Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Garden Report #30

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

This photo is a wonderful screen saver-Tulips in my back garden

• Writer’s write: It is Sunday afternoon, Boxing Day. The two extended family suppers are finished. I am well fed. All three of the boys are home, except now they are men. Two are taller than me. All three say they are smarter. I don’t argue. Christmas is one of those holidays that I pick and choose what is important to me. The tree, the poinsettias, the fruit cake, the cabbage rolls are all traditions that I keep because I value them. I got to sit with my mother for a Christmas meal, realizing that very few of my friends still have their mothers with us. The family and the friends gathering around the hot apple cider are the essence of the season, almost a Norman Rockwell picture. These are the scenes that I choose to paint in my memory. Change gears: One thing that has always bothered me is the feeding frenzy of gift opening. I have never grasped the concept. I can only wear one shirt at a time and I am left wondering, how much ‘stuff’ do I need? George Carlin did a poignant bit about ‘stuff’ and how we accumulate so much ‘stuff’ that we need houses to store our ‘stuff’ and then locks on the doors to ensure no one steals our ‘stuff’. I have never understood why someone would line up at four a.m. on Boxing Day, so they can get the best price on some more ‘stuff’. I have never gone to a Boxing Day sale, and my plan is to never go. I don’t understand the concept of pushing and shoving and arguing with store staff and other customers over who saw something first. As I watch those scenes repeated every year on the television news, I have a sense of revulsion. These scenes are the worst of our culture, not our finest moments. Where is the kindness and the spirit of compassion in a consumer riot. Has materialism truly become our new religion?

A vase filled with spring tulips
• Readers Write: Georgia Hearn wrote “Once again, I got great pleasure from The Garden Report.” Chris Pasterfield, feeling a little on the petulant side wrote “Pulitzer…pure Pulitzer.” Shelley Kelln totally supports giving a donation at Christmas to The Humane Society as mentioned in #29. Ann Anderson declared “You really are a treasure…” and she didn’t want to borrow money from me either. Denise Mirva wrote “a treasure trove of marvelous memories.” John Ciotucha loved the Christmas photo of Murphy, as did Lynn Goldman, Marg Hryniuk, and Sherri Tutt. Murphy gets more fan mail than I do. Joan Kortje writes “thank you for keeping me entertained every Monday morning.” Roberta Nichol wonders why they are called ‘Chinese Chews’ when they have absolutely nothing to do with China. Maybe she should contact The Department of Cookie Names. Paula Grolle suggested “you should really write a book about growing up in the fifties, sixties and seventies.” That sentence assumed that I ‘grew up’. John Huston writes that December 19th, 1843 was the publication and release date of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ John has been touring that show for seventeen years now. Peggy St. Goddard writes in that the poinsettia care tips in #26 saved one of their plants at Government House. Some of you actually listen to my advice?

• This message arrived from a reader. I pasted it, intact: Merry Christmas Rod. I look forward to another year of wonderful Garden Reports. Thank you for bringing so much to our community and sharing stories that bring a smile to our Sundays. The Garden Report is like a window into the parts of our lives that we sometimes don’t consciously value enough and your stories remind us of how wonderful life can be if we let it. Humor is your philosopher's stone.
All the best in the New Year from Bagel my dog, Emma my cat, Po and Yoco my rescued crows, my various tropical fish......and me, Marsha Kennedy

• Winter Soup: When there is snow on the ground and the wind is howling, nothing tastes better than a bowl of homemade soup. And nothing is easier to make. Really. I was inspired by Triple D to make this one on Wednesday, and it was delicious. It’s called ‘Cheeseburger Soup’. I browned a pound of ground beef along with a medium sized, chopped onion and two good sized carrots, cut into coins. When this was cooked, I added in two cups of tomato juice, four cups of water, a dash of hot sauce, some Worcestershire Sauce, some garlic, some cracked black pepper and I simmered this for an hour. To finish it off, I added in some hot, pickled peppers, some diced up sweet pickles, a squirt of yellow mustard and about four ounces of shredded cheese. After giving this another fifteen minutes to simmer, I chopped up some lettuce and tomatoes and placed them uncooked, into the bottom of a large soup bowl. I then ladled the soup over the two veggies. Served it up with some hummus and pita and it was delicious.

• One upmanship: Every group or subculture has their collection of ‘holier than thou’ members. You can walk into any gardening club, and someone will be holding court, on how they grew something two zones beyond hardiness, seven years ago. As if this proves they are the prima donna gardener. It happens almost everywhere the human species assembles. Nothing is funnier to watch than two health food aficionados engaged in a game of brinkmanship, as to who is more knowledgeable or more ‘pure’. One will start in on the merits of niacin and the second will point out that it is only absorbed by the body if taken in conjunction with Vitamin E, to which the first will counter that the E must be ingested two hours prior in order to ‘metabolize’ the inert compounds, to which the second will return volley with an assertion related to the phases of the moon. Gobbly gook, gobbly gook! A bunch of mumbo jumbo put out by people who have no training in dietary sciences, health sciences or basic chemistry. A bit of jargon picked up from magazines does not make one an expert. But of course, these high priests of health will explain my negative attitude as a lack of wheat grass combined with chemical exposure from eating Campbell’s soup. I don’t eat Campbell’s soup. Too much salt. I didn’t take a course. I read the label.

• Ho, ho, ho!: Around 1982, I was Santa for The Big Brothers’ Party. Returning home, still dressed in costume, I decided to pay a surprise visit to the two children who lived next door. The eight year old girl wasn’t buying it. Nope. She knew who Santa was. But her five year old brother was a true believer. You could see it in his eyes. I asked him to sit on my lap. His name was Liam. He looked at me with all the sincerity he could muster and whispered “Santa…I’ve been good. Very, very good. Don’t listen to my sister. She lies.”

• True Confession: There are several readers of The Garden Report who are members of the clergy. In case they do not realize this, as a small child, I prayed to Santa, God and Jesus, at the same time. I somehow thought that they might be one and the same or at least knew each other. It feels good to get that off my chest.

Tulip Time: I rarely talk in my sleep but…according to my Mrs., when I do, I am usually in the greenhouse. This past week, according to her, I was at it again. Apparently, I was ordering tulips. I was issuing instructions that I wanted doubles, not singles. That makes sense to me.

• Nice people: Drew Millard was over for a Christmas visit. Drew owns a small, landscape maintenance company. He has about thirty clients. That’s all he wants. I have never met anyone who goes out of his way as Drew does, to look after his customers. The man writes the book on customer service and decency. Most of his customers have been with him for years. But every now and again, there is someone who pushes Drew to his limit, not appreciating all that he does. I admire Drew because he simply ‘fires’ them. Sounds odd but he actually ‘lets them go.’

• Stress Reduction: I am not certain if this is a function of age or of a personality shift on my part. There was a time in my life when I would meet conflict head on. If someone was rude to me, I would not only confront them, I would view it almost as an obligation “to straighten them out”. Not anymore. A clerk at a local store was rude to me recently. At one time, I would have argued, reported her to the manager, got on my high horse and let the heavens know of my indignation. It’s just not worth it to me. I have options. I went to another store, where they weren’t rude to me. Problem solved. More often, I am walking away from ignorant people and potentially explosive situations. I give them their ground, their space. People who wish to have conflict with me are no longer welcome in my life. I don’t need the stress. Want to fight about it?

Sharon Wallace's back garden

Motto to Live By: In my twenties, my motto was ‘better to burn out than to rust out.’ Now that I am punching sixty, my motto is ‘never pass up the opportunity to go pee.’ Sigh.

• The Marian Center: I dropped by the soup kitchen/prayer house on Halifax Street, The Marian Center, on the 24th. They are such lovely people there. They have been a part of my life since 1971. We were laughing at when they arrived in 1966 with a mission to feed the poor, they were regarded as ‘radicals, far leftists and on the fringe of lunacy.’ Imagine that! Feeding the poor as a revolutionary act! Now forty-four years later, they are regarded as the ‘right wing’ of the church. They are the same people, doing the same thing, carrying out their mission to feed the hungry and minister to those who require food for the soul.

• Breaking News: Reader Jan Dockham was the first, female editor of The Leader Post in that paper’s 125 year history. Until Jan took over, the job had belonged to ‘the old boy’s club’. Jan has now opted to step down so she can spend more time with her five grandchildren. Maybe she can come to work for The Garden Report? The pay is nonexistent but the letters to the editor are much nicer than at The L-P.

Knox Met: We made it out to The Candlelight Service at Knox Met on Christmas Eve. Wonderful opportunity to share an hour and a half with many of you from the community. The soprano soloist was incredible. The night had a magic to it.

• New Year’s Dance: It has become increasingly difficult to find a place to go dancing on New Year’s Eve. The Dewdney Avenue bar and club scene is hardly our thing, so what to do? The Italian Club is hosting a supper and a dance this Friday. The band is Cornerstone and they are a great dance band. I went out on a limb and thought (hoped) that some of you would like to join us. I bought eight tickets for the night. Tickets are $35 each. If any of our reader friends would like to purchase tickets and join us at our table, send me an email. It should be a good time.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in sunny Regina

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Garden Report #29

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

• Sleigh bells ring, are you listening: December 19th is not too early to be singing Christmas carols, even by Scrooge’s standards…bah, humbug and all that. It is early Sunday morning. Three a.m. early. Our company from last night’s block party have departed, hours ago, wishing us well. Murphy has had his customary cuddle before settling into his next episode of rest. As a senior cat, he insists on protracted bouts of beauty sleep. Maureen has drifted off to dream of dancing with The National Ballet or is it The Royal Winnipeg tonight? Perhaps she has the prima donna role in The Nutcracker, seeing as it is Christmas. And me? I sit here on the edge of the bed with my laptop balanced precariously, as the dialysis machine whirrs and gurgles and carries out its mission. Except for the hum of this artificial kidney, the house is quiet. There is no noise drifting in from the street. No one is shouting or yelling as happens in the summer time. My ‘Inbox’ lights up. It is Jodi Sadowsky from The Fringe. She often works late into the night when sleep does not come easily. The boiler that keeps our house ever so warm is fairly quiet tonight, with the hot water passing through the pipes in its endless cycle. Is there a Buddhist metaphor within the boiler system as the water moves up and down, back and forth? Do you see what happens when you leave me alone with my thoughts for too long? Now is the time to say goodnight from a writer’s point of view, but as a reader, you may perceive a ‘good day’ instead. After all, you are now up and about…just like the water flowing through the pipes. I knew there had to be a way to tie that one together. Merry Christmas.
Murphy at Christmas (he hates books!)

• Readers Write: Denise Cook writes “…love reading your entertaining stories…always, always get a laugh.” Daniel Redenbach who is a local, young film director and reader of The Garden Report wrote “I am loving The Garden Report and always forward it to my mother.” Kate Berringer reports that she is forwarding this blog to her parents who live in Medicine Hat. Chris Pasterfield writes “Couldn’t agree more with the slovenly dressed folks who fly-absolutely no pride.” Marg Hryniuk wrote “You are like a dog with a bone, but then so am I.” Rex Deverell, who always has a sly wit to his writing, wrote in regarding the inappropriately dressed young woman at the wedding. Rex suggested “Obviously, the grooms ex girlfriend.” Reader Phyllis Ng baked me a cookie tin filled with ‘poppycock’. For the uninitiated, it is popcorn, nuts, corn syrup and other stuff that I am certain is very, very good for you. Almost a health food. If the dietician from the dialysis clinic is reading this, I did not eat any. I gave it all away. If the dietician is not reading this, don’t any of you bother to ask if I will share with you. The answer is ‘NO!’ Cheryl Hutton out of Calgary writes that her Noble Fir Christmas Tree is very fragrant. Susan Rollins reports that in their home, they set up the tree on the 24th of December and remove it on the 6th of January. Susan also comments that having spent many years working in Africa and The Middle East, they value a traditional Christmas more than ever. Donna Banks from Saskatoon, wrote that she enjoyed the CBC story regarding our fireplace on television. Ann Marie Woods of Access Television advises that the our fireplace tape has become so popular, that during the holiday season, they will be running it around the clock on Digital Channel One. Hey, I didn’t even know there was a Channel One. Roberta Nichol’s amaryllis is in bloom and she loves it. She has an ‘Orange Sovereign’.

• Nicky’s Cafe: Hanging out with Nicky and Perry on Monday night. I asked Perry what was the strangest customer experience he has had. He said the one that sticks out was the woman who came up to him at the cash register and refused to pay for her coffee. Why? Because the waitress had refilled her cup and destroyed the perfect balance of cream and sugar she had been enjoying. He told her no problem, there would be no charge.

• Community: If you don’t understand the importance of community service, then you will never understand the nature of community.

• Just a thought: For the last few years, I have been taking money that I would have spent on Christmas gifts and donated it to The Humane Society. Gail over at The Humane Society sends out thank you cards and tax receipts to those I have designated. It’s easy to do. I don’t know if the recipients enjoy the ‘gift’, but I am so tired of materialism. If you participate, your gift will help out a few of our four legged friends this winter. Murphy suggests that you send the money directly to him to support his ‘tuna’ habit.

• Sadly: Doug Killoh passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease this past week. Dough coached many of us on The Rams as well as playing hockey for The Pats and football for The Riders. As the Alzheimer’s Disease took over his body and mind, I felt it was best for Doug if I introduced myself each time we met. That seemed to trigger his memory and then we would talk. The fifth time I introduced myself, Doug stopped me, complaining “I know who you are and why do you keep introducing yourself to me ?” Doug will be missed.

• Garden Tip: Even the pros make mistakes. I got up Monday morning and the poinsettia in our dining room had collapsed (severely drooped). The problem was, we had placed it in a window box directly over a hot water heating tube, which dried it out quite quickly. I didn’t panic. I took the plant to the sink and filled the sink with two inches of water. I let the plant sit in the water for twenty minutes and then I removed it. About four hours later, it was half recovered. The next morning, you could not tell the stress it had undergone. It was just fine.

• Heaven on Earth: Each of us has our own definition of pure bliss. On Wednesday, my good woman baked up some ‘Chinese Chews’. You rarely see those treats anymore though they were popular as far back as The Great Depression. A few ‘fresh from the oven’ samples along with a full bodied coffee and I could not imagine life any finer than this experience.

• Writer’s Block: Sometimes, it is best for us to develop some form of a writer’s block rather than commit our angriest thoughts to paper, and then sign that letter. Several years back, a local school teacher was selling a line of energy efficient light bulbs. He left me his literature and I had my electrician check into the product. The electrician said that due to the special wiring required, I would never recover my initial outlay with the electrical savings. So, I said to the salesman, “no thanks”. He had somehow got it into his head that I should be purchasing his product and he was upset with me. Very upset. He wrote a poison pen letter, attacking me and calling me a number of unkind names. Then he signed it. Big mistake. I was a little miffed, especially with the name calling. I made two hundred copies of his letter and I included it in all of my outgoing mail. I didn’t defend myself or pass comment on his letter. I didn’t feel I needed to as his letter was more a reflection of his character than it was of mine. The responses were hilarious. ‘Act in haste, repent at leisure.’

• History Buffs: Since I was a small child, I have been a history buff. Don’t know why. Just me. While in both elementary and high school, I heard from other students that history is nothing more than a bunch of dates. Let me set the record straight in 2010, for those of you keeping track, dates are only important to us history buffs to keep the narrative straight. Dates are the ‘book marks’ of history. You can’t have Napoleon trying to sell a condo to Oliver Cromwell. The math ‘just don’t work’.

• Living History: There is so much living history around us. Our neighbor until he died, J. Lorne MacDougall, was a lawyer. J. Lorne told me that as a young, articling student, his mentor had been part of Louis Riel’s defense team at the 1885 trial. My favorite university professor, Anatol Murad, told me that as a young boy at the turn of the 1900’s, he remembered being bounced on his great uncle’s knee. His uncle had served in the cavalry during The Crimean War of 1856. Around 1912, The Grand Trunk Railway decided to build a grand hotel where The Royal Saskatchewan Museum now stands. The piles were drilled and the structural iron was installed. Then World War One started and construction ground to a halt, never to resume. The structural iron stayed that way until it was dismantled around 1927 and used in the construction of the brand new Hotel Saskatchewan. Not all of the iron beams made it over to the hotel. Two were spirited away and installed in the building of a new home at 2635 Regina Avenue. The new home belonged to the provincial architect at the time. That home is now our home and the beams are still here. Links to history.

• Two sides: There are two sides to every conversation. What is spoken and what is heard. When organic products were in their infancy, I wanted to be on the leading edge. So I was selling all sorts of stuff that had a ‘green’ lineage. One of those items was fish fertilizer. One day I received a telephone call from some activist wanting to ensure I was being socially responsible. They do that sort of thing. He asked me if my fish fertilizer was “from whales”. Being a history and geography nut, I heard the question as being is your fish fertilizer “from Wales” to which I responded “no, it is from Alaska.” He was quite irritated with my response, but eventually we got it sorted out. It wasn’t from whales or Wales.

• What I heard: Along the same lines of similar sounds, my friend booked a package trip to Hawaii in the 1970’s. She was telling me the little things that were included, including a free ‘lei’ upon arrival. At the time, I had no idea that a lei was a flower garland. Needless to write but I will anyways, I heard another interpretation of the word ‘lei’. So I cracked wise. “Do the men get one or just the women?” She assured me that everyone got a ‘free lei’. I carried on. “So, do they give it to you on the tarmac or do they at least wait until you arrive at your hotel ?” “The moment you step off the plane, you get it. They line you up on the tarmac for the ceremony.” I thought, Hawaii must be the friendliest place on earth.

• Still with the crossed signals: My school mate Debbie Cameron (nee Kerwin) was driving to the garden center with her girlfriend. Debbie loved Lakeview Gardens and told her girlfriend who had never been, that everyone at Lakeview was very friendly. Debbie and her friend arrived and I greeted them at the front gate. As Debbie and I have been friends since we were fifteen, I gave her a hug. After hugging Debbie, I turned to her girlfriend and jokingly said “Your turn”. Her girlfriend embraced me, but in quite a wooden fashion. As the two of them walked down the path towards the greenhouse, the girlfriend turned to Debbie and said “Boy, you weren’t kidding when you said they were friendly here.” Debbie had neglected to inform her friend of our long standing friendship and the girlfriend assumed that someone stood at the front gate, giving customers a hug, all day long. Much more intimate than the Wal-Mart greeter, don’t you think?

• Statistics don’t lie: One Sunday morning around 6:30 a.m. in July, I was unloading a truck that was in transit to Winnipeg. The driver just couldn’t wait until we opened to get our delivery off. Out for an early morning walk was everyone’s friend, Nicky Makris. Nicky is chatting away to me as the sweat rolled off of my brow. He told me that if I lost some weight, my sex life would improve by thirty per cent! So I asked our Greek friend, “by thirty per cent, are you referring to quantity or to quality?” Nicky appeared confused by my question. So I carried on. “And if I were the lose even more weight, do you think my sex life would improve by forty per cent or does the law of diminishing returns kick in?” Nicky was now perplexed. So I asked “And if I only lost a little bit of weight, such as five pounds, would my sex life improve to the point where my wife would notice or would the improvement be something that only I would appreciate?” Pondering these three questions, Nicky left the scene, muttering away to himself. I continued to unload the truck, having met my quota for irritating others. I just knew it was going to be a very, good day.

• A decent man: Reader Marg Hryniuk wrote in to say that she enjoys reading stories about good people. And my response was that I enjoy writing them. Many years ago, I had a visit from the sales manager of Redi Mix. He knew that I purchased my bricks and concrete from Jerry Tell over at Cindercrete. He said “my price is as good as Jerry’s, my service matches his and my quality is equal, so why do you never order from me?” A good question deserved a good explanation. In 1977, when I was a young man starting out in the trade, I stopped at Cindercrete, to check out their products. The first thing that Jerry did was to shake my hand. Then he got me a cup of coffee. Then he pulled out a credit application and told me that he would approve me for a thousand dollars to start. He did not know who I was, at the time. He treated me as an important person when I was new and not all that important, and that is why I remained a loyal customer for thirty years. Jerry treated everyone as if they were important. People wanted to do business with him. Nice guys do finish first.

• Regina Avenue rocks: Every year, the last Saturday before Christmas, there is a block party for the Regina Avenue neighbors. This year, it was our turn to host. It was a pot luck supper with ham and cabbage rolls. The dessert table was full enough to promote Hyperactive Attention Deficit Syndrome for another year. Great neighbors and great food. It doesn’t get much better. One of the many reasons we love living in this community. The neighbors, all readers of this blog, asked if they would be mentioned. I assured them “absolutely not.”

• Merry Christmas from Rod McDonald in Regina
The Garden Report #28

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

• Canadiana: We were on our way to Government House yesterday. The Dickens’ Singers were presenting their tenth annual Christmas concert which is always first rate. Following the concert, the women of Government House serve up a decent cup of brewed tea along with plates filled with home baked goodies. It is a wonderful part of Christmas for many of us. As we were driving there, we had to cross the four way stop at Regina Avenue and Pasqua Street. Another vehicle arrived at the same time as we did. Being a good Canadian, I waved the other driver through the intersection. After all, he might have been there slightly ahead of me. No. He would not drive through. He waved me through. I waved him though again and he repeated his motion, that I should be the first to cross. So I did, waving my appropriate thank you as I did so. We were laughing quite heartily over this classic Canadian interaction. Almost a one upmanship to determine who was more polite. In another culture, this would not have been the case. It was one of those innocuous events that allow me to enjoy being a Canadian, even if we laugh at ourselves in the process.

• Readers write: Chris Pasterfield denies that it was his bum that was on display in the photos of #26. Many of you wrote in sharing wonderful memories of The Rotary Carol Festival. Thank you. Sherrie Tutt writes “Love your blog. Always learn something.” But then goes on to deny that her book club is a front for an eating cult. Reader Rhonda Rein has signed her mother up for The Garden Report. Now that is an inexpensive Christmas gift. Leanne Mann wrote: “I’m thoroughly enjoying your Garden Report. Very entertaining!” Reader Kim Lytle out of Saskatoon asked for a recommendation as to good poinsettias in her city. I have found good plants at Cory Park on the south side of the city. Reader and actor Marcus Fernando has a Christmas gig in an ‘Aladdin’ show in London, England. Always pleased to know the actor/readers are eating. Sharon Nowlan who is also an actor/reader, residing in Toronto, writes that she will have a new show out this summer with a run in New York, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Sharon also writes that she enjoys The Garden Report as it keeps her up to date with things ‘back home’. June Blau wrote “Thanks for writing.” Heather Lowe from Zehner weighed in with “Another good read.” Reader Cheryl Ann Smith is heading up a prayer house in England these days. Some readers will remember when Cheryl Ann was the major domo of The Marian Center in Regina. Cheryl Ann writes that England has been shut down with the snow. They just don’t have the equipment to handle it. Reader and Fine Arts classmate from ’69, Wendy Richardson (nee Campbell) wrote “You really are funny…” and I trust she is not referring to my photograph. Producer and director Ian Ferguson was in town just for one night this week and stayed with us. Ian suggested that as many Fringe performers have stayed in the guest room over the years, that they should start signing the wall. That is the exact behavior that got our kids grounded when they were six Ian, writing on the walls. Ian’s wife, Karen Van Ritzen, a very funny comic, is performing in Victoria this month. Karen wrote “Enjoying your Garden Report as always.” Jodi Sadowsky was over for a visit. Jodi tells me that The Regina Fringe Festival lineup is close to being filled for the July 6th to 10th time slot. There are some big names from the tour coming to Regina this year, which is a good thing.

Rod and his geraniums

• Garden Tip: Les Vanderveen, who has grown millions of poinsettias in his greenhouse, called to disagree with keeping poinsettias dry. Les reports that people who run their points too dry, usually lose many leaves on the plant. He suggests that you keep your plant neither over nor under watered. You should be like Goldilocks and water it “just right.”

• Trivial Pursuit: Those of you who have Access as your cable provider can watch a fireplace, complete with birch logs burning, every night. The fireplace is on Channel Seven. If it should ever come up in a trivia contest, the fireplace is located at our house. Five years ago, Kevin Foote from Access arrived with camera in hand and started filming as I lit the fire. Periodically, you will notice a hand tossing another log onto the fire. That is my hand! And to think some of you said those acting classes would never pay off.

• Winter soup: There is absolutely nothing that tastes better than a steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day. One problem: Most canned soups and mixes contain enough salt to either sink or to float a battleship, depending on which way you want this metaphor to go. Problem solved: Make your own soup with little or no salt. On Tuesday, I whipped up a quick batch of tomato soup that was tastier than Campbell’s and better for you. I took one can of unsalted plum tomatoes, added in an equal amount of low fat milk, a pinch of garlic powder, some cracked black pepper, a pinch of cloves, and some fresh ground coriander seed. I blended everything in the blender and then I poured it into a soup pan. I cooked it on a very low heat for a couple of hours, never allowing it to boil. It was delicious. If it gets too thick as it reduces down, either add in some more milk or water and continue to cook. For a different taste, you can add in the juice from a fresh squeezed orange. That is something I learned from Mieka Weins many years ago.

• Garden Tip: If you have not already done so, take some of that snow in your yard and pile it around your more tender perennials and roses. Nothing insulates better than a pile of snow.

• Garden Tip: If you use a deicer around your garden, best to use one that is not high in salts of any kind. Salt is very toxic to plants as it raises the ph level of the soil.

• Garden Tip: Basic ph lesson. Seven is neutral. Above seven is considered salty soil or alkaline. Below seven is considered sweet soil. Regina has slightly alkaline soil measuring around 7.3. Many plants prefer a slightly acidic soil of 6.5. This is one of the reasons good gardeners use lots and lots of peat moss. Peat moss is usually under six on the scale, so it helps to lower soil salinity. Is there a test at the end?

• Conversion Experience: In 1982, I attended Olds College in Alberta for a week, to obtain my applicators license in order to work with chemicals. The class had two horticultural students and sixty farmers in it. The class was taught in metric, which was pretty new at the time. The other ‘hort’ boy and I had converted and we had no problem but the farm boys struggled the entire week. They wanted to know “how much chemical do I pour into my tank and mix with water.” They did not want the 10ml. of chemical to each liter of water, applied at a rate of 6.5 liters per hectare. Nope. That was not what they wanted to hear. It was a real struggle. I suspect, that was the origin of the organic farming movement, right there.

• Garden Tip: Several readers have written in to share with me how they have destroyed their poinsettias in record time, this season. My newest and best advice for each and every one of you has now been changed to: Enjoy your plant until you kill it.

Maureen and Miss Poofy Duvet (Courtney Cunningham)
• It’s Canada: A few years back, we were in Vancouver for St. Patrick’s Day. They had a big parade downtown. Marching in the parade was a Pipe Band. My people! The Scots just love a parade and I am certain the band would show up for an Indian Pow Wow or a Swedish wedding if asked, especially if free beer was involved. As the pipers passed by in their full kit of tartan, sporran and kilt, we could not help but to notice that seven of the pipers were Sikhs with turbans and five were of Chinese descent. What can I say? Everyone wants to be a Scot, even on St. Patrick’s Day.

• Marian Center: My friends from The Madonna Apostolate have run a soup kitchen in downtown Regina since 1966. They serve the poor. I have been connected with them since I was a student in 1971. Daniel, one of the men who used to serve there said it best: “Our true mandate is to love those who cannot love themselves. We only use food as the lure, so we can carry out our mandate.” It took me many years to arrive at the point where I fully understood the wisdom of what he said.

• Old School: Frank Mario emigrated from Italy many years ago and resided in our neighborhood. He was a wonderful man and a true character, which most Italians seem to be. Frank phoned me up one day and made an ‘appointment’ to visit at two o’clock the next afternoon. He arrived for his appointment wearing a suit, tie and shined shoes. He wanted to buy a plum tree from me. That was it. He got dressed up just for that.

• Still Old School: Watching an old episode of Law and Order when ‘Lenny’ was the lead detective. Lenny comments on how slovenly and casual we dress today by referencing “I can remember when we used to get dressed up just to phone long distance to my uncle in Albany.” Too funny. I can remember how we would phone my grandfather in Nova Scotia every New Year’s Day as a little boy. We were required to put on our Sunday best for the phone call. My mother would say “now go comb your hair and straighten your tie. You want to look your finest for your grandfather.”

• Old School Training Needed: My sister Bonnie and I were at a cousin’s wedding a few years back. We both got dressed up for the ceremony because that is what you do, right? In walks this twenty something. She has on a pair of tight blue jeans, a t shirt that does not cover her ample tummy and her rather large bosom has overflowed the low cut top. To finish off the scenario, she was chewing gum in a rather bovine fashion. I turned to my sister and said “and to think I polished my shoes before I left the house.” Now, I am the first to admit that I will never be profiled in GQ Magazine for my sartorial splendor. But there is a major difference between proper attire and being a slob!

• I’m a dog with a bone: What is no more than sheer laziness and at times ignorance and disrespect is now passed off as being ‘casual and comfortable.’ I am at the airport. A sixteen year old arrives dressed in sweat pants and a baggy shirt. She looks rough, even for the gym. Her mother chastises her for her choice in clothing. The girl responds that she wants to be “comfortable for the plane ride.” For crying out loud. It’s a one hour flight to Calgary! She’s not spending a week in the cargo hold of a tramp steamer. Give me Frank Mario’s courteous approach to the world any day. The universe does not decide who is a slob…you have to go out of your way to demonstrate that you are one. To get in my final licks, men with tummies who wear sweat pants with fanny packs hanging to the front, filled with their change and cigarettes, should be confined to Tim Horton’s. They should not be allowed in grocery stores or in other public areas where small children and seeing eye dogs can be easily frightened.

• Perfect Neurosis: Once you realize that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect Christmas’, then you can relax and enjoy the season. Who decided that we had to have the perfect tree with the perfect decorations and the perfect food served while wearing the perfect outfit with the perfect smile. Who decided that we had to wage war at the mall to find the perfect gift? Was it Chatelaine? Martha Stewart? Better Housekeeping? I want names! Better yet, being a real Canadian, as opposed to those fake ones out there, we should have a Royal Commission. One hundred and forty eight lawyers working on the investigation for three years, compiling a report of at least twelve hundred and forty three pages that no one will ever, ever read, at a cost of thirty-seven million dollars. Now that would be perfect. Well, at least it would be Canadian.

• Close: My friend Giselle was German and she struggled with English idioms and expressions. One day she told me to meet her and another fellow at three o’clock because “I want to kill one fly with two bricks.” Somehow, I knew what she meant….but I still reached out to assist. “That’s two birds with one stone, Giselle,” I said. Exasperated by the nuance, she exclaimed in frustration “English!”

• Mentors: My beloved mentor Dieter Martin, was recognized by the nursery trade as being one of the best in the business…but he rarely let ‘outsiders’ see just how smart he was. One day in 1995, Dieter and I were out for a walk in Victoria, B.C. We strolled passed The Lieutenant Governor’s Residence where an elderly volunteer was tending to the garden. Dieter, ever the gregarious sort, asked the volunteer gardener what he was planting. The man stopped what he was doing and explained that he was planting sedum and then went on to explain to Dieter and I the importance of gardening and some of the ‘secrets’. Of course, the fellow had no idea that he had just presented a ten minute seminar to one of the top horticulturalists in Canada. Dieter nodded appropriately, never interjecting into the conversation. We continued on our walk. Bursting with curiosity, I blurted out “What the hell was that all about?” Dieter’s response was simple: “The man had a story to tell and I let him tell it.”

• Christmas Theater: The Globe has an absolutely stunning production of ‘Honk’ on right now. Is it a great show for kids and adults. When you go, make sure you cheer for the cat. Nothing makes for a better show than a dastardly villain and this one tap dances, too!

• Garden Tip: Poinsettias looked their finest when displayed on a lower table or even the floor. Poinsettias set on a regular table rarely look as good as those set down lower. Never display your poinsettia close to a heating vent or a drafty window or door.

• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in Regina

The Garden Report #27

The Garden Report #27

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

• This moment in time: It is another Sunday afternoon. The house is quiet. Maureen is off at her book club lunch. They consist of a group of women from the neighborhood, who offer up the rationalization that they meet because they read. In reality, they gather because they eat. I am not certain any books ever get discussed, but recipes are exchanged and food is consumed. I tell them they should be honest and call themselves ‘The Good Eaters Club.’ They don’t think I am very funny. Murphy is also quiet. He is sitting on the arm of the big chair that I am composing from. He wants to walk across the keyboard, but that is not allowed, so he sits and meditates. There is an abundance of white snow on the garden and in the trees. All of my perennials are hidden from view, my tulips are indeed ‘sleeping beauties’ and the squirrels are absent from their play. The only sound that enters is that of the furnace and occasionally, a jet as it leaves the airport. The winter sun is low in the southern sky. It shines through. It does its job. There are many things for me to do but for the next few minutes, I will enjoy the sound of nothing. The rest can wait.

• Readers Write: Roberta Nichol is grateful for the neighbor who blows out her garage entry each time it snows. That is one of the benefits of living in Lakeview, wonderful neighbors. Niece Joana Cook (Ian and Denise’s daughter) is having the time of her life studying at King’s College in London, England. She has been meeting some fascinating people from the world of politics while in London. Georgia Hearn wrote: “Loved this week’s report (#26)…everyone waits for it.” Readers Jeanie Freeman and John Huston both weighed in on my criticism of people and stores who abbreviate Christmas to X-Mas. They pointed out that ‘X’ was used by the Christians of the 1500’s as a mark of reference for Christ. Well, now that I have been corrected, let me say that if I ever open up a Christmas store in 1518 or any time around that mark, I will definitely acknowledge political correctness and call it Rod’s X-Mas Store. In #26, I included a photo of a naked man scuba diving in the snow. Reader Lyn Goldman asks “Is that you in the scuba gear?” Well, don’t tell anyone Lyn, but it is actually reader Chris Pasterfield. My buns are much firmer than the ones in the photo. Reader Gayle White from Winnipeg has sent along the photo of the kitty in the attachment. Reader Bonnie Jackson (she used to be Bonnie McDonald in the good old days) wrote “One of my absolute favorite stories (Mom and The Riders)”. Marg Hryniuk wrote that she likes to read positive stories about young people. Well, I like to write them. Gail and Ted Bowen are home this week after their gig in Calgary. Gail writes that they loved Calgary but it is also great to be back in Regina and Lakeview.
Annoyed RoughRider Fan

• Garden Tip: When your amaryllis takes off, there is always a danger that when it reaches a certain height, it will topple over. Rather than stake the stalk and the flower, I find it best to insert my growing pot into a taller, wicker basket. The wicker basket provides the support for the amaryllis to lean against and still allows the bloom to emerge above. Wicker baskets can be obtained at many stores. I often find something in the neighborhood at Gales on 13th.

• Garden Tip: Readers have verified my garden tip from last week. Overwatering a poinsettia creates the same symptoms as under watering. Best to water a poinsettia by placing it into the sink, minus the decorative cover. Fill the sink with two inches of water. Let the poinsettia wick up the needed water through the holes in the bottom of the pot for twenty minutes.

• Garden Tip: My Gardening for the Prairies just arrived. It is a wonderful magazine. A gift for yourself or for a gardening friend.

• Garden Tip: If you are going to have real greens inside of your home to decorate for Christmas, remember that they only remain fresh for three to seven days. White Pine greens last the longest but they have little fragrance. Cedar has a lovely smell as do Balsam and Fraser greens. Real wreaths are always enjoyable but if you bring them in doors, do so just the day before the party or when you wish to view them.

• Garden Tip: While decorating for Christmas, red stemmed dogwood branches are of great use. They provide a wonderful contrast with the cedar and pine greens. Red Dogwoods are everywhere in the city, so there is no need to buy them. Of course, always ask permission if they are not your dogwoods.

• Garden Tip: In my travels, I have inspected the poinsettias offered up for sale at the grocery stores and in the box stores. I cannot help myself. I have to look. Sadly, there are many, many poor quality plants in the market place. The race to the bottom of the price barrel has lowered the bar for a quality plant. Those places that are flogging $4.99 poinsettias, are selling plants that have been grown so close together to maximize space that they have little structural strength. If that is acceptable to you, there are many choices available.

• The start of Christmas: We all have our triggers that alert us to the beginning of Christmas. For some of us, it is a sound, a smell or something to eat. For me, Christmas begins with The Rotary Carol Festival that has been operating for seventy years at Knox Metropolitan Church, downtown. I was there in the first grade, with Miss Patterson’s class of 1957. My hair had enough Brylcream in it to lube a battleship and I was wearing a red sweater over a white shirt with a black bow tie. I was under clear instructions from my mother to do nothing that would bring shame onto the family. After all of these years, it is still the start of The Christmas season for me.

• An incredible choir: I listen to all of these wonderful choirs every year at Knox and I enjoy each and every one of them. Having written that, The Luther College High School Choir has stood out every year and this Festival was no different. Their choral singing is well rehearsed and they take on the challenge of complicated arrangements that most choirs could not handle. I don’t’ have any contact with the school so if some reader wishes to pass along my accolades, please feel free to do so.

• War Horses: There was a time when CKCK Radio and Television ruled the airwaves across this province. Two of the broadcasters from the glory days of CKCK are still on the air. Doug Alexander who started with CKCK Radio around 1957, as the ‘teen jock’, was on air for The Rotary Carol Festival, and his voice still commands your attention. Lorne Harrasen produced an incredible show for Access Seven on the hundred year anniversary of The Roughriders. It makes my heart glad to see those two, after fifty some years in the trade, still punching out the shows.

• Storytellers: Have you ever heard Morley Gusway tell a story? Morley can make an hour feel like twenty minutes and he will have you laughing one moment and crying the next. He is very gifted. Bob Hughes wrote that our own Bill Hicke was one of the finest storytellers God created. Bob wrote that he would get on the bus for a Pat’s game in Brandon. Billy owned The Pat’s at the time. Billy would start telling a story and hold everyone’s attention until it was time to get off the bus…and four hours had elapsed. He made road trips enjoyable.

• Happy Hanukah!: It’s time to wish our Jewish readers and friends well for their celebration.

• Old School Service: I was chatting earlier this week with Colin Perkowitsch from Colin O’Brian’s Men’s Wear on Hamilton Street. Colin is one of the newer converts to old school service. There is nothing that he would not do to make a customer happy. I asked where he had learned such a good habit and attitude. He told me that his father owned a grocery store in a small town. Colin’s first job was delivering groceries to the townspeople. He learned the value of service and he transferred that into his clothing business. Colin believes that old school service is starting to make a comeback, after many years of it being removed from the business equation.

• That was good!: Had a lemon tart from Koko La Patisserie on Broad on Wednesday evening. I even shared it with a certain someone, kind man that I am. The tart is filled with a sweet and sour taste and the intoxicating aroma of real lemons is all over this baby.

• American Opinion: So, according to the leaked papers that have been in the press this week, the American diplomats and bureaucrats do not think highly of Canadian courts, politicians and television. I just know the readers of this blog are going to lose a lot of sleep over their concerns, just as I have. Perhaps in an act of retribution, they will deport Celine Dion, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. That would show us.

• Health Care 101: Saskatchewan had a solid reputation with its transplant clinic in Saskatoon. They did some fine surgery and looked after the patients. It has been closed for a year and a half now, frustrating the staff and the patients. Why is it closed? Did they run out of patients? Did the surgeons forget how to do the job? The Provincial Government says that they are working to resolve the issue, but the clinic still remains closed. There are 115 of us in a holding pattern, waiting and wanting to get better. Getting the clinic open again would be a lovely Christmas present for many families, including mine.

• Thirty days has Movember: Well, the month of moustaches has come and gone but mine remains affixed. I had to shave it off five years ago to play the part of John Diefenbaker in a historical reenactment. How I suffered for my art, and a five hundred dollar gig. Never again, I say. If the role is reprised, Diefenbaker will have a moustache and he will be proud of it. Ahem… “My fellow Canadians…”

• Driving: I know that the readers of The Garden Report would never, ever drink and drive. And if you should see someone who is inclined to do so, tell them that you know this dude with a moustache who will bawl them out (and then call the police).

• Being Six: The Dad’s Cookie Factory used to be next door to our house on Dewdney Avenue in the 1950’s, before they moved out to White City. One very, hot summer day, the delivery truck left the back door of the factory, hit a bump in the alley, and a case of Goodie Rings fell off the vehicle. My two buddies and I saw this happen. We regarded it as a modern day miracle, believing that God does indeed answer prayers. We took the case of Goodie Rings, which contained twenty-four boxes of cookies, into our garage and we proceeded to each, eat one box. We finished the box and being six, we threw up, never eating another Goodie Ring for a very long time.

• Honeymoon Heaven: My nephew, Daniel Jackson was over for a grand visit on Saturday. Daniel and his new bride have just returned from their honeymoon across Europe. I asked him “what was the best part of the honeymoon?” He started to laugh, surprised that Uncle Rod had forgotten what it was like to be in his twenties. I quickly corrected myself by adding “I mean, geographically, what was the best part?” Daniel informs me and thus the readers, that Greece was the best country to visit. He said the climate, the scenery, the history, the food and most importantly, he said that the people everywhere in Greece were welcoming hosts and could not do enough to make their stay enjoyable. I asked what was the worst experience of their trip and he said “Hands down, Paris.” Daniel said it may be a cultural stereotype to refer to Parisians as being rude, but it is a well earned stereotype. He said that asking a waiter for a glass of water is greeted with irritation. And the rudeness exists across ‘The City of Light’. I have heard this before. I have also heard that in the French countryside, one is treated with more hospitality.

• Thanks for reading….Rod McDonald in sunny and snowy Regina!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Garden Report #26

The Garden Report #26

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Writer’s Thoughts: We have changed up our routine and instead of cornbread from the oven, I have whipped up a batch of banana waffles with my secret ingredient, nutmeg. Nutmeg? Yes, I know I am boring but boring is safer. As an appeasement towards my health conscious Mrs., I have made the waffles using whole wheat flour and organic eggs purchased from The Farmers’ Market yesterday morning. As we dig into our brunch, we listen to ‘The Vinyl Café’. Above all else, the show is a piece of Canadiana. And I do love my Canadiana. Did you know that ‘Spell Check’ does not recognize Canadiana as a word? Parliament should pass a law, making ‘Spell Check’ smarten up. Can you spell curmudgeon? With brunch out of the way, I have retreated to my office to finish this Report and send it out into the universe. My office has soft light from windows that face onto Angus Street and Regina Avenue. It is a quiet place. My writer friends envy my writing space. It should also be noted that I have left Maureen in the kitchen to clean up my waffle mess. I am a good cook. A very good cook. But I have never bragged that I am good at cleaning up. This qualifies me as a chauvinist or as I like to think of myself, as a traditional gender assigned participant in a life partner relationship. Parliament should pass a law and make me smarten up. Maureen says she loves me but if she had it to do all over again, she would choose someone else. Somehow, I understand.

My old place, Lakeview Gardens from a balloon-Jeff Jackson photo
• Readers Write: Much feedback from #25. Here goes. Marlo at The Mysteria Gallery wrote “Your words warm my heart.” Reader Jean McKay wants us to know that she is involved with a schoolchildren’s program that you can look up at www.breakfastforlearning.ca. Roberta Nichol is in her new house on Rae Street and she wrote “Thanks again for The Garden Report…love it.” Greg Morley ventured forth this: “The gardening tips and stories are great, but it is the personal anecdotes and the rants that I truly appreciate. Keep it up, you are a very fine writer.” June Blau wants readers to know about Magpies, a new eating establishment where Book and Briar once was. June also wrote “Keep writing and we’ll keep reading. Go Riders!” Marcus Fernando is directing a production of ‘Wind in the Willows’ in London, England. His rather new baby Pascal, who has been pictured here within The Garden Report, attempted to eat the script during one rehearsal. That is the problem with being a writer. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the quality of your work. Pascal says “a very tasty script indeed but nothing compared to a Dickens.” Sally Orr wrote in to tell us of having snow in Victoria and then followed that up with writing “You are an amazing man!” Now, I am not certain what I did to deserve that, but if she lets me know, I will probably do it again. Nothing succeeds like excess. Lyn Goldman wrote about how wonderful her amaryllis was last year and to advise me that she now reads The Garden Report to her two cats. Lyn wrote “Thanks for this. As usual, your comments are much appreciated.” Rachelle Elle out of Toronto wrote “makes me want to read more of your blog.” For readers who have not met Rachelle, she is an actor and a clown. Her show ‘Joe the Perfect Man’ was a big hit on The Fringe circuit. I have been asking her to perform it in Regina for four years now. Maybe this year will be the charm. Neighbor and reader Laura Ross wrote “Your tip about Christmas Trees was well timed. Thank you again for another heartwarming Garden Report. Look forward to the next one.” Carlos over at The Italian Star says that he enjoys reading about the community in The Garden Report. Running his own shop makes it difficult for him to get out and about but he wants to know what is happening across town.

• Readers continue to write: I told you, this week there were more responses in the inbox than ever before. Here are some more of them. Reader Rhonda Rein, who is a sister to dedicated reader Cheryl Hutton, wrote “Thanks very much for the tips on Christmas trees. It was as if you had read my mind. Love all your reports that you send out.” Jean Freeman wrote “I have spent a delightful few minutes browsing your Report, which just puts the cherry on top of the frosting.” Jean also wanted readers to know how much she enjoyed ‘Jacque Brel’ at The Artesian. Joan Kortje particularly enjoyed the thought for the day in #25. From reader Joanne Terry “Hey Rod, good to read your edition every week…keep up the good work.” Regular reader Cheryl Hutton, is returning for her fourth year to star in Theater Calgary’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Always a best seller. Cheryl writes that she loves the photos of Buchart Gardens in the last blog. It is wonderful to read that so many of our actor/readers have found work this Christmas. I have a selfish reason for celebrating actors finding work. If they are employed, they won’t be living in my basement. Reader Jimmy Gibbs from Winnipeg has retired from a long career with The Treasury Board. Jimmy is one of those volunteers that keep The Winnipeg Fringe up and running. Reader Chris Pasterfield forwarded the interesting photos. Reader John Wolkowski has been discharged from the hospital and he is resting comfortably at home. Reader Marg Hryniuk wrote that she likes to read positive things about young people as mentioned in #25.

• The origins of a story teller: My earliest memory of being a story teller goes back to when I was six. I came home from Sunday School at our local Baptist Church. My dad asked me what the story had been that morning. I told him it was the one of ‘Jonah and The Whale.’ My dad asked how that one went. I told him. But the version I had heard in Sunday School was a little too tame for me. So I jazzed it up or as I like to think, I improved upon it. I added some electric outlets into the whales stomach, along with a television, a couch and enough lumber to construct a small house. I remember my dad was laughing so hard at my story, that tears were rolling down his face. He said “Son, is that really how the story went?” And I said “Yep.” And I kept going.

We love our snowblowers in Saskatchewan
• The story teller continues: While my dad enjoyed my stories, my mother grew increasingly annoyed with them. Being raised a good Scot’s Presbyterian, she understood that stories were either true or not true, and she considered fiction to be glamorized lies My mother also believed that Rock Hudson was secretly in love with Doris Day. When I started to sell some of my stories as an adult, my mother would read them and if they were not absolutely true, she would be perturbed. She took great exception to me having published one story in particular. I defended myself, letting her know that I had been paid two hundred dollars for that story. She responded “So great. I have raised a professional liar.” So what was the story that upset her? It was seven hundred words about how The Riders hired her to beat the rookies with her broom, wooden spoon and fly swatter. If they survived mom’s beating, they could go on to rookie camp because they were tough enough to survive in the CFL. Pretty funny story…except of course it wasn’t true…the Riders never paid mom, she did it for free. This story did not go down well with the old girl.

• Garden Tip: Reader Joanne Terry asked a question regarding potting soil. The one I use for both indoor and outdoor planting is called ‘ProMix’ and it is manufactured by Premier. I have seen if for sale at various places. I purchase mine from Larry at Sherwood Greenhouses. Give him a call and see if he has any in stock.

• Gender Wars: Why is it that you can chase your kid sister around the house with a dirty sock and she will scream her lungs out…and yet she is the same woman who will smell a baby’s rear end to see if it needs changing?

• Tulip Families: Reader Rob vanZanten was born into a family that sold tulips across Canada. Every fall, Rob and his brothers and sisters were required to package tulip bulbs and every spring, they had to package gladiola bulbs for shipment. Rob tells the story of the kids packaging the bulbs and discussing how much better it would be if their dad owned a candy business. As the kids saw it, there would be so many more perks to working for your dad in a candy business.

A happy gopher in our province
• Flower Families: Reader Piet Berkenpas was a part owner in West Coast Floral, a company that sold flowers across the prairies. How it worked was people like me would call in our orders on Monday. Piet would purchase the orders starting Tuesday morning at seven a.m. At four in the afternoon, they would start to load the trucks, ensuring the right flowers were going to the right store. This would often take them until three or four or five a.m. to complete. A very long day. Piet’s mom and dad, even though they were well into their seventies, would come in every Tuesday at four and stay the night, helping to assemble the orders, pack and load the cases onto the trucks. As Piet would say, “where do you find people who know all of the flower varieties, how to pack and when to ship…and will work weird hours once a week.” I tell this story to explain why so many Dutch families did so well in the flower business. In essence, they did what they needed to do, and without complaint. The next time you see the flowers in a shop or the grocery store, remember there is a back story as to how they got there.

• Garden Tip: When choosing your poinsettia this Christmas season, always choose one that has its flowers intact. Now, most people think the red leaves are the flower but that is incorrect. The flowers are those tiny little balls in the center of the plant. If they have fallen off, it does not bode well for the longevity of the poinsettia.

• Garden Tip: The easiest way to kill a poinsettia, as if you readers needed assistance with that task, is to overwater it. Poinsettias can actually be ‘run dry’ which means they prefer to be more dry than wet. Ironically, an overwatered poinsettia appears as if it is under watered. It’s leaves droop, leading the homeowner to apply more water, which finishes the plant off in record time. Best to water poinsettias from the bottom. If you splash water on the leaves when watering from the top, you can stain or mark them. Run two inches of water into your sink. Set the pot, without the cover, into the water for twenty minutes. The plant will wick the correct amount of water.

• Garden Tip: Always use a saucer under your poinsettia, even if you have a pot cover on the plant. If you do not have a saucer, chances are that you will mark your furniture. As an aside, a pot cover is called a ‘speedy’ in the floral business. Aren’t you glad you read that.

Much snow at Buchart Gardens in Victoria
• Garden Tip: Older customers lament the days when they could purchase a pure white poinsettia at Christmas. For the last fifteen to twenty years, a white poinsettia is usually a cream colored plant, with definite tones of yellow. It cannot be described as being white, though it is labeled as such. The reason the pure white poinsettia has disappeared from the market place is that the plants were not strong. ‘Annette Hegg’ was the name of the old fashioned white poinsettia grown for years. Sadly, only about thirty to fifty percent of the plants survived the shipping or the trip home. The branches broke quite easily, thus it was known as a weak plant. Obviously, no greenhouse grower is going to grow plants with losses that high, so other varieties that were stronger were substituted. ‘Marble Star’ is one of the more popular ‘whites’ on the market. I use it quite a bit in my house as it is the strongest poinsettia on the market and it lasts longer than the reds or the pinks.

• Moxies on Victoria East: I was there for a birthday party for three. Maureen had a linguini and meat ball dish that had a very rich tomato sauce, which is a good thing. Maxwell had a penne that they described as being Tuscan. It was somewhat creamy and very flavorful. I went with the barbecue ribs, hoping they would be something special. They weren’t. The ribs were basic and the barbecue sauce was bland, close to a ketchup. All of the meals were served hot and everything tasted fresh so no complaints there. The side dishes were of good quality. A few years back, I had a New York strip steak at Moxies and it was as good or better than any steak house meal. Overall, they are a good place for a meal with room for improvement in a few dishes.

• Garden Tip: Reader Rhonda Rein asked about maintaining the fragrance of a Christmas tree. Here is the situation. If you are baking cabbage rolls, someone coming into the house can smell them, but you can’t. Smell is something that is different or unusual. That is why I could never enjoy the bouquet of the greenhouse. I had spent too much time inside of it to notice the smells. So, you get used to the fragrance of your tree, except when you first come back into the house. If you want to enjoy the fragrance now and again, break a small piece off of a branch and rub it in your hand. Your body heat releases the oils from the needles and you will have your hit of Christmas tree. For what it is worth, when I was selling Christmas trees every day, a certain someone who lives in this house, used to cuddle up to me nightly, and smell the Balsam fragrance that permeated my hair and body. It was better than a cologne.

• Christmas: In all my years in business, I absolutely refused to use the abbreviation ‘X-Mas’ in any of my ads or signs. I could never understand the need to abbreviate a word that was already short. And if for some reason, someone did not wish to celebrate a Christian based holiday, fair enough. But there were other options available other than ‘X-Mas’.

• Christmas Parties: My lovely sister Bonnie, organized a party for the employees of the university several years ago. As she set about doing her volunteer work, she received suggestions and complaints, one after another as to when it should be, what should be served, the cost, live music versus canned and so forth. She was close to her breaking point when a letter arrived from one of the professors. The writer described herself as being an atheist, and she objected to the description, ‘Christmas Party.’ She insisted it be renamed ‘A Seasonal Celebration’. Do I need to write on or does this story tell itself?

A dwarf blue delphinium...lovely plant
• Experts in the Wings: If you ever want to find out how many of your relatives and friends are experts in running a small business, just open one. Even the ones who have worked for the government their entire lives, seem to know exactly what you should be doing.

• 13th Avenue: Last year, the snow was piled so high along 13th Avenue that traffic was reduced to one lane at times. Why the merchants did not get after The City for snow removal is beyond me. With all of the snow we have had this November, it appeared as if this safety hazard was about to occur again. My kudos to The City for having removed the snow this week, and now there are two lanes to park in and two lanes to drive in. Much, much better.

• 13th Avenue again: Cathedral Village is supposed to be the last great, walking neighborhood in the city. People come from all over to visit the wonderful independent shops along 13th and The Farmers’ Market. It is a real beehive of activity and now The Artesian Theater has given people even more reason to be there. So, if there is a high level of pedestrian traffic, why has the merchants association not hired a contractor to keep the sidewalks open and accessible. A few of the shop keepers and other property owners do a diligent job of keeping their sidewalks clear of snow and ice, but the operative phrase is ‘a few’. There are many areas of the sidewalk that approach the dangerous level, especially for seniors.

• Garden Tip: This large amount of snowfall is a very good thing for our plants, especially our perennials. The snow will keep everything well insulated, especially when we get hit by the minus thirties. Losses should be reduced next spring.

• Borrowed Thought: If we realized how seldom most people thought of us, we wouldn’t worry so much what they thought.

Volunteers: Chatting with a regular volunteer over at The Pasqua Hospital. Very friendly gentleman. I asked him how old he is and he told me 81. He works very hard at his volunteer position and goes above and beyond what is expected. Leads me to think: Where would this city be without the thousands of volunteers that donate their time, passion and skills?

• Rider Story: Coach John Gregory of the Riders many years ago, was a regular shopper at Lakeview Gardens. One day ‘Coach’ comes in to the greenhouse. He needs a gift for his Mrs. He asks me what a certain plant is. I tell him that it is a Picotee Azalea, a lovely gift for his wife. He asks how much and I tell him $24.99. ‘Coach’ is no longer interested. I asked him what the problem was. He says that he wants to spend around fifty bucks. Without missing a beat I said “did I say $24.99? I misspoke. It is $49.99 plus taxes.” Coach smiles and says “too late.”

• Real Rider Pride: I was walking along downtown Hamilton Street on Friday. Now, I never ever look at the window display of Thee Lingerie Shoppe (you may quit your laughing now) but this day I did. The mannequins were dressed in their finest of green undies. Sexy and patriotic at the same time.

• Garden Tip, sort of: If you are having difficulty finding a top grade poinsettia this season, send me an email. I might have a few extras that I could sell. Mine will be ready around December 11th.

I love to go scuba diving no matter what the temperature is outside!
• Thanks for reading…Rod McDonald in snow covered Regina

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Garden Report #25

The Garden Report #25

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Winter is here: A lovely dusting of snow overnight but it was nothing compared to the storm on Thursday. It took me four hours to dig everything out. This is the prairies. It is to be expected. As I sit here writing on my laptop, I am grateful for our warm house, our winter garden and of course, the cast iron pan filled with warm corn bread. To be honest, the cast iron pan is now only half full and the maple syrup level has dropped in its container. Murphy is curled up in an upstairs bedroom. He sees no need to go out. Maureen is reading yesterday’s paper close by. At this moment in time, the universe is predictable. My coffee cup is by my side and the squirrels are running through the tops of the American Elms. They’re not cold. They have on their winter coats.

Readers write: Several of you took the time to write, sharing how much you enjoy The Green Spot on Hamilton Street. It was reviewed in last week’s blog. Many of you with fat souls, mentioned how lovely their cinnamon buns are. Apparently, they are only baked on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Also recommended, the Breakfast Cookie noted as being highly addictive.

Readers really write: Georgia Hearn wrote “Many of us cannot write about our weakness’…as you have.” Well Georgia, I do have many in my repertoire that I can write about. Amy Salloway wrote “I am starting to suspect that you are secretly a Minnesotan. Your writing style with its focus on gentle observational humor…reminds me so much of some of the most famous literary forces here…” Marg Hryniuk wrote “good stuff about potash/culture in Sask. I do hope that someone sends your words to (Premier) Wall.” Jean Freeman wrote “I am so glad that your are still on your journey and that you have decided to take a bunch of us along with you. Bless you!” Reader Margaret Bessai sent along her thanks for publishing the photo of her son’ snowman, last week. Reader Murray Wallace forwarded the photos of Buchart Gardens. Thanks Murray.

Christmas at Buchart Gardens
Strange but true: I was handing out flyers at The Saskatoon Fringe one year. I like doing the one on one marketing, pressing the flesh and so on. You get into some wonderful conversations doing that. So, I hand my flyer to a woman. She reads it and confronts me. She says: “The flyer says that you wrote ‘The Preacher’ but I know for a fact that Rod McDonald wrote ‘The Preacher’.” I tell her “I am Rod McDonald”. She says “No you’re not. I know Rod McDonald and you’re not him.” Now, your guess is as good as mine as to what was the correct response to that assertion. There are many funny retorts that I could have offered up but I went with quite a linear and logical approach. I said “if I was going to steal an identity, why would I pose as Rod McDonald? Why wouldn’t I pretend that I am Neil Simon or David Mamet or some famous playwright? And if I was going to steal a play, why would I steal one that was seen by five hundred people at best? Shouldn’t I steal a play that was seen by thousands?” She left the argument unconvinced as to my identity, but at least she was now very confused.

Shopper’s Drugs: Stopped in at the Broad and 14th location on Friday to pick up something. They had a display of Smucker’s Jams, regular $5.99 for $3.99. Good product. Good price. Picked up two. Watched as the cashier put them through the scanner. Price comes up $5.99. Tell the cashier. She gives me the classic line: “Not what the scanner says.” Get the shelf talker sign. Show her. She does an override. I wonder how many people just pay the total without checking the scanner pricing. I wonder how often this is happening. Seems to occur more often than it used to. Let me know if it has been happening to you and at what stores.

Garden Tip: You either received an amaryllis bulb as a gift or else you purchased one yourself. How to plant it. First, amaryllis bulbs do not need to be chilled the way tulips, daffodils and crocus are. Amaryllis can be planted right away. Best to use a pot or container that is a little on the small side. Rookie mistake to plant an amaryllis in too big of a pot. I use four inch pots myself for most bulbs unless it is very large, then I move up to a five inch. If there are old roots on the bottom of the bulb, they can be trimmed away with scissors. Place potting soil into the bottom of the container until one third of the top of the bulb is sticking out of the pot. Then lightly pack some more soil around the bulb. Ensure the bulb is out of the pot and that it is sitting straight. Lightly water the soil from the top. After that, provide most of the water from the bottom as that is where it is needed. Place the planted pot into a dish of water and let stand for twenty minutes. The soil should absorb all that it needs in the twenty minutes. You do not need to add fertilizer. Amaryllis need some light. The more there is, the quicker they will bloom. Many people think that amaryllis will bloom for Christmas, guaranteed. Not true. Amaryllis will bloom anywhere between November 25th and March 15th. They are as unpredictable as my cat.

Young people today: I have been very impressed by several of the young people I have encountered in my recent travels. Over at Lakeview Fine Foods, they have two young people who are very helpful, energetic and polite. Down the street at Mark’s Mini Tune, one of neighbor kids is pumping gas. Connor served me the other day and gave some first rate service. Over at Nicky’s, they have a sixteen year old bus boy who watches the café like a hawk, waiting to pounce on dirty dishes. I told Perry, Nicky’s son, that this kid is a real keeper. There are some young people out there with real hustle and they actually understand customer service. Good for them.

Winter at Buchart Gardens

Garden Tip: Real Christmas Trees. Nothing smells better than a real Christmas Tree. Here are some of the choices you will find this year. The Douglas Fir tends to be ‘ the Charlie Brown’ tree. It is rarely full but for some people, that is their ideal tree. It’s been around since I was a kid. Scot’s Pine is another choice that has been around forever. It has longer, somewhat prickly needles. It’s fragrance is so so. It is often dyed a dark green with a harmless, vegetable dye. White Pine were very popular in the 1980’s but are no longer in vogue. They have long soft needles. They have very little fragrance. They last a long time. They are hard to decorate. Balsam Fir and Fraser Fir have dominated the market place for the last fifteen years. They are as a rule, very full trees and both are quite fragrant. Frasers usually have a slightly spicier smell to them and they usually have a bit more bluish hue than most Balsams. Fraser Fir are the most expensive of the trees.

Garden Tip: Christmas Tree prices vary from lot to lot. Often, it has to do with the grade of the tree. Most people do not know this, but Christmas Trees are usually graded into three and sometimes four grades. Number ones are supposed to have three or four good sides, be straight and full and they should be heavy for their size. I have seen mainly number three grade trees for sale at the box stores. That is why the price is often so low. They paid a lot less for the number threes than the number ones.

Garden Tip: Regardless of the tree you choose, it is imperative that you cut around two inches off the trunk just before you set it in water. Any cut older than an hour must be redone as it will have started to seal over. I usually like to sit my real tree into a bucket of water overnight to let it have a really good drink, and then set it up on the second day.

Today’s thought: When I realized how visible my faults were to others, I quit hiding them from myself.

Christmas Gift: I wrote that an excellent gift is a subscription to ‘The Gardener for the Prairies’. Another great gift or stocking stuffer is the gardening calendar being sold for fifteen dollars by The Friends of The Norman Mackenzie. The front cover is of our yard. You can purchase them from the woman I share my life with. Just email me and I will forward it to her.

Wag the Dog: I couldn’t sleep on Friday night so I wandered downstairs and turned on the television. Nothing like a faith healer at three a.m. to make me drowsy. I was pleasantly surprised that ‘Wag the Dog’ was on CBC. This film is a real gem, though it did not draw well at the box office. It is a favorite show of producers everywhere, as the central theme is that producers never get the credit they deserve. Having produced many shows, I understand the sentiment. Writing of producers, reader Michelle McCaw is a legend as a producer at CBC One. She earned her reputation by booking interviews with incredible people and arranging for intelligent shows.

Pasqua Hospital: Reader John Wolkowski’s ticker went on the fritz and that earned him a stay at the Pasqua, in the Cardiac Monitoring Unit. John is doing just fine and is much improved. As I was visiting John, I watched the nurses provide top drawer care to the elderly patients on the ward. Their compassion would have made Florence Nightingale proud. Just thought I would throw that out there, seeing as there are so many things going wrong with our health care system these days.

Who doesn’t love nurses: No secret here. I have been in love with nurses since I was eight years old. It is no coincidence that Maureen is a nurse. Many of our readers are nurses. The nurses at my dialysis clinic look after me ever so well. Of course, I bring them cabbage rolls, straight from my oven, either in appreciation or as a bribe. But in spite of my love for their profession and my gift of cabbage rolls, they still use really big needles to inject me. They assure me that six year old girls show more bravado during injections than I do. They also love to tear tape off of me. It provides them with much needed entertainment during busy shifts. They say I scream ever so well. Glad to be of service to the profession.

Snow at Buchart Gardens
• Warm thoughts and imaginary hugs for all of you…Rod McDonald in a very, chilly, but sunny Regina

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Garden Report #24

The Garden Report #24

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

The lazy days of summer in old Lakeview

I love my neighborhood: I make no apologies for being a Lakeview lover. I moved into the neighborhood February 26th, 1973 and I have remained here because this is where I want to live. One of the things I enjoy is when we come together as neighbors. Yesterday, Lakeview United Church held their tea and bake sale. I took it in. Hugs from old friends, updates from those I have not seen for a year or two and neighbors at every table. Very much, a coming together of our community. Tea sandwiches and dainties served by school mate and reader Joan Ziffle, who informed me of the arrival of her new granddaughter. Sitting with Freddie Hammond, who I used to work with and sharing a story or two, realizing that Freddy is perhaps one of the kindest people I have ever met. Getting a free kiss from Jenifer Cohen with Bernie looking on and telling a lie or two with Keith Pickets. And the lovely women of Lakeview decided to charge whatever you wanted to give, a collection basket instead of a charge for the tea and lunch. I tossed in a fiver, feeling somewhat guilty knowing that I had eaten more than my share and had way too much fun in the process. One can live anywhere they choose, but not everywhere has a community attached as we have in Lakeview.

Champlain Roses - first year planting

• Readers Write: Jodi Sadowsky wrote “I really enjoyed the tulip photos…so colorful and beautiful.” Noelle Chorney who is the editor for The Gardener for the Prairies thanked us for the plug in #23. Noelle says if anyone wants further information on her wonderful magazine, go to www.gardenermagazine.ca As I wrote last week, it would be a wonderful Christmas gift for many people. Alan Bratt was pleased with the rant regarding store opening on Remembrance Day. He feels that Remembrance Day is more important than another sale. Marsha Kennedy, one of our artist/readers wrote “I love your Garden Reports because they give such a wonderful sense of community history and endearing humor.” Now I am blushing. Don List weighed in for the first time with “I have become fond of your report over the last few months…your report is a reminder to me to take the time for reflection.” Carolyn Morse who is a sister of Ian Cook, received her first blog on Sunday. Her response was “I would love it if you send me more.” Murray Wallace writes “…keep it coming.” The snowman  was constructed by Wills Bessai-Saul whose mother is one of our readers.

• Similar style: Reader Ann Anderson responded to last Sunday’s blog immediately. I have pasted in her reply because I noticed how similar her writing style is to mine. Maybe she will become a guest editorialist. “Hi Rod, thanks for the wonderful break from my own writing! Your message prompted me to look up from my laptop, furl up the blind and take a moment to enjoy the scenery below my window. A family is enjoying the warm sun in Victoria Park, a solitary man is lost in memories beside the Cenotaph, and the contractors are busy making the best of the remaining fair weather to work on the new plaza. Life is good.”

• Similar Style #2: Living in Minneapolis is a writer/performer/blog reader named Amy Salloway. Amy writes plays about body issues, teenage girl angst and growing up Jewish. Obviously, she writes about much different material for the theater than I do. When I take in Amy’s theater work, I am always struck by how similar our styles are, even though our topics are completely different. We shared no similar classes, directors or communities, yet we arrived on the same path with our writing. Whereas writer/performer/blog reader John Huston and I attended the same fine arts program, albeit eight years apart, grew up in the same city and we are both men. But our writing styles are totally different.

• Grocery store humor: I was in the grocery store last Tuesday and a father was shopping with his fourteen year old daughter. Most of us know what drama queens they can be at that age, the daughter that is. Dad wanted to buy some shower soap but his daughter objected. “I can’t stand the smell of that soap Dad! If you buy it, I’ll leave home.” Dad puts the soap into his shopping cart and does not say another word. The girls shouts “Dad!” Dad looks at his girl and says quietly, “you did say you would leave home, right?”

• Garden Tip: I have heard long time gardeners say that the best time to garden is in the winter, when the temperature is cold and there is snow on the ground. Their reasoning is that in January and February, your ‘mind garden’ grows perfect crops. There are few weeds and definitely no insects. The fruit is always sweeter and the tomatoes never have a blight. The hostas never have slugs and the rain is always gentle, just the way you like it. Your back is never sore. Yep. It’s the perfect time to garden.

• The Green Spot: What started as a small booth at The Farmers’ Market selling vegetarian sushi, morphed into a small bistro on 12th Avenue. When Gary and Sunshine had to vacate that spot, they took over the old VIP Clothing location on Hamilton Street. The new location is considerably larger and has a nice feel to it. While I am not a vegetarian, I do love good food of any description. The Green Spot serves up vegetarian and vegan fare with some gluten free products. They have a wide array of in house, fresh roasted coffees and some lovely teas. The baked treats are very tasty, especially the muffins, and the soups are excellent. It is a place more for a lovely lunch than an intimate dinner. One last thing, the staff are real as opposed to the plastic versions I see at the chains.

• Fringe Story: When we started touring with The Fringe, we learned that many of the performers move to a vegetarian diet for the tour, even if they do not practice vegetarianism the rest of the year. The reason? It stops them from eating what they refer to as ‘the gut bombs’ that are so readily available from the fast food joints. It forces them to seek out places that provide healthier eating alternatives. We tried it and it was just fine though after a week or so, I would sneak in a bacon and tomato sandwich. I am not a fanatic.

• Fringe Story #2: The top performers on the tour can and usually do pull out some decent money. They live well, if not expensive lives. But the circuit can be as equally cruel as it is rewarding. We were in Edmonton in 2003 and a young couple had a good show. They got a glowing, four star review from a very picky reviewer at The Journal. But their show did not draw a large audience. This sometimes happens. We were in line with them for our final payout. They got their money and the young woman started to cry. We asked what the problem was. Their next festival was in Victoria and after expenses, they only had enough money for either gas or food, but not both. Ever since that day, whenever Fringe performers stay with us, we always load them up with lots of food.

Will act for food: On Tuesday when I was grocery shopping, I ran into one of my friends who is a well known professional actor in our community. He was stocking shelves at the grocery store, just to feed himself. His phone has not rung for a year. There has been a real drought for the film community in the last year. SCN closed and while no one got rich from SCN’s money, at least some people got fed. Corner Gas wrapped up their filming and Little Mosque does a lot of shooting in Toronto. Now there appears to be a problem with the film tax credit program and so I am told, a lot of shows are now being shot in Winnipeg. What was a very active and vibrant collection of film makers, actors, writers and producers is quickly disappearing. It took years to develop a set of well trained film people in this province, and in the last two years, it has shrunk. People need to eat and they have gone on to other things in order to get a paycheck. Potash is important to this province, but so is culture. We will now have many of our stories either left untold or told by people who are not from the land. This is sad. Someone needs to fix it. Hopefully, Mr. Wall will read this.

• The Last Days of Good Time Charlie’s: Don List from Birdsong Productions got some funding from CBC and is having a screening of his documentary, on Saturday, November the 20th at 3:30. The screening will occur at The Exchange on 8th Avenue. There will be a musical jam before and after the screening. This is one of our stories that needed to be told.

• Garden Tip: With the arrival of the snow on Wednesday, it is a good idea to shovel lots of it on top of or around your more tender plants. Snow is a wonderful insulator. In years of good snow, plant survival is always increased even with extreme temperatures. Whereas, in moderate temperature years, when there is no snow cover, damage can be quite severe.

• Garden Tip: While snow can be a wonderful insulator, wet snow hanging on tree and shrub branches can be detrimental. Best to give the branches a light shake to drop the snow off than to have uncontrolled breakage. Back in the late nineties, we had a snow storm in October when the leaves were still in full force. The weight of snow broke off a limb on my Dolgo Crab. The limb was somewhere around twenty-five years old and in good shape, yet the snow destroyed it quite quickly.

• Life Lessons: It has often been said that God places people into our lives at critical junctions, to teach us lessons that we need to learn. When we like those people placed in our lives, the experience can be described as enjoyable. More often than naught, our lesson teachers are very irritating people. We do not like those people. They challenge our concept of self. These people show us that while we proclaim we have patience, understanding and empathy, that when pushed, we have very little. And the lesson is that we need to grow and to change. But who wants to change? That requires work.

• Life Lessons continued: I had one of these lesson teachers inserted into my life a few years back. He and I came into conflict on a regular basis. I found my reaction to him so upsetting that finally, I sought the counsel of three different friends who are from the clergy. After all, the clergy deal with human frailty on a regular basis. That is their specialty. What did I learn from my journey? Nothing that would be described as an epiphany. Nothing that will ever be used in a book of famous quotes. What I did learn is that my journey is not complete. That I have to actively partake in it to grow. That patience and understanding have to be acquired and practiced on a daily basis, rarely do they occur naturally. And finally, I learned that I cannot change another person, but I can change how I accept that person and the role they play in my life. It was not an easy lesson to learn, but obviously one that I needed.

• Gender wars: When a husband and a wife are having breakfast, the husband assumes his wife is thinking that he is ‘it’, everything she ever wanted in a mate. In reality, the wife is usually thinking of how many compromises she had to make to arrive at this junction.

• My own breakfast: One morning my beloved looked across the table as I read the news paper, unshaven I was, and in my underwear. She spoke: “You have no idea how many of my feminist ideals I had to set aside to be involved with you.” What could I say but “thank you, I think.”

Snowman by Wills Bessai-Saul
Talk to you in a week’s time…Rod McDonald in Regina