Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Garden Report #113

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

This rose is being trialed in my garden.  It is labelled No. 291.
 • Writers write: The new year approaches and there are so many topics that I can choose to write about. I tossed and turned over this one all week and now it is Saturday afternoon and nothing encourages a writer to perform his trained seal tricks more than an impending deadline. The winner is gratitude. It is an easy topic because if I do not have gratitude then I have an empty heart and a deluded brain.

This year, I have a brand new granddaughter, one that has not been seen before and she is still under warranty. I have held her, bottle fed her and so far, I have not broken her. I told her who I was, who my mother and father were and she appeared quite interested. We all have to come from somewhere. I am grateful for this new one.

I am grateful for my family. I have friends who no longer have families and I often say to myself “but for the grace of God, go I.” My family is not perfect but they are still my family.

I have a dialysis machine in my bedroom and while it is a love/hate relationship with the machine, it keeps me alive. Prior to 1965, kidney patients died. End of story. Given a choice, and I do have one, I would rather be here on earth for a few more days. For all those who work to keep me functioning, I am grateful.

Can you spot Murphy's tail?
 Last but not the least, a well inserted cliché, I am grateful for all those who read The Garden Report. John Huston likes to say that “without an audience, actors are neurotic people speaking to an empty room.” Without my audience, I might as well be writing ‘Dear Diary’. I started this blog as a way of connecting with the outside world, as my universe shrank due to illness. It allowed me to converse without having to leave the comfort of my writing room. It keeps my skills set sharp. Thank you for getting the humour and not insisting that I include an LOL. Imagine, any writer from Shakespeare onwards, being required to include an LOL when pulling the reader’s leg? Thank you for all of your reader comments. They create a stimulating dialogue. I have written here before, I have no idea where this is going and how long it will last. Rather, I have taken the Buddhist approach and accept that it is here right now. I am grateful for all of you, both old and new friends.

• Readers write: My weekly mea culpa includes it is Alistair Sim not Sims from ‘The Christmas Carol’.

• We start out this week with a bit of controversy, which is always good for stimulating debate. Our long time friend and reader, Ed Heidt starts in on an issue. Keep in mind as you read, that Ed taught English at The University in Saskatoon in addition to being a parish priest. “I rarely weigh in and now that I know there are three thousand readers, eek! I am tired of the grammar police - there is something to your writing that is beyond grammar. I suppose style, personality and content are what I mean.” Rod’s note: I don’t mind The Grammar Police as they make me a better writer but I understand Ed’s thoughts.

• Jackie Arnason cracked me up with this comment. “Rod - I am so happy that the world did not end yesterday because now I have another Garden Report to cherish. Thank you for making my Christmas even better. Merry Christmas to you and your family and may 2013 be wonderful for all of you.”

• Nancy from The Marian Center sent this report of Christmas day along for the readers. “We had 110 people on Christmas day...mostly our men, only 11 women and 3 children. It was a very cold day and I think that's why our numbers were a little down. People were happy to be here, it's always a special day. One treat was that the Semple family came to play and sing along with our other musicians. A great day.”

• It is always lovely to hear from June Mayhew. “Merry Christmas to you both. Once again, Rod, your Garden Report was informative and entertaining. You made me laugh aloud with your description of attributes that let you know your granddaughter was yours. Thank you for taking the time and for making the effort to connect with your global community God bless us everyone.”

• Robert Stedwill tells us how he reads this blog. “Just sitting here in the early hours of the Sunday before Christmas with my cup of coffee and reading The Garden Report. It makes one feel warm inside reading it, especially knowing we will again be shoveling snow this afternoon/evening if the weather report is to be believed; only to have the mercury drop out of sight on Christmas Eve!”

• Jean Freeman has a favourite teacher and she shares that memory. “Sincere thanks for your memories of Miss Shirley Covey. You have brought back fond and happy memories of my own Miss Covey, at Weyburn Collegiate during the 1950s. She was Miss Andrea Eckel. She was my Latin teacher (also English and Drama), who gave me the road map for an appreciation of my birth language, its origins, its uses, and its possibilities, and also for my life's interests and the several careers which I have been privileged to pursue in the half century since then. I'm sure that most of us have at least one teacher in our histories who had a profound effect on us and influenced in some way the adults that we have become -- mostly for the better, I'd like to believe. Love and thanks to all teachers, who are struggling against more challenges than ever before to shape the next generation and the world.”

• From Joanne Brown, “My wish this year is no more snow, please. But keep The Garden Reports coming.”

• Donna Burton has been missing in action, out in Vancouver. She checks in with us. “Well, I will tell you, life is just great on the West Coast. The best move I ever made. The gardening has been great. I love the temperate zone and there is so much to do, all of the time. The difference between gardening here and Regina, is that you have to keep cutting back to keep most plants from taking over.”

• You just don’t slip too much past David Calam these days, unless he is at The Lawn Bowling Club. He spotted this one. “Rod! Really! CD's? In The Garden Report of all places! And I bet I'm not the first to let you know. And yes, I know about the judicious use of exclamation marks, but extreme situations demand extreme measures.”

Amish country in Ohio
• Reader Dianne Palmer had a sojourn to Ohio and took some great photos. I have included one of an Amish buggy being driven along a country road.

• Roberta Nichol shares this bon mot. “I do not get tired of you writing about community. I am so thankful, that in only my third year of living here on Rae Street, I can readily say that I have the best neighbours around. We had a Christmas pot luck supper at my place. We had turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy- the 'full meal deal.' Trimmings and all. It was just phenomenal. The Christmas spirit was alive and well that evening! After dinner and cleanup, we sang Christmas songs, and as the music got louder and more enthusiastic, out came the percussion instruments: tambourine, bongos, shakers..... it was so much fun! I've been blessed with these good folks and the man across the alley, occasionally shovelling/snow blowing my sidewalk.”

• Cheryl Ann Smith remembers when my boys and I would come over to spruce up The Marian Center, early on Christmas morning. “I did love it when you came over and helped decorate - this beautiful, bear of a man, taking time to help us make the place beautiful for the poor. Incredible - kinda fun, too, to see your sleepy sons dragged out of bed to help!”

• Gayle White points out that without grammar, things are different. “Let’s eat Grampa - versus – let’s eat, Grampa.” The comma makes a difference, at least to grampa it does.

'Thunderchild' in bloom
• A Christmas classic story: For many years, my family decorated the dining hall at The Marian Center. We would get up early on Christmas morning, load up the van with plants and greens, and head downtown to the soup kitchen. In 1992, my mother accompanied me. She was always a good sport about getting up early to help. We finished what we had set out to do and climbed back into the van. It was 9:30 a.m. on the 25th. There was fresh snow, the sun was shining and for December, it was mild. In the distance, we could hear church bells ringing. Almost a post card scenario. As I was about to pull away from the curb, two men were walking towards us. They were street people, waiting for The Marian Center to open their doors for Christmas. My mother said “Stop. I want to wish these men a merry Christmas.” She rolled down her window and said in her cheeriest voice, “Merry Christmas boys!” The two men walked over to the van and one responded “thanks lady. What are you doing here so early?” Mom talked to them for a minute. They were delighted that someone had taken the time to chat. She did not divide the world into those that were worthy of a bit of friendship and community. I learned a lesson that morning. I would have driven away without so much as a wave.

• Garden Tip: If you have insects crawling around your house plants, Trounce is a safe, organic insect killer that you can use. Read the instructions. It is not suitable for all plants.

• Garden Tip: I do rag on people to read the instructions. How many times did I have people come in with self created problems, due to not reading the instructions? More than I can count. I had a fellow show up at the garden center complaining about ‘Weed and Feed’. He said he did what he was supposed to: “I spread it and then turned on the sprinkler.” The instructions are very clear: ‘No water for twenty-four hours.’

• Garden Tip: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. When Roundup, a non selective herbicide was new, it was sometimes misused. A fellow I knew had a sod farm. He used Roundup, here and there, wherever he had couch grass. It was the only chemical that would kill this noxious weed. An employee swiped some from the shop and gave it to his father, explaining it was “the best weed killer ever.” He did not know that it killed anything and everything. The dad sprayed it over the entire lawn. On the plus side, there were no more weeds.

• Déjà vu comes true: When Patrick was eighteen, I took him on a ten day trip out to B.C. We had a wonderful time, father and son hanging out. I drove. He ate. Prior to leaving, he asked why we were going. I told him “soon you will be establishing yourself in a career, getting married and starting a family. I can’t see your wife letting you go off to B.C. with your old man for ten days, what with all your responsibilities at home.” He laughed. After all, he was eighteen and the future was far away. He now has a career, a wife and a baby and if I want to go on a trip, it won’t be with him.

Reader Neil Vandendort, Stella and the grandkids
 • It worked: I heard this one. A woman was tired of her husband and kids sneaking down to the freezer, eating the Christmas baking. She solved the problem by placing the goodies into a Tupperware container labelled ‘Liver Casserole’. No one ever opened it.

• A Christmas classic #2: It was the 24th of December, 1995. I was getting ready to leave the garden center and head home to be with my family. The phone rang. The caller was a nurse from the Infant’s I.C.U. She had an eight month old baby on her ward and he had kidney disease. He had been there for months, struggling to stay alive. She asked if I could bring over a small Christmas tree, a few greens and perhaps a poinsettia to decorate his room. “It would help his family,” she said. I told her that if she sent someone over right away, I would put together a box of those items. She said she couldn’t. “Sorry, but I am on my way home to be with my family,” was how I left it.

That night, I tossed and turned. It bothered me that I had balked at doing one more thing, but I was burnt out, big time, by Christmas eve.

The morning of the 25th arrived. It was still dark when Patrick, Maxwell and I got up. We were heading down to the Marian Center to decorate the hall. To appease my guilt, we swung by the greenhouse and picked out the requested items. We stopped out front of The General Hospital. It was a little after seven a.m. I told the boys I would be a couple of minutes and took the box up to the ward. The nurse was surprised that I had made it. She asked if I would like to see the baby whose room would soon be made cheery for Christmas. “Sure,” I said.

Now here is the part of the story where we shift gears. I try to regard myself as being rough and tumble. A man amongst men. I bark, I snap, I growl. Your job is to tremble. The nurse led me into the baby’s room. There was this small thing in his crib. For an eight month old, he was radically undersized due to his illness. There was an I.V. in his arm and tiny breathing tubes in his nostrils. His color was not pink. More of a jaundiced yellow. You would wonder if he was going to make it. The nurse motioned towards the wall. There was a photograph of a fat, healthy baby posted. She said “this is how baby Henry looked before he got sick.”

This is my new screensaver -'Tulips in my kitchen'
 I said nothing. I walked out of the room, heading towards the exit, rather quickly. The nurse was a little surprised by my sudden departure. She called out “merry Christmas!” I kept walking. Tears were streaming down my face as I thought of my own two babies, close to 160 pounds each, sleeping in the van. Their size fourteen runners, untied. The sleep left unwashed from their faces.

Thanks for reading....Rod McDonald in the winter, wonderland of Regina.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Garden Report #112

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

'Black Baccara' tea rose
• Writers write: Christmas is oh so very close, unless you are six years old and then it is taking forever to get here. I understand. It is one of those memories etched forever with in my existence. Being six was a time of deep responsibility. Having to be a good boy for the entire month of December placed undue pressure on my psyche. You, dear reader, are fortunate that I grew up to be as well balanced as I pretend to be.

It is also a time of reflection as another year passes while we await the emergence of a new one. The winter solstice has passed and the days will be getting longer, though not in any noticeable fashion for a month, give or take. I have one topic that many readers are familiar with, as I mention it often. That topic is community. Community only exists where and when we want it to. No one person, no government agency imposes it upon us. It begins with one neighbour offering a ride to another. Or shovelling a walk, greeting the mail person, and hosting a party. Our neighbourhood is very social. We have a Christmas party for the block, the last Saturday before the 25th, every year at the Janz’. It is pot luck which is the best type of party. Karen Pasterfield’ Kris Kringle cookies are absolutely divine and she thinks that all the funny stories told at our annual gathering should be printed in The Garden Repor,t but that would take up a lot of space.

One of the topics amongst our neighbours, is the ‘feet first’ attitude of our neighbourhood. All of us acknowledge, with no sense of foreboding, that our plan is to live here until one day the hearse picks us up and takes us out, feet first. I am such a cheery fellow at this time of year. Prior to that lovely event, our intention is to enjoy ourselves, each other and what we have to offer. As a reader recently wrote to this blog, “life is too short to go through it alone.”

The readers of The Garden Report have been a part of my journey and my sense of community. They have ensured that I have not been alone and that I had enough baking to float the proverbial battleship. Without such friendship, life would not be the joy I hold it to be. My glass is half full.

• Readers write: The Grammar Police are out in full force. The readers of this blog are really bearing down. First up: The plural of thesaurus is either thesauruses, which sounds made up, or thesauri, which sounds ostentatious. Regardless, that’s the fact, Jack. Second, I have an American spell check thus their spelling which includes labor, savor and check. If anyone knows how to change my computer over to Canadian English, please drop by and do so. I will not be offended, rather, quite pleased. Rod’s note: I think I found it, the Canadian version of spell check. Who said I am a Luddite? Hopefully, I am on track now with Canadian spelling. I can now safely include the phrase ‘how’s it going, eh?’

• Marsha Kennedy enjoyed #111. She writes: “I had a jolly good laugh over the power of counting to your thirty-six year old son. Sounds like your son was overcome by a few past memories and it is always irritating to find that, even as adults, our parents have a great deal of power over us. Our parents hold a very strong 'behavior bar' within us, even years after they have passed on.”

• Our matriarch of the arts community, Jean Freeman, weighed in this week with her set of compliments. “You are unique, (and possibly dangerous as well!) with all your interests, concerns, knowledge, foibles, passions and cautions! And I'm so grateful that you are my friend, and that I am on your mailing list (an extra thanks to your son the techie!) I don't quite believe that you bought the pinball machine for the kids all those years ago! I suspect it was actually for the inner children that you and your brother were sheltering.”

• My beloved kid sister, Bonnie, read last week’s internet edition.. “Awesome photo! Brought a tear to my eye!”

• Roberta Nichol has remained a steadfast fan of the blog. “What a wonderful closing to your Report this week. I am so glad you enjoyed last Saturday, selling your poinsettias, filling people up with delicious cider and Gouda cheese..... it was lovely, indeed, and I so enjoyed visiting with you. You're not hard to be with! People coming in and out of your house, bringing baking, goodwill and smiles...... that's a recipe for a good day, alright. And in the meantime, The Marian Centre is benefiting from your gesture. It feels so good to give, doesn't it? Talk about a win/win situation!”

• Chris Dodd is also in the running for the number one fan of The Garden Report. “I love watching the evolution of The Garden Report. In a season where there is no evidence of our beloved sleeping gardens, it remains relevant and entertaining. It seems to have become a metaphor for a good garden. We go where it takes us with perennial reminiscences of lives well lived. The staunch defense of grammar and language is not a function of friends with nothing better to do, it is the manifestation of wisdom and knowledge archived among this special group. If you want express your ideas you need the correct language, used correctly. There are no short cuts on the way to sharing a good story.”

• Georgia Hearn says “move over Chris and Roberta.” She writes “What a wonderful issue. I loved the stories and the English lessons are enlightening. You make us all feel good about Christmas and keeping the true spirit alive. My poinsettias are gorgeous and thank you for your hospitality.”

• Frank Flegel has this response to Xmas versus Christmas. “Despite the historically correct Xmas, I'm with you, Rod. Merry Christmas. And as for that guy in Saskatoon, we have many freedoms in this country one of which is to journey to whichever country he wishes where Christmas is not celebrated. I'm sure he would be more comfortable there. Well done with the poinsettias and Marian Centre, but it's cheque, not check.”

• John Huston really takes a swipe at the politically correct who attempt to subvert Christmas. “I can't believe people are still getting excited over 'Merry Christmas' on public spaces. The thing made me really wonder, "How big a wanker (I'm sure the word occurs in Dickens, somewhere) is this guy?" Was his notion that church and state are supposed to be separate? To these modern day Scrooges I say, "Bah. Humbug!" (And a few other choice epithets not fit for print in a family, traditional or otherwise, publication.)”

• Joanne Crofford is quite aware of the power of the parent/child interaction and how it resides within our souls for a very, long time. “It has long been my conviction that all women have the power to use their ‘mother voice’ and it can still have the ability to unnerve even the most assertive thirty-six year old man. It brings back memories of obeying mommy. I think you just have to be careful not to use it at the office.”

• Cheryl Ann Smith lives in England. She is a part of The Madonna Apostolate and The Director of a Prayer House. She is also one of my spiritual advisors, a job with no salary and few benefits. “I've developed a new Sunday morning routine. I wait until I've had my morning prayer time, and then I fire up the computer and revel in the world of The Garden Report: What you're pondering, pontificating on, reminiscing about. I'm not surprised 3,000 people do the same. This is the darkest time of the year, and you do more than your bit to cast rays of light, beauty and humor into that darkness. I thank you.”

• Sally Orr not only gets the humor here, but she enjoys it. She has always had such good taste. “You will keep me laughing, always.”

• Neil Slater has joined The Grammar Police and has come forward, showing acknowledging his Scottish roots. “Oh, you're in trouble alright, buddy. You used 'obligated' rather than 'obliged.' Now straighten up with the language, or I'll have Roberta set you to writing lines after school. You also wrote: "There are no rugged Scotchmen, only handsome Scotsmen." You and I are in agreement there. By the way, I was born in Edinburgh.” Rods note: Courtesy of Neil, obliged and obligated mean the same thing but obliged is used when one has a choice and obligated when one must oblige due to a legal obligation. I.e., I am obliged to thank Neil for his email and I am obligated to pay my taxes.

• Mike Liske over at The Classic Landscape Company looks after fifty-five residences in the winter, removing their snow. He is getting a bit weary with so much of the white stuff this season. “I'd like to comment on the amount of snow. I'm very glad that we now have enough for proper insulation, so Mother Nature can knock it off. We are also getting a bit tired of shoveling and if you have any influence with Mother Nature, the fog and ice crystals can also piss off ( sorry for my language).”

• Joan Kortje sends out good vibes and holiday wishes. “I have not responded to your wonderful Garden Reports for quite a while but that does not mean that I don’t look forward to them every Sunday. I appreciate all of the work that you put into them. Congratulations on becoming a Grandpa. That is our reward for all of those hard moments parenting. Merry Christmas to you, Maureen and your family. I hope 2013 brings much happiness and a new kidney for you.”

• I have included a photo of reader Gwen Scott and here is her response to my permission request. “I feel honored to be included in your auspicious newsletter. I read your column faithfully, but rarely comment on how much I enjoy reading your reflections on human (and plant) nature. I wish you and your readers a blessed Xmas and all the best in 2013.”

A beautiful poinsettia grown at Vanderveen's
 • Sandra Rayson, our favourite oncologist, believes in community. She shares this: “I read The Garden Report late as my computer was down for two days. It really warmed my heart to see you express your feeling on the joy you had over fund raising for the Marian Centre. I could have written that part for you as I witnessed exactly what you expressed when I came to pick up my poinsettias. They are really beautiful, thank you again.”

• Missing Miss Covey: For many years, I utilized the language skills of Shirley Covey, the Latin teacher from Scott Collegiate. Whenever I was in doubt and needed clarification or a ruling regarding which was either correct or in some cases, more correct, I would telephone her. She not only knew the rules, she knew the exceptions for those rules of grammar and spelling. She was a grand dame and if she were alive today, I suspect that she would be the word smith of this blog. I had a wonderful secretary at Lakeview Gardens, Nora Atchison. Nora loved the English language dearly and on occasion, we would butt heads. Thesauruses and dictionaries would be consulted to prove a point and if still in doubt, a call to Miss Covey would be placed, the grand arbitrator of all things written. Whichever side won the decision, hands would be raised in a victory march around the office while the loser was left to sulk for the remainder of the afternoon. Shirley Covey was one of the remaining few who (or is it whom Miss Covey) any of us could turn to when needed.

• Miss Covey #2: Miss Covey, while deeply kind, had a tongue that could be utilized to offer any offender a smack up the head. One afternoon, I had some business at The Hotel Saskatchewan. I noticed that she was holding court, having tea with her school teacher friends. Most were in their eighties. I stopped by her table, introduced myself to the ladies and announced “Miss Covey taught me everything I know.” Without missing a beat, her response was: “Now don’t you go blaming me for that.” I also dared to ask her one time if I had been her favorite student, out of the thousands she had tutored. Again, without hesitation, the old girl said “you were not even in the running for that award.” Who else could toss out an indignity such as that and make you laugh until your underwear felt damp. To wrap it up, my kids asked her what I was like at fifteen? A one word response: “Lippy.” Until this day, I think the word should have been inquisitive or enthusiastic. Lippy was the same word that my mother used to describe me. A coincidence?

• Best Scrooge: If you gather together a bunch actors, they will agree that the best Scrooge of all time was Alistair Sims, who starred in a gem of a ‘Christmas Carol’ in 1951. Watch it and you will see why he set the standard for the role. CBC has it on at eight p.m., Christmas Eve.

• Wonderful Christmas show: I am not a Will Farrell fan but his role in ‘Elf’ is priceless. I have watched this Christmas classic three or four times and loved every repeated minute. It is right up there with ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

• O:f course I did: According to my father, when I was two, he purchased a fire truck as my Christmas present. He just knew that I would love the gift and he looked forward to my enthusiastic applause. Sadly, for him, I was much more interested in the box it came in than the toy itself.

• The development of the id: As in many families, we take turns playing Santa’s helper on Christmas morning. The ‘Christmas boy’ gets to hand out the presents from underneath the tree. When Patrick was too young to read, but insisting he be ‘Christmas boy’, he handed me the first present. I told him it read “To Patrick-Love Auntie Helen”. He then picked up the next present and announced “To Patrick-Love Auntie Helen”. And the next one and the next one. We let him go until he had assembled a rather large pile of gifts. Then his mother stepped in and read out who the real recipients were, much to Patrick’s annoyance.

• The ego continues: I had friends who had booked a holiday, minus their children, to Switzerland. When their six year old daughter found out that she was not included in the trip, she threw a fit. She screamed at the top of her voice “but I have waited my entire life to go to Switzerland!” I share in her misery. I, too, have waited my whole life to go to Switzerland and the closest I got besides the knife was the cheese. Now, anyone who seizes on this opening to ask “who cut the cheese?” will be stricken from my Christmas card list.

• Huston- we don’t have a problem: You read it here first, in breaking news. John Huston will be performing at next year’s Regina Fringe Festival. For those needing clarification as to why this is news, John is an outstanding performer, from The Canadian Fringe tour. John also provides the readers of this blog with historical information that is so obscure yet entertaining, that it makes a history class fun.

• Mentorship news: For those who are regular readers, it is no secret that I believe in mentorship at many different levels. One of the conditions I spell out when selecting a mentor is to always choose one who was well mentored themselves, as that person understands the process. I was well mentored in the greenhouse trade by Dieter Martin. I called Dieter last Friday, just to chat as we have not been in contact for a few years. We talked about how I pass along the advice he gave to me, to those I now mentor. He is almost eighty-one now and still going strong. He has turned his commercial greenhouse operation over to his daughter Nancy and his son Peter. They do a good job of carrying on his legacy. Dieter has kept a small greenhouse open for the winter. He said “I grow a few plants in it because that is what I have done my entire life.” Growing is not what Dieter does, it is who he is (perhaps not the finest example of English language structure, but you understand my point). For those enthusiastic plant people, the ‘Martin’ Saskatoon and the ‘Martin’ Scot’s Pine are his introductions. Dieter also pioneered the ‘own root’ propagation method for ornamental plants, including hardy roses. When a plant is propagated on its own roots instead of being grafted, then every stem emerging from the ground will be a true to name stem. There are no rogue suckers with ‘own root’ propagation. I also share my beloved mentor with reader Ingrid Thiessen.

• Attention men: Listen up guys. When shopping for a gift for your Mrs. this season, rest assured she does not want anything with marabou fur, especially if it is lingerie. Also, on the list of what she does not want is her own wrench set, especially the one that you have been eyeing at Canadian Tire for three months or a box set of war movies. Another piece of advice for the younger men, purchasing kitchen equipment can be a risky choice unless it is something she really wants. Maureen asked for a kitchen appliance and I thought it was a trap to see if I had been paying attention all these years. Turned out she really wanted it. Who knew?

• Writing tip: Chickens lay eggs, people lie down. That’s the ditty I use, courtesy of reader Marg H.

• Another writing tip: When you have something simple to say, write it simply. I.e., Stealing is wrong. Raising children is important. Bob is honest. Got it?

• A writer’s gift: If you have an aspiring writer in the family or just want to improve the quality of your emails, there is one book that is, dare I write, mandatory. It has been around for years but has never lost its importance. It is ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White. It attempts to cut through the maze of rules and regulations of language. When to use who and whom, when to use a colon versus a semi colon and how to compose so that random thoughts are not linked together in one sentence. I guarantee that you will be a better writer but not a perfect one. That title, ‘The Perfect One’, we reserve for others.

• Speaking simply: I was in Atlantis Coffee Shop on Victoria Avenue with my friend who is a lawyer and a word smith. The clerk asked for his order. His response: “I have not been in your establishment prior to this evening. Please allow me a moment to peruse your offerings prior to proffering my decision.” The clerk stared at him. I offered up “he always talks like that.” The clerk nodded her understanding.

This Martagon lily does well in the shade
• Missing John Wolkowski: John passed away a year ago this past Friday. He was eighty-three. Besides being a regular reader of The Garden Report, he was also a second father to me for twenty-six years. We were very close. Yesterday, we celebrated a Mass of Remembrance for John, along with his family and friends. John’s favourite saying, which is so appropriate at this time of year, was: “A burden shared is always cut in half while a joy shared, is always doubled.”

• Things change: Your parents bought a toaster when they were first married. They used it for twenty years. Then they gave it to you to take to your dorm room at university. That added another four years to its life. It even survived the night your roommate tried to warm up a can of beans with it. You took it home, but your parents had a new one, so they sent it out to the cottage, where it still works today after twenty years at the beach. Nice story. What’s the point? I bought our first toaster in 1973 from Kaufman’s on Dewdney Avenue. It cost seven dollars. It lasted thirty years before it quit working. In the last nine years, I have bought four new toasters, including another one a few weeks ago. They appear to be made to last until they get over their one year warranty.

• I am impressed: For many years, I had a wood turning lathe in the basement. I loved making bowls and other smaller items as a hobby. I also learned to appreciate the nuances of the craft. Reader and friend since Grade One, Jack Lyster, turned a square dish for me as a Christmas gift. He explained to me how to turn a square and all I can say is ‘wow’! It was made from white ash, one of the hardest (as in dense) woods you can work with and oiled with linseed oil and bees wax. It’s gratifying to be friends with someone since 1957. Maureen watched the two of us sitting on the garden swing last summer, from the kitchen window. She said she could imagine us being six years old, sitting on a swing at The Dewdney Playground asking, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Those were the days when our greatest ambition was to be a fireman or in our case, a ‘fire boy’.

• Bach and Beyond: If you are out and about, a visit with Frank who owns Bach and Beyond at The Golden Mile Mall, is always a good time. Frank seems to know what is happening, arts wise, in the city. He also has an incredible knowledge of music that goes along with the CD’s for sale in his store.

• Pin Ling: This is the Chinese food stand at The Golden Mile, inside their food court. Now, a fancy, high browed, respectable publication such as The Garden Report, does not usually review food stands at malls. I will make an exception this time, just for you. Pin Ling is not a standard mall joint. Yes, you can get chicken balls and fried rice, but they also carry a number of other dishes that are a tad different. We checked out two of their noodle soups. Maureen had the Szechuan Minced Pork soup and it had a lovely taste of spice with a tickle of a bite. I had the Hunan Beef soup with a bit more bite provided from a chilli pepper, floating around the bowl. Both soups lacked vegetables as in only the tiniest amount. The broths were good and the noodles were plentiful. Maureen’s pork was ground and quite edible. I suspected that my beef would be from amongst the cheapest of cuts, after all, it was being served in a soup that had been boiled, right? The beef was even cheaper and tougher than I could have imagined. As I progressed through the bowl, I created a little pile of beef stacked neatly on my tray. I could chew it but I could not swallow, it was that tough. Yes, I have my own choppers. Thanks for asking. The two bowls of soup with tax were twenty bucks. We are going to give this place another try as there are some pretty interesting items on the menu. Right now, I would have to say it was okay, but not great.

The first time I have held Rayanna-my first g.d.
 • The Grampa Report: Rayanna arrived in Regina, Friday afternoon, just before five p.m. I thought I might go to mush when I first held her but to my surprise, I maintained my composure, sort of. She is lovely. She has soft skin, fat cheeks and she farts quite regularly, so I know she is mine. I nuzzled her with my moustache, she stared up at me with her big eyes and I said “So, are you going to have Grampa wrapped around your baby finger?” We get to babysit a few times in the next two weeks as she does not return to Edmonton until January 10th. Also, this year, we have everyone home. Bryan and Ashley, Maxwell, Patrick and Lisa plus baby.

• Thanks for reading...Rod McDonald in a Regina filled with lots and I mean lots, of snow!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Garden Report #111

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

My ferns and hostas are now asleep for the winter
• Writers write: This is short and to the point. Courtesy of John Huston and Jim Gibbs, we now know that an X in Christmas has historical support as being respectful of Christ, Christianity and Christmas. Historically, it is okay. Here is the position taken by myself and reflected in The Garden Report. I will continue to use the long form of Christmas, without the historically correct X. Over my lifetime, which has been short compared to that of history, X has been used by major stores in their advertising in a disrespectful manner. That is the usage we have been accustomed to seeing, thus the ‘keep the Christ in Christmas’ campaign. Language is a floating crap game with new words being added all the time. Forty years ago, stash, score, stoned, fax, wasted, text, ‘sext’, modem, browser and LOL either did not exist or they had a different meaning. Today, when someone is described as being stoned, rocks are seldom involved.

After that being said, I am staying with a resounding and traditional for my time period, Merry Christmas!

• Readers write:

• One of our vigilant readers pointed out that I used the word adverse last week when I should have used averse. Curse those unnecessary letters, especially the added letter D, that I am normally averse to using. Tie me to the main mast and have me flogged with a multitude of thesaurus.

• Roberta Nichol worked with many poverty stricken children in her teaching career. “I really enjoyed reading your 'Writers Write' today. It is truly food for thought. I'm hoping that it's human nature to help others in any way we can, and yet, the old saying, 'give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day..... teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime' sticks in my craw. Many of the families that I met and worked with during my teaching career were often living in poverty. Part of the issue was choices they were making. Very, very poor choices. On the other hand, how does one stand by and watch people struggle? And often, children are involved. How can you not act after you've seen a child with dry heaves, their stomach retching, because they are hungry? "Better to light one little candle.........." Absolutely.”

• Jean Freeman sent out compliments. “You are such a sweetheart! All the stories this morning gave me either a smile, a lump in the throat or tears in the eyes (both of them!)”

• Chris Dodd and I both have weak spots for puppy dogs and kitty cats. “I meant to say that both my cats are from The Humane Society and I wouldn't consider getting a pet anywhere else. Thank you for supporting their good work. Also I think I will give to The Marion Centre this year. Every year, I buy individual presents for the 50 women who live at the YWCA. It must be very tough at Christmas to be reminded that you have nowhere to be.”

• Bob Anderson loves his fish and chips, as do many of us. “I had the fish and chips at Montana’s and was very surprised. Very little batter – mostly fish and a nice big thick piece – not sure what kind of fish though, I have to ask next time but it was cooked perfectly and tasted great.”

• Neil Slater sends along his best greetings for all of us. “Happy Christmas, Merry Xmas, et Joyeux Noel to you and to everyone who reads The Garden Report. I have to admit that I'm still surprised at the number of readers I know from work and elsewhere, or whose names I recognize.” Rod’s note: Do not be surprised as there are now three thousand readers. You are bound to know someone.

• Marsha Kennedy found the reader responders historical notation of the X in Christmas to be of interest. “Thanks for your Christmas spirited Garden Report this week Rod. So now I know that using Xmas is not at all a lazy way of writing Christmas. It was very interesting to read that it has a long and meaningful history. I was surprised and delighted to read the posts regarding Xmas.”

• Nancy at The Marian Center sent along her appreciation. “Thanks again for The Garden Report and for your support. I really like ‘Light one candle’.”

• Elaine Wurm sent her grandchildren to The Globe so they could watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’. “By the way, thanks again for The Globe invite as that enabled us to send our two grandsons on Thursday and the seven year old phoned Friday to say thanks. When I asked him if he liked it, his response was "I loved, loved, loved, loved, loved it" He is the one I could see someday on that stage.”

Christmas at Buchart Gardens
 • Keith Carpenter lives in Vancouver and now, courtesy of The Garden Report, he has a different opinion regarding the ‘X’ in Christmas. He writes “Thanks, thanks a lot! Now I have to get off my high pedestal of anti-Xmas for the reason of society trying to take Christ out of Christmas. You have informed me of the truth and now I cannot religiously look down on people for putting Xmas on everything. Thanks for the enlightenment on the meaning behind the Xmas and X being used in the Christ of words like Christopher and Christina. I still feel that I like to keep the Christ in writing, and a rose by any other name is still a rose. I passed that portion on to my wife who teaches middle school at a Christian school as that could make for a good research topic this time of year as to why we celebrate the way we do.”

• Sally Orr lives and gardens in Victoria. She writes of a fond remembrance. “Chris (her brother) has likely told you when we grew up our father would buy the Christmas tree on the 24th and it was likely a ‘Charlie Brown tree, but not always. Susan (her sister) and I have continued the tradition of decorating the tree on the 24th. We buy them earlier and celebrate the following twelve days of Christmas."

• A Christmas Story: Christmas of 1982, I bought a reconditioned pinball machine for the kids. It was full sized, right out of an arcade and it was mechanical, not electronic. It had all the bells and whistles, lighting up the board as the pinball flew through the game. My brother helped me get it down the basement after the kids had gone to sleep. We played a couple of games, just to ensure it worked. With our task finished, I turned in for the night, knowing that Santa had done his job.

The kids were up early that Christmas morning, before six a.m. They soon discovered the pin ball machine. As it was from an arcade, it had a coin return slot. Patrick was three and curious. He wanted some of those coins that were supposed to be returned. He inserted his little fingers into the slot further and further, until the point of no return. He was stuck. I woke up with Maxwell standing over me announcing that Patrick’s fingers were attached to the machine. I went downstairs, found a crying child who deeply regretted being too much like ‘Curious George’. I got his fingers free and bawled him and his brother out. Isn’t that what dads are supposed to do? It was not a good start to a Dickens’ Christmas.

• Poinsettia care, again: Okay. I get it. No one’s printer is working. I keep getting phone calls and emails asking “how do I care for my poinsettia, again?” Run a couple inches of water into your sink, preferably not soft water. Take the poinsettia out of its decorative cover but keep it in its green or black growing pot. Set the pot into the water for about two to three minutes, remove, allow to drip dry and place it back into its decorative cover. Poinsettias are okay with being ‘run dry’. In other words, do not overwater them. By using the sink method, you avoid splashing water on the leaves which is not attractive.

• Writing Tip: Use double quotation marks when quoting a person: Prime Minister Harper said “the long gun registry is finished.” Use single quotation marks when framing a title: We saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at The Globe Theater. On occasion, single quotes are used to frame an adage or for an unusual use of a word such as: My teenage daughter said she will be late because she has to ‘study’. The single quotes around study alert the reader to the wink and the nod context of the writer as if to say “oh sure.” Also, single quotes can be used around a word that is not usually recognized as a word such as ‘Movember’, the prostate cancer fund raiser which combines moustache with November to form their special word.

Sandy, Jenny, Nancy and yours truly at The Mariian Center
 • Fun times: Calvin and Les Vanderveen always donate a few cases of poinsettias to The Marian Center every year. Sandy and Jenny were assisting me this year and we dropped them off. There is a photo to the left.  Included in the photo, as we deliver the beautiful Christmas plants are Sandy, Jenny, Nancy and myself. For those with questioning minds, my ‘Movember’ beard is staying for the winter.

• Technology crosses generations: Our son Patrick, is a techie. Without his expertise, this blog would be coming to you by snail mail, printed on a Gestetner machine . He is the father of our first grandchild, Rayanna. He has set up two different ways for us to keep up with the sweetheart. First, and please do not laugh, he set up his dear old dad on Skype, so that I can visit with Rayanna. Secondly, he installed a camera over her crib and I can, with a few clicks, check in to see how she is doing. One night, I clicked onto her camera site and there she was, staring up at the camera, wiggling her arms as if to say “hello Grampa Ra-Ra”. As I watched her lying there staring up at me, I said “shouldn’t you be asleep sweetie?” It’s what us grampas say.

The tulips are resting until spring
• Parents morph into grandparents: As a child, my mother was fairly strict with us children. If you disobeyed her, you receive a free swat, usually from her wooden spoon or a rolled up newspaper. We were Baptist and to spare the rod is to spoil the child. When Mom’s first grandchild was born, all that spanking stuff went out the window. In fact, you were not allowed to raise your voice towards a grandchild, lest you harm their sensitive feelings. I used to laugh at my Mom and tease her with “how times have changed Mom.” She was the same woman who told me when I was fifty-five “I have not forgotten what you were like as a teenager.” I thought there was a statute of limitations on that stuff somewhere in our Constitution.

• No Humane Society photos this week: This was supposed to be weekly happening but Lisa from The Humane Society is on holidays and the fellow who was supposed to send something to me, didn’t’. I will call them on Monday and remind them to send another photo. Some good news. The cat we featured last week, ‘Meeltu’, has been adopted.

• Old school: When our boys were young, they had a fixed bed time but with great regularity, they would be fooling around past that set time. I would go to the bottom of the stairs and call up “so help me God! If you boys are not in bed by the time I count to ten, I’m coming up there and you will be sorry!” One night Patrick, called back “let me now when you get to seven and I will get under the covers.”

• Old school, déjà vu: The boys were home last Christmas. I made brunch and no one was stirring, not even a mouse. I called down to Maxwell, Number Two son, to get up. He didn’t respond. I reached back into my bag of tricks and growled “I am going to count and if you are not up, I am coming down there. Don’t make me come down there. One! Two! Three!” Up from the basement bedroom comes a panicked voice “I’m getting up! I’m getting up! Don’t count!” What makes this story funny is: He is thirty-six.”

• Garden Tip: For those readers in areas of limited snow, always best to cover tender plants with what snow you do have. Snow is an excellent insulation for bulbs, roses and perennials. This year, in Regina, we have more than enough snow for good insulation. There should be very little winter injury.

• Christmas trees in 1957: Everyone had a real Christmas tree back then. A Douglas Fir cost two bucks and a Scot’s Pine was five dollars. The Doug Firs were considerably cheaper as they were cut from the wild and lighter than the plantation grown Scot’s Pine. Please note they are not Scotch Pine. Scotch, is a whiskey, not a people or a Christmas tree. There are no rugged Scotchmen, only handsome Scotsmen.

• Garden Tip: One of our readers asked if the reason Christmas trees dried out at home was because they dried out at the tree lot. Having sold thousands of Christmas trees, seldom did a tree dry out at the lot. The vast majority of Christmas trees dry out when the water level falls below the cut line of the tree after it is set up. After that occurs, the tree seals up and no amount of water will open the seal. Shortly after, the tree dries to a crisp and becomes the proverbial fire hazard. Not surprisingly, most people returning a tree insist that they never allowed the tree to dry out so therefore it must have been a bad tree. They are hard pressed to explain the seal of sap across the bottom of the cut line.

• The Politically Correct Police: In Saskatoon, a man has taken umbrage with the city owned buses displaying a ‘Merry Christmas’ sign. A separation of religion and state he suggests. I never knew that a ‘Merry Christmas’ would subvert my civil rights and liberties or endanger democracy. And here I was, concerned with a high handed, majority government that might be a threat. I was going to wish you a ‘Merry Christmas’ but now I feel obligated to wish you a middle of December, kind of fun, take time off of work, eat lots of good food and be with family and friends sort of holiday. Was that okay with everyone or am I in trouble for the use of ‘family’, in a traditional format?  To our vigilant friend in Saskatoon, get something more improtant to worry about than a bus wishing you a 'Merry Christmas', unless of course it is a talking bus.
This lady taught me to be of service to others
• Life lesson learned again: Last Saturday, I sold poinsettias as a fundraiser. You already know that. People came in and out of our kitchen, all day long. Some stayed for tea or cider. Others were only there for a minute or two. Many friends brought gifts of home baking. It was a wonderful day. As I was tucked up, wrapped in my warm comforter and ready to fall asleep, I said to Maureen “this was a wonderful day. I have not felt this good in a year.” For one day, I forgot about my health issues and any other problems, real or imagined. I had been of service to others and my blessing was I felt good and I slept well. One can never ask for anything more. Thank God our mothers taught us well.

• Thanks for reading….Rod McDonald in sunny and snow covered Regina

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Garden Report #110

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Canadian Artist Rose 'Emily Carr'-a good one
• Writers write:

“Better to light one little candle than to curse the darkness.”

It was Christmas eve of 1995 and I was closing up the garden center. I was looking forward to that evening’s celebration with my family. The phone rang. It was John Wolkowski, my spiritual friend and occasional conscience. He asked me if I had had a good year and if so, then perhaps I should write a check to The Marian Center, to share my blessings. “Make it a good sized one” instructed John, quite pleased to offer that advice. Just what the world needs. A Catholic giving advice to a Baptist on responsibility. Where are the Mennonites when you need one?

Since that conversation, I have been writing my annual check. I don’t know if I make a difference. I often wonder if I am subject to a bit of Baptist guilt for living such a comfortable life. My check being an appeasement to relieve my conscience. I do know that the people who run the soup kitchen work in poverty, taking nothing for themselves. I know that they are trying their best but I am still plagued with the idea that we are only offering Band-Aid solutions. I really wished I had a solution, even a magic wand. I don’t know if one is to be found. The men being served have suffered years of abuse, neglect and often addiction has ravished their existence. Their life is not an easy one. Their poverty is one that reaches deep into their soul. In the absence of a permanent solution, then perhaps a bowl of stew and a warm smile at The Marian Center is all that is available. It is one little candle.

Readers raised $1000 for The Marian Center
Please share your blessings with The Marian Center this year and share the blessings of your soul and spirit. Donate a smile to someone who needs one. We all have something to give.

• Readers write:
• Ingrid Thiessen wrote “I was saddened to hear that there had not been an organ donation in Saskatchewan in two months. Why can't we be the first province to adopt Spain's opt-out model?”

• Jennifer Cohen has a concern with the phrase ‘adult children. “I'm on a mission to stop the term and see that you do it, too: What exactly is an ‘adult child’? A good substitute is son or daughter. We just can't let the kids grow up it seems.”

• Not surprisingly, CJ Katz writes to us about food. “Gee Rod – such bad luck getting good fish and chips. I hope you complained loud and clear to La Bodega. Soggy fish – ewwww. In the meantime, I’ve been perfecting a great recipe for fish cakes ‘Sask style’ since I got back from the Maritimes. Yum!”

• David Calam is a big fan of good food as are most of our readers. He would like to recommend the Chinese stand in the food court at The Golden Mile. Usually, the food stands are nothing more than basic, but Dave assures us that this one is special. “The couple who took over the Pin Ling food concession in the Golden Mile earlier this year have some great, authentic, southern China dishes. The place is a favorite lunch spot for many in Regina's Chinese community. Liz and I try to get there once a week for soup or a soup and noodle dish. The wonton soups are excellent, spicy or mild. My favorites include the Hunan Beef soup bowl and the ground pork soup bowl. But there are so many great choices and prices are very reasonable. Make sure to ask for the spiciness level you want or you may have a new experience! Sodium levels may be a bit high but once a week? No problem!”

• Jim Gibbs, from Winnipeg, also knows a thing or two about the history of language. “It has been a while since I have written but John Huston’s comments compelled me to write and confirm that the use of X for Christ has been common for more than 1,000 years. There are references to Xmas in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles dating to the year 1021. (I read history for relaxation.) There were also usages of XP and Xt although they have fallen out of use. There are many Eastern Orthodox icons which incorporate one of X, XP or Xt. Apparently it was not uncommon for names such as Christina or Christopher to be written as Xina or Xopher, respectively. Even the O.E.D. does not malign the use and that has always been my barometer. The recent controversy about the use of Xmas has been propagated by a few religious leaders looking for a cause. In 1898 the Canadian Post Office issued its two cent Christmas stamp with the notation “Xmas 1898”; I have one in my collection.”

• Marg Hryniuk always has an interesting take on things. “Wow! The story about the X in Xmas. I did not know that. Wonderful. Now I can go back to X, this time with a clear Presbyterian (the most militant) conscience. Nicholae would be mine in a heartbeat. He's beautiful, has a fabulous name and is probably house-trained. Gosh I hope your blog finds him a home. That would make a truly heart-warming Xmas story.”

• Joanne Crofford has a tip on good f and c. “I love the fish and chips from Burger Baron. Yes, Burger Baron. I buy them on any flimsy excuse. Enough food for two people in the take out packs I have bought.”

• May Blois says that you can find good fish and chips at Joey’s. “The best fish & chips I have had are at Joey’s in the East end(not the north). You get 3 huge pieces of fish in light batter and great fries. Far too much for one so I usually go with someone and we share, then have room for dessert. Yummy.”

• Terena Bannerman is not a fan of the chain bookstores. “I was in the city with my 14 year old daughter on Friday and she needed to use a Chapters gift card. After losing a precious parking space to a rude person who slipped in despite my signal light being on, and having to then circle the lot twice until someone else pulled out, perhaps I was not entering the store in the best mood for the 'Chapters experience', but really? Wasn't there a time when Chapters was a bookstore? One has to fight through tables and shelving units full of c@#p to even get to the books. While doing my best to not knock over any of the piles of overpriced, mass-produced treasures, I overheard one of the rather stressed display assistants say to her supervisor "we can't fit the display table with the scarves in there". The response? "Then move some books out of the way". Another reason that it's a pleasure to shop in independent stores, where the owners of a bookstore love books, the owners of a tea shop know and drink tea, and to support the local community.”

• Roberta Nichol enjoyed last week’s blog. “Well, Rod, you were on fire this week. What a great Report! I absolutely loved your Santa Trilogy and I have to say, reading it beefed up my Christmas spirit even more! I set out my garlands first thing this morning, lit them up, stood back, and thought, "You know, I never, ever get tired of this!" The stories just added to the warm, fuzzy feeling we get at this time of year.”

• Sherrie Tutt enjoys a different approach to Christmas trees. “Hi Rod: I have solved the Christmas tree dilemma by decorating an indoor tree. The tree started life as a small retirement gift, twelve years ago and I don't know what kind it is. It soon outgrew its first pot and now stands three and a half feet tall. My son moaned so much about the work of putting up and taking down an evergreen that I started decorating it instead. It enjoys summers on my deck, thrives on a little fertilizer and pruning and warms our hearts as much, if not more, than if I spent $60 on a new one every year. Maybe I’ll get out the decorations today.”

• Some very good news from reader Lisa Koch at The Regina Humane Society. “Hi Rod. Just wanted to let you know that Nicholae, who you featured in The Garden Report was adopted today! He is a sweet dog who was waiting a long while for a home. Thank you for featuring him!”

Sandra's garden is asleep for the winter
• Aubrey Burlock enjoyed the Christmas stories from last week. He writes “Thanks for the memories. Nice to share with the three kids and the seven grandchildren, along with the spirit of our Judy. Keep writing and sending our Sunday morning treat.”

• ‘Tis the season: Food, glorious food! We start off with Laura and Terry Ross’ annual Christmas party. Divine and sublime. Always a great time and the food…well let’s just say I don’t’ eat the day before. This year’s winner was the salmon pate on baguette from Orange Boot. I was definitely in the savory mood as I passed on all of the incredible desserts in order to have more pate.

That was Saturday. Sunday was climb the wall fantastic. Do my readers see a theme here? Maureen got us tickets for The Victorian Tea at Government House. It was decked out in its finery for the season and our table was in the ballroom. The ladies who served us had on costumes from the 1900’s. They brought us a cheese ball appetizer, a chicken and cranberry salad as the main and a choice of three desserts from the cart. At first, I thought we could have all three. When informed otherwise, I felt the afternoon begin to deteriorate. I chose wisely the Snow White cake with lemon sauce. Why wisely? The kitchen at Government House does not make anything from a can or a package. The lemon sauce is made with a secret ingredient, real lemons! There was a pianist knocking out the hits of the season, little girls in curls and dresses and the entire thing is ten bucks. Wowzer! At The Empress in Victoria, a tea such as this one would be thirty bucks but the volunteers keep the cost down. Ask me if I am a fan?

This Saturday was pickup day for the poinsettia fund raiser for The Marian Center. Many, many readers stopping in to support the cause and shared some apple cider and organic gouda cheese. As is the habit of many of the readers, they did not arrive empty handed. Nope. Fresh baking was in abundance and a special thanks to Elaine Wurm for her fresh baked cinnamon buns. They are indeed my kryptonite.

• There is no place like live theater: The Globe’s Christmas show this year is ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and do not go expecting it to be identical to the movie. After all, if you want to see Judy in the movie, then rent the movie! They did a fantastic job of choreography, keeping twelve actors on a small stage from bumping into each other. This is an adaptation, a very creative one and they built ‘The Yellow Brick road’ with lighting. The songs were still there and even after all these years, ‘Rainbow’ brings a tear to my eye, or maybe both of them. If you haven’t seen it, then get some tickets. It’s not just for kids.

• Writing tip: One habit that most new writers have to break themselves of is, the over use of adjectives and adverbs. Every noun does not need a modifier, clarification or emphasis. Most stand on their own just fine, thank you. Also, an overuse of adjectives indicates that you have a strong bias and many readers will become suspect of your writing. They often think you are on a mission to convert when perhaps your only intention was to describe.

• Good cheese: If you enjoy gouda cheese, and you don’t have to be Dutch to love gouda, then I have a treat for you. I order my gouda from a place called Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm. You can order online. I have been to their farm several times and rest assured, it is spotless. Nothing to hide. The milk for their cheese comes from grass fed cows and the herd is well cared for. For something different, try their cumin flavored cheese. It is quite addictive. If you are in the neighborhood, I have some of Gort’s gouda this Christmas and I am not adverse to letting readers share in a taste. In fact, if you ring the bell, I insist that you have a morsel.

The blue color of the box comes from a hydgrangea
 • Negotiating with God: As a little boy, the week prior to Christmas, before going to sleep, I would always assure God that I planned to be a much better boy in the future. I would not bug my sibs, I would listen to my mother and most importantly, I would keep mom’s kindling box filled without complaint. If you have to ask what a kindling box is, give me a call. I have no remembrances of how that all turned out but I suspect as with most little boys, I slipped a little by the time New Year’s rolled around.

• Looking good for grampa: Every New Years, it was our family tradition to call my dad’s dad in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. Calling long distance was so special during the 1950s and sixties, that our mother made us get dressed up in our Sunday finest “to look good when you talk to your grandfather.” Hair was combed, bow ties were clipped on and your new Christmas sweater was worn. My favorite part was when my grandfather would bawl out my dad. I relished hearing my dad say “No sir. I didn’t mean anything by that.” I was just so damned tickled that he had to answer to someone up the food chain.

• Too cool/too hot: If you are watching Access Cable anywhere in Saskatchewan, the Christmas fireplace video was shot at my place. Sooner or later, these obscure references have to stop, unless we are playing Trivial Pursuit.

• Garden Tip: Poinsettias, contrary to common mythology, are not toxic to either people or to pets. Throughout the years, this myth has persisted and every year, I receive several emails asking me to remind people to keep the plant away from pets. Sorry, it’s just not true.

This was Jenny's first year assisting at the poinsetiia sale
 • Lucky guess: I was having a bit of day surgery under a local anesthetic a few years ago. The nurses draped my upper body and face. I could not see the procedure. I said to the surgeon “I suppose this drapery is to protect the surgical field, keeping it sterile?” The surgeon knew me only too well and responded “actually, I had them do that to stop you supervising my work.” Oh sure, he can’t take a little constructive criticism.

• Random acts of kindness: Last week, I encouraged readers to submit short stories regarding random acts of kindness, either as a recipient or as a provider. Paul Grolle was kind enough to submit this one. It is heart touching. “ I loved your story of a random act of kindness. Here’s mine. It was December 23rd, 1994. I was working at the ticket counter for the airline everyone loves to hate when this man walked up. I could tell he was distraught and he wanted to buy a ticket to Newfoundland. Usual response “but sir we’re fully booked until the 25th.” The tears started rolling down his face and he said “my mom’s dying and I need to get home.” I started to cry as my dad had passed away in June and I recollected getting the same call and how endless the flight from Regina to Victoria seemed to take. I walked out from behind the counter, gave him a hug and said I’ve been there and done that, now we need to stop bawling and get to work on your flights. I managed to get seats for him. Thirty minutes later he showed up at the counter with one of those activated figures where you touch the belly and they start singing. We had so much fun that day getting the children to activate him. His mom was able to hang on until he saw her. By coincidence I met his return flight and he gave me the biggest hug.”

Sandy T. helped me with the poinsettia sale
 • Poinsettia fund raiser: Thanks to the generosity of our readers, the poinsettia fund raiser was a success one more year.  I  presented a check for a thousand dollars to Nancy, The Director of The Marian Center. As an aside, the poinsettias sent to us by Calvin and Les Vanderveen were the finest of quality plants.
• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in a not so warm Regina

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Garden Report #109

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Our spring garden is but a dream now
• Writers write: The Santa Claus Trilogy are three stories that some of you may have read before, but no apologies, they’re classics.

#1: Over the years, I have enjoyed playing Santa Claus at children’s functions. Good fun. Around 1982, I was doing my bit at The Big Brothers Christmas Party. It was held at Knox Met. After I was finished, I drove away not in my sleigh, but my half ton truck. Sanity must return to the story. As I headed down Victoria Avenue, at City Hall, there was a Volvo and its engine was on fire. The owner had the hood open but all he could do was watch the flames shoot upwards. I pulled over, grabbed the scoop shovel from the back of the truck and fired six shovels filled with snow onto the flames until they subsided. Totally forgetting what I was wearing, I returned to my truck with the fire engines speeding down the street. The owner of the Volvo waved good bye to me as I drove away and in a disbelieving voice, shouted “thanks Santa!”

#2: I enjoyed stopping into homes of children that I knew when I had my costume on. Five minutes of fun for me and they became true believers. “He really does exist. He came to our house” they would tell their friends in Grade One the next day. The little boy next door was an immediate convert. I could tell by his eyes that he knew I was the real thing. He sat on my lap to tell me what he wanted for Christmas. First I asked him the obligatory question of “have you been a good boy?” He nodded his head in the affirmative. “I have been a good boy. A very good boy.” Then he whispered into my ear “don’t listen to my sister. She lies.”

#3: Sometimes we do little things that make impressions that children remember for their life time, yet it is gone from our memory in a few days. I attended the memorial service for my friend Judy Burlock this summer. At the entrance to the service, greeting us, was one of her three adult children. I had not been over to Judy and Aubrey’s house since the 1970s so I assumed introductions were needed. I started by saying to her son “my name is Rod McDonald and I was a friend of your mother.” The greeter said “I know who you are Rod. You have been a part of our Christmas mythology and stories, ever since you showed up as Santa Claus when I was just a little boy.”

• Readers write:

• Gayle White supports the discussion of donor cards. “Dear Rod: I am a regular reader and I am so pleased that you brought up the topic of organ donations in your latest Report. I would like to urge all of your readers to not only sign their own cards, but to take the time to talk to those people in their lives who are younger. I assume 70-year old organs aren’t considered premium quality! We tend to not want to talk about death in our society, but organ donation is a life-giving process. So, fellow readers, let’s make it a priority to bring up this issue in as many situations as we decently can.”

• Chris Dodd sent this along: “I have signed my donor card and alerted my family. They expressed doubt that anyone would want any of it soon. But I agree with you, we can’t remind people too often to donate. On a lighter note, I love your Grammar Police. I wonder if I was taught incorrectly or if I have forgotten it accurately, but didn’t they used to tell us to use the word fewer when we were describing items one could count, but to use less when we spoke about items too numerous to count – like grains of sand? I’m off to work on an appropriate uniform for The Grammar Police.” Rod’s note: Roberta Nichol already has t-shirts printed for those stalwart maintainers of the English language.

• Doug Gummeson is a new reader from Moose Jaw. He writes: “It is nice to receive your Garden Report. If it was me, I would rename it to Garden Report Plus just because there is much more than garden information.”

• Friend and reader John Huston, from Toronto, always has an interesting, if somewhat offbeat take on The Garden Report. “While I can't agree more on the awfulness that is Black Friday and Boxing Day sales, I must weigh in, again, on a couple of Yule tide misconceptions. First, ‘Xmas’ is not a contemporary secular abbreviation for Christmas. In fact it is just the opposite: ‘Xmas’ has a long and venerable tradition. It was used as far back as the 1st millennium by educated Christians, probably to save precious parchment. The X was adopted from the Greek letter Chi, the first letter in the Greek word for Christ.”

• Frank Flegel has had it up to the proverbial here with political correctness. He writes “I am told that Obama has referred to a holiday tree rather than a Christmas tree. Perhaps Canada should not send a tree to the U.S. this year as it has done for many a moon. We don't have holiday trees, just Christmas trees. Not too many years ago I happened to be in Prince Albert for a meeting and was pleased to see a Christmas Crèche complete with Mary, Joseph, the Christ child and animals displayed in the City Hall lobby. I wonder if it is still there and the people of P.A. continue to say, "the hell with political correctness!"

• Elaine Wurm has views about Christmas as do most of you. “I must say, I totally agree with your comments about retail personnel and Christmas shopping. You were right on the mark with your comment of how retail people are so exhausted by Christmas day.”

• Brad Kreutzer owns Paper Umbrella on 13th Avenue. Here is his take on the snow removal issue. “Thank you once again for your wonderful Report. They are filled with such interesting and thoughtful topics. In reading your comments regarding snow removal on 13th Ave, I couldn't agree more. 13th Avenue has a very high amount of traffic on its road that it is simply way too dangerous to not have it at a higher priority for snow removal. This topic has long been raised with the city over the years, by many business owners along 13th Ave. Perhaps with some of the newly elected officials, things may change in the future. Here is hoping!

'Marie Victorin' rose
     Moving on to the topic of slippery sidewalks along 13th Ave. I can only speak from my personal experience but I along with many of my neighboring businesses take great pride in maintaining the sidewalks in front of our businesses. As a member of the Business Association we have in the past pooled our money to remove snow along 13th Ave for the safety and convenience of our community. Ironically, the 13th Ave Safeway is spending much money on a renovation to improve the customer experience, yet they still can't clear off the sidewalks that surround their store. Going forward into the future we may have to look at ways in which we the businesses care for our sidewalks collectively. However, I would hate to think that your readers might get the impression that 13th Ave businesses aren't interested in safe sidewalks. Keep up the great work Rod.” Rod responds: I realize that some of the merchants do keep their walks clean but I want more. I want to see the walks on both sides of the street clear, from Albert to Elphinstone Streets. I cannot walk safely from one clean sidewalk, through the ice fields of the next block until I find another clean sidewalk.

• Kate Berrigner is concerned about Black Friday entering into Canada. “Re: The Black Friday rant........well said. I'm annoyed that it’s come up here and I hate Boxing Day/Week sales that detract from people being able to celebrate Christmas or whatever they celebrate, properly! However, I guess lots of people celebrate money and what it can buy so perhaps it’s only those of us who don’t who are annoyed?”

• Wendy Richardson shares her views regarding Christmas presents. “I completely agree with you about Christmas. We celebrate as a family and that has always been the focus of our time, not the gifts. The past few years we have drawn names and given to one person in our immediate family and that has been fun. We don't spend a huge amount of money, but we get to focus on just one person and tune in to that person and bless them with love and thought in the choosing of their gift.”

• Georgia Hearn turns the subject back to our readers favorite one, eating. “Great issue...I have to get to La Bodega for fish and chips.”

• Don Volpel has a take on snow removal and sanding. “I really enjoyed your Garden Report this week as well as the others. I have a pet peeve for the City Fathers and that is when they clean the roads of snow (which is appreciated) they do not bother to sand the street intersections for a considerable time after. This makes driving extremely dangerous even at 15 to 20 kph. There I have ranted.”

• Ann Anderson followed my instructions on poinsettia care last year and she found success. Here is her testimonial. “Hi Rod, I'll order a 6-inch pot poinsettia. Last year, I followed your care instructions to the letter and my plant was gorgeous.”

• Who owns hockey: Between the owners and the players, we have no NHL hockey. I kind of thought that hockey was Canada’s game, our game and that it belonged to the people per se. Apparently that is not true. Pond hockey, back lane shinny and street hockey belong to us. We start and finish a game whenever we want. But after that, hockey belongs to associations, leagues, owners, anyone but us. It turns out that what I kind of thought, was kind of wrong. It was more fun when there was no money involved. It was more fun when hockey finished in March, not June.

• Garden Tip: When you plant an amaryllis bulb, best to leave a third of it sticking above the soil line. They do not like to be plunged all the way down. Do not chill an amaryllis bulb as you would daffs or tulips. They are originally from South America and do not know what cold feels like. Do not worry if your amaryllis bulb does not begin to grow as quick as others. Amaryllis have a mind of their own. I have grown thousands of them over a thirty-five year time frame. Some will begin growing the day after planting and others will take two or three months before they show any sign of life. They can be very unpredictable.

• Random acts of kindness: Most of us have been the recipient of a random act of kindness. Sometimes it was proffered by a friend, other times by a stranger. One random acts of kindness as a recipient came from a favorite teacher, Luella Lovering. She enrolled me into The Fine Arts program in 1967 because as she said, “I read what you write.” Forty-six years later, I still write. What is difficult to fathom is that on occasion, we have been the people who offered up those random act of kindness. Yet, someone must be the giver in order for others to receive. Sometimes we comprehend what we offered and other times, we carry on with our lives, never understanding how one small act on our part, could have a positive outcome for others.

     I knew a man who had been a star athlete in his day. Heart surgery had reduced him to taking walks at midnight, lest the neighbors saw how he had deteriorated. He was in my garden center, wandering around. He told me about his situation. I asked if he wanted to come in every Wednesday morning, to work in the greenhouse for three hours. “Some people find a greenhouse to be a therapeutic experience,” I offered. He leapt at the chance. We had a spare bench at the back of the greenhouse. Soon, he was growing his own plants on that vacant bench. He and his wife began coming in every other day to check on their seedlings. I thought nothing more of it. It had not cost me anything. That Christmas, a card arrived. In it, he told me that the day I had asked if he would like to work in the greenhouse, he had been thinking of suicide. He felt that his life was over. My offer, which was so small that I never expected even a thank you, had saved him by giving hope. Who knew? At this time of year, send in your stories about random acts of kindness. Share those wonderful outcomes. You don’t have to be a Jimmy Stewart in ‘A Wonderful Life’ to tell your story.

• It’s so good to see you: My neighbor came to the window the other day. She was waving at me. I waved back. She kept waving, so I waved a second time. The waving continued so I went closer to the window to reduce the glare and to see if she was in distress, what with the continual waving. It was her dog, wagging his tail. No distress. The exact opposite. No one was home and he was just so glad to see me. Wag, wag! Now that is a true friend.

• How to improve your wife: After all these years, I have discovered how to turn your partner into being a better wife. My secret, which really I should be selling is simple, just become a better husband. It works every time.

• Oh no: I finally got to La Bodega to try their fish and chips that several of you have been raving about. Please don’t blame the messenger, but my fish arrived soggy. Yep. You read that correctly. Soggy as in spongy as in not crispy. They were not good. On the plus side, the chips were the finest in town. Fourteen bucks plus tax and tip. I am still on the hunt for great fish and chips so if you have a favorite, fire off a line or two. In the running are Bushwackers and The Creek on 13th which I have not yet checked out.

• Garden Tip: If you need to get the attention of someone running power equipment such as a snow blower, always get in front of them and connect visually. Do not tap them on the shoulder, if you value your life or well being. The noise of the motor overrides all of the senses and a tap sets off a primitive response of being attacked.

• Light up the Village: Many of the merchants along 13th Avenue are staging a ‘Light up the Village’ night on Thursday, December 6th. The folks at The Paper Umbrella have reader and author CJ Katz signing her new cookbook at seven p.m. This book is beautiful and would make a great gift for someone on your list.

• Friendly driver, or not: A few years ago, I was removing the snow from the city sidewalk along Regina Avenue. Usually, I blow the snow onto the lawn but this time, I was too lazy to rotate the blower as it was my last pass so the snow was falling back onto the street. It was the ridge the city graders had pushed up, so I rationalized I was not being that much of a bad boy. A full sized Ford pulls up and the driver is honking his horn. I can’t see who it is because darkness is setting in and he has tinted, side windows. I can make out that he is waving at me, so being a good Canadian, I wave back. Must be a friend. He honks his horn a second time, waving with great enthusiasm. I squint. I can’t see who it is but I return the wave. It must be a neighbor, thanking me for cleaning his portion of the walk. He honks a third time and now is frantic in his waving actions. I get closer to his window to see who it is and its an old codger, well at least older than me. I don’t know him and he is definitely not waving. He is shaking his fist and swearing at me, increasingly frustrated because I am being just so damned friendly, waving back. He is annoyed greatly, than the snow is been returned to the street from where it came. Once I had figured this all out, I was too embarrassed to retaliate. I just kept waving and smiling at him as if I were the village idiot until he gave up and drove down to Albert Street.

Rayanne has big eyes
• The Grampa Report: A few years ago, I was having lunch at The Bessborough in Saskatoon with a few friends from the trade. One had recently become a grandfather. He filled up the entire hour with how his grandson was the smartest kid medical science had ever seen. I promised myself that I would never do that to you, my dear readers, when my turn came. Well, my turn has now come and all you get from me is a photo and then I zip my lip. Of course, if someone wanted to phone and talk about how wonderful she is, I might just have a free hour or two. She specializes in eating, pooping and crying at the top of her lungs, if you need a topic to discuss.

So far, she has not discovered boys
• The Gamma Report: I was sitting there, comfortably, watching the news. The grandmother of this story opens a big brown envelope and begins showing me photos of Rayanna. I try to explain that I have already seen the photos. “The kids sent me the photos online.” “But these are the printed ones,” was her response. Nothing I could say or do would make her stop. I felt as if I was trapped inside a dream within a dream. I resisted but it was futile. She told me that even Mike Holmes would want to look at these pictures. “See how long her legs are?”

• Garden Tip: Do not use salt to melt ice on sidewalks near your garden or lawn. Salt raises the PH of your soil causing distress to most ornamentals. There are other products on the market that are much safer to use.

• You’re a good boy, yes you are: The Humane Society has a poster of a dog that needs a forever home. If you are interested and have room for him in your life, give them a call. As regular readers know, I have a real soft spot for kitty cats and puppy dogs.

• Kiss the Canvas: That was the name of the boxing event staged by a dozen women this past Thursday evening at The Lonsdale Boxing Club. They raised $75,000 for The Palliative Care Center. It was so much fun, with the fans cheering on their friends and coworkers, just as boxing used to be. The matches were good and the ladies gave it their best shot, pun intended. George Chuvalo was in attendance and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. The line up to get photos and autographs from the Canadian legend was long. I didn’t join in as I was worried I might gush when it was my turn. I probably would have said “I’ m a boxer too” and George would have replied “good for you Sparky, good for you.”

Poinsettia Fund Raiser for The Marian Center: Last call!

The Marian Center benefits from our poinsettia sale
I am organizing a poinsettia fund raiser for The Marian Center, again, this year. We will raise at least a thousand dollars to support their soup kitchen that feeds hungry men in downtown Regina. The poinsettias will be available for pick up at my house on Saturday, December 8th between noon and four p.m. They will be premium poinsettias, in a decorative cover with a touch of silver fairy dust. They are available in three colors. Red, pink, white and if ordered by the case, mixed. They are only available by pre order and payable by cash. Sorry, no credit cards, debit or checks. Also note, there are no greens or wreaths for sale this year. The poinsettia prices are as follows (the same as last year):

Six inch premium $20 each or $14 each in a case of seven which is $98 (red, white or pink)

Seven inch premium $30 each or $25 each in a case of five (these have two cuttings per pot and are available in red, white or red and white)

Eight inch premium $40 each (these have three cuttings, are very large as in best displayed on the floor. They are perfect for a store or a large home. Available colors are red, white and tricolor)

Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in the snow belt of Regina