Of Chemicals and Consumers

Fandango’s prompt today: CHEMICAL

I wonder if this word, for most of us, doesn’t bring up negative connotations? We have a love-hate, relationship with the things. Like the old English song about the wife, “You can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.”

Pollution of land, air, sea, and body — this all stems from chemicals, right? They’re keeping us alive longer and at the same time making us more sickly. We want our strawberry ice cream to be pink, our blueberry jelly to be blue, our white flour to be white. Which means we are, by default, consuming dyes and bleaches.

Even with death, we prefer the chemical version. When my birth mother died here in Saskatchewan the family opted to have her cremated. Our family doesn’t really do death and funerals well, so the children opted against having a viewing, so there was no cosmetology used. But I was coming from Quebec and my sister from Alberta, and neither of us had seen her for a good while — in my case it was over fifteen years — and we wanted one last goodbye.

So the funeral home prepared her for viewing that morning. When my birth father heard that I was going to view the body, he decided to go, too. We got there and looked down in her in the coffin they’d put her in, and she looked…well…dead. Her skin tone starting to degenerate in the way dead skin does.

My Dad was okay with it and so was I. He patted her hand and said his good-bye. But I made the mistake of saying in front of my sister, “I guess this is what the Bible means when it says, ‘From dust thou art and to dust though shalt return’.” And my sister burst into tears.

If given a choice, most of us prefer attractive to plain, enhanced to reality, bleached white paper to the natural colour that would come off the rollers in paper mills. But we fuss about pollution and climate change. Over the years we’ve come up with a delightful — at least to the employed — alternative. Companies in North America have shipped their manufacturing jobs to countries where pollution control and worker safety concerns barely affect the product or its cost.

We buy cheap; pollution, wages — or lack of — and safety issues are someone else’s problem. What’s not to love?

The trade deficit, you say? Forgot about that. (Thankfully my own country, Canada, has natural resources to sell, so our deficit isn’t so bad at present.) Immigrants flowing in the front door while jobs are flowing out the back could be an issue, too. However, I’ve heard some people emphatically deny that there’s a lack of jobs for the incoming crowd.

Which brings me to the dilemma I see in North America today: should consumers insist on buying items produced here in our own countries and pay the price — pollution control, wages, company pensions, and public safety costs included? Which means doing with fewer choices and a LOT less stuff. Or shall we continue to support overseas production and let those countries deal with the consequences? (And keep on borrowing from international money lenders to cover trade deficits.)

A person’s answer may well depend on what income bracket they are in.

And I have wandered far off the prompt topic of chemicals.

As I type this, I have bun dough rising in a warm spot. Yeast is a bacteria, not a chemical, so I can’t exactly call dough rising a chemical reaction. But the effect of warm cinnamon rolls on the human palate could maybe be explained as a chemical reaction.

Baking Bread the Irish Way

It’s chilly this morning: Saskatoon thermometer at 7 am read -18̊ / 0̊ F. Pookie, the youngest of our two cats, keeps wanting to go outside and see if things have improved weather-wise, but after three minutes he’s ready to come in again.

Last night I took a notion I’d like to have cinnamon buns for breakfast this morning, so I set out the ingredients before I went to bed. When I got up I mixed the dough. As it turns out, they won’t be baking until mid-morning, but we can have them for our dessert after lunch.

I’ve half an hour before they need punching down, so maybe I can reply to this morning’s prompts and tell you about how a young prairie wife acquired the skill of bread-baking.

Ragtag daily prompt: SKILL
Fandango’s word today: DISRUPT
Word of the Day prompt: WHIFF

I’m not sure where I acquired the skill of baking with yeast, because my mom taught me almost nothing about cooking. Thankfully I had a great mother-in-law who was herself an excellent cook and taught me so much about life, love, and the pursuit of good food.

Like me, Mary hadn’t been taught how to bake before she left home and found herself needing to learn after she was married. I at least watched my dad take golden loaves of bread from the oven when I was a girl, so I knew something. When it came to bread and pies, both Dad and Mom F (I was raised by my uncle and aunt) were excellent bakers, if they had the time.

Mary grew up in Guildford, England, where a baker’s wagon would come down their stree every morning. All her mother had to do was go out to the land and pick whatever baking she wanted for the family that day. After Mary and her husband, a store clerk, immigrated to Saskatchewan she tried to learn baking skills from a recipe book her mother had given her. But her bread didn’t rise, was solid as a rock, or full of holes.

Before long her baking inability was disrupting their marital bliss as well as family finances. “We NEED bread,” her husband told her one day. “Why can’t you make the stuff? It can’t be that hard.”

“I’ve never been taught. I can’t seem to succeed just reading a recipe.”

“Ask one of the neighbour women for help. They all know how.”

Mary thought about the neighbour women she’d seen out and about. They were … well… coarse. Non one she would have ever associated with in England. In Canada things were different, she knew, but she’d listened as they talked and rudely gossiped in the store and didn’t see anything to be gained in associating with them. And then to admit she couldn’t do a simple thing like bake bread? Wouldn’t that get the gossip going!

At the time they were getting a farm paper and she took note of a column offering “Homemaker Hints by Millicent” or some name like that. Women wrote in with a question, which would be printed with the senders initials and the columnist’s response. Mary got her courage up one day and sent a letter to the column, asking Millicent’s advice on baking bread.

About three weeks later she opened this paper, found Millicent’s column — and saw her letter. Oh, but…! Here was her name…and her address…printed for all the world to see. She blushed with shame. All the women in town would be laughing at her. Mary shuddered to think what her husband would say if he ever saw this.

To add insult to injury, the recipe Millicent printed in response was the same one she’d already tried. She shut the paper and tried to forget about it.

The next morning her routine was disrupted by a few hard raps on her door. Mary opened it a crack and saw Mrs Ratigan — one of those “ill-mannered” women who lived nearby. Mary had seen her bustling around town, a large, assertive Irish woman, fussing over the children around her, wiping their drippy noses and giving them a smack when they needed one.

Mary opened the door to ask…and Mrs Ratigan marched right in. She held the incriminating page from the farm paper in her hand. “Mary Watson. Wants to make bread. I read it here.” She grabbed a chair and sat down. “Nobody ever learned to bake bread out of a book. You need a mother to teach you. Where’s your mother?”

Mary recovered from her shock enough to reply. “Back in Guildford, England.”

“Fine. Leave her there. I’‘ll be your mother this morning and we’ll make bread.”

Swallowing her pride, Mary got out her ingredients and Mrs Ratigan started giving instructions. Before the morning was done she’d showed Mary how to mix and knead, how long to let the dough rise, how to test it. Mary learned how to form loaves, eliminate air bubbles, and how to bake them.

As soon as the loaves were in the oven Mary made tea. Mrs Ratigan sat at the table and watched her pour. After a few sips, she said, “The good Lord never said a person always has to have Irish coffee. There’s Irish tea, too, you know, dear.”

Mary laughed and took the hint. She got the bottle of her husband’s brandy from the cupboard and handed it to her “mother for the day”, thinking it would likely make an acceptable substitute for Irish whiskey.

Mrs Ratigan opened the bottle, took a whiff, then poured a generous smack of it into her tea. Taking a sip, she grinned and said, “If you weren’t an Anglican, I’d say you’re one of the true faith.”

Mary laughed again. She was coming to like this cheerful, motherly neighbour.

Mary poured tea and Mrs Ratigan poured out the flavouring. By the time she left there wasn’t much left of the bottle of brandy, but Mary thought her husband would forgive the loss when he saw four lovely loaves of bread and some buns waiting for him when he came home from the store.

She’d been fearful about how the women in town would talk about her and treat her once they read her letter in Millicent’s column, but things turned out for the best after all. Sharing her need actually brought her friendly smiles and greetings from the town wives and made some satisfying friendships.

Visiting with one of these new friends sometime later, Mary discussed how embarrassed she’d been when Mrs Ratigan arrived at her door waving that paper. “Now the whole town knew! I was so ashamed and just cringed to think what you’d all be saying about me.”

“Oh, you needn’t have worried. It felt like you were one of us at last.” Her friend smiled. “Besides, Mrs Ratigan informed us all that if she ever heard anyone laughing at you, she’d conk them in the nose.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Well, by now my cinnamon buns are in the pan, rising. The faintest whiff of cinnamon lingers in my kitchen and it will soon be a delightful fragrance. Can’t you just taste it? Almost as good as chocolate. 😉

The Smell of Rain

The Ragtag prompt word for today is PETRICHOR
A word that neither I nor the Canadian Oxford Dictionary nor Merriam-Webster online have ever heard of.

However, Merriam-Webster, ever wishing to be helpful, offered me a dozen alternatives — just in case I was mistaken in my spelling somehow. And thus I learned a new word: PETRICOLE

Definition: A variation of PETROCOLE(S): an organism that inhabits or prefers rocky terrain

Something I am not. Keep your rocky hills; like the gopher and the sage grouse, I’m happiest on the prairie. Give me sunny Saskatchewan, where the passing cars all wave at tourists stopping to study their maps — if you read my last post.

Which reminds me of an old joke we prairie folk enjoy telling:
A prairie farmer visiting in British Columbia was asked what he thought of the Rocky Mountains. He replied, “Well, they’re all right, but they sure do get in the way of the view.”

Wiki helped me out with PETRICHOR.
Apparently it’s the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. It involves some complex blending of oils exuded by certain plants during a dry period and some bacteria emitted by wet soil.
Google defines it as “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”

Here in SK we may not have as much petrichor as some other places, because we don’t have as much rain, nor the kind of plants that produce the rich smell. We’re usually overjoyed when rain falls after a period of warm dry weather, especially if it fall in July, in time to give the crops a boost.
But there’s a limit, eh? Like another old joke goes:
A fellow from Saskatchewan moved to BC because the climate, but he moved back because of the weather.

Just like my Uncle Fred. During the winter he’d go stay with his son and family at Surrey, BC, on the coastal plain, but after a few weeks he was so disgusted and depressed by all that rain he’d head home to SK again.

Speaking of which, we had a dusting of fine snow in the night and Saskatoon temp was -12 C at 7am (10 F). Predicted high -10; predicted low tonight -18 (0 F). The milder BC climate does have its appeal — if you can handle week-long stretches of clouds and rain.

I’m sure the petrichor in the mountains is fabulous. Our neighbour to the north-west has been cleaning out his dairy barn this week and spreading manure on his fields. We’re right in line, wind-wise, to enjoy that particular aroma.

Ten More Days in Review

Or: Life in the “I-Can’t-Keep-Up” Lane

Skipping the “time flies” lament, I’ve been occupied with several projects lately: turning the office upside-down — dear Hubby did most of that — emptying and refilling bookcases, and cooking at the Villa.

Last week I did Monday dinner, Tues & Thurs supper, Wed, Sat & Sun all day. Just one of those “seasons.” I only have three more single meals and one full day during the rest of the month. But when I am working so much, the place tends to occupy me even when I’m not there officially. One morning I did some grocery shopping for the place, plus I like to spend time helping the folks to put together jigsaw puzzles. When I go to the city I hunt for more puzzles for us to work on, mainly at Value Village. 🙂

As I said, Bob shifted some furniture around in our office. This started last weekend when we had hot water heater woes. Our hot water tank being in a cubbyhole inconveniently right beside where my desk sat. Desk must be moved. Then we decided to empty the one office bookcase and put it in the living room. Which meant removing the quite small bookcase I’d just put in the living room, and then moving the six-foot one four inches over, so the office one would fit in the newly-made space.

By the time this was done we had books piled all over. While rearranging the office, Bob decided to move his file cupboard (actually another bookcase) to where the office bookcase had once stood, then move his 2-drawer filing cabinet to that newly-vacated spot. The new small bookcase went where the filing cabinet was and my desk was given a quarter turn. On Friday, my day off, I decided to clear out some shelves in yet another narrow bookcase/cupboard because we have more books than places to put them.

During all this and between shifts at the Seniors’ Home, I managed to squeeze in six loads of laundry plus misc. housekeeping & food prep tasks. I also attended Sewing Circle Tuesday morning. Totally fell behind with blogging — and sometimes wondered if I should just take a long break. I decided to “light one candle” this morning and see how far I get.

Nanowrimo started Nov 1st at 12:01 am, but I’m giving it a miss this year. An e-mail acquaintance wants to see his book in print; I was brought into this project by a friend who asked me to edit it. I did that last year, but the book is stalled and I’ve been asked to see that it gets into print via Amazon Kindle Direct, like I did mine. I now have the manuscript, author bio and illustrations, so need to get working on this.

I’ve submitted two of my “Winnie and Raylene on Vacation” stories to the Critique Circle and they’ve been well liked, for the most part. Now I need to polish a few more, write a few more, and post them on CC. I’m finding it interesting, through critique comments, how some words call to mind certain pictures for readers.

For example, in one story I’ve posted, a couple of teens have stolen a car and, chased by police, crashed into a garage beside a residence. Police were at the crash site directing traffic. One writer couldn’t figure how it was crash site because crashes happen on roads. Another critique writer couldn’t get it that a high speed chase would ever go through a residential area. High speed chases only happened on busy city thoroughfares. I wrote “garage” and some people are asking, “Like a service station? What’s a service station doing in a residential area?” So I’m learning to be more precise. 🙂

One question really made me laugh. I’d written that the weather was abnormal in FL and “The odd snowflake was falling when Winnie and Raylene got off the plane in Tallahassee.” A critiquer from Hawaii asked, “What was odd about the snowflake?”

I explained that “the odd —“ is a colloquialism. (Only in Canada?) For us, odd means unusual, but it also means infrequent. “There was no crowd; only the odd person showed up at the Grand Opening.” Or, “She took the odd afternoon off to visit her mom at the nursing home.”

Is this an odd (i.e. strange) usage where you live?

More than the odd snowflake is falling today. We definitely have winter with a powerful wind from the north plastering us with fine snow. Our cats have ventured outside the odd time this morning, but only for a few minutes. They come in dusted with snow and are generally NOT happy.

Well, this is enough rambling for one post. Have a good week, everyone.

Visiting a Favourite Site

Fandango’s prompt word: ROUTINE

While my husband and I are enjoying a relatively normal day at home, today’s a break from routine for most of the folks here in Canada: Thanksgiving Day. A holiday for most working people at least, and for many it’s a time to gather with family and gobble turkey, mashed potatoes, veggies and pumpkin pie. I think there’s usually a play-off football game happening somewhere as well.

For me it’s been a day to visit one of my favourite sites, Troutswirl, the Haiku Foundation’s blog. I was going through an older post where poets shared verses about the sights seen in meadow and field. Here’s the link, if you’d like to take a look.

Which has inspired me to write my own verse, suitable for this post-harvest season we’re in:
out-of-work scarecrow
fallen in the wind
shredded by young coons

This is also the day I can’t get proper responses from WordPress on my desk computor. I can’t fathom what ails it, so I’m working totally on my laptop. One issue here: the keyboard is bilingual — and the spell check is all francais. It’s highlighting almost every word I type as a spelling error. 😦

The Word of the Day challenge is FATHOM, a very useful word. For some time now I’ve been trying to fathom why I get into obssessing about small issues. (Was I always? Is it old age settling in — or the result of chemo?) Molehills so soon become mountains.

This prompt gives me a new senryu:
sounding the issue
I fathom the wrinkles
of my obssession

Maybe I’ll print this off and tack it on the fridge. 😉 I’d like to be more aware of when I’m sliding down that slope and catch myself, learn to skip over the issue. Procrastination should come in very handy here, right? Worry about it later.

For over thirty years I’ve had a friend with mental health issues (paranoia) and talk about obssessing! A look from someone — always interpreted as negative — can set her off on a deep examination of how hateful that person — and everyone else in the world — feels toward her. She could spend an hour on the phone with me, analyzing all her interactions with that person.

I’ve discovered that you can’t fight fire with fire. You can’t reason with obessession, nor counteract it with positive thinking. “Try and look on the bright side” has never worked for her. Likewise the commonsense, “Most people don’t even know you, never mind hate you,” goes nowhere. I’ve learned to deflect her thinking into a different avenue altogether, by reminding her that someday the troubles of this life will be over and we’ll be in that better world where love and peace govern everyone’s heart. She starts thinking down that line and her fears over today’s evil plotters shrink to a more manageable level.

I looked outside a few minutes ago and saw big white flakes coming down. A quick flash of winter again. Well, we can be thankful that our weather is changeable rather than boring, and we’re not subject to hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Snow This Morning

Fandango’s word for today is NUMBER

Well, the number here first thing this morning was zero. As in 0̊C / 32̊F. My cell phone tells me it’s +1̊ now, and my eyes tell me the ground is turning whiter by the moment, as a fine snow sifts down.

Our cats are not amused. They’re pacing around the house, bored, wanting the door open every little while so they can see if conditions have improved. The petunias in my big planters by the step are being buried in white — official end of season. A bit sad, I think. The snow will likely be gone once the sun gets out of bed and does its job; however, we’re not apt to see it shine through this dense cloud cover.

Better today than yesterday. Yesterday we, together with Daughter and Son-in-Law, drove two hours west to visit Bob’s cousin and wife, Paul & Vivian Letkeman. We haven’t seen them for a l-o-n-g time. Oh, we’ve visited at family funerals a few times since, but I think the number is 7 or 8 years since we’ve been to their place.

For close to 40 years they’ve had a ranch on the South Saskatchewan River near Leader and raised cattle. In later years they opened a few cabins and turned it into the Leaning Tree Guest Ranch. Now they’ve reached their upper 70’s and have retired from that, still have cattle and horses. Still very fit people. We had a great visit and they drove us around to see their acreage and the Texas longhorn herd Paul is building up. They aren’t ready to sell and move to the city yet.

On our journey yesterday we saw a lot of waterfowl migrating. A number of acres white with snow geese and/or dark patches of Canada geese. Some places the sky seemed full of small and large flocks winging south, or joining their kin in some newly harvested field. As we passed one creek I noted a large flock of migrating yellow-headed blackbirds that had settled on the cattails.

Today and tomorrow I’m supposed to be cooking at the Villa, but the numbers there are really few. The one couple is heading for a wedding in Alberta, which leaves one resident to feed. (Ben, a former resident, has moved to a nursing home in Outlook.) I’ll have to see if I can find some company to join us three for supper this evening. Tomorrow the resident’s son & D-I-L are coming to take him out, so I’ve no one to cook dinner for.

The numbers will be few in church as well, because one of our families’ sons got married in Michigan and the reception will be at another congregation about a four-hour drive from here. This is where the young couple will make their home, so quite a few families from here want to go. Including our own children and grands.

I’ll end this post with a few numbers from Saskatchewan history:

— In Feb of 1947 southern SK was hit by a ten-day mega-blizzard. All the highways into Regina, our capital city, were blocked. Train officials said conditions were the worst in Canadian rail history; one train was buried in a snow drift one km long and 8 metres deep.
— The winter of 1955-56 brought a 129-day cold snap, with recorded temperatures in several SK communities staying below -10C during that time. Perhaps this is why we heard, back when I was in school (circa 1960), that scientists were predicting another ice age ahead.

We were very sad to hear that the area around Ottawa-Gatineau, on the Ontario-Quebec border, was hit by a tornado yesterday. Our sympathies to all the folks and families affected.

I’ve been working on this awhile; by now we have a thick blanket of snow covering all the imperfections of nature, but the wind has come up and is tossing the tree tops around. Maybe I should bundle up and go build a snowman?

Whatever your weather, here’s wishing you all an upbeat weekend.

A Chapter Closed

Another old schoolhouse, abandoned,
like dozens of others still standing
at the edge of nondescript prairie towns.

Its panes shattered through the years
by boys with slingshots and bee–bees;
its subjects lost in a sea of wild grass;
its imparted wisdom, like its students,
scattered to the four winds.

A person still finds a few spindly shrubs
clustered close to its sheltering side
like those shy first-graders of yesteryear.

My response to the Word of the Day challenge: NONDESCRIPT