Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Garden Report #120

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Note: There will be no Garden Report next week

'Rosy O'Grady' Clematis growing in Zone Three
 • Writers write: Writing with humour is difficult. There is this line. It is both artificial and arbitrary. This imaginary line is the one that people reference when they say “you crossed the line with that comment.” Here is the kick. The line is different for each of us. A stand up comic has a line that is much more difficult to cross than an evangelical minister’s line. Most of us have a line in between those two. Another part of the equation is that our personal line floats. On a good day, you can tease me about many things and I will nod, in agreement. On a bad day, a look can set me off. My line floats, as it does for everyone. Sometimes my line is established by the amount of sleep I have had the night before.

When I write, I try to include humour. I try to find the funny side of life. On occasion, I try to push that arbitrary line without crossing it. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. One day it can be funny, the next day, not so. When people make fun or deride a drunk for peeing his pants, I never laugh. That is a tragedy to me. The man needs help, not mockery. Laughing at a drunk, crosses my line. Others see it as humour. We disagree.

There is a risk, as a writer, of being too conscious of the mythical line. I did a one hour stand up bit that toured Western Canada in 2006. It was called ‘The Art and the Science of the Married Man’. In it, I attempted to lecture men on how to be better husbands, a difficult task. I made an artistic choice. No swearing or graphic sex. The critic at The Winnipeg Free Press attacked me for being too conservative as in boring. He thought I should have pushed the line for comedy. The next show, I responded. I told my audience that I can tell off colour stories, but I chose not to. I asked the audience if they wanted to hear one. They shouted “yes!” Here is the one I wrote, just to appease the critic.

“All of my life, I have been opposed to anal sex. Now that I have been reviewed by The Winnipeg Free Press, I know why.” It rocked.

I try to be respectful of my readership without bending to the will of the self anointed, politically correct police. Some days, that line is more of a tightrope to walk than it is one to cross. Do I or do I not use the word ‘chick’ when it fits the story? Do I use ‘dude’, ‘boy’, ‘horny’ or ‘bitch’?

How do I make my final choices? It’s not easy. Some days I hold back, others days, I take a chance. The one thing I am safe in writing is, I don’t go out of my way to offend people, but some days, that is a risk I have to take. Some days, I have no idea that my writing even approaches another’s line. After all, that line is difficult to see.

• Readers write:

I am waiting for a kidney transplant in real life!
• Our youngest son, Patrick, has his opinions as to what constitutes a boy’s night. He thinks that my friends and I are screwing it up. “My guy nights still consist of beer and hockey. A true Canadian guys’ night. You hosers are doing it wrong!”

• Dianne Palmer was succinct. “. I enjoyed The Garden Report this Sunday.”

• Lyn Goldman writes “ ‘The Artful Dodger’ – you pegged it perfectly. It is kind of a hippy place, with some good food and service, but very noisy.”

• June Blau just has to rub it in. Read on. “Happy Valentine's, Rod & Maureen! Thanks for another great Sunday morning read at breakfast in our condo at Fairmont Hot Springs - the warm side of the Rockies.”

• Jean Freeman responds: “Thank you… especially for your trenchant and spot on comments today about our preponderance of female premiers and the non-issue of sexual preferences. Loved the remark about Harper being "openly heterosexual".”

• Frank Flegel loves his ice cream, as do I. I suspect we are not alone in this love affair with the cold and creamy nectar of the Gods. “Re: Cold Stone Creamery. Must be something in the stone. Had the same experience in Kailua, Oahu (that's on the other side of Honolulu). The only ice cream that matters is Milky Way and we'll have to wait another six weeks or so before opening day.”

• Leah Biegler is a new reader. She writes “I enjoyed your blog. I got hungry just reading what you made for dinner.”

• Chris Dodd is funny. “Great Garden Report! Hope someone adopts Fergus. (Singing:)You're no bunny ‘til some bunny loves you."

• Marcus Fernando fills up the last spot this week. “Your comments on romance and relationships were fun.”

• Love as a blood sport: In last week’s Garden Report, I referenced “love as a blood sport”. Just to be clear, I am not jaded. Here is where I am coming from. Most of us did not emerge from our youth or our young adulthood unscathed by love. We dated, we broke up, we had hearts that we thought would never mend. Finding the right person to spend your life with is not easy. The process, while exhilarating on occasion is, using another word, painful. Love hurts. Someone should write a song about that. Hang on, now. There are country music stations all over North America that depend on ‘hurtin’ love songs’ or they would have nothing to play.

• Love as a blood sport #2: I have written this before, but it bears repeating, like an ‘Achey Breaky’ love song. As a young man, I had many lovely girlfriends. Most of them had to fire me, terminate my services, let me go. The usual reason was that I was not a very good  listener.. How I managed to survive the dump cycle of love was I caught on that each time I was being dismissed as a bad boyfriend, the next girlfriend was better than the last one. At a certain point, I began to look forward to the talk, “it’s not you, it’s me”. As she was explaining why we needed to see other people, I was already wondering how much better could the next one be. Eventually, I got to Maureen and either a) I realized that this was who God meant me to pair bond with, or b) she had a higher pain threshold than the others. Either way, she has never seen fit to dismiss me from service, though she assures me that she has come close on occasion. I am only too aware that my saving grace has always been that the husbands in my neighbourhood have never set the bar too high. I want to thank all the men in our community for that consideration.

• The romance never stops: For Valentine’s Day this week, Maureen took me on a sleigh ride through Wascana Park. It was a beautiful, star filled night for the ride. We bundled up for the winter’s air and we were pulled by two Clydesdales. They were big and beautiful horses. Am I revealing too much by telling you some smooching was a part of the sleigh ride? Would you believe me if I told you I tried to resist?

• Garden Tip: This is more of a damp basement tip but close enough for our purposes. It would be a good idea, if you do not already own a small pump, to purchase one now for the upcoming spring. There is going to be so much water lying around yards and houses that it will need to be pumped to the storm sewers on the street. If you think you will rent one this spring, think again. There are only so many rental units available and when the snow starts to melt, the demand for those few pumps will be unprecedented.

Michel is growing his plug trays for the spring
• Plugs are growing: There is a photo from High Q Greenhouses in Alberta. Michel has these plants growing in what is called a plug tray. Gardeners do not buy the plug trays. They are sold to other greenhouses that take these plugs and transplant them, often into hanging baskets or containers. They are grown on from this stage. In other words, plugs are starter plants.

'Bobo' Hydrangea - good for Zone  Three
• ‘Bobo’ Hydrangea: The photo was sent along by Jan Pederson from Byland’s Nursery. Jan wants us to know that it grows 30”-36” tall, can have a spread of up to four feet and should be hardy to Zone Three.

• Humane Society Telethon: February 17th on Access Channel Seven, there is the annual fundraiser for The Humane Society. I have a weak spot for strays and salvaged animals. We have adopted dogs (Cleo and McIvor) that were abused in their previous homes and while they took some extra work, they became great pets. Many readers remember when McIvor was a regular greeter at the garden center, licking grumpy people until they became smiling members of society. Lily, our resident cat at Lakeview for fifteen years, was a stray as was my beloved Murphy, who shared our house for seventeen years. I have no need for a pet that arrives with papers. After all, most of us humans, are without a pedigree.

• Comfort stories: Just as a good stew or soup comforts our bellies on a cold, winters’ night, the ‘Dave and Morley’ stories from Stuart McLean comfort us. Mid week, CBC One replayed stories of when our famous, nonexistent couple met. It is such a piece of Canadiana.

• Travels with Nicky: I stopped into see everyone’s friend, Nicky Makris on Wednesday. Nicky was not home. He’s in Greece, picking olives. Now, you must admit that even you did not know it was time to pick olives. By the way, olives grow on trees but they are not marinated on the tree. No, to get marinated olives, you have to pick the ones grown on bushes on the island of Crete. I have to wonder when it is time to harvest the feta cheese. That also grows on trees in Nicky’s cousin’s, brother’s friend’s back yard.

• Steak and beans: Take two eight ounce pieces of steak and fry them in a bit of canola oil until medium rare. Remove from the pan. Add into the oil, a rough chopped onion, two cups of mushroom slices, a cup of red and green pepper slices, a quarter cup of hot banana peppers and sauté for fifteen minutes on a higher heat. Add in two cans of baked beans, a half cup of barbecue sauce, a tablespoon of liquid smoke. You don’t need any salt as there is enough in the sauce and the beans but a bit of garlic would be okay. Stir everything together and let it simmer for two hours on a low heat. Thirty minutes prior to serving, add in a cup of chopped celery and a cup of chopped pineapple. The reason for adding in the celery so late is that I prefer it to be crisp rather than soggy. The pineapple adds another dimension to the dish, a very enjoyable one. Prior to serving, slice the steak into thin pieces. Place the steak in the bottom of a bowl and ladle the bean mixture over top. Do not add the steak into the beans and cook as I did one time. If you do that, the steak will taste similar to stewing beef. Serve your steak and beans with pumpernickel toast. This is not gourmet and no pretense is intended, but it is ‘Comfort Food 101’ on a cold, winter’s night.

An entire bench of plug trays
• True gourmet: When Number Two Son, Max, was celebrating his eighth birthday, he had a dozen of his buds over for the party. I fed them hot dogs and ‘gourmet’ mac and cheese. The next day, I got a call from one of the mothers. She told me that her boy had been raving about my ‘gourmet’ mac and cheese and would I please share my recipe. I told her I mixed the ketchup into the pot. “That’s my gourmet version. Eight year olds are easy to impress.”

• Grampa’s delight: Rayanna’s parents have installed a camera and a web site over her crib. With a couple of clicks, I can watch her sleep. Only a grandparent would find this channel even remotely interesting. One might describe the plot as really, really slow.

• Anniversary: On February 26th, it is a Tuesday this year, it will be my fortieth anniversary of living on the corner of Regina Avenue and Angus Street. The math works out. I was twenty-one years old when I bought our first house, kitty corner to our present one. If you would have told me in 1973 that I would reside on this corner for this long, I don’t think I would have believed you. We stayed for one reason: the wonderful neighbours. By the way, my moustache was a dark red back in the seventies.

• Hustle: I know I am being hustled when a) I win the beauty pageant b) I win Miss Congeniality c) They ask me if I have modelled before.

• Hustle #2: I took two young men on a trip to a business conference in Edmonton a few years ago. I was the guide as this was their first time at such an event. At the conference, there was a trade show attached. I took the two young men on a quick tour of the booths, pointing out the companies they should be talking with and the ones that they should avoid. There was one company that had a display booth that I knew was filled with ‘sharks’. ‘Sharks’ in the business world are predators who prey on the new fish for a meal. I warned my lads to avoid that specific booth. The second day, I turned my protégés loose at the trade show. It was time for them to check things out without my supervision. Later in the day, I spotted one of the newbies in the booth filled with ‘sharks’. He was standing in the center of four men, everyone laughing and patting him on the back. I said nothing. At supper that night, I debriefed the two young men on their adventures of the day. One said to me “why did you warn me about those guys? They are so nice to do business with.”

I asked him: “Did they laugh at all of your jokes?” He shook his head in the affirmative. I said “you are not that funny. Did they tell you that your business plans were brilliant?” Again, he nodded yes. I responded “you’re not that smart.” He was starting to not like me. When I mentor, I often use adages as they prove to be a valuable teaching tool. I told him this one: ‘When the fox issues compliments, start counting your geese.’

Echinacea - a good perennial for our area
• Encore: I have told this before, but it ties in so well to the above bit. When Casey Van Vloten was twenty, his father who was forty-five at the time, told him that he could always trust five people and he named those five. He then warned that there were five people he should never trust and offered up those five names as well. When Casey was forty-five, all of his dad’s predictions had come true. There were those five men who had always been there for him and there were the five men who had taken advantage of him at every opportunity. Our dads, sponsors and mentors are there to guide us, but only if we are prepared to listen.

• Trivial Pursuit: All of us who love ‘Downton Abbey’, also love the central character of Carson, played by Jim Carter. If you really think hard, you might remember him as Juliet’s wet nurse (obviously in drag) from ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Tonight is the last episode of ‘Downton Abbey’ for Season Three. It costs so much money to produce this show that only a few shows constitute a season. After tonight, we have to wait until next January. Also, Matthew is leaving, or at least the actor is leaving. I have not read any of the blogs leaking how they are writing him out, just to preserve the mystery and intrigue for myself.

• Faith in our future: In the last two weeks, I have spent some time with four different young people. They were 23, 25, 27 and 31 years in age. Rest assured, they have a maturity and stability that belies their age. Our future is in good hands. Compared to me at those ages, they are miles ahead, not that I am willing to present myself as having been a role model. I dare not. Too many of my readers were partying with me in those days and we were the reason Molson turned a profit every year.

• Mmm...pancakes: Shrove Tuesday was this past week and we enjoyed pancakes and sausages at St. Mary’s. It is always a wonderful time to share a community meal close by. The hall was filled with friends and neighbours. It also gave me another chance to rag on the Anglicans. They love it.

• Just saying: You can get a pulled pork sandwich at a number of places in town, always served up on a bland, piece of white flour garbage passing as a hamburger bun. If a joint is going to nail me eight to ten bucks for a sandwich, at least serve it up on a decent piece of bun or bread. If there is a place serving a tasty bun for a pulled pork sandwich, let me know.

• Best ice cream: This last year, our favourite ice cream has been ‘Open Nature’. It is as good as ‘Hagen Daas’ at a better price. It is available at Safeway’s. It is real ice cream and contains nothing I can’t pronounce. The strawberry and the cherry vanilla are the best. I was not thrilled with their milk chocolate and a couple of other flavours so we stick to those first two. As a policy of public and private enjoyment, I never read the calorie count. I am sure it is wrong, anyways.

• Next week: There will be no Garden Report next week, February 24th. I need a break.

Canadian Artist Series Rose 'Campfire' will be released this spring

• Thanks for reading...Rod McDonald in ‘Snowville’ Regina.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Garden Report #119

Sunday, February 10th

This rose is being trialed and not yet released #291
• Writers write: This is the Valentine edition of The Garden Report, dedicated to love and other blood sports. I have a young friend in his early thirties. He has not had much experience with relationships so when he met the right woman, he was unsure of himself and his role. He would phone me, two or three times a week for advice: That was until Maureen overheard me dispensing without a licence. Her side of the story is that I was the last person he should turn to for direction. My side was: I am a long time survivor and therefore in a divinely ordained position to provide information to someone inexperienced in these matters. His relationship did not survive the first year, but he assured me it was not my advice that led to the demise, rather his insistence that he had a right to his own opinion. Big mistake. Really big. He will either learn from this fatal construct or else one day he will be an elderly gentleman, walking down the street, feeding the pigeons, snorting “I am right. I am always right!”

• Readers write:

• Doug Gummeson writes tongue in cheek: “I was blessed to get #118 twice, one right after the other. My first thought was wow, this one must be good, he wants me to read it twice. Actually I sometimes do as first I skim and then I dig deeper. Thanks for sending it.”

• Terena Murphy Bannerman tells us something from her past. “My mum has a saying about rumours and gossip. " If people are busy talking about me, it means they're keeping their nasty tongues off someone else".”

• Dora Mushka asks a good question. “Are you being facetious when writing about Conrad Black?” And the answer is a big, fat yes!

A lovely collection of containers
• Jackie Arnason makes me laugh. “ I must tell you that my screen is licked clean after seeing the lemon cake. Somehow the flavour doesn't come through though!”

• Garden tip: February or early March is a good time to start planting begonia tubers indoors. The earlier you start a begonia tuber, the bigger it will become when it is time to move it outdoors. The downfall of growing begonia tubers indoors is keeping them too wet. Begonias can rot quite easily if overwatered so care must be taken. The other tip is not to plant begonias too deep. The best depth is just below the surface of the potting soil with the tuber, cup side up, round side down. Also, begonias benefit from a good deal of light when first started. A sunny window without a draft is a good spot or else under a grow light. There was a time when begonia tubers were started by gardeners in large numbers. That has fallen off over the last twenty years. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a good selection of begonia tubers. All things in the gardening world have their moments to shine and then they move over to allow the next ‘best thing’ its turn.

• The flower of love: Roses are traditionally thought of as being the flower of love. In the florist business, young men under thirty purchase roses, almost exclusively. Older men purchase roses as well but they will look at other choices. Older men will also consider a potted plant such as an azalea or an assorted bouquet. My own personal favourites are alstromeria and tulips. Alstromeria are not only a lovely flower for the table but they also have longevity for a cut flower. Typically, my alstromeria bouquets last two weeks.

• Married man’s tip: The card is more important than the bouquet. Without the card, expressing the right sentiment with carefully selected words, it is a waste of money to purchase flowers. Put it in writing or it don’t count.

• True words: My friend Debbie runs Gale’s Florists on 13th. She said it best: “Never be involved with a flower holiday that is dependent upon men.” Why she spoke those words is because men do not pre book flowers. They just show up, or not. Florists never know how much to order. It is always a crap shoot.

• Young love: One of my first dates with a girl was in Grade Ten. She asked me to The Sadie Hawkins Dance. It turned out pretty good because she gave me a good night kiss, on the cheek. I didn’t have high expectations in those days. As a couple, we did not progress after that one date. She had to let me go as “you are just too immature to appreciate a woman such as myself.”

Lady Slipper Orchids in the wild
• Old love: I had a friend who was eighty. His wife of fifty years had passed away two years earlier. He was actually getting back out there in the meat market world of dating. When you are eighty, you don’t have much competition from the other dudes. He confided in me that he was confused by women and asked if I had any advice. My initial response was not too classy. I snorted. Unfortunately, I was drinking a glass of ginger ale when the snort occurred and the ginger ale found its way from my throat through my nasal passage. If you have never experienced this phenomena, let me assure you, the ginger ale really burns. As to the advice for my elderly friend, I had none other than “good luck, you’ll need it.”

• Garden Tip: If you want to improve your indoor gardening skills or you are just getting started growing your own seeds, invest in grow lights. There are a variety of options available from small and simple to large and complex. I have tried growing indoors since I no longer own a greenhouse. My results have been sad, very sad. A grow light really assists in seedling development. I have lots of south facing windows and there was not enough sunshine to produce what I considered decent plants.

• Things change: My mother would tell how she had to argue with my grandfather, so that she could attend Grades Nine and Ten. In the 1930s, girls usually stopped school at Grade Eight. My grandfather insisted “girls don’t need school. They get married and have babies.” Today, six of our provinces have female premiers. Things do change. The press has been having a field day with Ontario’s “first openly gay premier.” I want to know how whom we share our lives with at home has anything to do with running a government? I don’t see a connection. I am more interested in a balanced budget than someone’s private life. Should we be announcing Harper as “openly heterosexual”? There will come a day when our private lives are not news, but that day is not today. To quote the late Shirley Covey, who spoke these words at the age of ninety three: “The longer I live, the less concerned I am with who is sleeping with whom.” Well spoken.

• Too funny: The B.C. Premier is single. When first elected, a reporter asked if she would be dating, as Premier. Her response was better than a “none of your business” reply. She said “Why? Are you asking me out?”

Some of my containers
• ‘Show rooming’: Best Buy and Future Shop have been closing down several of their stores. The reason for the cutbacks is the phenomena of ‘show rooming’. ‘Show rooming’ is when consumers go into to a bricks and mortar store, examine the merchandise, get the advice of the staff, and then order online. The bricks and mortar stores estimate they are losing twenty-five per cent of their business in this fashion. In the garden center business, we put up with that long before any other industry, going back to the 1970s. I would receive 150 phone calls a day, 100 of which would be seeking advice for products that were purchased elsewhere. People would buy a plant from Wal Mart or another chain and call Lakeview for advice on planting and maintenance. I would often say “when it comes to free advice, people will settle for only the very best.”

• Where you gonna put it?: Another two inches of snow. The piles are getting higher and wider. Regina residents are running out of room to stack the white stuff. Snow on roofs is two feet thick. Stores have been selling out of roof rakes. It is a common site to see men shovelling the snow off of roofs. Come this spring, there are going to be a few damp basements. In the next month or two, it will be a good idea to shovel most of the snow away from foundations. The question is: Where are you going to put it?

• Roof rakes: Good luck finding one this year. Many places are sold out and those that do have a few, are not very good. I did find one at Peavey Mart out on Vic East. It was way better than the others I found for sale.

• Humane Society Telethon: This is an annual fundraising event. The Humane Society wants to raise $50,000 this year to fund their operations. Readers are only too aware of how I feel about our pets and the care they deserve. This was our first Christmas in many, many years without a cat or a dog and the house was a little lonely, at times. I suspect we will have a kitten or puppy in our lives in the near future, just not today.

• Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: My mother adopted a dog in the 1970s that laid claim to the title of ‘World’s Ugliest Dog’. The dog’s name was ‘Babe’ and she was a sight that caused sore eyes. Mom loved ‘Babe’, spoiling her as much as the grandchildren. When I would point out to my mother how homely ‘Babe’ was, my mother would cover ‘Babe’s’ ears and scold me: “Stop that! She is a very sensitive dog.”

Winterscape in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba
 • Garden Tip: Orchids love a moist environment and I have found that they do lovely in our bathroom, with its south facing window. If that doesn’t’ work for you, a pebble tray can help. Take a tray with a two inch lip and fill it with small pebbles. Fill the tray with water and place the orchid on top of the pebbles. The water evaporation assists in moisturizing the orchid.

• Poinsettia free: I did it. We are poinsettia free. It is always tough to get rid of a plant when it is still in good shape.

• Boys night in: Maureen was in Edmonton this week, being Grandma. She thinks that when she is gone that I have my buddies over for beer, poker and strippers. I wish. Here is the report of my one wild night this week. Readers Doug Gummeson and John C. joined me for supper on Wednesday. I served up a decent meal of lemon/rice soup for the starter, a fresh green salad with balsamic, wild salmon filet cooked with bacon and a maple syrup glaze, pan fried orange slices as a garnish for the fish, peas with a lime chutney sauce and a homemade apple pie for dessert. None of the three of us drink, so there was no booze. There was no poker game and if anyone had a strong desire to strip off their clothes, they resisted all temptation. In conclusion, dear reader, we had a great meal, a good time and we were boring as all get out. Had someone told me when I was twenty that this would be my idea of a fun night with the guys, I would have ended it right there and then.

• Don’t go: We were at The Symphony on Saturday night. Good gig. I developed a craving for ice cream and if you want ice cream on a Saturday night at eleven p.m., your choices are limited. The Dairy Queen is closed. We headed over to The Cold Stone Creamery which is a part of Tim Horton’s. We were there last summer, left disappointed and I should have learned. We spent eleven bucks on two ice cream desserts that lacked flavour and any sense of being a treat. A waste of calories and money.

• Thanks for reading...Rod McDonald in Regina

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Garden Report #118

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Cherry blossoms are a few months away
• Writers write: This week’s issue has several bits about people in their eighties and nineties. I have long held a fascination for those people who motor through their elder years faster than most of us did so in our twenties. I had a customer who was ninety-one, named Alice. I asked her one Christmas, if she still enjoyed life and she responded “every minute of every hour of every day.” Now that is a positive statement.

I have never been able to figure out why some people are old before their time, chronically complaining about life and their portion being too small. Then at the other end, there are those who never seem to age or at least, they don’t slow down. I met a ninety-six year old in Las Vegas who still worked as a masseuse. I saw him jogging home after work one day. Not quickly mind you, but he was running.

Bea Harding, our local artist and writer told me at her ninetieth birthday party, she was going to eat four desserts. When I asked her why, she explained that when you turn ninety, no one, no doctor, can warn you as to what you can and cannot do. It is as if you have a permanent ‘get out of jail free’ card.

What I have observed about our most vibrant seniors is that they always have a positive attitude. They have a purpose in life. They know they have things to accomplish and they don’t have time to be yakking in a mall food court for six hours, everyday. They also don’t have time to complain. They are too busy for that. Most importantly, they don’t see themselves as ‘old’ which is a disgusting word. I think we have some really good role models around us, if we want to take note and see how it is done the right way.

• Readers write:

• Rex Deverell sent his views this week. “As one of the ex-Regina-pat readers of The Garden Report, please, please, stick to your original intentions for this blog. Congratulations on your growing international readership, but nobody is paying you to write, right? So nobody should tell you what to write about. As for me, I love hearing about the store down the street – or the best fries in Regina. I’d like to know even more the story behind Maple Leaf Bakery’s cutting hours – change is always intriguing. I like watching the city through your eyes – and speculating about how I would get my poinsettias to turn red, even if I am only an armchair gardener. Keep up the good work.”

• Reader and writer Gail Bowen weighs in on the toilet paper controversy. “Hello from surprisingly chilly and snowy Toronto. I once lost a friend over the toilet paper 'fold side over/fold side under' debate. She had drunk well but not wisely at a Toronto dinner party and proceeded to mock Ted and me for the 'prairie way' we folded toilet paper. Of course, we felt compelled to stand up for Saskatchewan. Kind of like the fight over the proper way to crack a boiled egg in Gulliver's Travels: the Big Endians versus the Little Endians.”

• Joanne Brown loves good soup. “About soup. Yes, the peas always go in last. I'm quite passionate about soup, any time of the year, but especially in winter. Not everyone can make a good soup; I can and I do. It's something I learned from my mother (and her mother). The test for a good soup is to be able to taste every ingredient on its own merit. Ditto for stews and other dishes with multiple components. No need for recipes. It's all in the timing of how you incorporate what you want in your soup or dish to maximize taste.”

• Ann Anderson is also a lover of great soups. “ Your soup-making story made me think of my cousin's wife, Karin. She immigrated to Canada from Germany with her parents in the early 50s. As new Canadians, financial times were tough. Karin learned at an early age to make a meal fit for company out of whatever happened to be in the fridge. Karin and Larry are now retired and living more than comfortably. Karin still wastes no food and can make a delicious soup, stew or casserole out of the scantest leftovers. I think a nice pot of hamburger soup will be on the menu tonight.”

• CJ Katz adds this comment regarding homemade pizza. “I am so glad the pizza worked out for you. It took me a very long time to find a dough recipe I was happy with. When you have a searing hot pizza stone, it makes all the difference. My kids like the uncooked sauce the best – it gives the pizza such a delicious fresh flavour.”

• Sherrie Tutt loves flowers. “Such a joy to open The Garden Report and see roses when all outside is white with snow. Thank you!”

Dianthus and sweet potato vine
• Roberta Nichol turned the big six oh and was invited to La Bodega for lunch. Here is her take on the fish and chips. “I ordered fish and chips. Well, was I ever disappointed with the fish! It was nowhere near as it was the last time, crispy and fresh. This was soggy and limp. It had a nice flavour, but the texture was not good at all. Just the way you had described your experience. So, I must have lucked out (along with CJ Katz) that first time.”

• Conversations with Franny: I was at The Hotel Saskatchewan and ran into Francis Olson. We sat down in the lounge to have a drink and a visit. I have read several interviews over the last forty years with Franny, as she was a trailblazer. She was the first woman to sell real estate in this city and then in turn, she set up the first real estate office to hire women. Franny is eighty-five and still going strong. She told me a short version of her life as a business woman in Regina.

Being the first was not easy. The old boys of the real estate profession spread rumours that her success was due to her granting sexual favours for sales. The lie was spread. When she hired other women to sell real estate out of her office, she was upgraded from a hooker to a madam. She put up with the rumours because she was focussed on achieving success. She was often quoted as saying “men want to sell you a house, women want to sell you a home.” Today, the real estate market is filled with many women. No one is surprised by a female agent. It’s just the way it is, but not always the way it was. Someone had to be first. Someone had to put up with a lot of crap. That someone was Francis. It was a wonderful hour with her, time well spent. She is still a ‘grand old dame’ in the nicest sense of the phrase.

• Conversations with myself: The more successful I became in the garden center business, the more rumours I heard about myself. The persistent one was I was being sponsored financially by “off shore money”. I laughed. The truth was my sponsor was the local credit union, on Hill Avenue. People start rumours as a way to explain your success and their lack of the same. Somehow, you have been given an unfair advantage. If they only had that one thing that you have, they too would operate at your level. When people gossip, you only have one choice open to yourself. Ignore them.

Tulips close to their finish
 • Tragedy in Brazil: The recent loss of 230 lives in the nightclub fire in Brazil drives home why we have fire and safety regulations. At the nightclub, there were no working fire extinguishers, no emergency exits and the place was overcrowded. Hopefully, we never have that loss of life repeated.

• Carpet Cleaning: For several years now, I have used Merit Carpet Cleaning for my rugs. This is a good company in a sea of not so good ones.

• He gets out there: There is this fellow who is a volunteer at The Pasqua Hospital. I run into him whenever I am there. He visits with people who don’t have any family. He is a friend to the lonely. I wished I knew his name so I could share it with you. He is eighty-three and going strong. I ran into him earlier this week. Big smile. Asked if I miss my mother. He has found a place where he can be of service and rest assured, he is. He keeps busy, doing what he can and the glass is always half full. He is what we can easily call, an inspiration.

• This gentleman won’t quit: I bumped into Howard Leyton-Brown on Wednesday. Many readers will remember when he was the conductor of The Regina Symphony, the concert master and a violin teacher for sixty years. He is ninety-four years young, in good shape and his eyes still sparkle with the joy of life. Get this: He still has seven students on a weekly basis. I suspect that teaching music, later in life, has kept his thinking patterns sharp. The man still has things left to do.

• Sure: Dr. Weiker was a local dentists and he served a stint as a prisoner of a German POW camp in 1944/45. I asked how he had been captured. He told me that he had parachuted, at night, into Germany and was captured the next day. I had read an article on parachuting at night and jumping into the darkness increases the fear factor greatly. I asked him about his emotions, prior to his jump. “My plane was on fire. You might say that I was motivated.”

• An old saw: If you always do what you have always done, then you have to expect, that you are going to get what you always got.

• ‘Lincoln’: A lot of buzz about this flick, specifically, will Daniel Day Lewis win an Oscar for his title role? We checked it out Friday night at The Southland. I am going to give this one a mixed review. Daniel Day Lewis offers up another Master Class in acting, as he did in ‘The Gangs of New York.’ Fantastic job. Steven Spielberg was the director. If I had the opportunity, I would ask the man “what were you thinking? You had your choice of thousands of actors and yet you went with people from a variety of television shows? Were you high when you cast Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Fields in a major role?” It was disconcerting. As I sat there, I wondered who would be making the next guest appearance? My question was answered when the kid from ‘Third Rock’ showed up as Lincoln’s son. It is a slow flick, which is okay with me. Lots of time was devoted to Lincoln’s personality and how he arrived at decisions. I don’t hand out stars but this one could have, should have been so much more.

• Remembrances: The summers of Grades six through ten, I set up a bedroom in our garage. We lived three houses off of Dewdney Avenue. It was done with my parent’s permission. It was a vague attempt at independence on my part, though the fridge was only fifty feet away. I was the envy of my friends, living on a concrete garage floor with a bed, a lamp, a dresser and a radio. My friends would come over at night to hang out and we would listen to CJME which at the time, had a signal so weak it barely reached the edge of the city. It was the teenagers’ station of choice as our parents listened to stuffy old CKCK or CBC. My first summer in the garage was 1964 and my friends and I wanted to form a boy band. We sang along to the same two songs, every night. They were ‘Under the Boardwalk’ and ‘Doo Wa Ditty, Ditty Dum, Ditty Do’. We thought we were really cool and talented. No agent ever signed us so when we grew up, we had to get jobs.

Arlene's Lemon Cake
• Let them eat cake: Readers know I love Sharon Wallace’s apple pie. But I am not focussed only on pies. Nope. I am multi dimensional. I love cake as well. Especially good cake, which is not always easy to find. There is a wonderful lady named Arlene. She loves to bake and last year, she took her cake to The Farmers’ Market. I tried a slice. I liked it so I took her card. She operates under the name of ‘Auntie Meme’s Cakes’. I ordered a couple of her cakes this week. One was a ten inch lemon, decorated in yellow rose buds. It’s forty bucks but so rich, we got twenty slices out of it for a celebration. I also ordered a six inch cake for fifteen bucks. Again, it was decorated very nicely and she lists her ingredients. Everything she bakes with is in your kitchen cupboard. I try not to eat anything that has ingredients I can’t pronounce. If you are tired of the grocery store slab cakes, you will want one of Arlene’s cakes. I will be ordering again. You can give her a call at 535-3098.

Tulips can bloom for weeks in cool weather
 • Garden Tip: When purchasing seeds, bulbs or container grown plants, do not expect them to turn out the same every year. There are more variables than you can shake your head at but the big ones are the temperature, rainfall, sunshine levels and insects. In a really hot spring, I have seen tulips open in the morning and finish in the evening. In a long, cool spring, I have seen those same tulips last four weeks. In a long, hot summer, under irrigation, you will get a good crop of corn, but not if the heat is absent. Good gardeners learn to live with their seasonable variables and accept each season is different.

• Poinsettia dilemma: I have a confession to make. I look after my poinsettias too well. I do not kill them easily. So here we are, February 3rd, and my poinsettias are looking just fine. No sense of a sudden passing. It is now that I must practice a form of mercy killing that warrants several years in plant prison. I can never bear to simply toss them in the garbage. That is not my style. Instead, I place them on the back steps when it is thirty below, admiring how their colour holds up in a frozen state. They remain there for a few days. Then I throw them into the garbage. If you need permission to toss yours out, it is granted. May God forgive us all.

• It takes all types: One year on April 1st, my secretary, Gloria Wahl, walks into my office. She says “there is a lady on Line One, complaining about her poinsettia.” I asked Gloria if the lady was pulling an April Fool’s prank on us. Gloria responded “I thought so too, but when I asked her if it was a prank, she got quite upset.” I took the call. Not a prank. She had bought a poinsettia from me and it “only lasted till now.” Obviously, I had sold her a bad plant. I told her “do you know that most people, in fact all people, are delighted if their poinsettias last until the first of January?” She wasn’t’ buying that line of Irish malarkey. “What are you going to do about it?” she demanded. “Are you sure this isn’t a prank?” I asked. I know my answer doesn’t rank in anyone’s Top Ten for wit or customer service, but in fairness, she had me on the ropes.

• Writer’s tip: This has been delivered in many differing formats. Never use a five dollar word when a ten cent one works just fine. Conrad Black uses fancy words in his writing. You need a dictionary to finish the read. That’s okay. He’s Conrad Black, unjustly convicted felon. Prosecuted by nincompoops and vendetta seekers. You and I are not Conrad Black nor do we receive the opportunity to be cast alongside his shadow. My suggestion is: If you have something simple to say, write it simply.

• Speaking tip: I know a fellow who when he speaks, uses words in the most inappropriate of ways. He hears new words, fancy words and he adopts them into his speech pattern. One problem. He never looks up the definition of the new words and assumes their meaning. We all know what happens with assumptions. His adjectives are usually out of context and the listener is often left confused. Best to look up a word  before using it.

• Downton Abbey: Rest assured, my prediction is that in tonight’s episode, there will be a major struggle over the raising of Sybil’s baby. Will the child be raised Irish working class, a Catholic, or will she follow in her mother’s footsteps as English upper-class and Anglican? Okay, okay. So I watch the show but I can quit anytime I want. I am not addicted, honestly. Don’t call between eight and nine p.m.

Morden 'Sunrise' Rose has done well in my garden
• The Artful Dodger: Finally made it with Kirk Bellamy for lunch. Maureen has been there twice. She loved the sandwich but disliked the crepe. Kirk and I did a chick thing. We each ordered a different sandwich and then traded halves. There was a beef and cheddar half and then there was the prosciutto sandwich. Both were very tasty and served warm. The prosciutto is quite salty, which is to be expected, but still a reminder for those paying attention to their sodium levels. Kirk had a cup of mushroom soup which he said was good and I had an ancient grain salad prepped in a Greek style. It was excellent. Our coffees were good, a full strength Americano and that’s all she wrote. Tip and tax included, it was thirty-five bucks for the two of us. No dessert. Lots of readers were there hanging out. Almost a 1950’s beatnik vibe. Cool, man, cool.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in yep, there is more snow, Regina.