Monday, February 28, 2011

Dunging Out The Fridge

We lead busy lives.  The missus and I work every day, and the last thing we want to do when we get home at night is tackle cleaning the kitchen appliances. I feel lucky if we can throw a somewhat nutritious meal together and tidy up after the fact. But there does come a time that even a pig can't stand its own sty.  Last weekend that moment arrived.  Actually an off-handed remark from one of the exchange students may have been catalystic in the endeavour.  Something to the effect "When are we going to clean the fridge?"  Subtle isn't her forte.  And "we" is never the "royal we" -- it is "you"!

How do we accumulate so much stuff in a fridge over a short period of time (well maybe it wasn't so short compared for instance to the life of a dog or cat!).  Perhaps I 'xagerate slightly, but there were still a few bottles of pickled goods etc. in the back, that we moved in 2008 from the old farm.  Definitely time for them to hit the compost, to return from whence they came.


We are such a good team.  I tackled the door and cleaned the produce trays, while my better half, emptied and cleaned the shelves, washed the bottoms of bottles, sorted and tossed etc.

I knew it was bad, but not this bad! Are those pig hoof prints?

Amazingly, an hour later we had a much cleaner fridge, and a whole lot of compost and recyclable containers.  Now if we can just keep it that way.

Gretchen Rubin would be proud; we decluttered a bit more of our lives, a subtle but tangible step to feeling better about life in general.

And that is all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Taco Pie - Comfort Food

My eldest daughter always requests Taco Pie for her birthday supper.  Well, the birthday supper was a bit of a schamozzle (I have no idea how to spell that or if it is even a word).  It was Sunday at lunch on January second.  Her birthday is not until the eleventh, but she was heading back to university on the second.

My wife happened to ask what time her train left.  Bear in mind the exact time of that question was 1:03.  There had been a general assumption (all round the table I might add) that her train pulled out shortly after supper.  However upon inspection of the ticket, it was discovered that departure time was actually 13:47, which gave us exactly 44 minutes to eat lunch, get her packed, get to the train station and wave her off.  Talk about panic ensuing!

So, she did catch her train, but her intended birthday supper never happened.

This week she has been home for reading week (why ever do they call it that - maybe sleeping week would be more to the point).  Last night we finally got around to assembling the much overdue Taco Pie - and the wait was worth while!


1 pound of lean ground beef, browned
Spice to your taste (we use garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, oregano, basil - probably a tablespoon all combined)
6 Soft tortilla shells 9"
1 10 oz can of mushroom pieces and stems
1 10 oz can of corn kernels or frozen kernel corn
1  14 oz can of baked brown beans
1 700 mL bottle of prepared tomato pasta sauce
2 cups of grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons of grated Parmasan cheese


Sour Cream
Chopped fresh tomatoes
Sliced Black Olives

Brown the ground beef in the frying pan,on the stove.  Add whatever spices and quantities you like during this process.   Add the cans of mushrooms, corn, beans and tomato sauce.  Mix together and allow to simmer for a few minutes.

Using a 9" spring form pan (you know, the kind you make cheese cakes in).  Add a thin layer of the meat sauce mix.  Cover with the first tortilla shell.  Spoon another layer of meat sauce over this, Add another shell.  Continue this process for the first four layers or so, then add a bit of the cheddar cheese and a tablespoon of the Parmesan.  Finish up all six layers, alternating between tortilla and meat sauce.  Finally on the top layer of meat sauce, spread the rest of the cheddar cheese and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan.

Put the spring form pan on a pizza tray (just so it doesn't leak all over the oven). Cover the top of the pie, with foil, so it does not dry out too much. Put it in the oven at 350 F for about 45 minutes.

Take it out and take the side wall off the pan (you may have to cut along the edge with a knife to keep it from sticking).  Allow the pie to sit for a while to firm up(don't worry it seems to hold its heat well).

Cut into generous wedges and place on dinner plates.  Garnish with sour cream, chopped fresh tomatoes and black olives.  Wait for the happy smiles.

Like a lasagna, Taco Pie is probably better the second day.  It holds its strata-form much better and all the flavours have had time to meld.  But if your house is anything like our house, not much ever survives to see a second day.  I know four teenagers and two adults didn't leave much, beyond the memories.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Starting Seeds - Finally Getting Gardening

My seeds finally arrived from the Ebay seller the other day.  Normally I like to get the petunias started the end of January, so I am about 3 weeks later than usual.  I bought from the same Ebay seller last year and had fast service and prompt delivery - not so much so this year - nearly six weeks from order to actually seeing seeds and then three packages somehow got forgotten, so I am still waiting on them.

Last year I kind of went out on a limb, when I switched from my reliable Canadian source to an online unknown, to purchase wave petunia seed.  But money has a way of talking! My good old reliable source was charging  $35 per 50 pelleted seeds.  Ebay had several sellers charging $4 per 50 pelleted seeds.  I thought the risk worth the effort.  My initial concern was that I was just getting seed, that some enterprising individual had saved off their plants from last year.  But the seed was pelleted and I couldn't see anyone purchasing pelleting equipment to pellet their own seed.

Anyway, my fears were unnecessary, the seed was fine last year.  It sprouted well, was all true to form and we had magnificent baskets and borders, as did a lot of my customers.

So I thought I would show you my method of seeding.  Yes it is kind of painstaking.  But sometimes a boring little task is good therapy after a busy day.  Besides I only do it once or twice a year.  It has become a bit of a tradition, a spring-is-nearly-here ritual.

(3) 288 plug trays, filled, moistened and ready to plant
I like to disinfect my plug trays from year to year to get rid of any carry-over disease or mold.  A good Javex solution and a sit in the sun for a day or two does the trick.  

I use only purchased potting soil, a soil-less mix, containing peat moss, vermiculite and perlite.  This mixture is weedfree, disease free and provides a good medium for seeds to sprout and quickly take root.

I pour the pellet seed in my hand, transfer one seed at a time, with a moistened toothpick to the prepared trays.  I like the 288 seedling trays (12 X 24).  Any smaller than that and it is hard to keep the soil moist while the seed germinates.

pelleted seed (petunia seed unpelleted is like fine sand)
Should I become a hand model or what?
transferring seed by seed
planted and tagged tray

Once the tray is planted, I put a clear plastic cover over it and put it in a warm, dark spot for the next four or five days, until the seeds start to sprout.   I try to spritz the trays every second day with water, just to keep the soil moist. Once you see the first leaves appear, get the trays under fluorescent lighting immediately. Once under lighting, the trays need to be watered faithfully every couple of days, until the plants are large enough to transplant into larger receptacles.

3 trays under fluorescent lighting
Babies - a little leggy, should have been under light a day sooner!

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My Follicular Journey.

I wasn't born with much hair, and I am somewhat determined to exit this world in the same manner.  Actually I think my genetics have decided for me.

I have a few baby pictures and yes there are wisps of brown stuff gracing my little bullet head.

Several pictures exist of the next few formative years.  My father had a absolute hatred of long hair in men because of one Biblical reference which stated something to the effect that "it is a shame for a man to have long hair."  As a youngster I never could quite fathom this, because Samson certainly had long hair; Delilah used it as his Achilles heel.  Absalom definitely had long hair, which again was his downfall (okay maybe it is a bit of a negative trend going here).  And any pictures I ever saw of Jesus (yes I know, artist's renditions) sported flowing, shoulder-length tresses.

Anyway a decree was issued that we boys had to have our heads trimmed every couple of weeks.  Unfortunately we never visited a barber or had a decent set of clippers.  Dad did it himself with a pair of scissors.  The sides had to be clipped down to nothing and the top could be an inch or so.  Try to imagine doing that to someone with a pair of scissors (I hope you envisioned an enemy, not a friend).  The results were never pretty.  Chunks and long strands here and there were the order of the day.  Unfortunately, none of the photos I have really give this bowl-cut justice.

Yours truly with the cat - note, great hair all round - not!

Once I hit nine or ten, my sister who was going through a bit of a rebellious streak (bless her) began to cut my hair for me.  True she had no more experience than Dad, but she did seem to have at least a bit of a feel for the hairdressing business and the cruelty of other children.

As we boys were not allowed long hair, so my sister was not allowed short hair.  The Bible mentions something about a woman's hair being her crowning glory.  I still recall the day when she was late coming home from high-school and arrived with short locks and high heels.  Twas not a pleasant house for many a day.

When puberty hit, I had interesting combination hair.  I had severe dandruff and even severer oily hair.  You really are not supposed to have both, but lucky lucky me, I did.  I would wash my hair in the morning, before heading to school.  By the time I exited the bus, my head would be dripping. Because there was always an hour or two of barn chores, wearing a toque, there was no point in doing anything about it until after supper.  I would often wash it again at that point.  I know I started a vicious cycle, stripping the oil, which in turn put my oil glands into overdrive.

I think I'm pinching myself wondering if my hair is real -- how do you spell GREASE?

In high school, all the boys were wearing their hair longer and parted in the middle.  I wanted to try the same style (hard to do with only an inch or two to work with!).  For some reason, my hair refused to part neatly and sweep back into the required wings on either side of my head.  The night before my grade eleven year, I decided to do something about that.  I took the scissors and clipped the one side down, so that there was a definite part - oh the foolish things we do in our youth.

Middle-part FAIL

But never fear it gets better.  In grade twelve, some of the boys were getting their hair permed.  Somehow I got mine to grow out long enough, without Dad tackling me with his shears.  My sister bought a TONI perm solution and proceeded to curl me up.  She had been doing Mom's for quite some time.  Twasn't a memorable phase for my hair, but there are several incriminating photos.

Least said, soonest mended

When I went off to college, I had some money socked away and I finally visited a hair-dresser for the first time.  I liked what this girl could do, and I actually, for once, liked my hair.  The greasiness was starting to abate slightly and my part was getting to be successful.

Unfortunately about the same era, my sink drain began to clog with stray hair, and it was mine.  I was starting to rapidly thin.  Dad was quick to point out that it was undoubtedly the result of the perm.  He seemed to forget that he and his brothers and fathers were all great proponents of the comb-over, in attempt to cover a their bald pates.

My only 'good hair' shot

I got my graduation photo done with the center part and then began the comb-over phase, myself.  I did this for the next ten or so years.  It wasn't a horrible comb-over, I actually still had hair on top.  When it was freshly washed it didn't look bad, however if I sweated or the oil started to overflow, the strands joined and separated and there was bare scalp peeping through.

It was time for the mature cut.  I bought a pair of clippers and set them on the number 2 setting, then nipped it all off.  And but for a few excursions, it's been a number 2 (or1) buzz to this very day.

I keep threatening to grow it long and make a ponytail, but of course it is just for the shock value.  The perm did teach me something!

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness- Good Neighbours

Looking back over my childhood, which was a fairly happy one, I must give credit to some of my neighbours who were very kind to us.  They enabled me to have many happy childhood memories that I might not have experienced otherwise.

They owned a wonderful very private beach, with a dock and a diving board, which they allowed my brother and I to enjoy.  We lived about a mile from this beach, so it had to be a carefully planned excursion.  For the first few years we walked, because I didn't have, and couldn't ride a bike.  You were always well warmed up, by the time you got to the beach and we stayed in the water as long as we could before our walk home.  Of course by the time we got home, we were all hot and sweaty.  More than once I can recall turning right back around and repeating the trek and swim.  The ability to ride and ownership of a bike, made this outing much more enjoyable and quick.

As I was a late bloomer when it came to bike riding, so I was to swimming.  Ilda, the neighbour lady, several times tried to teach me to swim, when our visits to the lake co-incided.  I fought her every step of the way.  There was no way I was going to stick my head under the water.  Eventually though I did succumb, and I did learn to swim, although never particularly well.

The other thing we did, was to fish off their dock and occasionally in our old aluminum boat.  I can recall several happy Saturday evenings rowing around the lake, casting and reeling, even occasionally catching a pike or bass.  We sometimes did some ice fishing too on their lake.  Unfortunately that is the only photo I have in my possession of any of these memories.  That is a ten pound pike, that your truly snagged -- isn't it a beauty?

Their daughter was several years older than me, an age when most girls would have snubbed and ignored the little neighbourhood boy.  But she was blonde, lovely and kind.  I can recall playing school with her.  She had a wonderful schoolroom set up above their machine shed.  I can't remember much, but there were two or three desks and there must have been a blackboard.  Again I don't recall who else might have been invited to the hallowed domain -- the important thing was that I was!

And then in my twenties, a lonely phase at best, the middle son and his wife were very kind to me, and often invited me to events at their house.  I was awkward and shy but they always made you feel included,  a part of things.

Once I was married, and moved six hours from my home farm, we decided to build a deck around the old farmhouse we were renovating.  The oldest son is a carpenter and caught wind of the project.  He and my brother (his carpenter's assistant) drove down and spent a couple of days building me a tremendous deck, which we enjoyed for many years.  Again, another act of kindness from the same family (and my own).

I so appreciated the fact that they were generous to our family with their assets.  Times have changed, life has sped up and become much more complicated.  How I'd love to return to that simple time, for just a day, jump off the diving board, cast my rod off the dock, and reel in a whopper.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Grade 7 Angst

Attitude is a Little Thing that Makes a Big Difference. This was the banner splashed across the top of the bulletin board in my classroom today. What a true statement.  Unfortunately this doesn't ring true only for a good attitude.  A bad attitude in a class can make a huge difference, especially in the life of the supply teacher who gets to deal with it.

So I have now completed one day of my LTO.  You can tell the nature of my day, by my choice of topic.  Bitter little individuals with huge senses of entitlement, tiny vestiges of fair play and enough angst to choke a horse.
I'm still kind of wondering how it happened.  How did I end up supply teaching most of my days in intermediate, middle school settings?  My qualifications state quite clearly, Kindergarten to Grade 6 (primary/junior). 
Now don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy teaching adolescent students, one on one, or in small groups.  In fact that is probably my favourite age group to have a teacher / student conversation with.  However, it is the pack mentality that erupts in the 7/8 classroom that disturbs me.

Someone can clearly be acting the fool.  If you reprimand that individual, suddenly six people are yelling "unfair".  I think it is this sense of entitlement that really irritates me.   Our little darlings have been born with silver spoons dangling from their privileged lips.  Unfortunately too many parents have fallen under the spell of their charmed offspring.   Behold, we must never do anything to crimp the creative urges of the next Wayne Gretzky.  Heaven forbid we teach that "no" really does mean NO, and not just, "let's bargain our way to a compromise", that benefits only the negotiator (you got it -- the child).

But I don't want to be too disparaging of the next generation.  They will be the ones who institute policy, dole out our meagre pensions, and ultimately choose my nursing home in my dotage.  Being slightly egocentric myself, I worry how much care and concern will be lavished upon yours truly, when I meekly ask Johnny to change my diaper, the same Johnny, I sent to the hall for playing with his IPOD in class.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Charcoal Portrait Enigma

"He that spared not His own Son... How shall he not with Him, freely give us all things".  Those solemn words glowered down at me throughout my childhood, every time I entered the living room.  The letters themselves were hand painted by a traveling evangelist, A Mr. George Shivas, I believe, if my memory serves me correctly.  This info I know from Mom.  I must have asked the right questions.  However, I wish now I had asked a lot more questions.  Again if my memory serves me correctly, Mr. Shivas had asked my parents if they had anything suitable to paint on.  Remember though, I may have this story completely incorrect.  Apparently Mom handed over this frame, glass and board for the gentleman to work his reverent magic upon.
A few years ago, when we were cleaning the farmhouse up, I decided to take the framed verse apart -- don't ask, I don't remember why.  Anyhow, upon pulling the protective board off the back of the verse, there was a lovely charcoal portrait of a man and a lady, beautifully executed and preserved.  Perhaps some would suggest I was sacrilegious to turn the verse around, but to me it was more of a sin to have allowed someone to paint something on the back of an original work of art, like this.
So then comes the mystery.  Who is the lovely couple in the drawing?  Although I've never had it examined by a clothing expert, I would guess from the dress and the style of bow-tie and collar that it is circa 1840 -1860.  Any later than that, and I would think they would simply have had a photograph taken.
So possibilities of identification.  Well first of all did Mr. Shivas supply his own materials?  It is possible, but something niggles in the back of my mind that Mom said something to the effect that he asked for something suitable to paint on.  However if that is incorrect, it may have been a Shivas' relative, or maybe just a portrait he picked ups somewhere along his nomadic travels.
I have no reason to think it is anyone on Dad's side of the family.  The older sisters would have gotten anything of this nature, and would have been utterly aghast that it had been defaced in such a manner.
So that leaves Mom's family as the possible list of suspects.   I have good photographs of Mom's parents and grandparents (except for one who died young in childbirth and the handsome young man is definitely not the homely little man who was my great great grandfather).   It is none of these folks to my way of thinking.  My great grandfather Patterson (whom I have immortalized in the large oval frame) had 9 siblings.  I have seen photographs of about 5 of them.  The other five all died of consumption in a 3 or 4 year period.  Four of those who succumbed never married. One of the oldest brothers (that died ) was married a short while.   This is one possibility.  It may be a wedding portrait.  The man does look like the Pattersons.  
Another other possibility is that it may be the parents of the aforementioned ten children.  That would make them James Patterson and Jane McMillan, my great great grandparents. 
A third possibility is that they may be my great grandmother, Sarah Taylor Patterson's parents.    I suggest this one, because of some similarity in looks between the charcoal lady, and the large oval portrait of Great Grandmother.  However, there were several older sisters in that case too, who would have been more apt to inherit the family portrait, to my way of thinking.
So we don't really know who it is.  I like to think it is one of my direct great greats, but that may just be romantic imaginings.  And obviously, anyone who would know, has long departed this mortal plane.   The only hope is that a similar portrait or a photograph of the same people may someday surface, but again, I think of the proverbial needle in the haystack possibilities.
For now, we are happy to have it hang in our home.  It is a good conversation piece.  Who knows maybe someday we'll know more, but until then I'm happy to imagine.
And that is all I have to say for today.
Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Family Day

Today is a school holiday.  It is a relatively new holiday here in Ontario.   There has been a concentrated effort over the years to create a holiday in February.  A couple of years ago it was called Heritage Day and was kind of half-heartedly attempted, celebrated by a few people and businesses.  But it appears it has finally morphed into something more permanent, and how can you go wrong celebrating anything of a family-oriented nature?

It certainly is pleasant to have a day off in cold, gloomy little February.  It will be only a short month now until the week at March break. And then another month will take us to the long Easter weekend.

My sister-in-law always sends out her Christmas newsletter, mid-winter.  At first I used to wonder, why not get it out when everybody else does? But since it has become an annual habit, it is something to look forward to sometime after Valentine's Day, and usually prior to the May 24th holiday.

This years' chapter (Helen is a professional writer) was largely about the adventures of her son and my one and only nephew.  Jonathan has had an exciting year.

Rather than rewrite, I might as well quote Helen's article (which is much more cleverly written then I would have done myself).  So I guess Helen is my guest blogger for the day (without her express permission - but I will send her a copy for her enjoyment as well).

" In June, Jonathan married a lovely young woman named Jessica.  I didn't know that being the mother of a groom could be a lot of fun.  But it was.

The wedding was held on a country property just outside Cobourg.  Jess organized the event with a crew of friends and family.  Dave and I hosted the rehearsal dinner the night before.  The wedding itself took place under a beautiful old tree in the front yeard of a person who owns the restaurant where Jess worked until January.  

Jon and Jess, May 22, 2010 (courtesy of Helen)

Afterward we had dinner and a dance in the large tent that had been put up near the tree.  In the early hours of the morning, many of the younger guests sacked out in individual tents set up around the property.

Constable Jonathan:
Compared to The Hillcrest, Jonathan found other cheffing jobs a little routine.  In 2009, he started the process of applying for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).  Jonathan was accepted for hiring in the fall of 2009.  Then came the wait.

While he was waiting, Jonathan decided to get to know the type of clientelle he would likely be meeting on the job.  He worked at CHIMO, which is a home for emotionally -disturbed young people and at Community Living.  Since he didn't know if the OPP would ever call him up, he accepted a full-time job with Community Living in July.

Shortly afterward, the OPP offered him a job in Napanee, which is the detachment between Cobourg and Kingston that handles Highway 401 in that area.  Jonathan resigned from Community Living, then attended police college  as of the end of August.  

Helen (the author), Jonathan, Dave (my eldest brother)

Ontario Provincial Police attend six weeks of OPP training and three months of police college training where they are in classes with police candidates from throughout the province.  In December, Jonathan graduated from Ontario Police College in Aylmer.  He then finished his classes at OPP College in Orillia and graduated from there on January 7th. On January 10th, Constable Jonathan started work at the Napanee detachment."

Thank you Helen for a nice neat concise account of our boy. 

It is interesting to think we now have a police officer in the family.  I know he'll be able to use his size and muster up some sort of tough-guy personae for the job, but he's more a big gentle giant in our considerably shorter family.

A few years ago!
"Can I see you license and registration please?"

So congratulations there sonny boy.  We are all very proud of you and your accomplishments over the years.  The Napanee police force will be a better place for you being there, and I expect they'll fatten up considerably if you get relegated to breakfast duty on the weekend shifts.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Try To Be Green, I Really Do

I've finished Gretchen Rubins' book, The Happiness Project, one of the first self-help, reality style books I've been able to make it through.  Actually I lie.  I did not finish the book.  I still have two more chapters to finish.  It wasn't that I couldn't have read it faster, but I read it slowly, trying to digest each concept and hopefully apply it to my life, so it would stick.

I took it out of the library in December and have renewed it twice.  I cannot take it out in my name again until somebody else has booked it out for a while.  And unfortunately I shot myself in the foot.  A friend was at the library, while I was there and asked if I had any recommendations for a good read. Yep you know right well, what yours truly said and did.

So I took out another book of somewhat the same ilk.  Sleeping Naked Is Green, by Vanessa Farquharson is her year long journey in attempting to live greener and leave a smaller carbon footprint in life.

Now I am only one chapter into the book, so I am by no means an expert.  She makes lists of one new green thing to try each day of the year.  Apparently it was tough coming up with 31 for the first month, and then I gather she asked friends, family and cyber-acquaintances to make suggestions, from that point onward.  At first I was afraid she was going to go into great detail on the success or failure of each day.  Fortunately by day five, she has already skipped the previous day - the suggestion must have been a dismal failure.  The thing I like about her writing is that she is not shy to say if a green idea is crap for her.  She is also very quick to point out how the global marketing world has adopted this phoney green marketing scheme, that the everyone seems to be buying into.  It if says green, it must be better for Mother Earth.

Ms. Farquharson has got me thinking.  How green am I?  You know I think I have lead a relatively green life up until the last couple of years.  Then we bought the house with the pool and hottub.  I am a baaad person!  However, I am also a haaappy person to have two luxuries that I quickly become accustomed to in life.  After all we haven't taken a vacation since ( I like to think the dollars saved on a vacation balance the dollars spent on our two water features).  I also doubt we have used more fossil fuels in the heating and circulating than we would have burned in our van to travel.  But I am really just trying to rationalize my greedy, egocentric consumerism.

Growing up on the farm, we were excessively green, not necessarily by choice, but by necessity.  We had a car and a tractor.  Both were necessities.  Dad was the only driver though, and other then work, a trip to town for groceries, and church, that was about all use the car saw.

We grew all our own produce, which Mom canned, or froze.  Okay we had two old inefficient freezers, but still probably not as harmful environmentally as presently buying all fresh and processed food.

We heated with wood (yes I know the wood had to be cut with a chainsaw, and carted home with the tractor).  And yes we froze in the winter nights, when the cookstove died out after midnight.

We did not have running hot water in the house, until we got the bathroom installed.  Any hot water was always heated in a kettle on the cookstove, or boiled in the electric kettle we got later on.  Saturday night baths were from water heated on the stove as well.

To be honest I can't think of many other instances were we used power or fossil fuels to any great extent.  I think we had a minimal impact on the environment.

I do recall a nasty practice that our family had.  We had our own dump site on the farm (as did nearly everyone else of that era).  As I recall the principle components were tin cans, glass bottles, scrap metal and worn out toys.  There was virtually no plastic.

In my late teens, my brother and I decided to clean this dump up.  It took us about three or four half ton truck loads to the local dump.  Think of it in today's terms.  This was probably 60 or 70 years worth of accumulated refuse.  Imagine if we allowed our weekly refuse to build in a pile for the same amount of years, do you think we could haul it away in three half ton loads - maybe three tractor trailer loads maybe.

Not ours, but a similar example.

I note when I go back home too, that the old dump site is completely overgrown with very healthy looking weeds and vines.  Obviously nothing very horrible leached into the soil in the half century or better.  If we left our junk on the lawn for a year or two now, how many noxious little chemicals would escape into the soil?

So I've wandered off my topic -- hey as a blogger I can do what I like right!  Back to how green am I. Let's examine the positives first.

I recycle.  I am the self-proclaimed King of Recycle.  I was recycling long before recycling was cool.  Okay, I'm getting country on you, I know.  However, I do recycle all our plastic, tin, aluminum, paper and glass.  I make my twice a month pilgrimage to the recycle depot, make sure everything goes in the proper containers and get back in my truck, suffused with the self-righteous glow of having done my part, for King and country and the environment.

Every trip in the vehicles counts.  If it is a trip in to town, we wait until there are at least three or four errands to run.

Everything I build, I try to use the maximum recycle materials I can.  My garden shed for instance was all old lumber I had accumulated and picked up at the dump (when you could do that -- why on earth did they stop people from salvaging good materials?).  My vegetable wagon that we sold produce off for several years on the farm was an ancient manure spreader frame, used pressure treated lumber scavenged from work, the roof, shingles cut from scrap plywood pillaged at the dump.  I prided myself in saying that I had only bought four new U-bolts to tie the whole thing together.

My flower beds at the new house have cost me very little to construct.  I have used cedar rails from the back of the property in a lot of cases.  I have dragged in rocks from the hydro line and beyond.  I recycled the red mulch from a landscaping project into my own walkways.  I bought all the used lumber off Kijiji for my new iris beds.

Maybe we'll leave the negatives for another day.  I have a feeling I may be forced to get a bit too long-winded to continue today.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Have An LTO

The week started out like a lion and went out like a lamb - well at least from a teaching perspective, actually weather-wise too, come to think of it.   I had a class of demon-spawn on Monday.  The very ineffective principal likes to suppend students from school, for poor behaviour.  One of the lads in my class, obviously wanted Tuesday off.  In fact in no uncertain terms told me he wanted to play with his PSP.  Started the day off telling me he hated me, called me every name in the book (yep I think I learned a few new ones).  I could not believe the disrespect.  So I'm quite sure he got his day off, and is ready to fire a volley of trash at the next supply teacher that enters his world.

But the week got better with each day.  Yesterday it culminated with the most pleasant little group of Kindergartens that I have had the pleasure of teaching.  We just plain had fun!

So I have an LTO coming up.  LTO is an acronym for Long Term Occasional position.  I've applied for several of these over the years, and never hear anything back.  This one, I didn't apply for, it just fell on my lap.  I want to be happy about it, but I know there is a reason it's mine -- nobody else really wants it!

Well maybe I shouldn't say nobody wants it, but it is a difficult group - Grade 7, my favourite -- not!  The other part of this is that I will be doing the music program on Thursday afternoons for all the intermediates.  This is the fear that the teacher and principal have, that they could find a suitable, qualified replacement for the academic side of the Grade 7 class, but there are very few people who could tackle that plus do an effective job on the music end of it.  Of course it all remains to be seen, how effective I am in both roles.

The teacher I am replacing will be off for at least five weeks having elective surgery.   For now I will be hired week by week. Perhaps I should better explain my situation here too.  I am qualified, on paper, for neither Grade 7 or Music.  The danger (or maybe it might be saving grace!) is that if a qualified teacher (in both disciplines) catches wind that a non-qualifed person is filling the role, I could quickly get ousted.

So the one upside to this is that I don't have to drive far for the next month or two.  By then the weather will probably be a little more clement (is that a word, or does it need the 'in' as a prefix?) for driving distances.  Once I establish a routine, I probably will have an easier time too, but there will be lesson planning and marking to do in the evenings, which I have not had to do for some time.

So I may be a bear for a few weeks, if behaviours get out of line.  Bear with me (pardon the pun).  All this shall pass.  Who knows maybe I won't want to give the little darlings up, once their regular teacher returns.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Musical Odds and Sods

I call myself the Musical Gardener, but it seems both music and gardening have been pretty poorly represented in my blogging to date.  

From last night, I finally have three different music items to relate.

The local Operatic Society, of which I have been a part in the past years, decided last summer to tackle Sondheim's Into The Woods as their annual production. 

The girls' high school did the first act three years ago.  At that point, I went on Ebay and purchased the DVD of it, with Bernadette Peters playing the witch.  We wanted it so that daughter number one, who was cast as the narrator, in the school production, could see how it all looked and felt on stage.  I know, you are not supposed to let other productions taint the flavour of your own, but hey that's me, the rebel.

To make a long story short, I don't like the play particularly.  I know it is supposed to be musical genius, but I often find musical genius to be very tedious (well except for Bach, Mozart and Handel).  I just don't find the music and lyrics particularly singable and especially not, if the cast is less than stellar musically.  And it is dark.  It is supposed to be the mother of all fractured fairy tales -- that it is.  But it is a fairy tale that you don't want to take anyone, under eighteen too - nightmares ever after.  My feeling was it was a poor choice for our stodgy old town, that has trouble selling-out the familiar classics (we can fill the hockey arena any night of the week -- did that sound bitter?).

When our Arts Center has performances of this nature, they often ask someone in the community, to play the grand old Steinway in the foyer for an hour or so before the show, just to put people in a mellow mood for the up-coming performance.

Yours truly was the player last night.  I also get to do a repeat on Saturday night.  

Not a lot is expected, just that you fill the hour with pleasant (SOFT) music.  This is the perfect venue for me, as I can sit and compose or embellish oldies to my heart's content.  The big ticket though is to not get rambunctious, because the bar is right behind you, and the bartender and clientel hate to have to shout over the piano.  I gather this is a problem with some of the younger performers, who like to grandstand.  I'm fine with it, because, I just put the soft pedal on and tinker.  The bonus of this, is that you get a free seat for the performance on stage.  Did I mention cheap before?

I saw the first half of the production, played for intermission and then left.  Knowing I would have to teach today, and that I would see it all on Saturday night, I decided to turn in early on the week night.

So the performance was not bad.  I try to keep an open mind.  It was probably about the caliber I expected.  There were weak voices, that could not handle the music and speed of lyrics on a good day, but in a community effort, you are bound to see that sort of thing.  Red Riding Hood, The Baker, Cinderella, The Baker's wife all put in decent performances.  Milking White, the cow was charming -- how can you lose with a person in a cow costume all evening -- oh it must have been hot though!

I usually work on the set construction and painting, and opted out this year.  So did the lead designer and lead construction supervisor.  While I haven't seen the second act, the set was good in the first, but simplistic would be the word that came to mind -- adequate, but nothing spectacular.  Of course after watching the Broadway version, that set leaves me somewhat cold -- too minimalist for my taste.

The pit band was very good - obviously a few professionals brought in to spruce things up a bit.  

The third thing happening musically last night, and for which I wished I had been closer, was daughter number one's vocal recital for the mid term at university.  Just couldn't warrant the six hour drive both ways, loss of income for two days, gas, hotel room etc.

I haven't talked to her since, but I know the Sunday night dress rehearsal was a trying affair.  Twenty of them went through a grueling five hour practice.  She mentioned two were in tears and a third stormed off, vowing not to return.  I asked her if she was one of the ones in tears.  "No, but it was close."  I thought music was supposed to be an enjoyable experience.  Why are these profs so bent on crushing the student's musical joy and creativity - so opposite of the high school experience.

But anyway, she is home tonight for reading week, so I am sure we'll get the whole sordid tale.  I'm hoping there might even be something on Youtube that I can post.

Guess what I'm teaching today?  I will be picking bits of shell, and drying wet ears -- you got it Kindergarten.  Should be a fun day.  I'm thinking by noon, I'll be wanting to change my name to something other than Mr. H. However knowing that our daughter will be coming in on the evening train, will make the day go quickly I'm sure.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


A while back, my wife and I decided to make a Top Ten list each of the people who gave us the happiest memories.  We both, after some soul-searching, were able to come up with ten influentially happy people.  But as we were sitting there reminiscing, I had a sudden thought, "what about Tessie?"  "But she wasn't human", countered my wife, stating the obvious, and then in the same breath, "but she certainly did bring a lot of happiness."

When we think back on our married years, a certain little grey and white tabby cat interwove herself into our lives in so many cherished ways.

It was the fall of 1989 and I had just moved six hours from home and bought a new farm.  I was engaged to be married the following spring to my lovely wife.  A knock came on the farmhouse door.  There stood my brother-in-law-to-be with an armful of cats.  It was a housewarming gift, quite literally.  The furnace had not yet been installed and the cats snuggled up with me at night in an attempt to pilfer body warmth.  It was a symbiotic relationship though from the get go.

By mid-winter both cats were obviously pregnant -- a lesson learned, I'd be much more vigilant with my own children.  Callie, the flightier of the two, went to a local dairy farm, to help reduce the rodent population and increase the feline population.  This left me with Tessie.

The Mother Superior

Not many folks can say their cat was a part of their wedding.  We went back to the farm after the ceremony for some candid outdoor shots.  From these windswept snaps we chose one of our favourite poses to have blown up.  After the photo was hung on the wall, someone else was first to point out the little grey tiger striped tail curling out from the hem of the missus's dress.  It was so classically Tessie.  She was always just inobtrusively there.  She never missed an occasion.

A year later our first daughter made her less-than-inobtrusive appearance.  Tessie immediately adopted her.  She slept in her bassinet, crib, bed, brought her mice and generally lavished her new baby with as much kitty love as was felinely possible.  The funny thing was, that when daughter number two arrived, Tessie was not impressed.  She seemed to say, "I've done my part, this one's yours."

My baby
A long suffering friend
Watched over by the faithful sitter
Alice what have you done?

 Whenever anyone stopped by the house, they would be greeted by the welcoming committee.  A head nudge, a shin rub, a gentle purr, and the come-hither expression,  "this way to the family jewels".  Those truly favoured would be treated to the million dollar rollover and an invite to rub the tummy.

The fur comforter
Tessie was a lap cat.  The minute anyone lay down on the couch to watch the tube, they would be draped with a warm little furry grey body.  There is nothing more soothing than to drift off with a warm purr in your ear and gentle little paws kneading your belly.  My wife would often wake in the night, imagining she was drowning, but it was just the cat hat, Tessie twined lovingly around the top of her head.

At fourteen, Tessie developed a cataract in her one eye.  We should have had it attended to quickly, but as the king of procrastination, I didn't.  Unfortunately the eye ulcerated and choices had to be made.  Otherwise she was perfectly healthy.  Two days and much money later, Tessie came home a Cyclops.  But she was still our Tessie.

We had four more loving years.  In the summer of 2008, she began to noticeably fail.  Her fat warm little belly was gone, her fur, dull and lifeless, but the purr and head bunt were still there.

I came downstairs on the morning of August second to find her lifeless little body sprawled across the threshhold to the kitchen.  We placed her lovingly in a wooden basket, took her to the flower garden where I had dug a small hole.  None of us had words to say, but we each had our own pleasant memories and emotions, swirling around our sad little hearts.  Laid to rest on the grounds she loved to wander, we marked her final resting spot with a clump of iris we had hybridized years earlier and named, Tessie, in her honour. 

Tessie set the bar high, as far as cats go.  Whether we will ever be fortunate enough to be graced with such a generous little spirit again remains to be seen.  Most pets operate on the cupboard love principle, but we always said Tessie's love was genuine and unconditional.

My wife painted a portrait of our pets several years ago, which still hangs above the fireplace in our new home.  Few days go by, that one of us doesn't look at it and either silently or audibly whisper, "I miss Tessie."

And that is about all I have to say today,

.Musings and meandering from the Musical Gardener.