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.

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