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.

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