökull that caused airline chaos in Europe earlier this year. We took an up-close-and-personal tour of the country's volcanic history with a trip beneath the surface in the Buri lava tube, provided by the aptly named Extreme Iceland. (, about $130).

The Buri tube, formed in an eruption some 5,000 years ago, was discovered just five years ago on the Reykjanes peninsula in south Iceland; only a few dozen people have been through its caves. Reaching the cave could be advertised as an excursion in itself, requiring an hour's hike across the spongy, moss-covered surface of the Leitahraun lava field, with Iceland's southern coastline and the North Atlantic unfolding around you.

The cave appears as a small dip in the lava field. Outfitted in hard hats, head-lamps and full-body work suits, we shimmied into a small hole and began clambering over rocks and ice in near-total darkness for nearly a kilometre underground. The cave ends in a 17-metre vertical pit, said to be the deepest lava pit on earth.

"Iceland is not a country for claustrophobics or agoraphobics," Jason observed as we emerged from the dark hole back into the sweeping landscape. Acrophobics should take note, too: Iceland has incredible sweeping vistas, but they typically involve high, winding narrow routes without guardrails.

Take, for example, our next extreme journey, to the top of the 4,600-foot Snaefellsjökull glacier. Located in West Iceland, Snaefellsjökull is Iceland's smallest glacier and the closest to Reykjavík, located just a few hours' drive from the city around the stunning coastline -- including the nearly six-kilometre, 165-metre-deep tunnel under the Hvalfjördur fjord. The glacier-topped mountain pops into view on the horizon an hour before you arrive.

To take the glacier tour, would-be alpinists buy tickets in the tiny seaside town of Arnarstapi (, about $60), then make an intense drive up a steep, switchbacking ribbon of a track to the snowline. There await cheerful guides proffering snowsuits, helmets and gloves for the zippy snowmobile ride to the peak of the glacier.

The view from the summit on a clear day is simply astonishing. Rugged mountain peaks that loom over Arnarstapi below appear from the glaciertop as cute little knolls in the scenery below. The vast panorama stretches as far as Reykjavík's distant peninsula on one side and to the Westfjords on the other, and is a bit vertigo-inducing even with one's feet planted firmly in the slushy snow.

On the return to Arnarstapi, enjoy a delicious meal in the sod-topped restaurant and take a spectacular 2.5-kilometre hike along the coastal lava-rock arches to neighbouring Hellnar, all under the eye of the mighty glacier you just conquered, famed for being the entranceway in Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

Iceland doesn't provide adventures only for the body -- you can exercise your palate, as well, in dozens of Reykjavík restaurants offering a range of cooking from hot-dog stands (on virtually every street corner) to world-class dining.

Many restaurants feature local fare -- even a downtown Mexican restaurant encouraged passersby to "Try our Icelandic menu" -- which usually includes delicious varieties of smoked or salted seafood and lamb, as well as the more esoteric whale, puffin and reindeer.

We were introduced to gourmet Icelandic cooking with a meal at Laekjarbrekka (, a cosy yet elegant restaurant located in a beautifully restored, 150-year-old house on Bankastraeti.

Jason forged boldly into the local cuisine with the Icelandic feast -- a gastronomical tour in four courses including minke whale -- "the best damn 'beef' you'll ever eat," was Jason's verdict -- sheep's-head jam ("better than it sounds"), and hákarl -- medicinal-tasting cubes of fermented shark, washed down with Iceland's herbal schnapps Brennivín. I opted for the humarveisla, or langoustine feast, featuring Iceland's tiny lobster four delicious ways in three courses.

If you're looking for something more unconventional, a bit further down the street you'll find the Sjávarkjallarinn or "Seafood Cellar," which offers Asian-influenced Icelandic fusion cuisine, served with panache in the oldest cellar in the city (

The restaurant's ultra-modern lighting and lucite furniture provides a hip contrast to the rough-hewn cellar beams in the restaurant's underground location, which provides a romantic dusky atmosphere despite the night-long sunshine outdoors.

If there's an occasion to splurge on dinner, it's Sjávarkjallarinn's "exotic menu," the chefs' pairings of food and wines, which when we visited included mango-salmon sushi, spoonfuls of lucious duck confit, and the restaurant's signature "lobster pick-me-up" with truffles and foie gras, followed by a selection of fruits and sorbets dramatically presented in a bamboo steamer chilled with a smoking base of dry ice.

After a week of extreme physical feats and unusual experiences, we were ready to head home for a rest. Iceland had one more surprise in store for us, however, at its famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.

Located between Reykjavík and the international airport in Keflavík, Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland's signature destinations, popular even with travellers stopping over on flights between Europe and North America (

Blue Lagoon is an enormous outdoor geothermal pool; its milky opaque water is a mix of sea and freshwater loaded with silica, algae and minerals. It's billed as healthy for your skin; certainly we were smooth as babies' bottoms when we got out after a two-hour soak on the way to the airport. The complex, carved into sooty-coloured lava rock, includes a full-service spa, cafe and upscale restaurant, and the pool itself has a swim-up bar offering cocktails and massages.

So maybe I'm wrong about Iceland not being a relaxing vacation destination. You can relax there, but like all else in Iceland, it's done to the extreme.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2010 E1

Monday, 19 July 2010

Self-Pruning Oaks

At some point today between 0700 and 1830, one of the branches from the oak tree flung itself to the ground. Do oak trees have temper tantrums? Did an especially heavy squirrel run across? Did the tree decide it was time to drop a little weight?
What ever the reason, I'm glad it didn't decide to throw the branch through any of the windows.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

I Wish I Could Remember These

There are bright yellow lilies blooming in the yard.
In three places no less.
I wish I knew where they came from. I know I didn't buy them. While these are pretty, I don't like lilies enough to pay for them.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Darling Dragonflies

Anyone who has tried to photograph dragonflies will tell you they are very camera shy. I manged to sneak up to these two on the tomato cages, but I couldn't get any closer.
This fellow wasn't any more receptive.
But I see many of them everyday. I heard someone call a large group of dragonflies a pleat. An interesting turn off phrase to be sure. I hope we have many pleats of dragonflies all summer to combat those wretched mosquitoes.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Tossed Garden

The storm late Tuesday night hadn't caused any obvious damage when I checked Wednesday morning, but by today, things had started to collapse.

And while the tomatoes did need a pruning, it would have been best if nature had used a sharper tool.

Monday, 12 July 2010


My niece used to call raspberries 'jewels', I suppose because they look like comic-book jewels.Our jewels are ripening and taste pretty wonderful.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Have Tools, Will Travel

We went to Mom and Dad's over the weekend and the Geek, as usual, took her tools. Mom and Dad had been talking about installing laminate floors, and now it is half done.
We can create mayhem wherever we are.
To be continued.....

Friday, 9 July 2010

That Was Fast

My weed killing experiment progressed much faster than I anticipated. The grass sprouted very quickly and so far, there is no Creeping Charlie in there.

I just need time (and soil) to do the rest of the yard.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

I'm ready for Hallowe'en

Bags under my eyes and one looking somewhat bruised? Nose looking somewhat crooked? One evil red eye? Perfect Hallowe'en get-up. Too bad I'm a few months too early.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Late Start = Short Season

We finally started rowing today. After several days of windy weather and high water, we decided to go this morning and if we couldn't row, we would use the weight room.
I guess the fates, hearing that we had a back-up plan, decided we were no fun. The water was perfectly flat and the morning was beautiful. Too bad we'll only have a few weeks of this; by mid-September it is usually too dark in the morning to row before work.
We'll have to enjoy it while we can.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Favourite Flowers

Next to Black-Eyed Susans, daisies are my favourite flowers. I love it when there are huge swathes in yards. It feels so summery!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Rain Barrel Cover

The top of one of the rainbarrels has become somewhat worse for wear, so the Geek put together a new one out of some scraps laying around.

Take that, mosquitoes!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Happy Canada Day

After engaging in some necessary home maintenance, we left to tour the three main Canada Day events in the 'Peg.

Some children were displaying their dancing skills at a PowWow at the Forks. They were having fun!
There was a huge crowd and it was difficult to make your way through the throng.

We did, however, notice this sign and thought, why not, it is for a good cause.
So we got ourselves some taaa-toooos!
We continued on to Assiniboine Park. It was much more peaceful here, tho' there were probably as many people.
After seeing what there was to see, we went home via Corydon Avenue and stopped for some sushi.

Happy Canada Day. I am so happy to live here!!