Archive for October, 2008

Sumac in October…

October 24, 2008

Open the front door
then the screen.
The sumac burns with October fire –
flaming vermilion. Banked oranges
spark the misty rectangle.
They glow against
a faded hedging, a green and straw lawn.
Outside, it is chill.
My insides are cinders, yet
the front door is a bellows
that fans my ashen heart
into life.

GM, October, 2008

Jam-jar aesthetics…

October 23, 2008

If people were generally more knowledgeable about the resources used and labour expended in the fabrication of the simplest items of daily use we would find the contemporary privilege of unchecked choice horrific, wasteful and counter to our need for self-preservation as a species.

One day, while waiting for my friend to complete her banking business, I wandered around our local Value Village. In several long aisles there were a staggering variety and number of flower-vases, lined up higgledy-piggledy, cheek to jowl – vases that householders had found lacking in currently favoured taste, and which then they had discarded or otherwise removed from their consciousness and environs. Mind you, there were no un-noticed Daum or Lalique vases with which to tempt the tightwad person of bourgeois aspirations. There were however many acceptable containers in which to temporarily house flowers arriving at our shore from overseas flower growers. Yes – there was that delicately cut bud-vase in which to display that red rose from Colombia, the one that would make its way home from a refrigerated container at the harbour’s edge, to the auction house on Marine Drive and then from the local florist or grocery store. A visitor to the house, where such rose is displayed in its hot-house glory, might sigh in appreciation at the unblemished perfection of the flower amply displayed in the tasteful and delicate cut glass bud-vase. The fact that it is the last gasp of autumn here and no roses can thus bloom on their shrubs would simply not occur to the visitor, the magnificence simply erases all practical and logical thought.

And such is the case with most of North-Americans’ aesthetic manner of living. Special containers need specimen and uncommon flowers to display, and there must be a variety of containers available – to suit every taste and personal economy. It is somewhat doubtful that a fashionable matron in the British Properties, or in Shaughnessy would walk along ditches and fields, collect wildflowers and display them in an empty Smuckers Strawberry Jam jar. No, for such a lady the Meinhardt’s on South Granville or a flower selller on Granville Island or in Kerrisdale might provide the exotic blooms for which the vases are purchased from Atkinson’s or Martha Sturdy on Granville or even Birks, downtown. The aspiring middle-class housewife might purchase her flowers from the local flowershop, or the grocery store, and her vases from Bowrings, Ikea or Homesense. Women, disparagingly classified as granola-munchers, the frugal or the poor ones might just do with a second-hand vase picked up at a garage sale or thrift shop, and if really skint, then put into service the good old jam-jar or milk bottle.

I have to confess that I have often displayed downwardly-mobile tendencies in the past, and continue to do so to this day. While I love beauty in its myriad forms, I feel no pressure to own it. It is enough that it merely exists, everywhere, commonplace hard-wrought beauty. Of particular value are the tools with which life is carried on; they need to be functional and long-lasting – in that resides their beauty. The term, “gilding the lily” comes to mind. One does not have to apply flourishes to something whose inherent beauty is enwrapped in its perfect functionality. The field daisy can vie with the lily; both are beautiful, each in their own way and neither needs embellishment and both look spectacular placed in a plain tall drinking glass, or a tall narrow pickle-jar. An ornate carved crystal vase diminishes the flowers, in my opinion. Possible contemplation of the marvel of nature that is a field daisy is distracted by the context of man-made tour-de-force of elaborate craft.

One of the few wedding presents Rumpole and I received was a gorgeous carved Lalique vase. It sat on our mantle for three years and never once housed flowers. It seemed to overpower the kind of flowers and grass stems I picked up in my forays about the neighbourhood. It never loooked right, and seemed to me a reminder of the kind of rarified life I was to aspire to – one of ease, leisure, and material comfort and a distancing from visceral pleasures of a rather grubby life. Never having been a young woman to whom were given flowers, but rather tin snips, wire cutters, metal files, carving tools and prosthetic arms and other strange, unfeminish items such as strange rocks and concretions or dried dead things. The joke in our house was that if it came from a ditch, field, or midden it took pride of place on the mantle; however if a glorious bouquet of flowers came from a flower shop or decor shop it was left to decay, deform and otherwise gather dust and then it was of value. That poor Lalique vase never had a chance for long survival. Whilst packing up the house to move up north to our acreage and log house in the bush, I was carefullly sorting and determining just what objets deserved careful wrapping and placing into packing boxes. The concretions, shells, bits of bark, twigs, stones and seeds were carefully wrapped and set aside. Similarly, any old and roughed up glass medicine jars picked up from dusty second hand stores and jars of pleasant proportion, with or without lids, were lovingly seated among crumpled nests of newspaper and insulated against brakage. I had left the Lalique vase to the end, considered giving it to my mother, who might have been horrified at what an unsentimental ingrate I was to not value such a beautiful gift. I held it nestled in my hands as I stood above the flagged stone apron of the fireplace, contemplated the vase and what it meant to me,to the giver, to any other recipient who might have valued it; decided that I had neither the inclination nor energy to spend time in seeking a new home for the vase, opened my fingers and dropped it onto the stones. It shattered into fine pieces, which I then swept up and put into the dustbin.

The last item I packed from the mantle was a small plaster plaque which six-year old Renaissance Man had made for me of an impression of a leaf. I still have that sitting on my studio window, next to an empty jam-jar ready to hold a foundling weed flower, and alongside a toy firetruck and some retrieved circuit boards. Oh yes, and a cardboard cut out of a brocade bedecked Renaissance Queen.

That is what I consider jam-jar aesthetics; a not very fashionable one, but which gives me far more satisfaction than the Lalique vase ever did.

Joe the plumber in Pleasantville…

October 18, 2008

Up here in Canada we have the Brothers Mackenzie, Air Farce, loggers, habitants, the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks. We also have the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, who now lives in the U.S.of A. We have poutine, maple syrup and Tourtiere. Alas, we do not have Joe the Plumber, who whips up our electorate as he does in the U.S.

Today I met our version of Joe the Plumber. His name is Bryan; he drives a large imposing looking white truck with his company name emblazoned on the sides. He speaks with a juicy Cockney accent, sports a gold ring in his left ear, looks like a pugilist and wields a mighty wit as well as a large wrench, with which he gesticulates to drive home plumbing truths.
You see our water main has burst, which necessitated a visit from Joe, I mean… Bryan the Plumber. He is really good at getting down to the source of the problem. He took a look at our soggy front lawn, took a few steps, whereupon the ground heaved under his feet, and pronounced the source of the leak. Fortunately for us, water hasn’t started to come into our basement.
Naturally, these sorts of things tend to happen just whenever Rumpole is away for one of his male bonding trips with Man of Science, as just happens in this instance. I am the one left alone to deal with tradesmen, not one of my favourite things to do, as I am past the age of disarming them with my charm and good looks to get a good discount. Would you give a woman who looks like Popeye’s grizzled mother a discount? I thought not!
Thus, I gritted what few teeth are left in my head and wrote out a hefty deposit cheque, for work to commence on Tuesday. Bryan summoned the municipality’s operations guy to come out and turn the water off at the main junction. My God! He actually lied to the City guy and said our basement was awash in fresh water. The lie seemed to do the trick, as in no time a municipal operations van was parked out front and disgorged a fellow wielding a metal detector. He promptly found the connection and closed it off. Whew! We are safe, for now, from having a basement double as a swimming pool.
Bryan connected us to Lookingforbeauty’s outside garden outlet, so now we have water until the reconnection is effected, this coming Tuesday. I put in a call on Rumpole’s cell phone and left him a message of outlining the ‘disaster’s specifics’ and the outlay of shekels involved. That should dampen his holiday in Bella Coola, which he was so enthusiastic about. Other people get exercised about upcoming holidays in Turkey and Egypt, the Turks and Caicos, the temples at Angkor Wat. My beloved waxes poetic about the beauties of overland travel through the bush to that hotbed of tourism, Bella Coola.
It seems to me now, that my local candidate for the recently past election might have taken a cue from Sarah Palin and John McCain’s Joe the Plumber exploitation idea. He might have used Bryan the Plumber to sing praises of the union to which he belongs, got his opinion on all matters of concern to the local electorate – the environment, the electoral reforms, resource management and the economy.
Maybe next Tuesday, when Bryan the Plumber comes to reconnect us to the municipal water mains, I shall beard him while he is thus occupied and suss out how he feels about all that. However, I don’t know what I’ll do if he expresses Conservative sympathies and demonstrates jubilation about our newly returned Conservative minority. I guess I’ll have to be subtle and keep my pinko attitudes under my hat, that is, until after he has completed the plumbing job for us. But it’ll really hurt me to write that cheque, should he be be a card-carrying Conservative.

A confluence of notable dates…

October 18, 2008

The past week has seen Canadian Thanksgiving, the Canadian national Election and my birthday, concurring within two days. It has been a busy week, and I have spent much time in the kitchen preparing foods and accompanying that, tidying up. We have kept company with friends and family in a swirl of visiting and discussion. We thanked Providence for everyone’s health and for now, ongoing economic stability. It has been largely unspoken, but during times of difficulty we all know we are going to be present to lend aid, support and encouragement to those about us in need. That is much for which to give thanks.
On Sunday the 12th, a large group of friends and family convened at Lookingforbeauty’s for the Thanksgiving feast. She and Whistler had spent time the week before, polishing the silver, and laying out the festive china. They made a big shopping trip for the turkey, ham, potatoes and vegetables and delivered the groceries for which I was to be the cook. LFB was doing the turkey, stuffing, gravy and potatoes,while I was to prepare the ham, brussel sprouts, mashed turnips and baked apples. It was an equitable split as well as a practical one since neither of us have an oven large enough to house both turkey and ham at once. After all, we were preparing food for ten people.

Came Sunday morning, seven a.m., there I was in my pajamas, trimming brussel sprouts ends and precooking them – all the while carefully following instructions from a recipe Barb had e-mailed me.
My family loves brussel sprouts, even just steamed, however, for this feast we had to have sprouts in a mustard and cheese cream sauce that could be swiftly reheated in the microwave. i was in the middle of cooking the cream sauce for this when Rumpole emerged from the bedroom and announced,
“By God, but you are noisy. Can’t you leave the cooking for later?”
“No, I couldn’t,” retorted I, “This dish has to sit in the fridge for at least five hours.”
“Well, it had better be good tasting,” he muttered, ” you know how much store Glasgow Girl sets by delicious and NOT overcooked brussel sprouts.”
He poured himself a coffee and retired to the living room couch, leaving me to thicken the cream sauce.
I grumbled under my breath. ” Hisself could at least have offered to peel and chop the two monstrous turnips. There they are sitting, large as life, hell – larger – at his breakfast place. His eyesight must be going! – Oh well…”
The cream sauce thickened after what seemed like a long time. It occurred to me why I don’t make cream sauces at all – one has to keep the milk from scorching and ruining the taste, thus it takes forever to slowly raise the heat to cause thickening. Of course, the fun part is incorporating the flavouring ingredients. For me, recipes are not absolutes and written in stone – just mere suggestions which one can alter at a whim, after tasting to concoct a newish flavour. Instead of cheddar, I used mozzarella and added more Dijon mustard than callled for. The pinch of nutmeg seemd a trifle paltry so I beefed up the amount by adding one sprinkling clockwise, then another counterclockwise to amuse myself. That’s a sort of witchy thing to do – and slaving over a steaming pot makes me feel and look like a witch, so why not indulge myself – “eye of newt, hair of dog, chicken toenail shavings and Abracadabra – we have a killer cream sauce for brussel sprouts.”

The turnips loomed in their earthy splendour on the kitchen table, next to two huge white onions.
After saucing the sprouts and putting them to cool in the fridge, I tackled the turnips. It was a Herculean task, this peeling, during which time my trusty old peeler gave up the ghost and broke into two pieces. I fished out the back-up peeler from the tool drawer and continued peeling. Rumpole came out to top up his coffee. He set down his coffee-cup next to the mountain of turnip peel while he grabbed the carafe. As he poured the coffee, I flipped a peel neatly into his cup.
“I hope you washed that turnip before you started to peel it,” he commented as he fished out the peel.
“Naturellement, mon cheri,” I cooed, whilst chipping away at the turnip.
“I don’t think there will be enought turnip for ten people,” he opined. “maybe you’d better prepare the third one too.”
“You know how few people favour turnips, my dear, they equate it with poverty food. I want to leave them begging for more.”
While dicing the turnips and the onions for over half an hour, I mulled about people we have known who cannot force themselves to choke back turnips in any form. A good friend ate turnips for over two years, almost daily, during the latter years of the Second World War in Holland. never does he let turnips pass his lips – he equates its flavour and texture with hardship. In some way, this makes sense, in his case, but turnips are a wonderful root vegie, and plentiful during our winter season in these latitudes. They keep well in storage and ar high in nutrients. What’s not to love and eat during a celebration of harvest season and of thankfulness for the earth’s bounty.

Once the turnips and onions simmered in the large Dutch oven, I puttered around washing the apples and preparing the sugar and spices with which to flavour them for baking. prepared the glaze for the ham and sat down to figure out the order and timing of putting the different dishes into the oven. Rumpole came out and ordered me to take a nap, and I complied. He volunteered to begin the baking at the appropriate time.

By the time I emerged from my nap, he had already begun baking the ham and had basted it at least twice. It was then time to place the casserole of brussel sprouts into the oven, and begin to prepare the baked apples. He washed and dried the apples once again, cored them and trimmed peel from their tops. He poured lemon water over them to keep their colour and following the recipe I wrote out for him placed butter bits into each cavity and then the spiced sugar mixture. He finished by sprinkling more sugar over all the apples and closed the baking casserole. He seemed well-pleased with his effort of preparing this part of the meal.
“Make sure you tell everyone I made the baked apples,” he requested.

At the appointed time Renaissance Man appeared and Whistler arrived – together they ferried our contributions next door. Rumpole and I made our way over a little later, after changing into better duds.

The evening was full of lively talk, with ample distraction provided by Mousey who is a socialite in the bud. While everyone ate turkey, ham and all the fixings, she ate of the two main food groups – cranberry sauce and ice cream, with a tryout of artichoke hearts, right after a mouthful of cranberry sauce. She was unimpressed.

Wine flowed, and along with it humorous discussion of the American campaigning. We agreed that the US elections distracted from our own, which seemed downright colourless and humdrum in comparison. We don’t have a Sarah Palin, who seems to be a Republican “weapon of mass distraction” to provide us with unforgettable one liners and nonsensical interviews with the news media. There didn’t seem the be a definite platform from the various parties vying for our votes – just generalizations, red herrings such as talk of our health care crises which really are provincial matters. Naturally, the economy got its share of table-talk – every one of us is affected by what is going on in the economic turmoil about us all. Naturally, we hastened to reassure ourselves that our banking system operates under more rules than does that of America’s, yet unspoken and unadmitted was the fact as the fortunes of our neighbour go, so does ours follow.

Thanksgiving was a pleasant respite from pervasive anxiety surrounding us. And then there was election day, on Tuesday.

Election day coincided with my birthday. Lucky and Barb decided to bring dinnner and wine for the four of us in the evening, after which Aime and Lookingforbeauty were to join us for cake and to watch election results on the TV. Dinner was wonderful curried chicken, pakoras and samosas made of chick pea flour and vegies all prepared by Lucky’s Mom, and a fresh salad made by Barb. We studiously stayed away from discussion of politics during dinner, as each of the four of us voted differently. Aime and Lookingforbeauty arrived at 8 with a wonderful cream cake. After filling our plates with cake and our cups with tea, we gathered around the television set and anxiously watched the voting results scroll by at the bottom of the screen, while various pundits opined about the potential outcomes, the strength of the various parties’ strategies, etc.

A phone call came in, and i took it in the kitchen. It was Mousey, singing “Happy Birthday to you grandma…. you know I am on the potty – heeee!!!! giggle”.
Rumpole yelled out from the living room.
“G, your candidate came in second. The pinko bites it! Ha!” He sounded extremely cheery.

If Mousey had not made me giggle, I think I would have burst into tears. As the nation wide results rolled in, I understood we were in for more of the same secretive style of governance that has characterized this minority government. It saddened me that voter turnout was at a record low; people may feel hopeless in effecting change, yet by not turning out to cast a vote have engineered a maintenance of the status quo with which they may feel dissatisfaction. I am angered at the millions of dollars wasted on an un-needed election. And I worry that the scrambling to stabilize faltering economic systems diverts attention and action from the complex of problems facing all societies – ecological devastation, food supply failure, water supply paucity and inevitable social upheaval.

As the Chinese curse goes – “may you live in interesting times”, yes it has come true. We do live in “interesting times”. My birthday wish is for more uneventful times, but I’m afraid, that is not to be realized. On the other hand, there is still much for which to be thankful.

What is liveable…

October 3, 2008

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

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