Saturday, August 20, 2011

An Evening at the Races

Marques Downs does not resemble the Royal Ascot or the Kentucky Derby because you can come as you are or make a splash with a fabulous hat, it doesn’t matter.

The races at the Downs of the thoroughbred horses are extra special events; everyone can enjoy them and create memorable experiences. They invite you to relax, enjoy a flatter, and soak up the atmosphere in the grandstand and in the surroundings as one watches the speed and stamina of the superior equine athlete.

It was my first time at the racetrack and the evening races offered the most prestiges and the biggest purses. I had my eye on a maiden race in which the horses usually are two years old and had never won a race making it their first race ever. It was going to be a race of six furlongs.

There are many factors which influence races such as the weight the horse carries, their proximity to the inside barrier, gender and track surface and distance. My table partner was a retired jockey who shared a wealth of knowledge with me. I still cannot get my head around the size of the “saddle” a jockey sits on when riding the horse - It’s no bigger than a saucer practically sitting on the bare back.

Sitting in the grandstands dining room overlooking the racecourse, I could see the horses in their stalls and then entering the track for the post parade to the starting gate. As the horses pranced, I glanced nervously at the racing form in my hand. It was the first time I placed a wager – my very first bet. I have to say here that I needed help from my table partner placing this bet not that I was spending a big sum of money. I clutched my ticket as the bell rang and the starting gates sprang open. Like a bullet the horses charged forward, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement and I cheered my horse all the way to the wire. Amazingly my horse won!! It was Peaches a horse my friend owns. There were anxious moments earlier as Lynda had told me that Peaches (the winner) had a good chance of winning this race as she was pretty keyed up. She had questioned her maturity at this point but knew that she had tremendous ability and a tremendous hearth, which of course is a great combination.

The evening was spent celebrating and was a safe bet for fun and excitement and an experience I’ll never forget.

Here are the pictures of Peaches aka “Marge’s Action” the winner of the Woodland Heritage Sweepstakes and all her friends who came to cheer her on to this tremendous win with her trainer Fern Zdunick and jockey Garfield Gordon.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Garden Tour

Gardening seems to be a passion here in the prairies. The most valuable thing gardener’s share is their practical experience growing in Saskatchewan, as the seasons are so short and the winters are so very cold.

The Saskatoon Horticultural Society hosted their annual garden tour early in July with six amazing private gardens in our city that are tended to by local gardeners. I can only imagine the flurry of weeding that took place to make things presentable before the actual tour. The tour resulted in an abundant array of beautiful gardens around the city that showed their beauty and individual charm.

The day was sunny and thanks to the little golden dragonflies, the pesky mosquitoes that have been such a nuisance this summer had mostly disappeared. It made it an enjoyable afternoon.

The gardens were beautiful. Each garden gave the tour participants the gift of inspiration on how to improve their own garden.

The first stop was a garden designed with feng shui overtones. There was absolutely no grass. This unique garden was designed to cope with the southern exposure and the owner’s three little dogs. Exquisitely planted garden rooms were designed with different principles creating a tranquil garden space. It was an inspiration to gardeners to look beyond the individual plants and group the plants to create harmony and balance.

The naturalistic Koi Pond that the owner partly heats during the winter months.

The second stop was at Oliver Lodge, a special care home were the average age of the gardener is 85 and the oldest is 92. The inspiration here is; one is never too old to grow. The gardens included raised garden beds so that the garden was at the level of the gardener. They were spotless and the enthusiasm of the residents was infectious. Each gardener had their own raised bed, easy for planting their favorite flowers or vegetables and gentle on their backs.

Our third stop was a garden in the Riversdale area. It had a unique front yard. A resting place was created under a big spruce tree. Because these trees take all the moisture out of the ground, the owner creatively build a deck that housed potted containers with flowers that love the shade; and lush woodland ferns were planted around the edges. The branches of the tree were cut high enough to add a seating place. The back garden was designed for entertaining and had wonderful specimens that have become focal points for their garden. This is a welcoming, manicured garden full of dramatic places. I admired the creative designs of the outbuildings; while along the fence lines there are clambering vines and mixed perennial beds.

My favorite garden was the fourth garden. This garden inspires with subtle design detail. You look at the garden and think, “Wow this looks good.” As you start to analyze the garden, you discover sophisticated design principles. One area of the garden uses the principles of repetition. Your eye is gently drawn to the next area of the garden, which features wonderful deeply layered mixed boarders under the sinuous branching of an ancient tree. This gardener is a true artist using a broad pallet of texture, which is used in imaginative combinations. Even when not in full bloom, the flowerbeds were amazing. (I learned to day that this garden received the People’s Choice Award)

The fifth stop inspired gardeners to be bold. This garden incorporated pieces of art collected by the owners. The pieces were large, but the proportions matched the garden. There was an impish sense of humor and whimsy not only in the pieces of art, but also in their placement in the garden. Heck, you could even sit in a room and watch TV or take a dip in the pool.

The next garden exploded with flowers. An unexpected oasis of rare plants, this garden provides the connoisseur with much to linger over. Each architectural element in this garden is thoughtful and house and garden seamlessly transition from one to another in a unified whole. It was evident that this husband and wife team love to garden. Color combinations were bright and joyful. It was a welcoming and tranquil place to be.

All good things must come to an end and so did this wonderful afternoon. The hosts shared their love of gardening and at the same time had the tour on schedule, keeping us moving when we would rather linger a little longer.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Berry Barn

To satisfy my occasional craving for Saskatoon Berry Pie I headed out to the old Berry Barn were these decadent desserts are on the menu.

Never heard of a Saskatoon berry?
The berry is native to the Canadian prairies and the berries grow on trees that reach heights of 15 feet.
Known for their Saskatoon “MUST HAVES” when visiting, these delectable berries are grown in this area and known world wide for their sweet and distinct flavor.

Tucked away on Valley Road, and located on the beautiful banks of the South Saskatchewan River, this must see destination presents most breathtaking views in the area. Accentuated by its brilliantly landscaped grounds and carefully manicured berry orchards, the Berry Barn is an ideal location to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy everything wonderful that this province has to offer.

Here is a picture of a little “make shift church’ in the Berry Patch were weddings take place.

The Berry Barn grounds play host to a 28 acre Saskatoon berry orchard the oldest in Saskatchewan. It is here that thousands of pounds of these distinctly flavored berries grow, waiting to be used in various desserts and preserves that are made right on site.

In the past I used to enjoy an afternoon of picking my own berries in the U-pick area to make my own preserves.

I am drawn to this area and the river for its historic beauty, its old fashioned hospitality and colorful countryside, were Canola blooms a brilliant yellow in high summer and golden barley shimmers in the sun.

I’ve learned the hard way that one should take photos while you can. Here is a picture of the old barn before the new renovation.


Sunday, July 17, 2011


I treated myself to an afternoon at Wanuskewin, an incredibly beautiful unspoiled natural prairie landscape, to relive the stories and lifestyles of the Northern Plains Indians who have gathered at this one meeting place for over 6.000 years – a place where the original North Americans met newcomers to the continent in a spirit of sharing and hospitality.

In the first Nations community it is remembered as a resting place – a place of spiritual renewal were you can find peace of mind.

I walked in places were hunters once stampeded massive buffaloes over cliffs, and stood on the lower grounds were hunters waited to kill the survivors of the fall. I walked on trails were archaeologists found and still unearth a treasure trove of artifacts from 5.000 year old arrowheads to 3.000 year old bison bones that all speak of the history of this valley and make this region the longest running archaeological site in Canada.

There is evidence that many generations used this place. Ring of stones show that once tipis stood there. These tipi stones are “tent pegs” of the past used to hold down the edges of their conical skin tents or tipis.

The Medicine Wheel, a sacred hoop, is one of the most mysterious remains of the nomadic tribes who roamed here. Set amid the prairie grassland on a plateau overlooking the South Saskatchewan River, the wheel is a circular boulder alignment that sits at the end of the circle of the Harmony Trail. It’s one of the last 70 medicine wheels scattered over North America and no two are alike. Some are made up of a single ring, some have double rings, and some are shaped like stars. The wheel is a cairn in the center of a ring of lichen-encrusted limestone boulders, most likely used to conduct ceremonies. The elders believe this is one of the most sacred sites of the northern plains tribes still intact.


A walk of discovery through the visitor center will answer many questions about the way First Nations people lived and worked and how their way of life focused on respect for the land, animals and other people.

I surrounded myself with first nations art, music and collected works in the fine art gallery, where creations of master artisans with skills attained by tradition and age-old practices, are exhibited.

This painting is in honor of Metis women’s connection to the horse nation. Historically many Metis woman worked with horses and they were a significant part of Metis culturally life on the prairies. The beautiful pink flower represents Metis woman and the two dancing snakes represent the musical rhythm that the horse nation hooves bring to the earth and all the beings that have the honor of listening to this musical cadence.

I sat in the Amphitheatre were a female dancer in full regalia performed native dances.  The circular layout of the theater gave the event the intimacy of a room and offered the open sky as a ceiling. It overlooks the valley in a beautiful setting.

To day you can take advantage and plan an overnight stay and sleep in one of the tipis in the Opimihaw valley - sit around the fire and listen to traditional stories and learn about first nations traditional living, enjoy a traditional meal of bison stew and bannock, muskeg tea and Saskatoon berry tarts, and take part in the many cultural programs according to once specific interest.