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 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 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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Garden Report #23

The Garden Report #23

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Summer days: It is an incredibly sunny afternoon in Regina. The air is very warm for November the 7th. Stuart Mclean has just finished his Vinyl Café. Maureen balked at making my favorite, corn bread for breakfast. So toast sufficed, but the coffee is the way I like it with lots of bite. Can writers write without a coffee by their side? I suppose we can but I am not willing to volunteer. When I gave up the evil cigarettes in 1989, the greatest addiction of our generation, I lost the ability to write cohesively for almost two years. I had difficulty remembering that paragraphs consist of topic related sentences. It took some time, but eventually the neurons in my brain learned new routes and I was able to resume my passion. And a writer needs passion. If not for passion, kissing a pretty lady is a waste of time and effort. So I raise my mug of French Roast to all of you in a toast to passion. May it always be our first thought of the day.

Dwarf Delphiniums
Readers Write: Several of you responded to the story regarding the carrying of grudges in #22. I am not surprised as it is the universal experience. John Huston wrote that he would be forwarding the column to a few friends who needed to hear the story. Alan Bratt suggests that grudges are a way for us to feel sorry for ourselves as in the other person was ‘ever so wrong.’ Changing direction, Sarah Wills who gardens in southern Ontario wrote “it lightens up my mailbox every Monday morning.” Lola from Saskatoon writes “lovely story” in regards to how our love changes as we mature. Ingrid Thiessen wrote “A good way to start the week. Amen to the sermon!” Move over Jimmy Swaggart. According to constant reader Roberta Nichol, Mieka Wiens taught a class in cooking last month. Mieka has always been such an incredible chef. When I think of her, I think of chicken curry, cheesecake and tomato/orange soup. I am in love with her recipes. Gail Bowen who is at present residing in Calgary, informs me that she is forwarding the blog to others. Joanne Crofford refers to #22 as “entertaining” and Georgia Hearn writes “it is fun to read.” June Mayhew wrote in to say “once again, another great garden report”. Cheryl Hutton out of Calgary wrote “…wonderful moments…simply warmed my heart…” Cheryl is working with school children in southern Alberta, developing theater skills.

November is now Movember: As we watch the news, we are informed that this month has a slight twist to it. Men are supposed to grow a moustache to show their support for the fight against prostate cancer. My moustache hero, hockey legend Lanny MacDonald is one of the promoters. I am not certain what I am supposed to be doing as my ‘stache has been affixed since 1974. As a disease, it is somewhat close to me as my father developed prostate cancer when he was 58 and died from it at 64. Best line regarding prostate cancer came from Joan Baldwin who lives just across the bridge from us. Joan cracked “five years ago, you guys didn’t know you owned a prostate and now you have support groups.” Yes Joan, and we hold hands while we sing ‘Kumbaya’.

For the men of a ‘certain age’: The two best ways of detecting prostate cancer early are, through a blood test called a PSA and with a manual inspection called a DRE. I cannot get over how many of my friends refuse to have a DRE carried out, as they are embarrassed and uncomfortable with the procedure. Tough. It is embarrassing and it is uncomfortable, but I still get it done once a year. I would much rather have this test carried out than to be sitting in the urologists office and hear him say “if only we had caught this six months earlier, we would have been able to save you.” Have the test. It could save your life.

Hard worker: In every community, there are people who give of themselves. They volunteer their time and energy and if not for them, our neighborhoods would be less vibrant places to live. One such volunteer is Jodi Sadowsky who has been shepherding The Fringe Festival and now she has taken on another theatrical challenge. Jodi is promoting The Golden Apple Theatre in its inaugural season. The opening show will be ‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’. It starts November 17th for a ten day run at the new venue, The Artesian on 13th and Angus. For more information, go to If you see Jodi, thank her for her wonderful contribution to the arts.

Great Shoppe: Another person who contributes to the arts scene in Regina is Frank over at Bach and Beyond. His little record shop sells tickets for every amateur production out there. People should try and make at least one purchase this Christmas from Bach and Beyond. If he ever shuts down, we will no longer have a shop where we can find every type of music that exists. He is worth preserving.

Murphy says: "Rod's jokes do not impress me!"
Garden Tip: There has always been a debate over cutting back perennials and roses in the fall or the spring. Each side has their reasons. Maureen prefers to cut things back in the fall so that the garden looks tidy for the winter and early spring. Myself, for horticultural reasons, I do not cut things back until the spring. The plant tops catch the snow, creating a deeper cover. The more snow a garden has, the more protected the plants underneath are. Snow is a great insulator. Also, when it comes to roses, I prefer to trim everything in the spring, once I have determined the degree of winter kill on the canes.

Economically and Socially Disadvantaged: Maureen does not want me using the phrase ‘white trash’ to describe anyone. So, bowing to political correctness, I have assigned them the term ‘economically and socially disadvantage persons of Caucasian ancestry.’ I was driving along Broad Street, heading north, near 14th Avenue. Out of the 7/11 parking lots pulls this car filled with persons previously listed as ‘white trash.’ One member of this subculture, riding in the back seat, rolls down the window and tosses out the wrappings from his candy and cigarettes. No sense in cluttering up their rusted out, muffler missing, 1988 Ford Fairlane.

Garden Tip: If you wish to become a better gardener, and who doesn’t, then I suggest that you subscribe to ‘Gardening for the Prairies’. It is published in Saskatoon and a subscription gets you four issues a year. It is a top quality publication. It would also make a wonderful Christmas gift for another gardener.

Tulips and just a dream...
Garden Tip: I am so tired of hearing “I read on the internet…” as an explanation for gardening advice. Here is the problem. Most gardening sites are not specific enough for our 2b zone. We are cold and we are on the prairies, which is entirely different than upstate New York. The other issue I have is that the range of information on the internet runs the gamut from the fully documented to the bizarre. For those who know me, I am a lifelong, history buff. I visit history sites all of the time. Most of the sites are not documented or researched. They are nothing more than the authors attempt to advance his political agenda. Many sites have rewritten history to suit their views. Don’t get me wrong. I love the internet and I use it all of the time, but each time I go to Google, I put on my social filters. Just because I read it on the internet, does not make it true!

Too funny: I research my heritage. My paternal grandmother was a Billard, a French family in Newfoundland. The ‘Newfies’ have some wonderful genealogical sites. One site had my great-great grandmother listed as having given birth in 1855. One problem. She was born in 1798, which would have made her 57 at the time. The author should have realized that the birth mother was the daughter of the woman born in 1798, and they shared the same name, then the math works.

Patience is a virtue: Driving down Albert Street by the old Campion College. It is now a Christian School and they have convinced The City to install a set of flashing lights and a speed reduction to 40 k.p.h. No problem. It’s a safety issue. I am doing the forty and the woman beside me is doing the forty but this kid behind her thinks we should go faster. He starts honking his horn, trying to get her to speed up. She doesn’t and neither do I. Once we are through the zone, the kid whips between the two of us. He is the first one stopped at the 25th Avenue lights. Then he was the first in line at the lights on Parliament, 31st Avenue and Gordon Road. Yeah, he showed us. He beat us to all four of those red lights by at least two car lengths.

Garden Tip: In gardening, there are very few absolutes. I have four Russian Cypress (Microbiota decusata) planted along Angus Street. These plants always go into a winter dormancy, the color, changing from green to purple. Three of the four have done so. One remains absolutely green. No hint of a change. Why? Beats me. I would find it easier to explain the behavior of fourteen year olds than this contradiction.

Little Leaf Lilac - Top Graft
Football fans only: Finally!

Buzz: Finally, my people are receiving their long overdue recognition. Take a read through ‘How the Scots Invented Canada’. Yes, it’s true. We are not only hardy and thrifty, but we are also inventive. And as a rule, exceptionally good looking while retaining our sense of humility.

Remembrance Day: It is a day, that we as a nation have set aside, to remember all of those who have suffered the devastation of war. It is a day to remember the nineteen year old boys who fell at Dieppe. Or of the eight year old girl who understood terror as the bombs fell on London, Berlin, Baghdad, or Tokyo. It is a day to remember that others have sacrificed for us, that they paid the price. Of course, we now have the opportunity to honor these people by going to The Bay on November 11th and enjoying “really big savings”. There was a time in this city, if a store opened on November 11th, the manager would have been horsewhipped at The Cenotaph. Sadly, we have traded our obligation to remember for a few more shopping hours.

Enjoy the autumn…Rod McDonald in very sunny Regina!