Archive for the ‘Down home’ Category

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If a computer could converse, that’s what mine would have said when I recently downloaded a disc full of pictures.

Seems Homeboy has discovered the magic of the macro lens and found out the fun of getting up close and personal with all sorts of natural bits.

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Well, hello there. Aren’t you lovely.

I love the orange antenna and the luminous green of the leaves. That yellowy underside would be such a pretty colour in a hallway, on the way to the household library. I think I’ll have quince preserves with my scones, Miss Marple. Would you pass the tea, please?

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My mother and I made dandelion (dent de lion — lion’s tooth) wine one year when I was in university. Dandelion heads, lemons, oranges, sugar and yeast. Smelled heavenly as it bubbled away in an old ceramic crock. Super sweet, but that’s how most homemade wines used to turn out. My German-born aunt always had a project or two brewing away under the basement steps.

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Forget-me-nots. Homeboy’s bedroom in our last house was this cheery shade of blue. Periwinkle blue.

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Don’t know where he found this little lovely bit. He was en route to a friend’s house to work on some homework.

I understand he’s also been working on a series of hexapoda close-ups. Next time perhaps.


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Keeping cool

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How do you manage your stress?

Do you nibble your nails? Bite the heads off unsuspecting passersby? Seek solitary solace?

Some people, of course, manage to go through life without any obvious evidence of ever being touched by the blight of nervous tension.

My father is one of those saints. I have not ever once seen him lose his cool about anything.

A couple of soggy Manitoba summers ago, Dad was determined to get his meagre crop of wheat off the field and out for sale. Maybe he would have gotten a couple hundred bucks. Maybe. But since when has making money had anything to do with farming?

I digress.

So Dad swathed the field with the tractor a couple of times, creating thin rolls of the wheat stalks, enabling it to dry in the summer heat.

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Except it was the summer of the everlasting rain cloud. The rain fell, the wheat sat. The structure of the swaths kept the wheat from rotting on the ground but dryness was hard come by that year.

Dad waited and waited, the wheat was finally dry enough and he swapped out the swather for the combine. Up and down the fields with this noisy machine which separates the wheat kernels from the stalks (which later become bales of straw).

At the end of one, perhaps two, days (a small plot, only 25 acres) all the wheat was off the field and in the hopper of the combine, and was then augered out (like a giant Archimedean screw) and in to the back of Dad’s old pick-up truck.

Have I lost you on the process? Wheat in field, wheat in combine, wheat in truck.

From the truck he shovelled all the wheat — a couple hundred pounds —  into a granary, a little drying shed. There it sat for a couple of days, another step in the drying process.

And then Dad shovelled it — a couple hundred pounds — back into the truck, ready to take the wheat to the grain elevator. Elevators are those big tall structures you see dotted across the prairie landscapes, like giant milk cartons, connected across the land by endless miles of train tracks. Farmers sell their wheat at the elevator and the grain starts a journey that may take it to the other side of the planet.

Except on this day the elevator folks didn’t want Dad’s wheat.  Too moist — we’re not in the sprout business, mister. So Dad drove back home (fortunately he lives only a couple of kilometres from the elevator) and then shovelled — a couple hundred pounds — once again out of the truck and into the granary.

All that work. All that waiting, then the field work, then the shovelling… I expected Dad to at least kick the tires of his tired F-150, but he shrugged. What can you do? he said.

A couple of days later he shovelled it — you get it now? — all back into the truck again and rumbled off to the elevator.
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He returned after a while, the truck box empty, a couple hundred bucks in his pocket, and a grin.

Was the wheat finally dry enough? Was a different person inspecting the grain? Had the ‘nice guy’ approach worked for the eight-thousandth time? I never really found out.

But get worked up because they wouldn’t take your grain the first (or the second or the third) time?


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He knows how to manage his stress.

He’s the king of cool, my dad.

Cool as a cucumber.

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Thinking about home

Where is home?

For Robert Frost “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

This field of canola grows near where my brother and I grew up outside Winnipeg, where my father still resides.

My father and my burgeoning extended family welcomes me home all the time. They welcome everyone. It’s their way, the prairie way.

I still call the prairies home, even though I’ve given that appellation to many other geographies.

Here’s my mother’s take on some rocky plains just north of Winnipeg:

Now here in my home on a rocky ledge, I have my mother’s painting behind me and the glossy Pacific before me.

A new place I’ll call home.

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It didn’t take too long in front of the searing hot glass furnace (1000 degrees centigrade, lest we forget) for us to cry “Uncle!” Both our instructors, Andy and Terry, sagely advised that when our hands started to burn, we should turn them over and burn the other side.

I thought they were nuts.

By the week’s end, I discovered the strategy worked.

In the meantime, Lori, Jean and I opted for forearm protection suited to Northern Ontario.

All that time in the fire also causes the iron bars to overheat and some cooling is in order. Easier on the hands.

Here after a first gather, a “seed bubble” is blown into the base of the glob of glass. The glass must be fairly hot to blow that first bubble — one must work quickly — so the glass must remain viscous and flexible.

Here I jack the neck on my first little scotch glass drinkable vessel. The neck is thinned and drawn out and later will be snapped off while a smaller rod — the punty — temporarily attaches to the base to keep the glass from falling into the water below and crackling into a million tiny pieces.

Not that it happened to me (probably the only calamity I avoided) but Lori and another fellow lost a couple of pieces of glass with an ill-timed smack. Ahh, the pain.

“Reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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At this very moment I am reunited with my laptop and some wi-fi (sigh…) in a motel in Lansing, Michigan. The desk clerk is semi-retired, ex-FBI. He assures me he never wore cheap suits!

This past week transpired in a flurry of sparks, smoke and absolute Sorcerer’s Apprentice magic!

En route to a furnace firing at 1000 degrees centigrade. Great big iron rod will be heated until the tip is red and then dipped in the molten glass to “gather” a glob of glass.

Instructor Andy Kuntz opens the door…

I dip and turn the rod…

And back to the bench, centring and shaping the first gather. That right hand you see raised is tempted to touch the rod but radiant heat will prevent such an action from ever occurring. One fellow sported a pair of bandage-bound digits after an accidental collision with the rod.

After a second gather, the cooling glass ball at the end of the rod is larger and ready to be jacked — to have a line impressed which will later make it easier to knock the ball off the rod.

In my right hand is a pair of jacks — giant pincers which squeeze, widen or carve, depending on the task at hand.

The glass ball at the end of the rod must be re-heated — flashed — to keep the heat consistent and to avoid cracking and having your entire project, the one where you came in early to work on it, the really nice one that actually looked slightly better than the work of an absolute beginner, having that project shiver and shatter all over the inside of the furnace.

Flash early, flash often.

My first little blob — ahem, paperweight — comes off the rod. As they’re still extremely hot, freshly created glass objects spend the next 15 hours in the annealer — a kiln kept at 500 degrees.

It’s all about the heat.

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Arts Night at school yesterday.

Homeboy *loves* his music teacher.

We all do.

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May birthdays

One turns nine, another fifteen.

And this one — five decades on the fifth day of the fifth month.

Of course, these are the first three I think of.

Any others?

We could make a full month of celebration — what could be better?

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When memory serves

In Grade 4 I learned a poem by Carl Sandburg:

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbour and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

Any poems you remember from long-ago days at school?

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The fog recedes

Early Friday morning I took one final fuzzy look at my two beautiful babes, then crossed my fingers, looked heavenward and submitted to a sharp object pressed deep and accurately into my right eye.

Twenty-four hours later my eyes opened to a brand new world.

First thing I noticed was the dark blue line encircling the pale blue of the eyes of the Princess. Pretty blue eyes rimmed with dark blue. I hadn’t remembered.

To be honest, her eyes were the second thing I noticed Saturday morning. The first was my own startled visage staring back at me from the bathroom mirror. I met every line, every change, every element of my face that I’ve not really seen the last couple of years.

And that’s all we need to say on that particular subject.

My next observation was a pair of geese honking at me from the peak of my neighbour’s house. I hadn’t ever realised there was a chimney sticking out of his roof. Sheesh.

En route to the chicken coop I passed apple and pear trees in bloom, along with a zillion dandelions blossoms sparkling yellow on the lawn.

So much growth and renewal on a weekend morning, all before seven o’clock!

Old Rooty-Toot here was as entertaining as always, desperately attacking my leg, determined to be remembered with respect and ferocity.

Beauty everywhere, even in the fallen forsythia blossoms, all so remarkably clear, crisp and wordlessly new and fresh.

After 48 hours I’m still bumbling around in dark shades, desperately trying to register as ‘cool’ rather than ‘middle-aged loser.’

And do you see how excited I am with one new cataract-less eye?

I promise to be perfectly obnoxious when my second bionic eye arrives at the end of this month.

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Eleventh birthday redux

We hosted a big emerging-on-adolescence party here last weekend.

Jeff Salem, a drummer we’ve met through our Suzuki excursions, hauled tubs and tubs of drums, shakers, rattles, tambourines and assorted noise makers into our home, handing them out to every man, woman and child and invited all to MAKE NOISE!

And so they did — rhythmically pounding out names, favourite foods, colours — anything to make a rhythm repeatable.

LI-ver and ON-ions sound a lot better than HAP-py BIRTH-day, for example.

The afternoon was a joyous, raucous, rambunctious event.

And our boy was thrilled.

It was also one of those moments where country living paid off. All that noise — and no neighbours.

Surrounded by his friends.

A perfect end to a very happy day.

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