Monday, March 28, 2011

The Garden Report #43

Sunday, March 27th, 2011
Cranes amongst the ferns in my back garden

• Writers write: Irish soda bread and a good cup of ‘Joe’…is there any better way to begin a Sunday morning? Spring struggles this year. The snow is leaving at a slow pace, which is a good thing for flood control. In some years, the first robin is already in the yard and tulips have poked their way through the sun trap part of the garden on March 31st. Not this year. There will be no gardening except in my dreams during early April. Growing up, I often heard the stories of the winter and spring of 1947. There are photographs from that time of trains buried in twelve foot snow drifts. My mother’s second husband would tell me “anyone with a strong back and a weak mind could make five bucks a day, just shoveling snow that year!” We went for a walk through our beloved Wascana Park this week. The rabbits have not begun to turn. They remain snow white. They know something.

• Readers write: I had a wonderful visit with regular reader Neil Vandendort. Neil is the head of Parks in Regina. Both of us came up through the ranks and at the same time. We pushed wheelbarrows, dug tree holes and installed sod back in the seventies. Now Neil is a big shot at City Hall and me, well…I write The Garden Report. Lyn Goldman writes regarding #42, “Wonderful photos. Can’t wait for summer.” Heather Lowe wrote in regarding the ‘ticket angels’ saying “That’s a lovely list of who’s who’ in Regina.” June Blau wrote “Thanks for another good read.” Had an opportunity to meet reader Ann Anderson who I have never met before. She is a lovely woman who works in The Mayor’s Office.

• Great pasta: I love pasta. I don’t deny it. I am a carb junkie but I get tired of eating variations of the tomato based sauces. Tuesday night I decided to do things a little differently and challenge my taste buds. I was inspired by the wonderful tastes of lemon and garlic dripping off of Greek souvlaki. I took one pound of ground pork and began to fry it. I added in one medium sized, chopped onion, one tablespoon of chopped garlic, half a red/yellow chopped pepper, two tomatoes chopped, and two cups of sliced mushrooms. I let that cook down for twenty minutes. Then I added in half a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper, three teaspoons of oregano, two teaspoons of basil, one teaspoon of paprika, a third cup of lemon juice and a cup of plain yogurt. I also added in half a cup of hot peppers but not everyone likes that much heat. I let everything simmer on a minimum heat for another ten minutes and then I served it over fresh pasta. Totally different and very delicious.
A lovely hanging basket

• I like your buns: Cinnamon buns are a treat that most of us enjoy. And when I used the word ‘enjoy’, I suppose that would be considered an understatement. I have no particular preference in that I do love baking powder ones, yeast risen ones and flaky, croissant style ones. Anything that has lots of flavor will impress me. I ate a delicious one from Sweet Bakery at College and Broad. Helen calls her version a Cinnamon Twist, not considering it a bun. Semantics I say. It was good. Really good. I also taste tested one from La Macaron out in the east end. It was okay, but it did not have the punch I was looking for. I do not like to speak poorly of a locally owned business, but this one does not make it into my top ten.

• Good night Irene: Sadly, CJ Katz is publishing her last edition of ‘Savor Life’ this week. CJ has produced this on line food and restaurant blog for eight years. She has encouraged readers to support the slow food movement, locally produced food and creative chefs, all things I totally agree with. CJ has found it too taxing to keep producing her E-Zine as she is now busy writing a new cookbook. I was a regular reader and I will certainly miss her take on things. CJ writes that she will consider resuming ‘Savor Life’ in the future. CJ writes in her blog that when she started eight years ago, she was read by around fifty of her friends and neighbors. Today, she has ten thousand regular readers. A local success story.

• Garden Tip: Neil Vandendort from City Parks tells me that on his residential bay in the east end, there are several Silver Maples that are growing well. Most Silver Maples get to a certain height and then they winter kill. These ones have not done that. Neil is trying to find out which seed source or selection they are from. If we can find out, it would be worthwhile trying one of these larger growing trees. We certainly need more diversity in our urban forest.

Silver Leaf Dogwood
• Use or lose: Much controversy over the planned closures of Co-op grocery stores in smaller communities. Many towns in this province have lost their grocery stores and other small businesses. People are complaining and quite loudly. So far, no one has addressed the elephant in the room. The reason grocery stores are closing in small towns is because many of the customers are shopping in the city at Costco, Wal-Mart, Superstore and so on. They treat their local establishments as convenience stores, purchasing last minute items but not full orders. The bottom line is that the stores are no longer profitable and no one wants a business that loses money. This city has lost just about all of its independent hardware stores because customers did not support them. Peter’s Hardware, which was a fixture in Lakeview since 1957, had to close because the customer support no longer existed. Yet, it was at these community based businesses, where people could find virtually everything they needed with expert assistance. Good luck finding someone at Canadian Tire, Rona or Home Depot who can match that level of service.

• The mighty Wascana: The little creek that meanders through our neighborhood will soon be a torrent of water. Long time residents will remember what it was like back in 1969 and 1973/74. The rush of water underneath The Albert Street Bridge becomes so loud that one feels they are living beside Niagara Falls. And the noise is there 24/7. The City is preparing for the onslaught of water. All of the garbage bins from the back lane of the north side of Regina Avenue have been moved out to the street. I suspect that sandbagging operations will soon be underway. How high was the creek in 1973/74? In places, it was ten feet above normal and the sandbagged back lane held back three feet of water.

• Thank you: The Regina Fringe Fundraiser has come and gone for another year. I am most appreciative of all seventy-nine of you who purchased tickets from me for this event. For those of you who did not attend, the night was a lot of fun. Roberta Nichol knocked the proverbial socks off of the audience with her music and as always, her personality filled the room. Carlos from The Italian Star provided a great lunch from his deli and I got an opportunity to take my acting chops for a ride. It was an honor to showcase one of my plays for you. It was, a very good night.

Tulips-one of my favorites
• Ego reduction: God gives us family so that we don’t’ get too carried away with our sense of self worth. A few years ago, I was engaged to deliver a speech to two hundred people. We were having a family supper prior to my speech and Maureen said to the boys “Why don’t you go listen to your dad speak tonight. It is a real honor that he was asked to deliver this speech.” None of the three boys leapt at the opportunity. In fact, the dining room was very quiet. One of the boys broke the silence and asked me “Are you going to say anything that we haven’t already heard you say?” He called that one right. He had heard everything I was planning on saying.

• Thanks for reading this week…Rod McDonald in Regina
The Garden Report #42

Sunday, March 20th, 2011
Sharon Wallace's Garden

Writers write: I am sitting here in my writing room looking out at the falling snow. There was some melting this week and puddles were forming all over the city, heralding the arrival of spring. Today, winter has announced that we need not be too hasty in our assumptions and celebrations. The coffee had some bite this morning and the sourdough toast with orange marmalade filled the spot. The cat is asleep somewhere and the sounds of silence echo across the house.

I reached out this past week to the readers of The Garden Report. I had promised The Regina Fringe that I would sell fifty tickets for this Friday’s fundraiser. You assisted me in my efforts and as of this writing, collectively you have purchased sixty-three tickets and there are still more of you who are calling this week. My gratitude for your support is appreciated beyond the words required to frame my emotion.

Readers write: Daniel Redenbach let us know that he is in Alberta working on a feature film there. Sadly, some of our best talent has been forced to leave the province to find work. “Thanks again for the Sunday connection,” so writes Gail Bowen. Roberta Nichol writes that if I perform Glory Days in the nude, it would well be worth the money to attend the performance, just for the comedic value. Writing of comedic value, Georgia Hearn responded to my jokes for eight year olds with “ I think you could entertain any age, and make them smile and laugh. I know I did.” John Ciotucha wrote “More good stuff.” That is what I specialize in writing today, more good stuff. Playwright Vern Thiessen, who authored The Globe’s last show ‘Shakespeare’s Will’, received a copy of #41 that praised the show. He appreciated the good vibes. Reader Steve Kesslering and his wife were in Phoenix during February. Steve writes that he could not find decent bread comparable to what we have in Regina. Steve suspects that the good quality wheat grown by the local farmers is a contributing factor to the decent baked goods. Bill Johnson has joined Cheryl Hutton in chastising me for spelling theatre the American way, theater. I must be bilingual. Dean Ast writes “We are enjoying your blog.” Lyn Goldman, while picking up her Fringe tickets, had the opportunity to pet Murphy, praising him for being a handsome cat. Murphy has never suffered esteem issues.

Ticket Angels: Without an audience, actors are nothing more than neurotic people speaking to an empty room. Due to the generosity of the readers of The Garden Report, we will not have an empty room on March 25th. The following people have purchased tickets from me and rest assured, it is greatly appreciated. They include Bill Johnson, Colin O’Brian Men’s Wear, Wendy at The Dermatology Clinic, Laura and Terry Ross, Chris and Karen Pasterfield, Dave and Liz Calam, Glenda Michalski, Bernie and Jennifer Cohen, Frank Fiacco (took six for his friends), Bob Anderson, Catherine Parker, Ann Anderson, Neil Vandendort, Heather Lowe, Mike at The Classic Landscape Company, Joanne Terry, Brad from Outdoor Expressions, Leanne Mann, Susan and Ross Keith, Marsha Kennedy, Lyn Goldman, Andy Idema, June and Dave Blau, Don at Lakeview Fine Foods, Morag Armbruster, Candace Holmstrom, Georgia Hearn, Ken and Michelle McCaw, Jack Tunnicliffe at Java Post, Lynn and Jim Tomkins, Dean and Lynn Ast, Murray and Sharon Wallace, Georgia Hearn and Ina Field.

Sex and the gardener: I have nothing here to add. I just thought it made for a great heading. Why are you reading?
Homestead Buckeye

Garden Tip: Three new plants from Dr. Phillip Ronald at Jeffries Nursery in Portage. Homestead Buckeye obviously has intense fall colors. Buckeyes are rarely seen in the prairies. Hahs Viburnum appears to be a lovely shrub. Viburnum is the fancy name for the cranberry family. Scarlet Jewel Red Maple appears to have incredibly intense autumn shading. The begonia basket and the mixed planter are from reader Michel Verheul’s greenhouse.

Scarlet Jewel Red Maple
Regina Home Show: This event is starting Thursday. Lots of interesting products and services. If you get out, make sure you look for Mike from The Classic Landscape Company, Brad from Outdoor Expressions Landscaping (he is usually hanging around the display gardens) and Steve at The Rusty Shovel. All three are regular readers of The Garden Report and they know lots about landscaping. Introduce yourself to them as being Garden Report readers. You don’t get a gift but they are interested in saying ‘hello’.

Certificate required: One of our boys took a babysitting course when he was twelve years old. He wanted to make some spending money. He got his first job from a couple, down the street. His mother advised him, on his way out the door that if he had any problems, to call. Keep in mind his mother had raised three children and was a Registered Nurse who at one time, had worked at ‘Sick Kids’ in Toronto. He dismissed her offer with disdain telling her “Mom, you didn’t take the course. I did.”
Hahs Viburnum

A certificate is proof: I had a friend who had been locked up on the psychiatric ward for a few months. Prior to being released, he needed two doctors to sign a form, testifying that he was of sane mind. He kept the document in his back pocket. He would take it out and tell us “you guys think you are sane but for you it is only a suspicion. For me, I have the legal proof.”

Garden Tip: As the snow melts and your garden is more accessible, it is time to start the spring pruning. My three steps of pruning are a) remove dead and dying branches, b) prune for the future health of the tree by removing cross over branches and anything that could be a problem down the road, and c) prune for the aesthetics of the tree. The problem is that most homeowners start with c first when it should be last.

Horror on Elm Street: Just a reminder that there is a provincial wide ban on the pruning of elm trees from April 1st until August 31st. Without active control of Dutch Elm disease, much of our urban forest would be lost. That would be a tragedy.

How to meet nice people: One of the benefits of volunteer work is meeting some of the finest people. I did a miniscule one hour of work for The Kidney Foundation this week. I had to call ten other volunteers. All ten were very polite and positive people. Negative people don’t volunteer. They do not see any benefits, so why bother. I would much rather surround myself with positive people.

Begonia Baskets in Michel's Greenhouse
Koko’s: Stopped in on Friday and picked up a loaf of their very tasty, rosemary/sourdough. Seeing as I was already there, I purchased one of their incredible lemon tarts for myself and a chocolate/peanut butter tart for Maureen. While my lemon tart was its wonderful self, Maureen was disappointed with her treat. I had a taste and it was just not that good. Better to try something else. Also worth noting, Koko is now selling mini loaves at The Italian Star as well as at Lakeview Fine Foods. I am pleased to see good bread being sold in different places. And seeing as we have just mentioned The Italian Star, they are selling cans of plum tomatoes with no salt for a good price, $2.25. The tomatoes are large and plump.

Ultimate tough guys: All over the news this week was the story of the young woman who was buying groceries at Superstore in the east end. Four men in their twenties, beat and kicked her into submission, causing her severe injuries. For their efforts they acquired seven dollars in cash and twenty-five bucks worth of groceries. How tough are four guys who jump on one woman? If there were any real justice in this world, they would not be looking at a jail sentence. Nope. They would have to fight their way out of that parking lot, but it wouldn’t be just one young woman as their opponent. I am willing to wager you, they are not all that tough, when facing someone who is not so vulnerable.

Garden Tip: With the occasional warm spring day, our thoughts turn to planting. It is not a good idea to be purchasing bedding plants this early unless you have the capability to look after them. Every year, enthusiasm carries people along and sitting on the kitchen counter are several trays of plants…but planting season is still two months away. Best to delay your purchase unless you have the space and the knowhow to look after plants this early in the season.

To be or not to be: I was reading an article about the reduced attendance at The Globe this year, due to the construction ‘smozzle’ that is downtown. We attend The Globe and have not found it difficult to find a parking spot. We park by The Hotel Saskatchewan and walk the two short blocks to the theatre. Sadly, The Globe is looking at a deficit this year and deficits can eventually lead to demises. The adage is if you don’t use it, you lose it and The Globe is an important part of the cultural mosaic of this city. It deserves your attendance. And the difficult parking is more of a myth than reality.

Cultural mosaic continued: We are fortunate to have an active art’s community in Regina. Two of our shakers and movers are Bob Evans, the guitarist who is involved in different concerts around town, and Jodi Sadowsky. Jodi is busy producing and promoting The Regina Fringe and in her spare time, she does the same for a new theatre company called ‘The Golden Apple’. If you see either of them, give each a pat on the back for what they do for this community.

A mixed basket in Michel's Greenhouse
Garden Tip: When considering an evergreen tree, keep in mind that for the most part, pine trees do not do exceptionally well in the heavy, clay soil of Regina. They do grow quite nicely at White City or Pilot Butte because the soil tends to be sandy in those locales. Your best choice for an evergreen tree in Regina is a spruce.

To be young again: When I was fourteen, I spotted an ad in the paper for summer employment. A local warehouse wanted a student to work for the summer. I filled out the application and I was granted an interview with the manager. He asked me “what do you expect for a salary.” I knew that my father made a salary of $350 a month at his job, and I knew that I was smarter than my dad, so I deserved more pay. I told the manager I expected at least four hundred a month. He stared at me and said the job paid $225. I told him I could not possibly lower my expectations to that number and I walked out. Reality was waiting for me around the corner.

Thanks for reading…I will see many of you Friday night at The RSM…Rod McDonald in Regina

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Garden Report #41

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Morden Blush Rose
• Writers write: I have been pleasantly surprised with the volume of emails this week from our readers. Thirty of you took the time to write, proffer opinions and ask questions. This leads me to believe that readers feel invested in what appears here every Sunday. I always feel as if I should walk a fine line when it comes to asking people to participate in events or to donate money to causes. On the one hand, I have a passion for certain portions of our cultural mosaic and on the other hand, I don’t want to be viewed as a pest, always with my hand out. Having written that, I will take my chances with the following. The Regina Fringe Festival operates on a shoe string budget and many hours of volunteer labor. They have to raise money in order to present the festival. This is the fourth year that they have had a fundraiser night. There is music with Roberta Nichol who is worth the price of admission herself, there are good things to eat courtesy of Carlos and The Italian Star Deli, and the feature performance this year is my show ‘Glory Days’. The fundraiser is set for Friday, March 25th at The RSM. Tickets in advance are thirty dollars. I have promised The Fringe that I will sell fifty tickets for the night. This is where you come in. Would you consider purchasing some tickets from me? You will get a great night out and you will be assisting The Regina Fringe to develop the festival for Regina audiences. Send me an email and let me know how many tickets you would like. Thank you.

Morden Cardinette Rose
• Readers write: Joana Cook writes regarding my mentioning of our international readership, “You forgot your regular reader in London, England.” Joana is working on her Masters at King’s College. Catherine Parker writes “Another fun Garden Report. That’s a cute baby!” Marcus Fernando has commented on memorizing scripts. Marcus theorizes that if we store our scripts in the long term memory part of our brain, it is more difficult to memorize but it will stay there forever. If we utilize our short term memory, we can memorize scripts quicker, but we will not retain them for any length. That is a great theory. Who did you say you were again? Roberta Nichol agrees with Rob van Zaten in that ‘Winnipeg Parks’ is a first rate, prairie hardy rose. Reader Joan Kortje is moving from The Kidney Foundation to The YWCA and she is taking The Garden Report with her. June Blau writes “Once again you have hit on my favorite topics: cute babies, roses and food.” Yes…we are a triple threat here at the blog. Brock Silversides out of Toronto is appreciative of the readers who have reminisces of two local dance bands, The Adantes and Wascana. Chris Pasterfield who lives across the street writes in to say that he totally agrees with my assessment of our neighborhood. Chris enjoys both the people and the trees. Sarah Wills from Toronto writes “Enjoyed your ramblings as always. Really enjoyed the photos of ‘Winnipeg Parks’ rose and of Pascal.” June Mayhew is going to try out The Falafel King in Vancouver. She also has a friend in Edmonton who she has added to the mailing list. Georgia Hearn writes “Another enjoyable read.” Denise Cook writes that her mother had a stay at City Hospital in Saskatoon and Denise noticed that it is a very well run hospital. Cheryl Hutton from Calgary sent along a nice compliment regarding the titles within The Garden Report. She wrote: “ They are so fun and always describe the upcoming thought without being too blatantly obvious. In fact, sometimes there is great satisfaction taking a second glance at them after I've read the paragraph as I usually have an extra chuckle of appreciation for them.” Wendy Richardson from London, Ontario wrote: “I loved that you mentioned me in your Garden Report. It made me feel very special.” Well, now you can feel special a second time. Penney Pike out of Calgary writes “Look forward to Sundays and The Garden Report. Keep ‘em coming.” Reader Bobbi Jo Cook is home from Fort McMurray and she dropped by for a visit. She will be moving out to Vancouver to attend film school.

Morden Sunrise Rose
• Garden Tip: Reader Rob van Zanten who is one of the owners of Pan American Nursery Company, took the photographs of the three roses that are featured this week.  Rob took the photos last summer. ‘Morden Sunrise’ is one that I have growing in my own garden. It is not overly hardy and it does take a bit of mulching and snow mounding to get it through each winter. It usually dies back, quite close to the ground but it does come back and usually has many blooms on it towards the end of June. ‘Morden Cardinette’ is a petite rose as it does not grow too big. When it was first released in 1980, Dieter Martin gave me a rooted cutting of this rose. I grew it over the winter in my kitchen and I believe that the first Regina bloom of ‘Cardinette’ occurred in that room. Somewhere in my basement, there is a box of photographs and one is of that bloom from many years ago. ‘ Morden Blush’ is a lovely rose. As the blooms mature, they fade to a lighter color than what appears in the photograph. All three of these roses are worth growing. If you are obsessed with hardiness, The ‘Morden Blush’ is the hardiest of the three.

Northern Dazzle Lily
• Garden Tip: Two more photos this week of plants, courtesy of Dr. Phillip Ronald at Jeffries’ Nursery in Portage la Prairie. Phillip sent along a new lily called ‘Northern Dazzle’ and a ‘Diabolo Ninebark’ in a tree form. This is a purple leafed plant and it will grow around the six foot mark. It is a wonderful accent plant in a flower bed. You can plant all sorts of flowers or perennials underneath it.

• Mothers never understand: My friend Ian was going out of town and he shipped his sixteen year old boy Andrew, over to Uncle Rod’s for the weekend. His first night at our place, he wore his baseball cap to the table, a definite no-no at our house. I took his cap off and spit in it, handing it back to him. He thought I was the coolest dad for doing that. Maureen was less than impressed with what I had done but she was equally surprised that Andrew thought it was a fine thing to do. She asked: “How did you know to do that?” I used to be sixteen.

• Garden Tip: Reader Catherine Parker wanted to know how to get her four inch primulas, that she purchases at this time of year, to last long enough to transplant into the garden. Over the years, I have not had very good luck with these plants making it through to the spring. They seem to wither away to nothing. I suspect that they are meant to be enjoyed for a short time only, but they sure are a fresh breath of spring when they are in bloom. That was my answer and here is one from reader Michiel Verheul, who is one of Canada’s leading greenhouse growers: “Primula bloom once and then not again for a long time. They bloom under cool conditions. We see them available in the stores put them in our warm homes and by the time it gets warm enough to plant outside the flowers are done. Primula should be bought early, enjoyed like a spring bulb and then planted outside and maybe they will bloom in the fall for you to enjoy. Or just toss it and buy something fresh."

• The Galloping Gourmet: When Number Two Son had his seventh birthday party, somehow I was assigned to prepare the birthday supper for him and ten of his friends. I cooked wieners and beans and as I did not want ketchup all over the kitchen, I added it directly into the pot. The kids were really excited. The ketchup was already in the beans. I told them it was ‘gourmet wieners and beans.’. The next day, my phone started to ring. It was the mothers of these little boys inquiring as to my recipe for the gourmet dish their boys were raving over. When I told the mothers what I had done, each was disappointed. “That’s it? You added ketchup into the pot and called it ‘gourmet’?” Hey! It was a success with the seven year olds. Let it ride.

Diabolo Ninebark in a tree form
• Garden Tip: Reader Kim Lytle out of Saskatoon is concerned that last year was a terrible gardening year for many vegetable crops. She is worried that the forecast for this year is even worse. Should she plant a vegetable garden? Here is the answer: Gardeners by their very nature, are optimists. They persist in spite of Mother Nature and nosy neighbors. They grow plants that books say cannot be grown here. They are up early in the morning to get a start on the watering and they are out after dark with flashlights, squishing slugs. Gardeners order seeds when it is minus thirty-eight Celsius. Why? Because they just know that this year is going to be perfect. Last year Kim noticed that her root crops were not up to par, in part due to the wet and the cold. Yes, but the top crops such as spinach, Swiss Chard, and lettuce were decent. One of my friends had a wonderful crop of beets because she planted them in a raised garden box, which utilized the heat in a better fashion than if planted in the ground. Am I going to plant as much as I did last year and the year before? Does Murphy love tins of tuna? Stay tuned for these answers and more.

• Good Globe: We have season tickets for The Globe and this past week we took in ‘Shakespeare’s Will.’ Now I must confess, I have worked in the realm of one handers for a long time and do love the format. This one was outstanding. The woman playing the only role on stage, that of Anne Hathaway, carried the seventy-five minute performance extraordinarily well. There are those cultural snobs who insist that one handers are not real theater, but to watch this actor work was amazing. She created her own tension, joy and sadness. She created her own angst and irritants. This is theater in its simplest and yet most engaging format. It requires the audience to listen and to align themselves with the character on stage. When she announces that her husband’s sister is a “real bitch”, we empathize, each of us having a family member who can be trying. Leaving the theater and arriving home, there was a story on the television regarding the complexity and science involved in the creation of ‘Avatar’. I thought of the show we had just seen, less than an hour ago. This is theater that is a thousand years old. One person, stranding in the middle of the tribe, telling us a story of love and loss. This is a story teller with no place left to hide. There are no special effects or technology to save her. Either she carries the story or it fails. That is living on the tightrope. She deserved the standing ovation.

• ‘Shakespeare’s Will’ trivia: This play was written by Vern Thiessen, one on Canada’s top playwrights. His sister Ingrid is one of our regular readers and is also one of Regina’s finest Landscape Architects. Ingrid tells the story of being provided two comp tickets for a Shakespeare play while in university. For her date, she took along her kid brother, Vern, who was just entering his teens. Ingrid says he loved the play.

• Too funny: My friend Peter McGarry is an Irish playwright. Peter loves to perform in the nude, something I have never been persuaded to do, at least publicly. Our youngest son attended one of Peter’s plays. His review: “If I wanted to see a fat, middle aged, naked man, I would just have breakfast with my dad. I don’t need to pay eight dollars to do that.”

• Garden Tip: The spring edition of ‘Gardening for the Prairies’ has arrived. Absolutely stunning magazine. There was a time when our gardening magazines were produced in Toronto and New York, hardly regional. This magazine is a class act and produced in Saskatoon. For more information, go to

• Really, I’m straight: Anyone got two tickets for Elton John they want to sell to me at face value? I detest scalpers. They are slime personified. Prefer to sit in the stands and Thursday would be great.

• Garden Tip: Gardeners love to talk about gardening and they love to read about it. One could even write that gardeners are an obsessive lot. And what is my point? Don’t have one. There is a new book out from local publishing house, Coteau Books. The book is written by the well known Sara Williams and Hugh Skinner. The title is ‘Gardening Naturally: a chemical free handbook for the Prairies.’ I have not read it yet but my copy is on its way.

• Writers who help: Congratulations go out to Ed Willet who is now our new ‘Writer in Residence’ at The Regina Public Library. Ed is an excellent writer and he is a very good choice for the position. If you are dying to be a writer or if you have a script as yet unfinished, you can secure an appointment to see Ed at the downtown library and he will assist you with your project.

• A new audience: We were at The Symphony last night. I found myself chatting with two eight year old girls. I cracked a joke about me auditioning to be a dancer in ‘Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang’. They laughed. I had no idea I could be funny to such a young audience. I am now working on some new material for that group. Jokes about why mommies are so mean, why boys are stupid and how immature seven year olds can be at times. It’s Grade Three all over without the pressure to succeed.

Murphy says: "Hurry up spring!  I want to chase some squirrels."
• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Garden Report #40

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

My garden
• Writers Write: It has been thirty-eight years since I started living on the corner of Regina Avenue and Angus Street. I moved in February 26th, 1973. It is a wonderful neighborhood. One that I have come to appreciate over the years. I have often written that you have to live somewhere and wherever that somewhere is, then it is best if you enjoy the area. My neighbors have always been good to me. They too enjoy the area, filled with trees and bounded by two beautiful parks, Wascana and Rotary. We have a decent social scene in the neighborhood, with Christmas and New Year’s celebrated at different houses. And the summer barbecues can fill a backyard and sometimes we spill over into Rotary Park for our get together. People tend to stay a long time in the area. Athol Forbes lived across the street for seventy-five years. I mention this because I have read that in some neighborhoods, an average stay is somewhere around three years. There are neighborhoods where you can live for several years and no one will ever knock on your door to welcome you to the block, let alone extend an invitation for supper. I originally started this blog for my neighbors and a few friends who live close by. It has now grown in its first year so that we have over a thousand regular readers in Germany, Russia and Denmark as well as all across Canada. That’s nice but I still have to live somewhere. Somewhere for me is this corner of Old Lakeview. I have never regretted my choice.

Pascal in a sweater (our youngest reader)
• Readers Write: June Mayhew writes: “Pascal is too cute. Thanks for another delicious blog.” Kate Berringer writes “I laughed out loud” regarding the thought of putting Clearasil on Murphy’s chin to hide his zits. Cheryl Hutton out of Calgary wonders why I spell it theater instead of theatre? Good question, no answer. Marg Hryniuk agrees with me that acne and crow’s feet should not occur at the same time. Reader and actor, Colette Nichol has been residing in Ecuador for the last few years. She sent an email this week letting us know that she got married at Christmas! Congratulations. Joanne Terry writes that she is looking forward to seeing me perform on March 25th at The RSM. Reader Ann Anderson wishes to confess her sin. Even though she fully realizes that I am a proponent of the slow food movement, she admits to every now and again, enjoying Hamburger Helper and Kraft Dinner. Good grief, our sins are certainly boring these days. Our resident Reader/Doctor appreciated my editing of her advice on how to recover from disease. She wrote “you did a wonderful job of summarizing.” Not surprisingly, our readers who are living with cancer were most interested. I have included another photo of our resident cute baby, Pascal, in the attachments. Nothing sells like a cute baby, right? Reader Wendy Richardson who resides in London, Ontario writes that she is tired of snow and is looking forward to seeing the green, green grass of spring. For those with long memories, Wendy used to be Wendy Campbell who was in Fine Arts School with me during the sixties. Along with Wendy in that class, there were two other readers of this blog, Penney Pike from Calgary and Susan Patryluk. Reader and artist Marsha Kennedy was at school with us but she was a year behind. Marsha wants that noted as she prefers to be seen as the punk kid of the group.

Winnipeg Parks Rose
• Garden Tip: Rob van Zanten’ from Pan American Nursery Products wrote: “I have been looking over our 60+ prairie hardy selections and keep coming back to one variety that has been my favorite over the years.” Rob’s favorite is Winnipeg Parks and I have included a photo of this Morden Rose as an attachment.

• The Casino Blues: Reader Greg Morley had a story to share in regards to the rude drunks we experienced at the Johnny Winter gig. Greg was at The Casino last year, for a blues night. Seated beside him were three drunks who talked loudly throughout the set. He asked them to stop. It escalated. Greg asked the security officer for The Casino to intercede. He did nothing. It almost came to blows. As I wrote before, I really think The Casino should have two sections: One for people who want to listen to the music and a separate one for the drunks who wish to talk throughout the show. I am not certain if that qualifies for a ‘win/win’ solution?

Orange Boot: I have tried the whole wheat, the Volker’s Rye, the Bird Seed and the Sourdough. All are well baked with great crusts but the hands down winner is the Sourdough. I didn’t include the baguettes because that is a totally different category.

• Le Macaron: I have been hearing good things from our readers about this place. I was in the neighborhood so I decided to check it out. As I was on the fly, I got a couple of things to go and I shared them with a friend. The first treat was the three dollar, poppy seed Danish. It was good but not great. It did not compare with the Danish I had from la Baguette in Vancouver. The second treat was their namesake, a macaron for two dollars. I have never had this French cookie before and I found it quite tasty. I will stop in again and check out some of their slices which looked lovely, especially a coconut/lime piece in the display case. As well, they bake fresh bread on Wednesdays and Fridays.

• Garden Tip: I mentioned in a previous Garden Report that alstromeria is one of my favorite cut flowers. The bouquet that I purchased for Valentine’s lasted a full three weeks. Now that is good value!

• Listen to your elders: In 1964, The Beatles swept North America with their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. We were in Grade Seven and our teacher told us that in one year, no one would remember who The Beatles were. He assured us they were nothing more than a flash in the pan.

• Listen to me: Around 1970, I had a friend who was working on a new genre of music that he referred to as ‘country rock’. All of us laughed at him because we knew that rock would fuse with jazz or blues, but never with country. A year later, The Eagles arrived.

• It’s official: Maureen had her hearing tested and the report indicates she is fine. She now insists that I mumble and somehow she believes she has the proof. One day she will discover that I mumble because I am not paying attention. By the way, I am not the only husband with this habit.

• A tale of two hospitals: I spend a fair amount of time at The General Hospital in Regina so when I was booked for a procedure at City Hospital in Saskatoon this week, I took the opportunity to compare them. I arrived at City Hospital at 7:45 a.m. and I had the choice of plenty of on street, metered parking or in the paid parking lot. That was a plus. There was not one soul outside of the main entrance smoking. Another plus. I found the admitting department and expected a twenty to thirty minute wait similar to The General. I was admitted within three minutes upon arrival. I asked the admitting clerk where I should go and she said “the woman behind you will show you the way.” I looked behind me and standing there was a volunteer who guided me to The Outpatient Clinic. She introduced me to the receptionist who immediately looked after my paperwork and then asked me to change into a gown and robe. Now, I had to sit in the patient waiting area for forty-five minutes, not because the doctor was late, but because I was so dammed early. I had not expected to be processed so quickly. I was seen on time, the procedure was carried out and I was sent on my way. I was left thinking, “this is the way it should be done.” Seeing as both hospitals are in our beautiful province, I cannot understand the level of problems at our Regina General. Is it, God forbid, an administration issue?

• Café Sola: This newer place in Saskatoon has come highly recommended. It is an industrial building, across the street from The Bus Depot. I loved the ambiance of the place, so reminiscent of a hippie/beatnik coffee house of many years ago. The pastries looked absolutely divine but as I had had a full breakfast, I had to leave them for another time. After all, I was there for their latte, one that was supposed to be the absolute finest. Sorry to the fans of this place. It was good, very good, but it does not dethrone the coffee from The Broadway at Five Corners which I rate as the best I have ever tasted. What was the difference between the two? The beverage from Café Sola was missing that bite, that slight bitterness that contrasts with the sweetness of the milk that is ever so present in the latte and cappuccino from The Broadway.

• Tasty dives: I love those little, out of the way places that draw no attention to themselves by their presence or their décor. One of my all time favorites is a place with one of the hokiest names imaginable. The Falafel King in Vancouver. There are two locations, both in the West End. One is a modern spot, tucked into a tiny strip mall at the corner of Davie and Thurlow. The other location is much grungier, located in the hubbub of Denman Street, not far from English Bay. They serve identical fare that is incredibly tasty and cheap. For seven bucks, you can get what they call their Shawarma plate. It is a paper plate filled with rice topped with chicken roasted on a rotating spit and then shaved, dressed with a tatziki sauce. A house made humus is the finest I have ever tasted and it is served with a basket of pita. There is also some tabouli salad served on the plate. It is so filling, that if we are not absolutely starving, two of us share one plate. For another $2.50, you can get a bowl of their carrot soup. As with the humus, it is the finest I have tasted. How high do I rank it? Reader Han de Jong, his wife Lynn, and the two of us often celebrate my birthday at a nice restaurant such as The Fish House at Stanley Park. One year, I insisted we take in The Falafel King. Han was a little dubious of the place at first, then he was astonished at the big flavors. He picked up the check and dinner for four came to thirty bucks, a price that makes any Dutchman or Scotsman celebrate.

• Garden Tip: Not so much a tip as a reason to start a vegetable garden this year. Loblaw’s/Superstore has announced a five per cent across the board increase in the price of groceries this spring. I suspect that in the produce department, it could climb even higher. If you are new to vegetable gardening, a ten by ten garden which is approximately a hundred square feet, is more than adequate for your first year. And even if you live in an apartment, if you have a balcony, you can grow tomatoes in pots.

• Garden Tip: I have been seeing potted, miniature roses for sale around town. These lovely little plants will not only provide a breath of spring freshness to your home, but they can also be planted into your garden come the spring. Keep them growing in the sunniest spot you have in the house. Do not overwater and feed them a water soluble fertilizer every week. Plant in full sun after the danger of frost. With a bit of luck, you can get miniature roses to overwinter. I found that your chances of overwintering them in the garden range between thirty and fifty percent. And even if they don’t’ make it to next year, you enjoyed their company this season.

Our Legislative Building
• Can you help? We have a new reader from Toronto, who would love to hear from any reader with stories of either The Adantes or Wascana, dance bands from the sixties and seventies. If you have any, let me know and I will hook you up.

• Thanks for reading this week…Rod McDonald in ‘Old Lakeview’, Regina

The Garden Report #39

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Yellow Twig Dogwood
• Writers write: Here we are again on an intensely sunny, Sunday afternoon. The temperature has risen to a balmy minus nine and after a few nights in the minus thirty range, it is indeed balmy. I did not miswrite, as any prairie boy or girl will testify. There has been lots of correspondence this week from readers, including photos of our resident cute baby, Pascal. As readers know, I have been on my high horse regarding the importance of the slow food movement, the reduction of salt and sugar in our diets and other health issues. This week, I have included some sage advice from a reader who specializes in the treatment of cancer patients. This doctor is well loved within our community and has touched many lives. I too am touched that so many of you have taken the time to be engaged and participate in The Garden Report. When I first started writing, I acknowledged I had no idea where this blog was going…but I have certainly enjoyed the ride.

• Readers write: Margaret Bessai wrote: “Thanks for another edition of The Garden Report. Love seeing those pics of New Zealand.” Heather Lowe wrote “The New Zealand pictures are so nice.” Kate Berringer writes “Loved this one, Rod. Well done.” Catherine Parker shared that she staggers her amaryllis planting times so that she gets blooms for at least three months. Joanne Vollbrecht’ writes that she has seen hearing aids improve the life of those who need one. Susan Rollins proclaims that a life without chocolate brownies is a life not worth living. Roberta Nichol has discovered how wonderful the sour dough bread is at Orange Boot. Catherine Parker inquires if any reader has memories of the youth center that used to be at the corner of Broad and Dewdney. Actor and reader Courtney Cunningham wrote in to say that she has moved from New Mexico to Los Angeles. Courtney is trying to get her film into Cannes. It is a seven minute piece titled ‘The Last Animals.’ Reader Marcus Fernando sends along a photo (in the attachment) of his baby Pascal, who is celebrating his one year birthday. Holding Pascal in the photo is his mom, Tina Hoffman.

Very good news: Reader Richard Gustin who has been sending us the lovely photos of New Zealand has let us know that he is just fine. Richard is on the North Island, far away from the devastating earth quake.

• Garden Tip: There will be a seed exchange of open pollinated garden seed on March 5th at St. Mary’s Anglican. For further information, open the attachment ‘2011 Seedy Saturday’. This information is courtesy of reader Kate Berringer.

• Cancer: One of our readers is a physician who specializes in treating people who have cancer. She has done so for thirty-five years. She has seen thousands of patients in her practice. I asked her to write the three things that a patient can do to improve their healing. These three things can be utilized by anyone suffering from a debilitating disease. She asked to remain anonymous. Her original answers are quite detailed. I have distilled them to their essence. Any reader who wishes the entire response, please send me an email and I will forward the original (minus identifying information) as an attachment:

a) Set your goals and a timeline in which to accomplish them.

b) Believe that you can accomplish your goals. (This is extremely important)

c) Ensure that you are surrounded by positive influences. Do not allow people who are negative to be in your life. Learn to forgive others as well as yourself. Pray for your enemies. Do not allow resentments to fester as they cause many illnesses.

Her last piece of advice regarding resentments is so true. I have seen, and no doubt you as well, people who carried so much anger towards another person or institution, that they actually became sick from their own emotions. One other piece of advice our reader/physician writes: Creativity is very healing. How true.

• Humor as healing: Maureen has been a nurse for many years and she agreed with everything in the above heading. She also added that she has seen humor reduce pain levels in suffering patients. Laughter is very medicinal because it increases your endorphins.

• Poverty and the theater: Over the years, I have heard now and again, a complaint in regards to theater and other cultural events. The complaint is that they are not accessible to those with limited incomes. Here is the reality. There are many cultural events in this city that require volunteers, and in turn, those volunteers are treated to many perks, including free admission into events. At The Fringe Festivals across Canada, volunteers receive free admission to plays based upon hours worked and they also receive perks from the performers. It was a common occurrence on tour for a volunteer to ask if they could “slip into the show” and permission was always given. At The Folk Festival here in Regina, they asked me to assist one year in setting up a stage. No problem. They gave me free admission for that assistance plus they fed me. The Globe uses volunteers for ushers, the coat check and ticket takers. Those people get an opportunity to enjoy the show as well. If you are willing to do a little bit of volunteer work, there are many opportunities to take in cultural happenings.

Today’s observation: Being young and cute is only phase that most of us experience. Eventually, we manage to get through it.

• Close but not right: When our middle son was in Grade Three, he came home from school and informed us that one of his friends had explained prostitution to him that day. I asked him to explain it to me. He told me that prostitution was when women stood on a street corner and men drove by in their cars. When the woman saw a man that she liked, she paid him to have sex with her. “Well son…you are close,” I told him. I explained that it was usually the men who paid. He looked at me and said “Oh! That’s gross!” And the conversation was finished.

Poster for March 25th show
• Glory Days: I am now ‘off book’ which means I have memorized the play. Once you are ‘off book’ you can start blocking the show which means, sorting out where the actor delivers the lines from, the motion of the play. People ask how long it takes to work up a play. For me at least, it takes about sixty hours to memorize a one hour script, about an hour per minute of stage time. Then it takes about sixty hours of rehearsal to get the show up to stage presentation. A number of our readers are from the theater and each actor has a different process. Some are able to memorize a script with two or three readings. I am not so fortunate.

• Cold night/hot soup: Wednesday night it was approaching minus thirty, a perfect evening for a bowl of good soup. I made French Onion Soup, something that most of us adore and it is surprisingly easy to make. Here is what I do:

Chop up one large onion or two medium ones, brown them in a large pot on a higher heat, use two or three tablespoons of canola oil to get them started. After ten minutes, turn the heat down to a low medium, add in two tablespoons of butter and cook for another forty to fifty minutes until the onions are caramelized or brown. Ten minutes before the onions are finished cooking, add in half of a clove of chopped garlic and a pinch of salt.

With the onions cooked, pour in one liter (four cups) of beef broth. Your own beef broth is best but if you have none, then use a store bought variety, preferably one low in sodium/salt. Bring to a boil. Add in four tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, a bit of ground black pepper and reduce to a simmer.

Preheat the oven or the toaster oven to 450. Take four or five larger soup bowls, and place close to a cup of soup into each one. Then place a slice of French bread that has been toasted on top of the soup. Cover the toast with shredded Swiss, Gruyere or Emmental cheese. Place the bowls in the oven and change the setting to broil. Bake for five to seven minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and getting a crust on it. When removing from the oven, use oven mitts and warn your guests that the bowl is very hot.

If you want, you can use a different bread for the toast or even croutons in a pinch. The two key things to getting this one right is to cook the onions close to an hour and use a good broth.

• Blues night: We took in The Johnny Winter show at Casino Regina on Thursday night. It was part of the Mid Winter Blues Festival, a cultural event that has really taken off. I read some on line reviews that said Winter has lost his touch. While it was obvious that the man is in failing health, if he has lost his touch, I could not see it. He played an incredible guitar. For reasons unknown to me, his singing voice did not come through very well at all. There was so much distortion in the speakers. I was sitting close to center, so it was not a balance issue. I have heard from musicians that the room at The Casino is poorly tuned and it was ever so evident on Thursday. Too bad.

Not nice: Seated behind us at The Casino on Thursday, were a group of drunks. They yapped all the way through both of the excellent opening acts. All eight of us at our table had difficulty listening to the openers because the table of drunks talked loudly throughout the show, and constantly. We kept turning around to give them our best ‘shut up’ look, but subtly was lost on them. After ruining the first act, I slipped over to their table at intermission and asked if they could quit talking during the next show as we wanted to hear the music. “Yeah, yeah,” they said. They were good for about five minutes and then started up again. This time, my sister went over to their table and they said they would stop, but they didn’t. Then my brother-in-law shouted “did you come here to talk or to listen to the music.” Unbelievable that someone would pay forty bucks to talk through a show. At the end of the evening, I heard from several other friends that there were similar tables scattered throughout The Casino that yapped through both of the opening acts. Perhaps, and it is just a suggestion, The Blues Festival and The Casino should set up two sections. One for the drunks who want to be the center of attention and another for those of us who want to listen to the show. For what it was worth, my sister and her husband took in Friday night’s show at The RSM. She said that show was outstanding and no one was holding court through any of the performances. She writes that the vibe was totally different from Thursday night, much more enjoyable.

• What?: I took Murphy to the vet on Thursday afternoon. His chin appeared at first to have a scrape on it. As the week had gone by, the size of the damage increased. The vet informed me that he was suffering from ‘feline acne’. At his age? He is either fifteen or sixteen. Now I have to put Clearasil on his chin so he can go to the big dance.

• Garden Tip: I have been asked this question a few times. What temperature should a greenhouse be kept at? As a general rule, sixty-eight degree days and sixty-two degree nights are what is recommended. More important than air temperature is root zone temperature which is sometimes called bottom heat. You can run a cooler greenhouse if you have heating cables installed underneath your growing trays. There are heating cables available for home greenhouses.

• Negotiating with God: Whenever I get an outbreak of acne, I tell God “make up your mind. Either zits or crow’s feet but not both at the same time!”

• Garden Tip: For those of you starting your plants, I recommend that you use a Premier product called Pro Mix. It is a good quality potting soil that should give you good results.

• Lucky guess: I brought home a box of chocolates for Maureen on Friday night. A ‘just because’ box. She opened the box and asked who had made the selection of the chocolates. I told her I had chosen all caramels and toffees, because those are her favorites. Her memory must be going because she assured me that she loves nut chocolates and that caramels are my favorites. Who knew that buying a box of chocolates could go so wrong? Saturday morning, I got up. On the kitchen counter was a note for me. It read that she was at her studio painting. She used to be a RN. Now she is ‘the artist formerly known as Nurse Maureen’. The note finished off with a threatening tone: “Don’t eat all of the chocolates!” In military language, that was a pre-emptive strike. I can’t help but to remember when we first met, she let me eat all of the chocolates I wanted. I think I will stick to flowers from here on in…way less controversial.

Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina!

Lovely tulips grown in the garden, cut and placed in a vase