Saturday, 30 June 2012

Do we need another set of Pyrex pie plates?

Remember slide carousels, or steam irons with a plastic reservoir outside the iron, or those plastic “onion-flower” makers, designed so you could deep-fry your own Vidalia onions at home?  They were all on offer at the garage sale this morning at St. James Church, part of the village-wide Canada Day celebrations.

Greg is carrying out an unidentified electronic antique.

 And proving there is a buyer for (almost) anything, someone actually bought the slide projector; apparently a group he’s with has lot of slides and no way to show them. He declined to take the screen, however.

Which plants should he buy - maybe that pink basket in the lower right?

The rule is what doesn’t sell, you haul home again: not a happy prospect, so you tend to price realistically. The baby stroller I bought for $20 five years ago sold for $6. Greg’s bamboo étagère, with as-yet-unbroken glass shelves, a striking object for any room, was eventually bought by someone who intended it for his study.

Oh goodness, customers are  arriving, and not all the tables are out! 

Oddly, unlike the Christmas bazaar, Greg did not open the proceedings with a prayer. When I asked him about this he said, “It’s just not tradition.” Tradition has been left in the dust because there seems to be no official start time, or, there is a start time, but like many other ruless around here (like driving motorized vehicles on the hiking paths, but I digress), it is honoured in its breach.

The sale starts officially at 8:00 — an hour earlier than previous years to accommodate early birds. The 9 on the sign has clearly been written over to make an 8, but when customers arrived at 7:30, as we were setting up, we let them buy things. This custom is a startling departure from what I am used to in larger centres.

The are still lots of boxes to unload!

Also, a local church, whose denomination shall remain nameless, held a preview yesterday afternoon, which was bad enough, but they actually allowed purchases to be made! I am still  surprised more people weren’t as scandalized by this turn of events as I was.

In any event, despite being hampered by such an un-Anglican head start, we were soon off and flying. The brand new rubber boots were snapped up, as was a very old beaten-up soccer ball, a pole lamp with a blue lampshade (you’d recognize it from the 90s), two white pleated lamp shades, wool, sets of floral dishes, a set of four scarcely used non-stick skillets, the prettier mugs, most of the Tupperware and, of course, perennials from someone’s garden (“Oh no, are all the hostas sold? Darn”).

Sometimes you have to be ingenious to insure a sale: I have brought a small pink wicker basket almost every year we have been in the parish. It had come home unsold annually until this year when I decided to fill it with herbs and sell it for $2. I think the dirt alone was worth that and yes, someone bought it for the basil.

Alas we had a lot of unsold pink tablecloths and scatter mats – not as popular a colour these days as in the 80s. It was the same story with peach-coloured dried flower arrangements likely early 90s in both colour and provenance. However, the card table cloths sold quickly. Our Borat sound track sold, as did Adele’s first CD. A surprising number of books sold — but undoubtedly because of the church ladies’ being present, no one bought the paperback on how to mix drinks like a playboy bunny. They probably wanted to though.

Oh, I want those cookies!

The bake sale was pretty much history by 8:30. Butter tarts and pies, pickled eggs, the equivalent of two roasting pans of nuts and bolts, breads, home-made jams and jellies, and squares so sweet “they’ll make your teeth rattle” flew off the tables to the tune of almost $1,200.

The bake sale - before

The bake sale - after

My canteen sales were helped along by a parishioner who had to bake several dozen cookies for a do at the Eastern Star; she offered to buy four dozen from me and save herself the work of baking them. Done! As the day got hotter, we did a brisk business in bottled water, coffee and very strong tea.

All that remained of my 84 cookies and 50 Rice Krispie squares.

Lots of men came into the bake sale for something to eat while they toured the town, and they bought up the Rice Krispies Squares not the young kids that I imagined would. My rhubarb custard pies both sold; however, remembering the unhappy tale of recent food poisoning arising from devilled eggs, I warned the gentlemen who bought them not to store them in a hot car since “the custard contains eggs.”

People arrived on foot, in pick-up trucks and cars, of course, and also in golf carts, which are a very popular way of getting around town, especially with a small wagon attached for all the children and purchases that don’t fit in the cart. There were even a couple of dump trucks cruising the streets. 

A perfect day for travel by golf cart

Anyhow, it was a great morning – and all over by 1:00 for another year.

The bake sale ladies - and one gentleman - take a well-deserved rest.

Friday, 29 June 2012

We were forever blowing bubbles

A few weeks ago, I read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.  It is about a middle-aged man’s recollection of events that happened many years before and how his memory did not jibe with what seemed to have really happened. Much of his life was therefore built on a misunderstanding and too much guilt. It was, as Barnes says, unsettling, both to the main character of the novel and to me, as it caused me to wonder about my own memory of things from years ago and what memory itself consists of.

In his Confessions, St Augustine ponders the question of memory and where it arises. Until I read that, I hadn’t given much thought to memory chiefly, I suppose, because I have never taken a course in psychology and have taken memory for granted.  Like breathing, it’s just something you do: you remember.

But I got a little jolt last week when I was getting things ready to give to the Diabetes Association. One of the reasons I like to donate is that they come and pick things up right off the porch and they take books! So I found a number of books I thought we could happily share with other readers. I was about to add an old atlas called The World We Live In to the pile when I got curious about its contents  always a bad sign when getting rid of books  and flipped through the pages.

To my surprise, out fell a couple of 45+ -year-old flattened corsages and then some photographs. They consisted of pictures of me and my good friend John Geddes at his family cottage.  

We were 18 years old.  In several we are sitting on rocks in a stream and on the back, I had written “at Piper’s Dam June  1966.”  I remember feeling rather risqué in my new two-piece swimsuit. The other images and their associations were lost to my memory, for instance, playing with a cat called Buttons.  

Thre is a photo of John's mother and an older women I'd identified as Mrs. Halpern sitting in lawnchairs. Then there was a structure which must have been the cottage.

It was something of a shock to come across these photos held safely in that book over many years and many moves.I couldn't remember taking them, although I had written on the back of them. I wondered about the rest of the story in those pictures.  So I looked it up: I have kept a journal from about the age of 14 to the present   although it is a bit intermittent during the years when the children were young.

I took out the old orange exercise book published by Gage with Math facts on the back cover for May 23, 1966 to November 1, 1966. I wondered if I had written anything.  There was quite a lot, as it turned out:

            June 16:

I’m going to John’s this weekend; I had a premonition about Fri. night so luckily I refused [a date] with G. It should be fun drive-in, barbecue, Mrs. Fells [our high school librarian], beach etc. I got a new 2-piece bathing suit at Mary Skidmore’s for $25! kind of a brown colour with flowers woven in enhances my hair.

June 19:

John’s cottage was fun. We went to see the harbour on Fri night and bought candy from Larry Jeffrey the hockey player at his booth (wow) & saw a ship and the lighthouse. John and I beat Mr. and Mrs. G at euchre after we got home.

On Sat. we went into Goderich and looked at the stores. John and I went to Piper’s Dam in the afternoon only ones there fun, awfully pretty but a fast current. In the evening we went to Mrs. Fells’ and Miss Wyatt’s [high school English teacher] then to the drive-in a double feature western and bikini picture.

On Sunday we blew bubbles & played with the cat, went to Seaforth for John’s grandmother to Black’s Point more bubbles & home after dinner.

The weather was warm and sunny.

 And that's it; admittedly there are a few more paragraphs  in which I confided to my journal very positive thoughts about John and subjected myself to relentless self-examination.  Those comments will remain in my journal. Well,  I will note our shared sense of humour,  as we blew those bubbles:  “I mean who else, 18 years old, would lie on a beach blowing bubbles over a bush at people lying (supposedly unawares) about 100 feet on the other side.”  

Then, at John's prompting (still chums after all these years, I'm happy to say),  I searched in one of my photograph boxes and found the pictures I had taken in 1966: 

They show John, then his mum, blowing bubbles; the Maitland River; Buttons the cat looking at a bubble; John swimming in the river; and  me in my hair-enhancing bathing togs. (Once I figure out how to reproduce them  individually, I'll revise this blog. My struggles to do this would take a blog entry by itself.)

So I have snapshots (literally and figuratively) of myself at the age of 18.  It seems so different from how I assume modern-day 18-year-olds spend a weekend at the beach! It is comforting but at the same time rather unsettling to have these journal entries about what happened so long ago.  

I wonder about a lot of things: how I came to be the way I am, how we all do, how much of me remains from that young girl, how much of any of us remains from our youth and how so much is lost to memory without these wonderful  prompts.

To see John's blog on this effervescent event, just  go to 

No photo-op should go unsnapped

I must remember to take my camera with me at all times. Yesterday we were in St. Mary’s looking for a place to eat dinner and discovered so many photo opportunities.   From an elegant century-old restored bridge, we watched a pair of swans who drifted down the Thames River and now and then contorting their necks to search out something under their plumage  or pecking affectionately at each other — could have been photo potential. Steps away was the imposing  limestone library — a Carnegie library to boot (Parkhill, take note). The massive town hall anchors that block, and I could have snapped at least part of its impressive façade.  ­ Then there was a restored  castle-like structure a couple of blocks away which looked like a playhouse but which a couple of patrons of the Laundromat across the street  said was the old “opree house.”  Could have snapped their weathered faces too!

Leaving architectural photo ops for other  such mundane shots, behold a calico cat draped sound asleep over a ‘cat hotel’ in the window of a store catering to “Pets and Animals.” We wondered which category the cat fell into.  The dressmaker’s shop next door featured red clothes for Canada Day, and the book store honoured local quilting and, for some reason, an aqua-coloured cruiser bicycle. Close by, a plaque noted Timothy Eaton’s lesser-known brother, whose name escapes me, but who, along with Timothy, opened a dry goods store on the main street. He seems to have stayed behind while his better-known sibling moved on to fame and fortune in Toronto. While the handsome premises are still standing, like Timothy’s grander operation, they alas no longer house the original enterprise.

Anyhow, when I got home and was faced with the task of producing baked goods for the annual, village-wide, July 1 garage sale on Saturday, I decided to digitalize my efforts. Not as memorable subjects as the St. Mary’s photo ops, but just as tasty as the desserts at the Black Angus where we had dinner:
Very sticky - also why do they put the recipe inside the box?

84 chocolate chip cookies and an uncounted number of RK squares

In making the Kellogg’s Rice Krispie Squares, I also learned something about Snap, Crackle and Pop. They have personalities —   something the way the Spice Girls did, but more complicated.  And if you apply Myers-Briggs Typology, you have an even fuller relationship with and understanding of  your morning breakfast cereal, as you eat it  — or them. Snap is likely a ESTJ; Crackle seems to be more of an INFJ; and Pop must be an ESFP. 

Just look at the photo and you decide:

And from now on, I will remember my camera!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Theatrical Musings

Naturally, when someone offers you a $20 ticket to a play at Stratford, you say yes and go.  Which is how Greg and I ended up at a regrettable performance of Henry V this afternoon, a preview for the play, which opens July 13.  

It was such a cluttered unfocussed production.  Director Des McAnuff’s notes suggested his dilemma: Is Henry V, which today ran for three long hours excluding a 20-minute intermission, a celebration or a bitter condemnation of war? He suggested Shakespeare intended to present “a whole matrix of opposing yet equally persuasive points.”  

Perhaps, but it is the director’s job to clarify the paradox not to muddy it. Shakespeare’s Henry goes to war with romantic notions about heroism and the righteousness of his cause and comes out of the experience with his innocence lost. The audience are witnesses to his hardening and brutality.  

But in this production, Henry seems just about the same at the end as at the beginning. For one thing, Aaron Krohn’s Henry had little stage presence; maybe this was what director Des McAnuff intended in order to show the banality of war. If so, he succeeded. This Henry sat on a cannon during the St. Crispin’s Day speech. His voice fell away at the ends of lines when it should have swelled. His wooing of Catherine, which should be a combination of menace, temptation and flirtation, was wooden. The only time he seemed engaged with his lines was in his soliloquy on ceremony in the second act.

Alas, the actors seemed unaware of the importance of each word and placed the wrong emphasis on many, so the dramatic emphasis was lost.  This is a history play. You expect pageantry, declamation and heroic speech. Once you’ve been caught up in that, you mentally stand back and view what you may have been complicit in.  In this play, that didn’t happen. So many lines were thrown away. As Greg said, “Once more into the breach” was completely lost in ambient noise.

In fact, the actors were often up-staged by the busy-ness that went on. The play specifically calls the members of the audience to use their imaginations to picture battlefields. Instead, we were distracted by all sorts of stuff. We got saw-horse horses, which had to be put on stage and removed, a revolving parade of stretchers to indicate battlefield deaths, irritating slamming floor grates used for a variety of purposes: camp fires, blowing up prisoners, raising and lowering a throne and a bathtub featured in the only nude scene in the pay, which one of our party, to his great regret, missed because he had dozed off. There was an unnecessary diorama of Falstaff on his deathbed. The first act ended with the hanging of Bardolph ― histrionic ― and not in a good way. 

But that didn’t compare with the ending of the play when a huge Canadian flag unfurled, and we left the theatre to the strains of the Beatles’ Revolution. Too odd.

 We wondered why we hadn’t seen anything as suboptimal as this in years until I recalled that we are cowards: we usually wait and read the reviews and eschew anything which does not get at least three stars.   

Alas, the only thing meriting three, if not four, stars around this matinee was the picnic lunch we enjoyed with our friends before the performance. There, on the island in the Avon, the bubbly bubbled!


Thanks to one of our lunching friends, here is a link to how the Band of Brothers speech should be said:

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Potluck Gamble

Everyone knows June is the month of strawberries, but here in the Wilds of North Middlesex, it is also the month of potluck lunches and dinners, a time-honoured tradition to mark the end of another year’s activities.  Between us, Greg and I have attended at least six in the last couple of weeks, and there are more to come ― some even sliding over into July.
The question always arises as to whether to have a true potluck or the modified version. Apparently, a sign-up list is rarely handed around, as that would take the fun out of it entirely, but the hostess sometimes offers to provide part of the meal, hence, the modified potluck. However, so far this year, the normally conservative inhabitants of this area have opted for the more daring true potluck.
This has the usual unintended consequences.
People seem to have their own speciality, like sauerkraut or meatballs or jellied salad.  I confess I am beginning to rather  like orange Jell-O with crushed pineapple, but please, not grated carrots.  I don’t know the last time I had Ambrosia – well, not before the two opportunities I had to indulge this month.  It consists of coconut, miniature marshmallows, fruit cocktail and whipped cream and counts as a main dish. So does apple salad made with dream whip (the healthier choice, according to the provider, than whipped cream).
Greg and I always bring our Salsa Delight: a layer of cream cheese, topped with salsa, followed by chives from the garden, if available, or green onions, if not, and finished with grated cheddar. Our challenge is whether to spread it an inch deep and a mile wide in the flat corning ware dish (my choice) or thicker and less extensively and I might add, harder for dippers! – in the two-quart casserole (Greg’s option). It’s a difficult decision and, I feel, may unconsciously reveal something of the deeper nature of each of us.
Anyhow, we enjoyed three different versions of baked beans and the same number of meat ball dishes at one potluck recently. The dinner was held out in the country in a house backing onto a woods and bordered by a large field. Partway through the meal, a coyote bounded across the field, and a while later about half a dozen young coyote pups came running back in the opposite direction, followed by the adult encouraging a slow-poke sibling.
I wondered what they had been finding to eat. As it happens, the population of stray cats on our street has seemed remarkably reduced from earlier head counts.  It crossed my mind, as I took a second helping of Ambrosia, that perhaps the coyotes in our neck of the woods are enjoying their own version of potluck.
In any event, there is a knack to a successful outdoor potluck. It primarily involves avoiding food poisoning. Recently at the Parish Picnic, aka the Sunday School Picnic, we enjoyed two kinds of potato salad and various cold meats, but not a lot in the way of vegetables  –  unless you count the 11 asparagus spears wrapped in ham.  Thankfully, insulated zippered carry-ins, as well as the usual Tupperware, lined the picnic table in the pavilion at Coronation Park.  Anglicans seem to have a container for every occasion.
My enjoyment of the meal was dampened by an account of another potluck, a birthday celebration the previous afternoon after which a number of attendees suffered food poisoning. I found out later it was traced to devilled eggs. The degree of upset was in direct proportion to the number eaten and the length of time which had elapsed while they were being consumed. One devilled egg at the start produced no symptoms; five consumed over the course of a hot afternoon … well, it was not pleasant.
The ladies of the Anglican Guild (i.e., the evening guild that meets in the afternoon) held their year-end do indoors last week. We enjoyed what turned out to be a lot of fruit and veg – perhaps compensation for their non-appearance at the Parish Picnic from two days before. Not wanting to repeat the salsa too soon, I surprised everyone with seven kinds of raw vegetables and a dip of my own invention.
After lunch, we began the formal meeting with a short devotional service. We use thin leather-covered chapbooks dated 1897 and published by “the Gazette in Parkhill,” according to the flyleaf. I always enjoy the prayer in which we ask God to “pour down the continual dew of thy blessing upon him whom thou hast called to minister in this portion of thy vineyard.”
The “him” in question was absent at the time, being at a potluck lunch for his fellow vineyard keepers in Clericus.  However, he did arrive later on just in time to be blessed with a slice of apple pie provided by the hostess of the day, thanks to her husband, a retired farmer whose pastry, I can say without a moment of hesitation, is to die for.

Potlucks seem to be the same all over, as this tune by the Prowell Family of Kansas (and YouTube) attests:

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Thanks to the workshop led by poet Cathy Smith Bowers at the annual Haden Institute Dream Conference, I learned a new form for poetry - the pantoum. The pantoum, a series of repetitive quatrains was first written in Malaysia in the fifteenth-century. This is my first attempt; I haven't quite decided on the title:

The black mandala holds the answer

I am wandering around in the darkness.

There is nothing but black to be seen.

I don’t feel I’m in danger of falling.

I just don’t know where I am.

It is black so there’s nothing to see.

I walk slowly but without groping.

I just don’t know where I am.

Then I think, why on earth don’t I call you?

I walk slowly but without groping;

I don’t need my hands to shield me.

Then I think why on earth don’t I call you?

We’re still friendly – it’s silly not to.

I don’t need my hands to guide me.

I am safe here though all is black.

We’re still friendly – there’s no reason not to.

I should call you; we talked just a while back.

I am safe? Where all is black,

Without land marks or buildings or roads,

I must call you. We haven’t talked for some time.

Then slowly I start to realize, “It’s not me, it’s him.”

There are no landmarks or buildings or roads, but

Is dirt ploughed up all around me?

Then slowly I start to realize, “It’s not me, it’s him.”

And now on the cusp of awaking, I just want to go back to sleep.

But is dirt ploughed up all around me?

There’s a sense of not much being there.

Now on the cusp of awaking, I just want to get back to sleep.

But a new fact slips into my dream.

There’s a sense of not much being there –

Just the blackness and overturned earth –

When this new fact is put to me:

You can’t call him because he is dead.


So, I’m not in danger of falling,

I just don’t know where I am.